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Bobby Vinton tops the pop charts with the last #1 single of the pre-Beatles era

Sitting atop the Billboard charts in the first week of January, 1964, Bobby Vinton—”the Polish Prince”—was enjoying the ninth top-40 hit of his young career with “There! I’ve Said It Again.” Not only was this the third #1 single for Vinton in a span of just 18 months, but it was the second (after “Blue Velvet”) with a song that was older than many of his fans. Almost 10 years into what we now call “the rock and roll era,” Bobby Vinton was making records that owed far more to Perry Como than they did to Elvis Presley, and he was absolutely thriving commercially. He had little reason to suspect that a revolution was in the offing.

From the perspective of pop stars like Bobby Vinton, the song that knocked “There! I’ve Said It Again” out of the #1 spot initiated something closer to a mass extinction than a mere revolution. That song was “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and it heralded not only the rise of the Beatles, but also the near-total demise of the species that had dominated the American pop scene since the end of the Big Band era: the white, male vocalist who did not play an instrument or write his own material.

Steve Lawrence, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon: these are the kind of names one could find at or near the top of the pop charts throughout the early 1960s. Yet none of these singers would ever approach their pre-Beatles level of success in the post-Beatles world—not outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, anyway. Interestingly, Bobby Vinton was a rare exception in this regard. Before settling into a long and extremely lucrative career as a nightclub singer in Vegas and Branson, Vinton placed another 21 records in the top 40, including a final #1 hit with “Mr. Lonely” in December 1964 and a near-#1 with “My Melody of Love” in October 1974. And to whatever extent the Beatles did damage Vinton at the peak of his career, there is one way in which he can be said to have returned the favor. It was Bobby Vinton who handed the Beatles (via the Stones) their infamous business manager Allen Klein, whom many place alongside Yoko Ono in the lineup of those who hastened the Fab Four’s eventual breakup.

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