August 28, 1961
the day before Joe Dowell was to record his first four songs in Nashville
for Mercury Records' Smash label, producer Shelby Singleton, went
to see a screening of Elvis Presley's fifth movie, G.I. Blues
One of the songs Shelby heard in the movie was "Wooden Heart
(Muss I Denn)," a part-English, part-German adaptation
of a German folk song, "Muss I Denn zum Staedele Hinaus."
Singleton was already familiar with the song because he had been watching
a version by Gus Bachus move up the German pop chart. Elvis Presley
had another single climbing the Hot 100 ("I Feel So Bad"),
so it seemed unlikely that RCA would release "Wooden Heart"
by Elvis. Shelby decided to record a cover version of the song with
Joe arrived for the session at 11 AM and was given three hours to
learn the song. "A man named Eddie Wilson came to the office
to teach me to sing 'Muss I Denn, Muss I Denn.' I didn't have any
idea what I was singing; I learned the song phonetically," Joe
Elvis' version of the song featured tuba and organ. Joe remembers
how Singleton came up with a more commercial sound: "Jerry Kennedy
mimicked the tuba with a bass guitar, and Ray Stevens played an organ,
mimicking an accordion." Dowell's version of "Wooden Heart"
was rushed out in three days and he was sent on a one-month "barnstorming
tour." There were four other cover versions of "Wooden
Heart" plus the Elvis original competing with his recording,
but Joe's promotional tour helped win airplay for his own version.
Joe's "Wooden Heart" entered the Hot 100 at number 98 on
June 26, 1961, and moved to number one nine weeks later.
In Britain and throughout Europe, Elvis' "Wooden Heart"
was already a single. In the United Kingdom, it was number one for
six weeks. "It's Now or Never" and "Are You Lonesome
Tonight, " Elvis' previous two singles, had also gone to number
one, making Presley the first artist to score three chart-toppers
with consecutive British releases.
was adapted by Bert Kaemfert, Kay Twomey, Fred Wise, and Ben Weisman.
The German folk song is sung in the dialect of the Hessian state,
and a translation of the German line that Dowell sang would read something
like, "I have to leave our little town and you, my darling, have
to stay behind."
Joe Dowell was born on January 23, 1940, in Bloomington, Indiana.
The family moved a year later when Joe's father, an executive with
the Boy Scouts of America, was
offered a better job in Bloomington, Illinois. When he was 13, Joe
bought a ten-dollar guitar
|| and wrote his first song, "Tell Me."
He was in the ninth grade when he made his first public performance,
singing "Unchained Melody" at an amateur talent show. He
competed in country fair talent contests while majoring in radio and
television at the University of Illinois. "I listened to WLS
radio after and during homework," Joe says. "I tried to
envision that I would be on the radio. I could actually hear my own
voice on WLS." With that dream in mind, he went to Nashville
on a semester break, three weeks before his 21st birthday, to find
a record company that would sign him.
He borrowed a friend's VW and drove to Nashville, where he rented
a room for three dollars a night at the YMCA. A week of knocking on
doors proved fruitless. On his last day in Nashville, he went to the
office of Teddy and Doyle Wilburn, regular singers on the Grand Ole
Opry show. They liked his voice and his "all-American Jack Armstrong
Joe resumed his studies, then returned to Nashville by train the following
May for his first recording session. He followed "Wooden Heart"
with two more singles on Smash, "The Bridge of Love" (number
50) and "Little Red Rented Rowboat" (number 23).
The Top Five
Week of August 28, 1961
||Wooden Heart (Muss I Denn)
||Tossin' and Turnin'
||You Don't Know What You've Got
(Until You Lose It)
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Wooden Heart >>