Tossin' and Turnin': A likable, timeless rock and roll classic

A quick look at Bobby Lewis's "Tossin' and Turnin'," the biggest hit of 1961 and a rock and roll/R&B classic.
Tossin' And Turnin' (Stereo Version)
Tossin' And Turnin' (Stereo Version) / Bobby Lewis - Topic

"Tossin' and Turnin’" is a classic rock and roll song that was a major hit in the early 1960s (in fact, the biggest hit of 1961), becoming an early rock music standard.

You can listen to the song here:

The likable song, written by Ritchie Adams and Malou Rene, was recorded by Bobby Lewis and released in 1961, making a bit of music history. "Tossin' and Turnin'" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for seven weeks in the summer of 1961, making it one of the biggest hits of the early rock era. It's characterized by its catchy melody, upbeat rhythm, and relatable lyrics about the restlessness and frustration of not being able to sleep at night thinking about your love interest (and who hasn't been there?).

The song's success helped solidify Bobby Lewis' place in music history, and it remains a popular oldies tune to this day, often featured on playlists of classic rock and roll hits. It has been covered by various artists over the years and continues to be remembered as one of the defining songs of its era. Others who covered the song include The Supremes, The Kingsmen, The Marvelettes, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Peter Criss of Kiss.

What's the big appeal of "Tossin' and Turnin'" anyway?

"Tossin' and Turnin'" is a love ballad that features lyrics about falling in love with someone. A little more light in mood than a track like "Baby, Please Don't Go", "Tossin' and Turnin'" captures a sense of youthful exuberance and the rollercoaster emotions that come with a new romantic infatuation. The song’s simple yet effective instrumentation, typically driven by a prominent piano riff, is complemented by Lewis’ dynamic vocal performance, which perfectly conveys the excitement and anxiety of sleepless nights spent thinking about a crush.

The song's enduring appeal can be attributed to its universal theme of love and heartache, a theme that resonates with listeners of all ages. Its inclusion in various films, commercials, and television shows over the decades has helped keep it in the public consciousness. For example, it was famously used in the soundtrack of the 1978 movie Animal House, introducing it to a new generation of fans. Musically, Tom Breihan wrote in Stereogum that the song features "one of the most deliriously fun saxophone solos of an era that wasn’t exactly short on deliriously fun saxophone solos."

Moreover, "Tossin' and Turnin'" showcases the early 1960s rock and roll sound that was characterized by its blending of rhythm and blues with pop sensibilities. This sound was pivotal in shaping the future of popular music, influencing countless artists and bands that followed (even if they didn't know it). As a result, "Tossin' and Turnin'" is not just a relic of its time but an echoing theme, both in the history of rock and roll and popular music in general.

It's one of those tunes that just doesn't seem to deserve any hate. Bobby Lewis died in 2020 at the age of 95. Before this successful tune, he had been a teenage runaway who, despite those apparent odds against him, climbed the top of the charts and made music history.

Lastly, for varietyy's sake, ere's a heavier version of this classic song, performed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts:

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