The Number Ones is a new column where I’ll review every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
Here’s how quickly pop music was moving in the late ’50s and early ’60s: The Fleetwoods were the first group ever to score multiple #1 singles on the Hot 100, and yet they still managed to disappear into obscurity by about 1964, when leader singer Gary Troxel was called into active duty in the Navy. “Come Softly To Me,” the group’s first #1, was an entirely sui generis affair: Three high school kids in the Pacific Northwest, coming up with a dreamily minimal love song and singing it over only the jingling of car keys. “Mr. Blue” was more a product of the pop-star studio system, and it wasn’t nearly as good of a fit.
The Fleetwoods wrote “Come Softly To Me” themselves, but “Mr. Blue” came from Dewayne Blackwell, a pro songwriter who later co-wrote “Friends In Low Places” for Garth Brooks. (Probably not coincidentally, Brooks himself later covered “Mr. Blue” on his No Fences album.) It’s a slight, sleepy song about finding yourself stuck in hopeless infatuation: “I stay home at night / Right by the phone at night / But you won’t call / And I won’t hurt my pride.”
Other singers might’ve used a song like that to convey real emotional stakes, but Gary Troxel wasn’t built like that. Instead, he sang “Mr. Blue” like a lullaby. And everything about the arrangement — the soothing backing vocals, the light drum shuffle, the extremely ’50s guitar progression, the occasional trumpet — adds to the general feeling of chintziness. It’s an agreeable enough song, one that exists entirely within its moment, and it’s nothing more than that.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation where Clark Griswold falls asleep while driving, with “Mr. Blue” playing in the background: