Revenge of the Crooners: 5 Times Classic Vocalists Hit Big on the Charts in the Rock Era

The accepted music history narrative explains that The Beatles came along, ushered in the British Invasion, and ended the popular era of the crooners—the fellows who dominated American music in the previous decades with their takes on the Great American Songbook. But those guys didn’t just stop making records. A few of them were even able to work their way back onto the charts with a big hit or two. Here are five occasions when the crooners struck back and showed the younger generation how it was done.

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1. ”Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra (1966)

Ol’ Blue Eyes probably wouldn’t be too pleased with us if he knew we were bringing up this song. After all, he hated it, and didn’t hesitate to tell people that fact. “Strangers in the Night” was written by Bert Kaempfert (music) and Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder (lyrics), and had been recorded several times by others before Sinatra took a shot at it. The famous scatting he does at the end of the song was actually a sign of his disdain, as he was doing it as a way of mocking the melody. He might not have liked it, but the song returned him to the top of the pop charts for the first time in 11 years. It also kicked off a nice run of chart success, as his next three singles all hit the Top 25, too.

[RELATED: Behind the Song: Frank Sinatra, “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)”]

2. “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” by Wayne Newton (1972)

Wayne Newton’s version of “Danke Schoen” in 1963 was a big U.S. hit and sent him down the crooning path, one that would eventually ensconce him as the unofficial King of Las Vegas. As he got a little older and his voice matured from the inimitable squeak of his early years, chart hits were much harder to come by, even as he became more and more famous as an all-around entertainer. In 1972, however, he sunk his teeth into “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast,” a melodramatic tale written by Peter Callander and Geoff Stephens about a guy who changes his mind about divorcing his wife after hearing the heartbreaking entreaties of his young daughter. The song reached No. 4 on the charts, the biggest hit of Wayne’s career.

3. “The Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr. (1973)

What was it about Rat Pack members and scoring big hits with songs they couldn’t stand? Fans of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory remember actor Aubrey Woods playing the candy store owner and singing “The Candy Man” in the film. Anthony Newley, who wrote the song with Leslie Bricusse, desperately wanted to dub in his voice for Woods’ in the film, because he knew the song had hit potential. Newley was denied, though, and his own recording in 1971 failed. However, he was right about the tune’s potential. Davis, who was so multitalented that his recording career often got lost in the shuffle among his other endeavors, recorded a version about which he wasn’t too thrilled. Yet it landed him the only No. 1 single of his career.

4. “Times of Your Life” by Paul Anka (1975)

Anka made his fame as a teen idol in the late ‘50s with big hits like “Lonely Boy” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulders.” He was also a songwriter, most famously penning the lyrics to “My Way,” Frank Sinatra’s later-era signature song. And then there was an unexpected run of success in 1974 and ‘75, as his duets with Odia Coates made him a major hitmaker again (even if songs like “[You’re] Having My Baby” didn’t endear him to the critics).

[AS OF THIS WRITING: Paul Anka Is Still Going Strong! – Get Tickets Right Here]

In 1975, Anka put out the solo single “Times of Your Life,” which had been featured in an ad campaign by Kodak. Proving that nothing was out of bounds when it came to the charts in the ‘70s, audiences ate up the sentimental track about looking back and cherishing every moment, giving Anka his first Top 20 solo hit in 13 years.

5. “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” by Johnny Mathis (with Deniece Williams) (1978)

Mathis’ delicately caressed versions of songs like “Chances Are” made him an immediate superstar in the mid-‘50s. It just wasn’t a romantic evening in America without candlelight, wine, and Johnny Mathis on the hi-fi. By the ‘70s, Mathis was still a huge touring draw and released albums on the regular—but he was nowhere near the charts.

Then he decided to do a duet with the rising R&B star Deniece Williams on a track that effortlessly glided along the line between disco and smooth soul. “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” rolled to the top of the charts, giving Mathis his first No. 1 since the aforementioned “Chances Are” in 1957. Mathis and Williams did a whole album of duets to capitalize on their song’s success, and later reunited on the theme song to the ‘80s sitcom Family Ties.

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images

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