The Soundtrack For The Baby Boomer Generation

Step back to a time when singers were as bright as the stars in the heavens
and the music they sang was really swingin'. Stacks of wax to fit every occasion!

Friday, October 10, 2008

15 Minutes Of Fame - Or Tragedy?

Artist: Joan Weber
Song: Let Me Go, Lover (a-side) (b-side is Marionette)
Label: Columbia 4-40366
Number: ZSP 34068
Songwriters: Al Hill - Jenny Lou Carson
Time: 2:21
Released: 1954

Today's post is one I've been meaning to upload for a long time, but it's such a sad story when you know what happened behind the scenes, that I found it hard. Joan Weber was only 18 years old when she recorded this song and it was to be her only hit. Poor Joan didn't even get any part of her 15 minutes of fame.
She was born on December 12th, 1935, in Paulsboro, New Jersey, and she was just 18 when manager Eddie Joy escorted her to New York City's legendary Brill Building to audition for RCA Records. Only a few months before this, she had been happily singing weekend dates with her husband's dance band in and around her home town of Paulsboro (pop. 7,842). After recording a demo of the song Marionette, it somehow found the ear of Columbia Records A&R man Mitch Miller, who quickly signed her to a contract. Although Joan and her bandleader husband were due to give birth to their first child in late 1954, Miller nevertheless ushered her into the studio to record Let Me Go, Lover, a rewrite of Jenny Lou Carson and Al Hill's anti-alcohol screed Let Me Go, Demon. On November 15th, 1954, a visibly pregnant Weber performed the song on the television showcase Studio One, and it emerged as an overnight hit. A prescient Miller made sure Let Me Go, Lover was stocked in record stores across the U.S. prior to Weber's TV appearance, and the disc sold over 100,000 copies in it's first week of release. It eventually found it's way to the top of the Billboard pop chart in January 1955, where it spent 4 weeks at the number one spot. Here's where the story takes a horrible twist.
The birth of their daughter Terry Lynn nevertheless forced Weber onto the sidelines just as the single peaked and her fame was at it's highest apex and here she was, unable to promote her career through public appearances. Consequently, the song was the only recording of hers to chart, and she was dropped from Columbia's roster soon after. She released only a handful of follow-up efforts before abandoning her music career altogether. From that point on in her life, I couldn't locate any facts about her life, except one. Joan Weber died on May 13th, 1981, of heart failure while confined to an Ancora, New Jersey mental institution - she was just 45 years old. What a sad ending for a woman whose career had such a brilliant beginning. One can only assume that depression set in soon after the events surrounding Let Me Go, Lover unfolded and it led to her confinement in a mental home.
In spite of all that, please download and listen to this song. She has an impassioned style of delivery that really makes me believe she wants the man in the song to release her:

"Oh, let me go, let me go, let me go, lover,
Let me be, set me free from your spell."

Let Me Go, Lover was an immensely popular song and inspired many cover versions by such artists as Patti Page, Teresa Brewer, Peggy Lee and Sunny Gale. It was such a huge hit in early 1955, that Lucille Ball even did a few bars of it on her television program I Love Lucy, on March 18th. But, this is the original version, and as far as I'm concerned, the best. With all the tragedy that surrounded the singer's life and this particular song, how could you not want to hear her plaintive cry for release as Joan Weber pleads Let Me Go, Lover? Listen to this song and then remember a sad, young lady whose fate it was to leave the world too soon.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Kenny:

I enjoyed your article about Joan Weber. I did not know that she had been so troubled. My personal favourite version of Let Me Go Lover is by Teresa Brewer. She's such a cutie. I was at Teresa's funeral last year. Oh boy, time sure is passing by!

I read your bio - like your choice in movies, dude! My Fav movies are: Alien (can't explain it. Just still winds me up every time I see it.), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (the one with Pat Boone), and The African Queen, with Bogart and Hepburn - always makes me proud. How patriotic they both were, coming to the aid of their country, and him being Canadian like me.

You guys are having a tough time with the economy right now. And like they say, when US of A gets a sniffle, we get pneumonia! Yikes.

My musical taste is older than yours. I'm stuck more in the 50's. I grew up on Billy Vaughn and Teresa Brewer. I must have the largest collection of vinyl of Vaughn and Brewer that anyone on the planet!

Cheers, again, nice article.

Norm Muir

Michael Esposito said...

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. In the 1955 articles, her husband appears as someone trying to keep her steady with all the insanity going on with the promotion of the hit. What eventually led to their divorce is not mentioned in any of the articles I was able to read. 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 had a part in a 1964 movie titled "The Block," filmed in Atlantic City. 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 (on a Collectables CD) 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.

HaarFager said...

Michael, thanks so much for posting that great information! It's always nice to be able to learn more about entertainers such as Joan was. This makes a great addition to my post and I'm sure many people who are curious about her will find your information quite fascinating! As I do. Thanks again!

Michael Esposito said...

My pleasure! I've been learning something new about her virtually every day for the past few weeks. The most recent was viewing Twitter posts over the years about her music in Spanish, Dutch, German, Swedish, Danish, Hungarian, Croatian, Korean and Japanese.