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'My Boyfriend's Back': the song, the singer, live on

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A hush falls over Oriole Park at Camden Yards as a slim brunette with a big voice steps toward the plate to belt one out.

Peggy Santiglia Davison doesn't disappoint, sending the National Anthem soaring clear to the flag court in deep right field.

Few in the crowd of 47,306 recognize her name. Not so her biggest hit, played at this recent Orioles-Yankees game to help introduce the guest singer.

My boyfriend's back, he's gonna save my reputation . . . if I were you, I'd take a permanent vacation.

Around the ballpark, feet are tapping and fingers are snapping. Camden Yards rocks in an impromptu tribute to the woman at the microphone -- the Angel in the infield.

"I haven't had such a rush of exhilaration in years," says Ms. Davison, 50. In the 1960s, she was the lead singer for a group called the Angels, whose "My Boyfriend's Back" is a frequently heard rock classic.

When it was recorded in 1963, she was a senior in high school -- and already a seasoned performer.

In the pop music business, a mega-hit can surpass the group that made it. Though still performing occasionally, Ms. Davison now lives a quiet life on a leafy court in Owings Mills while studying for a second career, in psychology.

At 11, Peggy Santiglia was scribbling tunes in her spiral notebook at a public school in Belleville, N.J. One day, on a whim, she skipped school, hopped a bus for New York, marched into a radio station clutching her songs and wheedled an audition with Murray Kaufman, a popular disc jockey known as Murray The K.

He liked some of the tunes and had her record them on the spot. Back home, listening to Murray The K's show on a transistor radio tucked under her pillow, Peggy heard her own music.

She soon found herself recording 45s in a Manhattan studio so cramped that the sound of a toilet flushing could be heard on a record, if the producers weren't careful.

Young performers still thought it was heaven. With two classmates, Peggy formed a group called the Delicates and began singing at dances alongside such teen icons as Dion, Paul Anka and Bobby Darin, who immortalized her in the last line of his 1959 hit, "Dream Lover:" Peggy, don't let me dream alone.

Next came rock shows at Brooklyn's Paramount Theater, where singer Jackie Wilson gave Ms. Davison one of her first kisses, and at dinner clubs like the Camelot in New York, where Joe DiMaggio danced with her.

The Delicates often shared billing with the Starlets, a more conservative trio from New Jersey. The Starlets wore dresses, carried umbrellas on stage and sang "Pennies From Heaven." The Delicates wore tight red outfits and favored raspy rhythm-and-blues.

Neither group earned much acclaim until 1961, when the Starlets changed their name to the Angels and had two Top-40 hits, "Til" and "Cry Baby Cry." When the group's lead singer left, the remaining Angels, sisters Barbara and Phyllis "Jiggs" Allbut, offered the job to Peggy, then 16 years old.

That union -- two blondes and a brunette -- would result in the million-seller "My Boyfriend's Back."

He went away, and you hung around and bothered me every night. And I wouldn't go out with you -- you said things that weren't very nice.

Released in the summer of 1963, "Boyfriend" shot up the charts, reached No. 1 in four weeks and remained there for three more.

The song oozed teen angst: Boy No.1 has girlfriend but leaves town. Boy No.2 tries to steal the girl, who remains true until the cavalry (Boy No.1) returns. Girl then heckles Boy No.2. (You're gonna be sorry you were ever born.)

"Power song"

More than a generation later, "Boyfriend" remains one of the biggest hits on oldies stations across the country. And it has been on the soundtracks of six feature films and a made-for-TV movie. On Baltimore's WQSR-FM, "Boyfriend" is considered a "power song," one of an elite group of 30 oldies played at least once every 48 hours, says J.D. Adams, program manager.

"That song is one of the best of the best," says E. Alvin Davis, a national radio marketing consultant in Cincinnati. "It's a catchy, magnetic tune that you still hear kids singing in junior high. They probably don't realize it's 30 years old."

Peggy Davison agrees. "Everybody knows 'Boyfriend' but few remember who did it," she says. "The song has overshadowed even us."

That wasn't so in the mid-1960s, when teen-agers on two continents equated the song with three photogenic girls who had bouffant hairdos and Pepsodent smiles. The Angels toured the United States, Canada and Europe, sometimes singing three times a night in three different cities. It was a blur of one-night stands.

During one performance, an exuberant male fan grasped Ms. Davison's right leg and pulled. The group's guitarist responded by grasping her other leg in an effort to hold her onstage. "I felt like a wishbone, but I kept singing," she says.

The Angels made the TV circuit, appearing on "Shindig," "Hullabaloo," the "Tonight Show" and "Ed Sullivan" (twice). Ms. Davison's Aunt Mary made the pink velvet dresses the girls wore on the Sullivan show.

Their first performance on the "Buddy Deane Show" in Baltimore created a local furor when, in mid-song, the Angels turned their backs to the camera and wiggled. The station's switchboard lit up in parental protest. On subsequent Baltimore appearances, the camera showed the Angels only above the waist.

Besides "Boyfriend," four Angels songs made the charts, but none approached the success of the group's greatest hit. Ms. Davison says the Angels believe they were underpaid by hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties for "Boyfriend," money the singers are trying to recover.

In the late 1960s, the Angels began to fade; the group turned from stardom to supper clubs and studio work, providing background vocals for Jackie Wilson, Trini Lopez and Lou Christie.

Ms. Davison tried to adapt to changes in the industry. She co-wrote "Beggin'," a raucous top-20 tune for the Four Seasons; performed with the Serendipity Singers, a folk-rock group; dabbled in country music; and recorded a disco album.

Oldies circuit

Nowadays, the Angels (now a duo; Barbara Allbut has retired) play the oldies circuit, doing "Boyfriend" for their 40-something fans. Ms. Davison and Jiggs Allbut will perform Sunday at the Prince Georges Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, along with graying rockers Dion, Tommy Roe and Frankie Ford.

The Angels still receive letters from aging male admirers carrying a 30-year torch, and from women wanting the name of the group's plastic surgeon. (There is none.) "It's these oldies concerts that keep us young," says Ms. Davison, whose husband, Jim, is a businessman. Her music partner, Jiggs, resides in California.

Between gigs, Ms. Davison stays busy. She is working toward a master's degree in clinical psychology at Loyola College. And she is active in community work such as the Big Sister program.

Recently she took her 8-year-old "little sister" to the Silver Diner in Towson, dropped a quarter in the jukebox and played -- guess what?

He's been gone for such a long time . . . now he's back and things will be fine.

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