Don’t Know No Mojo

By popular demand—and around here, that means a couple of people asked me to do it—here’s another installment of the Down in the Bottom series, which covers the one-hit wonders to peak near the bottom of the Hot 100 between 1955 and 1986. The first helping of Number 90s includes a spicy Italian dish, some Puerto Rican R&B, a guy from Philly, and some girls from Chicago, so let’s ride.

“No Regrets”/Jimmy Barnes (3/1/59, two weeks). From the pen of songwriter Otis Blackwell, “No Regrets” was covered more famously by Little Willie John a year later, although his version didn’t chart on the Hot 100. Barnes was a former gospel singer, and not the Australian who scored a few hits in the early 90s. A 1959 item in Jet magazine reported that he refused to “jazz up” spirituals for the night-club crowd.

“Suddenly”/Nicky DeMatteo (3/14/60, two weeks). DeMatteo had started singing on the radio in his native Philadelphia at age 10, and briefly sang with Arthur Godfrey at age 15. He scored several local hits in Philadelphia, and later performed as a pianist and singer in Atlantic City. “Suddenly” should put you in mind of Frankie Avalon, or your own favorite denatured pop singer of 50 years ago.

“Mojo Workout (Dance)”/Larry Bright (5/23/60, three weeks). Virginia-born, Texas-raised military brat Larry Bright liked Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working” but didn’t know the title, so he dreamed up his own mojo song. When he asked his record label for an advance on his royalties so he could buy a new suit for a TV appearance, they refused, and he quit the label. He would kick around the music biz for years thereafter, doing surf rock, teen pop, and blues, as well as playing gigs in clubs on the Sunset Strip and befriending Elvis Presley. Interesting biography here.

“Stranger From Durango”/Richie Allen (11/28/60, two weeks). You know this guy’s work, even if you don’t know his name. After bagging a career as a surf-rock guitarist (most notably on Sandy Nelson’s “Teen Beat” and “Let There Be Drums,” which he co-wrote and played on), Allen reverted to his real name, Richard Podolor, and became famous as the producer for Three Dog Night, starting on their 1969 live album and continuing through 1974. He also produced other acts, including Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, and Blues Image. “Stranger From Durango” is a pure artifact of its time, twangy guitar mixed with strings, and would have sounded just fine next to almost everything else on the radio in November 1960.

Va-va-va-voom, as the hipsters of 1961 might have said, plus video and mp3s, on the flip.

“This World We Love In”/Mina (5/8/61, one week). Mina Mazzini was an Italian singer nicknamed both the Queen of Screamers and the Tiger of Cremona. She outraged the public morals of Italy in various ways during the 1960s, but remains popular over there today. “This World We Love In” (original Italian title “Il Cielo in Una Stanza”) was featured in the movie Goodfellas. Here she is, with the English version of her song dubbed over video of the Italian version. After you get a look at her, you won’t mind the disconnect.

“Tell Him”/Drew-Vels (2/8/64, two weeks). The Drew-Vels were three sisters and one guy (married to a sister) from Evanston, Illinois, and “Tell Him” broke big in Chicago first. One of the sisters, Patti, would score several hits as a solo artist, and three of her singles would make the Hot 100. One of them was her own re-recording of “Tell Him” in 1967; the biggest was her version of “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing” in 1968.

“Where Is the Party”/Helena Ferguson (12/2/67, five weeks). She was an R&B singer from New York City, but the house band at her record label, Compass, was from Dayton, Ohio, by way of Detroit. Shortly after playing on “Where Is the Party,” they would release their first single, “Trespassin’,” under their own name: the Ohio Players. On something called “Where Is the Party,” you’d expect them to be tasked with bringing the funk—but you would be wrong.

“Nitty Gritty”/Ricardo Ray (10/19/68, three weeks). Known by some as the king of salsa, Ricardo Ray and his longtime collaborator Bobby Cruz released a number of Latin jazz and pop albums in the 1960s. His rock-oriented 1968 album Let’s Get Down to the Real Nitty Gritty featured covers of several familiar songs, including “Mony Mony,” “Sookie Sookie,” and “Ya Ya.” “Nitty Gritty” is the one that Shirley Ellis recorded a few years before.

In the next installment, we’ll tackle the first half of the 1970s, including one of the oddest and most unlikely groups ever to chart a hit and the only officially charted hit by a singer we wrote about here not long ago.

“No Regrets”/Jimmy Barnes (out of print)
“Where Is the Party”/Helena Ferguson (out of print)


5 responses

  1. The Ricardo Ray is a longtime favorite of mine. I had no idea it had charted.

  2. …looks like you forgot one from 1960–“Push Push” by Austin Taylor…but thanks for all the rest!

  3. Austin Taylor did indeed hit in 1960 with “Push Push,” but he charted at least once several years later under his real name, Ted Taylor–so I left him off. Good catch, though.

  4. Ricardo forgot a few on his album, namely Iko Iko, Sugar Sugar, Ring Ring, Honey Honey, Tighter Tighter, Chewy Chewy and of course…… Push Push.

  5. Fun list! Only one thing… you wrote “Mina Mazzini was an Italian singer…” She most definitely still is! (She’s in her 70s and still comes out with an album almost every year.) Also, she’s hardly a one-hit wonder… although if you only mean in the US, that’s fair.

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