By Warren Kurtz
Maurice Williams’ “Stay” celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2020, his sole Top 40 hit as a singer, which reached No. 1 in November 1960 by Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs. In the prior decade, Maurice had been a member of the R&B group The Gladiolas, with the doo-wop song “Little Darlin’,” which was successfully covered by the Canadian doo-wop quartet The Diamonds, reaching No. 2. Williams, who is working on his autobiography with Daniel Coston, shared with Goldmine, “I wrote ‘Stay’ about the same girl that I had written ‘Little Darlin’’ for. She was at my house one night. She hadn’t been there that long, and she had to be in by 10 o’clock. Her brother was coming soon to pick her up. I asked, ‘Can’t you stay just a little bit longer? Your mommy won’t mind, and your daddy won’t mind.’ Nothing I could say could make her stay a little bit longer, so she went home with her brother. The next morning, I thought about it, and I came up with ‘Stay’ in about 30 minutes. The song was originally about two minutes long. I didn’t think much of ‘Stay.’ I didn’t even save the paper that I wrote it on. Thankfully, I had recorded it as a demo around 1958, just to have a recording of it. As we started to think about songs for a recording session, I went over to this girl’s house listening to potential songs to record in the studio. I liked having tapes to play for people, if only to make sure that they didn’t sound like other songs on the radio. Her little sister looked at me and said, ‘Please do the song with the high voice on it.’ I knew which one she meant. I also thought that she is 12 years old, the same age as a lot of record buyers. We recorded it in the studio and shortened the song, cutting it down to 1:37. Today it is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest song to ever make the Top 10.”
“Do You Believe” served as the bouncy flip side of “Stay” in 1960. In early 1961, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs’ next two singles were “I Remember,” featuring piano and saxophone, which did not chart in the Top 40. It was followed by an attempt to recapture the successful sound of “Stay” with “Come Along,” which also did not chart in the Top 40 for the South Carolina vocal group.
In the mid-’60s, between their Top 10 hits “Dawn (Go Away)” and “Ronnie,” The Four Seasons had their cover version of “Stay” in the Top 20. Also reaching the Top 20 in the following decade, a live version of “Stay” was released by Jackson Browne with a lyrical change to the point of view of wanting the audience to “stay a little longer” for an encore, with lines including, “The roadies won’t mind.” In 1978, the same year that Browne’s live version of “Stay” was on Top 40 radio stations and the longer version, “The Load-Out”/”Stay” was heard on FM rock stations, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs’ original version of “Stay” was also included in the film American Hot Wax and its soundtrack double album. In 1987, the original version of “Stay” was also featured in the film Dirty Dancing and its successful soundtrack.
In 1965, a year after The Four Seasons’ cover of “Stay,” Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs recorded their cover of The Chordettes’ “Lollipop.” On the flip side was Maurice’s composition “May I.” This flip side received regional airplay in the Southeast where a dance style called the shag was popular at beach clubs. At the end of the decade, Virginia Beach’s Bill Deal and The Rhondels recorded a successful cover of the song on Jerry Ross’ Heritage label, the first hit for Jerry’s new record company. They followed its success with a pair of covers of songs by Georgia’s vocal group The Tams, “I’ve Been Hurt” and “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am.” For many years Bill Deal, Ammon Tharp and the rest of The Rhondels would perform “The Bill Deal & The Rhondels Medley” of their three 1969 Top 40 hits at beach music concerts in the Southeast, beginning with “May I,” while fans would shag on the dance floor.
Maurice Williams’ upcoming autobiography highlights the chart competition of “Stay” with The Miracles’ “Shop Around” in 1960, performing at The Apollo Theater and on American Bandstand, his admiration for Ray Charles, performance advice from James Brown and much more.