It’s July, 1950

As London goes down into an extra level of Covid-19 lockdown we escape to July, 1950 to see what is popping.

The songs of July, 1950

BEWITCHED,Gordon Jenkins / Bonnie Lou Williams
BEWITCHED,Larry Green / Honeydreamers
COUNT EVERY STAR,Hugo Winterhalter
GOODNIGHT IRENE,Weavers & Gordon Jenkins
HOOP-DEE-DOO,Perry Como / Fontane Sisters
I WANNA BE LOVED,Andrews Sisters / Gordon Jenkins
I WANNA BE LOVED,Billy Eckstine
MONA LISA,Nat King Cole
MONA LISA,Victor Young / Don Cherry
MY FOOLISH HEART,Gordon Jenkins / Sandy Evans
NOLA,Les Paul
PLAY A SIMPLE MELODY,Bing Crosby / Gary Crosby
SAM’S SONG,Bing Crosby / Gary Crosby
SAM’S SONG,Joe Fingers Carr
TZENA TZENA TZENA,Weavers & Gordon Jenkins

A few new songs slipped into the top 20 this month, but the repetition rate was still awfully high as discussed last month. “Bewitched” had one less version charting – 4; but 3 versions of “Mona Lisa” and of “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” and 5 other songs with a couple of versions each kept the variety low-ish. So we’ve supplemented the 16 unique songs of July’s primary pop charts with ten from the “Country and Western” juke box charts.

Here the only repetition was in artist, with Ernest Tubb having 3 different songs ringing out in saloons around the states.

You can listen to the full playlist on Youtube via this link or embedded below:

This month in history

July, 1950 is the month that the Korean War dragged in assorted countries from around the globe. I wasn’t aware that my own homeland, New Zealand, was one of the first to send troops in to support the USA, with the HMNZS Pukaki and HMNZS Tutira departing on July 3 to join the fracas.

And where there wasn’t actual war against the “communist creep” there was anti-commie propaganda in full effect, with the launch of Radio Free Europe. Beginning July 4, 1950 it would transmit 30 minutes of American programming to Czechoslovakia from a 7,500 watt short wave transmitter located at Lampertheim in West Germany. Music became part of the broadcast over time – which was the portion of the radio transmission least likely to be blocked by the Soviets apparently. Missing a trick in how important cultural products are in winning hearts and minds.

In interesting births this month – Huey Lewis, American musician and frontman of Huey Lewis and the News was born on the 5th of July. Huey is probably best known for “Power of Love” from the film “Back to the Future” which is, of course, set in the 1950s and shows the reaction of middle America to “rock n roll” at one point. We’ll come to a song from that in 7 years or so.

Also born this month was English billionaire businessman and founder of the Virgin Group conglomerate, Richard Branson. Who would start out in the music world with a single record store before branching out into Cola and space travel… amongst other things that actually made money. Space travel got an actual boost (pardon the pun) this month with Cape Canaveral in Florida, the home of future space mission launches, being used to launch a rocket for the first time on the 24th.

A full 5 years after the end of World War II, on July 10, the United Kingdom Food Minister Maurice Webb announced that rationing of soap would end in September of that year. Since 1942, households had been permitted only three ounces of soap, per person, per week. Which doesn’t seem so bad when you do the math and realise thats 75% of a typical bar of soap, but then again that would have been used for a lot more than just a lather in the shower back then I assume.

And on July 17th, the 8063rd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (M.A.S.H.) was activated by the states in Korea, the division referenced in the TV show of the same name, as reminisced on last month.

The music industry was’t oblivious to all the war news this month, with concerns expressed in Billboard that an all-out war effort would impact on record production as the story below illustrates. Luckily for us, that eventually never came about.

What’d Sadie think?

“Goodnight, Irene” is a 20th-century folk standard, which Lead Belly first recorded in 1933. A year after his death, The Weavers recorded a version that charted this month and was one of the biggest songs of the year. I love the original but this one loses the gut wrenching rawness in amongst a thick group arrangement and substantially waters down the lyrics. This verse is totally tossed,

I asked your mother for you
She told me that you was too young
I wish dear Lord that I’d never seen your face
I’m sorry you ever were born

“Goodnight, Irene” – Lead Belly

And the lines about a self-induced morphine death were probably rightly considered too harsh for a mainstream audience at time, but then again,

Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump into the river and drown

“Goodnight, Irene” – The Weavers

Is in both versions. Apparently Time magazine called this version “dehydrated” and “prettied up” – but that didn’t stop it spending 13 weeks at number 1.

I’m big enough to admit when I get it wrong. And i got it wrong choosing the Art Lund version of “Mona Lisa”. Written for the Paramount Pictures crime film “Captain Carey, U.S.A.” it won the Oscar for Best Original Song this year. But it was the Nat King Cole version that spent 5 weeks at number 1 not the soundtrack version. It’s a great song, whichever version, but I’ll include the Cole one in August’s playlist while it’s still charting.

Billy Eckstine has one delicious baritone voice which “I wanna be loved” shows off to full effect. It’s not a brilliant song, but as a voice showcase it makes me wonder where the baritone voices have gone amongst the tenors and falsettos of modern pop. I’m looking at you Justin Timberlake…(we’ll get to that in about 10 years Sadie).

“Play a simple melody” by Bing Crosby with his son Gary was recorded before the latter wrote a highly critical autobiography of his father, decades later. It’s an alright song but hardly a passing of the torch between generations.

“Hoop-de-doo” is still in the charts and still nonsense, but it’s become a song Sadie and I like to dance along to, so there’s the power of repetition and a simple catchy melody in effect.

Vic Damone has two charting songs during July, “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” and “Vagabond Shoes”. The latter is fine but unremarkable. The former had three versions on the charts in July and was notable for being the first, and last, Hebrew song on the pop charts. But like “Goodnight, Irene” the lyrics were watered down. Who adapted it for the 1950s? The Weavers strike again. Clearly a successful technique of theirs. The full story of the song is well worth a read.

The country charts sound exactly how you expect a 1950’s country chart to sound – full of lost love and dead dogs. And completely owned by Ernest Tubb one week, with 3 songs on the charts – “Throw your love my way”, “I love you because”, “Give me a little old-fashioned love.”. I’m surprised a man that successful had to beg so many ways for a little lovin’…

They’re all pretty interchangeable ditties, if I had to choose one it would be “Give me a little old-fashioned love.” mostly because it makes me wonder what this new-fashioned love he’s contrasting this with is…?

My pick song of the country charts has to be Hank Williams, “Why Don’t You Love Me” because, well, Hank Williams. And he does longing better than Tubb does in any of trio his songs,

Well, why don’t you be just like you used to be
How come you find so many faults with me
Somebody’s changed so let me give you a clue
Why don’t you love me like you used to do

“Why Don’t You Love Me” – Hank Williams.

But I have to say, the design of this advert for another charting song, “Enclosed, one broken heart”, by Eddy Arnold from a Billboard issue this month is a visual delight that endeared me to the tune before I even heard it.

And on that note I leave you with a month’s worth of hits to listen to in an easy 1 hour, 12 minute playlist of pop.