One of the Facebook groups I log onto
from time to time is for those with memories of the 1950s (or
those who wished they lived back then). Members of this group
were remembering the records that they used to enjoy back then,
so I posted the playlist from one of my compilation CDs, which
gathers these tunes in a format that wasn’t even science fiction
back then. So let’s grab a stack o’ wax or raid our vinyl vault
and Let the Good Times Roll!
The 1950s were a time of change in the
music industry. The Big Band era had faded, but the major
record labels were still producing innocuous pop records. Young
people were looking for something new, and much of it came from
the independent record companies, some of which were significant
businesses and others which were mostly in a promoter's
head. White teenagers would surreptitiously tune in radio
programs aimed at the “colored” neighborhoods. They'd go to the
local record shop and ask for tunes and singers that the older
personnel had never heard about, but which the after-school
part-time clerks knew immediately. Things were also changing on
what we would now call the "hardware" side: 78 RPM records
disappeared, having been replaced by 33.33 RPM LPs and 45 RPM
"singles." Portable radios shrank with the advent of
transistors, no longer needing the bulky and expensive battery
packs required by tube-type units. Today we have CDs and MP3s;
hundreds of songs can be packed into something smaller than a
Star Trek communicator. Here's a sample of what might be on a
jukebox back when rock was young, most of them dubbed from
modern CD compilations.
labels indicated after artist names. Most tracks dubbed from CD
compilations-- it’s amazing how many really obscure records have
been re-released in such CDs, often by British or European
companies. A few have been copied from original or reissue 45s
in my collection
Hop by Chuck Higgins and his
orchestra. (Combo) Dance-party TV shows were popular, "American
Bandstand" being the most famous. Here in Southern California,
we had Al Jarvis, Zeke Manners and others, and this was one of
the local favorites for the fast dances that were similar to the
"jitterbugs" of the '40s.
Girl of Mine by the Cleftones
(Gee). One of my favorite "jump" vocal group sides in
1956. Gee Records was one of several labels started by George
Goldner, who couldn’t read music, but had a remarkable instinct
for knowing what “sound” would make a hit record.
That a Shame (a.k.a Ain't It a
Shame) by Fats Domino (Imperial). A big hit for the big man
from New Orleans. I have several of his songs on original
78s. A sign of the times was that a really lame version by Pat
Boone went higher on the charts.
the Good Times Roll by Shirley
and Lee (Aladdin). Also from New Orleans, the title is a
translation of the unofficial motto of the Crescent City
"Laissez le bon temps roullez." Same title is found on an
earlier song by Louis Jordan.
Miss Clawdy by Lloyd Price
(Specialty). From about 1952-- this was already an oldie by the
time I heard it on late-night radio shows. According to legend,
Fats Domino played the piano part. Covered a few years later
by Elvis Presley.
6) Money Honey by
Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters (Atlantic) Another R&B
oldie covered by Elvis.
Dog by Willie Mae ("Big
Mama")Thornton (Peacock). The original recording, from 1953. I
have a re-issue 45-- released by Peacock after Elvis' rockabilly
version. Orchestra credits show "Kansas City" Bell, but it's
musicians from the Johnny Otis band.
8) Heartbreak Hotel by
Elvis Presley (RCA-Victor). Here's the song that broke things
wide open for him in 1956. I like to remember the Elvis of this
era, rather than the overblown Las Vegas version.
Came Jones by the Coasters
(Atco). During the late 1950s Western-theme TV shows were all
the rage. Leiber and Stoller (who also wrote "Hound Dog") came
up with this tribute to horse operas. There was a 1945 movie by
the same title; it had none of the scenes described in the
record, which are really more like something out of an old time
melodrama or a silent movie serial.
Mint Julep by the Clovers
(Atlantic). Heard on jukeboxes, but rarely on the
radio. Considered hot stuff back in the Eisenhower era.
Gotta Have You by Clyde
McPhatter and Ruth Brown (Atlantic). Rock out with this
sizzling duet by two of Atlantic's biggest stars.
5-10-15 Hours by Ruth Brown
(Atlantic). Over they years, I've been interested in songs by
female vocalists, and one of the first who caught my attention
was Ruth Brown. During the 1990's I saw her live twice at the
Cinegrill in Hollywood, and had a chance to actually meet
her. From Ms. Brown's younger days, we have one of her first
Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins
(Sun) One of the first rockabilly numbers to hit the Top
Ten. The line "Go Cat Go" was adapted by a British pet food
manufacturer for their kitten food ads, making it "Grow Cat
Grow." Back in the '50s, well-dressed teens always had a suede
brush handy to keep those shoes looking sharp. Some years ago,
one of my son-in-law’s friend’s brought a karaoke system to a
family gathering, and this song was on the “Elvis Presley”
disc. But I have the original on a Sun 78 RPM disc.
Bobby Boy with his original 78 of
"Blue Suede Shoes." T-shirt is a souvenir of my pilgrimage to
Shorts by the Royal
Teens (ABC-Paramount) A semi-instrumental that went to #3 on
the Billboard charts in 1958. The New Jersey origin of the
Royal Teens shows up in the girl's accent on "We wear Short
Shorts…". Song was adapted many years later for a
Boy by Buddy Holly and the
Crickets (Brunswick) I bought a 45 of this song on Oct 14, 1958
in San Luis Obispo, never dreaming that Buddy Holly would perish
in a plane crash less than six months later, and that I would be
married exactly one year later.
Is Strange by Mickey and
Sylvia (Groove). Great dual guitar work; I saw them perform on
TV back when this was a hit (Jan 1957). In July I tried to
order a copy and found it was "not available" (out of
print). This is a bargain bin copy, copied directly onto my CD,
so you get the authentic 45 rpm surface noise. Groove was a
subsidiary of RCA Victor but was distributed by indie
distributors who handled really independent labels such as
Dootone, Rama and Whirlin' Disc.
Had It by the Bell Notes
(Time). The group was from Long Island; lots of nifty guitar
work. I found the original 45 in a grocery store bargain bin.
Tall Sally by Little Richard
(Specialty). The followup to "Tutti Frutti", this one went
higher on the charts (#6 on Billboard Best Sellers in
1956). One of the last records I bought as a new 78. In June
magazine titled an article about the rock 'n roll phenomenon
"Yeh heh heh hes Baby," borrowing a line from this song (the
author thought the music was a fad and wouldn't last long…talk
about a bad prediction).
Day by Chuck Berry
(Chess) This hit the charts right about when I started working
as a part-time sales clerk at Johnson Music in my home town of
Monrovia CA. (April 1957)
and the Hand Jive by the
Johnny Otis Show (Capitol) After Johnny Otis discontinued his
DIG label, he released this one through Capitol. Somewhere
there's a reel-to-reel tape with one of brother Neale's buddies
and myself cutting in smarty remarks (with a mike/phono switch)
onto "Willie and the Hand Jive." I remember seeing it done live
on Channel 5 when JO had his own TV show. The band wore these
loud jackets that looked colorful even on black and white TV. A
popular number with cover bands that play Golden Oldies at
summer concerts in city parks.
Casual Look by the Six Teens
(Flip). Three girls and three boys, featuring lead singer Trudy
Williams. Another song I saw live on TV back in the Fifties.
Cool by The Rays. Flip side
of "Silhouettes," typical of many R&B vocal group records, where
one side would be slow and the other would jump. This was
product of Cameo Records of Philadelphia, which would come to
the end of the line in 1967, with a “should have been a hit”
recording by my 21st Century
favorite, Evie Sands left in the dust of the failed label.
with Drac (part 1) by John
Zacherle (a.k.a. The Cool Ghoul). (Cameo) Back in the '50s,
local TV stations would run old horror movies late at night,
often with a weird host or hostess setting an appropriately
creepy tone. Here in the LA area we had Vampira, who wore a
slinky black dress and drew much attention from teenage boys.
Zacherle was a fixture of Philly TV at the same time.
to the One I Love by the "5"
Royales. (King) This one has been covered many times, from the
Shirelles, to the Mamas and the Papas, to Linda Ronstadt.
Too Late by the Poni
Tails. (ABC-Paramount) Early girl group song, the secret anthem
of railfans everywhere, especially during the dark days of the
'60s and '70s.
B. Goode by Chuck
Berry. (Chess) Talk about a song that's out of this world--
Johnny B. Goode was chosen by NASA for inclusion on an audio
disc that was stowed with other items on long-distance
spacecraft sent beyond the Solar System. There’s a story about
a group called SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence
that monitors radio signals from space. One day, out of all the
interstellar noise, something that appears to be real data shows
up on their survey. They start recording it, and when the
message appears to repeat itself, process it through a
translation computer that finally decodes the
transmission. “Your space probe has landed on our planet and
has caused much excitement. Our High Council is preparing an
official reply, but while that is being discussed, we have a
special request. Can you send some more of that Chuck Berry
music? Our young people say it has a great beat and they love
to dance to it.”
You Just Know It by Huey Smith
and the Clowns. (Ace) This bouncy number came out of New
Orleans, and made it all the way to #9 on the Pop charts. The
same group had an earlier hit with “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the
Boogie Woogie Flu,” which Johnny Rivers would do a smokin’ cover
on in the 1960s.
28) Tequila by
The Champs. (Challenge) Back in the late '50s there was a DJ in
Southern California named Don McKinnon ("Grab those records and
start them spinnin'! It's time to listen to Don McKinnon!"). A
regular feature of his show was the "Flop of the Week,"usually
some totally lame record that should have been erased when it
was still a studio tape. Don would say "It's gonna be a bomb, a
bagel and a bust! A complete flop!" One week he picked
"Tequila," which turned out to be a big hit, going all the way
to #1 in Feb. '58. Oh well, can't lose 'em all. The band was
named after Gene Autry's horse, Champion, since Mr. Autry owned
the record label. "Tequila" is a great crowd pleaser and has
been covered my many bands, including the legendary Surf-Liners
of Davis, CA.
Rock and Roll