Many people probably remember Shelley Fabares for her portrayal of Christine Armstrong on the popular television series Coach, 1989-1997. If you are a little older you will probably remember her as teenage daughter Mary on the first five seasons on The Donna Reed Show, which ran 1958-1966. If you are a fan of Elvis you will recall her as the co-star of the movies, Girl Happy, Clambake, and Spinout. All of which leads us to her short time as a genuine female teenage music idol.
She was a reluctant singer with an average voice but with the power of a hit television show behind her, she would become a popular one. During the fourth season of the series she premiered “Johnny Angel” on the show and the single would go on to sell over a million copies, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for two weeks 50 years ago.
It was a typical song of teen angst that was popular during the pre-Beatles era. It was the story of a girl who was in love with a boy who doesn’t know she exists. She begins to turn down other opportunities as she pines for this guy who’s out of her league. She finally got the boy in the follow-up single, “Johnny Loves Me,” which was released a few months later.
The song was innovative as it contained an early use of an echo chamber in the recording studio where she repeatedly sings “Johnny Angel” at the beginning of the song. Backing vocals were provided by the veteran group The Blossoms, featuring 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Darlene Love. It doesn’t get much better than that.
“Johnny Angel” was a song from a different and far simpler era and it sounds dated today. The arrival of the Beatles and the subsequent changing tastes in music in the United States would signal the end of her music career by the mid-1960s. Still, very few singers can make the claim of having had a number one hit song. It was 50 years ago this week that Shelley Fabares and her “Johnny Angel” sat on top of the American music world.