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The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1950s: 350 – 341

One foot, two foot, slew foot drag/Swing your honey to the sugar foot rag.

350. “Juke,” Little Walter and His Jukes. Songwriter: Little Walter; #1 R&B; 1952. Not too many harmonica showcases have become major hits, but Little Walter topped the blues charts in 1952 with this swinging shuffle number. The intro was replicated from a 1948 record by Snooky Pryor titled “Boogie.” Singer Jimmy Rogers, “Snooky had this thing that went on kind of the kick of ‘Juke’ was on now, ‘Snooky and Moody’s Boogie.’ And we heard this thing, and Little Walter ran through the phrases of the harmonica part, and Sunnyland Slim used to have a little thing he’d play when he’s going on, “Get Up the Stairs Mademoiselle.’ He’d do it on the piano. So we put the two together and kept jamming around with it. We used it, we built that for our theme song.” Music critic/historian Robert Palmer, “Almost everyone who picks up a harmonica will at some stage in his development emulate either Little Walter or a Little Walter imitator.”

349. “Havana Moon,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; Did Not Chart; 1956. Inspired by, or stolen from, Nat “King” Cole’s “Calypso Blues,” this 1956 b-side foray into Latin rhythms expanded Berry’s musical palette. Berry later expressed regret for not titling the song “Jamaica Moon,” feeling that anti-Castro sentiment kept him from “making a dime” with “Havana Moon.” Best cover – Carlos Santana, who comes to Latin rhythms a bit more naturally than Chuck.

348. “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),” Frank Sinatra. Songwriters: Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer; Did Not Chart; 1958. “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” is a melancholy drinking number, perfect for a dark club and a broken heart. Co-writer Harold Arlen, “Johnny Mercer took it and wrote it exactly the way it fell. Not only is it long – forty-eight bars – but it also changes keys. Johnny made it work. I don’t care what you give him, he’ll find a way to save it.” The number was originally performed by Fred Astaire in the 1943 film “The Sky’s the Limit,” but later became synonymous with Sinatra, who released five different recordings of the song from 1947 to 1993. It’s also been speculated that the tone of the song was inspired by Johnny Mercer’s affair with Judy Garland and Mercer was also no stranger to alcohol fueled emotions.

347. “Treasure of Love,” Clyde McPhatter. Songwriters: Joe Shapiro, Jim Stallman; #16 pop/#1 R&B; 1956. Rock critic Stewart Mason, “’Treasure of Love’” solidifies the increasingly more pop-oriented direction that McPhatter and producer Ahmet Ertegun envisioned. In retrospect, the sound of this single is so emblematic of the R&B crossover sound, with its orchestral accompaniment and prominent percussion that would come to define Atlantic Records in the late ’50s, that it’s difficult to imagine how different it must have sounded in early 1956.” Author Maury Dean, “McPhatter’s ballads coaxed and implored and cooed listeners to intimacy. He puffed up love to ethereal heights.”

346. “Come Rain or Come Shine,” Ray Charles. Songwriters: Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer; #83 pop; released in 1959, peaked on charts in 1960. “Come Rain or Come Shine” was written for the 1946 musical “St. Louis Blues” and over 500 versions of the song have been released. This song of devotion allows Brother Ray to highlight his soulful vocals while singing over what would become a typically kitschy, dramatic arrangement. Author Will Friedwald, “’The Genius of Ray Charles’ album marked the first time he worked within the setting of a traditional pop singer – he cut six songs with a studio big band and six with a string orchestra – and it was also his first full-length foray into the standards songbook. Tracks like ‘When Your Lover Has Gone’ and ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ made it clear that Charles could do for Harold Arlen and other Broadway and Tin Pan Alley composers of his generation what he had already done for bluesmen like Buddy Johnson and Percy Mayfield; namely, to interpret and personalize them, and transform their music into Ray Charles music.”

345. “Sincerely,” The Moonglows. Songwriters: Harvey Fuqua, Alan Freed; #20 pop/#1 R&B; 1954. The Moonglows were formed by Harvey Fuqua, who later became a major executive at Motown, and were managed by future payola scapegoat Alan Freed. The had their first and biggest hit with the doo wop love song “Sincerely” and the fact that it crossed over to the pop charts in 1954 is likely a direct result of Freed’s machinations. Rock critic Lindsay Planer, “Along with Bobby Lester Dallas (lead vocal), Fuqua honed and crafted an unusual performance style called ‘blow-notes’ – where the singers actually exhaled in a harmonic and percussive fashion – as heard during the song’s finale. The vocal blend of Fuqua, Dallas, Alexander Walton (tenor vocal), and the robustly prominent Prentiss Barnes (bass vocal) made ‘Sincerely’ a key entry not only in the Moonglows’ all too brief careers, but also in the harmony-intensive doo wop subgenre of R&B.” Robert Christgau on the group’s sound, “(The arrangements) are richer and more ecumenical than almost anything in the gospel quartet tradition doowop supposedly cheapens.”

344. “Little Bitty Pretty One,” Thurston Harris. Songwriter: Bobby Day; #6 pop/#2 R&B; 1957. The gospel influenced “Little Bitty Pretty One” was penned by Bobby Day, who had a major pop hit in 1958 with “Rockin’ Robin.” Harris was backed on the record by a doo wop vocal group named The Sharps who gained a small measure fame in the 1960s, with a name change to The Rivingtons and the minor hit novelty single “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow.” Blogger Eric Berman, “It starts off so simple. Just a bunch of guys humming in harmony over an infectious backbeat, and that was the only hook ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ ever needed to be propelled into the pop charts and to be forever known as a golden rock ‘n’ roll classic.”

343. “Sugarfoot Rag,” Red Foley. Songwriters: Hank Garland, Vaughn Horton; #24 pop/#4 country; 1950. South Carolina native Hank Garland is primarily remembered as one of the most fluid and innovative guitar players to ever cycle through Nashville. At the age of eighteen, Garland and Vaughn Horton wrote “Sugarfoot Rag,” which became a million selling instrumental for Garland in 1948. Red Foley added lyrics and a fiddle break for a crossover pop hit in 1950. The tune has the type of carefree spirit that Peter Stampfel would later display in the Unholy/Holy Modal Rounders. Jerry Reed scored a #12 hit with his cover in 1979 of “Sugarfoot Rag,” while Junior Brown’s 1995 release is a positively dizzying display of virtuosity.

342. “Goodnight My Love,” Jesse Belvin. Songwriters: George Motola, John Marascalco; #7 R&B; 1956. R&B singer Jesse Belvin was an interesting figure in 1950’s music. His resume includes having written and performed on an early doo wop hit with 1953’s “Dream Girl” (credited to “Jesse and Marvin,” a partnership with Marvin Phillips), co-writing “Earth Angel,” then having a major R&B hit with the ballad “Goodnight My Love.” Producer George Motola had started writing this sincere love ballad ten years earlier and Belvin stepped in to complete the composition (Belvin typically preferred quick cash to writing credits). Despite being used as the outro for Alan Freed’s radio program, “Goodnight My Love” didn’t hit pop radio. However, the song was later a minor Top 40 hit for The McGuire Sisters, The Fleetwoods, and Paul Anka. Belvin died in a car accident, with some suspecting foul play, after performing in the first integrated concert in Little Rock in 1960 – a development not applauded by all members of the community.

341. “La vie en rose,” Louis Armstrong. Édith Piaf, Louiguy Monnot, Marguerite Monnot; #28 pop; 1950. “La vie en rose” is, of course, the signature song of Edith Piaf and one of the touchstones of pop music excellence during the 1940s. U.S. audience discovered the “La vie en rose” in spades during 1950, with seven different versions hitting the Top 40 charts (the most popular being an overripe MOR take by California native Tony Martin). In Armstrong’s take, he replaces the vocals with his trumpet in the opening verse, emphasizing the beauty of the melody. His singing, as always, feels like a warm hug. Armstrong aficionado Ricky Riccardi, “Sy Oliver’s arrangement is remarkably simple, yet totally appropriate to the mood, with its repeated bass line and accent on every fourth beat. Even the alternating reeds and brass behind the vocal adds some gentle charm. From his opening glisses onward, pianist Earl Hines makes his presence felt but does so with plenty of taste, his offerings a special part of the song’s magic.”

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