The Meaning Behind Eddie Cochran’s Historic “Twenty Flight Rock,” Written by…Sunny Bingo?

Eddie Cochran‘s tragic demise came in 1960 in a car accident. He left a huge musical legacy in his short career, including “Summertime Blues” and “C’mon Everybody.” One of his first big breaks came when he was cast as an “Elvis Presley type” in The Girl Can’t Help It. He sang one song, “Twenty Flight Rock.” It’s a classic and has been covered by many artists through the years.

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Eddie recorded several versions, and the debate continues about which version is superior. The recording that appeared in the film was a bit more stripped-down. It sounds like a cardboard box with some echo coupled with an upright bass and sparse guitar throughout. The guitar solo was edited out of the movie version, but it was included in the original version of the song that was recorded in late July of 1956 at Gold Star Recording Studios in Hollywood, California.

Connie “Guybo” Smith is on the upright bass, and Jerry Capehart is credited with “slapping a box.” Engineer Larry Levine was responsible for capturing and blending the sound so perfectly. He would go on to work on many landmark pop recordings, including Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and hits by The Righteous Brothers, Ike & Tina Turner, and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. A few weeks later, Eddie found himself on a soundstage in Century City, California, filming his part in the movie. 

Intrigue as to the Origins 

The Liberty label has always credited the song as being written by Eddie Cochran and Ned Fairchild. Few likely wonder these days about who this other writer may have been. It was common to see Jerry Capehart as a co-writer, and other names like Sharon Sheeley and Hank Cochran would occasionally pop up. But Ned Fairchild?  

In reality, Ned Fairchild was a woman named Nelda Fairchild, who sometimes performed under the name of Sunny Bingo. In a letter from the songwriter to Cochran, Fairchild says, “In consideration of your services in the recording and promotion of my song, ’20 FLIGHT ROCK,’ I hereby agree that your name shall appear with mine as a co-writer of said song. You are not to receive any share of any of the songwriting royalties that may be earned or paid on this song.” And it was signed by Nelda Bingo (Ned Fairchild) and later was signed as agreed to by Eddie Cochran and Sylvester Cross from American Music, Inc. 

It’s interesting the letter allows the name credit but no sharing of any of the royalties. Further research shows that Fairchild died in 2015, and was born on Aug. 26, 1929. She and her sister performed as a sister act on radio shows when they were very young. As teenagers, they were appearing as The Southern Belles on Town Hall Party with Merle Travis, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Grandpa Jones, and other country stars. 

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Cochran’s manager, Jerry Capehart, was Fairchild’s connection to get the song heard. The meaning of the lyrics is fairly straightforward—the singer’s baby is irresistible, but she lives on the 20th floor in a building with no elevator. Our hero tries to abstain (at least until the elevator company in Chicago comes to fix it), but alas, he can’t help himself, and will just deal with his aching everything so he can “rock” with his baby.

The song was essentially completed by Fairchild before Eddie recorded it, although a few words were changed here and there. Fairchild wrote it as All this climbing is making me frail / They’ll find my corpse draped over the rail, and Eddie changed it to All this climbing is getting me down. (The ‘corpse’ part stayed, however.)  

Fairchild would go on to have songs recorded by Lorne Green, Gene Autry, and Hank Snow. She co-wrote “Boulder Dam” with Red Lane, which Johnny Cash would sing on his prime-time television show in 1971.

This information makes listening to “Twenty Flight Rock” an entirely different experience. To find out the song’s interesting past and that it was a fully realized property before Cochran even got his hands on it is a surprise. It makes one wonder: how much guitar work did Cochran bring to the song? The riff at the song’s beginning is vital, as is the solo in the middle.  

Quite a Heady Legacy

It’s also fun to consider the evolution of popular music at the time, with the addition of vocal groups and different elements of jazz, blues, and country starting to show up. Orchestration and horns would add even more layers to the new rock ‘n’ roll genre of music that was getting the attention of teenagers everywhere.

When Eddie Cochran took another pass at recording “Twenty Flight Rock” a year later, The Johnny Mann chorus was on board, as well as Perry Botkin on rhythm guitar. Connie “Guybo” Smith was still on bass, while the drummer is unidentified. This version is the one that appeared on the U.K. pressing of the Singin’ to My Baby album, as well as on the version used on the American Liberty Records single.  

Through the years, many people have recorded “Twenty Flight Rock.” Stray Cats, Heinz, Jeff Beck, Shakin’ Stevens, Cliff Richard, Robert Gordon & Link Wray, Vince Taylor, Tiger Army, The Rolling Stones, Pete Anderson, The Proclaimers, The Beatles, Conan O’Brien, and even Montrose have all tackled the tune. It was mentioned in The Shining by Stephen King as he wrote about one of the main characters singing it in the Overlook Hotel. And Paul McCartney impressed John Lennon so much by knowing the lyrics to the song that he was asked to join The Quarrymen. 

It’s fantastic that a song like this can have so many different lives. It has been reinterpreted and shared with new generations, and will no doubt inspire future generations—to pick up a guitar, bang on a box, or perhaps pluck some instrument that hasn’t even been invented yet and start wailing about climbing up those stairs. Just like Eddie and Ned—or, Nelda, that is.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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