Two weeks ago I wrote that it didn’t get any better than Ricky Nelson and Roy Orbison having back-to-back number one hits 50 years ago. That streak of excellence came to an end when “Moody River” by Pat Boone topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart a half century ago this week.
Pat Boone was the vanilla milkshake of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. He would take rhythm & blues hits of the day and turn them into homogenized pop songs. His versions usually outsold the originals and deprived many R&B artists of the day a great deal of crossover commercial success.
There can be no denying that this formula proved successful, as he sold 45 million albums, and had 60 singles reach the charts, including six that ascended to number one. It was, however, the British Invasion that brought his commercial viability to an end.
“Moody River” was released May 1, 1961, and although it took a while, it finally reached the number one position, June 19, 1961, where it remained for seven days. It was a depressing song of suicide and death. Frank Sinatra, Johnny Rivers, and John Fogerty’s Blue Ridge Rangers would all later record better versions of the song, but none would have the success of Mr. Boone.
Pat Boone had only one more Top 10 hit during his career after this before becoming a caricature of the music world and fame. As the 1960s progressed, the world of music and its fans quickly changed, and his move toward fundamental Christianity pushed him further away from mainstream success.
Still, there is no taking away the success that made him one of the stars of the early rock ‘n’ roll era and it was 50 years ago this week that he had his last hurrah at the top of the charts.