Around a piano and back into the alley

I’ve been busy the past several days. I’m continuing to move into a new house; I’ve been rehearsing with my church choir for a combined concert we’re giving with three other churches in the near future; and though it would be strictly a volunteer thing, there’s a chance that I’ll be playing music over the radio in the not-too-distant future for a local college station.  I haven’t done that since my college days, but once I learn the equipment, I think I’ll be able to pick it up again.

None of this is paying work, but it keeps me out of trouble.

Today, here’s another entry from my unpublished tome, The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s, which, I have explained in prior posts, is based on a mathematical formula applied to every Billboard Hot 100 singles chart during the decade. Any hit that reached its peak position in the 1960s was eligible.  Here’s one that you probably danced to at some time, either in phys-ed class or at a wedding reception.

# 389
Alley Cat / Bent Fabric /
Atco 45-6226
(Total points: 1,299 / Chart debut: 7/28/1962 / Chart peak: 7 / Weeks on chart: 18)

Born Bent Fabricius-Bjerre on December 7, 1924 In Frederiksberg, Denmark, Bent Fabric is best-known for his piano melody that made the top 10 late in 1962.

After World War II, Fabric played in a jazz band in Denmark, and in 1950, he founded Metronome Records. For several years in the mid-1950s, using the name “Frank Barcley,” he recorded medleys of old songs in a honky-tonk piano style reminiscent of the German pianist Crazy Otto (and, by extension, American Johnny Maddox). Though none of these were released in the U.S., they did have an enthusiastic audience in Denmark, and most of them were also issued in the United Kingdom. Fabric then began to write soundtrack music for Danish movies and television programs under yet another pseudonym, “Frank Bjorn.”

One of these songs was the theme for a popular TV show that debuted in 1961. On this program, Fabric played piano and entertained guest musicians. Both the program and the melody had the same name, “Omkring et flygel” (English: “Around a Piano”). When the song was released on a 45 – under his full, real name this time – it became an unexpected hit not only in Denmark, but throughout Europe. The U.K. Columbia label – no relation to U.S. Columbia at that time – picked it up for British release in December 1961, shortening the performer’s name to Bent Fabric and retitling the song “The Alleycat.”

Earlier in 1961, Metronome had licensed a European mainland hit for release on the Atco label in the U.S., and it became a #2 hit on the Hot 100 – “Apache” by Jorgen Ingmann. Remembering this, when Fabric had his own hit single on the European continent in 1962, he worked yet another deal with Atco. This time under the slightly revised title “Alley Cat,” with a B-side of “Markin’ Time,” both sides were reviewed by Billboard in the May 26, 1962 issue.

“Alley Cat” took a long time to break; it didn’t make the Hot 100 until the July 28 issue, and even then, it didn’t exactly zoom up the charts. But it finally got to #7 right at the end of September.

The song’s influence lasted long past its days on the chart:

— In one of the many strange moments in Grammy Awards history, “Alley Cat” won honors for “Best Rock ‘n’ Roll Recording.”

— In the first two years it was available, “Alley Cat” sold more than 500,000 copies of sheet music, a phenomenal number for the early 1960s, when sheet music sales were a much smaller part of the market than they had been in the 1940s and earlier.

— Fabric was able to record an album to go with his hit song, and Atco continued to release new Fabric LPs into 1968. As late as 2006, he had a hit called “Jukebox,” a remix of which made the top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Club Play chart.

— And finally, at some point in the 1960s, a line dance called, naturally, the Alley Cat was invented to go with the song, which meant that the song was in constant rotation for several decades at wedding receptions and other events at which disc jockeys spun records.

Collector’s notes: At least six different pressing-plant variations are known for “Alley Cat.” The primary distinction between them is that some copies have the artist credit “Bent Fabric and His Piano” on one line and others have it on two lines. A late-1960s pressing came from Specialty in Olyphant, Pa. and has a full address at the bottom of the label; earlier copies only state, “Division of ATLANTIC RECORDS, New York, N.Y.”

Fast fact: When Fabric’s instrumental became a hit, words were added by Jack Harlen, and the vocal version became a minor hit for David Thorne on the Riverside label. The version with lyrics was also recorded by Peggy Lee and Bobby Rydell, among others.


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