Old Curiosity Shop
By Bob Davis dnry122@yahoo.com

One of the Facebook groups I log onto from time to time is for those with memories of the 1950s (or those who wished they lived back then).  Members of this group were remembering the records that they used to enjoy back then, so I posted the playlist from one of my compilation CDs, which gathers these tunes in a format that wasn’t even science fiction back then.  So let’s grab a stack o’ wax or raid our vinyl vault and Let the Good Times Roll!

Bobby Boy's
Fifties Jukebox

The 1950s were a time of change in the music industry.  The Big Band era had faded, but the major record labels were still producing innocuous pop records.  Young people were looking for something new, and much of it came from the independent record companies, some of which were significant businesses and others which were mostly in a promoter's head.  White teenagers would surreptitiously tune in radio programs aimed at the “colored” neighborhoods.  They'd go to the local record shop and ask for tunes and singers that the older personnel had never heard about, but which the after-school part-time clerks knew immediately.  Things were also changing on what we would now call the "hardware" side:  78 RPM records disappeared, having been replaced by 33.33 RPM LPs and 45 RPM "singles." Portable radios shrank with the advent of transistors, no longer needing the bulky and expensive battery packs required by tube-type units.  Today we have CDs and MP3s; hundreds of songs can be packed into something smaller than a Star Trek communicator.  Here's a sample of what might be on a jukebox back when rock was young, most of them dubbed from modern CD compilations.

Notes: Record labels indicated after artist names.  Most tracks dubbed from CD compilations-- it’s amazing how many really obscure records have been re-released in such CDs, often by British or European companies.  A few have been copied from original or reissue 45s in my collection

1)  Pachuko Hop by Chuck Higgins and his orchestra.  (Combo) Dance-party TV shows were popular, "American Bandstand" being the most famous.  Here in Southern California, we had Al Jarvis, Zeke Manners and others, and this was one of the local favorites for the fast dances that were similar to the "jitterbugs" of the '40s.

2) Little Girl of Mine by the Cleftones (Gee).  One of my favorite "jump" vocal group sides in 1956.  Gee Records was one of several labels started by George Goldner, who couldn’t read music, but had a remarkable instinct for knowing what “sound” would make a hit record.

3) Ain't That a Shame (a.k.a Ain't It a Shame) by Fats Domino (Imperial).  A big hit for the big man from New Orleans.  I have several of his songs on original 78s.  A sign of the times was that a really lame version by Pat Boone went higher on the charts.

4) Let the Good Times Roll by Shirley and Lee (Aladdin).  Also from New Orleans, the title is a translation of the unofficial motto of the Crescent City "Laissez le bon temps roullez." Same title is found on an earlier song by Louis Jordan.

5) Lawdy Miss Clawdy by Lloyd Price (Specialty).  From about 1952-- this was already an oldie by the time I heard it on late-night radio shows.  According to legend, Fats Domino played the piano part.   Covered a few years later by Elvis Presley.

6) Money Honey  by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters (Atlantic) Another R&B oldie covered by Elvis.

7) Hound Dog by Willie Mae ("Big Mama")Thornton (Peacock).  The original recording, from 1953.  I have a re-issue 45-- released by Peacock after Elvis' rockabilly version.  Orchestra credits show "Kansas City" Bell, but it's musicians from the Johnny Otis band.

8)  Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley (RCA-Victor).  Here's the song that broke things wide open for him in 1956.  I like to remember the Elvis of this era, rather than the overblown Las Vegas version.

9)  Along Came Jones by the Coasters (Atco).  During the late 1950s Western-theme TV shows were all the rage.  Leiber and Stoller (who also wrote "Hound Dog") came up with this tribute to horse operas.  There was a 1945 movie by the same title; it had none of the scenes described in the record, which are really more like something out of an old time melodrama or a silent movie serial.

10) One Mint Julep by the Clovers (Atlantic).  Heard on jukeboxes, but rarely on the radio.  Considered hot stuff back in the Eisenhower era.

11) I Gotta Have You by Clyde McPhatter and Ruth Brown (Atlantic).  Rock out with this sizzling duet by two of Atlantic's biggest stars.

12) 5-10-15 Hours by Ruth Brown (Atlantic).  Over they years, I've been interested in songs by female vocalists, and one of the first who caught my attention was Ruth Brown.  During the 1990's I saw her live twice at the Cinegrill in Hollywood, and had a chance to actually meet her.  From Ms. Brown's younger days, we have one of her first big hits.

13)  Blue Suede Shoes by Carl Perkins (Sun)  One of the first rockabilly numbers to hit the Top Ten.  The line "Go Cat Go" was adapted by a British pet food manufacturer for their kitten food ads, making it "Grow Cat Grow." Back in the '50s, well-dressed teens always had a suede brush handy to keep those shoes looking sharp.  Some years ago, one of my son-in-law’s friend’s brought a karaoke system to a family gathering, and this song was on the “Elvis Presley” disc.  But I have the original on a Sun 78 RPM disc.


Bobby Boy with his original 78 of "Blue Suede Shoes." T-shirt is a souvenir of my pilgrimage to Sun Studio.

14)  Short Shorts by the Royal Teens  (ABC-Paramount)  A semi-instrumental that went to #3 on the Billboard charts in 1958.  The New Jersey origin of the Royal Teens shows up in the girl's accent on "We wear Short Shorts…".  Song was adapted many years later for a beauty-product commercial.

15)  Oh Boy by Buddy Holly and the Crickets (Brunswick)  I bought a 45 of this song on Oct 14, 1958 in San Luis Obispo, never dreaming that Buddy Holly would perish in a plane crash less than six months later, and that I would be married exactly one year later.

16)  Love Is Strange by Mickey and Sylvia (Groove).  Great dual guitar work; I saw them perform on TV back when this was a hit (Jan 1957).  In July I tried to order a copy and found it was "not available" (out of print).  This is a bargain bin copy, copied directly onto my CD, so you get the authentic 45 rpm surface noise. Groove was a subsidiary of RCA Victor but was distributed by indie distributors who handled really independent labels such as Dootone, Rama and Whirlin' Disc.

17)  I've Had It by the Bell Notes (Time).  The group was from Long Island; lots of nifty guitar work.  I found the original 45 in a grocery store bargain bin.

18)  Long Tall Sally by Little Richard (Specialty).  The followup to "Tutti Frutti", this one went higher on the charts (#6 on Billboard Best Sellers in 1956).  One of the last records I bought as a new 78.  In June 1956 Time magazine titled an article about the rock 'n roll phenomenon "Yeh heh heh hes Baby," borrowing a line from this song (the author thought the music was a fad and wouldn't last long…talk about a bad prediction).

19)  School Day by Chuck Berry (Chess)  This hit the charts right about when I started working as a part-time sales clerk at Johnson Music in my home town of Monrovia CA.  (April 1957)

20)  Willie and the Hand Jive by the Johnny Otis Show (Capitol) After Johnny Otis discontinued his DIG label, he released this one through Capitol.  Somewhere there's a reel-to-reel tape with one of brother Neale's buddies and myself cutting in smarty remarks (with a mike/phono switch) onto "Willie and the Hand Jive." I remember seeing it done live on Channel 5 when JO had his own TV show.  The band wore these loud jackets that looked colorful even on black and white TV.  A popular number with cover bands that play Golden Oldies at summer concerts in city parks.

21)  A Casual Look by the Six Teens (Flip).  Three girls and three boys, featuring lead singer Trudy Williams.  Another song I saw live on TV back in the Fifties.

22)  Daddy Cool by The Rays.  Flip side of "Silhouettes," typical of many R&B vocal group records, where one side would be slow and the other would jump. This was product of Cameo Records of Philadelphia, which would come to the end of the line in 1967, with a “should have been a hit” recording by my 21st Century favorite, Evie Sands left in the dust of the failed label.

23)  Dinner with Drac (part 1) by John Zacherle (a.k.a. The Cool Ghoul). (Cameo)  Back in the '50s, local TV stations would run old horror movies late at night, often with a weird host or hostess setting an appropriately creepy tone.  Here in the LA area we had Vampira, who wore a slinky black dress and drew much attention from teenage boys. Zacherle was a fixture of  Philly TV at the same time.

24)  Dedicated to the One I Love by the "5" Royales.  (King) This one has been covered many times, from the Shirelles, to the Mamas and the Papas, to Linda Ronstadt.

25)  Born Too Late by the Poni Tails.  (ABC-Paramount) Early girl group song, the secret anthem of railfans everywhere, especially during the dark days of the '60s and '70s.

26)  Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry.  (Chess) Talk about a song that's out of this world-- Johnny B. Goode was chosen by NASA for inclusion on an audio disc that was stowed with other items on long-distance spacecraft sent beyond the Solar System.  There’s a story about a group called SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence that monitors radio signals from space.  One day, out of all the interstellar noise, something that appears to be real data shows up on their survey.  They start recording it, and when the message appears to repeat itself, process it through a translation computer that finally decodes the transmission.  “Your space probe has landed on our planet and has caused much excitement.  Our High Council is preparing an official reply, but while that is being discussed, we have a special request.  Can you send some more of that Chuck Berry music?  Our young people say it has a great beat and they love to dance to it.”

27)  Don't You Just Know It by Huey Smith and the Clowns.  (Ace) This bouncy number came out of New Orleans, and made it all the way to #9 on the Pop charts.  The same group had an earlier hit with “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” which Johnny Rivers would do a smokin’ cover on in the 1960s.

28)  Tequila by The Champs.  (Challenge) Back in the late '50s there was a DJ in Southern California named Don McKinnon ("Grab those records and start them spinnin'!  It's time to listen to Don McKinnon!").  A regular feature of his show was the "Flop of the Week,"usually some totally lame record that should have been erased when it was still a studio tape.  Don would say "It's gonna be a bomb, a bagel and a bust!  A complete flop!"  One week he picked "Tequila," which turned out to be a big hit, going all the way to #1 in Feb. '58.  Oh well, can't lose 'em all.  The band was named after Gene Autry's horse, Champion, since Mr. Autry owned the record label.  "Tequila" is a great crowd pleaser and has been covered my many bands, including the legendary Surf-Liners of Davis, CA.

Rock and Roll Forever!

Bobby Boy.

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