Top 40 Smash Taps: “Freight Train”

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.

Given on the full-on hysteria for all things Beatles that began in the early nineteen-sixties, it’s a little surprising that the unique subgenre of rock ‘n’ roll that stood as their earliest, most profound influence never gained much of a foothold on this side of the Atlantic. Skiffle is the music that all four of the moptops loved, to one degree or another, while growing up in Liverpool, and it was the music played by the Quarrymen, John Lennon’s band that first put him on a stage with both Paul McCartney and George Harrison. There are precious few songs, however, that qualify as skiffle which managed to make it onto the U.S. charts.

One of those hits–albeit a modest hit, peaking at #40–came from the Chas. McDevitt Skiffle Group. The band had already recorded the song “Freight Train” (credited on the label to songwriters Paul James and Fred Williams) when their managers suggested they might benefit from having a female vocalist, which was still something of a novelty at the time, at least for other groups plying the same sound. They recruited a young Scottish singer whose real name was Anne Alexandra Young Wilson, but who performed under the name Nancy Whiskey, taken from the traditional song “The Calton Weaver.” Her involvement did indeed get the group noticed and the rerecorded version of “Freight Train” made it into the Top 5 in the U.K. in 1957. Despite the success, the major U.S. labels passed on it and the song got its release in this country by the modest Chic Records out of Thomasville, Georgia.

Despite their taste of success, including an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the band proved to be short-lived. Whiskey left the group shortly after their chart success with “Freight Train,” and was replaced by a singer named Shirley Douglas. McDevitt wound up marrying Douglas, formally disbanding the group in 1959 so the two of them could record and perform as duo, a partnership that lasted into the nineteen-seventies, when it fell apart in every sense. McDevitt kept performing, and is still kicking around, even turning up in the strangest of pop culture places.

“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
“Limbo Rock” by The Champs
“Crazy Eyes For You” by Bobby Hamilton
“Violet Hill” and “Lost+” by Coldplay

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