In the early days she was often billed as ‘Miss’ Toni Fisher, and DJ Wink Martindale once said that the reason for that was to assure fans that she was indeed a girl, in spite of her powerful voice. Whether that’s true or not, she did make a big splash in 1959 with her unforgettable hit record, “The Big Hurt,” which was also notable for its inventive use of studio effects.
There are a surprising number of gaps in the information available to us now, but Toni Fisher was a Los Angeles native who began to show up professionally in the early 1950s or thereabouts. She was probably in her early twenties by then and over the next few years she bounced around the area, landing the occasional nightclub singing spot while also finding some work as an extra in movies and TV.
At some point later in the decade she joined forces with Wayne Shanklin, who was building what would be a notable career as a songwriter and music business pro. As a composer he’d already done well with “Jezebel” by Frankie Laine, and “Chanson D’Amour” (a hit for two different groups), and he would soon add Jerry Wallace’s “Primrose Lane” to his list of successes. In any case, he teamed up with Toni and apparently married her too, although not all sources agree about that.
By 1959 Shanklin had started his own record label and had also written the song he felt would be perfect for Toni’s breakout, but the “The Big Hurt” had something else going for it. During the recording session, Shanklin wanted what he called a ‘gimmick’ — something to differentiate it from the ordinary — which resulted in groundbreaking electronic phasing effects. It was the kind of thing that would become commonplace but was revolutionary at the time, and when combined with Toni’s singing it became a big hit with fans.
It helped pave the way for her to do TV shows like those hosted by Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark, and make other appearances too, but it was tough to keep the momentum going. She kept recording and did have a minor hit a couple of years later with “West of the Wall,” but soon faded from view. Toni Fisher was in her late sixties when died in 1999.
‘Miss’ Toni Fisher – “The Big Hurt” (You can also access music in left column.)
You might be a little surprised to find that this edition of Five-Star Favs features a disco song, but I’ve always said that I like a lot of different kinds of music. And in fact, today’s choice is one of the songs that helped create the disco craze back in the 1970s, but I don’t think I would have elevated “Staying Alive” to the top rung of my music collection if I hadn’t first heard it during the stunning opening scene of Saturday Night Fever.
I wasn’t the only one who thought John Travolta’s hypnotic strut to the music was a very special way to open up a movie. The late critic Gene Siskel (remember him from Siskel & Ebert?) called it his favorite film and said: ‘One minute into Saturday Night Fever you know this picture is onto something, that it knows what it’s talking about.’
Of course, Siskel was a little overboard about the movie — he later bought Travolta’s iconic white suit at a charity auction — but it is considered a Hollywood classic, and was a smash success with fans and critics. It elevated Travolta to superstardom, and the Grammy-winning music solidified the stature of the Bee Gees in the music world. The soundtrack album became one of the biggest sellers of all time, but to me the highlight of the film’s music was linking “Staying Alive” with Travolta strutting down that Brooklyn street.
Bee Gees – “Staying Alive” (You can also access music in left column.)
Country music has had its share of crooners through the years, among them guys like Jim Reeves, Ray Price, Roy Drusky, and a host of others. In almost every case they started as traditional country singers and later transitioned to a softer, more mainstream style. But that wasn’t the case with George Morgan, who seemed to be headed in that direction right from the beginning. In fact, his debut recording — “Candy Kisses” — which topped the charts in 1949, was just the first of a long line of smooth hit records that made him one of the most popular country crooners around.
Morgan was Tennessee-born but grew up in Ohio, and he began finding some career success during the post-war years. Always conservatively dressed and sporting a sober persona, he nevertheless came up through the country music establishment of the era, finding high profile spots on the Grand Ole Opry and other shows.
A talented songwriter too. he chose one of his own songs when making his first entry into the record business, and “Candy Kisses” proved to be a good move as it rose up the charts to the #1 position. It would be just the first of many good-selling records for the singer over the next two decades, including a number of Top Ten hits. Some of his biggest included “Almost” and “I’m In Love Again,” and he also had a series of hits revolving around roses.
As the years passed he continued to appear regularly on the Grand Ole Opry. In fact, when the show moved from the old Ryman Auditorium to a new facility in 1974 he was the last to appear on the old stage and the first to appear on the new one. Unfortunately his health was deteriorating and he died from heart failure the following year at the too-young age of 51, leaving behind a strong legacy of music, and a teenage daughter – Lorrie Morgan – who would soon become a country music star too.
George Morgan – “Candy Kisses” (You can also access music in left column.)