The pre-Beatles era, 1960-1963, had some odd singles ascend to the number one position on the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart. In retrospect, none may have been odder than “Calcutta” by Lawrence Welk.
Lawrence Welk is best remembered today for his weekly television series which ran from 1955-1982. It can still be found in re-runs on numerous TV stations at all times of the day and night. It may be extremely dated today, but in its time it garnered high ratings and enabled Welk to sell tens of millions of albums.
He was born in 1903 and by the early 1920s was performing in big bands. He formed his own orchestra during the 1930s, which would remain popular for fifty years.
“Calcutta” was a song written by Heino Gaze and one Welk was reluctant to record. Record it he did and it shot to the number one position on February 13, 1961, replacing “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles. It remained at the top for two weeks. At 57, he was the oldest artist to have a number one hit at the time. Louis Armstrong would break that record during 1964 when his “Hello Dolly” topped the charts while he was 64 years old. Welk’s album of the same name would top the album charts for 8 weeks, proving the single was not a fluke and that an older audience was still buying music.
Lawrence Welk passed away in 1992. “Calcutta” was the only number one single of his career, and his only single to reach the top ten. So 53 years later, a tip of the hat to an old easy listening master.