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Music / The Big Bopper

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"Helloooo, baaaaaaby!"

Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson Jr. (October 24, 1930 — February 3, 1959), known as The Big Bopper, is best remembered for his big 1958 hit and Signature Song "Chantilly Lace" and for being one of three Rock & Roll musicians, along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, who died in the tragic plane crash that has come to be known as "The Day the Music Died" (a term coined in "American Pie" by Don McLean).

Richardson was a radio disc jockey from Texas who gave himself the on-air name "The Big Bopper" for his big, burly frame and daily rock 'n' roll show "The Bop". He quit the radio business in 1958 to devote himself to songwriting and performing, and recorded "Chantilly Lace" that year for the D Records label. After getting picked up by Mercury Records for national distribution, it spent 22 weeks on the Billboard Top 40, topping out at #6.

Of the three men who perished on that cold February morning, The Big Bopper is the most easily forgotten. "Chantilly Lace" was his only hit song, making him a One-Hit Wonder, and even it isn't as well remembered as Holly's hit catalogue or Valens's "La Bamba" and "Donna". However, following his death a couple more of his compositions did become hits for other artists; "White Lightning" became George Jones' first #1 country hit later in 1959, while "Running Bear" (featuring Jones on background vocals) topped the pop chart for Johnny Preston in 1960.

The Big Bopper's work provides examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: "The Big Bopper".
  • Answer Song: His "Chantilly Lace" received one of these called "That Makes It", recorded by none other than actress Jayne Mansfield. In "Chantilly Lace", Richardson pretends to have a flirtatious phone conversation with his girlfriend; the Mansfield record suggests what his girlfriend might have been saying at the other end of the line.
  • Gentle Giant: He definitely qualifies, with his large frame contributing to his friendly, funny, wise and loving personality.
  • Large Ham Radio: "Chantilly Lace"
  • Monster Mash: The B-side to the "Chantilly Lace" single is a cute ditty called "Purple People Eater Meets Witch Doctor", referencing previous 1958 novelty hits by Sheb Wooley and David Seville respectively.
  • Newhart Phonecall: "Chantilly Lace" is a kind of song version of this, as we only hear the narrator's side of the conversation.
  • Perpetual Poverty: "Chantilly Lace"
    What's that, honey?
    Pick you up at 8 and don't be late?
    But, baby, I ain't got no money, honey!
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: He is best remembered as the third musician to be namedropped when referring to "The Day the Music Died" tragedy. In fact, he may be better known for dying that day than for his actual music.
  • Rock & Roll: He is considered to be one of the 1950s rock pioneers.
  • Runaway FiancÚ: "The Big Bopper Wedding", in which he gets cold feet on his wedding day.
  • Shrinking Violet: Despite his extroverted, charming Large Ham personality on stage and in his songs, Richardson was actually very shy. But that didn't make him any less of a genuinely warm and friendly guy.
  • Singer Name Drop: He namedrops himself at the start of "Chantilly Lace" and during "The Big Bopper's Wedding", in which The Big Bopper imagines himself getting cold feet at the altar.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: His son Jay Perry Richardson, who followed in his musical footsteps as "The Big Bopper Jr.", was born two months after his death.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Chantilly Lace" has interludes where The Big Bopper talks to his girlfriend on the phone, rather than sings.
  • Stock Sound Effects: At the start of "Chantilly Lace" a telephone rings.
  • Teenage Death Song: "Running Bear" is a re-telling of Romeo and Juliet in which young Native American lovers defy their families, their warring tribes and a rough river to be together. The river gets them, but the last line says they'll meet in the next life.