Hello world! Week 1 of 4x Life is here. About 5 weeks early than expected, as our gorgeous little girl Sadie couldn’t wait in utero any longer it seems. Thus this project was one of many things “not quite” ready for her arrival. As such, week 1 coincides, belatedly, with the 2nd week of her life with us in the outside world. Or, mostly inside world, this being Coronavirus 2020.
The songs of January 1950
A DREAMER’S HOLIDAY,Buddy Clark
A DREAMER’S HOLIDAY,Perry Como / Fontane Sisters
BIBBIDI BOBBIDI BOO,Jo Stafford & Gordon MacRae
BLUES STAY AWAY FROM ME,Owen Bradley Quintet
CHARLEY MY BOY,Andrews Sisters / Russ Morgan
CHARLEY MY BOY,Jimmy Dorsey / Claire Hogan / Charlie Teagarden
CHATTANOOGIE SHOE SHINE BOY,Red Foley
DEAR HEARTS AND GENTLE PEOPLE,Bing Crosby
DEAR HEARTS AND GENTLE PEOPLE,Dinah Shore
DON’T CRY JOE,Gordon Jenkins / Betty Brewer / Chorus
I CAN DREAM CAN’T I,Andrews Sisters / Gordon Jenkins
I SAID MY PAJAMAS,Tony Martin / Fran Warren
I’VE GOT A LOVELY BUNCH OF COCONUTS,Freddy Martin / Merv Griffin
JOHNSON RAG,Jack Teter Trio
JOHNSON RAG,Jimmy Dorsey / Claire Hogan
JOHNSON RAG,Russ Morgan
MULE TRAIN,Bing Crosby
MULE TRAIN,Frankie Laine
MULE TRAIN,Tennessee Ernie Ford
MULE TRAIN,Vaughn Monroe
MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC,Teresa Brewer
RAG MOP,Ames Brothers
SLIPPING AROUND,Margaret Whiting / Jimmy Wakely
THAT LUCKY OLD SUN,Frankie Laine
THE OLD MASTER PAINTER,Dick Haymes
THE OLD MASTER PAINTER,Phil Harris
THE OLD MASTER PAINTER,Richard Hayes
THERE’S NO TOMORROW,Tony Martin
WEDDING SAMBA,Edmundo Ros
WHISPERING HOPE,Jo Stafford & Gordon MacRae
WHISPERING HOPE,Jo Stafford And Gordon MacRae
WITH MY EYES WIDE OPEN I’M DREAMING,Patti Page
Seasonality is going to be in and out of sync at different times at 4x speed. In this case we’re listening to mid-winter music from 1950 at the tail end of a lovely summer here in London. I was interested to see that Xmas songs, which featured heavily only the week prior, are off the charts completely by the first week of January. Probably lucky, we don’t want to spoiler Sadie’s first Xmas.
Actually, according to my calculations, we’ll be listening to our first Xmas tunes (December 1950) in the middle of November this year – about right given how early Xmas starts these days.
But back to January 1950! Being the first week, we’re keeping it simple and taking the songs from the 4 weeks of the Billboard USA charts published during the month. In the future we’ll expand our horizons, but that will require more research, which will require more sleep. (You hear that Sadie?!)
The first thing we notice looking at the charts is that several songs appear in them multiple times by different artists. These days we’ll get remixes in the weeks following a new single but the phenomenon of a song being in the charts covered by multiple artists is definitely something we’ve left in the past. I’ve picked my favourite version of each of these to include.
This week’s full playlist can be found here: January 1950 Hits or embedded below.
Reading old copies of Billboard to put together the playlist unearths some fascinating industry stories, but also a wealth of extra charts. Like the “best-selling sheet music” below. Which mostly matches the recorded music chart at the time. The English music charts also shown below though are totally different. We’ll definitely look to include some songs off non-USA charts next month.
This month in history
With not a lot of time to read up on the cultural and historical context of the month, we’ve picked up some facts that interested us from Wikipedia’s handy “month in history page for January 1950.
I was a big fan of Isaac Asimov stories in my tweens and apparently this month his first novel, “Pebble in the Sky” was published. Meanwhile Billy Ocean, Trinidadian-British pop singer, was born as Leslie Charles in Fyzabad. I’m sure he’ll be popping up in a few years time here.
Outside of pop-culture, “The United Kingdom gave diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China and the Communist regime of Mao Zedong as the legitimate government of the nation of 460,000,000 people. Norway, Denmark and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) followed suit.” Or, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, headline said it, “Great Britain Recognizes Chinese Reds”.
That’s as January 1950s as it gets I feel.
What’d Sadie think?
This has the potential to be the most interesting part of the weekly post… in several years time. Because right now Sadie is as likely to sleep through the playlist as to make any discernible reaction to a particular track. So, not being the type to put words in a child’s mouth, I’ll take the reins here until she can express something beyond a burble or a sick-up.
I expected a few novelty songs and January 1950 delivers. Frankie Laine’s “Mule Train” is the tale of an Old West wagon driver and sounds like it could be on the soundtrack of a western film – which it turns out it was. The whip crack sound effects really get you into the experience.
Then there’s the Cinderella classic, ‘Bibbidi Bobbidi boo” by Jo Stafford and Gordan McRae. The duo, like several of the performers, were having a good month as this was one of two songs they had in the top 20 simultaneously. So you’ve got both the phenomenon of multi-charting artists and the same song being covered by multiple artists all in the same chart. Which isn’t really a win for diversity but a win if you really like an artist or a song – we’ll see how long this continues.
“I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” by Freddy Martin (“and his orchestra” – which seems appended to a large number of artists at the time) is another novelty tune which apparently was just a song about a coconut shy at the time, but has come to be a well loved piece of innuendo. Along with Bibbidi its probably the song from the month that has survived the longest in the popular consciousness.
And of course there’s the expected crop of problematic lyrics and songs like “Chattanooga shoe shine boy” – I’m trying to hear these through the historical context so have chosen to include them despite. But, really?
On a positive note, I’ve been bemoaning the lack of “proper” duets in pop music of late. There’s plenty of boy/girl group songs and guest appearances galore, but I mean those type of duets where two people actually sing to each other. Margaret Whiting – “Slipping Around” w/ Jimmy Wakely is just such a song and a fine one at that. Bonus points for what I’d consider a slightly racy topic for its time – cheating spouses.
The major ear-worm this month was “Music, Music, Music” by teenager Teesa Brewer. Apparently this became her signature song. I like it for its enthusiastic simplicity whilst having a nice “meta” about it, as the lyrics implore the listener to, “Put another nickel in the nickelodeon”.
You can see Ms. Brewer, and some impressive bangs, in a film from the time:
And to finish out we’ve got Jimmy Dorsey’s, “Charley, My Boy” a jazz clarinet piece. Which suits this old clarinet player very much. Again, not enough instrumental songs in the charts these days – that role has been taken over by electronica and the like. But coincidentally a favourite track of mine (Sophie’s “It’s OK to cry”) was just this week covered on jazz saxophone. So on that quick time leap from 1950 to 2020, I’ll leave this here. And talk to y’all next week for February 1950.