“We’ll let the magic
Take us away
Back to the feelings
We shared when they played
In the still of the night
Hold me darlin’, hold me tight, oh
So real, so right
Lost in the fifties tonight”
As I noted in the past two posts, over time the music we listened to in our youth and young adulthood often becomes the “soundtrack of our lives”—especially as we grow older and begin to look backward to the simpler, happier days of our existence.
Often, these memory “flashbacks” are triggered by music, particularly by a certain song—and sometimes it is the reverse, a certain memory of a past event will trigger the music being played at the time that event took place.
And, so often, as the old song above says, we become “Lost in the Fifties,” or whatever decade it was in which we spent our happiest, most carefree days. (To listen to this song sung by Ronnie Milsap with its emphasis on returning mentally and emotionally to happier times, click here.)
In my previous post I examined the music that I heard and listened to during my childhood days of the 1940s in my rural birthplace of Selma, Arkansas.
As noted, that simple, idyllic life came to an abrupt and totally unexpected end in 1948 when at age ten I was forced to move with my family to the nearest town of McGehee, Arkansas, about fifteen miles away.
There I entered an entirely new and different lifestyle and environment among a world of strangers. Other than my immediate family, I knew only one other person in the city of McGehee, and especially in the McGehee Elementary School: Jarrell Rial, the cousin of a Selma friend whom I had come to know when he came out to visit his Selma relatives every Sunday afternoon.
Besides my stressful experience in being uprooted against my will from my familiar and beloved childhood existence, there were other “coming of age” experiences in that decade, each of which had a profound effect on the direction of my life: For example, the death of my father in 1954; my graduation from high school in May 1956; my enrollment in Ouachita Baptist College in September 1956; my graduation from OBC in June 1960; and my enrollment in graduate school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in the autumn of that same year.
There were also huge, sweeping, and often (to many, especially adults) disturbing changes in the music of that decade, which was actually supposed to be the subject of this post. I had intended to address the birth and development of Rock and Roll music in this decade, which marked my own development from a country-born and country-raised child, to a small-town adolescent and teenager, and then to a college and graduate school student and young adult.
However, I soon realized that the subject of all the different types of music of the 1950s was so complex and so involved that due to my failing health and other complications, I simply could not devote the time and energy necessary to present it as I would like.
So, instead I decided to break the subject of the soundtrack of my life during the 1950s into two parts, beginning with the still innocent, wholesome, and entertaining Pop music of that fertile decade. The origin, development, and changing nature and course of Rock and Roll music will have to wait for the next post, if I am able to compose it.
Meanwhile, here are just a few examples of some of my favorite Pop musicians and songs from that historic and ever-changing period in my youth.
List of Some of My Favorite
Pop Musicians and Songs of the 1950s
“‘Popular music, or ‘classic pop,’ dominated the charts
for the first half of the 1950s.
Vocal-driven classic pop replaced Big Band/Swing
at the end of World War II,
although it often used orchestras to back the vocalists.”
—“Music History of the United States in the 1950s”
To simplify matters, I chose to break down the pop music of the 1950s into categories of individual male singers, individual female singers, male groups, female groups, mixed groups, and instrumentalists.
Each of these categories includes examples of some of the most popular musicians and songs I heard or listened to in that decade. Obviously the list (which is primarily based on a Wikipedia article titled “Music History of the United States in the 1950s”) is not intended to be complete in regard to the musicians of that period or their hits. However, the ones listed are accompanied by the actual URLs. You can simply click on the ones that interest you most to hear and see them played on YouTube videos, often accompanied by nostalgic 1950’s scenes. Other musicians and other songs of that period may be located by referring to the Addenda and Sources sections at the end of the post or by simply Googling them by performer and song title.
Into these lists of sample musicians and selections, I have inserted a few notes on particular ones that always bring back personal memories related to them, what I called in my previous posts “Musical ‘Memory Triggers’ and ‘Time-Travel Transporters.’”
Note: An asterisk (*) indicates those pop singers who also sang Rock and Roll. As noted at the conclusion of the Wikipedia article on music and musicians of the 1950s: “Even Rock ‘n’ Roll icon Elvis Presley spent the rest of his career alternating between Pop and Rock (‘Love Me Tender,’ ‘Loving You,’ ‘I Love You Because’). Pop would resurface on the charts in the mid-1960s as ‘Adult Contemporary.’)”
But although many of the Elvis songs I heard during the 1950s were actually better classified as Pop, I left my discussion of Elvis and his music for the next post on Rock and Roll music of the 1950s. However, I did address this subject earlier in my post titled “My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music,” which was about an incident that occurred in the mid-1950s.
Individual Male Singers
“With his blessings from above
Serve it generously with love
One man, one wife
One love through life
Memories are made of this
Memories are made of this”
—1950’s tune sung by Dean Martin
Tony Bennett (“Because of You”)
*Pat Boone (“April Love”)
During this period I worked at a McGehee dime store which sold 45-rpm records that were played all day long. Besides hearing this song by Pat Boone played every day for weeks, I also heard his hits “Love Letters in the Sand” and “I Almost Lost My Mind.” Every time I hear these songs, I think of that dime store from long ago. (To see a video of Fats Domino’s New Orleans Blues version of this song, click here.)
Nat “King” Cole (“Mona Lisa”)
Perry Como (“Catch a Falling Star”)
Bing Crosby (“True Love,” with Grace Kelly)
*Bobby Darin (“Dream Lover”)
Eddie Fisher (“Anytime”)
Tennessee Ernie Ford (“Sixteen Tons”)
For some reason, every time I hear this immensely popular old tune, I remember our physical education class picking up trash under the bleachers at the high school football field. What the connection was between that song and that task I still don’t know. Maybe it was our way of “loading sixteen tons” of trash!
Frankie Laine (“Mule Train”)
When I was a freshman at Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, there was a popular young man from Malvern, Arkansas, who did a hilarious skit in the amateur talent shows. In that humorous skit he did a dead-on, dead-pan karaoke rendition of this song using a funny little kid’s cowboy hat and toy whip which he popped at just the right moments to match the pops in the song. Again, why I still recall that skit every time I hear that old song now almost sixty years later, I have no idea!
Dean Martin (“That’s Amore”)
This is another one of the hugely popular songs that were played endlessly at the McGehee dime store where I worked in the mid-1950s. Two others by Dean Martin that were played over and over in the store were “Memories Are Made of This” (one of my favorite pop songs of the 1950s), and “Innamorata,” which I chose as my favorite song of 1956, the year I graduated from high school. As such, it was featured on the little 45-rpm-record table place marker at our senior banquet. Why, of all the many Rock and Roll songs—and especially all the Elvis Presley songs—that I heard in 1956 I should choose this love song by Dean Martin as my favorite, I have no idea, except as proof of my being (even then) a “hopeless romantic and a helpless neurotic.” All of these Dean Martin songs and many more bring back warm memories of my younger years, which is why I own and play CDs of them at home and in the car.
Guy Mitchell (“Singin’ the Blues”)
Johnnie Ray (“Just Walkin’ in the Rain”)
Frank Sinatra (“Young at Heart”)
I liked this song so much that I memorized the lyrics and sang it without ever seeing the words. I can still do that though I am now far from being young—or even young at heart!
*Andy Williams (“Butterfly”)
Billy Williams (“I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”)
According to Wikipedia, this “Classic 1957 revival of the Fats Wallers 1935 original only reached #22 in the UK but was a US #3 hit and earned Billy a gold disc.” Every time I hear it sung (even by Elvis on CD) it takes me back to the summer of 1957 when a carload of us college kids between our freshman and sophomore years drove back and forth between McGehee and Monticello, Arkansas (about twenty-five miles each way) to attend summer school at what was then Arkansas A&M. One of those students turned out to be the sister of Cullen Gannaway from Arkansas City. Cullen, whom I had yet to meet, later became my best friend at Ouachita Baptist College and even the Best Man in my wedding in December 1962. So unknown to me then, this song would have a small part in my romance and eventual wedding six years later and thus also a part of the “soundtrack” of my courtship and early marriage to be listed in my future post on the music of the early 1960s. (See my earlier post titled “The Peacock Love Story and the Passing of a Friend.”)
Individual Female Singers
“I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see
Introduced her to my loved one and while they were dancing
My friend stole my sweetheart from me
I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes, I lost my little darling on the night they were playing
The beautiful Tennessee Waltz”
—1950’s tune sung by Patti Page
Theresa Brewer (“‘Til I Waltz Again with You”)
Another of the many Pop songs played endlessly at the McGehee dime store where I worked in the mid-50s. I loved all of her entertaining songs delivered in her cute, pert, chipper manner and her unique squeaky little-girl voice.
Rosemary Clooney (“This Old House”)
Doris Day (“Secret Love”)
*Connie Francis (“Among My Souvenirs”)
*Gogi Grant (“The Wayward Wind”)
For some reason every time I hear this old song played I immediately think of sitting in study hall in the auditorium of the McGehee High School in the mid-50s. What the connection between the song and that place is, I have no idea because that was decades before the time of portable music players, which would not have been allowed in study hall anyway.
Kitty Kallen (“Little Things Mean a Lot”)
Peggy Lee (“Fever”)
Julie London (“Cry Me a River”)
This one (and indeed each of the songs by Julie London) always takes me back to my freshman year at Ouachita Baptist College in 1956-57 where one of the guys on our dorm floor played her album continuously. At the time, Julie London was a sultry-voiced sexual icon who was married to actor Jack Webb, who played L.A. detective Joe Friday on the now-classic TV show Dragnet.
Patti Page (“Tennessee Waltz”)
Patti Page was a native of Claremore, Oklahoma, originally named Clara Ann Fowler, who took her professional name from a dairy that sponsored her local radio show. She had numerous hit songs during the 1950s and beyond. Every time I hear any of them (which is often since her cassette album is one I carry with me to the blood center I visit every two weeks), I think of two places in De Ridder, Louisiana: one, a typical 1950’s hamburger joint where her music was played constantly on the jukebox, and the other an old-fashioned drugstore, both of which Jarrell Rial, my Selma-McGehee buddy, and I visited often during our National Guard training every summer at Fort Polk. A former Marine who married Mari’s cousin used to take great delight in telling all the soldiers in our unit how he drove by that drugstore one night and saw Jarrell and me eating ice cream cones and reading comic books—while probably listening to Patti Page, the “Singin’ Rage”! A couple of young Southern Baptist “Swingers”!
Dinah Shore (“Lavender Blue”)
Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”)
This song always reminds me of a certain diner in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where three of my McGehee High School Band buddies and I used to eat breakfast while staying at the nearby Como Hotel (no longer standing) during our annual spring band festivals in the early 1950s. The popular song must have been playing there at least once when I first heard it, and it was permanently engraved on my “memory board.”
“Tho’ summer turns to winter
And the present disappears,
The laughter we were glad to share
Will echo through the years.
Tho’ other nights and other days
May find us gone our separate ways,
We will have these moments to remember . . .”
—“Moments to Remember” sung by the Four Lads,
the class song of the Class of 1956,
McGehee High School
Ames Brothers (“The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane”)
Four Aces (“Love Is a Many Splendored Thing”)
Four Lads (“Moments to Remember”)
As indicated by the opening quote above, this tune was the class song of our 1956 McGehee High School graduating class, which I quoted in my earlier blog post about our senior class trip using the title, “Moments to Remember/Selma Methodist Church Update.”
Hilltoppers (“P.S. I Love You”)
I recall hearing this group sing this song and others when they came to Ouachita Baptist College to perform with Stan Kenton and his band in about 1959-60. Joe Dempsey, my longtime friend, Ouachita classmate, and the designer of this blog, recently sent me an email stating: “I well remember Stan Kenton coming to OBC. There’s an interesting tidbit to that visit. There was a 1954 graduate of El Dorado High School [Joe’s high school alma mater], Bob Knight who played trombone in that band. The Firehouse Five Plus Two also visited OBC a couple of times. Links to those guys [appear below]:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1l04Hn9s88 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x87IQhuQ-WY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIUU78VaQQU
Mills Brothers (“Glow Worm”)
The Mills Brothers were a black singing group whose smooth four-part harmony greatly influenced many white singers and groups of the 1950s, including Dean Martin, perhaps (after Elvis Presley) my favorite singer of that decade.
Mitch Miller and Chorus (“The Yellow Rose of Texas”)
When Mari and I were courting we became acquainted with this group on a weekly 1961 TV show called “Sing Along With Mitch.” It was somewhat unusual since it featured a beautiful and talented young black female lead singer named Leslie Uggams, which was somewhat controversial in those early days of black and white integration in the media.
“Oh Lord, won’t you tell me why
I love that fella so
He doesn’t want me
But I’ll never, never, never, never let him go
Sincerely, oh you know how I love you
I’ll do anything for you
Please say you’ll be mine”
—“Sincerely,” as sung by
The McQuire Sisters
Chordettes (“Mister Sandman”)
Fontaine Sisters (“Hearts of Stone”)
McGuire Sisters (“Sincerely”)
Mari and I still see these lovely ladies on those public television oldies shows and after more than sixty years can still sing along with the lyrics to all of their most popular hits.
“Now the hacienda’s dark
The town is sleeping
Now the time has come to part
The time for weeping
Vaya con dios, my darling
Vaya con dios, my love”
—“Vaya con Dios” as sung and played by
Les Paul and Mary Ford
Les Paul and Mary Ford (“Vaya con Dios,” i.e., “Go with God”)
Still one of our favorites of all the dozens of musical groups we heard during the 1950s. According to Wikipedia:
“[Les Paul] recorded with his wife Mary Ford in the 1950s, and they sold millions of records. Among his many honors, Paul is one of a handful of artists with a permanent, stand-alone exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is prominently named by the music museum on its website as an ‘architect’ and a ‘key inductee’ along with Sam Phillips and Alan Freed. Les Paul is the only person to be included in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the National Inventors Hall of Fame.” Although classified as Rock and Rock artists, Les Paul and Mary Ford were also considered Pop musicians.
When Andy Herren learned that I was making up a post on 1950’s Pop music, he sent me the following message about Les Paul and Mary Ford:
“If you can, check out Les Paul and Mary Ford’s ‘How High the Moon’ in 1951. We heard it on KVSA back when. If you listen to Les play with empathy, you realize how good he is. He invented what he called the ‘Pauleriser’ which let him play as a second guitar and then a third and fourth. I think Mary is singing with herself too. Hearing them takes me back to riding in a car with the windows down on a gravel road, and the gravel making the car jerk back and forth.”
The Platters (“The Great Pretender”)
One of the most popular mixed groups (there was one female singer with a quarter of male singers) in the 1950s who produced a long list of hits during that period. One of those hits was titled “Twilight Time.” This song (though perhaps not the Platters’ version) was the closing musical sign-off of our local daytime radio station, KVSA, located between McGehee and Dermott, Arkansas, so we heard it often. (See the entry about KVSA in the Addenda Section).
Weavers (“Goodnight Irene”)
“On a picnic morning
Without a warning
I looked at you
And somehow I knew . . . .”
“It must have been moonglow
Way up in the blue
It must have been moonglow
That led me straight to you”
—Lyrics to the songs “Picnic” and “Moonglow”
from the popular 1955 movie Picnic
starring William Holden and Kim Novac
Percy Faith (“Poor People of Paris”)
An entertaining version of the Percy Faith instrumental hit with photos of the covers of 1950’s magazines including views of celebrities of that time such as Pat Boone, Princess Grace Kelly, and sexpot movie star Jayne Mansfield.
Percy Faith (“Theme from Moulin Rouge”)
Great musical video with wonderful photos of French-style paintings and posters of the Moulin Rouge (“Red Mill”) cabaret in Paris in days gone by.
Bert Kaempfert, (“Wonderland by Night”)
A song I heard many, many times during the 1950s.
“Moonglow-Theme from Picnic” (composed by Morris Stolof)
An unforgettable scene of William Holden and Kim Novac dancing to the music of the film Picnic. I first saw this classic 1955 movie in Monticello. Arkansas, where my cousin Donald Peacock was the projectionist, and have loved it ever since. It always brings back a lot of memories, such as the quote from a computer-generated Clint Eastwood character in the kids’ movie Rango, “This isn’t heaven, kid. If it were we’d be eatin’ Pop-Tarts with Kim Novac.” Yeah.
Perez Prado (“Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”)
I first heard this song played by the Harry James orchestra in 1957. Since my Monticello cousin Donald and I both played trumpet in our school bands, we tried to learn to play this tune together, even composing the sheet music for it which I still have in my old trumpet case. (To learn more about Donald, see my earlier post titled, “My Cousin Donald and His Early Years.”)
Nelson Riddle (“Lisbon Antigua”)
A musical video of the Nelson Riddle version of this song with lovely photos of the quaint city from the Lisbon tourist bureau.
Hugo Winterhalter (“Canadian Sunset”)
This song was later also recorded by Andy Williams, a pop singer whose music I heard often throughout the 1950s and beyond. To hear his version of this song with photos of him and beautiful scenes throughout Canada, click here.
In the past, my McGehee High School Class of 1956 classmate Pat Scavo (known to us then as Patsy McDermott) has sent me links to free old-time music which is divided into decades and played radio-style in random order.
Here are two such links for music of the 1950s along with many other musical links to other decades, old radio and TV shows, etc.:
I hope you can access these sites and pick out the songs from the era you wish to listen to. I also hope they will “bring back [your] dream divine” so that you can also “live it over again.”
To view a brief nostalgic 1953 video about KVSA, the Voice of Southeast Arkansas, located between McGehee and Dermott, with a background of the type Pop music it played in the 1950s (now called “American Standard” music) go to:
To view a sideshow on AOL about the fate of twenty music stars from the 1950s and 60s (including Doris Day, etc.), go to:
On April 27, 2015, my cousin Kay Barrett Bell sent me an alternate version of Ronnie Milsap’s “Lost in the Fifties Tonight” with great scenes of 1950’s people; stores and drive-ins; automobiles; dress; events and sports; games and toys; cigarettes and snacks; celebrities and political figures; products and old ads; movie/TV stars and comedians (like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, James Dean, Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca); grade-B cowboys such as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, etc.); and more, all found at: http://safeshare.tv/w/FEDEwZHZXu
NOTE: This video begins with a brief vocal introduction, which may be racial in nature, followed by two images of 1950’s white high school students (probably at the time of the Integration Crisis at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas) demonstrating against the integration of black and white students in 1957. Viewer discretion is advised.
The lyrics to “Lost in the Fifties Tonight” were taken from:
Songwriters: SEALS, TROY HAROLD/REID, MIKE/PARRIS, FREDERICKE, Lost In The Fifties Tonight lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group at:
The two photos of me as a boy in Selma, Arkansas, and as an elementary student in McGehee, Arkansas, were taken from personal sources.
The photo of me as a graduate of McGehee High School was taken from the 1956 MHS yearbook.
The quote about Pop music in the 1950s was taken from: “Music History of the United States in the 1950s” at:
The photo of the 1950’s Elvis Presley was taken from my earlier post titled “My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music” at:
The lyrics to “Memories Are Made of This” were taken from:
Songwriters GILKYSON, TERRY / MILLER, FRANK / DEHR, RICHARD
The photo of Pat Boone was taken from:
The photo of Dean Martin was taken from:
The lyrics to “The Tennessee Waltz” were taken from:
The photo of Julie London was taken from:
The photo of Patti Page was taken from:
The lyrics to “Moments to Remember” were taken from:
The photo of the Four Lads was taken from:
The photo of the Hilltoppers and bandleader Stan Kenton were taken from pages 124 and 125 of the 1960 Ouachitonian, the year of my graduation from Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.
The lyrics to “Sincerely” were taken from:
The photo of the McGuire Sisters was taken from:
The lyrics to “Vaya con Dios” were taken from:
The photo of Les Paul and Mary Ford was taken from:
The photo of KVSA between McGehee and Dermott, Arkansas, was taken from my earlier post titled “My First Encounter with Elvis and His Music” at:
The lyrics to “Picnic” and “Moonglow” were taken from:
Songwriters Eddie Delange; Will Hudson; Irving Mills Published by MILLS MUSIC INC;DE LANGE MUSIC CO.
The poster of the film Picnic with William Holden and Kim Novac was taken from: