The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1950s: 230 – 221

Written by | February 8, 2020 5:22 am | No Comments

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15 minutes of teasing and 15 minutes of squeezing and 15 minutes of blowing my top.

230. “Rock & Roll is Here to Stay,” Danny and the Juniors. Songwriter: David White; #19 pop/#16 R&B; 1958. The Philadelphia quartet Danny and the Juniors topped the pop and R&B charts in 1957 with “At the Hop.” Clearly not wanting to stray from a successful formula, “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” sounds very similar to “At the Hop,” but it’s tuneful message of rock music’s immortality was deemed an important, even defiant, statement for the much maligned youth movement. Gary James of Danny and the Juniors, “We heard that line on a Little Richard b-side (author’s note, the song is “All Around the World”). We were having dinner at our house. We were discussing how critics pan the music. My father said ‘Well, why don’t you guys write something…a protest thing.’ Just as he said that, we were listening to that song. He said, ‘See what that guy’s singing? Rock and Roll is here to stay. Why don’t you write something like that?’ And Dave wrote the song and it became sort of an anthem of rock ‘n roll.”

229. “Alone and Forsaken,” Hank Williams. Songwriter: Hank Williams; Did Not Chart; 1955. After Hank William’s passing in January of 1953, MGM continued to release material from the vaults through 1958. The only chart hit after 1953 was 1955’s “Please Don’t Let Me Love You,” which peaked at #9. (Decades later, another unreleased Hank song was discovered and turned into the 1989 Top Ten duet “Tear in My Beer” with Hank Williams, Jr.). “Alone and Forsaken” was recorded with no backing band on a Shreveport radio broadcast in the late 1940s and sounds like a traditional folk murder ballad. Hank has had his heart broken by yet another unfaithful woman on “Alone and Forsaken” and he sings as though the wound is fatal.

228. “Just Make Love to Me,” Muddy Waters. Songwriter: Willie Dixon; #4 R&B; 1954. Muddy Waters wasn’t trafficking in metaphors on “Just Make Love to Me,” more commonly referred to as “I Just Want to Make Love to You.” The sparse, dark arrangement makes room for the lyrics to land with ultimate impact and the lines “I don’t want you to be true/I just want to make love to you” convey unrestrained lust. Songwriter Willie Dixon, “”Somebody says, ‘Why would he make a song, “I Just Want to Make Love to You”?’ And, naturally, you could make a statement saying everybody, everything makes love one way or another and a lot of times people would like to say, ‘Damn, I’d like to make love to you.’” Foghat had a minor Top 40 hit with “I Just Want to Make Love to You” in 1977, sounding more like an insistent boyfriend than a man driving toward a torrid affair. Muddy’s work is unlike anybody else’s during the 1950s – he sounds like a jackhammer surrounded by parakeets.

227. “Earth Angel,” The Penguins. Songwriters: Curtis Williams, Jesse Belvin, Gaynel Hodge; #8 pop/#1 R&B; 1954. The Penguins were a Los Angeles based vocal quartet that named themselves after a mascot for Kool cigarettes. From the Deep Roots website, “’Earth Angel,’ was a mutt born of many fathers. The lyric ‘Will you be mine?,’ originally the song’s subtitle, echoes the Swallows’ 1951 #9 R&B hit, ‘Will You Be Mine,’ one of the seminal hits of the group harmony/doo-wop era. Duncan’s phrasing was heavily influenced by, yes, Jesse Belvin’s performance on his #2 R&B hit of 1953, ‘Dream Girl,’ with his partner Marvin Phillips (billed as Jesse and Marvin). More tellingly, in 1953 the Hollywood Flames cut a single called ‘I Know’ that bears uncanny resemblance to ‘Earth Angel,’ including the piano intro Curtis Williams, who along with Gaynel Hodge was a member of the Flames at the time, plays on both recordings.” The Crew Cuts of “Sh-Boom” cut a white boy version of “Earth Angel” for a #3 pop hit in 1955.

226. “Too Much,” Elvis Presley. Songwriters: Lee Rosenberg, Bernard Weinman; #2 pop/#3 country/#3 R&B; 1957. “Too Much” was penned by Nashville songwriter Bill Beasley and his wife Joan Norris and was first recorded, without much grace in the rhythm department, by R&B singer Bernard Hardison in 1955. After the song deservedly stiffed, Beasley discovered that Elvis had recorded his song by hearing it on the radio. (Beasley was replaced on the writing credits, then sued and lost, learning that having better lawyers is more important than having the facts on your side in the American legal system). Hollywood execs nixed Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and DJ Fontana from the 1956 “Love Me Tender” soundtrack, but Presley’s regular crew was back for the sessions that resulted in the 1956 “Elvis” album. Author Ace Collins on how Elvis turned the lyrics of romantic abuse into a tongue-in-cheek theme, “The bass vocal, performed by Hugh Jarrett (of the Jordanaires), repeated an ‘uh-oh’ after each of the song’s lyrical accusations of mistreatment. There was a playful quality to ‘Too Much’ that reminded many of the easygoing pacing first created in ‘Don’t Be Cruel.’”

225. “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” Marilyn Monroe. Songwriter: Jule Styne, Leo Robin; Did Not Chart; 1953. Marilyn Monroe’s version of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” was a major production number in the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Author Carl Rollyson, “The settings, the costumes, the jewelry, the makeup, and Monroe herself are designed to be thoroughly dazzling. Every move she makes sparkles and glitters; her voice and the soundtrack are amplified and modulated to project both the raucousness of unrepressed sexuality and her soft, mellow, caressing tones.” Monroe didn’t have the world’s best singing voice, but that didn’t stop her from delivering the most memorable version of “Happy Birthday” in U.S. history.

224. “I Believe to My Soul,” Ray Charles. Songwriter: Ray Charles; Did Not Chart; 1959. Author Jacqueline Trescott in 1980, “Parts of the Ray Charles lore involve his female backup singers, the Raelettes. One night when he was recording ‘I Believe to My Soul,’ he became impatient with the group’s trial and error. He sent them home and then did the four-part falsetto by himself. The lore also includes the casting-couch auditions the Raelettes reportedly had. Charles is unabashed. ‘Well you know what they say, if you wanted to be a Raelette, you had to let Ray,’ is Charles’ standard reply.” Jerry Wexler, “He sat down with the earphones and proceeded to dub in each of the four girl’s parts, one at a time, in his own falsetto. He didn’t even listen to the harmony, just the master track. When he finished, it was perfectly tight four-part harmony. It was amazing. It sounded just like a sensational girls’ group.”

223. “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” Soul Stirrers. Songwriter: Sam Cooke; Did Not Chart; 1956. At the age of 19, Sam Cooke joined the Soul Stirrers, a gospel outfit that had formed in Texas during the mid-1920s, taking the role of the lead tenor for the next five years. The group was still under the direction of founding member Silas Roy Crain in 1956, who pressed Cooke to develop new material. Being the definition of unflappable, Cooke reportedly opened a Bible and immediately penned “Touch the Hem of His Garment” on the spot. It was this composition, that displayed writing skills as a storyteller with a vocal style that bridged that gap between gospel and secular, that resulted in Cooke pursuing a solo career. Author Tom Moon, “Gospel was Sam Cooke’s rock. It provided the inspiration for his most awesome vocal performances, from ‘Touch the Hem of His Garment’ to ‘A Change is Gonna Come.’”

222. “Sixty Minute Man,” The Dominoes. Songwriters: Billy Ward, Rose Marks; #17 pop/#1 R&B; 1951. The Dominoes marked a major evolution for black R&B music on pop radio. Prior to “Sixty Minute Man,” a respectable crooner like Nat King Cole could find himself on both the pop and R&B charts. Louis Jordan had pop hits during the 1940s, but Jordan had a purely comedic, non-threatening persona. The Dominoes were an R&B vocal group who had a crossover pop hit in 1951, not with a romantic ballad or patriotic anthem, but with bass vocalist Bill Brown bragging about his sexual endurance using the pseudonym “Loving Dan.” How did Loving Dan describe his exploits? He “rocked ‘em, rolled ‘em all night long,” reinforcing the theory that originally “rock ‘n’ roll” was a euphemism for sex. Four years later, the Dominos revisited this hit with “Can’t Do Sixty No More,” which failed to hit the charts. Nobody wants to hear about an old man’s problems.

221. “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” Flatt and Scruggs. Songwriter: Earl Scruggs; #9 country/#55 pop; released in 1950, peaked on pop charts in 1968. Flatt and Scruggs left the employment of Bill Monroe in 1948 and quickly formed their own unit with the Foggy Mountain Boys. This instrumental number is a showcase for Earl Scruggs and his fast paced picking style that would transform bluegrass music. The term “breakdown” in music refers to solos (breaks) in a song, either with the entire band playing a verse together or all instruments repeating the verse as solo parts. Scruggs claimed to have written the 1948 Bill Monroe b-side “Bluegrass Breakdown,” and not receiving a credit for the song may have inspired him to rewrite that number as “Foggy Mountain Breakdown. This genre standard reached mass pop culture after being included in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde” and became a minor pop hit the following year. Scruggs won a Grammy award for a 2001 performance of the song from “The Late Show with David Letterman,” where he received musical support from an all-star cast that included Vince Gill, Steve Martin, Albert Lee, Jerry Douglas, and Marty Stuart.

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