Chart Music Through The Years – 1957

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The Olden Days

As you should no doubt now be aware, my current form did not exist in 1957. That should not suggest that I am ignorant of what was going on in music then, or of the wider world in general. Most of what I know is surface and via the largely fictional works of others and it’s not a period I’m overly invested or interested in. Looking at the 10 offerings below, I’ll be upfront and say I recognise most of the performers more than the actual songs. There are a few songs that I know by name, and of course one which everybody knows. I imagine I’ll recognise a few more once I listen.

What else was befalling man in 1957? Well, close to home the IRA was up to their usual shenanigans and Harold Macmillan became Prime Minister. Elsewhere, Eisenhower began his second reign as US President, The Cat In The Hat was published, The Treaty Of Rome was signed, The Sky At Night was first broadcast, heavy rain causes the death of almost 1000 people in Japan, The Civil Rights Movement continued to gain movement and opposing suppression, and Laika went to space. In Music, Elvis bought Graceland, Doris Day’ Que Sera Sera won an Oscar, The Cavern Club opened in Liverpool, and a couple of lads named John Lennon and Paul McCartney met for the first time. Rock and Roll continued to gain traction, with the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry all having major hits. By all accounts, a good time to be a kid just getting into music it would seem.

  1. Paul Anka: Diana

A very traditional rock ballad intro is bolstered by some languid horn work before Anka’s distinctive vocals drop. Lyrically it seems to be a self-written defense of Paul’s MILF relationship. Anka does these little excited gasps throughout the verses and I like how the notes increase in pitch and urgency as the chorus approaches – I think we all know what that means, especially when you throw in lyrics like ‘hold me close and squeeze me tight’. Spoiler Alert – he’s not talking about hugs. There’s an unexpected little breakdown in the middle where the pace picks up in intensity, giving a sprinkle of depth. I don’t believe I’ve heard this before, in terms of comparison it’s not the most adventurous by today’s standards but it’s light years ahead in terms of melody, emotion, and integrity.

2. Elvis Presley: All Shook Up

This is the one we all know, right? I’ve no idea when or how I heard my first Elvis song given that he was dead before I was born, but his biggest hits (like this) seem to have a knack for finding you and staying with you. It begins innocently enough with gentle guitars but when the vocals start you know you’re in trouble – it’s easy to see how so many young ladies fell for him. It’s very simple – that piano riff from the blues was already thoroughly recycled by this point but is one of the foundations of early rock. It’s shorter than I remember, likely more to do with squeezing as many hits onto a record or the radio as possible, but that helps it to become one of those songs you want to hit play on as soon as it ends.

3. Tab Hunter: Young Love

A quiet piece of guitar eases us in before an overly pleasant voice takes things to a heady saccharine level. It’s very sweet – too sweet for me and ironically as he sings of ‘deep emotion’ I fail to find any trace of such in the vocals. It’s too plain and stale and smooth. It’s harmless and innocent on the surface, but it sounds far too childlike and insipid given the eras which have past since.

4. Pat Boone: Loveletters In The Stand

Most songs which begin with whistling don’t go down well with me. It reeks of country, even with the staccato piano and additional of horns. The vocals are again far too smooth and sleepy for me – you may as well be rapping. Badly. I don’t get any sense of feeling from vocals like this. I’m sure there is emotion, but it is so filtered and watered down that it doesn’t reach me. I understand why it was a hit at the time, but it’s not for me.

5. Guy Mitchell: Singing The Blues

More whistling and this time with added ‘bum de dum’ vocal nonsense. It has a sense of fun at least and the vocals are more interesting. The vocal mix however reminds me of Gary Glitter, which is never a good thing. A fun and bouncy mid-range quality song.

6. Lonnie Donnegan: Gamblin’ Man

Boy howdy, it’s always amazing to me when I actually hear people in reality speak and sing with this accent. It doesn’t seem real. Props for going solo in the intro. It seems funny to me rather than anything else, but then it picks up pace and turns into something else. It’s better but it’s also funnier. Then by the end both the drummer and vocalist are going buck nuts – the fury and fun of the performance are enough to carry it through and we even get a very muddy, lost in the mix guitar solo. Good stuff, even if it does have both feet dipped in Country (even if it’s more jazz and skiffle based) – see this is the sort of Country style music I can enjoy – pissed off their faces and absolutely wrecking everything in sight.

7. Harry Belafonte: Island In The Sun

A lesser known (for me) Belafonte song. See, Belafonte has a similar smooth quality to his vocals as others on the list, but his emotion does come through more. It’s not 100 percent clear, but at least I can feel it. Maybe it’s the inflections, maybe it’s because lyrically it’s not some bullshit simplistic love sentiment. The imagery is potent and genuine too, only someone who cares and understands could write like that.

8. Johnnie Ray: Yes Tonight Josephine

There seems to have been a lot of these vocal tick songs in the 50s – this one opening with ‘yip yip bapiddy boo’ or some balls. Main vocals are fine, backing vocals outside of the ‘yip yip’ stuff are not great. The arrangement is too repetitive and simple and the melodies don’t go out of their way to say anything interesting – the main melody repeats without much variance and it’s not overly strong in the first place. Not bad, just forgettable beyond the ‘yip yip’.

9. Pat Boone: Don’t Forbid Me

Senor Boone returns once more, and this time it’s personal. It’s more smooth, easy listening junk. Like most of the other songs here, it’s straight down the middle, takes a basic an idea and runs with it – that’s not necessarily a criticism but I lose interest quickly if the melody or vocals are plain. This is preferable to his last one. It does have a slight middle section where it looks like the song might shift gears, but it’s momentary.

10. Frankie Vaughn: The Garden Of Eden

A mixture of ballad and soft rock blues rhythms. There’s a horn bombast to close the chorus. Vaughn seems playful on some notes and words, holding the note for longer than he needs to or adding a little waver. I assume this would have caused some controversy at the time due to the lyrics, at least in the US. The drummer has some fun towards the end. This would be mostly boring if not for the little excesses by the drummer, singer, and trumpet guys.

We learn once again that regardless of the year or era, we have some good songs and plenty of crap ones too. We also learn that, no matter what the song, someone on Youtube is going to comment that it’s their favourite, or was their parent’s favourite, or bemoan how the music after ‘their decade’ ended has been crap. Without exception. There are three songs here I’d choose to listen to again, with maybe another couple I wouldn’t be annoyed by – the rest I would dismiss. As we’re still in the 1950s and my knowledge is limited, my alternative list of songs isn’t the most exciting. Not all were strictly written in ’57 either.

  1. Elvis – Jailhouse Rock

2. Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls Of Fire

3. Danny And The Juniors – At The Hop

4. That’ll Be The Day – The Crickets

5. Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly

6. When I Fall In Love – Nat King Cole

7. Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers

8. Tutti Frutti – Little Richard

9. Rock N Roll Music – Chuck Berry

10. Come Fly With Me – Van Heusen/Cahn

Let us know in the comments if you have any favourites above or elsewhere from 1957!

Chart Music Through The Years – 1961

Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here – https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-uk-top-40/

Greetings, Glancers! Let us twist our heads 180 degrees like a Reagan possessed and see what fell behind us in those heady, innocent days gone by. Hands up if you remember 1961? Not me! I am reliably informed that JFK became President of those United States, that man and chimp ventured off world into space for the first time, The Bay Of Pigs came and went, Catch-22 was released, Ernest Hemmingway died, and Ken first met Barbie. In the world of music, The Beatles performed in The Cabin club for the first time, The Supremes signed to Motown, Mick Jagger met Keith Richards, and rock music continued to challenge the scourge of Swing throughout the year. Indeed, the ten songs featured below suggest a shift in popularity between the old and new, with pop rock upstarts taking the top prizes over the crooners of the past. Looking at the these ten songs, I can’t say that I recognise any of them from the titles alone, but I do know eight of the artists. Lets get stuck in, kids.

  1. The Shadows: Kon-Tiki

The famous twanging guitar, clear and crisp. Yes, it does evoke shimmering images of beach side Caribbean lounging. There’s still a country twist in there too. That this ever made it to Number 1 in the charts is bizarre to me – not because it’s bad, just because. At under two minutes long it doesn’t go very far or ask many questions, but a mild diversion and still sounds good over 50 years later.

2. Billy Fury: Jealousy

Big ass bass and trumpets. String blasts. Sounds like a tango. Certainly a strange collection of tones and styles, offset by the clean, smooth vocals and dark lyrics. Melodies are all over the place though. In trying to go in a hundred directions at the same time, it feels disjointed.

3. Highwaymen: Michael

Whistling. Guitars. Ok, hallelujah. Another bizarre song to ever be in the charts. Nicely sung, has the famous melody, but boring and uneventful – of course plenty of people are into that sort of thing.

4. John Leyton: Johnny Remember Me

Sighing. Cowboy guitars and vocals. Interesting mix of vocals, haunting sound. It frequently feels like the tempo is changing, even though it isn’t. Galloping guitars. This is a good one, even though I don’t like this style of male vocal. This was pretty good, and pretty weird.

5. Shirley Bassey: Reach For The Stars

Scary strings intro. Young Bassey voice… doesn’t sound like the vocals I know her from. Until she hits the bigger notes. It’s a strange song that doesn’t have your typical verse, chorus structure. It’s dreamy and drifting and the melodies don’t have an addictive quality. Difficult to fault the ability of the singer of course, but the vocals at points are too loud and overblown for the music.

6. Elvis: Wild In The Country

Another adventure into Western territory for Elvis, this soothing ballad is straightforward – a soft guitar and humming vocal accompaniment for a gentle Elvis vocal. This feels like a lightweight song that would be easily forgotten if sung by anyone else -even with Elvis singing it feels uneventful, though there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it.

7. Cleo Laine: You’ll Answer To Me

Squealing violin. Stirrings of Stephen King nostalgia. More squealing violins. Suggestive of stabbing, based off the lyrics? Crazy ex or crazy mother? It has a certain charm, and the lyrics are quite funny.

8. Connie Francis: Together

More King nostalgia. Swaying swooning. The complete opposite of the previous song, but retains a certain similar charm. Although the lyrics do become possibly sinister. Spoken part. Not sure if this is happy, creepy, or sad.

9. Del Shannon: Hats Off To Larry

I’ve always liked Del Shannon. More lyrics about lost love. Starts slow, then gets into a ripping tempo with weird blips and Shannon’s trademark high notes. Addictive stuff, angry, but fun, good good.

10. Eden Kane: Get Lost

More funky rock n roll. Strange mix of whispers, growls, and Elvis for the vocals. This is pretty good too, not as instantly catchy as Shannon’s. What was that about a shotgun?

A very good second half of songs, any of which I’d be happy to listen to again. The group of songs are a fair reflection of what was popular and good in 1961, with the year’s top selling songs including other hits by Elvis and Shannon. I’m not even going to attempt to pick an alternate top 10 for 1961, primarily because they wouldn’t be too different from the artists listed above, and also because albums were not really a big deal yet – mostly collections of singles and covers and tracks not good enough to be singles. Feel free to leave a comment about any of the songs or artists from 1961, and let us know what you were up to then!

Chart Music Through The Years: 1977

Yes! Back thanks to an almost universal lack of demand, I stretch back the scalp of time and feast upon the mushy innards of the past – in this instance I return to the UK music charts. If you’re interested, you can read my original post here – https://carlosnightman.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/the-uk-top-40/

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Duh duh duh duhhh/daaah/do do do dooooh/doooh/do do do dooooh/doood/duh duh da duuuh! That’s right, it’s the year of Figrin D’an, Doctor Cornelius Evazan, Jek Tono Porkins and all their buddies from memorable Space Saga Star Warriors! Everyone was humming along to the theme tune by John Williams and quoting their favourite quotes – ‘Luke, put down that Ewok and get over here and EAT YOUR PEAS’ is of course the one everyone remembers to this day. Unfortunately, I was seemingly neither alive nor conceived in 1977, and as such my memories of the year are entirely fabricated or borrowed. Did it even happen? We may never know.

As I can’t possibly comment on what I was doing in 1977 without creating a confusing paradox that not even Year 2977 version of me would understand, I’ll have to rely on other avenues to share with you what was happening in the year between 1978 and that other one. According to websites, 1977 was one of the most important years of computer development, seeing both the Commodore PET being unleashed and fruit based overlords Apple Computers being ‘incorporated’. Roots reminded us that slavery was wrong, Morph began his squishy stop-motion animation antics, the Tenerife disaster seeing two airplanes colliding became the worst disaster in aviation history, and Spain put Franco behind them. In the music world it was a year of massive highs and lows; Elvis died, along with three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marc Bolan, Bing Crosby, and Charlie Chaplin. The Bee Gees released the biggest selling album of all time up to that point in Saturday Night Fever, Led Zeppelin embarked on a farewell US Tour, The Sex Pistols released their only studio album, and Studio 54 opened its doors. But what of the charts? Let your eyes slip out of their sockets and down the screen if you wish to see my thoughts.

1. David Soul: Silver Lady

Looking at this top 10, there are only four entries I recognise, including a twist on the duh duh duh duuuhh duuuh! David Soul is mostly remembered by me for sliding over car bonnets and killing vampires. He seems to have had a singing career too. Lets have a listen. A groovy introduction. Disco was of course hitting its peak around this time, so everyone wanted a slice, even Vampire Slayers. There’s also a country and rock and motown twist, so it’s all a little unusual. Soul’s vocal talents fall apart in the chorus as the backing singers drown him out entirely. I like the verses though, interesting lyrics and a whole bunch of instruments thrown in – nice changes in melodies too, going back and forth between major and minor. A decent song I’ve never heard before.

2. La Belle Epoque: Black Is Black

I’ll assume this has nothing to do with Public Enemy. Ah right, it’s Black is Black, not Black is Back. Disco throbbing. Like farts in a bath. Actually, more like lowering your ass into the water in the toilet, and then farting. Multi voices. Unnecessary ‘wooo!’. Fast paced and funky, but it sounds like pretty generic Disco stuff. Still, it’s not bad. It is cheesy and horribly dated, mostly due to the vocals. Bizarre drum and synth breakdown in the middle. Quite a long one this. Apparently it’s a cover. Disastrous spoken part. Maybe the original is good as there are good moments here, hidden under a series of unfortunate decisions.

3. Baccarra: Yes Sir I Can Boogie

Right, three disco songs in a row? This is serious. It was truly a plague and as much as Punk was trying to make an impact, it was never going to seriously impact the charts. Anyway, I know this one, doesn’t everyone? It opens like some simpering ballad, turns into a breathy orgasm, leading into verses with ‘ha ha, listen to their accents’ singing. I never noticed the accents before, I thought they were just putting it on in the chorus, not that I’d paid any attention. It’s a strange one, with talky verses, and a catchy chorus. The lyrics are a complete nonsense. I’d always just assumed this one was okay, but it’s actually pretty bad. I mean the chorus is fine, but it’s so ridiculous and cheesy that I’m almost embarrassed for it. Don’t point at it, just tell it to go away.

4. Rod Stewart: You’re In My Heart

Rodney Stewart – rock music for women who neither understand nor like rock music. I didn’t recognise this from the name, but I have heard it before. It’s your typical light ballad aimed at dropping pants as much as making moneys, but it doesn’t come alive until the chorus. It hardly stretches Rodney’s vocals, and it doesn’t stretch anyone’s intelligence. It does have some weird violin stuff going on and the chorus is fine, but there’s an awful lot of crap in there too.

5. Danny Mirror: I Remember Elvis Presley.

There’s obvious cash-ins, and then there’s this. Elvis, one of the most famous people to have ever lived, was only dead a matter of moments before this catastrophe was shat onto the airwaves. What a stupid fucking title. Who the hell is Danny Mirror? He appears to be doing an impression of Elvis, and I can’t quite tell if this some sick joke or an extremely misguided dedication. Written to sound like a half-assed Elvis ballad, it’s lyrics are a mixture of Elvis name-checks and the sort of thing you say at a funeral for the pet budgie. I cannot fathom how this was ever allowed to be, never mind how it made it into the charts. People are morons. That is the only reason for this mistake’s existence. It may have made more sense five or ten years later, but only marginally.

6. The Emotions: Best Of My Life

Aah right. I know this one. Yes it’s more Disco, but this seems to have more of a touch of class to it. The vocals are vastly superior to anything else we’ve heard on today’s list, but the verses are directionless. Famous chorus though, it’s good, but not great. It’s short and to the point too.

7. Meco: Star Wars Theme

Right, I’ve been dreading this. Star Wars is one of my favourite movie series ever, and has some of my favourite music ever. Someone had the bright idea of going ‘this thing is popular, and this thing over here is popular too, so maybe if they fuck, there will be born an uber-popular!’ They were right, but they were also so so wrong. If you’ve heard literally any Disco song, and if you’ve heard the Star Wars theme, then you don’t need to listen to this as it’s exactly as you’re imagining now. Except it has added blaster noises.

8. The Stranglers: No More Heroes

Another one that I recognised immediately from looking at the list, this one manages to merge punk with some strange not-Disco synth noises. Good song, nifty solo in the middle, and as much as the synth does its hardest to distract and take over, it all blends together well. That post-solo rambling reminds me of similar work by The Doors, but even more manic.

9. Ram Jam: Black Betty

Of course I knew this from seeing the name, it’s one that still got regular plays at the rock clubs I used to frequent. I wasn’t a huge fan of it, but I still liked it – just not as much as most others seemed to. In that sense it hasn’t really aged, still has a timeless classic rock feel to it, and will continue to get revellers on their feet thanks to the incessant beat. It’s funky, catchy, and has plenty of interesting breakdowns. I believe most of the time this was played in clubs though, much of the guitar solo and weird drums parts were edited out leaving basically only ‘woah black betty, bam a lam’ for two minutes.

10. Elvis Presley: Way Down

With my rant above you’d maybe assume I’m some big Elvis geek. I’m not – at the time of writing I’ve never heard a single Elvis album, and I only know the obvious big hits. I’ve never gone out of my way to listen to anything else by him. I don’t recognise the name of this song, but I may know it once I hit play. Apparently this was the last song he released before his death. It starts out with a Disco flavour, and a little bit of Country guitar and honkey-tonk going on – basically an Elvis song influenced by Disco. We get Gospel backing vocals in the chorus. There’s some way down vocals going on too. Nothing too exciting for me here, but an okay foot-tapper.

A fairly accurate representation of 1977 then – Disco, Elvis, a little bit of punk, and more Disco. There are other genres not represented here of course, and there were a whole host of classic albums released in 1977 which have little in common with anything on this list – Low (David Bowie), Animals (Pink Floyd), Rumours (Fleetwood Mac),  The Idiot and Lust For Life (Iggy Pop), The Clash, Exodus (Bob Marley And The Wailers), Motorhead, Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols, Bat Out of Hell (Meat Loaf), and more. With that in mind, I now present my stunning list of an alternative Top 10 songs from 1977 which you should probably listen to. Now.

1. Dogs – Pink Floyd

2. Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac

3. White Riot – The Clash

4. My God – Alice Cooper

5. Jamming – Bob Marley And The Wailers

6. Lust For Life – Iggy Pop

7. ‘Heroes’ – David Bowie

8. You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth

9. God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols

10. Spread Your Wings – Queen

What are your memories of 1977, music based or otherwise? Were you there? Do you wish you were? Let us know in the comments!

Vivar Lars Vergarse!

I understand that Elvis used to be some sort of big shot musician and singer a hundred years ago, and that he branched out into films like all pop stars inevitably do. Now I like my music heavy and hard, like a Wooly Mammoth having a boxing match with a T-Rex, and instead of gloves on their fists they have Blue Whales. Faster than a flock of sparrows down a toilet, tougher than a man made of cacti, like chewing diamonds with teeth made of dynamite. Of course I know who Elvis is and or was, and I understand that the progression of rock and metal music may as well have started with him. He stole it from the blues and made it popular, Chuck Berry, L’il Rick gave it a rougher sexy edge, The Beatles made it smarter and more experimental, then Zep, Prog, Punk, NWOBHM, and grunge all shaped later sounds. However, going back all those steps and Elvis music is about as rockin as a one legged mouse with no legs. Some of the songs are good, but they really should have included Stairway.

The plot follows Elvis to the village of Vargas. There he meets a witch whom he conquers with the power of his thighs and quivering upper lip. ‘Mmrrhm umma gonna bust yourhmm up good ma’am’m’ he quips. After this she grants him one wish. Being a good fella he sees that the village is impoverished beyond belief and wishes that the village become a great city and that he is its ‘King’. We then flash forward several hundred years to the new city of Las Vegas where Vargas once stood. His wish has come true- the city is huge, everyone who lives there is rich and successful, people come from all over the world to visit it, and he is The King. He isn’t happy however, being a thousand year old immortal perpetually stuck in the body of 1950s greaser. He has everything he could possibly want- money, love, fame, success- everything except love. He carries the soul of the old witch in his crotch and has the power to make one final wish- he wishes for the love of a good woman. There is one catch though- if he does this he will have to give up all his wealth. He does this, and along comes a woman (played by Olivia Newton Prestly). He has to win her love by winning a series of car races and by proving that money isn’t important. Throw into this a few songs about gambling, prostitution, and Joe Pesci, and we have one of the first classic musicals.

I hate musicals. Everyone’s sitting there talking or racing, and suddenly they burst into song!!? When does that ever happen in real life!? I want to see films where army men shoot down helicopters with machetes, where robots that shoot lasers out of their various holes try to kill us all, where ninjas have to stop hordes of zombies and people have their insides eaten and thrown about the room like shoes in an OLAP cube. On the good side, I did find myself tapping my feet at a few of the songs and cheering when Elvis won a race. Now that I think about it, it is a great film. Buy it now!

Best Scene: When Priestley is racing a man in a black helmet towards the finish line, but he shoots some staples out of his car (Maxi Power) which blow up the tyres of the bad guy and send him spinning off the track in a hellish ball of terror and flames into a crowd of innocent bystanders. I thought the fact that he was singing ‘Are Ye Lonesome Tonight’ was a tad inappropriate though.