You never know who you’re going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter’s not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By – or, better, that TGB needed his column – which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.
This is an on-going series featuring the music of a particular year. These aren’t the Top 10, Top 40 or Top anything, they’re just tunes I selected from the year with no apparent logic behind it.
What happened in 1954?
- Well, I was in 4th grade
- The U.N. called for elections in Vietnam. Eisenhower thought this was a bad idea
- Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio
- Footscray won the premiership (Yay!!!!)
- Godzilla premiered in Tokyo
- The first Hyatt Hotel opened in L.A.
- The first Burger King opened in Miami
- America won the Davis Cup (oh dear)
- Lionel Barrymore died
By 1954, the music was starting to get a little interesting. Not to the extent that it did a couple of years later but by now, there were a number of songs really worth including.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t rubbish around, but finally the good stuff, if not in the majority, was at least in a reasonable enough quantity to raise its head above the mire. However, that said, I’m going to start with a more traditional Fifties’ song.
I bet when The Gaylords came up with the name for their group they just thought it would suggest they were a bunch of fun guys and weren’t thinking of the way language can change over time. They originally called themselves The Gay Lords but decided they didn’t like that name.
They actually had a number of hits in the early half of the Fifties, Isle of Capri, The Little Shoemaker, Ramona and others.
They were Ronald Fredianelli, Bonaldo Bonaldi and Don Rea. Later Ron changed his name to Ronald Gaylord and Bon changed his to Burt Holiday. Don left the group and the others continued as Gaylord and Holiday.
I would have liked to have seen Ron and Bon, but that’s just me. Naturally, it goes without saying – but of course I’m going to say it anyway – that I think their original name should have been Ron, Bon and Don.
Ron died in 2004 but Bon continues performing with Ron’s son, also named Ron. The Hilltoppers also had a hit with the song but it’s the Gaylords today with From the Vine Came the Grape.
The Chordettes really owed more to the Andrew Sisters than they did to any of the DooWop groups with whom they were often lumped.
The group began in 1946, originally singing folk songs but settled on a female version of a barbershop quartet. There were a few changes of personnel over the years but the four who sang on this track were Carol Buschmann, Lynn Mand, Margie Latzko and Janet Bleyer.
They had several hits, the other notable one was Lollipop. The song we’re interested in today is Mr Sandman. This song has been covered often, most notably by Emmylou, Linda and Dolly. Here is The Chordettes’ version.
The Chords formed in 1951 but had to wait until 1954 to be discovered when they were busking in a subway.
Jerry Wexler, honcho for Atlantic Records, in a reversal of the usual process, got them to cover a song by Patti Page. On the flip side was a DooWop number called Sh-Boom. This is the song that got played and became a hit.
In the normal way of these things, the song was covered by a white group, The Crewcuts, who, as was normal for the time, outsold the original. Here is The Chords’ version.
Kitty Kallen was born in Philadelphia and was a gifted mimic of other singers when she was a girl and won several talent shows.
She appeared on radio as a teenager and began singing with several important bands, Artie Shaw, Jack Teagarden and most famously, Tommy Dorsey. After the war she had a solo career and an interesting sidelight is that at the height of her popularity there were several impostors passing themselves off as Kitty Kallen.
One of those died which led to a rumor that Kitty herself had died. Nope. She’s still with us as I write, however, she pretty much retired from singing in the early Sixties. This is her most famous song, Little Things Mean a Lot.
The Penguins had only one hit in their career.
However, that song is a rock & roll classic. More likely a DooWop classic if there’s a difference between the two genres. The leader of the group, although not its lead singer, Curtis Williams wrote the song, perhaps with the help of Jesse Belvin, a singer of some renown at the time. Others have also claimed authorship. I’ll leave that to the lawyers.
As often happened back then, this was the B side of the record but a lot better than the intended hit. The other members of the group were Cleveland Duncan, Dexter Tisby and Bruce Tate.
They were never again to duplicate the success of the song, Earth Angel.
Someone who has already appeared twice before in this series is Rosemary Clooney.
Rosemary had an awful childhood. She was born in Kentucky and her mum went to California with her brother leaving Rosemary and her sister with their alcoholic dad. He eventually skedaddled leaving them to fend for themselves.
They entered talent shows and landed a job on the radio (as the Clooney Sisters). They later joined a band and Rosemary stepped out in front as the lead singer.
She eventually went solo and was a great success in the early Fifties until rock & roll put paid to her style of music. This is Hey There from the musical, “The Pajama Game.”
If a song could be said to have changed the world, it’s this next one. That’s not an idle boast. Without this song, that made the charts several times over the years, the world would be a different place.
I’ll leave it to you whether this is a good thing or not. The singer is Bill Haley and this is the tune’s first appearance on the charts.
Okay, it’s Bill Haley and his Comets. The song was written in 1952 and Bill’s wasn’t the first version; that was Sonny Dae and his Nights (or Knights – there seems to be some conjecture about the name), but who remembers them? I didn’t, but I have heard their version since and it certainly lacks the impact of Bill’s.
Bill’s version was issued as a B-side and neither it nor the flip did anything really. That was until it was used over the opening credits to the film, Blackboard Jungle and smasheroonie. Number 1 all over the world. There was no looking back after that. Here’s Rock Around the Clock.
Sarah Vaughan is a particular favorite of the A.M. (Assistant Musicologist) and I think she’s pretty good too.
It’s not just us either; she was generally regarded in the top echelon of singers along with Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Growing up in Newark, Sarah sang in the local choir as a kid and took piano lessons and she became proficient with that instrument. Sarah would often go to the amateur nights at the Apollo Theater and accompany a friend on the piano.
One day she decided to sing herself and through that got a week’s gig there opening for Ella. Through that she joined Earl Hines’ band and the only way from there was up. I’ll leave out the rest.
Sarah’s big hit this year is Make Yourself Comfortable.
Hank Ballard was born and bred in Detroit. His birth name is John Kendricks.
His father died when Hank was young and he and his brother were brought up by his aunt and uncle in Alabama. He returned to Detroit in his teens and organised several DooWop groups, some of which contained such later stars as Jackie Wilson and Levi Stubbs.
One of these groups eventually became The Midnighters. Hank and The Midnighters’ song is Work With me Annie. This was an answer song to Annie had a Baby. Hank’s song in turn led to its own answer, Dance With Me Henry. Several more Annie and Henry songs ensued, most written by Hank.
Another song that Hank wrote is The Twist, nice little earner that one. Hank recorded this song in 1958. The story is that some time later he heard the song as he was driving in his car. “Whoopee,” he said, or something like that.
He was somewhat deflated when the announcer said it was Chubby Checker. Chubby’s version is virtually identical to the original one Hank recorded, even when played back to back.
It’s a cliché to end with this song but I’m going to anyway. The group is The Spaniels.
They first performed at high school in Gary, Indiana as The Hudsonaires, named after the lead singer. They renamed themselves The Spaniels rather than use yet another bird name as was the fashion at the time.
The line-up changed often enough that I won’t mention anyone except Pookie Hudson, the lead singer and creator of the group. The song is Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight. The McGuire Sisters covered this song in a really dreadful white-bread version, but we’ll ignore that one.
In past columns I have already used some of the songs from this year. If you’d like to hear more you can find them here.
1955 will appear in two weeks’ time.