Saturday, August 2, 2014

"Teen-agers will temporarily desert rock and roll for the waltz": David Seville's 1959 hit "Judy"

He’ll forever be known as Alvin & the Chipmunks’ “Dave,” but David Seville made a number of non-Chipmunks recordings under the pseudonym David Seville and under his real name, Ross Bagdasarian. 

In 1959, after he'd notched two huge hits with the proto-Chipmunks song "Witch Doctor" and the debut Chipmunks single, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)," Seville released a mostly instrumental waltz, "Judy." You can hear it in the video above. 

The record includes bits of dialog between a man and woman—George and Judy—as if they're dancing to the tune. Revealing Bagdasarian’s comedic streak, the dialog incorporates a touch of humor; when the woman asks the man what his name is, he nervously says “Judy” before correcting himself. 

“Judy” is similar to Seville’s minor 1957 hit “Gotta Get to Your House,” which is also mostly instrumental but has a man speaking (and misspeaking) a few lines. "Gotta Get to Your House" is a much weirder record than "Judy," though. It's like a theme song for stalkers.

Seville's label, Liberty Records, had a hard time getting television record hops to play "Judy," because disc jockeys didn’t think that teens waltzed. Waltzes were for old people who listened to Wayne King and Lawrence Welk, right? In an attempt to overcome the disc jockeys' resistance, Liberty's East Coast sales rep, Jane Gibbs, convinced some hops to hold waltz contests for teens. 

Thanks to her efforts, a number of disk jockeys fell in line, including WJZ's Buddy Deane, WTTG's Milt Grant, and WNHC's Jim Gallant. Liberty even provided cash prizes for the contests: the winning couples received $50 gift certificates. 

"Teen-agers will temporarily desert rock and roll for the waltz if Liberty Records' Eastern representative Jane Gibbs has her way," Billboard wrote in May 1959. I detect a note of skepticism in the Billboard article.

Buddy Deane's show was the first to run the contest. It spanned three weeks and featured daily spins of Seville's "Judy." Viewers were invited to write in with their votes for the best couple.

Were these promotions successful? "Judy" peaked at #86 on the Billboard pop chart, where it stayed for all of one week. 

Jane Gibbs, by the way, was a well-liked Liberty rep who worked for the company through the 1950s and 1960s before moving to Motown Records in 1967. In 1969, she co-authored the Motown songbook The Motown Sound: The Sound of Young America.

David Seville, AKA Ross Bagdasarian

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