(January 2, 2020): Move over Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande. Eat your heart out Lizzo and Billie Eilish.
Yeah, Mariah Carey, you may own the record for most No. 1 songs of all solo women (and men for that matter).
But the woman right behind you on the most recent Hot 100 chart is one of the first solo female artists to ever have a No. 1 single on the American charts, and she did it nearly 60 years ago!
This article commemorates the three women who were the first to top Billboard’s Hot 100 singles charts beginning in 1960 – a time when it was unheard-of to see women enjoying the kind of success they do now.
Brenda Lee, who had this past holiday season’s second-most popular Christmas tune, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” was also the second woman ever to top the Hot 100. She did it on the chart dated July 18, 1960, with the classic ballad “I’m Sorry.”
The first woman to reach No. 1? That would be Connie Francis, who achieved hers just three weeks earlier on June 27, 1960, with an upbeat little bop titled “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.”
Then, later in 1960, each woman topped the Hot 100 again with her followup single. Connie hit No. 1 in September with “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own,” and Brenda followed a month later with “I Want to Be Wanted.”
Thus, both of these early chart pioneers had two No. 1 singles before any other solo woman even had one.
Their accomplishments were a pretty big deal in 1960, as it was rare for women to even reach the top ten, let alone have number one hits in the early days of the rock-and-roll era.
To further put this in perspective, there had already been 29 other No. 1 songs on the still-nascent Hot 100 after the chart’s inauguration on August 4, 1958, before Francis became the first solo woman to do it nearly two years later. In the 22 months before her achievement, only male soloists, duos and groups, and one group with a female vocalist (the Teddy Bears’ singer Carol Connors on “To Know Him Is To Love Him”) had ever reached the top of Billboard’s premier singles chart.
For her part, Francis, who had been recording hits for many years before the Hot 100 debuted, would also get a third chart-topper on March 31, 1962, with the smash, “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You.”
And then, immediately after Francis’ third No. 1, another solo singer finally joined her and Lee in this category. Singer/actress Shelley Fabares replaced “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” with her No. 1 single “Johnny Angel” on the chart dated April 7, 1962.
The beauty of this milestone anniversary year is that all three women – Connie Francis, Brenda Lee and Shelley Fabares – are still alive today to relish their groundbreaking accomplishments.
And DJROBBLOG is taking this 60th anniversary opportunity to commemorate all three while they’re still here with us.
Where are they now?
So whatever became of these first three women who were around when rock and roll was still new and the only “hop” associated with music was the sock hop, not hip-hop? Whatever happened to Connie Francis, Brenda Lee and Shelley Fabares?
Connie Francis (born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero) continued recording throughout the 1960s and became one of the first international singing superstars. She recorded songs in several different languages – nine in all – to ensure her songs’ success overseas in countries like Germany, Spain, Italy and the U.K.
Changes in musical tastes and the onslaught of the British Invasion changed her fortunes in the U.S. and Francis never had another American top-40 hit after 1964’s “Be Anything (But Be Mine).”
Francis suffered personal tragedy when she became the victim of a rape in November 1974 at a motel lodge in Jericho, New York. She won a settlement against the Howard Johnson’s motel chain for providing inadequate security, but the rapist was never found.
Over the years, Francis – who has famously battled depression following the rape and several personal losses – has had sporadic success with various releases, including a disco version of signature tune “Where the Boys Are” in 1978 and several brushes with the country and adult contemporary charts.
She’s also appeared on several tours, including stints in Las Vegas as recently as 2010.
Francis, who is the biggest international female pop star of the first half of the 1960s, turned 81 just last month and is still considered an active performer.
Look no further than this past week’s Hot 100 (dated Jan. 4, 2020) to gauge Ms. Lee’s current relevance. Her song, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” peaked at No. 2 for two weeks – behind only Mariah Carey’s juggernaut single – to rank as the second-most popular Christmas standard again this year. A new animated video helped propel the song to its new peak, but it has been considered a holiday classic for decades and has regularly ranked as the second or third highest-peaking song on Billboard’s Holiday Songs list for the past nine years of that chart’s existence.
The advent of streaming and recent chart rule changes allowed Little Miss Dynamite (Lee stands at 4 ft 9 inches) to achieve her highest chart ranking in 59-plus years. The last time she ranked as high as No. 2 was when she was at No. 1 with “I Want to Be Wanted” in 1960.
Lee would go on to have eight more top tens after “Wanted” in the first half of the 1960s, but like Connie Francis, her pop chart fortunes began to dry up after the British Invasion of 1964.
Lee, however, found continued success on the country charts. She had more than a dozen top-40 singles on Billboard’s country chart between 1971 and 1984, including nine top tens.
In fact, Lee is the only woman to have been inducted in both the Rock and Roll and Country Music Halls of Fame, and she’s also the recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.
Lee, whose birthday is a day before Francis’, turned 75 on December 11. She has been married to Ronnie Shacklett for nearly 57 years – since April 1963.
Fabares had fewer chart successes than her two predecessors but had no shortage of star power when her very first record, “Johnny Angel,” topped the chart in 1962. She had already become a child star by portraying the daughter of actress Donna Reed’s character on The Donna Reed Show beginning in the late 1950s.
She was still in the role when “Johnny Angel” knocked Connie Francis’ “Don’t Break the Heart that Loves You” from No. 1, a feat that made Francis and Fabares the first two women to have back-to-back No. 1 singles on the Hot 100.
While Fabares is largely considered a one-hit-wonder, she actually had a second top-40 hit with “Johnny Loves Me” later in 1962. It peaked at No. 21 on the Hot 100.
But her biggest claims to fame will perhaps always be connected to sitcom television. In 1984 she married second husband Mike Farrell (who played Captain B. J. Hunnicutt on M*A*S*H) and five years later she starred as the eventual wife of character Hayden Fox on ABC’s Coach.
In October 2000, she received a life-saving liver transplant after being diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis.
Like her two predecessors, she is still listed as an active entertainer in Wikipedia. She will turn 76 in two weeks (January 19).
For those wondering, here’s a list of the first 20 women to have solo No. 1 singles on the Hot 100 (*denotes those who are deceased):
|Order||Artist||First No. 1 single||Date|
|1||Connie Francis||“Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”||6/27/1960|
|2||Brenda Lee||“I’m Sorry”||7/18/1960|
|3||Shelley Fabares||“Johnny Angel”||4/7/1962|
|4||Little Eva*||“The Locomotion”||8/25/1962|
|5||Little Peggy March||“I Will Follow Him”||4/271963|
|6||Leslie Gore*||“It’s My Party”||6/1/1963|
|7||The Singing Nun*||“Dominique”||12/7/1963|
|8||Mary Wells*||“My Guy”||5/16/1964|
|10||Nancy Sinatra||“These Boots are Made for Walkin’”||2/26/1966|
|12||Bobbie Gentry||“Ode to Billie Joe”||8/26/1967|
|13||Lulu||“To Sir with Love”||10/21/1967|
|14||Jeannie C. Riley||“Harper Valley PTA”||9/21/1968|
|15||Diana Ross||“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”||9/19/1970|
|16||Janis Joplin*||“Me and Bobby McGee”||3/20/1971|
|17||Carole King||“It’s Too Late”/“I Feel the Earth Move”||6/19/1971|
|18||Cher||“Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves”||11/6/1971|
|19||Melanie||“Brand New Key”||12/25/1971|
|20||Roberta Flack||“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”||4/15/1972|
As you can see we’ve lost many of the women who paved the way for today’s singers to enjoy the successes they’ve had. But at least the first three women to have No. 1 solo hits are still with us 60 years later in 2020!
So, the next time you hear Selena’s or Billie’s or even Mariah’s No. 1 songs on the radio, remember to tip your hats to those who did it first: Connie, Brenda and Shelley!
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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