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.
So, the year that changed everything and the song that changed everything. Elvis with Heartbreak Hotel. However, I’ve already penciled that in for a column on the man himself so, significant as it is, it’s missing today.
Of course, I’ve previously said that the song that changed everything was Rock Around the Clock but we’re not going for consistency here.
What happened in 1956?
- Well, I was in 6th grade
- Melbourne staged the Olympics Games
- Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian uprising
- Rosa Parks sat in the front of a bus
- Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe
- Grace Kelly married Rainier Grimaldi
- Australia won the Davis Cup (again)
- A.A. Milne died
What a stellar year it was for LITTLE RICHARD and for rock & roll. With three great songs he blasted his way to immortality.
The three are Long Tall Sally, Rip It Up and Ready Teddy. These, along with Chuck and Elvis, defined what rock & roll was all about.
In the way of these things, the songs were also deemed to be a bit racy for poor young ears so Pat Boone was conscripted to produce white bread imitations of them.
They generally outsold Richard’s versions. Not here in Melbourne where I lived, however, as we had a great DJ (named Stan Rofe) who refused to play the insipid covers and always featured the original versions.
This is Little Richard with Ready Teddy.
JOHNNIE RAY found a song written by Johnny Bragg while he was in prison (Johnny Bragg, that is) and recorded by him and his group The Prisonaires. You can find that version here.
Johnnie predated rock & roll by some years but his style did somewhat point in that direction. He showed to us what was possible and prepared us to an extent for the revolution that hit this year.
If you know The Prisonaires’ version of this next song, you’ll hear that it’s a slow (not quite) blues, (not quite) DooWop, wonderful song. It’s more akin to The Ink Spots. Johnnie speeds it up a bit but retains the pathos. It’s not as good, but it’s not bad. This is Just Walking in the Rain.
DooWop is usually lumped in with rock & roll but it owes more to some of the music of the previous decade. Music by such as The Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers. Of course, the current singers took note of what was happening around them as well. One such group was the FIVE SATINS.
The Satins were the brainchild of lead singer, Fred Parris who put them together after he had some success with his high school DooWop group, The Scarlets. Fred wrote this song. Unfortunately, Fred was called up for the army just as the song made it big and the group had to tour without him.
The song was not just a major hit in 1956, it has entered the charts several times since due to repackaging and its use in film soundtracks. Here are the Satins with In the Still of the Night.
Calypso music was in the air this year, almost entirely due to HARRY BELAFONTE.
Harold Belafonete was born in New York but his mum was from Jamaica so I guess he knew something about that country as he actually lived there for a time as a youngster with mum and grandma. His dad was from Martinique, also in the Caribbean.
Harry began his singing career as a way of raising money to pay for acting lessons. For his first appearance, his band was the Charlie Parker band that included Charlie, of course, Miles Davis and Max Roach. Wow, how could he go wrong.
His first album, “Calypso,” was the first LP officially to sell a million copies. From this album most of his best known songs were taken, including Jamaica Farewell.
Someone thought it’d be a good idea if GUY MITCHELL covered a song that had Marty Robbins roaring up the charts.
That song was Singing the Blues and when Guy’s version was released, Marty’s stopped dead in its tracks and it was Guy who had the number 1 hit on his hands.
Although it was this version I heard first, I’ve come to prefer Marty’s, but I’ve already used that elsewhere so here we are with Guy.
1956 wasn’t all rock & roll, indeed that was a minority genre on the charts. It took years before it managed to shove all others styles aside. Someone who had been around for some time and was still hitting is FRANK SINATRA.
You don’t need me to tell you anything about Frank – besides I’ve had a previous attempt at that and you can find that here. I’ll just let him sing Hey Jealous Lover.
CARL PERKINS wrote and recorded a song that seems synonymous with rock & roll.
Carl was the real deal. In the Fifties if you wanted to play guitar, you either played like Chuck Berry or Carl Perkins. Or both, I suppose. The Beatles covered five of his songs on their early records and apparently Carl was in the studio when some of those went down.
Carl listened to country picker Roy Acuff to get his style and then start bending the strings like the blues men he heard, and rock & roll was born. Of course, he wasn’t alone doing that, there was something in the air at the time.
Here’s Carl with his most famous song, one that Elvis covered and sold even more copies than Carl did, Blue Suede Shoes.
CATHY CARR, or Angelina Cordovano, was from The Bronx.
As a child she appeared on TV on a New York children’s program. When she was older, Cathy became a singer and dancer attached to the big bands of Sammy Kaye, Johnny Dee and others. She hit it big with the song, Ivory Tower, and that’s about it really.
At the age of only 13, Frankie Lymon installed himself as the leader of the group FRANKIE LYMON AND THE TEENAGERS.
Frankie was from Harlem and possessed a talent beyond his years, obviously a model for a certain Jackson person. At age 12, he joined a DooWop group called the Coupe De Villes at his school. After a bit they became The Ermines and The Premiers, which is a bit of a clunky name.
A neighbour gave the group some love letters sent to him by his girlfriend (you have to wonder about him). Several of the group, now called The Teenagers (I guess they’d aged a bit), wrote a song from these missives and it turned into Why Do Fools Fall In Love?
Frankie died at 25 of a drug overdose.
GOGI GRANT came from Philadelphia and the family moved to Los Angeles when she was 12.
Known to her mum and dad as Myrtle Arinsberg, she won singing competitions as a teenager and appeared on TV talent shows. Upon signing with a record company she released Suddenly There’s a Valley which should have appeared in 1955 but didn’t make the cut.
This year she recorded her most famous song, The Wayward Wind. She’s still performing, well into her eighties.
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.
1957 will appear in two weeks’ time.