It’s November, 1950

Coincidences abound this week. Not only are we listening to the music of November, 1950 in November of 2020 but this happens to be my dear mother’s 70th birthday. Yes, the spanning years encompass her whole life. Happy birthday mum!

The songs of November, 1950

In honour of my mother we’ll focus our trip back in time this week to New Zealand of 1950. Though first let’s see what was on the Billboard pop charts for the month:

November, 1950 Top 20 Hits

A Bushel And A Peck,Margaret Whiting / Jimmy Wakely
A Bushel And A Peck,Perry Como / Betty Hutton
All My Love,Bing Crosby
All My Love,Guy Lombardo / Bill Flanagan
All My Love,Patti Page
All My Love,Percy Faith
Bonaparte’s Retreat,Kay Starr
Can Anyone Explain,Ames Brothers
Goodnight Irene,Weavers & Gordon Jenkins
Harbour Lights,Bing Crosby
Harbour Lights,Guy Lombardo / Kenny Gardner
Harbour Lights,Ray Anthony / Ronnie Deauville
Harbour Lights,Sammy Kaye / Tony Alamo / Kaydets
I’ll Always Love You,Dean Martin
I’ll Never Be Free,Kay Starr / Tennessee Ernie
Mona Lisa,Nat King Cole
Nevertheless,Mills Brothers
Nevertheless,Paul Weston / Norman Luboff Choir
Nevertheless,Ralph Flanagan / Harry Prime
Nevertheless,Ray Anthony / Ronnie Deauville
Oh Babe,Kay Starr
Oh Babe,Louis Prima / Keely Smith
Orange Coloured Sky,Nat King Cole / Stan Kenton
Our Lady Of Fatima,Kitty Kallen / Richard Hayes
Patricia,Perry Como
Play A Simple Melody,Bing Crosby / Gary Crosby
Sam’s Song,Bing Crosby / Gary Crosby
Tennessee Waltz,Patti Page
The Thing,Phil Harris
Thinking Of You,Don Cherry
Thinking Of You,Eddie Fisher

A few new songs, which we’ll get to later, and a few new covers. There seems to be an inverse correlation between songs we love and ones that get multiple versions, but there we go!

To supplement the charts I’ve managed to dig up some tunes that would have been on the airwaves in New Zealand at the time. Still no sign of actual charts from New Zealand of 1950 but the signs are these songs would have been on high rotate (more on that later). Big thanks to Carl down in New Zealand who did some sleuthing and pointed me in the right direction.

Finding versions of NZ releases online proves harder than US releases, so I’ve had to go for a quartet of songs by the same artist, Mavis Rivers. Luckily she’s brill so no worries there. Plus a couple of others I could dig up.

“Blue Smoke” – Pixie Williams
Mavis Rivers – I’ll String Along With You
Mavis Rivers – Dear Hearts And Gentle People
Mavis Rivers – Candy and Cake
Henry Rudolph’s Harmony Serenaders w/ Soloist John Hoskins – Dreamers Holiday
The Kiwi Concert Party Orchestra – Mr. &Mrs. Millionaire
Mavis Rivers – Farewell Samoa

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

This month in history

If New Zealand feels a long way away for those of us in the northern hemisphere even today, imagine what it was like with the communications technology of the 1950s. Even as a child, in the ’80s, I can remember the only direct contact with the UK being phone calls which had a multi-second delay on them as they pinged up and down via Satellite making us feel truly at the bottom of the world.

Only three years before, in 1947, New Zealand had adopted the statue of Westminster gaining more autonomy over its own government – but it was still very much looked towards the UK for most things.

Though perhaps increasingly less so when it came to the arts, or pop-culture at least, as post-war US began its assault on western airwaves. You can see this in a NZ magazine of the time, Screen Parade, touted as “The best pictorial movie magazine” – which heavily featured American films.

You can read a few pages of this November, 1950 issue online including profiles on Vivien Leigh, Errol Flynn and a review of musical “Annie Get Your Gun”.

Mum was born on a Sunday, so the first newspaper edition published after she was born was the Monday edition. Below is part of the cover of the Otago Daily Times, November 20, 1950. You can read it online.

I’m obviously biased, but its always the adverts that catch my attention the most when diving back into old titles – so revealing! Literally in this case…(or not, “no bulge” – different times).

But I think we can all agree this is a brilliant article:

If you want a bit more of a peek into 1950’s New Zealand then Ngā Taonga, New Zealand’s audiovisual archive, have an excellent online repository. This 14 minute advert for a home perm is as hilariously fake as this 5 minutes footage from a wedding is real.

And this short clip of children at a primary school doesn’t seem too different from my own country school in NZ in the ’80s, so I assume when mum started school a few years later it looked very similar. 1950 was also the centenary of the European settlement of that area of New Zealand and is captured in an audio re-enactment.

There’s no contemporary music that I can find in their archives for the year but there are some great radio shows showcasing traditional Māori songs. Such as this Radio New Zealand recording of a visit by boys from Te Aute College near Napier in April, 1950. Or this short radio documentary on Ngā Pao Me Ngā Pakiwaitara A Te Iwi Māori (Song And Story Of The Māori).

What’d Sadie think?

Television hadn’t yet arrived in New Zealand in 1950. It was was only demo’d that year, before trials began a couple of years later – not really getting rolled out till the end of the decade. Plenty on that history here. But as a consequence, we can assume, radio and music was even more important in the cultural milieu.

Here’s the radio programmes being broadcast on November 20, 1950:

3YA in Christchurch is the station in mum’s hometown. Really a pity I couldn’t find a recording of the “Christchurch Highland Pipe band” to include on the playlist.

We’re able to hazard a guess at what pop music was popular by looking at the catalogue of New Zealand record label TANZA (‘To Assist New Zealand Artists’) which was the first NZ owned independent label, issuing its first 78 in 1949 and ceasing operation in 1959. 

That first record was “Blue Smoke” written by Ruru Karaitiana and sung by Pixie Williams, becoming the first record wholly produced in New Zealand from composition to pressing. You can read the fascinating 10 year story from composition to recording online. It would make its way out of New Zealand – being recorded by Dean Martin no less in 1951.

It’s a lovely tune and the first I’ve included on the playlist this week after the main pop charts. Meanwhile, Mavis Rivers was featured heavily on releases on the label for the first couple of years of its life – hence why I’ve included four this week. She disappears from their roster only because, Samoan born, she then moved to the USA (where Sinatra apparently called her the “purest voice in jazz”) and had a career spanning several decades. You can read a bio here.

She’s introduced as a performer at Auckland’s first jazz concert, in August 1950 with quite the compliment:

“Well I never thought I’d live to see the day when I was happy to introduce a female vocalist, there are only two that don’t give me a pain in the ear, one of them is Jo Stafford, but the other is Mavis Rivers”

– Peter Young, Jazz Concert, Auckland Town Hall, August 1950

Moving right along.. Jo Stafford of course has featured on our charts already so that part is at least a nice comparison. As have two of the songs Mavis Rivers sings – “Dear Hearts and Gentle People” and “Candy and Cake”. It looks like most of the label’s songs were covers of American hits – hardly surprising given how often these were also covered back in the USA! Her versions are excellent.

As is the cover of “A Dreamer’s Holiday” by Henry Rudolph’s Harmony Serenaders, also released on TANZA. This featured in our charts, performed by Perry Como at the time, earlier in 1950.

There’s a couple of new entries on the USA charts worth mentioning this month. First is “Oh Babe”, a real feisty jazzy number, by Kay Starr – who is turning in a real favourite of ours, as mentioned last month. And “The Thing” by Phil Harris which is a novelty song that tells the story of a box the singer finds on the beach. Suffice to say, the thing is a MacGuffin, which is one of the wife and I’s favourite pop-cultural tropes.

I end the playlist, and this entry, on Mavis Rivers’ original “Farewell Samoa” (release dates are given between 1950 and 1952 for this) as mum spent some time growing up there as a child and it’s performed in English and Samoan. Absolutely lovely.

Happy Birthday from Sadie, Emily and I, Tessa! Love you! And to all, enjoy the playlist of November, 1950.