Following a few lacklustre affairs, here’s a breath of fresh air at number 1. The Teenagers with Frankie Lymon became the youngest act to date to rule the roost, with this classic rock’n’roll and doo-wop number.
Franklyn Joseph ‘Frankie’ Lymon was born 30 September 1942 in Harlem, New York. His parents were both singers in gospel group The Harlemaire, and young Lymon sang with two of his brothers in the Harlemaire Juniors.
At the tender age of 12, he was working as a grocery boy to help his struggling family when he became friends with a doo-wop group known as The Coup de Villes – lead singer Herman Santiago, plus Joe Negroni, Jimmy Merchant and Sherman Games.
There are several versions of who came up with the song, and indeed several court battles have ensued over publishing rights, but a neighbour of The Premiers, as they were known in 1955, handed the group some love letters written by his girlfriend, to use as inspiration. By the time they had their audition with tough producer George Goldner, they were known as The Teenagers. Santiago was either ill, or late, but whatever the reason, Lymon had a crack at the lead, and the group recorded their biggest single and one of rock’n’roll’s most memorable hits. Why Do Fools Fall in Love influenced the Jackson 5 and spawned the girl-group sound, as well as hundreds of imitators. And with Lymon barely a teenager.
For a song recorded such a long time ago, Why Do Fools Fall in Love still sounds exciting. It’s bursting with youthful energy, and a large part of that is down to Lymon’s lead vocal. This was rock’n’roll but filtered through the innocence of such a young group with little experience of the world. And the saxophone break is a blast. The song charted highly in the US, but performed even better in the UK. And then, before their career had barely begun, things began to fall apart.
Tensions understandably began to surface when the next single was credited to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. Early in 1957, Goldner began pushing Lymon as a solo act, and his departure was made official by September. New lead vocalist Billy Lobrano made the group unusually mix-raced, with a white member adding to the black and Hispanic mix. But Lobrano didn’t hang around long and they were looking for another singer in 1958.
While The Teenagers went through a string of replacement singers, to little success, Lymon’s career also went into freefall. They reunited briefly in 1965 but it didn’t last. He had become addicted to heroin at the age of 15, and died of an overdose on 27 February 1968 at his grandma’s house, aged only 25.
Two more founder members died during the 70s – Games of a heart attack in 1977 and Negroni a year later of a cerebral haemorrhage. In the 80s they hired female singer Pearl McKinnon in a desperate attempt to mimic Lymon’s voice. Funk star Jimmy Castor also had a run as their lead vocalist.
These days it’s Santiago, along with Bobby Jay, Terry King and Terrance Farward who make up The Teenagers, but even now they bill themselves as Frankie Lymon’s Legendary Teenagers – a testament to Lymon’s star power.
Written by: Frankie Lymon & Morris Levy
Producer: Richard Barrett
Weeks at number 1: 3 (20 July-9 August)
Sculptor Andy Goldsworthy – 26 July
Madness guitarist Chris Foreman – 8 August
22 July: Music newspaper Record Mirror published the first ever UK Albums Chart. They had their own version of the singles chart, but it is the New Musical Express charts that I use for this blog, as these are the ones recognised by the Official Charts Company as canon until 1960. The first album at number 1 was Frank Sinatra’s classic Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!.
26 July: The Suez crisis began when Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser shocked the British government by announcing the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Initially, Anthony Eden believed he had the country’s support in taking military action, and Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell agreed, but in the following weeks he took a more cautious tone.