A gentle pre-Beatles hit from England

It’s been several days since the last TimNeelyStuff entry, During that time, I got to see an old friend from high school that I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years; I hosted a party at my new residence, with a lot of help from my sister, her husband and some mutual friends; and I took the next step to returning to the radio as a DJ after a 30-year absence from the airwaves (except as a “special guest”). Now, if I could get some paying work – but a lot of other stuff outside of that is taking shape.

Today’s entry in the possible book The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s comes from a female British duo that had their only hit a couple months before the Beatles finally made the American charts safe for the U.K.

# 533
You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry / The Caravelles /
Smash S-1852
(Total points: 1,160 / Chart debut: 11/2/1963 / Chart peak: 3 / Weeks on chart: 13)

The full-bore onslaught of the British Invasion was still two months away when this gentle ballad from a U.K. girl group climbed into the top 10.

There are several stories as to how Lois Wilkinson and Andrea Simpson first formed a group and came to sing what would become their biggest hit, “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry.” According to Wilkinson’s autobiography on her web site, she and Simpson met as co-workers at Lawson Piggott Motors in London. Both of them had a musical upbringing; Wilkinson learned to play guitar at a young age and Simpson was from a show-business family. At some point, the musically compatible duo formed an act and began to rehearse. A friend of the family, guitarist Tony Pitt, introduced them to the song that would become their claim to fame.

Co-written by Bob Merrill and Terry Shand, “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry” was first issued in a recording in June 1950 by country singer Moon Mullican on King, promptly followed by co-composer Shand’s own version as vocalist with Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra on Columbia. Ernest Tubb then recorded it for Decca and made the top 10 of the country charts with it in October 1950. Pitt had become acquainted with it through its appearance on the B-side of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s massive 1955-56 #1 hit, “Sixteen Tons.”

Wilkinson and Simpson recorded some demos, possibly under the supervision of Curly Clayton, who a few months earlier had hosted a demo session for the band that became famous worldwide as The Rolling Stones. The tape eventually made its way to Harry Robinson, who was one of the partners in a newly formed production company called B.P.R. Wilkinson and Simpson signed a deal, and within a few weeks, B.P.R. had licensed “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry” to Ritz Records, a subsidiary of British Decca. The head of Ritz Records, Bunny Lewis, gave the women the name “The Caravelles,” taken from the name of a French airplane.

To everyone’s surprise, the young women quickly made the British Top 10. The B.P.R. team then made a deal to have the single released in America on the Smash label, on which – to everyone’s even greater surprise – it not only made the Hot 100, but peaked at a higher position in the U.S. (#3) than it had in England!

Smash Records quickly assembled an LP, and the Caravelles went on a short tour of the States, the highlight of which was serving as one of the opening acts for The Beatles in their Washington Coliseum concert of February 11, 1964. But they never had another big hit.

Eventually, Lois Wilkinson went solo and recorded under the name “Lois Lane”; Andrea Simpson would continue to perform with an assortment of female partners as The Caravelles into the 1990s.

Collector’s note: Two slightly different pressings of the Smash 45 exist; both are from the time when it was a hit. One of them has stars around the title of the A-side and the words “Chicago, Illinois, USA” at the bottom; the other does not have stars around the title and has the words “Smash Records – Vendor: Mercury Record Corporation” along the edge of the right of the label.

Fast fact: The “B” of B.P.R. was Chris Blackwell, the founder of a then little-known label called Island Records.

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