There are oldies and then there are oldies – this one is from before I was born. It’s a proper earworm, with some great lyrics, and it’s had almost 50 million views on YouTube, making it surely one of the best known oldies of all time.
It’s also popped up in films over the intervening years since it came out in 1954, most notably in Back To The Future. I’ll bet Scorsese has used them too, being a big fan of the doo wop era of the Fifties.
The Chordettes were a famous female vocal group similar to The Andrews Sisters Their barbershop-style close harmony singing was given a doo wop twist on their first and best known hit single, Mr. Sandman, also their biggest hit. As well as that singing, it has some great couplets, including rhyming Liberace with Pagliacci.
Archie Bleyer, who was the founder of Cadence Records, actively participated in the record. He conducted the orchestra, played his own knees as percussion, and was the voice in the third verse who said “Yes?”
Written by Pat Ballard, it’s not originally by The Chordettes, having been first recorded (and released as a B-side) by Vaughn Monroe & His Orchestra and then a hit for The Four Aces – also the name of the reggae club where I mis-spent much of my youth.
It was their version that is featured in Back To The Future when Marty McFly travels back to 1955 – the year it topped the US charts for seven weeks..
There have been many covers since, including versions by The Andrews Sisters, The Osmond Brothers, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye with Marvin Gaye on piano, Earl Van Dyke on organ, Eddie Willis on guitar, James Jamerson on bass, Benny Benjamin on drums and Jack Ashford on vibraphone, with backing vocals by The Love Tones and The Andantes; Emmylou Harris (with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt) and, in a thoroughly regrettable reggae version by Linda McCartney.
The group first made their name locally in Wisconsin and came to fame by winning a radio talent show in 1949, making their first LP a year later, and enjoying a string of hits throughout the Fifties and early Sixties.