It’s January, 1951

As the last month of a very weird 2020 approaches, with things hopefully looking up on the pandemic front, we find ourselves entering January, 1951 here at Which, as I’ve had a few questions about it, seems like as good time as any to do a post focused on how the monthly playlists get pulled together. But first the tunes…

The songs of January, 1951

January starts with a Xmas hangover, so we’ve still got Rudolph and Frosty duelling it out for those looking for some festive tunes back in 2020. But it’s Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz” that is number 1 for the whole month and the four other versions of it that dominate the charts across January.

January, 1951 Top 20 Hits

A Bushel And A Peck,Margaret Whiting / Jimmy Wakely
A Bushel And A Peck,Perry Como / Betty Hutton
Be My Love,Mario Lanza
Frosty The Snowman,Gene Autry
Harbour Lights,Guy Lombardo / Kenny Gardner
Harbour Lights,Ray Anthony / Ronnie Deauville
Harbour Lights,Sammy Kaye / Tony Alamo / Kaydets
If,Perry Como
My Heart Cries For You,Dinah Shore
My Heart Cries For You,Guy Mitchell
My Heart Cries For You,Jimmy Wakely
My Heart Cries For You,Vic Damone
Nevertheless,Mills Brothers
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,Gene Autry
So Long,Weavers & Gordon Jenkins
Tennessee Waltz,Guy Lombardo / Kenny Gardner
Tennessee Waltz,Jo Stafford
Tennessee Waltz,Les Paul & Mary Ford
Tennessee Waltz,Patti Page
Tennessee Waltz,Spike Jones / Sara Berner
The Roving Kind,Guy Mitchell
The Roving Kind,Weavers
The Thing,Phil Harris
Thinking Of You,Don Cherry
Thinking Of You,Eddie Fisher
You’re Just In Love,Perry Como / Fontane Sisters
Zing Zing Zoom Zoom,Perry Como

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

So, how did we get here? (BTS)

So while you enjoy this week’s playlist, how did we get to it? Firstly we need to know what historical month to listen to in a given week. Of course, the simple answer is, “the month following the previous one”. But to start with I had to understand how long this was all going to take, and it’s handy to be able to see when we’ll be listening to a certain song/year sometime in the future.

So, this is defined in a handy spreadsheet (which you can view here):

On it I can see, as shown for example, that we’ll be listening to music from my month of birth – February 1977 – in the week of November 23, 2026. At which point Sadie will be 6 years old, and the music will be from 43 years before she was born.

Then we need to work out what was in the charts of the month. This isn’t as simple as it sounds as charts are issued weekly not monthly. At the moment we’re pretty much exclusively using the Billboard Magazine charts as the back issues from this are available online (see here) to download. e.g.

And luckily, as these are badly scanned and I’d have to type them in manually, a site called Old Charts has digitised these (see here). So we just need to work out which issues to select from. This comes in the form of another spreadsheet that assigns weeks to months. They have 4 or 5 per month depending on the math, and the final week may bleed into the next month as charts are backwards looking of course. So here’s this month (week 13) for instance:

The issue is the date the magazine came out, and the “charts w/e” is what weeks charts were in that issue – there being a week-ish delay between data and publication.

Typically I’ll want to supplement the Billboard “Pop Singles” chart with some extra songs to add some diversity. At the moment we’re still using other Billboard charts to do this as little is available from elsewhere in the world. In this case I normally go to the last weekly issue of a month’s set and find one of the many other charts (there’s about 20 different genres e.g. R&B, Country and mediums e.g. Radio play, Jukeboxes ) and take the songs from that.

This is often also where I find some interesting industry news or advert to use in the history section.

But from where these spreadsheets?

When I was first setting the project up I quickly realised there would be too much manual “labour” for me to be able to do it every week reliably. So I created a few pieces of code to help out. These all run on a wee Raspberry Pi computer that sits on our home network.

Raspberry Pi’s are about the size of a deck of cards and cost not much more.

I could as easily run them on the macbook I use to write these blog posts on but this little computer is Sadie’s so it seems appropriate. It’s been around since before she was born – at that point it was hooked up to a mini-thermal printer that printed out a name option for our unborn child every day at 7am. (The names were randomised combinations from a shortlist we’d created).

No, Sadie’s full name was not one of the one’s printed. Yes, it has sentimental value so I use it for anything daddy-daughter related. Here’s an example:

It’s done everything from generate the aforementioned spreadsheets to creating the weekly consolidated playlist. This means taking the 4-5 weekly charts, removing some unnecessary info (chart position etc), de-duplicating (as most songs will be in the chats for several weeks in a row) and spitting out a single list of song and artist.

If you’ve wondered why the playlist is in alphabetical order by song name – that’s part of de-duplicating. Once that is done I can then go to Youtube, find the songs, and add them to a playlist with the name of the month and the year.

What’d Sadie think?

Which gets us to the point we can actually listen to the songs. This mostly happens in the morning at the moment so we can give mum some a sleep-in. Sadie’s really starting to react to the music in different ways and likes to dance along. Mostly anything that makes me look foolish by dancing to it elicits a smile!

Now that we know how we got to the playlist, what stuck out this month? “A Bushel and a Peck” in a new version by Perry Como and Betty Hutton has some great banter so is an ideal opener.

And it’s quite the month for Perry actually with four songs in the charts. “Zing, Zing, Zoom, Zoom” is utter nonsense but my other pick of his four for holiday season cheer.

Speaking of novelty songs, Phil Harris’ “The Thing” continues to be fun – every time I listen I try and come up with a different idea for what “the thing” actually. Send me yours readers!

While we’re keeping it corny, Mario Lanza’s, “Be My Love” is his usual melodramatic crooning but it has its charm.

As does Dinah Shore’s version of “My Heart Cries For You”, of which four versions managed to chart in January. Apparently it is an english version of an 18th century french song attributed to Marie Antoinette.

Which sees us at the end of our first month of our second year of the project. I hope you enjoy the playlist, and until next week that’s us!