Music

From a Hit Cover of ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ to Decades of Fame: Pat Boone in Billboard’s Back Pages

When Pat Boone turns 90 on June 1, it will be almost 70 years since he debuted on a Billboard chart. Back then, he was pushed as clean-cut counterprogramming to Elvis Presley — so successfully that he became bigger than the King, as measured by Billboard Hot 100 hits from the Aug. 4, 1958, debut of the chart through the end of the decade. From his first hits to his recent work with veteran artists, Pat has always been a boon to Billboard.

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He’s So Square, We All Care

“Pat Boone, Dot’s new young find, comes off as a potential bobby sox grabber,” noted the May 21, 1955, Billboard when “Two Hearts” hit No. 16 on the Most Played in Juke Boxes chart. After “Two Hearts,” Boone didn’t miss a beat: His cover of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame” (hailed as a “flavorsome number” in the June 18, 1955, issue) became his first No. 1. “He is unassuming, generous and should go far,” predicted a retailer in the Aug. 20, 1955, issue.

Pat, Pending

The July 9, 1955, Billboard described Boone as a “fledgling performer, a pleasant-looking lad who’ll do much better when he loosens up his platform manner.” The “Love Letters in the Sand” singer may have taken note. A review of his Los Angeles concert in the June 19, 1961, issue hailed his “easy and relaxed patter.” “Hope this one brings us another gold record,” Boone said of “Moody River” at the show; in that same issue, it became his first No. 1 of the Hot 100 era.

Jesus Christ + Superstar

Boone’s religious convictions eventually supplanted his pop aspirations. “Pat Boone is creating a ‘Jesus Music’ center,” reported the June 3, 1972, Billboard, “for the myriad of small Jesus youth groups which record their own works but do not have the machinery for national distribution.” Two years later, Boone got soul. When Motown planned a country imprint, he was its first artist, according to the Oct. 26, 1974, issue, which said “not only Boone but Boone’s family will be represented.” Three years later, daughter Debby Boone went solo on Arista, and her “You Light Up My Life” topped the Hot 100 for 10 weeks.

Pat Sabbath

Boone “blasted back on the Billboard album chart after a record 34-year, 2-month absence,” reported the Feb. 15, 1997, issue, as his In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy hit the Billboard 200 at No. 125. Crediting his American Music Awards appearance with Alice Cooper as “one of the many publicity efforts” that fueled this success, Billboard said the album, released on Universal’s Hip-O, was “about as far out in left field as you can go without hitting the wall.”

Gold in Years

In 2019, Boone celebrated the 20th anniversary of The Gold Label, which he formed to help veteran hitmakers ignored by major labels. “We were out there still performing the songs that helped build those labels, and those labels were still selling those old records,” Boone said in the July 27, 2019, issue, but those acts found it harder to get new label deals. “It’s a real labor of love, just like everything else I do with music.”

This article appears in the June 1, 2024 issue of Billboard.

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