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Music of 1957



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I hope that someone is enjoying this series about pop music in different years. I hope it's either bringing back some memories or inspiring someone to check out songs they've never heard, or both.

I suppose Elvis was still king in 1957, but I'd just have him as runner up that year. My favorite Elvis songs of 57 were All Shook Up and Teddy Bear. I was 6 years old at the time, and when Elvis sang All Shook Up I thought he was saying Morshicka. I didn't know why anyone would be morshicka.

For me, 1957 was the year of Harry Belafonte. He had a monstrously successful album of calypso music. My favorites were Jamaica Farewell (years later, my own daughter asked me why he left a little girl in Kingston town) and Mama Look A Booboo (about some bratty boys pretending their father is a monster). Yankee Stadium still plays a snip of the song Day-O during the games. You know that one. Daylight come and me wanna go home. Look out - there's a tarantula spider on those bananas!

My favorite version of a Harry Belafonte song is a live version of Mama Look A Booboo. At one point in the song I don't know what he's doing because he's being silent onstage, but the crowd busts out laughing. Also in the live song, he's lamenting about his bratty kids, his whole family, and he uses the Yiddish word for family - mishpukha.

Johnny Mathis recorded his best song in 57, Chances Are. What a voice that man has. He has amazing range and precision, and a very musical quality.

Pat Boone also recorded his best song, April Love. It was a time when purity of voice mattered. Those days are gone.

Debbie Reynolds, Jane Morgan and Patti Page were the best female vocalists of the year. Debbie sang her classic, Tammy. It's such a sweet song about a young girl in love. Jane sang Fascination, about the same subject actually. And Patti sang Old Cape Cod. Patti Page may have been the best female vocalist of the 50s with a voice clear as a bell, a Karen Carpenter of the 50s.

Buddy Holly, with or without the Crickets, was a major star in 57. He was a rocker with That'll Be The Day and the insistent beat of Peggy Sue, borrowing the rhythm of Bo Diddley.

Fats Domino was still pounding his rock piano with one of his best songs, I'm Walkin'. I don't know why rock historians emphasize Chuck Berry and Little Richard over Fats Domino. He was rock.

Rock groups were led by the Coasters and the Dell Vikings. Young Blood by the Coasters was about a grown man focusing on a pretty but very young girl. Whispering Bells by the Dell Vikings had a lot of momentum from first to last.

The hardest rocker of all in 1957 was Jerry Lee Lewis, pounding a piano to the tune of Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On. Soon he was to get in trouble for marrying his cousin, but eventually the music business realized that a man can fall in love with who he likes, cousin or no. Save the jokes. Dick Clark, for one, was very penitent about turning his back on Jerry Lee Lewis, and apologized to him. Other frenetic Jerry Lee Lewis tunes were Great Balls of Fire and Breathless.

A few other songs worth mentioning in 1957 were Freight Train by Rusty Draper, A Thousand Miles Away by the Heartbeats, Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms, and C.C. Rider by Chuck Willis.

My Grammy Award for best song of 1957 goes to Harry Belafonte for Mama Look A Booboo, with honorable mentions going to Johnny Mathis for Chances Are and Debbie Reynolds for Tammy.

More about this author: Len Feder

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