The Poni-Tails

TrackSingle    
Que La BozenaPoint Records P-8
It's Just My Luck To Be FifteenABC-Paramount 45-9846
Born Too LateABC-Paramount 45-9934
Seven Minutes In HeavenABC-Paramount 45-9969
Early To BedABC-Paramount 45-9995
I'll Keep Tryin'ABC-Paramount 45-10047

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The Poni-Tails photo 3

The Poni-Tails (l to r): LaVerne Novak, Toni Cistone, Patti McCabe

 

THE PONI-TAILS:

ANATOMY OF A U.S. ONE HIT WONDER #10

Artists who flickered briefly then disappeared.

One Hit Wonders, the media called them. Part of the fascination of fifties and sixties music.

 

Contributor: Merric Davidson

I really need you to come with me. Imagine yourself travelling back through time, some sixty years. It’s a black & white world but it’s full of colour. Full of Chevrolets and Deuce Coupes, of drainpipe jeans and poodle skirts, junior proms and sock hops, polka dots and soda pops. And big hair, ponytails and bouffants, sideburns and the duck’s ass.

Come back to 1957, the year that three white kids from Ohio formed a singing group in their high school, the year before they had a smash hit in the pop charts.

 

THE SONG

Born too late for you to notice me
To you, I’m just a kid that you won’t date
Why was I born too late?

Born too late to have a chance to win your love
Oh why, oh why was it my fate
To be born too late?

I see you walk with another
I wish it could be me
I long to hold you and kiss you
But I know it never can be

For I was …

Born too late for you to care
Now my heart cries
Because your heart just couldn’t wait
Why was I born too la-a-a-a-ate?

Born Too Late, a song of teenage longing that has become a timeless classic. Sung by a young girl group, it was written by two men, Tobias-Strouse; Charles Strouse, the composer of Bye Bye Birdie, Annie and many other musicals, and Fred Tobias, of which this was the first in a long line of hit records.

Born Too Late is memorable for its melody and that repeated sax break that gets deep into the brain. The song was arranged and conducted by Owen B. Masingill who, that same year, orchestrated At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. You couldn’t make it up!

Born Too Late reached #7 in the Billboard Top 100 but, somewhat surprisingly, did better in the UK where it peaked at #5 two months later in September 1958. Not bad for a song that was released as the B-side, and today, no teen movie set in the 50s is complete without Born Too Late in the soundtrack.

I came across this lovely comment online, from Tom in Arizona, and it’s precisely the kind of pop insight that we all adore:

“In the bridge they sing the word “see” (I see you walk with another) using a harmony chord that is repeated in the next line on the word “wish” (I wish it could be me). But on the third line the corresponding word “long” (I long to hold you and kiss you) sounds different, as if one harmony part was raised a half note. That different chord to me sounds like longing, and adds greatly to the effect of the record. It may or may not have been intentional, but I think it helped convey the emotion of the lyric.”

I started off thinking this would be another post in the One Hit Wonders series – which it is, on American charts showing – until I discovered the Poni-Tails also had a No.26 UK hit with Early To Bed in 1959. Who knew!

But by then, the OHW die was cast

 

THE GROUP

The Poni-Tails photo 1

The Poni-Tails original line-up was Toni Cistone (lead vocal), Patti McCabe (low harmony), Karen Topinka (high harmony). Topinka was eventually replaced by LaVerne Novak before the release of Born Too Late.

They studied at Brush High School in Lyndhurst, an upper-middle-class suburb of Cleveland where children were expected to graduate from high school, go to college, earn a degree, and become a professional; involvement in popular music was considered frivolous (source: Andrew Hamilton, AllMusic).

“It was really just a lark how we got together. When we were seniors, we sang in a talent show and soon after that, my neighbour suggested we go to Audio Recording in Cleveland and record a song, which we did. Then we had to decide on a name. The Crew-Cuts were really big then, so we wanted to have a name contrary to them and came up with the Poni-Tails. It was a problem at first because hair was still short, and when we’d pull it up, there were these little stubs hanging down.” Toni Cistone

 

THE RECORDS

I’m picking six songs to make up the perfect Poni-Tails playlist. Could have bunged in a few more but you can play these six tracks on repeat and have a very happy hour.

The first Poni-Tails single, Your Wild Heart, did not do well; issued on a small label it didn’t get the breaks, but the cover version by 15-year-old Joy Layne did, making it to #20 in the US in February 1957. Another one hit wonder.

For our first Poni-Tails selection, though, we’re going with the B-side which the girls (Topinka-Cistone-McCabe) wrote themselves, their only recorded composition. It’s Que La Bozena, and whatever it means it’s charming with an air of early Eurovision about it and a crazy accordion and catchy limerick-type chorus: There once was a fella named Tony / who loved a girl named Marie / they used to walk by the river / and dream of the Isle of Capri:

Bypassing the next single – I quite like Can I Be Sure but I think we can do better – and moving on to the first release from the big label, ABC-Paramount, and with the orchestra conducted by none other than Don Costa, I offer you “The boy I love is seventeen, It’s Just My Luck To Be Fifteen” and I think you can see where we’re heading here:

Release number two from ABC-Paramount, the big one, in June 1958, and here’s both sides, starting with the A-side, Come On Joey Dance With Me, which, mercifully, got flipped by DJs on the radio. It’s a bit too cheerful for my liking, give me wistful and plaintive, but see what you think …

… and I’m sure someone can tell me how Born Too Late got to reach No.11 in the R&B Chart – how does that work? – and its highest placing of all, No.5 over here, released by His Master’s Voice:

The next Poni-Tails single, Seven Minutes In Heaven, mixes cheerful and wistful, wishful even, a cute little pop pearl from hitmakers Noel Sherman & Jack Keller …

I want … seven minutes in heaven …
Give me up ’til eleven,
With the boy of my dreams
‘Cause it seems like
I need … seven minutes in heaven …

Seven minutes ain’t much …

It reached #85. Imagine the disappointment after Born Too Late. Nightmare.

It was time to get Fred Tobias back in the ring. His Early To Bed, written with John Gluck, was the record that stopped the Poni-Tails being one hit wonders in the UK. HMV scored a top thirty hit with it in April 1959, six months after Born Too Late. With echoes of Paul Anka (Diana) and the usual sax and strings of the period, it’s a bit of a composite but it’s beautifully put together and I like it:

I was tempted by the flip side of the next single from the prolific pen of Barry Mann, this time writing with Joe Shapiro, but this song, Moody, is a heck of a lot like All I Want To Do Is Dream, don’t you think?

The next attempt for chart success was a pleasant enough version of the 1938 Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal standard, I’ll Be Seeing You. In hindsight this appears to be a pretty desperate attempt to rekindle the flame. The record peaked at #87.

The flip side is much more like it with those three-part harmonies to the fore in a simple song, full of hope. The girl may have been born too late but she’s much more determined now, none of that giving up nonsense: I’m in love with someone who won’t love back the way I dobut I know as long as I keep livin’I’ll keep tryin’.

I’ll Keep Tryin’ was the last Poni-Tails record to be released in the UK and it would have been a fitting end. However, there were two more US singles (see list below) but they were standard fare, they slipped on by, missed the charts by a mile and the girls called it a day.

 

The Poni-Tails photo 4

THE PONI-TAILS U.S. DISCOGRAPHY

Your Wild Heart / Que La Bozena – on local label Point Records, a subsidiary of RKO Pictures (1957)
Can I Be Sure / Still In Your Teens – Marc Records (1957)
All the following releases are on ABC-Paramount:
It’s Just My Luck To Be Fifteen / Wild Eyes & Tender Lips (1957)
Come On Joey Dance With Me / Born Too Late (1958)
Seven Minutes In Heaven / Close Friends (1958)
Early To Bed / Father Time (1959)
Oom Pah Polka / Moody (1959)
I’ll Be Seeing You / I’ll Keep Tryin’ (1959)
Before We Say Goodnight / Come Be My Love (1960)
Who, When, And Why / Oh, My, You (1960)

All of the Poni-Tails recordings are available on Born Too Late, a 24-track CD from Famous Groove but it is a bit pricey.

Thanks to TheLimePopsicle who posted these versions of Born Too Late on YouTube, the first by Jill Jackson (Paula, from Paul and Paula) and produced by Dick and Dee Dee in 1965 …

… and the second by The Shannons in 1968:

And finally – as the UK were so good to the Poni-Tails – here’s our own Maureen Evans giving it her best shot on the Woolworth’s budget label, Embassy, in 1958. What a treat:

TheLimePopsicle also uncovered this fine quote from Patti McCabe in Billboard: “Born Too Late, it’s a message song. Lots of girls fall in love with an older guy. It’s like the junior high school girl who secretly loves the senior who’s the football captain. Or the high school girl whose boy is away in college.”

 

The Poni-Tails poster

 

ONE HIT WONDERS ON TOPPERMOST
#1 Jody Reynolds
#2 James Ray
#3 Richie Barrett
#4 Mickey & Sylvia
#5 Scott McKenzie
#6 Blue
#7 Chris Kenner
#8 Dawn Penn
#9 Shep and the Limelites
#10 The Poni-Tails
#11 The La’s
#12 Thomas Wayne
#13 Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford
#14 Carl Mann
#15 Duncan Browne
#16 Harold Dorman

 

Patricia McCabe (1939-1989)

 

The Poni-Tails on the Doo Wop website

The Poni-Tails – Way Back Attack

“Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Cleveland Connection” by Deanna R. Adams (2002)
– contains the Toni Cistone quote featured above

The Poni-Tails biography (iTunes)

Merric Davidson is a retired publisher who started this site four years ago. He tweets toppermost @AgeingRaver.

TopperPost #631

1 Comment

  1. Dave Stephens
    Jun 8, 2017

    With all the adulation liberally slathered on sixties girl groups people tend to forget that there were girl groups in the fifties (and probably before but even I’m not that old). I do have dim memories of the Chordettes and the Fontane Sisters from that era. The Poni-Tails were among best of breed. And they’ve worn well.
    I’ve just finished reading The Wanderers from Richard Price which was set in NY in the early sixties. The title was the name of a teenage gang and it came, of course, from a certain song, which was their anthem. However the boys also had a liking for the soppy/tender stuff and not just as a means to an end on the dance floor and beyond. Although set a few years earlier this Toppermost evokes much of that era superbly.

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