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 1955?
- Well, I was in 5th grade
- Marian Anderson performed at the Metropolitan Opera
- Eisenhower sent “advisors” to Vietnam
- Gunsmoke debuted on TV
- Mickey Mouse Club debuted on TV
- Alfred Hitchcock Presents debuted on TV
- Australia won the Davis Cup (again)
- Albert Einstein died
The song Unchained Melody has been really well served by the singers who tackled it. AL HIBBLER was the best version but only a thin sheet of paper separates that version from the Righteous Brothers.
Marty Robbins did a good job of it as well and there are other fine versions. We’re in 1955 though, so that means Al’s version.
He wasn’t alone recording it even in that year as it was the custom back then for several people to record the same song. However, I’m not going to mention any others besides those above as his version is so good you don’t need to know about them.
When you think about it, Unchained Melody is a bit of an odd title for the song. There is an explanation. It was the theme for a real pot-boiler of a film – calling it B-grade would flatter it – named Unchained. Later they added words to it and instant classic (unlike the film). Here’s Al.
RUSTY DRAPER, or Farrell to his folks, was originally from Mississippi.
Farrell gained his nickname because of his red hair. If he’d been born in Australia he’d have been called Blue, but that’s neither here nor there.
He began his career at his uncle’s radio station in Tulsa. Later he did the same sort of thing at various stations in Des Moines, often filling in for the sports announcer “Dutch” Reagan (or Ronald to aficionados of bad films and bad politics).
Rusty went to California and was signed by a record company and released a number of disks. This is one of them, The Shifting Whispering Sands.
THE PLATTERS were a favorite of mine. I had a few of their 45s. Not many, I couldn’t afford to buy a lot.
This is one of those records I bought. I’m not playing the original, although I still have it, but I have nice pristine copies of this song on CDs these days.
There have been many versions of The Platters over the years as singers came and went in the group. So much so that there were often three or four groups at a time claiming to be The Platters. That was later. This is the real deal, The Great Pretender.
THE FOUR LADS were a Canadian group who got together in Toronto.
They originally called themselves The Otnorots (yeah, that’d work – check the name of their home town), then The Jordinaires (whoops, there’s already one of those and a quite well known group at that).
Let’s try The Four Dukes (sorry, that one’s taken as well) so in desperation they became The Four Lads. There is a George Washington’s axe of a group called The Four Lads still around but of course none of the originals are in it.
The originals were Corrado “Connie” Codarini, John “Bernie” Toorish, James “Jimmy” Arnold and Frank Busser. I guess Frank didn’t rate a nickname.
There were a number of versions of this song at the time, not unusual really, the other notable was from another “four” group, The Four Aces. This is The Four Lads’ version of Moments To Remember.
TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD was born in Tennessee, and what a surprise that is.
When I played this track, which I hadn’t heard for years, I thought that old Ernie had a great voice. He must have had training and that is the case. He was taking lessons for a classical career at the Cincinnati Conservatory when the second great unpleasantness intervened.
After the tumult had died down he got a job as a radio announcer in southern California. He was assigned duties on a country music program and well, that stuck. He made records in this genre and was rather successful until he released this song and it went gangbusters.
This is Sixteen Tons which has an unusual backing, if you listen to it. When was the last time a clarinet was prominent on a country music track?
What a waste, JOHNNY ACE.
Born John Alexander in Memphis, he served time in the Army during the Korean unpleasantness and joined B.B. King’s band as a pianist. After B.B. left for Los Angeles, Johnny took over his spot on the radio. It was then he started singing and calling himself Johnny Ace.
He toured with Big Mama Thornton after having recorded some tracks. The story is that he shot himself playing Russian roulette. The real story is even sillier.
Johnny had been drinking and he waved a gun around. He was warned to be careful and he said, “Don’t worry, the gun’s not loaded.” Okay, you know what’s coming.
“See,” he said as he put the gun to his head and BLAM. This was Christmas 1954. In the way of these things his record shot up the charts (sorry about that) in early 1955. The song is Pledging My Love.
LAVERN BAKER certainly had the musical genes. She was a niece of Merline Johnson and was also related to Memphis Minnie.
LaVern signed to Atlantic Records in the early Fifties and her first record was Tweedle Dee. This was rather successful until, as was the custom, a white-bread version by Georgia Gibbs was released and LaVern’s sales stopped dead in their tracks.
It seems that when LaVern was flying to Australia for a concert tour, she took out flight insurance at the airport and sent it to Georgia with a note: “You need this more than I do because if anything happens to me, you’re out of business.”
Go LaVern. Here she is with Tweedle Dee.
FATS DOMINO began performing and recording in the Forties and was a continuing presence throughout the Fifties and still is to this day.
Indeed, there has not been a time in my lifetime when Fats wasn’t around playing music, and he’d better keep on doing it. I imagine he will as he’s still a young man, just 83, so keep tinkling those ivories, Fats.
I know this may sound like a cracked record (remember them?) but once again there was a tame cover version of this song and once again, it was that tame-coverer, Pat Boone, who did the deed.
Naturally, I’m playing Fats with Ain’t That a Shame.
DEAN MARTIN‘s early life was as gritty as any hip hop artist. He delivered bootleg liquor, was a croupier and blackjack dealer in an illegal casino, worked in a steel mill and was a boxer who earned little besides a broken nose.
I don’t know if it was this background that made him the man he was, but I guess everything anyone does shapes them (sorry for the cliches). Perhaps it was all this that made him a man apart, almost separate from life, observing it all with a wry smile.
Whether it was an act or for real, he was certainly good at it. As he was at singing. Here he performs Memories Are Made Of This.
JULIE LONDON, or Gayle Peck to those who knew her as a kiddliewink, was from Santa Rosa, California. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was a teenager.
She was married to actor Jack Webb and later, until he died, to the musician and songwriter, Bobby Troup. Her most famous song, Cry Me a River, was written by Arthur Hamilton especially for Ella Fitzgerald. Ella’s recording didn’t appear until after Julie’s.
Julie performed it in the Jayne Mansfield film The Girl Can’t Help It. Little Richard tore up the stage in that flick as well. Here’s Julie.
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. (Nat King Cole – A Blossom Fell)
1956 will appear in two weeks’ time.