'Stay' By Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs: The Shortest #1 That Will Never Leave
"Stay" made Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs a one-hit wonder when the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1960. The unusually short doo wop song, clocking in at just over a minute and a half, has proven one of the most durable hits in popular music, with cover versions by The Four Seasons and Jackson Browne both reaching the top 20. For Williams, who has continued to perform for decades largely on the strength of this one classic, the writing and recording of the song was one of those effortless moments of perfect inspiration that artists live for.
The Band's Beginnings As The Royal Charms
Williams started his singing career in church and then joined the high school glee club. With the suggestion from the glee club director, they formed a group to sing pop music. They brought their varied skills to the group, and Maurice Williams came up with the initial name, The Royal Charms. They won some talent shows and started performing for the University of South Carolina. The band’s name was first changed to the Gladiolas, and eventually to the Zodiacs once they decided to go more national; the name came about because the bass player, Robert Gore, saw the car and suggested the name. Seven years after “Stay” was written, in 1960, Maurice Williams and his band the Zodiacs included the song on a demo, and no one was really interested in it until a 10-year-old heard it and reacted to it with a lot of enthusiasm.
"Stay" Goes To New York
Phil Gernhard, the band’s producer, took “Stay” and some other demos to New York City to play them for as many major record producers as he could. Eventually, Al Silver of Herald Records expressed an interest in the song, but insisted on two things: the song needed to be re-recorded because the song’s recording levels were too low, and one line, “Let’s have another smoke,” needed to be changed so it could be played on commercial radio. Once it was re-recorded, Herald Records released it and CKLW, an AM radio station serving southern Ontario and metro Detroit, picked it up. For the recording, Maurice Williams sang the lead vocals, while Shane Gaston sang the falsetto chorus.
A Short Time At The Top Of The Charts
On October 3, 1960, it charted on the US Billboard Hot 100. On November 21, 1960, it reached number one, only to be unseated from the spot the following week by Elvis Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
The group was ready to release their next single, “May I” to build on the success of “Stay,” but their label went bankrupt. Although their follow-up song was eventually released on another label, it was not able to garner the success of “Stay”. “May I” was, incidentally, a success for Bill Deal and the Rhondels. Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs did not have another song with the success of “Stay” although they released a few more songs after this which had marginal success including “I Remember” and “Come Along.” Despite the fact that they never had another number one song, the band continued to perform over the years.
The Short Song Proves Its Longevity
Although it did not remain at number one for very long, “Stay” has proven its longevity, as it had sold more than 8 million copies by 1990, and it has been covered a number of times since its original release. In 1963, The Four Seasons released “Stay” on their album the 4 Seasons Sing Ain’t That a Shame and 11 Others, and when Vee Jay released “Peanuts,” “Stay” was the B-side of the single. However, disc jockeys flipped the single over and started playing “Stay” on the air, causing the record company to release a new single with “Stay” as the A-side, and “Goodnight My Love” as the B-side. In April 1964, it peaked at number 16 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in April 1964. Also in 1963, the Hollies released their version, which reached number 8 on the UK Singles Chart.
In 1977, Jackson Browne released a version of “Stay” with revised lyrics. In the Jackson Browne version, which was the final track on Browne’s album Running on Empty, Browne begs the audience to stay to hear an encore and the song includes an extensive playout. Billboard magazine said Browne’s version was “spirited and gospel-like.” It peaked at number 20 in the U.S., and number 12 in the U.K. This was not the last time Browne would cover the song; in 1979, he recorded a version with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Charting In France
In 1987, it had another revival when it appeared on the soundtrack for Dirty Dancing, which helped to drive an increase in sales, and it came back once again in 2003 when it appeared on Cyndi Lauper’s album At Last. She released it as a promo-only single in the U.S., Australia, and France. This version hit number 64 on the French Singles Chart.
It Continues To Hold Its Title
At 1:37, the original version of “Stay” holds the record for the shortest song to reach number one. The number two song, “I’m Henry VIII I am by Herman’s Hermits, clocks in at 1:49. Most of the really short number one songs were recorded in the ‘60s, but one recent song, “Old Town Road,” by Lil Nas X, shot up to the fifth position on this chart, at 1:53, tied with “The Stripper,” by David Rose.