This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Rhythm and blues had started to enter into the purview of the general hit parade by 1954. It still hadn't morphed into rock & roll; that would take another year or so. However, it meant that we were starting to get some interesting music, at least from this young lad's point of view.
I'll start with one of the best RAY CHARLES.
Ray started out performing rather in the same vein as Nat King Cole but he quickly developed his own style. Even by this year his style seems to be fully formed in the song I Got a Woman.
Gene De Paul and Sammy Cahn wrote the song Teach Me Tonight this year. It was first recorded by Janet Brace and hers was the first to make the charts. Not long after, DINAH WASHINGTON had a crack at it and her version is the one most of us remember (or at least I do).
Sammy Cahn wrote an extra verse for Frank Sinatra many years later when he recorded it referring to Frank's many affairs. Today it's Dinah's turn.
The late great JOHNNY ACE is a bit of a cliché these days.
However, it's quite true that he was a great performer and no doubt would have turned into a superb soul singer. Alas, there's the "late" part. Johnny managed to shoot himself in a very silly stunt (he was overly fond of guns). His song is the one he's best known for, Pledging My Love.
EARTHA KITT was wonderfully outspoken, famously serving it up to the first lady (Lady Bird Johnson) at a White House lunch. She wasn’t invited back, but I don’t think she cared.
Eartha spent quite some time in France and that’s pretty obvious from her song Under the Bridges of Paris.
GUY MITCHELL was all over the charts around this time.
He took an old song called Sippin’ Cider and transformed it, as I imagine that sounded a bit racy for 1954. Instead we have Sippin' Soda. I guess all the kids down at the malt shop were doing that. At least, that’s what their parents thought they were doing.
I had completely forgotten the next song until I reviewed it for the column. That was not a good thing because, once I'd played it, I remembered that it was a real earworm for me back in the day. I found that it still holds that power and I've been singing it (or bits of it in real earworm style) all week.
The song is I Get So Lonely by the FOUR KNIGHTS.
On another tack, what's with all these Four Something-or-others back then? There were The Four Lads, The Four Aces, The Four Seasons, The Four Preps and on and on. I would have left the number off because if one member left you'd be scrambling around for a replacement or you'd have to change the name (unfortunate if you already had a following). Anyway, here's that annoying song.
MUDDY WATERS was selling lots of records by this stage.
I had to wait to discover them as they didn’t really impinge on the couple of radio stations that we could pick up regularly in the country town where I was living in far western Victoria in Australia. With hindsight, though, I’m really happy to include Muddy performing I'm Ready.
TONY BENNETT was somewhat puzzled when his producer Mitch Miller suggested he record one of Hank Williams' songs. "Country music?" he asked, somewhat quizzically.
Mitch said that it would be unrecognizable after they arranged it. That song was Cold, Cold Heart and it went on to sell millions. So, when Mitch suggested another song of Hank's, Tony was still a bit reluctant but less so. That song was There'll Be No Teardrops Tonight.
The song also sold well, but not as much as the previous one. Here it is.
Probably most of the best songs from this year, and you’ve heard several already, didn’t make the top of the charts. That goes for the next one, which in spite of the good ones we’ve had, I think is the pick of the crop. It’s by RUTH BROWN.
As with Muddy, the song isn’t one I remember hearing on the two radio stations we could pick up in my town, a long way from anywhere (Melbourne was 250 miles to the east and Adelaide was 250 miles to the west). I only learned about it later. Oh What a Dream.
The MILLS BROTHERS just kept on keeping on.
They had been around since the thirties and were still producing good music, or at least interesting music. I don’t know which category The Jones Boy fits into, but I quite liked it at the time.