Random Rewind: 1959
As long as we've had the pre-Beatles era on the brain the last couple of days, let's stay there for this week's record chart from WAXX in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for this week in 1959. It's a weird-looking thing, largely because of the shorthand way it lists the artists for each record, generally by last name, or by truncating the name of groups: "Presley," "Everlys," "Santo" (for Santo and Johnny) and "Hurricane" (for Johnny and the Hurricanes). But it won't deter us--let's dig the Nifty 50, the happy sound of Color Channel 115. (With the rise of TV, it became common for radio stations to call themselves "channel" something. Calling oneself "color channel" was even more cutting-edge.)
1. "The Three Bells"/The Browns. (peak) Shown on the survey as "These Bells" by "Brown," this is the simple story of the birth, wedding, and funeral of Little Jimmy Brown. Thanks to its lovely melody and old-fashioned feel, it was rarely off country radio well into the 1970s. And I gotta admit--the world being what it is in 2006, there's something charming about the idea of being born, living, and dying happily in a little village somewhere, while a church bell tolls the years.
2. "Til I Kissed You"/Everly Brothers. (climbing) The first of five straight Top Ten hits for the Everlys, which would make 1960 the best year of their careers. That would also be the year they left Cadence Records for Warner Brothers, helping to make that label into a force.
12. "Gonna Be a Wheel Someday"/Fats Domino. (climbing) I recently finished reading a new biography of Domino called Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock and Roll, by Rick Coleman. And now I have to revise my personal rock 'n' roll pantheon, because Fats clearly belongs near the top. He was rockin' as early as 1950, and his records influenced everybody up to and including Elvis. "Gonna Be a Wheel Someday" was the flipside of the great "I Want to Walk You Home."
13. "What'd I Say"/Ray Charles (holding) There'd never been anything on the radio that sounded like this in 1959, and it remains as fresh today as it was back then.
18. "I'm Gonna Get Married"/Lloyd Price. (climbing) In addition to restoring Fats Domino to his place in history, Rick Coleman's book also illuminates New Orleans' underrated role in early rock. Price, from Kenner, Louisiana, was 19 in 1952 when he recorded "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" in New Orleans, with Domino's producer, Dave Bartholomew, running the session, and the Fat Man himself banging piano.
20. "The Mummy"/Bob McFadden and Dor. (climbing) Bob McFadden was a voiceover artist, famed for work on lots of Rankin/Bass holiday specials, including The Year Without a Santa Claus and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. This is a movie-monster-meets-beatnik novelty, written by Rod McKuen. Yep, that Rod McKuen.
30. "Poison Ivy"/The Coasters. (debut) One of the most openly subversive groups of the Eisenhower era. Coasters records consistently demonstrated that decorum and authority figures didn't necessarily need to be followed. And they got Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
34. "Mack the Knife"/Bobby Darin. (debut) The carelessness with which the station lists artists on its survey--in this case, showing just "Darwin"--makes me wonder how committed WAXX really was to this music. Maybe they thought the kids wouldn't care, so they didn't care all that much either. Despite its Hollywood big-band trappings, "Mack the Knife" is one of the great party records of all time. It is also the only song for which I have invented my own dance, and one of the few dances I willingly do without being intoxicated first.
40. "Lipstick on Your Collar"/Connie Francis. (falling) As massively successful as any artist in the pre-Beatles period, Connie Francis was better as a belter ("Where the Boys Are," "My Heart Has a Mind of His Own," "Who's Sorry Now") than as a rocker. But "Lipstick on Your Collar" might be the quintessential record-hop cheatin' song.
50. "I Ain't Never"/Webb Pierce. (debut) Here's one of those country crossovers from the pre-Beatles period. Only Eddy Arnold was a more popular country music star in the 1950s--in fact, in the first 50 years of the Billboard country charts (1944-1994), Pierce was among the top stars, up there with George Jones, Johnny Cash, and others. But he may have been most famous in Nashville for the guitar-shaped swimming pool at his house.