A prank leads to a big hit

On today’s TimNeelyStuff entry, for the first time I post one of the songs that made the top 100 of the countdown from the proposed book, The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s. I first heard this song way back when I was a kid, before I started to collect 45s, and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for it.  In case you’ve never heard it before, as always, I have a YouTube link to the song.

#    44
Greenfields / The Brothers Four /
Columbia 4-41571
(Total points: 1,951 / Chart debut: 2/22/1960 / Chart peak: 2 / Weeks on chart: 20)

An achingly sad and beautiful song about lost love, “Greenfields” turned out to be the only big hit record for The Brothers Four.

The folk quartet – Bob Flick (bass fiddle), John Paine (guitar), Mike Kirkland (banjo) and Dick Foley (percussion) – formed at the University of Washington in Seattle, where they were members of the same fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, thus the “brothers” part of their name. In 1958, after they gained some notoriety on campus, they received a phone call from a woman claiming to be the secretary at the Colony Club in Seattle asking them to audition. It turned out to be a prank played by another fraternity; when the group went to the club, no one knew about any phone call. But they managed to get an audition anyway and were hired.

A year later, the Brothers Four went to San Francisco, where they were discovered at the legendary Hungry I nightclub by Mort Lewis, manager for Dave Brubeck. He managed to get them a contract with Columbia Records; a short blurb announcing their signing appeared in the August 17, 1959 issue of Billboard. A single, “Chicka Mucka Hi Di”/”Darlin’ Won’t You Wait,” an appearance on television’s The Jimmie Rodgers Show, a stint at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, and the release of their debut album, The Brothers Four, quickly followed.

In 1960, it was still unusual for record labels to release singles from LPs. The accepted practice was either to wait until after a hit single to record enough additional songs for an album, or, for more established artists, to record a free-standing album completely independent of 45s. Nonetheless, Columbia chose to issue “Greenfields” as a single from The Brothers Four. After debuting in the Hot 100 at a modest #95, it crept up the charts, eventually spending four weeks at #2, where it was unable to get past either “The Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” by Percy Faith or “Stuck on You” by Elvis Presley.

Though the Brothers Four never had another hit of the same magnitude of “Greenfields,” they parlayed that into quite a few years in the spotlight. They performed at John F. Kennedy’s presidential inauguration in 1961; they were nominated for three Grammys; and they sang “The Green Leaves of Summer,” their #65 hit from the film The Alamo, at the 1961 Academy Awards ceremony. In 1963, they did the theme song for ABC’s Hootenanny television series; and over the years, they would record numerous albums for Columbia, most of which were steady, and sometimes strong, sellers. Their LP sales would wane with the growing popularity of more politically-oriented folk singers; they stayed at Columbia until 1968 and had a short stint with Fantasy in 1970. But they remained a popular touring act.

The Brothers Four continued to perform as of 2015, with original member Flick still in the group, 55 years after their biggest hit.

Collector’s notes: Copies of “Greenfields” came from two different Columbia pressing plants with slightly different typefaces, and it was issued with a picture sleeve.

A rare 7-inch stereo single that plays at 33 1/3 rpm (Columbia S7 30571) also exists.

Fast fact: “Green Fields,” as the song was originally known, was written by Terry Gilkyson, Rich Dehr, and Frank Miller, who recorded under the name The Easy Riders; their original version appeared on their LP Blue Mountain in 1958. Coincidentally, on both the Easy Riders’ LP and The Brothers Four, the song was the second song on Side 2.

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