Top 40 Smash Near Misses — “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee”

These posts are about the songs that fell just short of crossing the key line of chart success, entering the Billboard Top 40. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 41.

Jerry Lee Lewis wasn’t so sure about this new record hew was making. One of the artists who was so central to the founding of rock ‘n’ roll that he deserved serious consideration to take up on of the four spots on the music style’s theoretical Mount Rushmore, Lewis was essentially a forgotten figure through much of the nineteen-sixties. During the decade, he had only one Top 40 hit, and that was way back in 1961, when his version of “What’d I Say” reached an unimpressive peak of #30. He barely made another ripple on the charts until he turned to country music. Beginning with the 1968 single “Another Place, Another Time,” Lewis became a mainstay on country radio, racking up eleven straight Top 10 hits, including two charttoppers.

But back to that new record. The preferences of pop culture had shifted somewhat, including the conviction that rock ‘n’ roll belonged entirely to young folks and upstart acts that burned hot and burned out. There was newfound interest in giving attention to the old-timers. In 1972, Lewis joined fellow rock ‘n’ roll legends Chuck Berry and Little Richard to headline The Rock ‘n’ Roll Show at London’s Wembley Stadium, the first concert ever staged at that venue. Convinced he had a opportunity to capitalize on that revived prominence, Lewis went into a London studio with a group of British rock ringers, Peter Frampton, Mick Jones, and Albert Lee among them. The plan was to lay down a big batch of rock songs, some old and some newer, and try to recapture that old Killer magic.

Lewis was a tough, unpleasant customer in the happiest of circumstances, and he soon decided these circumstances were far from happy. He disliked be so far away from the Nashville studios he’d grown comfortable with, and the scruffy young rockers weren’t particularly to his liking either. Everyone churned through the tense sessions as best they could, and the resulting album, The Session…Recorded in London with Great Artists, was released to some real fanfare. Pop radio even gave some appreciative spins to the album’s first single, a cover of “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee,” originally recorded by “Sticks” McGhee & His Buddies and then by countless artists afterward. In fact, it was at least the second time Lewis had recorded the song, following a spin with the tune in 1966. The single culled from The Session album only climbed so high, though. It peaked at #41.

Deeming the return to rock something of a failed experiment, Lewis went back to Nashville and spent the next ten years or so collecting more and more country hits. “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” was his last appearance on the Billboard Hot 100.

Other entries in this series can be found by clicking on the “Top 40 Smash Near Misses” tag.

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