Rock's first female superstar is not in the Hall of Fame
(No. 27 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
I’ve had the same best friend since first grade. Smartest person I’ve ever known. Hippest person I’ve ever known. And considering how long he’s put up with me, the most patient person I’ve ever known.
And almost every time I see him, which is much too infrequent these days, the first thing he says is, “I can’t believe Connie Francis is not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Of course, if you’ve followed the actions of the Hall of Fame since its first induction ceremony in 1986 or if you’ve been a faithful reader of this blog, Connie Francis not being an inductee wouldn’t surprise you at all. After all, Rock & Roll started in the mid-50s and the top female Rock artist on the Billboard singles chart from 1955 to 1959 was Connie Francis. That’s far above the already inducted LaVern Baker, who came in 11th, and inductees Ruth Brown and Wanda Jackson, who didn’t even make the list. In the ’60s, she ranked second between the already inducted Brenda Lee and the shamefully ignored Dionne Warwick. That’s above the already inducted Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Dusty Springfield and Dinah Washington.
Now I know some of you out there are thinking the Hall of Fame should not be based on how many records are sold. But, with apologies to Tom Waits, having a lot of hit records is not necessarily a bad thing. It means people enjoy the work of the artist and, quite often, enjoy it enough to buy it. If enough buy it, the artist becomes famous - as in Hall of Famous.
And for those who rely on the “influence” or “importance” arguments, favorite crutches for the Hall of Fame committee, how could anyone deny the influence or importance of Rock & Roll’s first female superstar? She was FIRST. How could she not be important or influential?
Some even will suggest Francis was not Rock & Roll. Well, if you were a teen during Rock’s formulative days, you’re well aware that she was all over Rock radio. Sure, her first major hits, “Who’s Sorry Now?” and “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry” were ballads and remakes of songs that had been major successes in the early 1900s, but that was very common in those days. Early Rock & Roll is littered with hits that were updated versions of past standards, the definition of “updated“ essentially being they had a good beat and you could dance to them. And I don’t remember anyone switching the station when they came on. On the contrary, “Who’s Sorry Now” reached No. 4 in the states and topped the British charts, with the follow-up just missing the UK top 10.
Francis, still just 19 at the time, clearly demonstrated where her heart was when it came time for the next single. I’m sure every Connie Francis fan knows this vignette by heart, but bear with me for those unfamiliar with the story.
Young songwriters Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield were invited to Francis’ home to pitch some offerings. They played just about every ballad they had penned, but Francis was disinterested to the point of becoming so bored she began writing in her diary. Having run out of material, the boys decided to try one last song which they had hoped one of the day’s popular girl groups (reportedly the Shepherd Sisters of “Alone“ fame) would pick up. When they went into “Stupid Cupid,” a teenage rocker, Francis immediately perked up. She took it to No. 14 in the states and it became her second British No. 1 in 1958.
Ironically, Sedaka, profiled earlier in this series, wrote “The Diary” based on this experience and when the management of Little Anthony & the Imperials initially rejected it, Sedaka recorded it himself for his first big hit. Little Anthony & the Imperials recovered to become one of Rock’s greatest vocal groups, eventually gaining entrance into the Hall of Fame, but the Shepherd Sisters never had a second hit.
Now you may have noticed that while Francis was becoming Rock’s first female superstar in the United States, she was having even greater success on the United Kingdom charts. Her success overseas was only to grow as she began recording in multiple languages - eventually 15 - leading to her becoming the first non-European to be named Europe’s most popular artist, this occurring in 1960. Eventually, she was named the #1 singer in over 10 different countries. She appeared on every major television variety show of the time, including 25 visits to The Ed Sullivan Show, the most by any performer. And she also appeared in her own television specials in the United States and several European countries in addition to four movies.
But long before her 1960 on-screen debut in “Where The Boys Are,“ she was supplying soundtrack vocals for Rock movies. In 1956, Tuesday Weld sang to the vocal tracks of Francis, who was just 17 and without a hit, in “Rock, Rock, Rock,” and the following year Freda Holloway did the same in the Rock movie “Jamboree.”
All told, she notched 15 top 10 singles in the United States, including three that reached No. 1. When “My Heart Has a Mind Of Its Own” followed “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” to the top spot in 1960, Francis became the first female to have back-to-back No. 1 singles. In Britain, 11 of her singles got to the top 10, with two No. 1s and a No. 2 included. Twenty-two of her albums charted, six making the top 30. These included Italian and Jewish favorites, movie hits, a country LP, a Christmas album, a twist LP and “Greatest American Waltzes.” How do you spell versatility? She had four top 20 LPs in the UK, including a greatest hits set that topped the British chart in 1977. How do you spell sustainability? Seriously, howdoyou spell sustainability?
Her career as a chart-topper took a hit when The British Invasion landed, but her tremendous popularity around the world has enabled her to remain a steady seller - note the No. 1 LP in Britain in 1977 - and popular concert attraction to this day.
If she were a teen today, she would have more than held her own with the many young females on the scene. She was great looking and great sounding. Anyone who lived through the birth of Rock & Roll or anyone with an even basic knowledge of Rock’s formative period would be asking the same question asked by my best friend - and myself, I might add.
How can Connie Francis not be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?