In the motion picture business, probably the most reliable path to financial success is to produce a sequel to any hit film. Whether it’s “The Godfather”, “Harry Potter” or “Star Wars”, there is nothing more bankable than a follow-up to a major blockbuster. With this in mind, it is surprising to realize that this formula has not worked very well in the world of popular music. One would think that given the number of hit records that have been released during our lifetime, a certain percentage of them would have spawned a successful sequel, but a recent study done by the Daley Planet suggests that this has never been the case. Although our research only covered the golden age of rock and roll (1955-1963), we stand by our conclusion that song sequels have been relatively few in number, and most of those did not come close to matching the popularity of the originals.
Of course, not all songs contain a storyline that can possibly inspire a sequel. “Rock Around the Clock”, “Tutti Frutti” or “Teddy Bear” do not have any elements that make a listener wonder what might have happened next, but plenty of other records do. The first real attempt a song sequel came about in 1959 with the release of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue Got Married” which came almost two years after “Peggy Sue”, which was a huge hit for Holly, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the fall of 1957. Holly’s “Peggy Sue” lyrics suggest that the singer worships the girl, which makes the words to “Peggy Sue Got Married” very depressing. “You recall a girl that’s been in nearly every song…this is what I’ve heard, of course the story could be wrong” explains Holly, as he updates us on his obsession. “She’s the one, I’ve been told…now she’s wearing a band of gold…Peggy Sue got married not along ago.” Released five months after Buddy Holly’s tragic death, “Peggy Sue Got Married’ failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100, establishing the pattern of disappointing results for follow-up single records.
Chuck Berry had a huge hit record in March of 1958 when “Johnny B. Good” made it all the way to #8 on the Billboard charts. The tune tells the story of a country boy whose ability to play a guitar “just like ringing a bell” caused people passing by to say, “oh my that little country boy could play.” The song ends with Johnny’s mother predicting his name would “someday be in lights,” which turns out to be the case in Berry’s 1960 offering, “Bye Bye Johnny.” The sequel describes Johnny’s mother as withdrawing her “money out of the Southern Trust…and put her little boy aboard a Greyhound bus” bound for Hollywood. Unfortunately, “Bye Bye Johnny” flopped as a single, as apparently record buyers were content with Johnny simply sitting “beneath the tree by the railroad track.”
One would think the Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” could not logically spawn a sequel, given the tragic ending. Recorded in 1961, “Big Bad John” tells us all about a huge, soft- spoken miner named John, who was “broad in the should, and narrow at the hip…and everyone knew you didn’t give any lip to Big John.” A brief back story explains that John “came from New Orleans, where he got into a fight over a Cajun Queen”, which resulted in the death of an unnamed Louisiana man. When faulty timber results in a cave-in at the mine, John grabs some sagging timber, and using his incredible strength, produces enough leverage lift the rocks blocking the tunnel, saving 20 men from a would be grave. Before John could make his own escape, the entire mine collapsed, causing everyone to believe “it was the end of the line for Big John.” “Big Bad John” was the #1 record in America in November of 1961, and in 1962, we were shocked to learn that Big John was not yet finished, as Jimmy Dean was back with “The Cajun Queen.” Yes, the same gal who Big John and the Louisiana fellow fought over shows up at John’s mining town shortly after the big man’s demise, stating that she “didn’t come here to argue, or waste anybody’s time…I just come to get my man from your dirty old mine.” Miraculously, Queenie goes down into the mine, locates Big John, and brings him back to life with a kiss. One has to question the amount of effort the other miners must have put forth, given the fact that the Cajin Queen found John so quickly. Never the less, “The Cajun Queen” rose no higher than #22 on the charts.
The rock and roll landscape is littered with one-hit-wonders, a list that includes Marcie Blaine, whose only entry in the top 50 was the smash hit, “Bobby’s Girl,” which reached #3 in the fall of 1962. Marcie sings about how being Bobby’s girl is the most important thing in life to her, and promises that she’ll be a grateful and thankful girl if and when it happens. Sadly, we learned in 1964, that being Bobby’s girl wasn’t all that great. In “Bobby Did,” Marcie Blaine informs us that even though her friends assured her that she did the right thing by dumping him, the truth of the matter is “I didn’t say goodbye…Bobby did.” In any case, “Bobby Did” sold few records, as record buyers in 1964 were much more interested in the Beatles than any updates on Bobby.
Probably the most successful sequel to a #1 record was achieved by Lesley Gore, who, in 1963, followed up the chart topping “It’s My Party” with “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” which climbed all the way to #5 a few months later. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the story found in “Its My Party,” where we’re told all about a young lady losing her Johnny to a girl named Judy, all of this taking place at her own birthday party. Fortunately, the score is evened in “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” as Lesley describes seeing Judy and Johnny “kissing at a party…so I kissed some other guy…John jumped up and he hit him…’cause he still loves me, that’s why.” So let me get this straight…not only is Johnny allowed to move effortlessly between two girls, but can also slug guys at parties with no reprisal? I personally think Judy is the real winner here.
Finally, while a few songs inspired sequels, some spawned what was known as an answer song, where a record served more or less as a rebuttal to an earlier release. My favorite in this category is a little known recording that was a response to The Angels monster hit, “My Boyfriend’s Back,” which went to #1 during the summer of 1963. “My Boyfriend’s Back,” is simply a girl, in song, explaining to some hapless guy the amount of trouble he’s in now that her boyfriend is back to punish him for “telling lies that I was untrue.” Well, it turns out that there are two sides to every story, because in Bobby Comstock’s “Your Boyfriend’s Back,” we learn that the female narrator in the first song may not have been so innocent after all. Comstock vows to set the record straight, accusing the girl of “telling lies, trying to put the blame on me…when I tell him, he’ll believe me wait and see”. The girl’s case really seems to dissolve when the male narrator threatens to “prove that you really were untrue…I’ll show him the pictures, and the letters too.” “Your Boyfriend’s Back” never made it into the Billboard Hot 100…if only the record came with those pictures.
I’m guessing all of us can think of a song that, in our minds, called out for a sequel. If I had to choose one, it would have to be “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits. The singer explains how he married the widow next door, who’d been married seven times be, “and every one was an Henry (Henry)…she wouldn’t have a Willy or a Sam (no Sam).” I for one, would have loved to find out how long the poor guy lasted, and how soon there was a Henry IX?
Note: “Bobby Did” was written by Neil Diamond, one of his earliest compositions. No, I don’t believe he includes it in his live shows.