The River's Badge

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Nineteen Fifties in Country Music Were Ripe With Promise



It's not as if I'm so conceited as to think that music was invented in the nineteen sixties.  Sure, that's maybe when my musical education began, but I am vaguely aware that music actually existed before I was born.  Not good music (ha)....I'm being facetious.  I know there was good music in the fifties.  And I have the Ray Price albums to prove it.

But there's most likely a lot about the fifties that I don't know, so, since a person I work with is so enamored of it, I wanted to at least give it a shot.

My retrospective of the '40's was excruciating.  I have much higher hopes for the ten years hence.

1950 found us still HANKering for Hank Williams.  I'm sorry that no music videos exist of Hank.  I, as much as you, hate staring at a static picture while listening to a song.  The person who slapped this up on YouTube maybe could have put a smidgeon of effort into the project; I'm just sayin'.

Nevertheless, here is Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do:

     

An artist I know very little about is Lefty Frizzell.  I do know that he was most likely Merle Haggard's favorite singer, since Merle started out his career sounding just like Lefty, until someone pulled him aside and said, "Uh, you might want to just sing like yourself".  Merle was always adept at impressions, though.  He started off sounding a lot like Lefty; a lot like Wynn Stewart, somewhat like Bob Wills.  

I do not know why Merle Haggard always factors into every music post I make ~ I'm thinking I might as well just shoot for the stars and write a damn book about Merle Haggard.

But, Merle aside, 1951 found Lefty Frizzell hitting the top of the charts with this song:



1952 finally found a woman topping the charts!

Kitty Wells always struck me as being a reluctant star.  It was almost as if she was embarrassed to be up on the stage, when she had clothes to wash and dinner to fix at home.

That's always been the conundrum.  I'm no feminist, but I understand that women, as well as men, can have artistic leanings, and while the men have no compunction about expressing their artistic side, women feel the need to apologize for theirs.  I'm guessing that in 1952, it was almost shameful for someone like Kitty to have a career, although no doubt, her husband Johnnie didn't mind depositing the royalty checks.

Irrespective of Kitty's reluctance, this song sort of started it all for women in country music:



Webb Pierce was huge in the nineteen fifties.  I admit that I don't know why.  He had an odd voice; nasally.  But there is no denying that he was the king of kings in Nashville.  He even had a guitar-shaped swimming pool.  My theory is that he had a lot of dirt on a lot of people; and thus he ruled the Nashville culture with an iron fist.  Songwriters quivered in his doorway and practically pleaded on hands and knees for Webb to record their songs.  He got the pick of the litter; song-wise.  Probably like George Strait; except George can sing.

In 1953, Webb Pierce had a monstrous hit with this song, which anyone with a rudimentary acquaintance with an acoustic guitar can replicate, because the chord progression is so simple, my dog could play it.





Speaking of nasally voices, another big star of the 1950's was Hank Snow.  

I mainly remember Hank Snow because of the song, "I've Been Everywhere", which has a bunch of town names that one has to sing really fast, because, well, it's a fast song.  

As a challenge to myself once, I memorized the lyrics to that song, because I was young, and I didn't have hardly anything clogging up my brain at the time.  It's not as if that knowledge was ever any use to me.  It never came up in a trivia contest or anything.  Nowadays, I can barely remember my own phone number.  

But it wasn't "I've Been Everywhere" that had country fans singing along (as if) in 1954.  It was this song:



You may not think it's a good song, but you should hear Martina McBride sing it

Not to belabor this, but I have never been able to figure out if it's "I don't hurt anymore", or "It don't hurt anymore".  Wikipedia says it's "I", but then, why do they sing "it"?  Grammatically, of course, it should be "I", but since when did good grammar factor into country music?

In the year of my birth, 1955, we were once again entertained by Eddy Arnold, who definitely put the "western" in country and western with this song about doggies, which Clint Eastwood and John Wayne informed me were not actual doggies, but rather cows.



There were tons of great songs in 1956, such as Why Baby Why, I Walk the Line, Singin' the Blues; as well as Blue Suede Shoes and Heartbreak Hotel, which were not technically country songs, but rather, rockabilly.   Distinctions used to matter then.

I, however, feel that it's high time we feature some Ray Price.  My mom wasn't a real savvy music connoisseur, but she loved Ray Price.  She, in fact, had a giant crush on him; while my dad just appreciated his music.  I, too, appreciate Ray Price's music; especially from the time before he went all countrypolitan on us; when he just sang stone country songs.

Like this one:



1957 was another banner year for country music.  Again, like 1956, there are loads of hits from which to choose; like A White Sport CoatGone ("since you've gone..."), My Shoes Keep Walkin' Back to You.

But I've chosen this song, which could perhaps also be called rockabilly, but to me, is more of a rock 'n roll/country hybrid.

Why did I choose this one?  Silly ~ I always have to get a book plug in somewhere.  I wrote a bit about this song in my book, Rich Farmers; but even more than that, I have placed this song on my list of the 20 Best Country Songs of All Time; and that's a tough list to crack.

Here are the Everly Brothers:



I feel kind of (not really) bad featuring Ray Price again, but I can't let this song go unposted.  In 1958, Ray had a monster hit with a song written by Bill Anderson (the young'ns will recognize Bill by the song, "Whiskey Lullaby")

It was a tough choice, though.  1958 was swimming with great songs:  Great Balls of Fire (yes, technically, rockabilly again, but dang!  That song will get you up off your chair and dancing!  Alone With You (Faron Young ~ love Faron Young); All I Have to Do is Dream

Pick Me Up on Your Way Down by Charlie Walker (again, give a listen to Martina, if you think this song isn't quite your style.)  

This is such a great song, though; I could not, in good conscience, ignore it.

Once again, Ray Price:



By 1959, the winds of change were blowing.  Soon, Buck Owens and his Buckaroos would light a fire with a telecaster; Tammy Wynette would tear our hearts out with a crying steel and a voice like a wrenching sob.  Loretta would get all feisty about the man who did her wrong.

Kris would have one more beer for dessert.  Bobby (and Mel) would go to sleep in Detroit City.  Tom T. would gossip about the PTA.  Lynn would refuse to promise us a rose garden.

Merle.

Yet, before the decade turned, a four-minute, thirty-eight second song would tell us a tale about a young man who fell in love with a girl named Felina; and about one little kiss.

Here is Marty Robbins:




While the 1940's were essentially a bust for me, country music-wise; the fifties were ripe with promise.  Granted, I never heard these songs (or don't remember hearing them) until a few years down the road; but I can thank artists like Martina for bringing some of them back.  And I can thank my "best of" albums for introducing the songs to me a couple (or ten) years later.

The nineteen fifties in country music were not throwaway years.  Nay, they were classic years; if  for no other artists than Ray Price, Marty Robbins, and the Everly Brothers.

Oh, but the winds of change; they were a'blowin'.......

  



































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