Back in 1964, at the febrile peak of Beatlemania, Lorne Greene - yes, Lorne Greene from Bonanza, and Lorne Greene from Battlestar Galactica - managed to sneak in a Number One record with a spoken-word single. Greene's hit was called, of course, in some kind of great cosmic joke, "Ringo." As far as I can tell, "Ringo" and Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John," from 1961, are the only spoken-word records to go all the way to the top of the Billboard charts, unless you count "I'm Too Sexy."
Actually, the early Sixties was kind of a golden age for spoken-word singles. Walter Brennan had three Top Forty hits between 1960 and 1962, including the greatest spoken-word song of all time, "Old Rivers," which went to Number Five in the spring of '62. Jimmy Dean, of pork sausage fame, had four spoken-word hits in 1962 alone, following "Big Bad John." One of those was called "Dear Ivan" and was recited to the background music of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and boy, would I love to hear that now. I bet he gave those Russkies whatfor. Wink Martindale even had a spoken-word hit with "Deck of Cards," which went Top Ten late in 1959.
Those spoken-word singles have pretty much completely disappeared - not just from the contemporary pop charts but from the oldies stations, who are all too happy to spin Pacific Gas & Electric's "Are You Ready" but never get around to Senator Everett Dirksen's "Gallant Men," which reached the Top Thirty in early 1967 (with lyrics, if you still call them that on a spoken-word record, by longtime CBS newsman Charles Osgood). As brilliant as it is, I had to discover "Old Rivers" on a 1993 compilation called Songs of the West. That hardly seems fair.
What was the last spoken-word hit? It was Senator Dirksen's, for all I know. Anyone got any better ideas?