Skip to content

The 500 Greatest Songs of the 1950s: 360 – 351

The Buck Owens/Dallas wresting connection.

360. “Mr. Lee,” The Bobbettes. Songwriters: Laura Webb, Jannie Pought, Reather Dixon, Helen Gathers, Emma Pought; #6 pop/#1 R&B; 1957. The Bobbettes, an East Harlem vocal quintet, were pioneers as one of the first African-American girl groups to have a major pop hit. The group originally penned “Mr. Lee” as an insult to a high school teacher they disliked, but they changed the lyrics into a teenage crush at the insistence of their label. The Bobbettes never released another Top 40 single, however, they revisited the melody and theme of “Mr. Lee” with their second biggest hit being the surreal, boppy 1960 murder fantasy “I Shot Mr. Lee.” The lyrical justification for the killing? “Three, four, five/I got tired of his jive.”

359. “Ruby Baby,” The Drifters. Songwriters: Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller; #10 R&B; 1956. “Ruby Baby” was recorded during a transitional period for The Drifters, after Clyde McPhatter had left for a solo career and before Ben E. King brought the group mainstream pop success. Stewart Mason from the All Music website, “Lead singer Johnny Moore and the other Drifters, particularly stalwart bass Bill Pinkney, attack it with just good-humored gusto that their spirited performance elevates the song, as does the brisk, beat-heavy arrangement.” Dion took an acoustic based arrangement of “Ruby Baby” to #2 on the pop charts in 1962. Songwriter Mike Stoller was particular fond of Donald Fagen’s 1982 extended cool jazz take, saying, “I loved it. I thought that was an incredible version of that song.”

358. “Lotta Lovin’,” Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps. Songwriter: Bernice Bedwell; #13 pop/#7 R&B; 1957. Commercially, Gene Vincent could never repeat the success of his eternal “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” but had his second biggest hit a year later with the stripped down rockabilly of “Lotta Lovin.” Vincent was contacted by Texas oilman turned music executive Tom Fleeger, who heard a demo of “Lotta Lovin’” and pitched the song to him. After an argument with Vincent’s manager/wrestling promoter Ed McLemore in Dallas over the publishing rights, Fleeger organized a second recording session in California. One of the studio musicians, who played rhythm guitar on this number, was a young Buck Owens.

357. “Little Girl of Mine,” The Cleftones. Songwriters: George Goldner, Herb Cox; #57 pop/#8 R&B; 1956. The Cleftones were a vocal group from Jamaica High School in Queens, New York who broke nationally, at least in the world of R&B, with their 1956 dance number “Little Girl of Mine.” Tenor Berman Patterson, “It seemed like everybody and his brother had a singing group back in the ’50s. I think we caught on because we didn’t have that stereotypical rhythm-and-blues sound. We were bubblegum. Something bouncing and refreshing. But I’ll tell you this: Once you got popular, you were expected to work. I can remember playing five shows a night at the Apollo Theater. We went on every hour and were paid $500 to split five ways.” The Cleftones found pop success in 1961 with their Top Twenty version of Hoagy Carmichael’s and Frank Loesser’s “Heart and Soul” and were swept away by the British Invasion three years later.

356. “Mona Lisa,” Nat King Cole. Songwriters: Ray Evans, Jay Livingston; #1 pop/#1 R&B; 1950. Nathaniel Adams Cole was raised in Alabama and Chicago, but he regularly broke through glass ceilings and racial barriers in Los Angeles, simply be being more sophisticated that his competition. The Nat King Cole Trio had their first hit with the 1942 R&B #1 single “That Ain’t Right,” which was more in the blues/jazz tradition than the highly orchestrated music that Cole would later use to find fame with white audiences. Cole had his first #1 pop hit in 1946 with his cover version of “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” and returned to #1 on the pop charts in 1948 with “Nature Boy,” a song that would later provide the persona for professional wrestlers Buddy Rogers and Ric Flair, among others. With an arrangement written by Nelson Riddle, Cole grapples with the concept of female mystique on “Mona Lisa.” Per usual, when it comes to the battle of the sexes, Cole is left with no answers, only questions.

355. “Uncle Pen,” Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys. Songwriter: Bill Monroe; Did Not Chart; 1950. Pendleton “Pen” Vandiver was a real life uncle of Bill Monroe. He assisted with caretaking after Monroe’s parents passed away, but, more importantly for our context, Diver was a fiddle player who taught Monroe traditional Appalachian music, as well as how to make a rabbit snare. Biographer Richard Smith has credited Diver with giving Monroe “a sense of rhythm that seeped into his bones.” This ode to a man who could make his fiddle talk was never a chart hit for Monroe, but was a #1 single for Ricky Skaggs in 1984.

354. “K.C. Loving,” Little Willie Littlefield. Songwriters: Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller; Did Not Chart; 1952. Little Willie Littlefield’s legacy is that of a Houston based, boogie woogie piano player, but he is most famous for recording the original version of “K.C. Loving,” later popularized by Wilbert Harrison as “Kansas City.” Author Andrew Dansby, “Littlefield’s version is a dynamic piece of music. Its edges are far rougher than Harrison’s, the tempo is brisker, the vocal has more grit. Perhaps more important, Littlefield’s take was far more suggestive. The differences seem minor today, but by 1950s standards they were pronounced.” Mike Stoller, “The guy who ran Federal was Ralph Bass, and he had us write for artists like Little Esther and Etta James. One day, Bass asked us to write a song about Kansas City for Little Willie Littlefield. Kansas City was the home of swing, jazz and the blues – music Jerry and I loved – and it was known as a pretty wild place. We had asked a bunch of R&B musicians for the names of big streets in Kansas City. When we heard that 12th Street and Vine was a hot part of town, we used it. After Jerry finished the lyrics, I wrote a blues with a melody. I wanted a recognizable melody so if it was recorded as an instrumental, it would still be identified as ours.”

353. “Almost Grown,” Chuck Berry. Songwriter: Chuck Berry; #32 pop/#3 R&B; 1959. Chuck Berry detailed life on the edge of adulthood on “Almost Grown,” instructing some unspecified party to stay out of his business. More important than the lyrical theme is the chemistry between Berry and pianist Johnnie Johnson, whose playful ivory tickling keeps the mood more celebratory than aggrieved. Best cover – David Bowie’s 1971 BBC version, just for ill-fitting pants weirdness.

352. “Whole Lotta Loving,” Fats Domino. Songwriters: Fats Domino/Dave Bartholomew; #6 pop/#2 R&B; 1958. Rolling Stone, “Aside from a title that would be cribbed a decade later by a certain British hard-rock act, this Domino-penned nugget offers pure hand-clappy joy, plus kissy noises in the chorus. It sounds effortless, which it apparently was: A New Orleans newspaper reporter happened to watch Domino and his band, led by longtime collaborator Dave Bartholomew, record ‘Whole Lotta Loving’ over six quick takes one November day. ‘When things go right,’ Domino said immediately afterwards, ‘I can make records all day.’”

351. “Chantilly Lace,” The Big Bopper. Songwriter: J.P. Richardson; #6 pop/#3 R&B; 1958. Everyone knows the end of J.P. Richardson’s story – he passed away along with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in the infamous “the day the music died” plane crash in Clear Lake, Iowa in February of 1959. The Beaumont native was in his late twenties when he became a pop star. Before finding fame, he had worked as a deejay, served in the Army, and penned “Treasure of Love,” a Top Ten country hit for George Jones (his other main songwriter credits, besides “Chantilly Lace,” were Jones’s “White Lightning” and Johnny Preston’s #1 1959 single “Running Bear”). After hearing a dance called “The Bop,” he rechristened himself as The Big Bopper and had his only major chart hit with “Chantilly Lace,” a flirtation telephone rap from a good-natured skirt chaser. The Bopper’s mixture of swagger and desire, along with a…um…bopping sing along chorus, resulted not only in a major hit for Richardson, but a 1972 lascivious cover by Jerry Lee Lewis was country chart topper. Who knows what would have happened to Richardson if he had lived, but he was decades ahead of the curve in releasing “music videos” for each of his singles and was quoted as saying that in the future “records will be filmed,” shortly before boarding the plane.

 

Leave a Comment





Amazon_Smile_logo
LET-ME-HELP-LOGO

Support Let Me Help Inc by shopping at smile.amazon.com

US Top Ten Singles Tracking 9-23-22 – 9-29-22

By Iman Lababedi | October 4, 2022 |

at the top of the singles charts and at the top of the movie box office

Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – November 1978 (Volume 10, Number 6) 

By Steve Crawford | October 4, 2022 |

I’m not taking the band QUITE as seriously as I once did

Rocky Kramer’s Rock & Roll Tuesdays Presents “Rocktober” On Tuesday October 4th, 2022 7 PM PT on Twitch

By admin | October 3, 2022 |

Rocky Kramer will be hosting “Rocktober” on this week’s episode of Rocky Kramer’s Rock & Roll Tuesdays on Twitch. Tune into Twitch on Tuesday, October 4th, at 7 PM PT for this amazing show. Rocky Kramer is a guitar virtuoso, often being compared to the greatest guitar players in the world. Rocky has performed on…

Stories of SURRENDER — The Book Tour With, Yes, Bono

By admin | October 3, 2022 |

“In these shows I’ve got some stories to sing, and some songs to tell…”

Best Of 2022: Albums by Artist In Alphabetical Order Through September 30th

By Iman Lababedi | October 3, 2022 |

heavy metal all killa

US Top Ten Albums Tracking 9-23-22 – 9-29-22

By Iman Lababedi | October 3, 2022 |

a scary 87K EAUs

Sneak Peaks: Upcoming Album Release 10-7-22 – 10-13-22

By Iman Lababedi | October 3, 2022 |

don’t let her father distract you

Kevin Morby At The Belasco Theatre, Saturday October 1st 2022

By Alyson Camus | October 3, 2022 |

his sonic landscape largely exceeds his simple roots in folk

The globally streamed 6 hour concert presented by Fenix360 and WOWtv for the “Let Me Help Inc.org Foundation” (a 501c3 charity) for “Children of the World”, Saturday, October 1st, 2022, Reviewed

By Iman Lababedi | October 2, 2022 |

between the needs of charity, the needs of empathy

Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – October 1978 (Volume 10, Number 5) 

By Steve Crawford | October 2, 2022 |

pretty heavy drama

Scroll To Top