It’s August, 1950

Welcome to August, 1950 – the Korean War is in full effect and “Goodnight Irene” by The Weavers has just started its 13 week assault on the number 1 spot in the American pop charts.

The songs of August, 1950

Nat King Cole’s version of “Mona Lisa” was top of the charts for all of July, and held on for one week in August before being bumped off by another feisty lady, Irene. That said, it stayed firmly at number 2 for the rest of the month, showing its popularity.

28 hits made it into the top 20 across the month – 18 actual original songs in all. There are as many songs in the charts with multiple versions, as there are with just one in fact. I could happily have more covers of “Mona Lisa” but could do with less of “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” if I’m to be honest.

Following some feedback (that’s readers!) I’m including the full list of hits in this post for those who don’t want to have to pick through the Youtube playlist. They’re in alphabetical order not chart order:

August, 1950 Top 20 Hits

Bewitched,Doris Day
Bewitched, Gordon Jenkins / Bonnie Lou Williams
Bonaparte’s Retreat, Gene Krupa / Bobby Soots
Bonaparte’s Retreat, Kay Starr
Can Anyone Explain, Ames Brothers
Count Every Star, Hugo Winterhalter
Count Every Star, Ray Anthony / Dick Noel
Goodnight Irene, Frank Sinatra
Goodnight Irene, Weavers & Gordon Jenkine
Hoop-Dee-Doo, Perry Como / Fontane Sisters
I Wanna Be Loved, Andrews Sisters / Gordon Jenkins
I Wanna Be Loved, Billy Eckstine
La Vie En Rose, Tony Martin
Mona Lisa, Nat King Cole
Mona Lisa, Victor Young / Don Cherry
No Other Love, Jo Stafford
Nola,Les Paul
Play A Simple Melody, Bing Crosby / Gary Crosby
Sam’s Song, Bing Crosby / Gary Crosby
Sam’s Song, Joe Fingers Carr
Sentimental Me, Ames Brothers
Sometime, Mariners
Third Man Theme, Anton Karas
Third Man Theme, Guy Lombardo
Tzena Tzena Tzena, Mitch Miller
Tzena Tzena Tzena, Vic Damone
Tzena Tzena Tzena, Weavers & Gordon Jenkins
Vagabond Shoes,Vic Damone

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

This month in history

This would become another newsletter entirely if I started delving into the topic that was undoubtedly dominating the news of the time – the Korean war. So we’ll put that aside for now and dip back in and out as the weeks go by.

It being the end of summer in the UK, people were keen for a dip in the sea. Spurred on by the Daily Mail newspaper a competition broke out to swim the English channel in the fastest time. On the 8th of the month Florence Chadwick of the United States swam the channel in 13 hours, 22 minutes, breaking the women’s record set in 1926 as well as becoming only the 3rd woman to finish the feat. And then on the 22nd Abd El Rehim of Egypt broke the 24-year-old record for fastest crossing by finishing in 10 hours and 53 minutes.

It was also a month for the birth of innovators. On the 8th, as Florence was swimming the channel, Ken Kutaragi, future Chairman and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, and “The Father of the PlayStation” was being born in Tokyo. The Playstation 5 is due to be released in November, 2020 – 26 years after Kutaragi birthed the first model – by time Sadie is able to grip a controller we’ll probably be onto the 6th model though.

And then on the 11th Steve “Woz” Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, was born in San Jose, California. We’ll be onto the iPhone 20, and listening to music from the ’80s by time Sadie has her first smartphone… unless she’s a very persuasive girl.

Speaking of, Sadie is just starting to be able to focus and track objects so we tried to see if a cartoon could captivate her attention this week. Which is timely as on the 19th of the month in August 1950 the tradition of Saturday morning children’s TV began in the USA with the premiere on the ABC network of two live shows, Animal Clinic and Acrobat Ranch.

I tracked an episode of the latter down here and it appears to be what it says on the tin, a cast of acrobatic folk doing “don’t try this at home” feats on a Ranch – before the latter expression was invented I suspect. Interestingly it seems to be a case of nominative determinism, or literal inspiration, as the “Acrobat” in the name actually refers to the footwear brand that sponsored the show as well as the action.

What’d Sadie think?

Doris Day’s, “Bewitched” has definitely become our favourite version of the song so it’s in the playlist again this month. Only this week did I notice her backing band is named, “The Mellomen” which feels apt, not just for this song but, thus far, the overall energy level of the hit parade from the 1950s.

We first heard “Bonaparte’s Retreat” last month and I was into the Kay Starr version and the back story in equal amounts. Like any good 1950’s hit one version was followed by another… alas, the Gene Krupa (and his “Chicago Jazz Orchestra”) included this week is frankly terrible. Apparently Gene was a jazz drummer and band leader of some note but nothing can rescue the dire vocals – make a retreat of your own and press skip!

A new version of “Count every star” this week, by Ray Anthony and his Orchestra. It’s alright, but mostly it made me reflect on how long the instrumental intros were on so many pop songs at the time. These days they jump straight into a hook to stop people hitting the Spotify skip button, but clearly ’50s audiences were less likely to twiddle the station knob as it were.

I can’t believe its August and we’ve only come to our first Sinatra song of the year, a cover of “Goodnight Irene”. Apparently he was in a career slump around this point – personally I prefer his version of the song to the one that would sit at number 1 for 13 weeks.

I suspect I’m missing a few references via unrecognised colloquialisms. “turtle doving” was one of those till I looked up the full lyrics to The Andrew Sister’s “I wanna be Loved”,

I feel like acting my age!
I’m passed the stage of merely turtle-doving!
I’m in no mood to resist
And I insist the world owes me a loving!

“I wanna be loved” by The Andrew Sisters

So apparently its not referring to my and the wife’s favourite festival cocktail then, noted!

Favourite new track of the week is Tony Martin’s cover of Edith Piaf’s hit from the ’40s, “La vie en rose”, which even manages to keep a verse in French – très chic!

And yes, after picking a dud last week, I added Nat King Coles excellent version of “Mona Lisa” to the playlist this week. The charts have spoken!

Les Paul is a guitar legend, but by 1950 his eponymous solid body guitar was not yet in production at Gibson. Though he was using experimental versions, originally based on a train rail of all things, and pioneering multitrack recording techniques – some of his guitar tracks were even recorded at half speed and playing back at double speed in the final mix. Which explains,

why this advert for “Nola”, in this month’s charts, is described as featuring his “new” sound. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of this particular song – but his contributions to music technology are remarkable.

And in closing, the music press of the time tells us Xmas is coming, even in August – with chatter beginning about what will be the Xmas hit of the year. In 1949, as discussed in the February post, Gene Autry won the season with the premier of, now classic, “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer”. Apparently the millions of units this sold made for a land rush in 1950 with a number of tunes vying for top spot and big budgets being put behind making tunes the “exclusive” Xxmas tune in the key department stores. One of the newcomers being talked about already is, “Frosty, the Snow Man” which sounds like it might do OK…

But before we get to Xmas, go listen to this month’s tunes!