A penetrating one-hit wonder…
Terry Stafford (1941-1996) was a pop singer and songwriter. His claim to musical fame was his 1964 hit, “Suspicion.” The song had actually been recorded by Elvis in 1962, but Stafford’s cover of the song immediately rocketed up the charts. In April 1964, when the Beatles held four of the top five spots in the pop charts, “Suspicion” held fast at number three. It sold over a million copies and was awarded a Gold Disc by the RIAA.
Stafford had been born in rural Oklahoma, but went to Los Angeles at the age of nineteen, right out of high school, to pursue a music career. Success came very slowly. Only when he had the opportunity to record “Suspicion” did his fortunes change. He had been let go by A&M Records (Herb Albert’s production company) and was picked up by the newly formed Crusader Records. With a single person, Bob Summers, playing all the instruments (including an Ondioline, an electronic keyboard) overdubbed on top of each other, and with some further electronic tweaking in post-production, “Suspicion” became a great success.
Unfortunately, it was Stafford’s only real success. Although he continued to record and compose, he never again achieved the success which he had with “Suspicion.” He divided the rest of his life between Amarillo, Texas and LA, dying of liver failure in Texas at 54.
1964 was a momentous year for me. It seemed like all the events of my young life that year were in Technicolor. I had won a 4-round national piano contest in Chicago involving players my age from all over the country, I was about to “graduate” sixth grade and go on to junior high school—in a different building (!) with hundreds more kids, which I felt would inevitably be really exciting—I had developed a passionate interest in building radios, and the Beatles were the talk (literally) of the world—certainly of my world. So it is with crystal clarity that I remember listening to “Suspicion” on my newly built crystal radio, with its antenna strung out my window to the nearest telephone pole.
Although I could not have verbalized it at the time, the musical elements of “Suspicion” were (and still are) quite pleasing. The alternation between the tonic and minor sixth chord, the jazzy off-beat trumpet playing in a muted fashion, the unity of the backup singers, the rhythmic use of triplets in a duple meter song. Plus, there was Stafford’s voice, which so many people have thought was actually Elvis. His voice certainly had a warm and appealing timbre.
Definitely a pop song I loved.