The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1950s: 310 – 301
They call, they call me the fat man ’cause I weight two hundred pounds/All the girls they love me, ’cause I know my way around.
310. “Honey Don’t,” Carl Perkins. Songwriter: Carl Perkins; Did Not Chart; 1956. Perkins flipped the concept of a “Honeydew” list into “Honey Don’t,” displaying some of his finest guitar work in the process. Author Dave Rybaczewski, “When Perkins first introduced ‘Honey Don’t’ to his band, which comprised his brothers Jay and Clayton along with drummer W.S. Holland, there was protest because of the chord changes. His brother Jay Perkins at first refused to play the song because of the odd change from E to C, first heard with the lyrics ‘say you do, baby, when you don’t.’ The standard blues progression would go from E to A, so the proposed chord change was quite revolutionary for the time.” Ringo Starr picked the song for the Beatles to record in 1964, motivating George Harrison to ask Perkins what key the song was in. Rybaczewski, ‘When Perkins said he had written it in the key of E, George immediately turned to Lennon and exclaimed, ‘I told you we weren’t doing it right!’”
309. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Frank Sinatra. Songwriter: Cole Porter; Did Not Chart; 1956. This Cole Porter composition first appeared in the 1936 Jimmy Stewart film “Born to Dance” and became one of Sinatra’s signature songs. Sinatra had first performed the song in 1946 and requested a “long crescendo” from arranger Frank Riddle for his 1956 recording. Riddle, “He wanted an instrumental interlude that would be exciting and carry the orchestra up and then come on down where he would finish out the arrangement vocally.” Author James Kaplan, “Riddle wrote a long, sexy crescendo for Roberts’s bass trombone and the string section, and at the bridge—the song’s middle section—sketched out eight bars of chord symbols for trombonist Milt Bernhart to use as a framework. Bernhart’s solo itself was to be totally improvised, and it would have to be good.” After 22 takes, trombonist Bernhart was soaked in sweat, but was invited into the booth by The Chairman afterwards. Bernhart, “There was a chick in there, a pretty blonde, and she was positively beaming. He said to me, ‘Listen!’ That was special! You know, it never really went past that. He never has been much for slathering around empty praise.”
308. “Mr. Sandman,” The Chordettes. Songwriter: Pat Ballard; #1 pop; 1954. The Chordettes were a four part close harmony vocal group that originate in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The had their first, and biggest, hit with “Mr. Sandman,” a lyrical request for a wavy-haired boy with a gleam in his eyes. The squeaky clean sound of the song was used by film director John Carpenter to contrast the action in his 1981 horror flick “Halloween II” and it was listed as one of the most terrifying songs ever by rock critic Robert Hilton in 2014. Hilton, “My skin crawls at the idea of some strange mythical creature lurking in your room and sprinkling sand over your face while you sleep. And something in the bubbly harmonies feels sinister, like the dreams Mr. Sandman promises will really be nightmares.” The Chordettes released eight Top 40 singles from 1954 to 1960 to include the 1958 #2 hit “Lollilop,” which was memorably used in the 1986 film “Stand by Me.”
307. “There You Go,” Johnny Cash and Tennessee Two. Songwriter: Johnny Cash; #1 country; 1957. After Elvis left Sun for bigger marketing opportunities, Johnny Cash released a string of country hits for the label with much less pop crossover success. (The Man In Black only hit the pop Top Ten once, with 1969’s “A Boy Named Sue.”) He followed his #1 country hit about personal devotion, “I Walk the Line,” with a #1 country hit about a fickle hearted woman. Cash can’t keep himself from taking the lying/heartbreaking woman back, even when he knows the story will have an unhappy ending. The production values are as anti-Spectorian as mainstream music ever got.
306. “Dream Lover,” Bobby Darin. Songwriter: Bobby Darin; #2 pop/#4 R&B; 1959. Bobby Darin composed “Dream Lover” using a Latin piano and Neil Sedaka served as the studio pianist. Darin, “I had just discovered the C-Am-F-G7 progression on the piano. I stretched them out and I like the space I felt in there, and the words just flowed.” Sedaka, “The session was a little hectic. Bobby (Darin) knew there was something in it, but the record started off very shaky, and the arrangement was not great. The tempo was wrong. I remember Ahmet (Ertegun) saying, ‘Neil, you’ve got to come in and help us.’ And Bobby said, ‘What would you do?’ I told him to put the guitar riff up on octave. I knew, when we left, that it was a smash.” Bobby Darin had started his career working with Don Kirshner, but Atlantic Records wouldn’t allow Kirshner to be his manager after he signed with the label. In a show of appreciation, Darin gave Kirshner half the publishing rights on three of his songs, including “Dream Lover.” Author Rich Podosky, “In the dozens of times I interviewed Don Kirshner, he was never more emotional than when discussing his close friendship with Bobby Darin. Their friendship lasted into infinity. Several years after Darin’s unexpected death from heart failure, Kirshner named his only daughter Daryn after him.”
305. “Move It,” Cliff Richard and the Drifters. Songwriter: Ian Samwell; Did Not Chart; 1958. One doesn’t often think of Cliff Richard and guitar driven rock ‘n’ roll simultaneously, but this 1958 #2 U.K. hit burns with intensity. Rock critic Dave Thompson, “By 1958, the British rock & roll scene was still struggling to escape the shadow of its American counterpart. Neither songwriters not performers seemed capable of breaking the stranglehold; they sang with American accents, they covered American hits. And then Cliff Richard burst onto the scene with ‘Move It’ and the Brits never looked back. ‘Move It’ was written by Ian Samwell, a guitarist with Richard’s backing band, the Drifters (author’s note – later known as The Shadows), while riding on a London bus. A fierce statement of intent, it mocked the doomsayers then prophesying the death of rock & roll, by asking what they hoped to replace it with – ‘ballads and calypsos got nothing on real country music that just drives along.’ Driven by an electrifying guitar riff from session man Ernie Shears, while the band laid down a tight rockabilly riff, ‘Move It’ was an absolute revelation.”
304. “Beautiful Delilah,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #81 pop; 1958. Long before Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Chuck Berry paid tribute to “Delilah,” a woman as sweet as apple pie, who swung like a pendulum when she walked, and could have any man she wanted. However, her source of power was not having any real interest in any of them. Best cover – The Kinks’ 1964 take for their amateurish enthusiasm.
303. “Mean Woman Blues,” Elvis Presley. Songwriter: Claude Demetrius; #11 country/#11 R&B; 1957. New York pianist Claude Demetrius worked with Louis Jordon in the mid 1940s, including penning the #1 R&B hits “Mop! Mop!” and “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman (They’ll Do It Every Time)” before he started working for Elvis’s publishing company in 1956. His successes for Elvis included “I Was the One,” “Hard Headed Woman,” and “Mean Woman Blues,” which was included in the 1957 film “Loving You.” Author Bill Dahl, “Composer Claude DeMetrius’ lyrics are pretty adult for the swivel-hipped teen icon, hinting at kinky liaisons that no one seems to have quite picked up on at the time (Scotty Moore adds a couple of tasty guitar solos).” Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a wildly frenetic version of “Mean Woman Blues” for his 1964 “Live at the Star Club, Hamburg” album, after a more polished take from Roy Orbison resulted in a #5 pop hit in 1963.
302. “It’s All Your Fault,” Wade Ray with Noel Boggs. Songwriter: Cindy Walker; Did Not Chart; 1952. Wade Ray grew up in rural Northeast Arkansas and started playing a homemade fiddle, legend has it, at the age of four. He grew up performing on the vaudeville circuit and later performed in Patsy Montana’s Prairie Ramblers. He released 23 singles for RCA in the 1950s, but never had a hit. “It’s All Your Fault” is a Cindy Walker composition that Bob Wills first recorded in 1941. Recording with steel guitarist Noel Boggs, Wade Ray leaned hard on the jazz side of Western swing on this humorous look at rejection. Ray relocated to Nashville in the 1960s, working as a session musician and releasing solo material. His early 1950’s single “Idaho Red,” which pairs a truck driving theme with a boogie woogie swing rhythm, is also worth a listen.
301. “The Fat Man,” Fats Domino. Songwriters: Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew; #2 R&B; 1950. Antoine “Fats” Domino, Jr. was a New Orleans native whose first language was Louisiana Creole. He was playing in bars as a teenager and was signed by Imperial Records in 1949. He had his first R&B hit in 1950 with “The Fat Man,” a re-write of Champion Jack Dupree’s 1941 single “Junker’s Blues.” Much like The Notorious B.I.G. would do decades later, Domino declared his status as a ladies’ man, despite his girth, on “The Fat Man.” Rolling Stone magazine, “This rollicking two minutes and 37 seconds exploded out of New Orleans as a mix of Delta blues melody and boogie-woogie piano, of sexual energy and free-floating flights of jazz-touched vocal fancy, of Domino’s hard-pounding piano rhythm and a young Earl Palmer’s steady backbeat – in essence, one of the first rock & roll records in existence.”