It’s May, 1951

While it’s a merry Christmas, lockdown be damned, back here in 2020; it is May, 1951 in our quest through the hit parades of the past. Let’s see what they have for us, shall we?

The songs of May, 1951

A small crop of new songs make it into the top 20 this month. But it does seems like, thus far, 1951 has less of 3, or even 4, versions of a song in the charts simultaneously. Perhaps that was a 1950 thing, not a 1950’s thing. We’ll see!

May, 1951 Top 20 Hits

“Aba Daba Honeymoon” – Debbie Reynolds / Carleton Carpenter
“Be My Love” – Mario Lanza
“How High The Moon” – Les Paul & Mary Ford
“I Apologize” – Billy Eckstine
“I Like The Wide Open Spaces” – Arthur Godfrey / Laurie Anders
“If” – Perry Como
“Jezebel” – Frankie Laine
“Mister And Mississippi” – Patti Page
“Mockin’ Bird Hill” – Les Paul & Mary Ford
“Mockin’ Bird Hill” – Patti Page
“Moonlight Bay” – Bing & Gary Crosby
“My Truly Truly Fair” – Guy Mitchell
“Old Soldiers Never Die” – Vaughn Monroe
“On Top Of Old Smokey” – Vaughn Monroe
“On Top Of Old Smokey” – Weavers / Terry Gilkyson
“Rose Rose I Love You” – Frankie Laine
“Sound Off” – Vaughn Monroe
“Sparrow In The Tree Top” – Guy Mitchell
“The Loveliest Night Of The Year” – Mario Lanza
“The Syncopated Clock” – Leroy Anderson
“Too Young” – Nat King Cole
“Unless” – Eddie Fisher
“Unless” – Guy Mitchell
“When You And I Were Young Maggie Blues” – Big & Gary Crosby
“Would I Love You” – Patti Page

I’ve supplemented the pop charts with a top 10 R&B chart from the month. For the first time we have a cross-over hit – “How High The Moon” by Les Paul & Mary Ford appears on both. There’s also an instrumental cover of previous pop hit “Tennessee Waltz Blues” but more on that soon.

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

This month in history

Let’s dive into some art history this month. In May, 1951 the “9th Street Art Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture” was held in New York on the eponymous street. The exhibition is notable as the debut of Abstract Expressionism, which became the first American visual art movement with international influence.

Jackson Pollock is probably the most recognisable name, but in all over 70 artists exhibited in an attempt to get them, then largely unknowns, attention by way of volume. You can read plenty more on it here.

I found an article on the, often overlooked, women of the 9th Street exhibition rather interesting. And you can see an old film, with some artists from the show, reminiscing about it below:

And then, writing this after young Sadie had a somewhat restless night, here’s a very appropriate Peanuts comicstrip from May 18, 1951.

What’d Sadie think?

As mentioned, “How High The Moon” by Les Paul and Mary Ford is on both the pop and R&B chart this month. It’s actually number 1 all throughout May on the main charts. It’s grown on me.

But it’s the other cross-over, an instrumental version of “Tennessee Waltz Blues” by the awesomely named Stick McGhee, that is one of my favourites of the month. (Apparently Stick’s nickname comes from when he used a stick to push a wagon carrying his older brother Brownie McGhee, who had contracted polio.)

Problematic tune of the month is “I Like The Wide Open Spaces” by Arthur Godfrey & Laurie Anders with its lyrics about “super chiefs” but that aside its a niece western tune.

It’s a month for singing about American geography with “Mister and Mississippi” by Patti Page which is a rather evocative story of growing up in the west:

My cradle was the river
My school a river boat
My teacher was a gambler
The slickest one afloat
My teacher was a gambler
The slickest one afloat
He taught me not to gamble on a petticoat

“Mister and Mississippi” by Patti Page

Speaking of Patti Page, we have her version of “Mocking bird hill” this month which is definitely a better cover than Les Paul’s from previously.

With the Korean War still raging, songs of war seem to be in vogue so Vaughn Monroe, of “On Top of Old Smokey” from last month, has “Old Soldiers Never Die” charting. A classic piece of American Exceptionalism it really doesn’t sit well with me…

On the seventh day of December
In the year of forty-one
The free world met disaster
At the hands of the Rising Sun

“Old Soldiers Never Die” by Vaughn Monroe

Come on… Let’s skip quickly onto the R&B charts. Where we find my song of the month, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. It’s often credited as the first rock ‘n’ roll song and comes with a great story about how the sound came about,

“the bass amplifier fell off the car. And when we got in the studio, the woofer had burst; the cone had burst. So I stuck the newspaper and some sack paper in it, and that’s where we got that sound”.

Also great are, Percy Mayfield’s “Lost Love” and Charles Brown’s “Black Night”. The latter balances out the bombastic war lyrics of “Old Soldiers Never Die” with a sadder, timely, tale of woe,

My mother has the trouble
My father has it too
Brother’s in Korea
And I don’t know just what to do

“Black Night” by Charles Brown

Piano Red’s “Reds Boogie” is a great proto-rock sound as is the double-entendre laden “Sixty Minute Men” by The Dominoes. So go ahead and listen to this month’s playlist via this link now!