Oh Julie

WSIX-TV in Nashville, Tennessee signed on in 1953 as an affiliate of the rapidly expanding ABC television network. Several personalities were hired and became local celebrities, among them radio deejay Noel Ball. Later in the decade, Ball could be seen cruising all over town in his pink and white '55 Ford Crown Victoria. Not unlike the local stars in the various cities each of us grew up in, he was the man to Nashville teens in the 1950s; the shows he hosted were Sock Hop, including a feature where local teenagers lip-synced to current hit songs, and Saturday Showcase. In late 1957, vocal group The Crescendos performed the song "Oh Julie" on that latter show and it became a regional hit before breaking nationally in early 1958.

Five students at Nashville's Cumberland High made up the ranks of The Spades in the mid-'50s: lead singer George Lanius, along with Kenneth Brigham, Jimmy Hall, Tommy Fortner and, a bit later, George's brother Jimmy Lanius. At first the guys were interested in gospel music, but gradually changed to more of a pop style and became known as the Crescendos (overlooking the same-named R&B group on Atlantic Records) as that fateful '57 appearance on Saturday Showcase approached. "But wait," I hear many of you shouting! What about the girl whose voice is so prominent on "Oh Julie"? She's the main reason the song was popular, right? Well, that's one theory as to its success...the lovely Janice Green gave the record a sound that made it stand out. She was an aspiring young singer with no ties whatsoever to the five-man group, but her voice ended up in the grooves of the disc anyway.

Noel Ball discovered the group when they performed at the high school's annual talent show. He invited them to perform "Oh Julie," a song he had written with Kenneth Moffitt, on Saturday Showcase. Response was strong, so he booked time for them at the Globe Recording Studio located above Mom's Tavern on Lower Broadway near the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry. With its garish purple paint job, Mom's was arguably an inappropriate place for high schoolers to make a record, just above the din of the country bands that played there (in 1960, new owners took over and changed the name to Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, handily avoiding any need for repainting). 16-year-old Janice happened to be auditioning for Globe owner Jim Maxwell at the same time the Cumberland High guys were having their recording session. Since she had to travel from her teeny-tiny hometown of Englewood, about two hundred miles away, each rejection came as a result of considerable effort. The Crescendos were on the edge of rejection themselves, as their big chance at making a record wasn't quite coming together. But Janice caught someone's eye and suddenly there was a microphone in front of her as she supplied the 'aahhh...aahhh' background vocals. And as I already mentioned, they are prominent.

The Crescendos

The single was released on Nasco Records, part of the Nashboro group of labels owned by Ernie Young that included R&B label Excello; he also ran Ernie's Record Mart, a popular Nashville record store and mail order business. After clicking in Middle Tennessee toward the end of 1957, the doo woppish teen record broke nationally in January '58 and sprinted into the top ten the following month (my favorite line: 'But someday Julie, when I'm as old as you...,' sung with conviction by George, as if he believed he could somehow catch up in years with his "older" love interest). Cincinnati's Otis Williams and the Charms rushed out a soundalike cover for the R&B market, complete with a Janice-inspired (and far less conspicuous) female backup singer, but it was ignored while those crazy Crescendo country kids invaded the rhythm and blues top ten as well. Singer Sammy Salvo of Birmingham, Alabama provided a little pop competition with his version on RCA Victor, a big-label production utilizing a professional coloratura vocalist for Green's role, but it fell by the wayside as the Crescendos' original shot to the top.

Maintaining the momentum of their hit record proved difficult. Actually, momentum ground to a halt, so impossible would be a more direct way of putting it. First they provided backing vocals, uncredited, for Lowell McGuire's rock-and-roller "Spellbound," then Janice Green rejoined them for their second single "School Girl." In an effort to work every angle, Ernie gave Janice her one shot with the solo single "Jackie," clearly identifying her on the label as "The Oh Julie Girl." The third and final Crescendos release was "Rainy Sunday." None of these efforts went anywhere and Nasco dropped the whole lot of them, McGuire and Green included.

The group made the most of their one hit, touring for much of '58 and '59 (sans Janice, never an actual member of the Crescendos) on rock and roll and R&B tours. In 1960, the Fleer company put out a set of "Spins and Needles" bubble gum cards; number 57 in the series (same as the year "Oh Julie" was released...coincidence?) was a Crescendos card proclaiming they would soon "...bust loose with a new hit!" It was in grocery stores at about the time they had a new recording session (down to four members with Jimmy Hall's departure) resulting in two singles on the Scarlet label, "Let's Take a Walk" (a refreshingly different sound) and "Angel Face" (oops, this one's just "Oh Julie" with a new title). Neither paid off and the remaining members broke up, each embarking on his own family life and careers in various professions. As for Janice Green, she kept at it awhile longer. A meeting with Bob Crewe in the early '60s led to some backing session work for The 4 Seasons at about the time they were riding that lightning bolt with the letters "VJ" emblazoned on it.

Now, what about the millions of girls named Julie? Doris Day's minor 1956 chart single "Julie" notwithstanding, The Crescendos had provided them with their very own hit song to stand beside the Tammys, Sherrys, Marys and the like. The Lettermen ("How is Julie?"), Bob Lind ("Truly Julie's Blues") and Mel Tillis ("Who's Julie") all fell short in their attempts over the years to reach the heights achieved by the five guys from Nashville (and girl from Englewood). Then after 12 years, Bobby Sherman sang 'Do Ya Love Me' and there were two major hits for all the Julies of the world to call their own.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Oh Julie