The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1950s: 460 – 451
The Specials, Elvis Costello, and Buddy Holly’s widow.
460. “The Gold Rush is Over,” Hank Snow and His Rainbow Ranch Boys. Songwriter: Cindy Walker; #2 country; 1952. Although songwriter Cindy Walker is primarily associated with Bob Wills, she wrote hits for many artists including this 1952 #2 single for Hank Snow. (Let’s pause for a moment and appreciate the name of his backing band – the Rainbow Ranch Boys). “The Gold Rush is Over” has a bluegrass influenced arrangement and has a lyrical theme of dumping a money hungry woman (“The gold rush is over and the bum’s rush is on”). Hank Snow fan/British Skiffle King Lonnie Donegan recorded a cover version for his 1959 album “Lonnie Rides Again.”
459. “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea,” Johnnie and Joe. Songwriter: Rex Garvin; #8 pop/#3 R&B; 1957. Johnnie (Louise Richardson) and Joe (Rivers) were a Bronx based R&B vocal duo who started performing together in 1957. They had their biggest hit with the dramatic “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea,” a tale of melodramatic teen love. Rock critic Ritchie Unterberger, “In the doo wop world, this male-female duo did have an unusual, somewhat spooky sound — Joe Rivers carried the bulk of the vocal duties, with Johnnie Louise Richardson often not so much a harmonizer or co-lead singer as one who wove around wordlessly in the distance, occasionally adding a spoken recitation. That’s the formula that made ‘Over the Mountain, Across the Sea’ so memorable.” All of the charting singles by the duo were written by Rex Garvin, who recorded “Sock It To ‘Em J.B.,” a funk number that The Specials covered in 1980.
458. “Woe is Me,” The Cadillacs. Songwriter: Esther Navarro; Did Not Chart; 1956. The Cadillacs were a Harlem based vocal doo wop group, best known for their 1955 Top Twenty pop hit “Speedo.” As an upcoming live act, The Cadillacs worked on their choreography for eight hours a day, impressing crowds with their sharp matching suits and fancy footwork. The 1956 b-side “Woe is Me” won’t win any awards for lyrical originality, but the strolling rhythm and, especially the extended sax break, are reminders of what made this black music irresistible to white teenagers.
457. “Rub a Little Boogie,” Champion Jack Dupree. Jack Dupree had stories to tell. As a child, he spent time in the same New Orleans orphanage that housed Louis Armstrong. He later became a Golden Gloves boxer, was a Japanese POW during World War II for two years, and released music from 1940 to the early 1990s. He’s perhaps best known for his 1940 single “Junker’s Blues,” which was later repurposed for the hits “The Fat Man” by Fats Domino and Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.” He hit the R&B charts in 1955 for the only time with the spoken novelty record “Walkin’ the Blues,” which was also a hit that year for Willie Dixon. The risqué “Rub a Little Boogie” takes his barrelhouse piano into the realm of jump blues. While his intentions are evil and clear, the lyrics aren’t as explicit as his infamous “Mama, move your false teeth, papa wanna scratch your gums” from his 1976 album cut “Big Legged Sally.”
456. “So Fine,” The Sheiks. Songwriter: Johnny Otis; Did Not Chart; 1955. Author George Lipsitz, “One day while fooling around in his garage studio, Johnny Otis had Jesse Belvin, Mel Williams, and Harold Lewis record a song he had composed titled ‘So Fine.’ Otis released the recording under the group name he gave them on the spot, The Sheiks.” The mid-tempo rocker “So Fine” failed to chart in its original form, but has a hip, almost swing like quality and the vocalists share their joy in their spine chilling love interest. A much less rhythmically appealing version of “So Fine” was a hit for the New Jersey act The Fiestas in 1959. Record executive Hy Weiss and The Fiestas manager Jim Gribble asserted themselves as songwriters for the cover version, resulting in legal action.
455. “T 99 Blues,” Jimmie Nelson and the Peter Rabbit Trio. Songwriters: Jimmie Nelson, Jules Taub; #1 R&B; 1951. Jimmy Nelson, whose name was reconfigured to “Jimmie” on his only chart hit, was a Philadelphia native who was mentored as a singer by Big Joe Turner. Regarding his background, David Vest wrote in 2003, “This is a man who actually hoboed virtually coast-to-coast during Segregation, picked fruit to survive in California, worked with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, made records in a bathroom, performed at the Apollo Theater, poured cement to build the Astrodome and recently had his picture taken backstage with Elvis Costello, who by all accounts was thrilled to meet him.” Nelson describes his problems with a roaming woman at the beginning of “T 99 Blues” while his background singers repeat “T-Ninety Ninety Nine,” in tribute to a Texas highway. The mood takes a noticeable upturn in the final verse, when Nelson reflects on his gratification and the background vocals change to “T-Ninety Sixty Nine.” Nelson aficionados also recommend the 1952 single “Meet Me with Your Black Dress On,” where our hero is thoroughly defeated by an unfaithful gold digger.
454. “Blue Light Boogie,” Louis Jordan. Songwriter: Jessie Mae Robinson; #1 R&B; 1950. Like Bob Wills, Louis Jordan was a major R&B and pop star of the 1940s, whose fame quickly nosedived in the succeeding decade. “Blue Light Boogie” was the last of his eighteen #1 R&B hits. Author Stephen Koch, “Like so many of Jordan’s best known songs, the setting in ‘Blue Light’ is a party. But the key difference here – perhaps tellingly – is that the narrator is unable to boogie like the others: ‘I started swinging, all she did was rock.’ By the song’s end, he laments that he ‘was like a chaperone.’ With outstanding soloing from Bill Jennings on guitar and Bill Doggett on piano, ‘Blue Light Boogie’ topped the charts for seven weeks.”
453. “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” Buddy Holly. Songwriter: Paul Anka; #13; 1959. Iman Lababedi, “At the age of sixteen/seventeen, Paul Anka was touring the US as part of a rock and roll caravan that included Chuck Berry, Frankie Avalon, and the aforementioned Mr. Holly. Paul had a couple of self-penned hits under his belt, ‘Diana,’ ‘You Are My Destiny,’ ‘Lonely Boy; but that’s about it, no ‘Puppy Love’ yet, written for his girlfriend, Annette Funicello in 1960. On the tour bus in 1957, his seat was next to Buddy Holly and they became friends. Paul was a pianist and Buddy offered to teach Paul guitar if Paul would write him a song. After the tour was over, Anka met the rock and roll legend at a New York studio, and Buddy recorded ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.’ Days before Holly died, it was the last song he ever recorded. It is hard to say what is cooler about this story, that Buddy taught him guitar or that Paul wrote one of the most beloved songs in rock and roll history.” Anka, commenting shortly after Holly’s death, “’It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ has a tragic irony about it now, but at least it will help look after Buddy Holly’s family. I’m giving my composer’s royalty to his widow – it’s the least I can do.”
452. “Keep on Churnin’,” Wynonie Harris with Todd Rhodes Orchestra. Songwriters: Henry Glover, Juanita Hairston, Lois Mann (Sydney Nathan); Did Not Chart; 1952. Pure prairie poetry: “Keep on churnin’ ’til the butter comes/Keep on churnin’ ’til the butter comes/Keep on pumpin’ make the butter flow/Wipe off the paddle and churn some more.” Wynonie Harris was a heifer loving bull on this jump blues dairy products meets sex number. Author Glenn Fleishman, “As far as double entendres go, it’s a lot less double and a lot more entendre. The first time I heard it, it knocked my socks off. Somehow I bet Wynonie Harris knocked a lot of socks off.” Harris didn’t handle his post-fame life particularly well, he drank heavily and died of cancer at the age of 53. The gesture friendly Harris commenting on Elvis in 1956, “Many people have been giving him trouble for swinging his hips. I swing mine and have no trouble. He’s got publicity I could not buy.”
451. “Love Me,” Elvis Presley. Songwriter: Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller; #6 pop/#10 country/#7 R&B; 1956. Songwriters Lieber and Stoller first recorded “Love Me” as a duet for former gospel singers “Willy & Ruth” in 1954. (“Willy” was Willie Headon, who released a string of unsuccessful R&B singles during the 1950s and the identity of “Ruth” is an unsolved mystery). Jerry Leiber, “After ‘Hound Dog’ hit big, (music publisher Julian) Aberbach wanted another Leiber-Stoller smash for Elvis. I came up with a wild idea that was half-joke and half-serious. I thought of a song we’d put out on Spark (Records), ‘Love Me,’ by Willy and Ruth. We’d written it as a parody of a cornball hillbilly ballad. Corny or not, we sent it over to Elvis’s people. Lo and behold, Aberbach liked it, and so did Freddy Bienstock, Aberbach’s cousin and the professional manager of Elvis’s music company. Elvis recorded it and ‘Love Me’ turned into one of the big records of 1956. The best interpretation of a ballad I’ve ever had was ‘Love Me.’ It was unsurpassable, like melting chocolate, like Bing Crosby at his best.”