Mickey Baker and Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson of “Mickey & Sylvia” fame, had 1957 hit,“Love is Strange.”
In mid-January 1957, a new song with the title “Love is Strange” by two artists known as “Mickey & Sylvia” was being heard on the radio. This was the era prior to the modern Billboard music charts, as songs were then charted on the Best Seller list, the Jockey list, the Top 100, and/or the Juke Box list. In any case, Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange,” in early 1957, rose into the Top 20 on all of these charts, reaching No. 11 on the Best Seller and Jockey charts and No.1 on the rhythm and blues (R&B) chart. “Love is Strange” also became a million seller and it stayed in the Top 40 for more than three months.
“Mickey” was Mickey Baker, a well-known “session guitarist” in music circles of that day – playing background music for other artists. Baker, in fact, was considered the “go to” session guitar player of the 1950s and early 1960s. He performed on dozens of rock ‘n roll hits and on many recordings. “Sylvia” was Sylvia Vanderpool, formerly billed in her earlier singing career as “Little Sylvia” Vanderpool, who later in the 1980s became an important promoter in advancing Sugar Hill Records, a major player in the emergence of rap music.
Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” hit song of 1957 on Groove recording label.
Mickey & Sylvia first formed their duo in the mid-1950s. Baker, who then gave guitar lessons to make ends meet, teamed up with Sylvia Vanderpool, one of his students. Sylvia later became Sylvia Robinson after she married Joe Robinson, and they would continue together in later years in the music business. But Mickey and Sylvia first tried their hand as a duo at a Brooklyn-based record label named Rainbow where they cut a few recordings without much success. They later signed with RCA’s Groove records. Their first recording there, titled “No Good Lover,” which according to one report, was “a wild, upbeat, two guitar and washboard rocker.” However, their second recording at Groove was “Love Is Strange,” the one that became a smash hit and brought them into national prominence.
Music Player “Love is Strange” – 1957 – Mickey & Sylvia
“Love is Strange” has a distinctive guitar riff to it, and was adapted by Mickey and Sylvia from “Billy’s Blues,” a Bo Diddley and Billy Stewart song. “Love is Strange,” however, had its own unique sound and guitar licks, and would go on to influence a number of other artists and recordings in the years ahead. The Mickey & Sylvia single was released in late November 1956. It hit No. 1 on the rhythm and blues (R&B) singles chart in January 1957 and held that spot for two weeks. On the other charts of that day, “Love is Strange” rose into the Top 20 and generally remained in the Top 40 for more than three months. Mickey and Sylvia also made some TV appearances with this song, including on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand prime-time evening show in November 1957.
Cover of “Mickey & Sylvia” EP that included their 1957 charting hit, “There Oughta’ Be A Law”
However, after the success of “Love is Strange,” Mickey & Sylvia never quite got back to the Top 10 again, but they did have two more charting hits – “There Oughta’ Be A Law”of 1957 ( #15 R&B,# 46 Pop) and “Baby You’re So Fine of 1961 (#27 R&B, # 52 Pop). They also played back up guitar on Ike & Tina Turner’s 1961 hit song, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” which rose to No. 2 on the R&B charts. However, the duo basically split up in 1961, but they continued to record together off and on until the mid-1960s. They also put out an extended play disc with four of their songs under the Vik label, titled Mickey & Sylvia. There were also recordings for other labels including Willow, Cat, Rainbow, King, RCA Victor, and RCA Camden.
Mickey Baker – who some regard as one of the best guitarists of his day – recorded as a solo artist for a time and went to France where he found some success playing as a session guitarist. He would also write some best-selling guitar instruction books, among them, Jazz Guitar. Sylvia married Joe Robinson in 1964, and would co-write some songs in the 1970s. She had a No. 3 hit with “Pillow Talk” in 1973, and would continue to hit the R& B charts with a few recordings though the late 1970s, when she also became involved in the music business. About this time she co-founded an early rap music label named Sugar Hill and helped launch the Sugar Hill Gang rap group with its top hit of 1979, “Rappers’ Delight” (#4 R&B, #26 pop). She would also help produce other rap groups. But then in the 1980s came the film Dirty Dancing, bringing Mickey & Sylvia’s famous 1950s tune back on the scene.
Patrick Swayze & Jennifer Grey in “lover boy” practice dance scene from 1987 film “Dirty Dancing” using the 1957 Mickey & Sylvia song, “Love is Strange.”
“Love is Strange” had a bit of a revival in 1987 when the Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey film Dirty Dancing came out. The plot line of this film involves an innocent young female nicknamed “Baby” (Jennifer Grey) from the big city who is visiting the Catskill resorts with her family. Baby sets up the film in an early flashback: “That was the summer of 1963 – when everybody called me Baby, and it didn’t occur to me to mind. That was before President Kennedy was shot, before the Beatles came, when I couldn’t wait to join the Peace Corps, and I thought I’d never find a guy as great as my dad. That was the summer we went to Kellerman’s….”
Baby has her eyes opened early on when she happens into an “employees only” dirty dancing venue where she first sees, and soon falls for, male dance instructor hunk, “Johnny,” played by Patrick Swayze. Opportunity soon presents itself for Baby when Swayze’s normal partner (not his girfriend) can’t perform in a major dance routine ( she’s pregnant, but not by Swayze). The plot thickens when Baby tries to help by borrowing money for an illegal abortion for the partner from her doctor father, to whom she lies. But it all works out in the end, with even Dad helping to save the day… Swayze and friends, meanwhile, turn to non-dancer Baby to fill the role of his pregnant partner, making Baby into a substitute dancing star. In the process of Baby’s “up-close-and-personal” make-over and dance instruction, she and Johnny become an item.
Original 1987 "Dirty Dancing" soundtrack album, which includes Mickey & Sylvia's "Love is Strange."
Dirty Dancing also happens to be filled with a great rock ‘n roll background score of 1950s and 1960s music, including songs such as “Be My Baby,” “Do You Love Me,” “Stay,” “In the Still of the Night,” and others. In one scene, shown above, the two dancers are practicing their routine in a sun-lit studio one afternoon to the music of Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange.” Johnny and “Baby” by this time have become more than just friends. As they practice, they proceed to play-act using the Mickey & Sylvia “lover boy” banter from the song, each lyp-synching their respective male and female roles to fit the song. It is one of the film’s more playful and memorable scenes.
Dirty Dancing became a massive box office hit at the time, and has since surpassed some $215 million in gross box office revenue worldwide as of 2010. It also collected a variety of film and music accolades. The film’s soundtrack was credited with starting an oldies music revival in the late 1980s. The original Dirty Dancing soundtrack album of August 1987 had 12 songs, including “Love is Strange.” Demand for the album caught RCA Records by surprise. It became a colossal commercial success in the U.S., as it landed at No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart, spending 18 weeks there. It went on to sell more than 42 million copies worldwide (later, a subsequent album, More Dirty Dancing, issued in February 1988, also sold millions of copies ).
“Love is Strange” appeared on the “B” side of the 1987 “Dirty Dancing” single, “I’ve Had The Time of Life,” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes.
In August 1987, as part of the music frenzy around Dirty Dancing, the song “Love is Strange” was also re-issued on one side of a 45 rpm single. It became the “B” side of the recording with Dirty Dancing’s top hit song, “The Time of My Life,” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. This song won a 1988 Grammy Award, an Academy Award, and a Golden Globe Award. Although “Love is Strange” didn’t have these accolades, it did “go along for the ride,” so to speak, being played and heard by millions who purchased the single. In the U.S., “The Time of My Life” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in November 1987 for one week and also reached No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart for four weeks. In the U.K., the song hit the Top Ten twice: once in November 1987 after the film’s initial release, peaking at No. 6, and then again in January 1991 after the film was shown on television, reaching No. 8. There were also maxi-single editions of “The Time of My Life” that included the Mickey & Sylvia song.
Cover art from the 20th anniversary edition of the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack album, 2007.
In 1989-90, RCA separately issued a Mickey & Sylvia R&B compilation CD, Love is Strange and Other Hits. In any case, “Love is Strange” and the work of Mickey & Sylvia had increased exposure through the 1980s and beyond as a result of the Dirty Dancing film.
In addition to the singles and albums, there was also a “Dirty Dancing Tour” that ran for ten-months which was seen by some two million fans in eight countries. This tour included, at some locations, 1960s stars such as Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes, Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, members of the Contours group, and others. It’s not clear whether Mickey Baker or Sylvia Robinson did any performing or made any appearances as part of this tour. There were also subsequent editions of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack album issued. In October 2007, RCA re-released a 20th anniversary edition of the soundtrack with remastered versions of the original songs, plus a DVD with promotional material. The remastered disc includes Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange.”
Cover art of Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” from the Rainbow record label.
Over the years, “Love is Strange” has also had a long list of famous duos covering the song. Chubby Checker and Dee Dee Sharp covered it in 1960; Sonny and Cher in 1964; Peaches & Herb had a 1967 Top 20 hit with their cover; Paul McCartney and his former wife Linda covered it in1971; Buck Owens and Susan Raye had a Top 20 country hit with the song in 1975; and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton did a cover version that hit No. 21 on the country singles chart in 1990. In addition to these, Buddy Holly did a cover that surfaced in 1969; the British group Everything but the Girl had a Top 20 hit with the song in 1992; and in 1998, a synthetic-pop band from Germany named Wolfsheim also did a cover version. But for many, the original Mickey & Sylvia version is still the gold standard. In 2004 “Love Is Strange” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for its influence as a rock `n roll single.
Dick Clark, in the late 1950s, at his podium station for the popular TV dance show, "American Bandstand."
In August 1957, American Bandstand, a new television show broadcast out of Philadelphia, PA, featured local teenagers dancing to the new rock ‘n roll music. The show had just “gone national” on the ABC television network on August 5th. With its new young host, Dick Clark, the show aired every day at 3 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half. Within six months of its national debut, American Bandstand was picked up by 101 stations. Soon there were about 20 million viewers tuning in, half of whom were adult. Fan letters poured in by the tens of thousands. Teenagers came to Philadelphia from wide and far for a chance to dance on the show. But American Bandstand also became a place where new talent could be seen, as Clark allotted featured spots on each show for new acts to perform their songs. “Perform,” in this case, is a generous term as the guest or guests typically “lyp-synced” or mouthed the words to their pre-recorded songs rather than performing them live. They did, however, appear in person and typically sat with Clark in brief conversation, answering his questions about their music, where they were from, what they were doing next, etc.
"Tom & Jerry" (Simon & Garfunkel) appeared on "Bandstand" Nov 22, 1957 performing "Hey Schoolgirl," a song that hit No. 54 & sold 100,000 copies.
During American Bandstand’s first national season — which ran a short five months from its August opening — about 200 or so guests appeared. Typically, one or two acts were scheduled for each show. Among notable guests appearing that first season, some making their television debuts, were: Paul Anka, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Bobby Darin, The Del-Vikings, The Diamonds, Buddy Holly, Johnny Mathis, Simon & Garfunkel( “Tom & Jerry”), Andy Williams, Jackie Wilson, and others. Some guests appeared more than once that season, including: Frankie Avalon, The Chordettes, The Everly Brothers, The Four Coins, Bill Haley & the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Mello Kings, and Gene Vincent. A few acts in 1957 launched national and international careers after appearing on Bandstand. Danny & The Juniors, for example, rose quickly to national notice shortly after an early December 1957 Bandstand appearance. Their song, “At the Hop,” rose to the top of the music charts within weeks of their appearance.
Dick Clark with Johnny Mathis on American Band-stand in Oct 1957. Mathis released two singles in 1957: “Wonderful, Wonderful” & “It’s Not For Me To Say.”
On December 5th, 1957, the Diamonds appeared with their song “the Stroll,” which kicked off a new kind of dance with the kids forming two lines facing each other with several yards of space between them, as dance couples then took turns “strolling” down this middle aisle. Non-musical guests would also appear occasionally, as in the case of actor Hugh O’Brian from the ABC-TV series “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.” O’Brian appeared on the October 25, 1957 show. Some guests appeared only once and never emerged as national stars. Among those who appeared in 1957, were artists from an older era of popular music that continued in a period of transition to rock ‘n roll music. A listing of many of those who appeared on American Bandstand during its first national season appears below by show date, and when available, song performed.
Dick Clark interviewing the Everly Brothers at a “Bandstand” performance. They appeared at least twice in 1957 – Sept 13th & Dec 23rd, singing “Wake Up Little Susie” and other songs.
In addition to the regular American Bandstand weekday afternoon shows that aired in 1957, there were also a series of prime time American Bandstand TV shows broadcast on Monday evenings in the 7:30-8:00 p.m. time slot. Bill Haley & The Comets, for example, appeared on the prime time show, October 28th, 1957; Mickey & Sylvia appeared there, November 25th, 1957. The prime time shows, 13 in all that year, were much like the daytime show, with a bit more focus on the guests. These shows appeared to be experimental and served to broaden the reach of Bandstand to more viewers who could not see the daytime version. Some of these show dates are also included below. In any case, in 1957, American Bandstand — with its nationally-broadcast television dance show and a daily spotlight on new musical talent — was helping to build the gigantic national and international business that would emerge around rock ‘n roll music.
American Bandstand Guests & Performers Aug-Dec, 1957
Paul Anka – shown here on a Dutch record sleeve – made his TV debut on American Bandstand August 7, 1957 singing his soon-to-be No.1 hit, “Diana.”
Buddy Holly & the Crickets – shown on an album compilation – appeared on ‘Bandstand’ August 26, 1957, singing ‘That’ll Be The Day.’
Jackie Wilson appeared on ‘American Bandstand’ Oct 4, 1957 performing ‘Reet Petite (the Finest Girl You Ever Wanna Meet).’
Jerry Lee Lewis, who played a hot piano, appeared 3 times on AB in 1957: Aug 19, Oct 10, and Nov 4 singing “Great Balls of Fire” and other songs.
Bobby Darin, who went from teen idol to Las Vegas nightclub act, appeared on Bandstand Dec 17, 1957 to perform “Call My Name.” Click for separate story.
"Mickey & Sylvia," who had a million-seller with "Love is Strange," appeared on Bandstand's evening show, Nov 25th, 1957. Click for separate story.
Aug 5: Billy Williams / The Chordettes
Aug 6: D. Hawkins – “Susie Q”/ D. Rondo
Aug 7: Paul Anka – “Diana”
Aug 9: Lee Andrews & the Hearts
Aug 12: Gene Vincent / The Four Coins
Aug 13: Jodie Sands / Sal Mineo
Aug 14: Rusty & Doug Kershaw
Aug 15: Lee Kane
Aug 16: Ted Newman
Aug 19: Jerry Lee Lewis / Jimmy Bowen
Aug 20: David Hill / Terri Stevens
Aug 21: Randy Starr
Aug 22: The Dubs
Aug 23: Steve Karmen
Aug 26: Buddy Holly / Doc Bagby
Aug 27: Johnny Nash
Aug 28: Eileen Barton / Matys Brothers
Aug 29: Malcolm Dodds & Tunedrops
Aug 30: The Frank Virtuoso Quintet
Sep 2: Andy Williams / The Bobbettes
Sep 3: Mello-Kings – “Tonight, Tonight”
Sep 4: Libby Dean
Sep 5: Brian Fischer
Sep 6: The Mike Pedicin Quintet
Sep 9: The Diamonds
Sep 10: Jimmie Rodgers
Sep 11: Webb Pierce
Sep 12: Nick Noble / The Tune Weavers
Sep 13: Everly Brothers – “…Little Suzie”
Sep 16: The Crew-Cuts / Ted Newman
Sep 17: Tom Leonetti / Bobby Charles
Sep 18: Frankie Avalon / Rod Willis
Sep 19: Dale Hawkins / Bob Jaxson
Sep 20: Don Rondo / The Poni-Tails
Sep 23: The Playmates
Sep 24: Dick Lindy
Sep 25: Eileen Rodgers
Sep 26: The Rays
Sep 27: Bob Crewe
Sep 30: Sonny James
Oct 1: Cathy Carr
Oct 2: Bobby Brooks
Oct 3: Marvin Rainwater
Oct 4: Jackie Wilson – “Reet Petite”
Oct 7: The Shepherd Sisters
Oct 7: The Chordettes*
Oct 8: The Chordettes/Chuck Reed
Oct 9: Johnny Mathis/Andy Williams
Oct 10: J. Lee Lewis/Thurston Harris
Oct 11: Del-Vikings/Teddy Randazzo
Oct 14: The Four Coins
Oct 14: Bandstand evening show*
Oct 15: Carol Jarvis
Oct 16: Mello-Kings/Lou Connettie
Oct 17: Artie Wayne
Oct 18: No guest info
Oct 21: Five Satins / Rover Boys
Oct 21: Billy Williams*
Oct 22: Romaine Brown/Robin Hood
Oct 23: Georgia Gibbs
Oct 24: Cathy Carr/Vernon Taylor
Oct 25: Hugh O’Brian
Oct 26: Gene Vincent
Oct 28: Bill Haley & Comets*
Oct 29: Bonnie Guitar/DeJohn Sisters
Oct 30: Billy Miles / Jill Whitney
Oct 31: 4 Top Hatters / Bob Grabeau
Nov 1: The Four Esquires
Nov 4: Jerry Lee Lewis/The Bachelors
Nov 4: The Shepherd Sisters*
Nov 5: J. Bennett / Mitzi Mason
Nov 6: Jerry Reed
Nov 7: Tommy Prisco
Nov 8: Chuck Berry / Lu Ann Simms
Nov 11: Paul Carr & Fran Lori
Nov 11: Joni James*
Nov 12: Joni James
Nov 13: Janice Harper
Nov 14: Jim Lowe / Wilburn Bros.
Nov 15: Dick Duane / Gary Trexler
Nov 18: No guest info
Nov 18: Am Bandstand evening show*
Nov 19: Marty Robbins
Nov 20: Rusty Draper
Nov 21: The Crickets
Nov 22: Tom & Jerry
Nov 25: Guy Pastor
Nov 25: Mickey & Sylvia*
Nov 26: Sunny Gale
Nov 27: Bill Haley and His Comets
Nov 28: Paul Hampton
Nov 29: Ronnie Self
Dec 2: Bill Craddock / Sam Cooke
Dec 2: No Guest information*
Dec 3: No Guest information
Dec 4: Jimmie Dee / Danny & Juniors
Dec 5: The Diamonds / Helen Curtis
Dec 6: Terry Noland
Dec 9: The Sprouts
Dec 9: Bill Justis Combo- “Raunchy”*
Dec 10: Kay Armen
Dec 11: Randy Starr
Dec 12: Frankie Avalon
Dec 13: Gene Nash
Dec 16: Gene Vincent & Blue Caps
Dec 16: Sonny James*
Dec 17: Bobby Darin- “Call My Name”
Dec 18: Georgia Gibbs
Dec 19: Jerry Vale
Dec 20: The Twin-Tones
Dec 23: Johnny Crawford /4 Esquires
Dec 23: The Everly Brothers*
Dec 24: Mello Kings- “Tonight, Tonight”
Dec 25: Mike Pedicin Quartet
Dec 26: Patti Page / Four Esquires
Dec 27: Will Glahe / The Techinques
Dec 30: Bob Jaxon / Lee Allen
Dec 30: N. “Thin Man” Watts*
Dec 31: Fontaine Sisters / Tina Robin
Note: This is not a complete list of all 1957 American Bandstand guests for the “national” season, as some dates are missing and a few have incomplete or uncertain information.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Bandstand Performers, 1957,” PopHistoryDig.com, August 12, 2010.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
The Mello-Kings appeared twice on Bandstand in 1957 performing ‘Tonite, Tonite”(later corrected to “Tonight, Tonight”). Despite rising only to No.77 on the pop charts, the song remains a Doo Wop favorite.
Chuck Berry, shown here in another performance, made his national TV debut on American Bandstand Nov. 8, 1957 singing “Rock and Roll Music.”
Danny & The Juniors rose to national fame after they appeared on Bandstand as a substitute act in early December 1957, singing "At The Hop," which soared to No.1. Click for separate story.
Bill Haley and his Comets, one of the more famous rock ‘n roll acts by 1957, appeared on Bandstand’s prime time show Oct 28th and on the regular show, Nov 27th 1957.
The Chordettes appeared on the first nationally televised “American Bandstand” show, August 5, 1957. Their No. 2 national hit, “Lollipop,” came in 1958.
John A. Jackson, American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Hank Bordowitz, Turning Points in Rock and Roll, Citadel Press, 2004.
“Facing the Music,” Time, Monday, November 30, 1959.
“Teen-Agers’ Dreamboat,” New York Times, March 5, 1960.
“American Bandstand” and “Dick Clark,” The Museum of American Broadcast Communications.
Susan Bickelhaupt, TV Week 3, “Growing Up With Bandstand,” Boston Globe, May 10, 1992.
Murray Dubin, “Fifty Years Ago, American Bandstand Was Born in Philadelphia,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 3, 2002, p. D-1.
Bill Keveney, “American Bandstand: Hopping After 50 Years.” USA Today, May 2, 2002: p. D-3.
William Robbins, “Philadelphians Swing to 50’s Rock.” New York Times, July 1, 1982. p. A-12.
Tom Shales, “Dick Clark! American Bandstand,” Washington Post, February 4, 1977, p. B-1.
“Tall, That’s All,” Time, Monday, April 14, 1958.
“Facing the Music,” Time, Monday, Nov. 30, 1959.
Summary of the National Register of Historic Places Nomination for American Bandstand building, WFIL and WHYY studios, 4548 Market St., Philadelphia., Pennsylvania, July 28, 1986.
“American Bandstand” and “Dick Clark,” The Museum of American Broadcast Communications.
“Dick Clark,” The Radio Hall of Fame.
Richard Corliss, “Philly Fifties: Rock ‘n Radio,” Saturday, July 14, 2001.
Ginia Bellafante, “Ultrasuede Is Funny – VH-1’s Reruns of American Bandstand Prove the Hootie Network Can Outwit MTV,” Time, Monday, April 22, 1996.
Fred Goodman, “Roll Over, Beethoven: How Dick Clark Taught American Parents not to be Afraid of Rock-and-Roll and Made a Fortune in the Process,” Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire, Book Review, New York Times, October 26, 1997
Thomas Heath and Howard Schneider, “Snyder Adds A TV Icon To His Empire, “Washington Post, Wednesday, June 20, 2007, P. D-1.
Dick Clark and Richard Robinson, Rock, Roll & Remember, Thomas Y. Crowell, Publisher, 1976.
Robert Stephen Spitz, Rock, Roll & Remember, Book Review, New York Times, October 24, 1976.
Ken Emerson, “The Spin on Bandstand – Music, TV and Popular Culture Learned to Swing to the Beat of a Different Drummer: Big Bucks,” Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2007.
A documentary film entitled The Wages of Spin, focuses on the history of American Bandstand, the 1950s payola scandal, and Dick Clark. A preview clip from that documentary is available at You Tube and additional information is found at Character Driven Films.
Danny & The Juniors – from left, Danny Rapp, Dave White, Joe Terranova, and Frank Maffei – rose to fame in the late 1950s with “At The Hop.”
They began singing on Philadelphia street corners in the mid-1950s. They were just young kids at the time — 14 and 15 years old, attending John Bartram High School. They were a foursome: Danny Rapp, Dave White, Frank Maffei, and Joe Terranova.
Dave White had helped form the group early on. He was the son of a show business couple who did an acrobatic routine. Dave had hung out with some black kids in the area who were then singing a new kind of harmony. “I knew church music, and I knew how to read music,” White would later recount to the Los Angles Times. “They taught me the R&B and rock ‘n’ roll element. I was so excited about it that I went around and found guys in my neighborhood who could sing.”
The four boys sang at school parties and other local functions. They practiced whenever they found time — in their cars, in the school hallways, wherever. One night they decided to go to a street corner where a local record producer named John Madara lived. After telling the boys to “get lost” a few times, Madara finally went downstairs for a listen. The boys weren’t bad, he thought to himself. In fact, they were good enough for an introduction to local disc jockey, Larry Brown, and his partner, Artie Singer, who had a record label, Singular Records. It was 1957.
The young and hopeful Danny & The Juniors in a recording studio, 1957.
At the time, the boys called themselves the Juvenaires, and they had come up with a couple of songs. One was a ballad titled “Sometimes.” Another was a dance tune titled “Do the Bop,” written by group member Dave White. Artie Singer liked “Do the Bop,” and had the group soon cut a demo for him to test with local DJs. Singer took the record to a friend for an opinion — a friend who happened to be Dick Clark of the new Philadelphia TV dance show, American Bandstand.
Clark, in addition to hosting Bandstand, was also a radio DJ. Danny and the Juniors’ member Joe Terranova, who later renamed himself Joe Terri, recalled that the Philadelphia record business at that time was pretty hot. Producers were turning out new recordings by the dozens. And when the local DJs would give them air time, “they would sell 50,000-60,000 copies,” said Terri. “They really didn’t care if it was a national hit or not. They were making money doing it that way.”
The first recording of “At The Hop” in 1957 was on the Singular Records label of Philadelphia.
Dick Clark liked what he heard in the music that Artie Singer had brough him, but he offered two suggestions: that the boys shorten the name of their group from the Juvenairs to the Juniors, and that they change the term “bop,” used in “Do The Bop,” to something else. Clark explained that the kids on Bandstand were then doing a dance called the Bop. “But these dances come and go quickly,” said Clark, suggesting that the group change the word “bop” to “hop.” Record hops, said Clark, “are gonna be around for a long, long time.” In fact, part of Dick Clark’s lucrative career in the 1950s and 1960s involved sponsoring record hops, or “sock hops” as they were sometimes called. In any case, with Clark’s advice, the Juniors’ song was renamed “At The Hop.” It was then re-recorded and the group also changed their name to Danny & The Juniors. Producer Artie Singer put the record out on his Singular Records label. In a 2007 You Tube clip, from a longer documentary on Dick Clark and the payola scandal, Singer says on camera that Dick Clark asked for 50 percent of publication rights to “At The Hop” as a condition for playing the record. But when “At the Hop” first came out, it didn’t get much attention. That would soon change, however.
After Danny & the Juniors appeared on ‘Bandstand’ in Dec 1957, ABC’s Paramount record label acquired the rights to “At The Hop,” which became a No.1 hit, selling 2 million copies.
Dick Clark’s Bandstand TV show, meanwhile, had taken off. Beginning as a locally-broadcast Philadelphia show, Bandstand had become the highest rated local daytime show in the nation. Network TV executives in New York had taken notice. The ABC network decided to take the show national. By August 1957, now called American Bandstand, ABC began broadcasting the show nationwide at 3 p.m. for an hour-and-a-half. Within six months of going national, American Bandstand was picked up by 101 stations. Twenty million viewers were now tuning in, and 20,000-to-45,000 fan letters were arriving each week. Teenagers came from all over the country to dance on the show. But Bandstand was also a place where new talent could be seen; a place where aspiring artists could get their start. Danny & The Juniors, still laboring in the back bench of struggling Philadelphia singing groups, were about to get a big break.
Danny & the Juniors appearing on “American Bandstand,” with Dick Clark at the podium, 1950s.
On December 2, 1957, Singer got a somewhat frantic phone call from Dick Clark. A singing group scheduled to appear on Bandstand — said to have been Little Anthony & The Imperials — had cancelled and Clark needed a fill-in act imme- diately. Singer sent over Danny & the Juniors who did an on-air lip-sync performance of their new song, “At the Hop.” After the performance, the Bandstand switchboard lit up with hundreds of callers wanting to know about the group and the new song. ABC’s Paramount record label quickly became aware of the popular new song, bought up the master recordings, and re-issued the single under its ABC-Paramount label. By December 9th, 1957– a week after Danny & The Juniors had made their “emergency” fill-in appearance on Bandstand — “At The Hop” hit the Billboard pop chart, and within a month it was the No. 1 record in America.
Record sleeve for Danny & the Juniors’ extended play 45 rpm with four songs: "At The Hop," "Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay," "Sometimes" and "School Boy Romance," 1958.
“Overnight, we went from being unknowns to music stars,” Joe Terry would recall years later. “At the Hop” topped the U.S. charts for five weeks and sold 2 million copies around the world, reaching the No. 1 spot on the pop, country, and R& B charts. Danny & the Juniors were labeled Best New Group of 1957. Early in 1958, Dick Clark presented Danny & the Juniors with a gold record for “At The Hop” during an American Bandstand TV show — the show where the boys had made their national debut. According to one listing at Billboard magazine, “At The Hop” is ranked the 23rd all-time, best-selling record. On Band- stand, meanwhile, Danny and the Juniors became frequent guests on the nationally- telecast show, reportedly making dozens of appearances. They also appeared on other television shows. On January 2, 1958, they appeared on “The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom” singing “At The Hop.” They also made appearances on “The Patti Page Big Record Show” and “Nashville Now,” among others. And they toured with famous radio DJ, Alan Freed, and his rock ‘n roll revue. In June 1958 they made their Hollywood debut in the Columbia Pictures’ film, Let’s Rock, starring Julius LaRosa, who plays a mainstream singer attempting to fight off the rising new sound of rock ‘n roll music.
Danny & the Juniors performing in the late 1950s.
After “At the Hop” had risen to top the charts, and the group had a national hit, life for the four young Philadelphia teenagers quickly changed. In a retrospective interview with Joe Terry (Terranova) years later, some of the group’s early experiences were described:
Q: “How did life change for you when ‘At The Hop’ went to number one?”
A: “We had some major decisions to make. Myself, being that I was still in high school, so I had to decide whether I was gonna’ come out of high school and forego a college education and go into show business. So, life changed drastically. My goal was to go to Drexel University and become a draftsman / architect. That was a big decision that we all had to make. Dave had a scholarship to one of the universities. I don’t think Frank had any college plans, nor Danny. We went into a world where we were working tours almost every night for at least a year and a half. So, you give up your teen-age youth and become an entertainer. And that’s what happened…”.
Record sleeve cover for Danny & The Juniors’ 1958 song, “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay.”
The follow up to “At The Hop” was a song called “Rock ‘n Roll Is Here to Stay,” which also has its own asterisk in rock ‘n roll history. In 1957-58, rock ‘n roll music wasn’t being well received throughout all corners of America. On T.V. in 1957, for example, Ed Sullivan’s producers decided that Elvis Presley could only be seen on camera from the waist up, as they considered his hip movements too suggestive. In Chicago that year, Car- dinal Stritch of the Catholic archdiocese, prohibited all rock ‘n roll music from the church’s schools, fearing that “its rhythms encourage young people to behave in a hedonistic manner.” And in January 1958, St. Louis radio station KWK, had all rock ‘n roll music banned from its play list. The disc jockeys there — during a much-promoted “record-breaking” week — ceremoni- ously gave every rock ‘n roll record in the station’s library a “farewell spin” before smashing them to pieces. The station manager, Robert Convey, called the action “a simple weeding out of undesirable music.”Danny & the Juniors’ “Rock ‘n Roll Is Here to Stay,” was written in re- sponse to St. Louis KWK radio station’s ban on rock ‘n roll music and its on-air smashing of records. Danny and Juniors “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Here to Stay” was reportedly written in response to the radio station’s actions, and for a time, the song became something of a rock ‘n roll anthem. Written by Dave White, the song rose to No.19 on the music charts and became the group’s only other U.S. Top 20 hit. The song would also be used in the 1978 film soundtrack for Grease.
In 1960, Danny & the Juniors were signed to Dick Clark’s Swan Records label and they released “Twistin’ USA,” which made it into the Top 40, becoming their final hit single. They went on to release more singles, including “Pony Express” and nine other songs that would chart on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, but none of these repeated the success of their first two songs. “At The Hop,” however, would live again in future years, and would come into vogue on several occasions as rock ‘n roll nostalgia emerged in the U.S. and U.K.
In the 1973 movie, American Graffiti, which was set in part the late 1950s rock ‘n roll era, a scene at a senior class dance is featured with a look-alike band playing Danny & the Juniors’ “At the Hop” song. In 1976, nearly 20 years after its debut, “At the Hop” was re-issued in Britain where a wave of 1950s nostalgia had taken hold, propelling the tune back on the charts, reaching No. 39.
CD label for “Back to the Hop,” a collection of 26 various recorded and studio cuts of Danny & The Juniors’ music with Swan Records during the 1960-1962 period, by Roller Coaster Records, U.K., 1995 and as MP3 in 2003.
In later years, after their prime-time hit-making, the members of Danny & the Juniors went their separate ways, some not far from Philadelphia or the music business. For a time in the 1970s Danny Rapp and Joe Terranova had an “oldies” show on WCAM radio in Camden, New Jersey. Frank Maffei went on to become an optometrist. Dave White continued co-writing music with John Madara in Philadelphia, producing hit songs such as: “The Fly” by Chubby Checker; “One, Two, Three” by Len Barry of The Dovells; and “You Don’t Own Me” by Leslie Gore. Lead singer Danny Rapp became assistant manager at a toy factory for a time, and would return to performing in the early 1980s up until the time of his April 1983 death (by suicide, see below) in Parker, Arizona.
Dave White Tricker (his full name) and Madara split up in the mid-60s, and White hit the skids for a time and couldn’t pay the rent. So he moved to a New Jersey farmhouse and began working with a rock band called Crystal Mansion. About that time, his old singing buddy, Danny Rapp made him an offer to join a reunited Danny and the Juniors for some Las Vegas work organized by Dick Clark. “Danny called me up and said, ‘We can get $10,000 a week,’ and I didn’t have two cents,” White said, describing the call in a later interview. But White decided not to rejoin Danny, and in 1971 released a solo album in the mellow singer genre, but it was not a chart-buster. Then in 1978, rock ‘n roll nostalgia took off, and “At the Hop” found its way onto the hit soundtrack for Grease, yielding songwriting royalties for White. His Crystal Mansion group, meanwhile, signed a recording deal with 20th Century Fox records. White then went to Los Angeles and pumped his royalty money into his new band. But soon, the money ran out. “All of a sudden my sixty grand that I got from Grease [was] gone.” Crystal Mansion, meanwhile, was put on the backburner at Fox and White then took some film courses at UCLA. In 1982, White again met Danny Rapp, this time at a Lake Tahoe lounge where Danny was then performing with a new lineup of Juniors. The brief reunion went well, and White even went onstage and sang a couple of numbers with the group, but decided against going back with Danny, although tempting at time. White had resolved to himself he would only go back on the road if he had to, as a last resort. His songwriting royalties from what he had written in the ’50s and early ’60s was enough to keep him afloat.
Danny’s Suicide 1983
In early April 1983, in a motel room in Quartzsite, Arizona near Pheonix, the body of Danny Rapp was found. He was the victim of an apparent gunshot suicide. Rapp had been doing some performing in the early 1980s, and was then in Pheonix for a schedule of shows. But Rapp had not been seen for a few days, and failed to appear for scheduled performances in Pheo- nix. As the frontman for Danny & the Juniors, Rapp sang lead with the rock n roll group until they broke up in the mid-1960s. In the 1970s he briefly had a radio show in Camden, New Jersey. In later years, he became assistant manager in a toy factory. Rapp was born in Philadelphia in May 1941. He was 42 years old at the time of his death.
Joe Terry, meanwhile, had received a phone call from Danny Rapp in Arizona around Christmas of 1982, shortly before his suicide. “He was just on the road, pounding it out,” Terry said. “He said, ‘I’m tired, I’m coming off the road.’ There was no hint, other than the fact he was tired, that he was going to do anything like that.” White and Terry later described Rapp as troubled, given to drinking binges on occasion and other out-of-control behavior. “He had a lot of personal problems — a divorce he never quite got over,” Terry would say.
By the late 1980s, Dave White was trying to score with some music video work. Still, his old music was keeping him afloat. The songs he had written with Madara in the 1960s would be periodically revived by new artists, helping his songwriter royalties to flow again. In 1988, “You Don’t Own Me,” originally scored in the mid-1960s, had a lucrative revival in a new version by the British group Blow Monkeys — a song that was also included on the megahit Dirty Dancing sound track album. That one song produced more than $50,000 in royalties for White, with more in the offing. At the time, White then moved from a North Hollywood trailer park to a Newport Beach condo. He acknowledged that the periodic revival of his songs was “like an annuity or something,” helping to pay the bills. “It’s kept me going for 30 years, and I really appreciate it, ” he explained in 1988. “But you never know what you’re going to make next year. There was a time in there when I hardly made any money. Nostalgia wasn’t in…. Now, it’s hot again, but nostalgia could go into a decline. That’s why I’ve been trying real hard the last few years to come up with new hits.”
In later years, a reformed Danny & the Juniors featuring Joe Terry (Terranova), Frank Maffei and his brother, Bobby Maffei, began performing on the oldies circuit. This group has continued performing into the 2000s. In 2002, for example, they performed in Honolulu, Hawaii at the Blaisdell Arena in a nostalgia-filled show that also featured the reformed oldies groups including the Coasters, Bill Haley’s Comets, and the Drifters.
CD cover for “Whole Lotta Sha-Na-Na” album of 2006, first issued, Nov 1997.
Other progeny of the “At-The-Hop” sound and the Danny & the Juniors legacy would continue in the musical world in various forms — if only as part parody. In addition to Dave White’s songwriting and later hits, the group’s saxaphonist, Lennie Baker, helped form a rock ‘n roll nostalgia/parody group named Sha-Na-Na. This group played “At The Hop” at the historic Woodstock concert in 1969. The new group was relatively unknown at the time and were performing covers of ’50s hits and “doo-wop” songs, including Danny & The Junior’s “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay.” At Woodstock, their performance of “At The Hop,” which preceded Jimi Hendrix, helped launch their career. Sha-Na-Na, among other things, would go on to have their own TV show, running from 1977 to 1982. They also appeared in the movie Grease and performed several songs in that film, including “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay.” Sha-Na-Na, in fact, would release 21 albums and remain active, with varying personnel, into the 2000s.
Theater marquee announcing acts in an Alan Freed rock 'n roll show, 1950s.
For more stories at this website on the history of popular music and its various uses in advertising, politics, and film, go to the “Annals of Music” category page, or visit the Home Page for other story choices. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle.
A documentary film, The Wages of Spin, chronicles the Philadelphia music scene from 1952 thru 1963. Dick Clark and American Bandstand are covered in the film, as well as the payola scandal of the late 1950s, including some film clips of the Congressional payola hearings. A clip from that film is available at You Tube. See also CharacterDrivenFilms.com.