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P.S. I Love You

P.S. I Love You: The Story of the Singing Hilltoppers

Carlton Jackson
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    P.S. I Love You
    Book Description:

    In 1953, the same year that Elvis Presley cut his first demo, Cash Box magazine named the Hilltoppers the top vocal group of the year. Hits such as "Trying" and "P.S. I Love You" raced up the charts and kept the group in Billboard's Top 40. The four fresh-faced singers appeared on The Toast of the Town with Ed Sullivan, who introduced them to the nation. On weekends the Hilltoppers performed in cities across the country, but on Monday mornings they were better known as Western Kentucky State College students Jimmy Sacca, Seymour Spiegelman, Don McGuire, and Billy Vaughn. The Korean War, military drafts, and changing public tastes in music, however, cut short singing careers that should have lasted much longer. Sacca was drafted in 1953, mere months before the end of the war. Vaughn left the group shortly after that for a career at Dot Records and found fame elsewhere with his orchestra. McGuire and Spiegelman were drafted as well, and despite a set of temporary replacement members, the group eventually called it quits. Fifty years later, historian Carlton Jackson revisits the Kentucky college kids who made it big between classes. He follows the group from their first hit, recorded in Western's Van Meter Auditorium, to their brief 1970s reunion. Their story recalls the nature of celebrity and youth in the early days of rock 'n' roll.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7222-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. The Hilltoppers: Two Appreciations
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Doc Livingston and Lee Robertson
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    My interest in the singing Hilltoppers goes back at least to 1986. I was at a social function one night, and Doc Livingston was in attendance. The conversation got off onto the Hilltoppers, and a guest remarked, “Somebody ought to write a book about them.” Doc pointed his finger straight at me and said, “Carlton, you write books. Why don’t you do it?” I replied, “Set me up with them, and we’ll see what happens.”

    This was the prelude to a long lunch with Billy Vaughn at Bowling Green, Kentucky’s, Parakeet Restaurant that went deep into the afternoon. He told...

  5. 1 “Trying” Times
    (pp. 9-28)

    Toast of the Townfor October 26, 1952, was, as host Ed Sullivan always said, “a really big shew.” Headlining the event was veteran comedian and actor Joe E. Brown, who kept the audience chuckling by performing some vaudeville routines and playing doctor and nurse. Also on board were famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin, popular singer Connie Russell, and actor Henry Fonda. A group of young ladies from the Midwest played xylophones. Altogether it was just one more Sunday evening of great entertainment from the CBS television network.

    About the middle of the program Sullivan introduced a new group of singers,...

  6. 2 A Gathering of the Hilltoppers
    (pp. 29-50)

    In 1952, Bowling Green, Kentucky, was a sleepy little college town with some twenty thousand residents. Added to this number were the sixteen hundred or so students who attended Western Kentucky State College on top of the big hill.¹

    As one might imagine, most students came to Western primarily because it was far enoughfromhome for an eighteen-year-old to experience some independence. Second, it was close enoughtohome to get the weekly laundry done by Mother. Overwhelmingly, students came from south-central Kentucky: Warren, Barren, Butler, Edmonton, Ohio, Grayson, Simpson, and Logan counties. Students from farther afield in Kentucky,...

  7. 3 “Mixed-up” Hilltoppers
    (pp. 51-74)

    One of the songs the Hilltoppers put “in the can” (that is, recorded to be released periodically) was a snappy little love song, “From the Vine Came the Grape.” It dealt with a lover being back with his girlfriend on the island of Capri. To the delight of listeners everywhere, Jimmy Sacca sang much of this song in Italian, adding an operatic touch to the performance.

    Several months after the recording was released, Jimmy told a disc jockey that “he was not good at the lyrics” in “From the Vine.” That was, he said, because the Hilltoppers only had one...

  8. 4 “Blimey, We’ve Gone Limey”
    (pp. 75-98)

    “You probably know that we’re leaving for England, and we really are looking forward to this trip,” the Hilltoppers wrote to the readers of that “wonderful journal,” the national fanzineHilltopper Topics. “Only You” had almost gone off the charts in mid-1956 in England, where a few newspapers described it as a “rock ’n’ roll ballad.” Surprisingly even though it was now four years old, “Trying” had not even been heard in England, or at least it had not been played regularly by disc jockeys. The Hilltoppers considered this their signature song and were willing to hold off its performance...

  9. 5 Hilltopper Tops
    (pp. 99-112)

    Here’s a “letter” that showed up in one of the Hilltoppers’ fanzines:

    “Sweetheart,” “I Found Your Letter” on “This Stormy Night.” “My Heart” went “Ka-Ding-Dong” when I saw your blue eyes “Crying in the Rain,” and “Love Walked In.” “I Can’t Lie to Myself;” “Without You,” “I’m Tormented,” so “Can’t We Try Again.” “Darlin,’” “I’m Trying for Keeps,” because “Until You’re Mine,” there will be “Teardrops In My Eyes.” “You Made Up My Mind,” “It’s Only You,” and I never want “To Be Alone.” “If I Were King,” “I’d Rather Die Young” because there is “No Greater Love,” and “Time...

  10. 6 The Hilltoppers at Home and Abroad
    (pp. 113-132)

    If, as some reviewers had it, the Hilltoppers’ fortunes were declining in the late 1950s, the group paid scant attention to them. Their performance schedules for the period of March–December 1957 were nothing short of amazing. One of the first to realize how busy the group would be was Bobbie Ann Mason, the national president of the Hilltopper fan club.

    She thought it would be a swell idea for “the boys” to perform at her high school prom. After making her request, she heard from Randy Wood in January 1957 that he would try to arrange numerous engagements close...

  11. 7 Latter-Day Hilltoppers
    (pp. 133-156)

    The original Hilltoppers (Billy, Jimmy, Don, Seymour) may have gone their separate ways by 1963, but one place always remained common ground: Kentucky, particularly Bowling Green and the campus of Western. Each came back at every opportunity. This was, after all, where their short but fabulous career had started, and south central Kentucky was home to them in more ways than one.

    Billy Vaughn, for example, returned to his hometown, Glasgow, in 1965 (there had already been a Billy Vaughn Day in Glasgow in July 1962) to participate in the celebration of a promotional movie,Wonders of Kentucky,for which...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 157-158)
  13. Annotated Discography
    (pp. 159-186)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 187-204)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-208)
  16. Index
    (pp. 209-226)
  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 227-242)