Archive for July, 2008

Musicals in the 1950s

July 28, 2008

South Pacific


Music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; book by Rodgers, Hammerstein and Joshua Logan

Guys and Dolls


Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser; book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows

The King and I


Music by Richard Rodgers; books and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Paint Your Wagon


Music by Frederick Loewe; books and lyrics by Alan J. Lerner

Kiss Me Kate


Music and lyrics by Cole Porter

Pal Joey

Original 1940; revival 1952

Music and lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart



Music and lyrics by Cole Porter; book by Abe Burrows



Music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest; adapted from music by Alexander Borodin; book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis

Wonderful Town


Music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; book by Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov



Music and lyrics by Harold Rome; book by S. N. Behrman and Joshua Logan

The Pajama Game


Music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross; book by George Abbott and Richard Bissell

Damn Yankees


Music by Richard Adler; lyrics by Jerry Ross; book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop

Bells Are Ringing


Music by Jule Styne; lyrics and book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green



Music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Richard Wilbur, John Latouche, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Stephen Sondheim, and Leonard Bernstein; book by Lillian Hellman and Hugh Weeler

Li’l Abner


Music by Gene De Paul; lyrics by Johnny Mercer; book by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank

My Fair Lady


Music by Frederick Loewe; lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner


Original 1947; revival 1957

Music by Frederick Loewe; lyrics and book by Alan Jay Lerner


Original 1945; revival 1957

Music by Richard Rodgers; books and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Music Man


Book, lyrics, and music by Meredith Willson

West Side Story


Music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by Arthur Laurents



Music by Jule Styne; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; book by Arthur Laurents

Little Mary Sunshine


Music, lyrics, and book by Rick Besoyan

The Sound of Music


Music by Richard Rodgers; lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; book by Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse, and Maria Augusta Trapp


Duos before Don and Phil

July 23, 2008

The Everly Brothers are largely associated with the brother duets in country music, most of whom achieved notoriety during the 1930s. In pop music, duos were less common and somewhat temporary. For example, Frankie Lane recorded a number of duets that appeared on the Top 40 charts, especially with Jo Stafford. One of my favorites is “Hey Good Lookin’.”

In this song you can hear how one partner dominates then the other. The harmonization is fairly brief and because of the registral difference, Laine’s voice prevails in the sound mix to my ear. Other duet partners of Laine during this period include Jimmy Boyd and Buck Clayton. This suggests that each of these artists maintains a distinct persona and form what I call the temporary duo. A number of examples of these temporary duos emerge in the 1980s and later when two “stars” come together to record a duet, such as Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder with “Ebony and Ivory.” 

In the early 1950s, Les Paul and Mary Ford recorded a number of hits as a duo. She sang and he played guitar, but more importantly she harmonized with herself through Les Paul’s innovative double tracking recording mechanism. There’s at least one fan out there who claims Mary Ford as an influence in harmonizing technique. I have yet to find evidence that the Everly Brothers were influenced by Ford’s techniques, but certainly the pop music public was attuned to this style of harmonization.

The Everly Brothers came on to the scene in 1957. In the year preceding, there was only one duo that made it on to the Top 40 charts: Patience and Prudence. These pre-pubescent girls had two hits in 1956 and have been mostly relegated to the one-hit-wonder category.

Bye Bye Love

July 22, 2008

The Everly Brothers’ first hit was “Bye Bye Love,” released in 1957. Here they are in a television show from sometime in 1957. I have been unable to track down yet what the original show was or from where this clip came. If you have any information, let me know.

Guitar Hero

July 18, 2008
Taken by musical mutterings

Taken by musical mutterings

My kind of place

July 18, 2008

Found this great photo surfing the blogs this morning. Kudos to the photographer.

The Canon

July 11, 2008

Just to follow up a bit on the rock canon concept, Rolling Stone magazine recently published their 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time (June 12, 2008, pp. 41-69). The selections heavily favor the late 1960s and 1970s, but the list also includes numerous selections from later decades. For anyone who listened to the radio growing up, this is like the soundtrack of your life. But after the first nostalgic sweep of emotions, I immediately thought, “but what about…and what about…?” The reader comments on the website vividly portray this emotion. My favorite (and the one I think is more critical) was the response included in the print version the following issue. She said, “Apparently you need a p***s to be a guitar hero.” And I thought, “Yeah, sister, testify!”

Multitasking woman

Multitasking woman

And then I stopped to think, could we come up with a list of 100 great songs where women were playing the guitar? While I might want to argue against such an impulse, it’s still an interesting exercise. I’ll start with anything (almost) that Heart did. Nancy Wilson was an inspiration to a lot girls to pick up an axe and let her rip. And then there’s Joan Jett, Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow and the Indigo Girls. That’s just off the top of my head. There have to be more so send me your suggestions. I know the list won’t be excessively long (see Helen Brown’s article on this), but it won’t be as short as some would think.

Another list that would be interesting is the most memorable voices in rock. Most of the ladies above certainly would be on my list (don’t we all imitate Ann Wilson every time we say “Barracuda”?). Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger would make the list and they would probably make Rolling Stone‘s list, too. I would add to that John Mayer, James Taylor, Stevie Nicks, Dave Matthews, Grace Slick, Elton John, Billy Joel, Sting, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel, and others that might be too pop or too soft for the RS crowd.

So I’m not in sync (or ‘NSync) with the canon. But then I’m not really sure there is a canon anymore. iTunes and friends changed that notion completely.


July 9, 2008

Popular music cannot be owned by the “experts” and the critics in the way that classical music is. It resists that elitist tendency (but not always—see Sue Wise, “Sexing Elvis” in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, 390-98, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin [London: Routledge, 1990] and other writings that attack the cock-rock canon of popular music). Critics at Rolling Stone or other magazines and journals may make pronouncements concerning the value and worth of certain songs and artists, but we all know that if it does not match our view, we can seek out a sympathetic source or we can declare the critic absurd, out of touch, or “not one of us.” And then we can “vote” by buying the song or album, by attending a concert, or by repeatedly listening to the artist or song, thereby defying (in our little microcosm) the supposed expert. If it weren’t for these two aspects—freedom of choice and repeatability—there would not be the multitudes of popular music genres, styles, and artists. The volume alone testifies to the marginality of the expert.

Because of the lack of an authoritative voice, we can each listen to a song and form our unique interpretation, reinforcing Abbate’s concern over the “promiscuity” of interpretation that exists (Carolyn Abbate, Unsung Voices: Opera and the Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991]). The accumulation of one’s life’s experiences affect the interpretation, as do many other factors such as current events. Listening to a song twice in a row can yield multiple interpretations because various musical elements and textual items move forward and backward in our consciousness. 

A Lucky Find

July 4, 2008

Someone is a better shopper than I:

Rare song manuscript found in flea market (

The Origins of Part Singing

July 3, 2008

In my endless quest to understand vocal duos, I have, of course, been reminding myself about the history of part singing, reaching back to Medieval days. Here’s a video along those lines.


It’s also fun to listen and see if I can recognize a single word of the French. I could. Understand a single word, that is. Exactly one word. And I can’t use that one when I go to Paris this summer.

The Moviegoer

July 1, 2008

I just finished reading Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, published in 1960. I chose this novel for a number of reasons. First, very simply is its timing–1960 means Percy was at work on it during the years that interest me the most, the late 1950s. Second, the early history of rock and roll is intimately tied up with Southern history and Southern world views. No matter how it morphed and divided and no matter how many different regions and countries got involved in later years, there is a Southern essence that pervades those early recordings. The Everly Brothers (the focus of my research) were essentially Southern in spite of the fact that they spent a good portion of their childhood in Iowa. They were born in Kentucky and their parents were from Kentucky and they returned to Nashville when it came time to try their hand at a professional career. They joined a long list of musicians from around various parts of the South that arrived in Nashville, Memphis, or Chicago, seeking their moment in the sun: Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison (Texas), Chuck Berry (St. Louis), Elvis (Mississippi), Little Richard (Georgia), and many others. 

The protagonist, Binx Bolling, is a kind of Southerner that I understand but cannot claim to be. As Linda Ray Pratt pointed out in “Elvis, or the Ironies of a Southern Identity” (in Elvis: Images and Fancies, ed. Jac L. Tharpe, 40-51 [Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1979]), most of us who grew up in the South–at least until the 1980s–were only one or two generations removed from poverty. Binx, as the son of a doctor and related to lawyers and businessmen, is part of the shabby chic South that I cannot claim for myself. On the other hand, the portion of the South that he represents certainly resonates with me–it is what we all strived for, that certain nobility of character, that recognition that even though we were from the South–with all its complicated history and problems and failures and successes–we were still valuable to American society. As his Aunt Emily says at one point, “I will also plead guilty to another charge. The charge is that people belonging to my class think they’re better than other people. You’re damn right we’re better.” In this, perhaps Southerners are no different from anyone else, but the way in which it used to pervade social interaction is notable. Pratt’s essay describes this pathology much better than I can.

While Percy’s novel is interesting in terms of the Southern nature at that time, more importantly I think he presents in one character (Binx) some of the complex notions about sex that run just under the surface of all art, literature, music, and popular culture. The most telling passage is the following:

Off the bus and hopping along Wilmette happy as jaybirds, pass within a few feet of noble Midwestern girls with their clear eyes and their spendid butts and never a thought for them. What an experience, Rory [Rory Calhoun, an actor in Westerns], to be free of it for once. Rassled out. What a sickness it is, Rory, this latter-day post-Christian sex. To be pagan it would be one thing, an easement taken easily in a rosy old pagan world; to be Christian it would be another thing, fornication forbidden and not even to be thought of in the new life, and I can see that it need not be thought of if there were such a life. But to be neither pagan nor Christian but this: oh this is a sickness, Rory. For it to be longed after and dreamed of the first twenty years of one’s life, not practiced but not quite prohibited; simply longed after, longed after as a fruit not really forbidden but mock-forbidden and therefore secretly prized, prized first last and always by the cult of the naughty nice wherein everyone is nicer than Christians and naughtier than pagans, wherein there are dreamed not one but two American dreams: of Ozzie and Harriet, nicer-than-Christian folks, and of Tillie and Mac [a cartoon couple] and belly to back.

And there it is, the two Americas, bubbling under the surface during the late 1950s. The Everly Brothers represented, at least on the surface, that nicer-than-Christian folks fantasy while singing about the Tillie and Mac world, which seemed to offer so much more titillation.

Below is Rory Calhoun, Binx Bolling’s alter ego, and to some degree Walker Percy’s.


Rory Calhoun