Our Top 10 Gene Vincent Songs list presents the best Gene Vincent songs including “Be-Bop-a-Lula,” “Lotta Lovin,’ “Bluejean Bop” and many more. Before the world knew him as Gene Vincent, Vincent Eugene Craddock was born on February 11, 1935, in Norfolk, Virginia. Not long after he was born, his father volunteered to patrol the American coastal waters as a coast guard during the timeline of World War II against potential military threats by the Germans and their submarines. Meanwhile, his mother ran a country store while the family lived in Virginia’s Munden Point. This is where little Vincent Craddock took up an interest in music, enough so he would receive his first guitar at the age of twelve years old.
The influence of classical, country, gospel, as well as R&B music, each served as inspiration points for the youngster that would one day become one of America’s brightest stars that would pioneer the rock and roll industry, as well as the rockabilly genre. When the family picked up and moved to Norfolk, Virginia, the location of one of America’s largest naval bases influenced the seventeen-year-old Craddock to enlist in the United States Navy. After boot camp, he was assigned to the USS Chukawan, then to the USS Amphion for training, then back to the Chukawan. He was also deployed overseas during the Korean War. When it was time to come home, he was aboard the USS Wisconsin.
Originally, it was the intent of Vincent Craddock to become a career officer with the U.S. Navy. However, this plan changed on July 4, 1965, when he was involved in a motorcycle accident that injured his leg severely enough that the medical team suggested amputation. Craddock refused, opting to live with a steel sheath around the leg and learning to live with the limp and pain for the remainder of his life. According to some stories, the brand new motorbike he purchased for himself collided with a drunk driver not long after he bought it. However, there are alternative stories that it was he who drove drunk. As for the biographical stories written about what really happened, there have been claims the leg injury came while Craddock was in Korea as a wound he sustained while in combat. It was established, however, that he was medically discharged from the Navy due to this injury, prompting him to look into a new career path.
While in Norfolk, this is where the young man officially changed his name to Gene Vincent. It would also be at this time he would recruit musicians to form his own rockabilly band, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. In the American military, “blue caps” was the term used to identify its sailors. As a group, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps earned a loyal fan following in Norfolk County as they played in a variety of country bars throughout the region. After winning a talent contest held by the city’s local radio station, these young men were on their way to enjoying a recording career in the highly competitive music industry, thanks to the managerial expertise of William Douchetta, aka Sheriff Tex Davis.
Ups and Downs
In 1956, Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-a-Lula” not only served as his highly successful debut single but as a potential rock and roll rival to Elvis Presley. Contracted by Capitol Records at the time, Vincent’s work was also published by Bill Lowery, who was instrumental in pushing “Be-Bop-a-Lula” to the height of its popularity by sending copies to various radio stations across America. Also in 1956, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps were featured in the Jayne Mansfield comedy, The Girl Can’t Help It, as a group rehearsing what became the movie’s top tune, not to mention the band’s signature single.
Unfortunately, at the height of the band’s popularity, there were tax-related issues that came about in 1959 that prompted Gene Vincent to travel overseas into Europe, therefore breaking up the Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps run as he went solo. This breakup also came about due to the American Musicians’ Union overpaying the group, causing them to sell off their equipment in order to settle their dispute with the Internal Revenue Agency (IRA).
The signature look Gene Vincent was known for began in 1959 after appearing in a black leather jacket on Jack Good’s popular television program, Boy Meets Girl. This was Vincent’s first appearance in the UK as he also sported a pair of gloves, a medallion, as well as a hunched posture, giving off a cool, yet tough-guy image. After making his European television debut, he embarked on concert tours in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK, sporting the new image he adopted, thanks to his new fashion trend.
As fate would have it, while Gene Vincent was touring in the UK with Eddie Cochran, Sharon Sheeley, and Patrick Tompkins. On April 16, 1960, the nineteen-year-old taxi cab driver, George Martin, lost control of the vehicle with these four passengers onboard into a concrete lampost in Chippenham, England. Eddie Cochran was ejected from the car and was gravely wounded, dying the next day in the hospital. As for the survivors, while the driver managed to escape serious injury, the other three passengers were not so lucky. Sheeley suffered a broken pelvis while Tompkins sustained facial injuries and a skull fracture. As for Gene Vincent, his collarbone and ribs were broken, as well as further damaged his already previously injured leg. He, along with Sheeley and Tompkins, was flown back to the United States.
In 1961, Gene Vincent went back to performing tours in the UK but this was met with a series of gun-related issues that included a 1962 incident where he had an altercation at a girlfriend’s hotel. In 1963, he appeared in court for pointing a gun at Margaret Russell, his wife at the time. Despite these incidents, this did not dampen Vincent’s popularity in the slightest. What did serve to be his undoing was his alcoholism interfering with a concert tour that met with a series of incidents on stage and behind the scenes. This gave Gene Vincent cause to return to American soil, hoping to revive his career as a recording artist. Unfortunately, his attempt to make a solid impression on the genres of country rock and folk-rock during the mid-1960s was not nearly as successful as he hoped it would be.
It would also be during this time frame Gene Vincent’s issues with guns still had influence. In 1968, he attempted to shoot Gary Glitter while the two were in a hotel in Germany. The incident gave Glitter cause to flee the country the very next day. In 1969, while recording I’m Back and I’m Proud as a comeback album, a riled-up Gene Vincent threatened to shoot producer Paul A. Rothchild and fellow musician John Densmore if they didn’t get out of his sight while at the recording studio of dandelion Records.
End of the Road
Often, Gene Vincent bounced back and forth between America and England, extensively touring and recording in the process. This came to an end on October 12, 1971, at the age of thirty-six years old, due to heart failure, internal hemorrhaging, and a ruptured ulcer. He was visiting his father in California at the time.
Gene Vincent Legacy
The iconic Gene Vincent was the first inductee into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, which began its own legacy in 1997. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did the same the very next year, followed by the 2012 inclusion of the Blue Caps. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and on Grandy Street’s Music Walk of Fame in Norfolk, Virginia. The man is credited for pioneering the music industry’s edgier style, especially in the genres of rock and roll and rockabilly. This style was connected to his music and his tough-guy imagery that sported the greasy hair, leather jackets, muscle cars, and sexy women.
There are twelve studio albums to Gene Vincent’s credit, as well as twelve compilation albums, and eleven extended plays (EPs). In total, there were forty-one singles that were released that witnessed ten of them become hits on official music charts between the United Kingdom and the United States.
Top 10 Gene Vincent Songs
#10 – Race with the Devil
On the US Billboard Hot 100, “Race with the Devil” peaked as high as number ninety-six but performed even better on the US Cash Box at number fifty after it was released as a single in 1956. It was considerably more popular in the UK, charting as high as number twenty-eight on the official music chart there. Cliff Gallup was the lead guitarist behind “Race with the Devil,” blowing the mind away from doubters who felt he lacked the ability to perform at such a world-class level. Although Gallup was not with Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps for a long time, while he was with the group, it was his guitar riffs and overall style that instrumentally catapulted the start of their career to become teen idols. While “Race with the Devil” may not have been a top ten hit at the time, it has since become a cult favorite and one of Vincent’s most popular songs to date.
#9 – I’m Going Home
Gene Vincent’s final single to make a chart appearance was “I’m Going Home,” which peaked as high as number thirty-six on the UK Singles Chart in 1961. What made Gene Vincent such a heartthrob during his prime was his ability to go from The Screaming End to a deep and lonesome lyrical narrator. In “I’m Going Home,” this performed beautifully song illustrated the narrator’s awareness his love interest cared just as deeply for him as he did for her. In his desire to return home, not only did this seem to be a heartfelt song performance by Vincent but official notice that while he did reside in the UK that the US was still technically his home.
#8 – She She Little Sheila
“She She Little Sheila,” with its tongue-dancing lyrics, featured Gene Vincent lyrically sharing what he thinks of his love interest in this bebop-style, rockabilly classic. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number twenty-two after it was released in 1961. This was a solid return to the bebop style after a brief stint with pop-rock that not only became a Gene Vincent trademark but what made this style of catchy music such a classic.
#7 – Wild Cat
In 1960, “Wild Cat” was released as a single, which charted as high as number twenty-one on the UK Singles Chart. Of the musical material Gene Vincent had recorded and released up to this point, “Wild Cat” steered away from the bebop style that made him an iconic fan favorite. Now with a pop-rock flair, “Wild Cat” served as a lyrical warning not to tame someone that is destined to be wild. As if hand in hand, Gene Vincent made his first UK appearance on Jack Good’s Boy Meets Girl television show, sporting a look that became his signature image henceforth. That look was the classic black leather suit, a pair of gloves, and a large medallion. Not only did this become his new image but served as a fashion trend that is still favored today.
#6 – My Heart
“My Heart” was a number sixteen hit on the UK Singles Chart after it was released on the album, Sounds Like Gene Vincent, in 1959. Written by Johnny Burnette, “My Heart” begins with a catchy drum beat and standout guitar sound. Gene Vincent’s lyrical performance of this fantastic love song has been credited for inspiring the songwriting team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as they wrote some of the best Beatles hits during the latter half of their own recording career.
#5 – Pistol Packin’ Mama
On the official UK Singles Chart, “Pitol Packin’ Mama” became a number fifteen hit for Gene Vincent after it was released in 1960. At the time, his popularity was at its peak in the UK, as well as the rest of Europe. This song was first made popular by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters in 1940 before Vincent’s 1960 version. Although the song was in reference to a woman carrying a gun, it wasn’t a far stretch from the artist’s own scandalous history that witnessed him do more than just tote it around himself.
#4 – Dance to the Bop
In 1957, after “Dance to the Bop” was released as a single, Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps performed this on The Ed Sullivan Show. Doing so spiked the song’s popularity, causing it to peak at number twenty-three on the US Billboard Hot 100 and at number thirty-six on the US Cash Box chart. This single made reference to the bebop musical styles that turned Gene Vincent into a legend, catapulting his popularity, despite this serving as the final hit he would experience on American soil.
#3 – Bluejean Bop
In 1956, “Bluejean Bop” became a number forty-nine hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and one of three singles from Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps that would sell over one million copies, thus becoming certified gold with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). On the official UK Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number sixteen. Released as the title single from the group’s debut album, it shared the same song length characteristics as the rest of the tracks at under three minutes long. However, from start to finish, note for note, it rocked more than enough to turn Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps into stardom. Vincent’s vocal talent started the song as if the listener was about to be wooed by a ballad before breaking into the classic bebop performance that turned him, as well as the Blue Caps into class rock legends.
#2 – Lotta Lovin’
“Lotta Lovin'” became a number thirteen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as the third gold-certified recording with the RIAA after it was recorded and released by Gene Vincent. “Lotta Lovin'” and “Wear My Ring” were the two songs Vincent performed when he appeared for the first time on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1957. Written by Bernice Bedwell, she played this song during a telephone conversation she had with Vincent. The lead guitarist for this song was Johnny Meeks, replacing Cliff Gallup after he opted out of the band to pursue his own musical path, the very same that made him a legend in his own right.
#1 – Be-Bop-a-Lula
1955’s “Be-Bop-a-Lula” was Gene VIncent’s most identifiable song as no other recorded material from this vocal talent came close to the height of its overall success. Not long after its release, it became a number seven hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 and a number five hit on the US Cash Box chart. It sold over two million copies, making “Be-Bop-a-Lula” the most commercially successful hit single in Vincent’s career. This powerful debut launched him and his Blue Caps into stardom that wasn’t just limited to the North American audience. On the UK Singles Chart, it became a number sixteen hit, giving Vincent a solid enough impression that would pave his way to become one of their brightest stars at the time.
This song was written while Gene Vincent was recovering from the motorcycle accident that rendered him hospitalized in Portsmouth, Virginia. Despite the conflicting stories between his associates at the time, Donald Graves and William Davis, this is Vincent’s signature song as it was he who was inspired by previous bebop-style songs performed by a number of R&B artists that played a factor in Vincent’s style as a vocal artist. This catchy, lyrical tale performed by Vincent has also become a timeless classic that has since been covered by a series of artists who found “Be-Bop-a-Lula” too irresistible to ignore. It remains one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, according to Rolling Stones Magazine, and remains an all-time classic rock favorite.
Top 10 Gene Vincent Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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