Welcome readers to April, 1950 and week 4 of our wee odyssey in music history. Kia Ora to those who recently find themselves following along after hearing about the project on Radio New Zealand’s “Sunday Morning with Jim Mora” show this weekend.
If you didn’t catch this, and want to hear a bit more about the project – then you can listen online. Thanks to Jim and Dave down there at RNZ for a very enjoyable chat. As Jim noted, even after 7 years in London, I’ve “not lost my kiwi accent”, so global listeners beware!
The songs of April, 1950
CANDY AND CAKE,Arthur Godfrey / Chordettes
CHATTANOOGIE SHOE SHINE BOY,Red Foley
CHINESE MULE TRAIN,Spike Jones
DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL,Dick Todd
DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL,Mills Brothers
DEARIE,Guy Lombardo / Kenny Gardner
DEARIE,Jo Stafford And Gordon MacRae
DEARIE,Ray Bolger / Ethel Merman
ENJOY YOURSELF,Guy Lombardo / Kenny Gardner
GO TO SLEEP GO TO SLEEP GO TO SLEEP,Arthur Godfrey / Mary Martin
HOOP-DEE-DOO,Perry Como / Fontane Sisters
I SAID MY PAJAMAS,Tony Martin / Fran Warren
IF I KNEW YOU WERE COMIN’,Eileen Barton
IT ISN’T FAIR,Sammy Kaye / Don Cornell
LET’S GO TO CHURCH,Margaret Whiting
MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC,Carmen Cavallaro / Bob Lido / Cavaliers
MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC,Freddy Martin / Merv Griffin / Martin Men
MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC,Teresa Brewer
MY FOOLISH HEART,Billy Eckstine
MY FOOLISH HEART,Gordon Jenkins / Sandy Evans
MY FOOLISH HEART,Mindy Carson
PETER COTTONTAIL,Gene Autry
PETER COTTONTAIL,Mervin Shiner
QUICKSILVER,Bing Crosby / Andrews Sisters
SENTIMENTAL ME,Ames Brothers
SENTIMENTAL ME,Russ Morgan / Morganaires
THERE’S NO TOMORROW,Tony Martin
THID MAN THEME,Guy Lombardo
THIRD MAN THEME,Anton Karas
THIRD MAN THEME,Guy Lombardo
WANDERIN’,Sammy Kaye / Tony Alamo
April 1950 was not a month that rewarded originality – 8 songs in the charts had at least 2, if not 3, versions on high rotate. “Daddy’s Little Girl”, “Dearie”, “Music Music, Music”, “My Foolish Heart”, “Petter Cottontail”, “Sentimental”, “Third Man” and… the return of “Mule Train” as “Chinese Mule Train”, but let’s talk more about that later.
I decided to supplement the regular pop charts with the top 10 from the “Children’s Records” chart this week to see if they might appeal to Sadie. The only cross-over there was ol’ “Peter Cottontail”. Spoiler alert – this supplement was a mistake.
Go ahead and listen to the hits of April, 1950 in the embedded playlist below or on Youtube here. The children’s chart hits are at the end so listener beware.
This month in history
Do historical events cluster themselves, making some months more interesting in retrospect than others? “Probably not” a proper statistical analysis would tell us, but why let that get in the way of making the observation that April 1950 seems stacked with the beginning of “big things”?
For instance it was the month that TV got “more square”. Not in the sense of the term that was used at the time to mean someone who was out of touch, but in the sense that they moved from being slightly more widescreen to the square-ish 4:3 ratio that dominated for the next 60 years before 16:9 widescreen became the norm in the 2010s.
I imagine Sadie will view 4:3 TV content the same way I viewed black & white content as a child – old fashioned and difficult to digest. That said, I hope she agrees one day that a TV with built in drinks cabinet is something that should have survived past the 1950s…
This project finds me going down plenty of “rabbit holes” when researching the music and times, which is exactly what I’d hoped. One of which was the origin of the term “square”. The best account is that its a ’40s jazz term – referring to someone whose tastes were out of date and out of touch – derived from the rigid motion of a conductor’s hands in a conventional, four-beat rhythm. You hip?
Back to science-based firsts from April, 1950: this month Biochemists Thomas H. Jukes and Robert Stokstad announced their accidental discovery of the increased production that resulted from antibiotics mixed into animal feed. Mixing an antibiotic into feed increased the growth rate in piglets by 50 percent, and at a lesser rate in chicks and calves. Giving a major boost to industrialised farming that we have only began to rethink and pull back from with organic methods half a century later.
And, as the high street struggles to survive in 2020 thanks to Covid, we can see the first nail in its coffin way back in 1950 when “The Northgate Center” opened as the first suburban shopping mall in the United States, outside of Seattle, Washington.
But before you blame the month for birthing all of the world’s ills, some good news – on April 5, Agnetha Fältskog was born in Jönköping, Sweden. She’ll be ready to make an appearance in a couple of decades time as a member of ABBA of course.
And British comic book The Eagle was launched. Now, I’m slightly biased there as Eagle was my favourite read as a young lad. And coincidentally the reason behind my own first appearance in the media – when I wrote to a national newspaper to claim they’d made a mistake in a news story about the comic.
I think Sadie’s appearance on Radio New Zealand, aged 5 weeks, trumps that by about a decade in age and is vastly cooler. So onto the music…
What’d Sadie think?
April 1950 is a month of the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s do this in reverse order so we can end on a high.
Firstly then, the ugly. The western film classic, “Mule Train”, performed by Frankie Laine, first appeared in our January 1950 episode and a few versions made it onto the charts over the following months. Just as they fall off the charts, a “comedy” version appears this month. I use scare quotes around comedy because this one really isn’t funny. “Chinese Mule Train” by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, with banjoist Freddy Morgan (misspelled on the record as “Fleddy Morgan” no less) is just downright racist.
I have debated whether I should include problematic songs in the playlists, but deciding where to draw the line becomes difficult when it comes to the hindsight we now have on yesterday’s culture. And in cases like this, which are so clearly out-of-step, I have decided it is best to include them, with a warning and leave them to serve as reminders of how far we’ve come, and probably (hello 2020) still have some way to go.
One of the reasons why I started this project was so I didn’t have to spend Sadie’s early year’s listening to banal children’s songs with her. So quite why I then went and chose to include the Billboard’s Children’s Records from this month is beyond me. Let’s be honest, the adult 1950s charts have been a little too saccharine and childish at times so it was only going to get worse when I dipped our ears in there. It’s all bad.
Though to be fair, “I’m glad that i’m Bugs Bunny” is probably a better Easter song than “Peter Cottontail” and there’s something creepily fascinating about “I found my mama” where Salty Homes conducts a conversation with a sing talking trumpet.
Speaking of which…”Dearie” by Ray Bolger and Ethel Merman was a standout from February, 1950 – and of course imitation is the sincerest form of flattery in the 1950s so by April there are 3 versions in the charts. The Guy Lombardo version I chose this week replaces the female voice with… a talking trumpet. Clearly a trending technique in 1950. I’m quite sure this travesty will be the death knell of this tune on the charts but only time will tell.
To emphasise my point about the infantile nature of some of the songs on the adult charts at the time, “Hoop-Dee-Doo” by Perry Como was released 50 years later as a single by Australian children’s band The Wiggles. Neither are great and I can only pray exposing Sadie to this version hasn’t been a gateway into her wanting to watch The Wiggles.
Onto the good then – I had hoped that “Bewitched” might have some connection to the sitcom of the same name, but that that didn’t premiere till 1964 so of course it didn’t. It is however a nice instrumental version of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from the 1940 Rodgers and Hart musical “Pal Joey”. It looks like 1950 saw a whole raft of versions released, so stay tuned for those in the next few weeks.
In 1999, the British Film Institute voted “The Third Man” the greatest British film of all time. And it was in April, 1950 that its theme tune by Anton Karas hit the charts after the film’s release. Apparently this began something we are very familiar with today, a trend in releasing film theme music as singles. I’m a Graham Greene fan but haven’t seen the film actually so here’s the trailer to remind us all to give it a watch if we’ve not:
“Let’s Go To Church” is the “very ’50s” song of the month with the god fearing lyrics,
Let’s go to church next Sunday morning
Let’s kneel an’ pray side by side.
Our love will grow on Sunday morning
If we have the Lord as our guide.
Which seems less sincere and more like atonement when you realise its performed by Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely, who are behind the tune about a duo cheating on their spouses, “Slipping Around”, that featured in January 1950.
Speaking of which thanks to reader David for noting that I typo’d – “Slipping Around” as “Slipping Away” in my post from that week. Cheers David! If you notice anything amiss, or have any questions, don’t be shy to send us an email back or contact us via the form on 4times.life.
Till then, enjoy the songs of April 1950!