Top 40 Smash Taps: “Limbo Rock”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

I think it’s fair to type that the Champs are known for one song: “Tequila.” That song was originally issued as the B-side to “Train to Nowhere,” a single released on Challenge Records, the label started up in part by Gene Autry. The song was recorded in late December of 1957 and released less than a month later. Once DJs flipped the record and discovered the wild instrumental (well, mostly instrumental except for the three times that “Tequila!” is yelled), it rocketed up the charts, making it up to #1 after only three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. Any doubts as to the cultural longevity of the song were effectively eradicated nearly three decades later when a certain fictional fellow with the last name of Herman danced to it in the midst of a big adventure.

Due to the overwhelming success of “Tequila,” the band is widely thought of as a one-hit wonder, but that’s not strictly true, at least if placement somewhere in the Billboard Top 40 is the definition of a hit. For one thing, they had a second Top 40 hit in 1958 with “El Rancho Rock,” even if peaking at #30 wasn’t nearly as impressive as topping the charts. They also went back to the bottle two years later in a blatant attempt to replicate their sensational success by releasing a song called “Too Much Tequila.” That also stopped its upward climb at #30.

And then there was their last Top 40 song, which just barely qualifies for the title. It’s also a song that has it’s own solid place in pop music history, albeit not with the version by the Champs, although it has the distinction of being the first that was released. “Limbo Rock” is credited to Billy Strange, and legend has it that he wrote the song in under five minutes to win a one hundred dollar bet. The Champs recorded the instrumental and saw it peak at #40, their final Top 40 hit. A few months later, Chubby Checker took the song, with lyrics added by songwriter Kal Mann (using the pen name Jon Sheldon) and released in a successful attempt to continues his trend of riding dance crazes up the chart. By this time, he’d already taken “The Twist” to the top spot two times over and had similarly reached #1 with “Pony Time.” Checker has to settle for the runner-up position with “Limbo Rock,” though, denied the top spot by “Telstar” by the Tornadoes.

“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks
“Love Me Tender” by Percy Sledge
“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies
“Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Olympics
“The Bounce” by the Olympics
“Your One and Only Love” by Jackie Wilson
“Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano
“The Last Time I Made Love” by Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne

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