Sunday, December 22, 2013

Music Sunday: The "My How Things Have Changed" Edition

I've been doing some research into popular music recently in connection with the book I'm writing about the Baby Boom generation, and I'm finding it interesting to watch how music changed from the beginning of the Boom in 1946 through the 1950s and 1960s and then on. It is especially interesting to look at the biggest hit singles from each year, not only to see what those songs were but how widely music was distributed. For example, in 1946, the first year of the Boom, popular music in the United States more or less stayed in the United States. By 1956, the reach of US popular music had extended to Europe, by the evidence of the charts that are reported. By 1966, not only had American pop extended its reach, the British Invasion had made more overseas groups popular in the United States.

Basically, the list of top five biggest hit singles in 1946 doesn't look anything like the list in 1956, which doesn't look anything like the list in 1966. Well, with one exception: in 1946, Frank Sinatra had the second biggest hit of the year with something called "Five Minutes More". Fast forward to 1966, when Sinatra had the biggest hit of the year with "Strangers in the Night".

I can't recall ever hearing "Five Minutes More", and on the chance that you haven't heard it either, here it is. It isn't a bad song at all:

And, because "Strangers in the Night" is a classic:

The lists of top singles for 1956 and 1966 have one thing in common - dominance by one artist or group. In 1956 this artist was Elvis Presley, who had three of the top five hits of the year, Besides those three songs - "Hound Dog" in third place, "Heartbreak Hotel" in fourth place, and "Don't Be Cruel" in fifth place - Elvis had two other songs go to number one in '56: "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" and "Love Me Tender". In 1966 the dominant group was, of course, The Beatles, also with three of the top five singles '66. Only they topped Elvis in one way, having all three places taken with singles that were two-sided hits. The took second place with "We Can Work It Out" and "Day Tripper", third place with "Yellow Submarine" and "Eleanor Rigby" and fifth place with "Paperback Writer" and "Rain".

I've already revealed what the biggest hit was in 1966, but what was the top hit single of the year in 1956, even more popular than Elvis's songs? Well, that spot was taken by Doris Day, with "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" from, of all places, the Alfred Hitchcock film "The Man Who Knew Too Much", which starred Day and James Stewart. Written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, the song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year, so it isn't surprising that it became very popular. Here is how it appears in the film:

Now, that's how you integrate a song into a non-musical movie.

The thing that's interesting to me about the comparison of the top hits in 1946, 1956, and 1966 is that in 1946 there is little sign of the rock and roll revolution yet to come. Besides Sinatra, the artists producing the biggest hits of the year were Perry Como, Vaughn Monroe, Nat King Cole, and The Ink Spots. The only glimmer of what is to come, musically speaking, is the presence of The Ink Spots, a vocal group that is considered to be a precursor of rhythm and blues and rock and roll. The Ink Spots were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Still, their song "To Each His Own", which was the fifth biggest single in 1946, is still very much in the mainstream of traditional popular music:

By 1956, though, rock and roll (or at least rockabilly, depending on who is classifying Presley's music) had arrived. My favorite of the three Presley songs among the top five hits of the year is "Heartbreak Hotel", which not only made number one on the pop chart but also scored on the R&B and country-western charts. This performance is from the Milton Berle television show on April 3, 1956, and is the TV performance that got him in trouble (not the Ed Sullivan appearance that has gone down in legend as the one that was so disturbing to some viewers):

Besides the Sinatra song and the three Presley songs among the top five hits of 1956, Fats Domino's version of "Blueberry Hill" was ranked the second most popular song of that year:

In 1966, besides Sinatra and The Beatles, The Beach Boys also ranked one of their songs, "Good Vibrations" among the top five hits of '66, which was the fourth biggest single of the year. This video includes not only the song itself, but footage of the band in the studio recording the song:

But, The Beatles did dominate the top hits in 1966, I've always been fond of "Paperback Writer", which was the fifth biggest single that year:

"Eleanor Rigby" was, along with "Yellow Submarine", the third biggest single of 1966. "Eleanor Rigby is, simply, a lovely song:

I'd like to share all the songs that I've written about in this post, but this has already gotten awfully long and we've covered an awful lot of territory, and so I'll leave it at this for this week, although I was very tempted to get into the changes between 1966 and 1976, when popular music had gone through yet another revolution. Maybe another time.

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