The Begrudgingly Acknowledged Legacy of Pat Boone
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Pat Boone was Kidz Bop for adults, sanitizing some of the era’s best songs until they were nothing but raw, bleeding husks. If you’re surprised such a thing was necessary, you’ll be even more disturbed to find out that Boone was wildly popular, even with teenagers. Though he’s been long and rightfully dismissed as the crumbliest of rock and roll crackers, it’s time to acknowledge that Pat Boone was depressingly influential.
He Was Second Only to Elvis
Unless you’re one of the three ‘50s Christian rock experts in the country, the name “Pat Boone” sounds only vaguely familiar at most, but he was shockingly successful. During the decade, only Elvis had more Billboard-charting songs.
He Broke Records
As of 2017, more than 40 years after his last Billboard hit, Boone still held the record for the most consecutive weeks an artist had at least one single on the pop charts -- 220, that is, or more than four years. He was one of the chart’s top 10 artists of the entirety of 1955 to 1995, between the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, presumably the only time he was ever between those people without his head in the toilet.
He Was Even Popular With Teenagers
You might see why Pat Boone’s colorless-on-every-level brand of rock and roll appealed to middle-class parents in an era when adults still largely drove media sales, but he got more than double the votes of Elvis Presley in a poll of high school students’ favorite singers in 1957. To be fair, the accompanying essay makes it clear that they were not the ones you wanted to hang out with.
His First Big Hit (And Fats Domino’s)
Although he was one of the most successful R&B artists of the early ‘50s, Fats Domino was virtually known to the wider (and whiter) American mainstream until Boone ruined his masterpiece. A DJ had sneaked Boone’s label owner a copy of “Ain’t That a Shame,” and Boone released his version the same month as Fats Domino in 1955, netting him his first top 10 Billboard hit. Domino was understandably pretty pissed about that, but while white audiences seemed to initially prefer Boone, his own single soon became his first hit on the Billboard pop singles chart and eventually far surpassed Boone’s, restoring a shred of justice to the world.
He Charted Higher Than Little Richard
The next year, Boone recorded a censored version of (the already significantly toned down) “Tutti Frutti,” which rose to number 12 on the pop charts while Little Richard banged his head against the top 20 ceiling. Again, this is a travesty, but it is what it is. When Mr. Richard went back into the studio, he wrote “Long Tall Sally” so lyrically dense that he didn’t think Boone could handle it, and although he proved him wrong, Boone got stuck at number eight while Richard topped out at six, so he was still obligated to suck it.
He Even Crushed Nat King Cole
Boone’s next number-one hit was a song called “I Almost Lost My Mind,” which was recorded six years earlier by Nat King Cole but peaked at 26 the same year he reached number one with “Mona Lisa.” You know a society is racist when even Mr. Christmas can’t beat a mediocre white guy.
Elvis Opened For Him
In 1955, Elvis had just begun performing outside the South, and he couldn’t even pull better than high school auditoriums. In fact, he wasn’t even headlining high school auditoriums. On October 20, he opened a concert now famous for its sheer number of future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees that was headlined by Pat Boone, proving that you can hit rock and roll bottom and still come out on top.
He Had His Own TV Show
At a time when only about three-quarters of Americans even had TVs, Boone had his own TV show, the Pat Boone Chevy Showroom. Yes, Boone was such a sellout that even the title of his show couldn’t uphold any kind of artistic pretense, but he managed to snag such well-known guests as Andy Williams and Dick Van Dyke. Are you here to disparage Dick Van Dyke?
He’s Part of the DC Universe
In 1959, Boone got literally drawn into Superman’s world as part of a storyline involving Clark Kent writing a song for Boone that he later realizes might give away his secret identity. It’s honestly pretty confusing, but it must have done well enough for DC for give Boone his own series of comics, which look more like fan magazines, but that’s still way cooler than he deserves.
He Was a Movie Star
Boone even had a Presleyan film career, although he refused to “make a depressing or immoral film,” kiss an actress without talking it over with his wife first, or star alongside Marilyn Monroe for fear that she’d get her sluttiness on him. Still, he was “one of the biggest box office draws in the United States” for a few years there.
He Dipped His Toe in the Dark Side
During his heyday, Boone briefly became what he hated: a hard-drinking, hard-partying rock star. Well, at least a some-drinking, some-partying rock star. In 2020, after his wife died, Boone revealed that a period of “having drinks and staying out late” nearly ended his marriage, though it’s usually something teenagers get only briefly grounded for.
Yep, His Politics Were (and Are) Gross
Remember Barry Goldwater? The guy who had the gall to run on the Republican presidential ticket the year after Kennedy was assassinated? Boone campaigned for him. Later, he became a birther who decried the “filthy black cells” of liberalism and recorded robo-calls for a Republican candidate for Kentucky governor warning that his opponent stood for “every homosexual cause.” It turns out that even in Kentucky, Pat Boone can make a Democrat sound cool.
The British Invasion Ended His Career
Boone’s rock star status was taken away almost as soon as it was granted, not because anyone figured out he was a hack but because of the British Invasion, which “made his soft version of rock music unpopular with young audiences.” Basically, black artists were suddenly being ripped off by much cooler white people, and Boone was finally free to do what he was made for: gospel music and Christian television.
He Recorded a Heavy Metal Album
In 1997, Boone really thought he was gonna make a comeback with an album of heavy metal covers called In a Metal Mood, which he promoted by appearing at the American Music Awards shirtless with fake tattoos and a black leather vest and pants. The stunt left so many viewers clutching their pearls that he was briefly fired by the Christian TV network he worked for, but he was reinstated after asking politely to be allowed a sense of humor.
Still Stealing After All These Years
In 2006, Boone took one last stab at the corpse of black music history with R&B Classics: We Are Family, a compilation of soul songs like “Celebration,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” and “Soul Man.” Yes, that guy sang “I’m a soul man” with a straight face. In 2014, he announced the album he released that year would be his last … of original songs. Here’s looking forward to his take on Bieber.
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