Regular site visitor "Doctor Bob" remembers the music of his youth

 This is the first (of many?) musical reminisces from regular visitors to this site. I have not edited the letter or changed any wrongly spelt artists' names.

 

 

My popular music memories 40's and 50's

 

Background information

 

I was born and lived in Wood Green, North London for nineteen years and then went to University in Leicester. I had family in Herne Bay and went there frequently at holiday time. I had a sister two years older than me and we had similar tastes in music and both learned to play the piano from an early age. I have liked popular music for well over sixty five years and my tastes are very wide. From about 1945 to 1946 I was in church choir and I still love choral music.

 

Early years to late 40's

 

As we did not have very much money to buy records we often bought sheet music and relied on the wireless, theatre or cinema to provide us with popular music.

 

We listened to record request programmes e.g. Forces Favourites on the Light programme of the BBC but as we got older we listened to Radio Luxembourg on 208m Medium wave who gave us much more popular music than the BBC and the American Forces Network (AFN) who provided wealth a popular American music such as "So Tired" by Russ Morgan.

 

Daily, there was Music While You Work which provided a cross section of music to suit workers whist they worked. It seemed to be popular but I was not always very keen because it featured orchestras like Troise and his Banjoliers. Another programme in the afternoons featured British dance bands such as Geraldo, Ambrose etc.

 

London and possibly elsewhere in the country was blessed with Moss Empire variety theatres. There was one in Wood Green near where I lived and others at Finsbury Park, Hackney and Golders Green. We went to Wood Green quite often and the usual format was a mixture of jugglers, magicians, acrobats etc. with one star. We saw "Hutch" Leslie Hutchinson, a top popular singer of the time, Cavan O'Connor, Nosmo King, Joseph Lock, Stanley Black, Issy Bonn, Two Ton Tessie O' Shea etc.

 

British singers and songs

 

There were very few popular songs that I heard on the wireless and those that I can remember were by British singers like Vera Lynn and "We'll meet again" and "There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover". Ann Shelton and Alma Cogan and Gracie Fields were other well-known British singers.

 

Leslie Hutchinson (Hutch) was also very popular and so was Donald Peers who sang "In a babbling brook". Al Bowlly recorded many songs in the 30's and his records of "Good night sweetheart" but sadly he was killed in an air raid in 1941.and "Love is the sweetest thing" amongst others was still popular in the 40's. Flanagan and Allen were a talented comedy and singing act and they had hits with "Underneath the arches" "Run rabbit run" "Strolling" and many others. I also remember George Formby with his comic songs such as "Leaning on a Lamp post" and "When I'm cleaning windows". I was far too young to understand the innuendos in the lyrics.

 

Ivor Novello wrote many light music songs e.g. "We'll gather lilacs", "Someday my heart will awake" etc. and Noel Coward wrote comedy songs e.g. "Mad dogs and Englishmen" and other more serious songs like "Poor Little rich girl" and "London pride". Vivien Ellis was a musical comedy writer and wrote "Bless the Bride". It had hits with "This is my lovely day" and "Ah bella Margarita" and I remember a French singer, Georges Guetary singing these two songs. He also sang "Stairway to paradise". There is particular one British song of that era and that was "Cruising down the River". It was very catchy and everybody sang, it but I thought it was awful.

 

The oddly titled "Mairzydotes and dozeydotes and liddlelamsedivey" sticks in my mind as I sang with some other children at a VE Day celebration party in 1945.

 

I do not remember many other British male singers but there were several popular tenors such as Richard Tauber, Cavan O'Connor, Joseph Lock etc. Two popular songs for tenors were "The Donkey Serenade" and "Pedro the Fisherman"

I was never sure if Paul Robeson was British or American but he was an excellent bass singer well known for singing "Old Man River".

 

Apart from French singer, Georges Guetary", there were a few other French singers in the 40's namely Charles Trenet who sang "La mer"("Beyond the sea") and "Boom , you made my heart go boom" and Maurice Chevalier who was well known and he appeared in the film of "Gigi" in the 50's.

 

Although the songs were written long before the 40's Victorian music hall songs were often played on the radio and I knew the words of many of them e.g. "My Old Dutch", "My old man said follow the van", "If it wasn't for the houses in between", "When father papered the parlour", "Any old iron", "Boiled beef and carrots" etc. Harry Champion wrote and sang several of these and he lived near where I did in North London.

 

I remember as a boy many of the older songs e.g. "Long way to Tipperary", "Roll out the barrel" "Pack up your troubles", "Bicycle made for two" etc.

 

Christmas songs from the 40's that I remember were Bing Crosby with "White Christmas" (also in the 50's film) "Chestnuts roasting by and open fire", "Winter Wonderland" and "Let it snow"

 

British bands and instrumentalists

 

We listened to British dance bands that were on the wireless on programmes like" Music while you work" and the orchestras I remember were Jack Payne, Henry Hall, Carol Gibbons, Ambrose and Billy Ternent. They played songs currently popular and those from previous years.

 

Middle of the road light music orchestras like Mantovani, George Melachrino and Troise and his Banjoliers were also frequently on the radio.

 

Piano players were popular and Charlie Kunz had his own programmes as did piano duettists, Rawicz and Landauer . We listened to them on the radio but I did not like their style of music.

 

On occasions, background film music e.g. "The Warsaw Concerto" from "Dangerous Moonlight" became popular and the most popular theme tune of all was "The Harry Lime Theme" from the "Third Man" was played by Anton Karas. Sometimes more highbrow songs e.g. "Sabre Dance" and the Ritual Fire Dance became popular classics.

 

Overall, dance music or pop music as we now think of it was not well provided for on the BBC.   As a result, many young people tuned in the Radio Luxembourg and the American Forces Network (AFN)

 

US singers and songs

 

American female singers that I can remember are Shirley Temple ("Good ship lollipop") Judy Garland, Lena Horne ("Stormy Weather"), Dinah Shore, Rosemary Clooney ("Come on a my house") and Doris Day. Judy Garland starred in the film "Meet me in St Louis" which included the "Trolley Song" and was in Easter Parade with Fred Astaire which included "Stepping out with my baby" and "We're a couple of swells". The Andrews Sisters were favourites of mine with "Don't sit under the apple tree", "Boogie woogie bugle boy from company B" and "Apple blossom time".

 

American singers I liked were the singing cowboys Roy Rogers (Don't fence me in) and Gene Autry, and there were Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dick Haimes and Nat King Cole. Fred Astaire was not a very good singer but in my opinion was the best dancer ever and starred in some wonderful films with Ginger Rogers. "September Song" was sung by several different singers but I preferred the Walter Houston version even if he could not sing very well. "Autumn Leaves" was another song recorded by several male and female singers. In those days it was common for several singers to make covers of the same song. You could always here cheaper cover versions of the current hit songs being played in Woolworths. I remember "As time goes by" from the film Casablanca. The American singing group "The Ink Spots" recorded a large number of songs including "Whispering Grass" Other of mine favourites was Fats Waller and his songs "Ain't misbehaving"," My very fine friend the milkman, "Your feet's to big" and "I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter". My sister and I also liked Hoagy Carmichael and knew most of the words (and I still do) his song "Hong Kong Blues" "Old Buttermilk Sky" and we also bought the sheet music to "The Old Music Master".

 

Al Jolson was still making records in the 40's but I remember that many of his old songs like "Sonny Boy", "Mammy", "Sitting on top of the world" and many others were still very popular.

 

Phil Harris I also remember well and liked his humorous songs "Woodman spare that tree" and "Darktown Poker Club".

 

A few other songs I remember but for no particular reason are "Green Eyes" and "Amapola, my pretty little poppy" which had similar tunes to each other (they were both written by Jimmy Dorsey), as well as "Little man you're crying" and "Buttons and Bows"

 

US Bands and instrumentalists

 

During the 1940's, I cannot remember many American bands apart from Glenn Miller and my favourite numbers by the band were "American Patrol", String of Pearls", and "In the Mood" His band's vocal numbers were "Someone to look after me" " Why do robins sing in the winter" and "Elmer's Tune" Tommy Dorsey ("Sunny side of the Street") was also popular. Then there was "So tired" by Russ Morgan which could frequently be heard on AFN radio.

 

A favourite band of mine was Spike Jones and his City Slickers who satirised other popular songs e.g. "You always hurt the one you love", "Cocktails for two" and "Sereton Yob" a comic version of Nat King Cole's song "Nature Boy".

 

The song that really captured our imagination in the late 1940's was "Twelfth Street Rag" by Pee Wee Hunt and his Orchestra. We knew the tune backwards with its doowacker doowacker doo and bought both the record and the sheet music.

 

I heard a lot of popular music in films and went to the cinema and saw a number of music based films including "Rhapsody in Blue" about George Gershwin, "I'm in the army now" written by Irving Berlin which included "Oh how I hate to get up in the morning". We also saw a film which included the song "Swinging on a Star" which I think was sung by Bing Crosby. The film "Night and Day" was based on the life of Cole Porter and this contained many of his songs. There was also the Jolson Story which made the Al Jolson songs very popular once again.

 

Disney films we saw often had songs in them such as "Hey Ho, Hey Ho" from "Snow white", "Drip, Drip Drop Little April Showers" from Bambi and the Crows singing "I've Never Seen and Elephant Fly" from "Dumbo" as well as "When you wish upon a star" from Pinocchio and "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" from the "Song of the South".

In another film we saw Carmen Miranda with the flowers in her hair sing "I, I, I like you very much" and I am sure that there were three animated characters, possibly parrots, in an animated film which sang "The Three Caballeros". There were also "The woody wood peckers song" and "I tort I saw a paddy tat"

 

I have already mentioned Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. Judy Garland was of course in "Wizard of Oz" and sang "Somewhere over the rainbow". I never saw this film when I was young as I found parts of it quite frightening.

 

1950 t0 1960 Specific memories

 

It is difficult to exactly remember if it was the late 1940's or early fifties but my sister bought the swing record collection from a school friend. This included most of the classic swing songs of the time and included

 

Woodchoppers Ball - Woody Herman

Flying Home- Lionel Hampton 

Central Avenue Breakdown - Lionel Hampton

One o'clock Jump - Count Basie

Skyliner - Charlie Barnet

String of Pearls - Glenn Miller

Frenesi?- Artie Shaw

Stomping at the Savoy- Benny Goodman

Trumpet Blues and Cantabile- Harry James

Sing, sing, sing? - Gene Krupa

Opus One -Tommy Dorsey

Getting sentimental over you - Tommy Dorsey

Eager Beaver - Stan Kenton 

Take the "A" train"- Duke Ellington 

 

We played these so often that we knew them by heart and could remember the exact trumpet, clarinet and saxophone breaks. These records started off my passion for all types of swing, big bands, traditional jazz and modern jazz and then back to vocalists again.

 

My sister was two years older than me and bought most of our first records. Her first was "Fine Brown Frame" by Nellie Lutcher shortly followed by the same singer's record of "Hurry on Down" My first record was by the Jack Parnell (Drummer with Ted Heath band ) Quartet and the second was by Lennie Tristano but I cannot remember its title and never liked it.

 

Then after hearing Eager Beaver by I started buying Stan Kenton records with my small amount of pocket money and money I saved by not using the bus and walking home from school.

 

The first record I bought was "Painted Rhythm" in about 1951 and this was followed by "Peanut Vendor", "Intermission Riff" etc. By about 1954 had got probably all those the band had ever issued. Like many children of my era, I had piano lessons from about seven and eventually reached Grade 6. All I could play was classical music and how I envied pianists that could play by ear. I bought a selection of Stan Kenton music for the piano but it was very difficult for me and I could not even stretch to play many of the chords. I saw the band once or twice at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester and saw the band again at the Regal Cinema in Edmonton when they visited the UK in 1955/56.

 

All my records I bought in the early 50's were played on a wind up portable which used steel needles. Records were easily scratched and to my horror I neatly punctured my record of "Painted Rhythm" when I was winding it up and the record arm which was housed in the lid fell down on the record.

 

My sister and I were also keen fans of traditional jazz and the Wood Green Jazz Club was a centre for this kind of music. My sister went there quite often at this time but my first visit was much later when Monty Sunshine and his band were playing. The resident band was Alex Welsh and his Jazzmen and Sandy Brown and his band also played there. Many traditional jazzmen of that era were part time and had other professions. Sandy Brown was an acoustics engineer and we always heard the helped in the design of the Festival Hall. Wally Fawkes, clarinettist with Humphrey Littleton when it was first formed was a satirical cartoonist and drew them under the name Trog. We bought the piano music of the song "Mississippi" (by the M I crooked letter I crooked letter, crooked letter, I) and I am sure that Alex Welch's picture was on the cover. I

 

From 1950 to 1954, my sister and I went each year to a NFJO jazz concert held at the Kilburn State Empire. It was held every year in I think September/October and it was in aid of a charity. As many as ten bands played during the afternoon concert and we saw most of the bands playing at that time. There were the bands fronted by Humphrey Lyttleton, Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, Mick Mulligan, John Chilton, Alex Welsh, Sandy Brown etc. The Crane River Jazz band also appeared. George Melly sang with some of them and Ottily Patterson sang with Chris Barber. Comedian "Professor Jimmy Edwards sometimes guested as trombone player. The Dutch Swing College Band, one of the few non-UK traditional Jazz bands may have had the odd appearance and I also think that there were Johnnie Dankworth and Ted Heath played there as well. After that, I saw Chris Barber and Humphrey Lyttleton several times at various venues.

 

In 1954 I went to Leicester University and like all universities of that time, it had its own jazz band which included some good musicians. Bob Gordon Walker was one of the clarinettists and I knew him quite well. When he finished his chemistry degree he told me that he was going to tour the world with his jazz band, The Original Downtown Syncopators (homage to Armstrong's Original Dixieland Jazz band). I never ever heard of them but they did make a few records in the 60's.

 

I never bought many traditional jazz records at that time but I did get one by Lu Watters and his Yerba Buena jazz band that played US west Coast jazz. I think I had to get it at Dobell's record shop in Charing Cross Road (now long gone).

 

We also liked boogie woogie and the main exponent of this type of piano music was Meade Lux Lewis and his most well-known piece was HonkieTonk Train Blues. We bought the music but it was very difficult to play particularly as you had to play some of it with four notes in one hand and five in the other. Other boogie woogie players were Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson

 

Johnny Dankworth, Ronnie Scott, Kenny Baker and George Shearing were the main UK exponents of modern jazz. Johnny Dankworth had a succession of bands/orchestra originally the Seven then a full orchestra. I think I saw the Seven at the festival hall Jimmy Deuchar was his trumpet player. I saw the orchestra also at the Festival Hall in about 1953/4 and I am sure that I this was the first concert at which Cleo Laine sang with the band. I sat behind the band and there was a photograph of Cleo Laine with the band in the Melody Maker and I am one of the little shapes behind the band

 

We subscribed to the Melody Maker from about 1950 and looked down on the New Musical Express when it came out in about 1952 (it was too pop).

 

I never saw Ronnie Scott until about 1953 when I went to the Royal ball room in Tottenham where he was playing. He had at that time a tremendous trombone player named Ken Wray. (Purely by coincidence I have just watched on BBC 4 an old film about Ronnie Scott)

 

Kenny Baker was a great trumpet player and I think I saw his band at the Festival Hall possibly sharing the bill with Johnny Dankworth.

 

George Shearing was a British piano player who went to the US as he thought that there were few opportunities for his type of music in the UK. He recorded "Lullaby of Birdland" (later recorded by Ella Fitzgerald) and "East of the Sun and West of the Moon". I bought the piano music for this. I seem to be picking up a lot of jazz programmes on the TV at present and have just watched Jazz piano greats but they missed out George Shearing, Art Tatum, Errol Garner and Teddy Wilson

 

I then went to Leicester University. Dave Cousins was there whilst I was there but much lower than me.

 

On my 21st birthday I was given a record player an ERA with twin speakers (the shop played "See you alligator" by Bill Hayley to show it worked OK.) The first LP I bought was "Songs for Swinging Lovers" by Frank Sinatra. After that I got two Ella Fitzgerald record at a knock down price in a fire damaged sale. They did not have proper record sleeves. The albums were Ella sings the Rogers and Hart song book Parts 1 and 2. She was so good that very soon after I bought the Cole Porter song book part 1 but never ever bought the part 2. Later on I bought the Ella and Louis extended play records- absolutely great.

 

I then bought several other Sinatra LPs and I also bought and EP. This had "Old Man River", Birth of the Blues" and "Stormy Weather" on it.

 

As I was still keen on traditional jazz I bought Louis Armstrong's Hot Five re-release at about the same time.

 

Lena Horne was another of my favourite singers and she made a record of "New Fangled Tango" which was very popular and I got the LP with it on in Leicester market. I also bought a wonderful version of her singing "Love me of Leave me" on a 78 single. I saw Sara Vaughan in concert when she came to Leicester in about 1959 but I've only got one of her records which is "Tenderly" and I've got a great record of her singing "Passing Strangers" with Billy Eckstein.

 

I also tried my hand at guitar playing and I bought a steel string guitar from the guitarist in the University jazz band. This might have been owned by the US guitarist, Eddie Condon some time ago. I loved guitar playing so I bought an LP by Segovia and another by Django Rheinhart (the best jazz guitarist ever) and Stefan Grappelli also played in the same group. Grappelli was one of the few musicians that managed to play jazz on a violin. (I may be wrong but it sounds to me that a Rheinhart and Grappelli sound track is played as background music to the current TV series "A very hungry chef") (I think that the Diz Disley Quintet may also have had a violinist). Another LP I bought from a friend was "Billy Wells in Paris" Wells was a US trombone player and the record has tracks with Reinhart and Grappelli in the supporting group.

 

I've got few other modern jazz records by Gerry Mulligan, Thelonius Monk , Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ) and of course Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond (Take Five).

 

I also had a couple of 78's by Earl Bostic one was "Flamingo". He was an alto sax player with a driving rasping style unlike anyone else I have ever heard. I have also bought some singles by popular singers e.g. Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray, Caterina Valente etc.

 

At the beginning of the 50's,US bands and singers did not come to the UK as I think a ban by the unions but eventually this was lifted and as I have already said I saw Stan Kenton. I saw Ella Fitzgerald 1or 2 times in Leicester and once in Birmingham and she had the wonderful Oscar Peterson on piano and also saw Sara Vaughan. Louis Armstrong came and performed at the Granby Hall in Leicester. His supporting band was rather strangely Vic Lewis who played Stan Kenton style music ( I had a single 78 of his version of "Man I Love").

 

I was also keen on blues singers e.g. Bessie Smith etc. and I bought LP's by the guitar players Hudie Ledbetter and Big Bill Broonzie. I saw the latter giving a performance in Nottingham. Lonnie Donegan was at another theatre on the same evening.

 

Other musicians and bands I saw in the late 50's were Sidney Bechet at the Festival Hall and wrote and played Petite Fleur. Bechet was American but spent much of his time in France and he played the soprano saxophone and only a few other jazz musicians e.g. Jonny Dankworth, Bruce Turner etc. The last big band I saw was Count Basie and I and sure that I saw the band at the Festival Hall in about 1958 but it may have been earlier than that. His singer, Joe Williams, sang "It's alright, OK, you win". I thought that the band was brilliant and none would ever be better.

 

There is however one song that stands out in my memory more than any other and this is "We're little lost sheep that have lost our way". I do not know who sang it or when it was popular but one of the resident bands at the University band at the Saturday night hop always played it as their last waltz. Whilst it was playing the bandleader wished everyone good night and hoped we liked the music and would keep listening.

 

My overall view of the 50's

 

British male singers

 

This brings me back to the rest of the music scene in the UK which, in my opinion, was languishing until the end of the decade. Records of male UK singers were often on the radio e.g. Frankie Vaughan ("Green Door"), Michael Holiday ("The story of my life"), David Whitfield, Edmund Hockridge, Jimmy Young and the vocalists with the Ted Heath band, Paul Carpenter, Dickie Valentine and Dennis Lotis. Other vocalists were Ronnie Hilton and Ronnie Carroll who made many cover versions other singer's hits. We should not forget Ronnie Ronalde who sang and whistled.

Jimmy Young had a number 1 hit with "Unchained Melody" and another with "The man from Laramie" (danger was this man's special tea).

 

I recall that some comedians were good singers and Issy Bonn made a record of "My Yiddisher Momma", Norman Wisdom had a hit with ("Don't laugh at me cos I'm a fool") and Peter Sellers made a parody of his dad singing "All the things you are" in the bath.  I once saw comedian Max Bygraves at the Palladium and after his jokes, he went on to sing and then did a very good impersonation of Al Jolson. I am sure that he went on to sing Jolson songs in a tribute programme on the radio. He made lots of very popular Sing-along albums.
 

British male singers that started their careers and became popular in the late 50's were Tommy Steel, Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and Joe Brown. Cliff Richard had hits with "Living Doll" and "Travelling Light" and Adam Faith had a hit with "What do you want if you don't want money?" which was said to have the shortest track ever recorded.

 

I cannot remember many UK male singing groups but The Radio Revellers had a recording of "Grandfathers Clock" which was a hit with children. The Cliff Adams Singers had a popular radio programme entitled "Sing Something Simple" which I think was on the light programme I think at 6.00 p.m. on a Sunday.

 

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann composed and sang comedy songs and I went to see them when they were at the Fortune theatre in London. Two of their best songs were The "Hippopotamus Song" (Mud, mud, glorious mud) which was supposedly a great favourite of Princess Margaret and "The gasman came to call".

 

British female singers

 

In the early 50's female UK vocalists were few and far between and included Lita Rosa ("How much is that doggie in the window- wuff, wuff"). She was the female singer with the Ted Heath band and there were Rose Murphy, Alma Cogen and Ann Shelton. Eve Boswell who was South African, had a hit with "Silver Dollar" and she sang with Geraldo's band.

 

Shani Wallis was born in Tottenham (must be something in the local water as Adele comes from there as well and Amie Whitehouse was from Edmonton) and she was our local celebrity. She starred in a number of musicals in the west end in the 50's but did not have any hit singles.

 

Petula Clark was very popular as an entertainer in the 40's and 50's and although she was in films like "Here come the Huggetts" she did not achieve much record success in the UK during the 50's.

 

Julie Andrew started her singing career in the UK in the early fifties and sang on the radio with her parents Ted and Barbara Andrews and was in the "Educating Archie" show. Another couple that sang similar light opera on the radio was Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. This sort of light serious music was very popular with the older generation.

 

Shirley Bassey's career began in the late 50's and one of her first hits was hit with "Kiss me honey, honey kiss me".

 

The most well-known UK female singing group was the Beverley Sisters. Their hits were "Little Donkey" and "Little drummer Boy". The Vernon's Girls were supposedly a choir of workers at Vernon's Football Pools. Mixed groups e.g. The Stargazers had some success and topped the hit parade with "I see the Moon".

 

British bands and instrumentalists

 

Whereas in the US big bands were fading those in the UK thrived. My top bands were Ted Heath, Geraldo, Vic Lewis, The Squadronaires and Ken Mackintosh Ted Heath had a number of hits including "The Champ" and "Pick yourself up" (This was often used as a solo piece for Johnnie Hawksworth the double bass player). The Squadronaires and other bands e.g. Cyril Stapleton were formed by the ex-members of war time military dance orchestra. Sid Phillips and Harry Gold and his Pieces of Eight played sanitised traditional jazz.

 

Here is the time to mention dance music because in the 50's many people loved to dance; so I think this was why British dance bands were so popular. Ballroom dancing (quickstep, foxtrot and waltz and if you were any good tango, pasadoble and rhumba) was considered to be an essential social requirement for everyone and I was taught it at school. There were dance halls everywhere and the most well-known ones in the London area were the Hammersmith Palais (resident band Lou Preager), The Lyceum Ballroom in Leicester Square, Tottenham Royal (this had the reputation of being a haunt of the Teddy Boys) and the Wimbledon Palais. They were dances in most civic and metropolitan halls every Saturday and at that time we bought popular records to dance to rather than to listen to. I used to go to dance at the Municipal Hall Tottenham or Royalty, Southgate and remember the band playing Frankie Vaughan's "Green Door". We all learnt to dance to records by Victor Sylvester as he played strict tempo dance music.

 

As I was a jazz fan which was not strict tempo I learnt to jive which was perfect for traditional jazz but not for modern jazz. You could also jive to quicksteps or cha cha's ; but if you started to jive to one of these in a dance hall you were immediately warned off. It was also fine for rock and roll but jiving came much earlier.

 

Due to the popularity of dance music, it was played a lot and there were probably many British dance bands that could be heard on the radio in the early fifties but these had decreased in number by the end of the decade. Marie Benson had an all-girls band. Another to mention which was different from the others was Edmundo Ros and his Latin American dance orchestra. He claimed to have introduced Latin American music to the UK . A small group that I liked was the Ray Ellington quartet who used to appear on the Goon Show.

 

As programmes devoted to popular music were few and far between so you had to listen to other light entertainment programmes to find it. "Breakfast with Braden" was a popular radio show and it featured singers Pearl Carr and Benny Lee and Nat Temple and his orchestra. Pearl Carr went on to form a singing duo with Teddy Johnson. The Black and White Minstrel Show on the TV provided a mix of popular songs and light music.

 

The Billy Cotton Band Show and was introduced by Billy Cotton's "wakey, wakey" cry and they had a hit with "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts" His lead singer was Alan Breeze and I think that Rita Williams was his female vocalist and the pianist Bill McGuffie may have also had a spot. Billy Cotton used a lot of amusing songs and the programme was at 1o'clock on a Sunday afternoon immediately after "Two way family favourites" with its signature tune "With a song in my heart" This played a lot of popular music records and so did "Housewives Choice". This was week day record programme introduced by ex-band leader, George Elrick. Children's Choice was on Saturday morning and "Nellie the Elephant" was often played. The best record programme of all was that presented by Jack Jackson. There were only a few TV pop music programmes that I can remember one was "Six five special" and the other was "Juke Box Jury" when new records were awarded points by a panel in order to decide if it might be a hit or a miss. One young female panellist became famous for her expression "O'ill give it foive".

 

I remained a fan of traditional and modern jazz but neither received very much of a mention in music reviews or coverage on the radio in spite of their large number of fans. However, there was the programme, Jazz Club, which was on the Light programme.

 

Some of the traditional jazz tunes became standards such as "When the Saints go marching in", "Momma don't allow no jazz band played in here", "South Rampart Street Parade", "Muskrat Ramble", "Basin Street Blues", "Tiger Rag" "Just a closer walk with thee" etc..

 

Leading jazz musicians were Humphrey Lyttleton, Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, Joe Daniels, Wally Fawkes, Lonnie Donegan, Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and Monty Sunshine. Humphrey Lyttleton had a popular hit with "Bad penny blues".

 

A spin off from traditional jazz was skiffle. This was supposed to have started by small groups looking for low cost instruments and used a guitar, tea chest base and a wash board (metal faced) The comedian Deryk Guyler was an expert on this. It then became more sophisticated and used guitars and banjos. Lonnie Donegan played these with the Chris Barber and his band but left to form a skiffle group of guitar, banjo and rhythm. He played at the NFJO concerts and had hits with "Rock Island Line", "Putting on the style", "Cumberland Gap" and "My Old Man's a Dustman". Johnny Duncan and the Blue Grass boys featured briefly but did not have much success.

 

John Lennon started off his musical career with a skiffle group in the late 50's and then went on to form the Quarrymen who in turn became the Beatles.

 

Modern jazz played by Ronnie Scott and Johnny Dankworth was still popular with the fans but did not capture a wider market. Jazz at the Philharmonic (JAPT) was run by the US impresario Norman Grantz and consisted of a group of top US musicians together with Ella Fitzgerald toured the UK in the early 50's.

 

Another form of music that became popular in the 50's was calypso. One that I remember was about two West Indian cricketers was entitled "Cricket lovely cricket" and was about two successful West Indian test cricketers Ramadin and Valentine. Another calypso style song "The Banana Boat Song" recorded by Harry Belafonte was also a hit.

 

Light orchestral music sometimes became popular hits e.g. Leroy Anderson's "Blue Tango" and "Sleigh Ride".

 

Occasionally instrumental songs were hits e.g. Eddie Calvert on trumpet with "Oh Mine Papa" and "Cherry pink and apple blossom white". This was a slightly inferior cover of the same tune by Perez Prado a US Latin American/swing band.

 

Another instrumental song I liked was Tommy Dorsey's "Getting Sentimental over you". I have heard Don Lusher the lead trombonist with Ted Heath play this many times.

 

Pianists were always popular. Winifred Atwell was born in Trinidad and was quite successful and Russ Conway had a hit with "Side-saddle". Sandy Macpherson played the theatre organ and had a request programme and was very popular with the older generation including my grandmother. Semprini was another pianist and he had his own radio programme of light music.

 

US bands and instrumentalists

 

In the US, big bands began losing their popularity. Duke Ellington and Basie carried on but others formed smaller groups. Buddy Morrow who I do not know much about had a hit with "Night Train" and I liked Billy May's "My sugar walks down the street" I bought a record of Bunny Berigan's "I can't get started" but this must have been a re-release. Louis Jordan had a hits with "Ain't nobody here but us chickens" and "Choo, choo ch'boogie". Jazz maintained its revival in the early 50's with re-issues or early jazz musicians records e.g. by Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Orey etc. and some re-emergence on the West Coast with Lu Watters and Muggsy Spanier but faded later in the decade.

 

Modern jazz was still popular in the early 50's with the main players being Dizzie Gillespie (with his funny shaped trumpet), Charlie (Bird ) Parker (alto saxophone), Miles Davis (trumpet), Stan Getz (tenor saxophone) and Thelonius Monk (piano).

 

It was the arrangers like Nelson Riddle and Mitch Miller that came to the fore and as backing orchestras played regularly on records by Frank Sinatra (Riddle) and Guy Mitchell (Miller). Mitch Miller had hits with "Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Tsena, Tsena, Tsena".

 

I am not sure if he had a band but the pianist Bill Snyder in my opinion made the best record of "Bewitched".

 

US male singers

 

There were many US singers that were popular in the UK in the early fifties with the top names being Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Johnnie Mathis, Perry Como and Mel Torme ("Mountain Greenery") Vic Damone , Eddie Fisher, Al Martino, Andy Williams, Bobby Darin ("Mack the Knife"), Fats Domino ("Blueberry Hill"), Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin were also popular. Al Martino had the number one record ("Here in my heart") in the first UK record chart in 1952 compiled by the New Musical Express. Song sheet sales had been compiled on and off by the "Melody Maker" before this. In my opinion, these early charts were of dubious statistical value as from my own experience some people bought one or other or both the music and record. Eventually all sales were validated; so they could be trusted more.

 

I liked "Nancy with the laughing face" by Frank Sinatra which I always thought was about his wife but it may be about his daughter. He made other hit records e.g. "Young at Heart", "High Hopes" (which I never liked). Tony Bennett was famous for "I left my heart in San Francisco" Nat King Cole had so many hits it is difficult to remember all of them all but "Mona Lisa", "Walking my baby back home" "Smile" written by Charlie Chaplin were all very good. My favourite was "Let there be love". He also recorded "When I fall in love" but I prefer the Jeri Southern version and there was "Orange Coloured Sky" with Stan Kenton.

 

Bing Crosby was popular again with "White Christmas", "Count your blessing instead of sheep" and "True Love" from "High Society" when he was supported by Grace Kelly.

 

Johnny Mathis I think was a high class pole vaulter before he took up singing and his most famous records were "That certain smile" and "Misty" written by Errol Garner.

Perry Como also had lots of hits including "Catch a falling star", "Magic Moments" and "Don't let the stars get in your eyes"

 

Dean Martin's had hits with "Memories are made of this" and "That's amore". In the film "Rio Bravo" he did not sing but played the drunk and it also starred singer Ricki Nelson who had a hit single I think with "Poor little fool".

 

Louis Armstrong was more recognised in the 50's for his trumpet playing rather than as a singer but he joined Ella Fitzgerald for a number of great song duets and sang "Now you have jazz" in "High Society".

 

Most of the ballad singers had already had established singing careers but Frankie Laine seemed to me to have burst on to scene from nowhere in the early fifties and probably had more hits and sold a total of more hits than anyone else at that time.

The first I remember was "Mule Train" then came "Jezebel". I remember singing this on top of an empty trolley bus coming back from Enfield with a friend after seeing his then school girlfriend, Julia Mackenzie (the actress and singer) in a show. He had lots of other hits including "Jealousy", "I believe" and "Answer me". He also had hits with Jo Stafford ("Hey Good looking", "Cool, cool, cool of the evening"). I always thought that Frankie Laine sang "Cool water" but it was by someone else, possibly the "Sons of the pioneers". Frankie Laine had a hit with "Rose, Rose, I love you" but I can only really remember the awful version by a Chinese singer.

 

Mario Lanza, a classical style tenor, appeared in lots of films and had many hits including "Be my love"

 

Another singer of the early and mid-50's was Guy Mitchell who had a host of catchy songs which were very popular. I know the words and tunes of most of them but never liked them. His major hits were "My Heart Cries for you", Roving Kind", "Truly, truly fair" "Pawn shop on the Corner of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania" "She wears red feathers " and many more.

 

Another newcomer was Johnnie Ray. He had hits with "Cry", "Little white cloud that cried", "Walking my baby back home" and "Such a night". I went to see him in Leicester and also at the London Palladium. I think that he was the first pop heart throb. Another with a claim to this was Paul Anka with his records of "Oh Diana". "I'm just a lonely boy" and "Put your head on my shoulder". He became even more famous in later years because he wrote "My Way" for Frank Sinatra.

 

In the mid 50's, Bill Hayley hit the music world with "Shake, Rattle and Roll", "Rock around the Clock" and "See you Alligator". Little Richard was quick to follow with hits for "Good Golly Miss Molly", "Long Tall Sally","Tutti Frutti" and several others. These songs were just the thing to jive to.

 

After that came one of the greatest popular singers of them all, Elvis Presley. Most of his records were hits and there is little else to say. "Heartbreak Hotel" was his first hit and I used to do an impersonation of this. This was followed by "Nothing but a Hound Dog", "All shook up" etc. He also recorded "Blue suede shoes" but it was first recorded by Carl Perkins. I was very proud of my pair of blue suede shoes which had one inch crepe rubber soles.

 

Buddy Holly was another favourite of mine. He had hits with "That'll be the Day", and "Peggy Sue". Another song I have always liked is "Love potion number 9" but I cannot remember who sang it.

 

US female singers

 

US female singers in the early 50's included Jo Stafford, Teresa Brewer, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Dinah Washington, Doris Day, Patti Page, Jeri Southern, Eartha Kitt and the Kenton vocalists Anita O'Day, ("How high the Moon") June Christie and Chris Connor ("Jeepers Creepers")

 

Teresa Brewer had a hit with "Music, music, music". This was played everywhere and I remember it blaring out from a jukebox in and amusement arcade in Herne Bay.

 

Peggy Lee made one of the best records ever with her recording of "The Folks that live on the Hill" and Eartha Kitt had a hit with "Santa Baby".

 

Jo Stafford had a wonderful singing voice and amongst her hits were "You belong to me" and "Shrimp Boats" I remember singing this on the coach during a school trip. She also sang on "Cigareets and Whisky and Wild, Wild Women" by Red Ingle and Natural Seven (recorded in the 40's).

 

Ella Fitzgerald was originally thought more of a jazz singer particularly with her scat singing but then she recorded all her albums of the songs of all the well-known song writers including, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington etc. She also had a number of tremendous albums with Louis Armstrong. I remember her for "Lullaby of Birdland" and for forgetting the words of "Mac the Knife" when I saw her at a concert in Birmingham. My favourite song by Ella was and still is "Every time we say goodbye"

 

Doris Day had lots of hits and also appeared in many films and in one she sang "10 cents a dance". She was in many musicals. Dinah Washington is not recorded as having hits in the UK but I remember "Teach me tonight", "What a difference a day makes" and "You've got what it takes "Kay Starr had several hits including "Wheel of Fortune", "Rock and roll waltz" and "Side by Side".

 

One of the young popular singers was Connie Francis who made lots of recordings and my favourites were "Lipstick on your collar", "Stupid cupid" and "Who's sorry now".

 

I did not think that the Christmas songs of the 50's were as good as in the previous decade but and examples I remember were "I saw mummy kissing Santa Claus last night" and "Jinglebell Rock". Someone also sang "All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth"

 

Vocalists would get nowhere without song writers and Cole Porter was still writing in the 50's but there were new song writers e.g. Lieber and Stoller who wrote songs for Elvis Presley and others. Burt Bacharach was also writing songs in the 50's and had hits with "Magic moments" by Perry Como and "Story of my life" by Michael Holliday.

Henry Mancini wrote many hit songs in later years but in the 50's, I remember that he had a hit with the theme from the US TV programme," Peter Gunn".

 

US vocal groups

 

Although the Andrews Sisters were still recording, I cannot remember any UK hits in the 50's.

 

There were however several male vocal groups. My favourite was Four Freshmen and I purchased the Album Four Freshmen with Five Trombones in about 1956 which had songs by Gershwin and other standards. Other groups were the Mills Brothers who had been recording since the 1930's. Their 50's hit was "Glow Worm"

Another vocal group of the time was the Ames Brothers.

 

Perhaps I should have watched "The Nanny" on BBC1. My wife has it on and I've just heard Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers singing "Why do fools fall in love"

 

Les Paul a jazz guitarist turned his hand to popular music and developed a technique of multi-track recording whereby he played all the musical parts. Either alone or together with his wife Mary Ford, he sold millions of records. My favourites were "How high the Moon" and "The world is waiting for the sunrise" and I sat in many coffee bars drinking espresso coffee (milky, frothy and in Pyrex glass cups) listening to these.

 

One of my favourite groups was "The Platters" a mixed group of three or, four male and one female vocalist. They had hits with "Only you" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" Unfortunately they were involved in a drugs and sex scandal and it finished their career.

 

Another favourite of mine was The Everley Brothers. They had a host of hits in the UK top twenty from the mid 50's onward. Some of these were "Bye, bye love", "Wake up little Susie", "All I have do, is dream".

 

The very best duo of all was Sarah Vaughn and Billy Eckstein with their record of "Passing Strangers".

 

The worst musical group record ever was "The ballad of Jimmy Brown" by Les Compagnons de la Chanson. 

 

Other types of popular music

 

Novelty or humorous songs sometime became hits e.g. "Sitting in the back seat, hugging and a-kissing with Fred, and the songs by mathematician/pianist/singer Tom Lehrer

 

Folk music was not very popular in the 50's but The Weavers had a hit with the South African Song "Wimoweh" and another with "On Top of Old Smokey" and Burl Ives had a hit with "Blue Tailed Fly".

 

Country and Western did seem to be around in the UK in the early 50's but the nearest to it that style was "Pistol packing mama" which was quite well known and there were the cowboy songs "Home, home on the range" and "Don't fence me in". Patsy Cline recorded many Country and Western songs which became cross over hits in the 60's but the only one I remember in the 50's was "Walkin' after midnight". Tennessee Ernie had a hit with "Sixteen tons" and I always thought he had another with "Big Bad John"

 

Vocalists from Europe

 

Most of the popular artists of the time came from the US and the UK but there were some from other countries. France had a few but their biggest and in my opinion only international star was Edith Piaf. Among her hits were "La vie en rose". "Je ne regrette rien " and "M'lord". Maurice Chevalier had a hit with "Thank heaven for little girls".

 

Another wonderful singer was Caterina Valente. She was Italian, I think she recorded for Polydor records and for some reason I thought that she was Dutch She became an international star and for me her biggest hits were "Malaguena" and "The breeze and I".

 

Musicals and musical films

 

Most of the music I heard, sang or tried to play on the piano was from that which I had heard on the radio, TV or on records. However, an enormous amount of top class popular music in the 50's could be heard in films or musical theatre.

 

Many stage musicals could be seen in the US then they would come to the UK and then they would be made into films. Others were written for the screen often used popular songs from previous years. This meant that there were literally hundreds of songs written by Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern etc. that were played during the decade. This resulted in new popular songs being written and others that became popular in earlier years became very well-known again. Songs from these shows often became bit hits either on their own or in compilation albums.

 

I only ever saw one musical in London and that was the "Pyjama game" with Joy Nichols (of "Take it from here" fame) and Australian singer Edmund Hockridge. I saw most of the film musicals usually at the local cinema (Gaumont, Odeon or ABC) in North London, in Leicester or sometimes when I was on holiday in Kent. I saw "Gentlemen prefer blonds" at the Odeon Marble Arch and "West Side Story" in Leicester Square. 

 

One particular fond memory of mine was walking through Freeman's Common in Leicester with my then girlfriend who is now my wife and singing the songs from Salad Days which were quite nice but very twee.

 

I am not an expert on musicals and I am sure that a lot has been written about them but they seemed to me to fall into a number of categories as follows

 

1 Those with singers e.g. Gordon Macrea, Shirley Jones, etc. who could act and possibly dance. They both starred to "Oklahoma" and "Carousel".

 

2 Those that were singers that and could act and who were already established e.g. Frank Sinatra, Doris Day etc. They often starred in films together e.g. "Young at Heart" or separately. Frank Sinatra was in "Guys and Dolls" and Doris Day was in "Calamity Jane" Musical films in this category include "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Mario Lanza starred in several films e.g. "Because you're mine" and "The Student prince"

 

3 Those which included a star who could not sing very well e.g. Marlon Brandon in "Guys and Dolls" Rex Harrison in "My Fair Lady" etc. or was dubbed by someone else e.g. Audrey Hepburn in "My fair lady", and Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" were both dubbed by Marni Nickson.

 

An example of a musical film in this category is "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds" which included Marylyn Monroe singing "Diamonds are girl's best friend" Another is the Danny Kaye in the film "Hans Christian Anderson" and who sang " The Ugly Duckling"

 

4 Those which included a star that could dance very well and act but was not a very good singer. Such musicals were "American in Paris" and "Singing in the rain" starring Gene Kelly and those with Fred Astaire or Donald O'Connor.

 

5 Sometimes they were the original Broadway show that had extra songs added. An example of this was Pal Joey which starred Frank Sinatra and Rita Hayworth who looked stunning in a bright red dress and sang "Bewitched" but with added songs like "My Funny Valentine", "Lady is a Tramp" etc.

 

6 Some films were made about music celebrities and this provided an opportunity to

Include songs that they had played or had sung. Two examples were "The Glenn

Miller Story" and the "Benny Goodman Story". In the 50's, I saw the former

at least seven times and since then I have seen it several more times. I also bought

the piano music (2/6d) which I can play and it is now getting very dog eared. One of

the songs I liked in the film was "Biding my Time" by George and Ira Gershwin but it

was not played by the band. These films contained performances by real life jazzmen e.g. Gene Krupa. Frank Sinatra was in "The Joker is wild" a biopic about the singer/comedian Joe E Lewis. Another biopic was "Young man with a horn" based on the life of trumpet player Bix Beiderbecke with Harry James playing the trumpet parts in the film. Another film I saw was "Love me or leave me" which starred Doris Day and based on the life of singer Ruth Etting. This film contained "Ten cents a dance" my favourite song by Doris Day.

 

Miscellaneous musical films

 

Sometimes music was an integral part of the story and the first hit of the 50's that I can remember was "Do not forsake me oh my darling" from the western film "High Noon". It was song by Tex Ritter a cowboy singer and I saw him at Haringey Arena in about 1951. "Love is a many splendored thing" by the "The Four Aces" in the film of the same name and Charlie Chaplin wrote the music for the film "Limelight" and the song "Eternally". Another massive hit was Bill Hayley's "Rock around the clock" in "Blackboard Jungle" and look how that changed things.

Disney produced the animated film "Lady is a tramp" which contained a large number of musical numbers sung by Peggy Lee with the most popular being "He's a tramp". Disney also produced the animated film "Fantasia" using a complete score of classical music. This may have been made earlier but I do not remember seeing until the 50's.

The film "Carmen Jones" was based on the opera "Carmen" and starring popular singer Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge.

 

Summary

 

These musical memories of mine have covered the 40's and the 50's and during that time I probably heard hundreds of songs and can still remember many of them. I had the opportunity to be there and witness many musical styles and changes and was able to see on stage leading singers and bands of the time. These were two decades of outstanding singers, songs and bands which in my opinion have never been bettered

 

 

 

R C Moore

 

March 12 2012