The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1950s: 240 – 231
I said go, bring me my shotgun, whoa Lord, and a pocketful of shells.
240. “Moanin’ the Blues,” Hank Williams. Songwriter: Hank Williams; #1 country; 1950. Hank Williams biographer Colin Escott on “Moanin’,” “Once again, he left plenty of windows for yodels and flashes of trailing falsetto. The end result was greater than the sum of its parts. It rocked and rolled.” Merle Haggard, “At first listen, Hank may not sound like a real good singer, but he had a unique method of sincerity. I never heard anything Hank sang that I didn’t believe.” Hank’s authenticity and ability to convey a broad range of emotions made him one of the most accomplished vocalists in country music history. On this #1 country single, his confidence and enthusiasm as a singer are at a peak.
239. “Rich Woman, “ Li’l Millet & his Creoles. Songwriters: Dorothy LaBostrie and McKinley “Li’l” Millet; Did Not Chart; 1955. Li’l Millet (nee McKinley James Millet, Jr.) was a New Orleans native and a contemporary of Art Neville, who once replaced Millet in a teenage band. “Rich Woman” sounds simultaneously like Bo Diddley’s “Diddley Daddy” and a template for the Lee Dorsey singles of the 1960s. Never a hit, “Rich Woman” has been covered by Canned Heat, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and as a duet by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Millet co-wrote the 1956 Little Richard b-side “All Around the World” (not the Little Willie John hit) and faded into obscurity, working as a bus driver later in life.
238. “Shotgun Blues,” Lightnin’ Hopkins. Songwriter: Lightnin’ Hopkins; #5 R&B; 1950. Lightnin’ Hopkins is almost a mythical figure among Texas blues aficionados. Ray Wylie Hubbard, “The times I got to see Ligntnin’ at (the Dallas Club) Ma Blues still resonate like a storm way off in the distance – just him and a Dearmond Soundhole pickup in a Gibson country western or a J160E directly into a twin is what i remember him playing a couple times. He may not have invented cool but he brought it to town.” The East Texas native had five R&B hits from 1949 to 1952 with the biggest being “Shotgun Blues,” where the narrator decides to end his romantic troubles with a few shotgun shells. Author Timothy J. O’Brien, “Hopkins’ composition echoed three common blues themes, just like those of his mentors Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander: women, bad luck, and violence.”
237. “Sitting Alone in the Moonlight,” Bill Monroe. Songwriter: Bill Monroe; Did Not Chart; 1957. “Sitting Alone in the Moonlight” is a serious hillbilly waltz with Jimmy Martin and Bill Monroe harmonizing about their lost love. Despite making their bizarrely beautiful music together, Martin and Monroe’s egos couldn’t co-exist. A reflection from the lifelong raccoon and possum hunting Martin, “Me and Bill Monroe, I would say, were as close as any two musicians have ever been when I was a Blue Grass Boy. But when I went out on my own and my records started getting up on the charts, he started to ignore me and wouldn’t even talk to me. It seemed like the more popular I was, the less he cared for me.” Marty Stuart on Martin’s punk rock approach to bluegrass, “He didn’t have sense enough to tone it down — thank God. … When he hits the stage, it’s like cannons going off. … I think he’s uncontrollable.”
236. “How High the Moon,” Les Paul and Mary Ford. Songwriters: Nancy Hamilton, Morgan Lewis; #1 pop; 1951. The jazz standard “How High the Moon” debuted in the 1940 Broadway musical “Two for the Show” and was recorded Benny Goodman as a slow tempo dance number during that year. Future guitar god Les Paul first recorded the song with the Les Paul trio in 1945 and the song made its way into bebop when Charlie Parker used the chords for his 1946 gobsmackingly brilliant composition “Ornithology.” On the 1951 release Paul plays guitar licks that will remind modern listeners of Brian Setzer, while his wife Mary Ford croons and swoons vocally around the solos. One of the earliest demonstrations of virtuoso guitar work on pop radio.
235. “Pennies from Heaven,” Louis Prima. Songwriters: Arthur Johnston, Johnny Burke; Did Not Chart; 1957. “Pennies from Heaven” was first recorded as a pop ballad by Bing Crosby in 1936, who took his slow paced version to #1 on the pop charts. Frank Sinatra gave “Pennies” a more hip, big band jazz version in 1956, but it was Louis Prima who wins the penny prize by slathering the tune in his special shooby-dooby, zombalomba zompolot Italian funk. Prima biographer Gary Bouchard wrapping up the raison d’être issue, “For Louis, like his hero Louis Armstrong, music was simply a means of conveying a joyful spirit, of interpreting a comic soul.”
234. “I’m Working on a Building,” B.B. King. Songwriter: Traditional; Did Not Chart; 1959. According to Wikipedia, “I’m Working on a Building” is a “negro spiritual of indeterminate origin.” The Carter Family first recorded the song in 1934, sounding as excited as I am when persuaded to purchase feminine hygiene products. B.B. King reportedly learned the song as a young street musician and included his version of his 1959 “B.B. King Sings Spirituals” album. Listen to these two versions and you’ll know why people have a better time at the Church of God in Christ service than in a white Pentecostal denomination.
233. “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” Hank Williams. Songwriter: Hank Williams; #1 country; 1950. Writing his own tune to replicate the success of “Lovesick Blues,” Hank Williams takes a comedic look at depression on “Long Gone Lonesome Blues.” His falsetto voice and syllable extending vocals are pure farce while the lyrics contemplate suicide. This was Hank’s second #1 single and a cover of “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” was the first hit for Hank Williams, Jr. in 1964. Still, “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” was more entertainingly covered by Hollis Champion, who also performed as Elmer Fudpucker and, on this number, sounded like the Violent Femmes imitating Jerry Lee Lewis.
232. “Mess Around,” Ray Charles. Songwriter: Ahmet Ertegun; #3 R&B; 1953. Ahmet Ertegun went back to the 1920s as inspiration to write “Mess Around” – the music was based upon “Cow Cow Blues,” released in 1928 by Charles Davenport and the lyrics were inspired by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith’s “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie.” Ertegun, “When I wrote ‘Mess Around,’ I based it on a riff by Cow Cow Davenport and I asked Ray if he knew Cow Cow Davenport. He said he’d never heard of it, but when I started to play it, he said, ‘Yeah, I know that,’ and he started to play it. He had an incredible memory.” This piano pounding R&B number was Brother Ray’s first major hit on Atlantic Records and his vocals are some of the most uninhibited of his career.
231. “Get a Job,” The Silhouettes. Songwriters: Earl Beal, Raymond Edwards, Richard Lewis, William Horton; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1959. The Silhouettes were a Philadelphia gospel group turned pop act who weren’t taking unemployment too seriously on the yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip mum mum mum mum mum mum sha na na doo wop classic “Get a Job.” Richard Lewis of The Silhouettes describing his generational gap inspiration, “When I was in the service in the early 1950s and didn’t come home and go to work my mother said ‘Get A Job’ and basically that’s where the song came from.” The revival doo wop act Sha Na Na took their name from this song and it inspired “Got a Job,” an answer song by the Miracles. Although only one hit wonders, The Silhouettes stayed focused on the financial side of the equation, reclaiming their copyrights in 1988. Lewis, on somebody else’s job, “Back then, you had a record company executive who usually was your manager, handled your business, and had a vested interest in ripping you off.”