No, not THOSE Olympics.
It would be a natural assumption for you to make, and an obvious ploy on my part to lead you down that path, but we’re not here to discuss the music of the recent Beijing games. Nope, our subject is a very good singing group from the Los Angeles area who called themselves the Olympics, and even if you don’t remember the name I’m willing to bet that you recall their 1958 breakout hit, “Western Movies.”
Although they’re probably most remembered for that particular novelty piece, one that took advantage of the popularity of TV and Hollywood Westerns at that time, the Olympics were actually a very talented and diversified bunch. And even though they didn’t reach the same high sales levels with their other records, it would be wrong to dismiss the Olympics as a one-hit wonder.
The group’s original name was Walter Ward and the Challengers, consisting of Ward and Eddie Lewis, Charles Fizer, and Walter Hammond, but the guys didn’t really find much career traction until they made a name change and became the Olympics. Of course, the new name might have been meaningless – hooking up with a new record company and finding some new songs probably meant more – but whatever the case, their big record soon put them on the map.
After the success of “Western Movies,” the guys continued performing and recording. Their stage act, which included a lot of humor and a variety of light-hearted songs, was very popular and entertained lots of fans, but their records didn’t always hit the jackpot. They had some success with songs like “I Wanna Dance With The Teacher,” “Big Boy Pete,” and “Private Eye,” but even after changing record companies again they were still not really building on their first hit record.
Over the next few years the Olympics went through a number of ups and downs, with a lot of side issues coming into play, including guys sometimes singing in different groups or under other names. Some of the songs they generated were popular, including “Dooley,” “Dodge City,” and “Big Chief Little Foot,” and a few of the group’s more suggestive songs sometimes ran a little afoul of conservative groups (a plus in the eyes of teenagers) but record sales were generally trending downward.
LIke most groups of the era, the Olympics gradually dissolved as circumstances changed (including the shooting death of one member) and all went their separate ways. Through the years the former members have sometimes shown up in newer versions of the Olympics or similar combos, as part of the many oldies tours.