Sigh. Looks like I did it again. Sometimes I stumble onto a bit of musical info that seems – in retrospect – so obvious that it causes me to wonder how I missed it before. (And it’s often accompanied by the suspicion that I’m the only one who isn’t aware of it.) I think that’s probably the case with something I discovered recently — in the 1970’s a young Michael Jackson had a hit with his cover of Bobby Day’s classic “Rockin’ Robin”.
Sounds like a simple thing, right? But here’s what really gives me pause. I remember the 1958 song very well and liked it a lot, but since I’d never had an interest in the music of Michael Jackson I missed the opportunity to hear his dead-on version — and anything else of his that I might have enjoyed. On the bright side, I’ve learned (I think) to keep more of an open mind about musicians.
But back to that song. Bobby Day (AKA Robert James Byrd) was born in Texas but grew up in the LA area, and his musical background was similar to many of his contemporaries. Originally part of a doo-wop group called the Hollywood Flames, he kicked around for a while, writing and performing and looking for his big break. In 1957 he formed a new group called the Satellites and recorded one of his own compositions, “Little Bitty Pretty One”, but it became a hit for another singer, Thurston Harris. (Ironically, that song too was later successfully covered by the Jackson Five.)
In 1958, Day recorded another of his songs, and this time it was the one that made it all come together for him. “Rockin’ Robin” became a chart-topper and helped establish him as one of rock and roll’s early stars. The flip side of the record, a tune called “Over And Over”, also became a hit for him, and was later a hit for the Dave Clark Five.
Although Bobby’s career was relatively short, he did make his mark with those and other songs, including “That’s All I Want” and “Gotta New Girl”, but as the years passed his star faded. He never regained the momentum of those early hits and died in 1990 of natural causes. He’s remembered today as a talented songwriter and performer.