Thursday, September 22, 2016


I guess you can consider singer Joan Weber a one-hit wonder, She burst on to the scene with the haunting song "Let Me Go Lover" but did not match that success with much else. New Jersey-born Joan Weber, fresh out of high school in 1954, had been auditioning around the New York area without catching a break. Already married and expecting a child (though her condition wasn't yet physically obvious), she was intent on a career as a professional singer.

She met up with manager Eddie Joy, who was impressed with the teenager's strong voice, and he subsequently set up a meeting with Charles Randolph Grean, a songwriter/producer (who had several years earlier written Phil Harris' hit novelty song "The Thing," Joan made a demo recording of "Marionette," a pop tune that revealed an emotionally weepy vocal approach, a bit exaggerated when compared to the other popular singers of the day. Grean, a producer and bandleader with RCA Victor, couldn't convince the label's executives to give her a shot, so he sent the demo to Mitch Miller, the head of artists and repertoire at Columbia Records.

Miller took a song entitled "Let Me Go, Devil" by Jenny Lou Carson and Al Hill and had it rewritten as "Let Me Go, Lover!" for Weber, who recorded it on the Columbia label. She recorded "Let Me Go Lover," backed by Jimmy Carroll and his orchestra, with songwriting credits going to Carson and the pseudoynm Al Hill in place of the trio of lyrics-revisers. It was released in November '54 with "Marionette" on the B side.

Mitch pulled some strings and suddenly Let Me Go Lover had become the title of an episode of Westinghouse Studio One, a long-running CBS anthology program. Broadcast on November 15, 1954, the teleplay concerned a disc jockey involved in a murder. Joan's recording of the song was featured six times during the episode in varying lengths ranging from excerpts to the entire song.
Miller, anticipating demand for the unique recording, had arranged for thousands of 45s and 78s to be shipped to record stores across the country prior to the airing. Immediately, his hunch paid off...the record began selling like crazy the very next day. To further promote the single, Joan, recently turned 19 and noticeably pregnant, made appearances on television variety shows including Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town in December.

Joan gave birth to her daughter while the record was cresting the charts. At the first opportunity, Miller got her back into the studio for a follow-up single, the Ivory Joe Hunter song "It May Sound Silly," a record survey no-show overshadowed by The McGuire Sisters' hit pop version and Hunter's R&B original. Momentum slipped away with successive efforts, varied in style and quality ("Lover-Lover," a misguided attempt at recapturing the magic of the first single, "Goodbye Lollipops, Hello Lipstick," a stab at the teen scene, and "Gone," a cover of Ferlin Husky's massive country and pop hit). By the time "Saturday Lover - Sunday Stranger" came out in the spring of 1957, it had become obvious a second hit wasn't in the cards.

 After Columbia dropped her, she performed whenever possible in clubs and at minor events before abandoning what was left of her show business career.

Mitch Miller, in a 2004 interview for the Archive of American Television, recalled that Weber's husband assumed total control of the singer's activities, thus depriving Weber of experienced career guidance. Consequently the song was her only recording to chart. Columbia dropped her after her contract was up, because she could not promote her music and be a mother at the same time.
At some point it seemed as though Joan had vanished into thin air. No one at Columbia Records had a clue as to where she was. In 1969 the company mailed a royalty check to her last known residence, but it was returned stamped "address unknown." For years her whereabouts were a mystery until she turned up in a New Jersey mental facility sometime in the 1970s. In May 1981, while still institutionalized, Joan Weber died of heart failure. She was 45 years old...

1 comment:

  1. I first heard about Joan Weber on the Casey Kasem radio program "America's Top 40 Disappearing Acts" in 1973, and the story intrigued me. Later, I learned through the 1989 edition of Joel Whitburn's book of Top 40 hits that she had passed away in 1981. Just recently, I was reminded of her again for some reason, and was determined to learn more. The best source of information turned out to be newspaper articles from the period, which chronicle her career with greater clarity. When "Lover" began its climb, she and her husband, who became her road manager, toured extensively to promote the record, even to Juarez, Mexico, while Joan's mother took care of the baby back home. Her husband is not mentioned in articles published after 1955, so I have my doubts about Mitch Miller's assessment of his influence over Joan's career. In 1956, it was reported that Joan took some time off to hone her skills as a performer, dyed her hair blonde to remake her image into a more mature one, then spent a few years performing at a variety of venues to see if she could be successful, though not as extensively as in the past and without the clout of a recent hit to get her into larger engagements. One critic wrote that he had noticed her lack of experience on her first tour, and was pleasantly surprised to note that her show was more polished than on the first tour. Roughly in 1960, around the same time her marriage ended, she made the decision to return home and focus her attention on her daughter, who was approaching school age. She made the occasional local appearance in Philadelphia or South Jersey, and the last interview I could find for her was in 1966, when she was a restaurant hostess in Philadelphia. The headline read "Singer Gives Up $1,500-A-Week To Care for Her Young Daughter." In that interview, she explained her decision to retire from show business. After that, there is only speculation as to her whereabouts. From what is available, there is a thread of the anguish she experienced in dealing with the sudden fame, and hints at anxiety and depression at various phases in her life. I remind myself that the treatment of mental illness was not the same in that period as it is today, and that it's possible that a person in her situation now may have access to better information and resources to obtain treatment, and may not have had to be institutionalized. My conclusion is that she held it together as long as she could, and tried to keep her priorities in the right place in spite of everything. I am grateful that I'm able to listen to the other songs that didn't chart to get an idea of how her voice progressed, though it would really have been great to hear what songs she performed during the second round of touring.