A Musical Diary: January 1961 127



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1961 started with Elvis Presley bigger than ever – “It’s Now Or Never” was number one all over the world.

“Are You Lonesome Tonight?” is starting the year number one in the USA and Australia, and by the end of the month it will be top of the charts in the UK. Before the end of 1961 he would have two more worldwide number ones with “Wooden Heart” and “Surrender”.  Elvis also was top of the charts on the LP market with “GI Blues” and on the 21st of January signed a five-year film contract with Hal Wallis. The deal required Elvis to star in one film for each year of the contract. The five films were “Wild in the Country”, “Blue Hawaii”, “Follow That Dream”, “Kid Galahad”, and “Girls, Girls, Girls”.    

Johnny Tillotson was number one worldwide with “Poetry In Motion”, which sold more than 1.5 million copies. Tillotson’s career took off in 1959 with his own compositions, “Dreamy Eyes” and “Without You”. In 1962 another of his compositions “It Keeps Right On A-Hurting”, became a top 10 hit all over the world. It was written just before he left for a tour of duty in the USA Army and was recorded by more than 70 artists. His other hits were “Judy, Judy Judy”, “Jimmy’s Girl”, “Out Of My Mind”, which was another of his compositions; a Hank Williams original “Send Me The Pillow That You Dream On”, and “Talk Back Trembling Lips” written by John D. Loudermilk.

The charts everywhere were scattered with instrumentals/orchestrals such as “Peter Gunn” by Duane Eddy, “Wonderland By Night” by Bert Kaempfert and his orchestra, “Last Date”, by Floyd Kramer, “Exodus”, by Ferrante and Teicher, “Perfidia”, by The Ventures and “Man Of Mystery” coupled with “The Savage” by The Shadows.

The trend continued in Australia with “Skip To My Loo”, The Dave Bridge Quartet, “New Orleans Beat”, and “Wild Weekend”, by The Thunderbirds. The local Australian girls were not so successful in the charts only one up to now Noelene Batley with “Barefoot Boy”, written by her friend Helen Grover. Melbourne artists started charting such as Gaynor Bunning, Johnny Chester, The Thunderbirds and The Rondells but thanks to 6 O’CLOCK ROCK Sydney still ruled adding Bryan Davies and Patsy Ann Noble to the list of clean-cut boy and girl next door image.

Berry Gordy has just formed The Motown Label and he will not have long to wait for the first million seller. On the 15th of the month Gordy signs The Supremes to the record label. The Supremes were the USA’s most successful female group of all time and started off as The Primettes in 1959. This was a tribute to the local male group The Primes who later became The Temptations. The original Supremes were Florence Ballard, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson and for two years recorded a series of flops, then when Gordy decided to make Ross the lead singer instead of Ballard they broke into the USA charts with the dynamic production of “When The Lovelight Starts Shining In His Eyes” in 1963. Barry Mann half of the successful song-writing team of Mann and Weil screamed into the USA charts with “Who Put The Bomp In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp”.

On the 28th The Shirelles became the first all-girl group to have a USA number one with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” The song was written by The Brill Building duo Gerry Goffin and Carole King and peaked at number 4 in both Australia and the UK.

“West Side Story” was big box-office as well as being the top album of the previous year.

BANDSTAND and 6 O’CLOCK ROCK was still the favourite OZ TV shows, other TV shows we were watching THE AVENGERS, DR. KILDARE and BEN CASEY.

Born on the 13th was Graham McPherson, aka Suggs from the English group Madness.

Number ones in the UK, January 1961                  

7th – I Love You – Cliff Richard and the Shadows

14th  and 21st – Poetry In Motion – Johnny Tillotson

28th – Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley

In the USA

7th – Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley

14th 21st – Wonderland By Night – Bert Kaempfert Orchestra

8th – Will You Love Me Tomorrow? – The Shirelles

In OZ          

Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley was #1 for the whole month

The top 10 in Australia, January 1961

  1. Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley
  2. North To Alaska – Johnny Horton
  3. Peter Gunn – Duane Eddy & The Rebels
  4. Wonderland By Night – Bert Kaempfert Orchestra
  5. Sway – Bobby Rydell
  6. Sailor –Lolita
  7. You’re Sixteen – Johnny Burnette
  8. Save The Last Dance For Me – The Drifters
  9. Poetry In Motion – Johnny Tillotson
  10. Perfidia – The Ventures


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Benjamin Hill

I was born in Belfast Northern Ireland 1946, I attended school at Ballygomartin Secondary School until I began an apprenticeship as an Electrician in 1962 at Harland and Wolff Shipbuilders (Birthplace of the Titanic). I married Rose-Marie in 1964 and immigrated to Australia in 1970 together with our two children Anna-Marie and Ronald. I worked in various sections of the construction industry as an Electrician until retirement 2011 and now my blog about 60s music is a labour of love that I am lucky to share with all lovers of music.

  1. They were great years to be alive, & I was lucky enough to be living in London at the time, which made it even better.

  2. Ask of them but my favourites were “A Scottish Soldier” by Andy Stewart. – “Rubber Ball” by Bobby Vee and “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles – all number 1 in 1961

  3. Sunshine FM 104.9 Sunshine Coast play it regularly, great station for the old songs and a good mix of other ones too.

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