(Music: "Stay" by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs)
November 21, 1960 - November 27, 1960
One of the early classics of rock and roll was "Little Darlin " by the Diamonds, a quartet of four white males who kept the song at number two for an amazing eight weeks. Most people who can still sing the distinctive "Yi-yi-yi-yi" don't realize that the song was written and originally recorded by Maurice Williams, with his group the Gladiolas. It was not unusual for white artists to cover black records to make them acceptable to pop radio in the 1950s, and the Diamonds' copied Williams' record note-for-note.
Unhappy at having his record "stolen" from him, Williams got financial backing in Columbia, South Carolina, to record new songs. "Stay" was recorded in a defunct television studio. Producers Phil Gernhard and Johnny McCullough took the song to New York and started knocking on record company doors. They were turned down everywhere. Jerry Wexler at Atlantic said the song didn't have a plot line and warned them it was a tough business.
Finally, they walked into the offices of Al Silver at Herald Records. Silver was on the telephone and sent his A&R man, Bill Darnell, to meet with them. After listening to several songs, Darnell picked out "Stay" for Silver to listen to. He wanted it, but there were two problems.
First, the song wasn't recorded at a level high enough for quality reproduction. "None of us knew what the hell we were doing," Gernhard admits. He drew a VU meter for us and said, 'go back and rerecord it, and keep the needle up in this area.' We took the piece of paper with us."
Second, "It had a line in it that was objectionable," Phil says. "It said, 'Let's have another smoke.' He said radio wouldn't play anything that encouraged young people to smoke cigarettes."
The group returned to Columbia and recorded the song again, keeping the VU needle where the drawing indicated and changing the offensive line. When the single was released, southern stations favored the flip side, "Do You Believe." "Stay" finally broke north of the Mason-Dixon line, in Detroit. It entered the Hot 100 at number 86 on October 3, 1960. When it topped the chart seven weeks later, it became the shortest number one single of the rock era, clocking in at one minute and 37 seconds.
"Stay" has proven to be an evergreen, hitting the top 20 two more times. The Four Seasons took it to number 16 in 1964, and Jackson Browne's version peaked at number 20 in 1978. In Britain, the Hollies recorded it in 1963.
Maurice Williams was born April 28, 1938 in Lancaster, South Carolina. He sang in church, and organized his first group, The Royal Charmers, while in high school. They raised money from their parents and local business owners to finance a trip to Nashville so they could audition for Excello Records. At the last moment, the lead singer's mother said he couldn't go --- which upset Williams, as he had written "Little Darlin'" especially for his voice.
When they auditioned for the head of the label, Ernie Young, Williams had to sing "Little Darlin,'" and that was the song Young picked for their first release. He also gave them their new name, the Gladiolas. When they left the label, Young insisted on retaining the name, forcing the group to choose a new one. The bass player saw an automobile at a repair shop called a Zodiac and suggested they use that.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.