Sunday, February 23, 2014
1953: Such a Good Pop Music Year
Years ago Katja, our young adult son J, and I were driving from Cincinnati to New York City. Approaching Pittsburgh, we happened upon a radio station that was playing hit songs from 1953. The singers included favorites like Eddie Fisher, Kay Starr, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Jo Stafford, and a host of others. Katja and I started singing along with the tunes. We knew the lyrics to every song that they played. J was astonished. He’d hardly heard of the songs, and he couldn’t believe his parents’ memory powers. Though he listened to lots of contemporary music himself, there were very few songs of his own era that he knew all the words to. Those fifties pop tunes were a lot more singable, often told a story, and had more memorable lyrics than much of the music that came later.
I know more songs by heart from 1953 than any other year. It’s because I was in tenth grade, and that’s when pop music first became an important part of my and my peer group’s lives. We all turned 16 that year, and along with that came driver’s licenses, increased freedom from family, and the start of dating and teenage romance. The girls in our crowd led the way with pop music. At first pop songs sounded sentimental and yucky to the boys, but, as our interest in girls grew, so did our interest in music. We listened to the DJs on our local radio station, WMAM, Marinette and Menominee. It was the only daytime radio station we could get in our Upper Peninsula/Northeastern Wisconsin area, though at night we’d receive more distant broadcasts including WLW from Cincinnati. My friend Bob A. had a car radio in his Model A Ford, and a bunch of guys would cruise the Loop through the twin cities, listening to the hits of the week. The top rated show was “Your Hit Parade” which aired on NBC on Saturday nights. Frank Sinatra and Doris Day had been co-hosts, and regulars included Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson, and Gisele MacKenzie. We listened faithfully and rehashed the Hit Parade results with friends on Sunday or Monday.
Pop music was also important because of high school dances. The girls learned to dance first, mastering new steps from a teen magazine. Sally H. had dance parties at her house in which the girls taught the boys how to foxtrot and do the jitterbug. At first the tenth grade boys just stood around at dances in groups by themselves while the girls danced with one another. Eventually we got up our courage and started getting out on the floor.
Patti Page was the top female singer of the day. She had endless hits. I loved “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.” Also “The Tennessee Waltz,” “Cross Over the Bridge,” “Mockin’ Bird Hill,” and “Let Me Go Lover.” Some of my other 1953 favorites were:
Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes, Perry Como
Till I Waltz Again With You, Teresa Brewer
Oh! My Pa-Pa, Eddie Fisher
Your Cheatin' Heart, Joni James
You, You, You, the Ames Brothers
Three Coins in the Fountain, Frank Sinatra
Vaya Con Dios, Les Paul and Mary Ford
Elvis Presley cut his first recording at Sun Records in August of 1953, and within a couple of years rock and roll had taken over and traditional pop music was on its way out. Patti Page and Frank Sinatra never disappeared though. Nowadays, when I work on the computer, I go to I-Tunes, click on the Radio link, and then go to “Golden Oldies”. Some listeners think that “Golden Oldies” refers to the sixties or the seventies. However, I go straight to one of the 1950’s stations on I-Tunes. That’s where the real Golden Oldies live on.