1956 - THE YEAR OF THE PERFECT STORM
by Bob O'Brien
Another bobsluckycat post presented by Mellow's Log Cabin!
This is "bobsluckycat" back with my first post of 2016 for Mellow's Log Cabin and it turns back the clock 60 years to 1956. Can you believe that? 60 years. To what I consider to be the year of the "perfect storm" of rock-n-roll and probably music recorded and otherwise in general. The music charts were pretty separate on purpose. The 45 RPM record was now the record of choice and by the following year the 78 RPM stalwart of records was declared obsolete by the R.I.A.A. and was ceased to be manufactured for the most part.
The jukebox industry was retooling to 45's as well and along with the old standby Wurlitzer, the jukeboxes of Rockola, Seeburg, and Rowe AMI were being manufactured in large numbers and forms and distributed far and wide across the land. These were state of the art Hi-Fidelity machines and some could play both sides of the record by just pushing a button to play. For five cents a song, it was the cheapest entertainment in the land. The built in counters also kept a running count of was being played and more importantly what wasn't being played and could be replaced more or less weekly.
It goes without saying that a lot of the jukebox operators, recording companies and in a lot of cases, artists themselves were controlled and/or influenced by organized criminal elements. Any record from a pressing of 200 copies to 2,000,000 copies could be a local, regional, or national hit depending on the cash flow going out and coming in.
There was a glut of 45's on the market, all looking for sales and jukebox plays took a lot of that. Mostly, it was a teenage buyers market. Country music and R&B had their niches and both did alright but nothing like the mainstream of American Popular Music which was now Rock-n-Roll. The 12" LP was marketed to the adult record buying public and those co-existed with everything else out there because a lot of money available in these affluent times to buy records and record players, televisions and the like. A popular cartoon in a 1956 humor magazine depicted a disk jockey in head-phones shaking out a manila envelope of money and a 45 RPM record onto his turntable with the caption "Now here's a little number making itself heard around these parts." It was funny, but also very true. How much so, we'll never know.
1956 was the year that rock-n-roll artists dominated the Billboard Top Twenty for the year. 1955 by comparison had none. The list of songs I'm going to present here is a mélange of hit songs from 1956 with my comments.
First of all, let's deal with the elephant in the room, Elvis Presley. We all know his story so there is no need to retrace it here. Norman Nite, noted early Disk Jockey and rock-n-roll historian in his book "Rock On Almanac" published by Harper And Row in 1989 states, "1956 is the year of Elvis Presley. His accomplishments during that year are monumental: He had 17 charted songs, five of which went to number 1, spending a total of 25 weeks at number 1, 16 of which were consecutive. Presley made 11 national television appearances and a debut motion picture role in "Love Me Tender". No other performer in the history of rock-n-roll will ever come close to matching this." What I have chosen to use is Elvis's first TV appearance from January 28, 1956 on the CBS program "Stage Show", which was not watched by huge hordes, but was the first to expose him to a national audience. Previous to this, Presley was known primarily in the Memphis, Shreveport, Nashville loop and not always well received, truth be told. The rest, as they say, is history. I first heard Elvis in early January 1956, when RCA Victor re-issued his last Sun recording Sun 223 as RCA-Victor 6357 "Mystery Train" and I thought it was good but I wasn't that impressed. I couldn't have been more wrong.
♫ Listen to: Elvis Presley - Shake, Rattle & Roll / I Got a Woman (live at CBS "Stage Show")
You can't speak about Elvis Presley without discussing Carl Perkins, a label mate at Sun Records in 1955. Sam Phillips released "Blue Suede Shoes" on January 01, 1956 to immediate success and while it seemed more "country" than not, went to the top of all three charts within the month. Presley covered the song on television live four times and his version of the song was different, more intense may be the word. On March 21st, on the way to New York City to appear on the Saturday night Perry Como where Perkins was going to break his new record "Boppin' The Blues" b/w "All Mama's Children" Sun 45-245 to a national audience and receive a gold record for "Blue Suede Shoes" on the strength of 550,000 copies sold. That never happened. On the way to New York, Perkins and his entourage were in a horrific car crash near Dover Delaware in which Carl Perkins was seriously injured and would require months of care and rehabilitation. His brother Jay would die from it.
Sam Phillips beyond it's initial run, in so far as I can tell, stopped production on Sun 45-245 completely and threw everything into the production and shipping of another 500,000 copies of "Blue Suede Shoes", which made it a million seller and true gold record. "Boppin' The Blues" on the other hand due to lack of product and promotion died on the vine. It was #47 on the Cashbox Pop Singles Chart, #9 on the Billboard Country Chart, and #70 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, albeit all briefly and by June of 1956 was gone. Perkins had a few minor hits over the next number of years and was member of Johnny Cash's Group as well and finally was recognized as a "grand old man" of rock-n-roll by the Beatles and the rest of the world.
♫ Listen to: Carl Perkins - Blue Suede Shoes
♫ Listen to: Carl Perkins - Boppin' the Blues
Buchanan & Goodman had a satire of rock-n-roll radio which was still in all pretty much right on the money as a template for rock-n-roll radio and it was funny. Of course everybody sued but the courts, by late 1956, decided in Buchanan & Goodman's favor and the record went to #3 on the charts and sold over a million copies. It's still funny.
♫ Listen to: Buchanan & Goodman - The Flying Saucer (1956)
|Bill Haley and the Comets|
(Decca Records promotion picture)
All the rock-n-roll icons are here from 1956. Starting with Bill Haley & The Comets, who broke into the Pop music charts in 1953 with "Crazy Man Crazy" on Essex Records, were signed by Decca Records in 1954 and had a slew of hits in 1954 and 1955 including "Rock Around The Clock", "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" and many others. In January of 1956, Haley & The Comets filmed the first rock-n-roll movie "Rock Around The Clock", which was produced by Sam Katzman on a small budget for Columbia Pictures and it grossed $4,000,000 dollars. The second film was filmed in September 1956 also on a small budget by Sam Katzman and was released in December of 1956 and the gross was only $1,200,000 dollars. The balloon had burst by now, except in Europe, and except for a few minor hits, Bill Haley And The Comets were passé.
♫ Listen to: Bill Haley & the Comets - See You Later, Alligator
♫ Listen to: Bill Haley & the Comets - Rudy's Rock
Fats Domino started putting out hits starting in 1949 and continued to do so through the end of his Imperial Records contract in 1962. He had a few million sellers in the first 6 years of his contract, but they were known only on the R&B Charts and Black radio and maybe a few white record dealers, but not the white general population as a whole. That all changed in 1956 with the release of a few old Pop standards Domino recorded also with his regular R&B recordings, all of which topped both charts Pop and R&B for the entire year. "Blueberry Hill" was an obvious instant classic. By the first three or four notes, everybody immediately recognized it. Rolling Stone magazine in compiling the 500 greatest hits of all time listed it at #82.
♫ Listen to: Fats Domino - Blueberry Hill
Chuck Berry came on strong in 1956 with a string of recordings on Chess Records, only "Roll Over Beethoven" in mid summer was a top 20 Pop hit record and became a Gold Record besides but all now are considered classics.
♫ Listen to: Chuck Berry - Roll Over Beethoven
Little Richard claims to have started it all. He didn't of course, but his strong appearances in the film "The Girl Can't Help It" where he sang "The Girl Can't Help It", "She's Got It" and "Reddy Teddy", which was a two sided hit b/w "Rip It Up", helped keep him high on the Pop and R&B Charts for the entire year and garnered him a gold record. Elvis Presley covered "Rip It Up," "Reddy Teddy" and Long Tall Sally" on his second LP "Elvis" to great advantage. Bill Haley & The Comets covered "Rip It Up" in their second film "Don't Knock The Rock' and now 60 years later the question is still why? Little Richard also appeared in this film but his song selections were now passé and off the charts by the time the movie came out, "Tutti-Fruitti" and "Long Tall Sally".
♫ Listen to: Little Richard - Ready Teddy
The Bill Doggett Combo had been recording R&B and Jazz-flavored instrumentals for King Records for a while when this instrumental "Honky Tonk" became not only a late summer hit and gold record, but it lingered on the charts for several weeks and on radios and jukeboxes for several years and became "THE" classic instrumental of 1956, without peer.
♫ Listen to: Bill Doggett Combo - Honky Tonk (Part 1 & 2)
Don Cherry's recording of "Band Of Gold" was a great Pop dance tune and struck a nerve with teens and adults alike and it stayed in the charts for a long time. A dance favorite and his only gold record. Previously a big band singer, Cherry had a few pop hits as the "3 D's" on Coral Records with Johnny Desmond and Alan Dale. A happy-go-lucky sort, he later recorded for Monument Records and became a golf pro and not too successful at either one.
♫ Don Cherry - Band of Gold
♫ Listen to: The Flamingoes - I'll Be Home
Otis Williams & The Charms had the first hit with "Ivory Tower" early in 1956 on the R&B Charts. Cathy Carr and Gale Storm both covered it on the Pop charts and had better sales and air-play. I like this version better.
♫ Listen to: Otis Williams & the Charms - Ivory Tower
In the midst of all this rockin' and rollin' in mid-March at the Mark Hellinger Theatre in New York City, the now classic musical "My Fair Lady" opened to great reviews and wildly enthusiastic audiences and it ran for 6 years. The Original Cast Album was one of the top LP's of 1956 with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews and several Pop music singers and bands including Vic Damone, Percy Faith & His Orch. and Sammy Kaye and His Orch. among many others put out cover recordings and they were heard everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. Rosemary Clooney was the first to take a song from the musical up the charts in May of 1956. Looking back, the record is somewhat over produced. Rosemary Clooney, however, is perfect.
♫ Listen to: Rosemary Clooney - I Could Have Danced All Night
Following up "Only You" and "My Prayer" in 1955, the Platters in early 1956 released a two-sided hit entitled "The Magic Touch" b/w "Winner Take All" both were equally requested at dances as they were great dance numbers, well into late 1956.
♫ Listen to: The Platters - The Magic Touch
♫ Listen to: The Platters - Winner Take All
Morris Stoloff had been on the staff at Columbia Pictures in the music department since 1936 and this set piece from the film "Picnic" just sort of grabbed everybody who saw the film. It was a great piece of music to be sure and well arranged and stayed on the Pop Charts for 27 weeks and a lot of that was at #2. A great dance tune again for teens and adults. Great Stars in the cast, Kim Novak and William Holden, but otherwise a turgid movie.
♫ Listen to: Morris Stoloff with the Columbia Pictures Orch. - Moonglow (Theme from Picnic)
"Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus was the kind of novelty record that the first time I heard it in June of 1956 had to ask myself "What was that!". It was a very funny record that got a lot of air play and sold a lot of records for a short while. Included here just for fun and to color the blog another shade or so. Indulge me.
♫ Listen to: Nervous Norvus - Transfusion
Briefly, The Five Satins had a big summer dance hit of "In The Still Of The Night". You heard it, you danced to it and it became an early "Oldies" classic and it garnered a gold record, but you can't remember too much about it. Pure nostalgia.
♫ Listen to: The Five Satins - In the Still of the Night
Laverne Baker's biggest hit record was a rockin' "Jim Dandy" and it received a gold record by late 1956. It was brought back in December of 1973 by a group called Black Oak Arkansas and was a hit all over again to a much different audience.
♫ Listen to: Laverne Baker - Jim Dandy
"The Green Door" was a Pop novelty record in late summer/early fall of 1956 with funny lyrics and harpsichord solo and went to Number 1 on the charts and earned a gold record. Mostly forgotten today but still worth a listen.
♫ Listen to: Jim Lowe - The Green Door
In many ways, Johnny Cash was to Country music what Elvis was to practically everything else in 1956. His second recording, 1955's "Folsom Prison Blues" bled over into the top of the Country charts in early 1956, peaking at #4. Cash had a new style from traditional Country, Bluegrass, and Western Swing popular then as now, but his music was a minimum of instrumentation and featuring a lot of rhythm. The subject matter of his songs was definitely Country. "I Walk The Line" was recorded on April 2, 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis and released as Sun 45-241 on May 1, 1956 and it was an instant radio hit and jukebox hit as well. A person heard it everywhere and there was no doubt that it would be a country Classic at some point, but bookings were another thing and while "I Walk The Line" was a Country #1 by mid-summer it didn't cross over to the Pop music chart until late fall and went to #17 and staying there for 3 weeks with a minimum of national TV exposure. It was all personal appearances and radio and jukeboxes and pure hard work getting wide exposure. Sam Phillips, the head of Sun Records, had a lot on his plate in 1956 and if he had had less there, maybe he would have promoted Johnny Cash more than he did. In any case, when Columbia Records came calling in 1958, Johnny Cash couldn't wait to sign on the dotted line and, as they say, the rest is history.
♫ Listen to: Johnny Cash - I Walk the Line
Sonny Knight had the voice of a white teenage heart throb, and if all you heard was the voice then Mr. Knight would have been huge. As it was, Sonny Knight was actually Joe Smith, a black man over 21 who had been on the fringes of the Los Angles R&B scene off and on since 1953, recording without much success for the Aladdin and then the Specialty record companies. I heard "Keep A Walkin'" on Specialty #547 in late 1955 and I just assumed he was a white guy and I didn't find out different until much later. He finally clicked in late 1956 with "Confidential" which went to #17 on the charts in mid-December 1956, heavily promoted and probably for a piece of the action by Art LaBoe a disk jockey on KPOP in L.A. When the truth came out in 1957, Sonny Knight was a victim of racial backlash and his bookings pretty well dried up. He continued to record into the 1960's and after moving to Hawaii found a modicum of success, but he was extremely bitter about it and wrote a very ugly book about the beginnings of his career.
♫ Listen to: Sonny Knight - Confidential
Recorded in October of 1956 "I Ain't Got No Home" by nineteen year old Clarence "Frogman" Henry became a hit novelty in December 1956 and since then has gone into the mainstream of American music from use in movies, television, radio, and covers by many people, most notably by Carl Mann on Phillips International Records. Henry is still active in music in New Orleans and environs as I write this.
♫ Listen to: Clarence "Frogman" Henry - I Ain't Got No Home
|Screamin' Jay Hawkins before his hit recording|
of "I Put a Spell on You."
Screamin' Jay Hawkins owes his career to being drunk. He recorded for the Epic division of Columbia Records as a mainstream R&B artist. Everybody in the studio in September of 1956 was drunk on cheap wine when this take of "I Put A Spell On You" was recorded in New York City. Epic decided to release it and it became the strangest rock-n-roll record to ever make the charts. Persuaded by Alan Freed to use the "jungle man" persona to the hilt with assorted turbans, capes and animal skins and sometimes coffins as props. Hawkins said goodbye to R&B and laughed all the way to the bank for a number of years as a comedian more than a serious singer.
♫ Listen to: Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Put a Spell on You