Posts Tagged ‘1950s’

I, IV, V and Beyond

January 27, 2010

Joe Burns’s analysis of one hundred rock and roll songs from 1955 to 1959 shows that forty-nine percent of the songs in his sample relied on the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords (I, IV, V).[1] Burns’s study focuses on progressions and their frequency of occurrence. He includes all list of the songs in the study and the distinct progressions or each (for example, I-IV-V or I-ii-V-I). Using his data, I calculated that the average number of chords in the songs in this repertoire is 3.55; narrowing it to the years that coincide with the Everly Brothers (1957-1959) yields an average of 3.63. Richard J. Ripani analyzed twenty-five of the top R&B singles for 1950 to 1959. He calculated the average number of chords in use to be 4.68.[2] The average number of chords used in the Everly Brothers’ songs is 4.65, more closely matching that of rhythm and blues than rock and roll. (A comparable study of country or pop music hits of the same period does not appear to exist so no comparison is readily available.) Nine of their singles rely on the standard I-IV-V progression: “Maybe Tomorrow,” “Should We Tell Him,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Problems,” “This Little Girl of Mine,” “Claudette,” “Be Bop A Lula,” “Leave My Woman Alone,” “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail.” The Everlys wrote the first three, “Problems” was written by the Bryants, and the rest were written by others. “(‘Til) I Kissed You” is a three-chord song, but it uses I, V7, and vi, the vi acting as a tonic substitute. The nine I-IV-V singles represent about thirty-five percent of their singles; using Burns’s data and calculating a comparable percentage for the years 1957-1959 shows that approximately forty-four percent of the rock and roll songs in his study relied on this set of chords (Table 7‑6).

Year # songs with I, IV, and V only # songs total percentage with I, IV, and V only
1955 6 9 67%
1956 11 19 58%
1957 11 20 55%
1958 11 25 44%
1959 10 27 37%
1955-1957 49 100 49%
1957-1959 32 72 44%

Early Rock and Roll Chord Analysis

[1] Joe Burns, “The Music Matters: An Analysis of Early Rock and Roll,” Soundscapes – Journal on Media Culture 6 (April, 2003).

[2] Richard J. Ripani, The New Blue Music: Changes in Rhythm & Blues, 1950-1999 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006).


Word Cloud

January 24, 2010

I created a word cloud of the words used in the Everly Brothers’ singles released by Cadence plus “Cathy’s Clown.” Almost 800 individual words are used in these 26 songs. Most occur only once. The most common word is “I” which is not surprising since most of the songs are first person narratives.

The program to build the dictionary of words and count frequencies was written in Python. The lyrics that were fed into the program do not account for the repetition of choruses or sections, but I plan to do that soon.

The dictionary is divided into five levels, from smallest to largest. Each set is supposed to appear as a different font size. I am also trying to make it use different colors for each set, but I have encountered some CSS issues. I’ll work on those later, but really…I’m supposed to be writing a dissertation, not writing code! But boy, was it fun!

Updated list for #1 country hits in 1950s

January 22, 2010

I updated the list of #1 hits in country music to include 1958 to 1960; it now spans 1955 to 1960. I also added YouTube playlists for those years.

The big news of 1957

December 22, 2009

I was reading through the Boston Globe newspaper for fall, 1957, looking for any mention of the banning of “Wake Up Little, Susie,” an oft-told Everly Brothers anecdote. I was struck by several news items from this period (aside from my delight at the Yankees losing the World Series that year).

First there was an Asian flu epidemic. Schools were reporting record numbers of students absent. High school sports events were being cancelled regularly because there were not enough players. Even the professional baseball teams were concerned about having enough players. I encountered this at the height of our own H1N1 scare, but the numbers of absences across the state in 1957 was probably well above our current numbers.

Second was that in the three-week period I examined, there were at least three deaths of teenage drivers reported–each week. I know the teenager in my house chafes at the strictures and extensive instruction required, but it looks like it works.

The fall of 1957 was also when the Soviets had launched Sputnik. Most of the reports I read called it the “Red Moon.” The tone varied from fear and concern to a spectator’s guide to tracking it.

My favorite article, though, was the one shown below. I was both appalled and greatly amused, but mostly I was grateful that tall women are no longer pitied and treated to bizarre medical “corrections.”

Pop Hits 1955-1957

December 14, 2009

Below are the number one singles for the years 1955-1957 in chronological order. I am slowly putting the YouTube video playlist together. Stay tuned.


  1. Let Me Go Lover – Joan Weber
  2. Hearts of Stone – The Fontane Sisters
  3. Sincerely – The McGuire Sisters
  4. The Ballad of Davy Crockett – Bill Hayes
  5. Cherry pink and Apple Blossom White – Perez Prado
  6. Dance with Me Henry (Wallflower) – Georgia Gibbs
  7. Unchained Melody – Les Baxter
  8. (We’re Gonna) Rock around the Clock – Bill Haley & His Comets
  9. Learnin’ the Blues – Frank Sinatra
  10. The Yellow Rose of Texas – Mitch Miller
  11. Ain’t That a Shame – Pat Boone
  12. Love Is a Many Splendored Thing – Four Aces
  13. Autumn Leaves – Roger Williams
  14. Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford


  1. Memories Are Made of This – Dean Martin
  2. Rock and Roll Waltz – Kay Starr
  3. The Great Pretender – The Platters
  4. Lisbon Antigua – Nelson Riddle
  5. The Poor People of Paris – Les Baxter
  6. Heartbreak Hotel – Elvis Presley
  7. Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom) – Perry Como
  8. Moonglow and Theme from ”Picnic” – Morris Stoloff
  9. The Wayward Wind – Gogi Grant
  10. I Almost Lost My Mind – Pat Boone
  11. I Want you, I need You, I Love – Elvis Presley
  12. My Prayer – The Platters
  13. Don’t Be Cruel – Elvis Presley
  14. Hound Dog – Elvis Presley
  15. Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley
  16. The Green Door – Jim Lower
  17. Singing the Blues – Guy Mitchell


  1. Too Much – Elvis Presley
  2. Don’t Forbid Me – Pat Boone
  3. You Love – Sonny James
  4. Young Love – Tab Hunter
  5. Butterfly – Andy Williams
  6. Party Doll – Buddy Knox and the Rhyhm Orchids
  7. Round and Round – Perry Como
  8. All Shook Up – Elvis Presley
  9. Butterfly – Charlie Gracie
  10. Love Letters in the Sand – Pat Boone
  11. (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear – Elvis Presley
  12. Tammy – Debbie Reynolds
  13. Diana – Paul Anka
  14. Honeycomb – Jimmie Rodgers
  15. That’ll Be the Day – The Crickets
  16. Wake Up Little Susie – The Everly Brothers
  17. Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
  18. Chances Are – Johnny Mathis
  19. You Send Me – Sam Cooke
  20. April Love – Pat Boone

Not So Loud!

October 21, 2009
Not So Loud

NBC Television Films advertisement in Billboard, May 13, 1957

NBC wants you to know that “you don’t have to rattle your tonsils to prove your worth.” Apparently a two-page advertisement for their new syndicated series, “The Silent Service,” is the equivalent of whispering in the entertainment industry.

Everly Brothers Fan Survey

October 14, 2009

I have created a survey for Everly Brothers fans, hoping to capture some interesting viewpoints and data to use in my dissertation. I was restricted to 10 questions, but I think that will be enough. If any of my fellow musicologists are listening, let me know if the questions seem reasonable or what tweaks need to be made.

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.