One does not think of Lawrence Welk as a Top 40 artist. But, in 1961, rock and roll was still struggling to gain a permanent foothold on American music and now and then a song by the “old-timers” would sneak in. Just two songs ago, we saw a song that was written by a German composer, “Wonderland By Night.” Now, just weeks later, here is another song written in Germany. It was originally called “Tivoli Melody” and was written by Hans Bradtke in 1958. In the original lyrics, the city of Calcutta, India was mentioned.
In the three years since it’s writing, “Tivoli Melody” changed names three times and finally ended up with the name we know today, “Calcutta.” The American songwriting team of Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss put English words to the melody, although those words are not heard in the Lawrence Welk version.
Lawrence Welk is known for his long running television show that seemed to attract the older generation. The Lawrence Welk Show ran from 1951 until 1982 and then was re-run on PBS television for years after that. On some stations, it’s still being broadcast.
Lawrence Welk was born in 1903 in North Dakota, He was the sixth of eight children of German speaking parents who emigrated here in the late 1800s. When he was a teenager, he began to be interested in the accordion, becoming very proficient and playing it at school and local events. He broke the first accordion his parents bought him because he played it so much; it just wore out. He promised he would stay on the farm until he was 21 if they would buy him a new, good accordion. They did and he stayed.
At 21, his promise fulfilled, he left the farm to pursue a career in music, playing with several bands before finally forming his own band in the late Twenties. He started generating hits in the Thirties and put eighteen songs on the chart between 1938 and 1953. One of those songs was “Bubbles in the Wine” which became his signature song and later, the theme song of his television show. After the rock era started, Lawrence charted six more songs starting in 1956 and running through 1961. “Calcutta” was his only number one song and it was also the last time he hit the Top 40, at all. He retired from public life in 1992 and then just months later, on May 17, 1992, he died. He was 82 years old.
“Calcutta” entered the pop chart on December 31, 1960 and spent two weeks at number one/