- La Paloma
- Blue Tango
- Theme from The Apartment
- Torna A Sorrento
- Never on Sunday
- Tracy's Theme
- Autumn Leaves
- Theme from A Summer Place
- Look For A Star
- Theme from "The Alamo" (The Green Leaves of Summer)
This is the story of the most successful orchestra leader of all time, based purely on the number of chart successes. Between 1955 and 1970, Billy Vaughn had 28 singles and 36 albums in the US charts alone. In Germany he had a very impressive string of 19 top hits until the mid-1960's. Throughout this time, billy Vaughn remained in the background, never forcing his way into the limelight or onto the front pages of the entertainment magazines.
Richard Vaughn was born on 12 April 1919 in Glasgow, Kentucky. He attended the Western Center college in nearby Bowling Green. In 1952 he and his friends Jimmy Sacce, Don McGuire and Seymour Spiegelman formed the singing quartet "The Hilltoppers". Vaughn sang baritone, played the piano and composed "Trying", the Hilltoppers first hit after they had signed on to Dot Records. Dot was specialised in cover versions, so the Hilltoppers covered Johnny Mercer's "P. S. I Love You" in 1953 and "Only You" by the Platters in 1955 with big success. Both singles sold millions in the US. In 1955, Billy Vaughn accepted an offer by Dot label boss Randy Wood and became musical director of the label. The remaining Hilltoppers continued until 1962, when they took jobs with Dot Records as well.
Billy Vaughn founded a studio orchestra, but initially his main task was to scan music catalogues for appropriate compositions together with Wood, who ran the biggest record mail order service in the south of the US. the exhaustive research work brought Vaughn onto the trail of interesting folk songs and finally took him to Germany in 1961, where he adapted "Berlin Melody" by Berlin composer Heino Gaze.
Orchestra leader Billy Vaughn mainly concentrated on black rock 'n' roll and rhythm-and-blues songs - in the 1950's they were simply not acceptable to the majority of whites in the South. He toned the songs down and gave them a new soft and enticing arrangement, creating his trademark sound with velvety guitar and sax solos. At first, the Billy Vaughn Orchestra accompanied other Dot artists, such as The Fontane Sisters, who turned "Hearts of Stone" (a song originally by rhythm & blues band Otis Williams & The Charms) into a million seller. For Gale Storm he adapted Smiley Lewis's "I Hear You Knocking" (1955), and his ideas played a vital role in creating the typical Pat Boone sound.
The Billy Vaughn Orchestra scored their first gold single with more than a million sold with "Melody of Love (Melodie D'Amour)" in 1954, a song written in 1903. In November 1956 "The Shifting Whispering Sands" became a top 5 hit, and in 1956 Billy Vaughn covered the "Theme from the Three Penny Orchestra - Moritat", which became his biggest hit in Great Britain.
In the summer of 1958 the Billy Vaughn Orchestra finally made it big in the German market when their version of the Bing Crosby classic "Sail Along Silvery Moon" suddenly appeared on the number one position of the charts. From then on, Billy Vaughn's records sold very well on both sides of the Atlantic. By the end of 1959, he had released the hits "La Paloma", "Cimarron", "Blue Hawaii", "Aloha-Oe", "Morgen" and "Unter dem Doppeladler".
The 1960's began for the Billy Vaughn Orchestra the same way 1950's had ended - successful. The album "Theme from a Summer Place" sold in excess of one million units in the US and was certified gold. After covering "Red Sails in the Sunset" in 1960, Vaughn covered another Fats Domino classic - "Blueberry Hill". He also wrote a new arrangement of the country evergreen "Orange Blossom Special", and his version of "Wheels", a song originally by the String Alongs, became his third number one single in Germany.
1962 saw his career reach another climax with "A Swingin' Safari", originally by his German colleague Bert Kaempfert. His special relationship with Germany continued with three other smash singles - "Zwei Gitarren am Meer", "Lili Marleen", and "Berlin Melody".
Vaughn's highly popular sound profited from his enormous repertoire knowledge and seemed unstoppable. It appealed to young and old and could be used for every occasion from radio airplay to dance parties. The string of hits for the Billy Vaughn Orchestra continued until 1966. Vaughn had resisted against rock 'n' roll, but in the end he had to give in to the ever increasing popularity of beat and rock music. Ironically, his last single hit (in January 1966) was a cover of the Beatles song "Michelle". The orchestra leader continued to release albums until 1970, then turned his attention to his tasks as arranger, producer and talent scout again. Until his death on 26 September 1991, Vaughn lived a secluded live in the Californian town of Escondido.
That his perfectly arranged and timeless orchestra sound survived all fashions and trends is demonstrated by his big revival in Germany in the late 1970's and early 1980's, when his hit sampler "Moonlight Melodies" made it to number one on the album charts.
(By Christian Graf, 1996)