On a July day in 1958, the performing talents of Buddy Holly were intertwined with the writing nous of Bobby Darin. The net result was a peculiar chart battle and Top 40 hits for both of them, with “Early In The Morning.” It was the seventh of Buddy’s mere eight Top 40 singles in the US, and the tale behind it takes some believing.
Written by Darin and Woody Harris, the track had a bizarre history, even by the standards of the chart battles that often took place in those days. It was recorded and released by Bobby first, not in his own name but under the alias of the Ding Dongs. This was on the Brunswick label, owned by his former label, Decca – as a device to conceal the fact that Darin was now under contract to Atco.
Something in the bank
The explanation for the attempted subterfuge lay in the fact that Darin’s initial, one-year contract at Atco was soon to expire. When he went into Decca’s Pythian Studio in New York to record “Early In The Morning” and three other songs in April 1958, his previously-recorded “Splish Splash” had not yet been released, nor was there any guarantee that it would be. Fearful that the contract would not be renewed, Darin was keen to have something in the recording bank for his uncertain future.
Unsurprisingly, of course, Atco soon recognised “the Ding Dongs” by Darin’s distinctive vocal tones, and forced Brunswick to turn the master tape of the song over to them. Atco then released “Splish Splash,” which entered the charts in June to become his debut smash and led to his contract renewal – but meanwhile, an even more tangled story was developing.
A second pseudonym
Before it was clear that “Splish Splash” would make the grade as a hit, Atco released Darin’s same “reclaimed” recording of “Early In The Morning” themselves, now under another pseudonym, the Rinky Dinks. But Decca owned not only the Brunswick label but also Coral, for whom Holly recorded, and then rushed Buddy into the studio to produce a carbon-copy of the Darin/Ding Dongs/Rinky Dinks release.
Buddy’s version of the song used the same studio, the same musicians, arrangement, producer and the same gospel-style backing vocals of the Helen Way Singers. It even had the same b-side, with Holly covering another Darin composition, “You’re The One.”
On July 5, 1958, Holly’s version of “Early In The Morning” was released on Coral. It entered the bestsellers a week after the Rinky Dinks’ recording, in early August, on Billboard’s very first Hot 100 chart. By the time Darin’s earlier take entered the magazine’s final Top 100 Sides list, he was in the Top 5 with “Splish Splash.” So now, naturally, Atco changed the credit on the other 45 to “Bobby Darin and the Rinky Dinks.”
Climbing in tandem
Briefly, the Darin and Holly versions climbed the new Hot 100 in tandem, both entering the Top 40 on the August 11 chart. But neither single quite fulfilled its early promise: Holly’s peaked at No.32 and Darin’s at No.24, his fans perhaps a little distracted (and understandably confused) by the simultaneous success of “Splish Splash.”
Holly would make the US Top 40 only once more, early in 1959 with “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” and tragically lost his life in that fateful plane crash even as the song was climbing the charts. By then, Darin had had another Top 10 success with his follow-up in his own name, “Queen Of The Hop,” and stayed at Atco for years to come.