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Chantilly Lace - The Big Bopper

An excerpt from the great Dave Marsh's wonderful "The Heart of Rock and Soul":

"The plane stayed in the air...

The Big Bopper laughed it off. Scored another hit or two, then changed his name back to J.P. Richardson and became a TV game show host, halfway between Wink Martindale and Monty Hall, with an expensive collection of hairpieces, the most famous weight control problem in the United States, and two weeks a year live in Vegas, doing stand-up and a little old time rock and roll schtick."

Jiles Perry Richardson aka The Big Bopper was the third rock and roll headliner in the plane crash that also ended the lives of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. He was a one hit wonder as his first and only chart entry, "Chantilly Lace", was easily his best recording. It reached number 6 in the US Charts in September 1958 and number 12 the UK Top Twenty in January 1959, just before he died.

He wrote other successful songs, most notably "White Lightening", which was a country number one for George Jones, and the novelty record "Running Bear" for his buddy Johnny Preston.

Of the tragic trio he is the least remembered, not only because his output was of a lesser quality, but also perhaps because the images we have of him make him look like a middle-aged rock 'n' roller in the ilk of Bill Hailey. This, from a modern view, makes him seem a tad creepy, especially as he's eulogising about a probable teenager - she sports a pony tail after all - but at the time of recording "Chantilly Lace" he was only 27, a mere 6 years older than Buddy Holly. It's just that his tailored jackets and portly build make him seem perennially middle-aged compared with the slimmer and more stylishly dressed Holly and Valens. Just as much as with the other two, his is a case of what might have been, even though his initial output seems to promise less.

Marsh's alternative future for Richardson derives from the fact that he - Richardson - started out as a deejay and showman. In 1957 he set a world record of continuous on-air broadcasting, spinning discs and talking for five days, two hours, and eight minutes, playing 1,821 records and only taking time off for necessary toilet and freshening-up breaks during hourly 5-minute news updates.

But we should celebrate him for the pure joy of this, his only hit, and the terrific street poetry of the the chorus:

"Chantilly lace,

and a pretty face,

and a pony tail a-hanging down,

a wiggle in her walk

and a giggle in her talk,

make the world go round;

there ain't nothing in the world

like a big-eyed girl

to make me act so funny,

make me spend my money,

make me feel real loose

like a long-necked goose

like a girl,

oh baby that's a-what I like."

No wonder he sings it three times with hardly a verse in between - it's so good!


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