Billy Bland: In the right place at the right time

Hey everyone, it’s time for a new edition of TimNeelyStuff.

Eight days have passed since my last posting. The big event over the past week was that I got to see an old friend that I first met in fifth grade. For about a year and a half, we were best buddies. Then we had a falling-out over something trivial, and he became one of my most merciless torturers, especially in junior high school but to some degree in high school as well. Five years after we graduated from high school, he apologized for all the stuff he’d put me through, and I accepted his apology.

This past summer, he saw my profile on LinkedIn and noticed that I had moved from Wisconsin to Virginia. He contacted me, and we discovered that his daughter is attending Sweet Briar College, right up the road from where I now live!  One thing led to another, and we’ve now seen each other twice in the past couple months.  Last weekend, he and his wife were in the area because his daughter was in the Sweet Briar Theatre production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. We took in the play twice and spent some quality time together.

In the meantime, I’ve also been organizing and chronicling my huge collection of Christmas CDs. I’ve got more than 2,000 of them, probably closer to 2,500, and they take up an entire wall in my office space at the house where I now live.

And I continue to work on The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s. Here’s another excerpt, which talks about the only big hit for a singer named Billy Bland.  He hadn’t had a new record in two years, but, while sitting in on a session of Titus Turner, who was recording for a subsidiary of his label, Bland tried the vocal in Turner’s place – and Bland got the hit.

# 397
Let the Little Girl Dance / Billy Bland /
Old Town 1076
(Total points: 1,294 / Chart debut: 2/15/1960 / Chart peak 7 / Weeks on chart: 20)

Born on April 5, 1932 in Wilmington, N.C., Billy Bland was the youngest of 19 children. He began singing at a young age; by 1947, he had made his professional debut in New York. He may have been the lead singer on The Bees’ 1954 recording of the Dave Bartholomew song “Toy Bell,” which became better known under its original title, “My Ding-a-Ling,” when Chuck Berry took his remake to #1 in 1972.

In 1956, Bland made his first two singles for New York-based Old Town Records, “Chicken in Basket,” a Bo Diddley sound-alike, and “Chicken Hop,” a blues-based song. Neither was a hit, though the latter got some regional action in 1958 after it was reissued by Tip-Top Records in Richmond, Va.

After a couple years with no new records, Bland seized an opportunity in another singer’s recording session, and the result was the biggest hit of his career.

Henry Glover, a composer, producer and sometimes songwriter who had spent much of his career at King Records, was lured to New York in 1959, where he started his own label, Glover Records, as a subsidiary of Old Town. The second single on the Glover label was a minor hit called “We Told You Not to Marry,” an answer song to Lloyd Price’s “I’m Gonna Get Married” by rhythm & blues veteran Titus Turner. As a potential follow-up, Turner was working with Glover on “Let the Little Girl Dance,” a Jackie Wilson-inspired song originally recorded in 1958 by Carl Spencer & The Videos on the Manhattan label. Glover, who co-wrote the song with Spencer, had an idea of how he wanted the lead vocal to sound, but Turner wasn’t getting it. Bland, who was at the session, volunteered to try instead, and he nailed it in one take.

“Let the Little Girl Dance” took a while to break. It spent two weeks on the Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart and four weeks in the 90s in the Hot 100 before it started its big move. It reached its peak of #7 in May 1960.

Bland followed with three singles that got no higher than 90 on the chart and others that didn’t make the Hot 100 at all. He continued to record for Old Town through 1963; after two singles on the St. Lawrence label in 1965 flopped, his recording career ended. He continued to perform for a few more years and then retired from music.

                Collector’s notes: Original copies of “Let the Little Girl Dance” are on light blue labels. At least four different type styles exist. Most copies have the song title in one line, but one pressing has the song title in two lines. Another one has BMI, the performing rights organization, standing alone rather than in parentheses as on most light-blue pressings. All of these variants appear to be from the time the song was a hit, as Old Town used multiple pressing plants to meet demand. A later pressing exists on the black and blue label with “Old Town” inside a yellow moon, a design likely inspired by the label’s biggest hit, “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” by the Capris.

                Fast fact: “Let the Little Girl Dance” was the first pop Top 10 single for Old Town Records, which had been founded in 1953.

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