The Number Ones

The Number Ones: John Fred And His Playboy Band’s “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)”

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.

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John Fred And His Playboy Band – “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)”

HIT #1: January 20, 1968

STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks

In the 1960 musical G.I. Blues, Elvis Presley sang a supremely cheesy half-German ballad called “Wooden Heart (Muss I Den)” to a puppet. Elvis and his handlers knew that the song sucked, so he never released it as a single in the US. Instead, some lunkhead named Joe Dowell released “Wooden Heart” as a single, and that version hit #1 in 1961. That was a measure of Elvis’ pop-cultural power at the time: A song could get to #1 just by reminding people of Elvis, even if Elvis himself declined to release it.

Something similar was happening with the Beatles in the late ’60s. The Beatles hadn’t released any of the songs from 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as singles. John Fred And His Playboy Band’s single “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” wasn’t even a Beatles parody, though its title was certainly a reference to “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” (“Lucy In Disguise” had been a common mishearing of “Lucy In The Sky.”) “Judy In Disguise” was an unremarkable song from an unremarkable band, and you have to imagine that it hit #1 just because the Beatles hadn’t released “Lucy In The Sky” as a single. (And this wasn’t even the first song that a vague Beatles connection had propelled a song to #1. See also: Lorne Greene’s “Ringo.”)

John Fred was really John Fred Gourrier, a Baton Rouge musician who had been working since the mid-’50s, when he was a teenager. By eliminating his last name, he gave himself a stage name so nondescript that it came back around the other way and became descript. Fred’s father had played professional baseball, and Fred himself went to college on an athletic scholarship, but he also got really into New Orleans R&B and scored a few regional hits. (His Playboy Band had no relation to Gary Lewis’ Playboys.) With “Judy In Disguise,” a song that he co-wrote with his bandmate Andrew Bernard (no relation to Ed Helms on The Office), Fred came up with a dizzily silly novelty song that made fun of the Beatles’ psychedelic surrealism while, at the same time, indulging in it.

Fred’s lyrics for “Judy In Disguise” were pure daffy balderdash about “a lemonade pie with your brand new car” and “cross your heart with your living bra.” But there was nothing psychedelic about the music. Instead, it’s a big, stiff, bouncy R&B song with strings and horns, Fred doing his best white-soul-singer bleat. At the end of the song, he says that he’s going to take the girl’s glasses, which is not the type of shit that you ever want to hear if you wear glasses. It’s a totally negligible song, and a borderline annoying one, but it’s not unfun.

Fred would never score another hit, and he went on to host a local radio show and coach high school baseball and basketball in Baton Rouge. He died in 2005 after suffering complications from a kidney transplant.

GRADE: 4/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s the icy synthpop version of “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)” that Silicon Teens, the group led by Mute Records founder Daniel Miller, released in 1979:

THE NUMBER TWOS: Aretha Franklin’s eternal soul stomper “Chain Of Fools” peaked at #2 behind “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses).” It would’ve been a 9. Here it is: