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Fifties Music

Most recent update: 8-22-2007

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Tom Castaldi sends this article about Fifties Music.
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Tom Castaldi tlcastaldi (at)

Class of 1957 saw rock born

By Ken Ringle for the Washington Post reprinted in Fort Wayne Journal Gazette August 12, 2007

When my brother, nine years younger, saw a list of downloaded songs (put together for a 50th high school class reunion) he said, "this is the birth of rock-and-roll! You all were there at the beginning!"
Without the music we listened to between 1953 and 1957, the Rolling Stones, for example, could never have hit a guitar chord. Too ;young for Korea and too old for Vietnam, we chose to serve our country by upgrading its musical paradigm. The year before we entered high school a nationwide hit was Patti Page singing how much is "That Doggie in the Window." We left to the sounds of Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Joe Turner and ray Charles, among many, many other now legend - not to mention the peerless doo-wop groups such as the Platters, the Clovers and the Dominoes. Buddy Holly, Motown and the Beatles were waiting in the wings.
Our class' seismic contribution is not generally appreciated, largely because the baby boomers - so many! So self-reverential! - like to think nothing ever happened in popular culture until they started tie-dyeing T-shirts and rolling joints. The record, however, is clear, as were the records: We even sang lyrics you could hear and understand

This is not to say that we were wholly immune to mainstream musical figures like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or even, Pat Boone. I could easily have filled the evening (of the reunion) with well-remembered tunes by Elvis or the Platters, there were countless one-hit groups whose names I couldn't remember. Each classmate I consulted had a favorite song I had forgotten. Everybody remembered "Earth Angel," for example, but who remembered it ws not the Platters but the Penguins? I thought "Hearts of Stone" was by the McGuire Sisters. It took weeks before I found it was by the Fontane Sisters.

There were other mysteries as well. Was "Speedo" ("They often call me Speedo/But my real name is Mr. Earl"). How we missed the social messages in some of these songs? In "One Mint Julep," the Clovers sing, "I'm through with flirtin' and drinkin' whiskey/ I got six extra children/From getting frisky." Isn't that a warning against alcohol abuse?
After "Work With Me Annie," Hank Ballard and the Midnighters recorded "Annie Had a Baby," declaring that now every time Annie starts working "she has to stop and walk the baby 'cross the floor…that's what happens when the getting' gets good."

And what about "Silhouettes" by the Rays? The singer, playing peeping Tom on his girlfriend, discovers her silhouetted with another man in the window of her house. Broken-hearted, he pounds on the door to confront her perfidy, only to find he's on the wrong block. It's not even her house. Couldn't this be a protest against the banal anonymity of '50s housing patterns and architecture? Well, maybe not.
Some of our music has been reborn on movie soundtracks in more recent years: Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin" Goin' On" in "The Year of Living Dangerously,""Sixty Minute Man" in Bull Durham," "Love Is Strange" in "Dirty Dancing," I Got a Woman" in "Ray," and so forth. Other songs, like those from Elvis, the Platters, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles, have just never died. On the other hand, a song like "Sh-Boom" by the Crew Cuts is nothing more than a tiny frozen window into 1954, when it ws recorded. It hasn't been reborn, isn't about to come back and would be a total shrug to anyone born later, though it was a huge hit at the time and is widely considered the first doo-wop song put on record.
When it first emerged, rock 'n' roll was about more than adolescent rebellion, pulsating danceable rhythms and discomfiting parents. It was also about romance, longing (requited and unrequited, emotional as well as sexual), the enigmas and injustices of fate and blue suede shoes. The saxophone, not the electric guitar, was the dominant instrument of rock 'n roll's evolution in the 1950s. Jazz was almost as influential as rhythm and blues in some cases, especially the harmonically sophisticated Four Freshmen, whom Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys would later tag as a major influence. And, not insignificantly, women were celebrated, not just as sexual objects but as mysterious desirable powers who were usually in charge of any relationship. (Victims need not apply, whatever feminist revisionists might argue later.)

Finally, one name you will not find on (the author's) list if Bill Haley. Haley's "Rock Around the Clock," one of the most inane and dismissible ditties ever recorded, is too frequently identified as a seminal anthem in the evolution of rock 'n' roll. Culturally, it was nothing of the kind. Haley was a no-talent white musician with a no-talent white band, who exploited a phrase from an old blues song, sped up the temp and turned it into a one-dimensional teen hit. But the song made money and spawned too many plastic imitations.
Those of us in the class of 1957 remember - and treasure - the real thing. Especially 50 years later.

Here is the list of Ken Ringle's top choices:
"Pledging My Love" by Johnny Ace
"Twilight Time" by the Platters
"Come Go With Me" by the Dell Vikings
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" by Jerry Lee Lewis
"In the Still of the Night" by the Five Satins
"Work With Me Annie" by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters
"Annie Had a Baby" by Hank Ballard
"In This Whole Wide World" by the Four Freshmen
"Sh-Boom" by the Crew Cuts
"Hey Miss Fannie" by The Clovers
"The Glory of Love" by the Five Keys
"The Wheel of Fortune" by the Cardinals
"Searchin'" by the Coasters.
"Little Darlin'" by the Diamonds
"Crying in the Chapel" by the Orioles
"It Should've Been Me" by Ray Charles
"Young Love" by Sonny James
"Lawdy Miss Clawdy" by Lloyd Price
"Love Letters in the Sand" by Pat Boon
"(Let Me Be Your) teddy Bear" by Elvis Presley
"Ain't That a Shame" by Fats Domino
"Sixty Minute Man" by the Dominoes
"Teach Me Tonight" by Brenda Lee
"Eyesight to the Blind" by the Larks
"Tears on My Pillow" by Little Anthony and the Imperials
"Love is Strange" by Mickey & Sylvia
"The Great Pretender" by the Platters
"Money Honey" by the Drifters
"Silhouettes" by the Rays
"Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers
"I Got a Woman" by Ray Charles
"P.S. I Love You" by the Hilltoppers
"No, Not Much!" by the Four Lads
"Earth angel (Will You be Mine) by the Penguins
"Ting-a-Ling" by the Clovers
"You've Got) The Magic Touch" by the Platters
"Yakety Yak" by the Coaters
"Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" by the Four Lands
"Chances Are" by Johnny Mathis
"Let the Good Times Roll" by Shirley & Lee
"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" by the Platters
"Hearts of Stone" by the Fontane Sisters
"Shake, Rattle and Roll" by Joe Turner
"You Send Me" by Sam Cooke
"Get a Job" by the Silhouettes
"Devil or Angel" by the Clovers
"Sweet Little Sixteen" by Chuck Berry
"My Prayer" by the Platters
"One Mint Julep" by the Clovers
"Speedo" by the Cadillacs

What's yours?