It Was 50 Years Ago Today: Sam Cooke, Ringo, and Bonanza

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic murder of Sam Cooke on December 10, 1964 in Los Angeles. The legendary soul singer scored a number one hit in 1957 with “You Send Me”, his first single in the Top 40. He had many Top Ten hits such “Chain Gang”, “Twistin’ the Night Away” and “Another Saturday Night”, in addition to other hits. In all, he scored 29 songs in the Top 40.

Paul McCartney and John Lennon were both Sam Cooke fans, though the Beatles never covered a Sam Cooke song.

On December 10, 1964, the day Cooke died, there was an interesting song sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Beatles ruled the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964 with six number one hits for a total of 18 weeks in the top slot, in additional to many other Top Ten hits. Believe it or not, in December 1964 there was a number one hit entitled “Ringo”. It was sung by a most unlikely person, actor Lorne Greene. The song was unrelated to Ringo Starr or The Beatles. What were the odds that a song about Johnny Ringo, a legendary cowboy in the American old West, would reach the top of the charts in the same year that an invading British band with a drummer named Ringo would rule the music charts?

Of course, in 1964 Lorne Greene was starring as Ben Cartwright in Bonanza, the famed television series that ran from 1959-1973. Greene was also an unlikely candidate to star as the patriarch of a Nevada ranching dynasty as he was born in 1914 into an Orthodox Jewish family in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. His real name was Lyon Chaim Green and he was the son of two Russian immigrants who migrated to Canada. Greene was the second Canadian to have a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, the first of which was his fellow Ottawa native Paul Anka with “Diana” in 1957 and later with “Lonely Boy” in 1959.

“Ringo” entered the Top 40 on 7 November 1964 and stayed there for ten weeks, reaching the top slot on December 5. It knocked The Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack” out of the # 1 position.

A trained actor, Greene worked in broadcasting early in his career with the Canadian Broadcasting Company; in 1940, Greene replaced Charles Jennings, the father of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, as the chief newscaster for the CBC. He returned to acting in 1954 and five years later received the role that would define his career. Greene never stopped working after the cancellation of “Bonanza”, starring in shows like “Battlestar Galactica” and countless television movies.

Many people scratched their heads in 1964 with Greene’s # 1 hit that had the title of the famous drummer Ringo Starr whose band The Beatles had invaded and conquered America ten months before. Have a listen to “Ringo”:

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