Sunday, February 11, 2018

A brief history of pop music and movies (1950-1959)

By the end of the Second World War popular culture changed forever with a broader availability of records and turntables, and a proliferation of dance halls. Singers, not the bandleaders, became the focus of attention and by the early 50s records out sold sheet music . Published leagues of best selling recorded music dominated the popular music press and whoever held the number one position became pop aristocracy. Keen to be part of this new economy and developing culture, the movie industry in the US and UK continued to play up the musical elements (the scores) of their film in the hope the public would see the movie and buy the record. A significant number of the 50s Top Ten singles in the US and UK came from movie scores. Covers also charted and sometimes displaced the originals in sales. In 1950, the first chart topper from a movie was ‘There’s no tomorrow’ from ‘Two tickets to Broadway’. It was recorded by Tony Martin and written by Al Hoffman, Leo Corday, and Leon Carr. The song was based on the Italian song "O Sole Mio" (music by Eduardo di Capua). A second, more popular interpretation came in 1960 with "It's Now or Never", sung by Elvis Presley.

Possibly the most reluctant film score chart topper was Anton Kara with the ‘Third Man’ Theme. Carol Reed (director) happened to see Kara play zither in a night club. Reed convinced Kara to return to England and record the score for his 1950 film, ‘The Third Man’. Both movie and the score became a gigantic success.

Film genre which dealt with Post war Europe was especially popular and many writers were fascinated with the aftermath of war. Captain Carey, U.S.A. (After Midnight) was a box office success and starred Alan Ladd, Wanda Hendrix, and Francis Lederer. Based on the novel No Surrender by Martha Albrand, it told the story of an American returning to post-World War II Italy to bring a traitor to justice. The theme song ‘Mona Lisa’ became a major hit for Nat King Cole. A couple of years later, Nat King Cole would have another hit with Blue Gardenias (1953).

‘Three Little Words’ (1950) was a musical film biography of the Tin Pan Alley songwriting partnership of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. The film starred Fred Astaire and Red Skelton. The movie was incredibly popular and spawned two major chart successes ‘Thinking of You’ and ‘Nevertheless’. The songs were recorded by several artists with chart success and on release of the movie both songs reached first and second place respectively, in the U.S. charts.

The last movie inspired top ten of 1950 was a double A side, ‘Blind Date’/’Home Cookin’. Performed by Margaret Whiting and Bob Hope, the song came from the film score from ‘Fancy Pants’.

In 1951 the romantic musical comedy ‘Two Weeks with Love, ‘starring Jane Powell, and Debbie Reynolds was a box office success. ‘Aba Daba Honeymoon’ was originally written by Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan in 1914, but when it appeared in the movie it became an instant favorite. Recorded by Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter the song reached #3 in the US.

In the same year, Jane Powell had a hit single with Fred Astaire with possibly the longest title of hit single ever, ‘How could you believe me when I said I love you when you know I’ve been a liar all my life.’ The song came from the highly successful musical comedy ‘Royal Wedding’ (Wedding Bells).

The fabulous tenor, Mario Lanza sang ‘The loveliest night of the year’, in the film, ‘The Great Caruso’. The tune was originally a waltz called "Sobre las olas" ("Over the Waves") and written in 1888 by Juventino P. Rosas. Irving Aaronson adopted it and Paul Francis Webster added the lyrics. ‘The loveliest night of the year’ became one of the most popular songs of 1951.

‘Come on-a My House’ was a major hit for Rosemary Clooney. The melody was based on an Armenian folk song and written in 1939 by Ross Bagdasarian and William Saroyan. The singer despised the song and almost refused to record it. It appeared in the movie ‘The stars are singing.’

Tony Bennett had a number one hit (his first) with ‘Because of you,’ from the film, ‘I was an American Spy’. The last movie hit for 1951 was the classic ‘My resistance is low,’ sung by Hoagy Carmichael. It came from ‘The Vegas Story’ in which Hoagy Carmichael played Happy, the eccentric pianist at the bar, where the singer used to work.

1952 was low year for movie inspired hit records and the only one to break through to the charts was ‘Zing a little zong,’ from the movie ‘Just for You’, sang by Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman.

The following year saw a return starting with the successful movie ‘Moulin Rouge’ which met with great critical success in 1953. ‘Where Is Your Heart’ came from the movie and was recorded by several artists. The best selling version was by Percy Faith and his Orchestra with vocals by Felicia Sanders. The music was written by Georges Auric and the original French lyrics were by Jacques Larue, the English words by William Engvick. In the movie the song is called ‘It's April Again’ and the theme song was sung by Muriel Smith, dubbing for Zsa Zsa Gabor. The Percy Faith version remained in the US chart for 24 weeks and reached Number #1. In the UK a version by Mantovani topped the UK Singles Chart.

King Vidor’s ‘Ruby Gentry’ starred Jennifer Jones, Charlton Heston and Karl Malden and the theme song "Ruby," was composed by Heinz Eric Roemheld. The pop standard was covered many times but the biggest commercial success came from Lex Baxter and his Orchestra.

Dean Martin established himself as the 50s coolest pop singer, with ‘That’s Amore’ from the Lewis Martin movie ‘The Caddy’. On screen, the song is performed mainly by Dean Martin, with Jerry Lewis joining in, followed by the other characters. The hit version was rerecorded and peaked at #2 on the Billboard charts. The song remains closely identified with Dean Martin.

Guy Mitchell had a hit with ‘Chicka Boom ‘from the movie, ‘Those redheads from Seattle’. The big screen success of the year was ‘Calamity Jane’ starring Doris Day. The singer enjoyed a number one hit with "Secret Love," then a year later a second chart topper with The Black Hills of Dakota .

In 1954 Guy Mitchell was once again riding high in the charts with, ‘A Dime and a dollar’ from the movie ‘Red Garters’. Billy Eckstine also had a hit with ‘No one but you’, from the movie ‘The flame and the flesh’.

Eddie Fisher was no stranger to the pop charts in the 50s and enjoyed great success with ‘Count your blessings (instead of sheep),’ from the film ‘White Christmas’. The Four Aces had a hit with ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’ from the movie of the same name. The song was written by Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn and Frank Sinatra’s version topped the UK Singles Chart for three weeks.

In 1955 there were three recorded versions of the Ballad of Davy Crockett in the top 30. Bill Hayes' version was the most popular, and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks. ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ was written by George Bruns and Thomas W. Blackburn. Fess Parker, brought out the first recording which was quickly followed by versions by Bill Hayes and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White ("Cereza rosa")’ was a number one instrumental hit for Percy Prado his Orchestra . Alan Dale scored a top twenty hit with a vocal version in the same year and Eddie Calvert topped the UK charts with his instrumental version. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ featured in the adventure film ‘Underwater!’ starring Jane Russell and Richard Egan.

‘Prize of Gold’ sung by Joan Regan was used in main credits of another adventure film, ‘A Prize of Gold’. It became a hit. ‘Ready willing and able’ was another hit for Doris Day and was taken from the film score from ‘Young at heart’. Frank Sinatra had previously had a hit with,’Young at Heart’. ‘Battle Cry’ starring Van Heflin and Aldo Ray featured ‘Honey Babe’ by Art Mooney and His Orchestra which became a Top 5 hit in the United States. ‘There's No Business Like Show Business’ was featured in the movie of the same name and sung by Ethel Merman as the main musical number. The popular hit from the film was ‘If you believe’, and sung by Johnnie Ray.

In the same year the McGuire Sisters had a top five hit with their version of ‘Something gotta give’, from the movie of ‘Daddy Longlegs’. Fred Astaire sang the original on the film score but Sammy Davis Jnr also had a hit with the same song in 1955. Morris Stoloff and his Orchestra played ‘Moonglow’, the theme from ‘Picnic’. The movie was a huge success when it was released in 1955 and launched the career of Kim Novak.

In 1956, Bill Haley and His Comets had a hit with ‘See You Later Alligator,’ it was originally entitled ‘Later Alligator.’ The song was featured in ‘Rock Around the Clock’. Another hit for Bill Haley was ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ which came from the same film. The title song ‘Rock Around the Clock’ had previously been used in the soundtrack of the film ‘Blackboard Jungle’, (1955) but when it was featured over the film's opening credits, and at the close of the movie, it became an instant classic and topped the singles charts. In the UK another song to catch popular attention from Rock around the clock in the UK was Giddy up a ding dong by Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys (UK) it topped the charts in the UK and many other countries but was not a hit in the United States.

Doris Day was back in the singles charts again with ‘Que sera sera (Whatever will be will be)’ which appeared in the film score of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The man who knew too much’. Doris Day reached number two on the U.S. pop charts and number one in the UK. ‘A Woman in Love’ was written by Frank Loesser and appeared in ‘Guys and Dolls’. The biggest hit version of the song was recorded by The Four Aces, but Frankie Laine also recording a version that scored a big success in the United Kingdom, reaching #1 on the UK Singles Chart in the UK.

Elvis Presley’s screen debut was in the drama ‘Love Me Tender’ in 1956. The title song was a hit. Another civil war drama was ‘Friendly Persuasion’ and starred Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire. The movie featured the song Thee I love, music by Dimitri Tiomkin and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. The best-known version of the song was recorded by Pat Boone.

True love was a massive success for Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, written by Cole Porter the song appeared in the musical film ‘High Society’.

‘The Girl Can't Help It’ was a comedy musical film, shot in Technicolor and starring Jayne Mansfield and Edmond O'Brien. It was intended as a satire of teenagers and rock ‘n’ roll music but unintentionally featured the “most potent” celebration of rock music ever captured on film. Little Richard sang the title song but it was Fats Domino who rode high in the pop charts with ‘Blue Monday’ which featured on the musical score. It became one of the earliest rhythm and blues songs to make the Billboard magazine pop music charts, peaking at number five and reaching the number one spot on the R&B Best Sellers chart. Bill Halley and his Comets were back in the top ten with ‘Don’t Knock the rock’, taken from another teen movie by the same name. The film was an immediate follow-up to ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and although the Haley recording was played over the opening credits, it is Alan Dale who actually performs the number on screen.

By 1957 the rock’n roll musical had become well established Elvis Presley was certainly box office and made two movies in that year. ‘Loving you’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ The title song from the former appeared on the B side of ‘Let me be your teddy bear,’ and became a number one hit in the US. This was quickly followed by ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ from the movie of the same name. The song ‘Jailhouse Rock’ was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and released as a 45rpm single to coincide with the motion picture, Jailhouse Rock. The song became a US #1 hit for 7 weeks in the autumn of 1957, and a UK #1 hit for three weeks early in 1958.

In the UK, Skiffle a type of jug music had taken hold and the Chas McDermott Skiffle Group scored a top 5 hit with ‘Freight Train.’ The song appeared on the soundtrack for ‘The Tommy Steele Story.’ Tommy Steele also had a trio of top ten hits which appeared on the same soundtrack i.e. ‘Singing the blues’, ‘Butterfingers’, and ‘Water/Water/Handful of Songs.’ Only ‘Singling the blues’ held the number one position.

Debbie Reynolds had a massive international success with the Tammy films i.e. a series of four light-hearted American films about a naive 18-year-old girl from Mississippi. Needless to say ‘Tammy’ sung by Reynolds was a top ten single in 1957.

‘All the Way’ was written by Jimmy Van Heusen with lyrics by Sammy Cahn. It appeared in film ‘The Joker Is Wild’ and Frank Sinatra had the best-selling recorded version of the song. He also sang "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)" for the movie and it was on the flipside.

Elvis Presley was back in the singles charts with ‘Hard Headed Woman’ and ‘King Creole’ in 1958. Both songs featured on the sound track of King Creole. ‘Hard Headed Woman’ was written by African American songwriter Claude Demetrius. The Royal Teens had a novelty hit with ‘Short Shorts’, from the movie ‘Keep it cool.’

In the UK in 1958 Frankie Vaughan had a hit with ‘The heart of the man’ taken from the movie of the same name.

The big Hollywood musical in 1958 was Gigi and despite being a much awarded movie, the music did not appear to catch the single buying public. Then in 1959 Billy Eckstine recoded ‘Gigi’ and had a UK success in the singles chart. Cliff Richard was also aspiring rocker and sang Living Doll in the film Serious Charge (1959); the song peaked at #1 on the UK singles chart for six weeks.

Paul Anka had a hit in the US with Lonely boy which he wrote and sang in the film Girls Town. A second hit from the same film was, "It's Time to Cry." Anthony Newly played a pop star in the UK comedy ‘Idle on Parade’. He scored a UK top 5 hit with ‘I’ve waited so long.’ Tommy Steele was back in the charts with ‘Little White Bull’ which was taken from the UK musical comedy ‘Tommy the Toreador’ starring Tommy Steele, Janet Munro, Sid James, Bernard Cribbins, Noell Purcell and Kenneth Williams.

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