In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing 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.
Paul & Paula weren’t really named Paul and Paula. They were Ray Hildebrand and Jill Jackson, two classmates at a Baptist university in Texas. Hildebrand wrote “Hey Paula,” and the song blew up after they sang it together on a local radio station. God only knows why anyone thought it would be more romantic if they both had basically the same first name, but people have some funny ideas about romance. (They didn’t get married, either, though they did have a short run where they recorded hit songs about how much they both wanted to marry each other.)
There was so much great pop music in the pre-Beatles era, with Motown and Phil Spector hitting their strides and doo-wop remaining strong, and yet a song like “Hey Paula” is pretty much what people imagine when they think about that stretch. Songs like this are the reason the era has won itself a not-entirely-undeserved historical rep as a sanitized wasteland. The song is two kids singing goo-goo-eyed nothings at each other over watery organs and sleepy guitar progressions. Even when you’re hearing it, it sounds like nothing. It sounds like air.
In retrospect, the most interesting thing about “Hey Paula” was this lyric: “I’ve waited so long for school to be through / Paula, I can’t wait no more for you.” The idea was that these two kids just could not wait to get married, that they couldn’t even bear finishing college before running off. And maybe that line of thinking is why divorce rates shot up so high in the ’70s and ’80s.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the bit from That ’70s Show where Eric sings a slightly-adjusted version of “Hey Paula” to Donna: