Posts Tagged ‘The Four Aces’

In 1955, the white man was in big trouble. Sure, we ruled the waves. And the land. And anyone who wasn’t white. And women in general. But what good was that when our music was appalling? As evidence, I present to you the Top 10 songs for the year.

The most popular song of 1955 was by a Cuban, Pérez Prado. That’s the start and finish for diversity on this list. “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” is an instrumental. Prado’s work differs from that of other instrumental groups of that era, for example, The Shadows (“Apache”) and The Tornados (“Telstar”) in that it thoroughly sucks. Pérez Prado was the king of mambo in ’55, but “Cherry Pink” is mambo with the temperature turned to Do Not Resuscitate. The trumpet playing is a bunt down the line compared to Herb Alpert’s double off the wall.

In second place is Bill Haley & His Comets with “Rock Around the Clock.” I suspect you know all about this one, which is considered the first rock song. It doesn’t sock you in the jaw as it probably did in ’55 but it still has enough force to rap you on the sternum.

A quick run through the collected works of Bill Haley turns up nothing much, except for “Thirteen Women and Only One Man in Town,” Haley’s thoughtful speculations on life after an atomic war.

Batting third we have Roger Williams with the immortal “Autumn Leaves.” This is not the Roger Williams who founded Rhode Island in 1636. He was more into death metal. “Autumn Leaves” by this Roger Williams would’ve embarrassed Liberace.

Tennessee Ernie Ford bats cleanup with “Sixteen Tons.” What a voice TEF had, as smooth and dark as Tennessee whisky or Tennessee maple woods, if Tennessee made whisky or grew maple woods.

The lyrics tell two stories. One is about a man who is so tough that he could’ve been the subject of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” The other is about a man who is so beat down that he owes his soul to the company store. Paying attention to the lyrics is confusing.

“Sixteen Tons” bears a passing resemblance to Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher.” Both songs would be considered novelties today.

Number 5 is Bill Hayes with “The Ballad of Davey Crocket.” This is a real marchin’ and fightin’ song. It paved the way a few years later for two more marchin’ and fightin’ songs, Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Sink the Bismarck.” Horton’s songs don’t give any space to ethnic slurs about Brits and Germans (although in “The Battle of New Orleans” General Jackson’s troops do mistreat an alligator), while Disney piles up the anti-Indian sentiment in “The Ballad of Davey Crocket.”

Crocket is also celebrated in this milestone of the musical arts for abandoning his family and seeking adventures out West because he was fucking bored. And, of course, there’s that episode where Crocket joined the Texicans for their last stand at the Alamo, “where freedom was fightin’ another foe,” even though we stole Texas and freedom’s foe was actually us.

In the 1970s, Bill Hayes (who did not write this hockey puck) found a home as an actor on Days of Our Lives, where he’s been playing the same role for 42 years.

The bottom half of this list doesn’t redeem itself. To appreciate Mitch Miller’s “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” you have to enjoy masses of men singing lustily but without specifics about their favorite gal. To me it sounds like more marchin’ and fightin’. When I was a kid we sometimes watched Sing Along with Mitch, which featured more crud like this. They ran the words past you in a primitive CNN crawl. A little ball bounced from one word to the next (“Just follow the bouncing ball!”) in case you were rhythmically challenged.

I always associate this song with the scene in Giant where Rock Hudson brawls with the racist restaurant owner while “The Yellow Rose of Texas” plays on the jukebox. Probably not what the composer had in mind.

The McGuire Sisters’ “Sincerely,” a cover of The Moonglows’ hit from earlier in the year, could only chart in a deeply segregated musical society. However, the sisters looked great in knee-length leopard-print coats.

Next up are The Four Lads and “Moment to Remember.” Their name alone disqualifies them from any serious consideration of their music. To be fair, their music also disqualifies them.

As we learned from the time I tried to listen to every band with a number in its name, 4 is one of the deadlier numerals. The Four Aces, in their clubbing of “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing,” don’t prove me wrong.

At the bottom of the list is Les Baxter and his thoughts on “Unchained Melody.” Baxter is popular among hip aficionados of the ’50s-’60s crazes for Tiki music and exotic outer-space sounds. However, his smothering embrace of “Unchained Melody” does not help his reputation. (Four different artists had Top 10 hits with “Unchained Melody” in 1955. Imagine if Meghan Trainor, Taylor Swift, Usher, and Yo-Yo Ma all had Top 10 hits with “All About That Bass” in 2015.)

I’m fond of Baxter’s mambo version of “Never on Sunday” only because that’s the song my Mom sang when she washed the dishes.

In the separate-but-equal United States of 1955, black pop music was walled off in its own category, called R&B. (In 1925 these songs would’ve been called “race records.”) The R&B Top 10 for ’55 had its own share of musical doorstops (including two versions of “Unchained Melody”), but you could include most of these records on a radio playlist today and not lose all your listeners. You can’t make the same claim for “Autumn Leaves” or “The Ballad of Davey Crocket.”

The R&B list includes Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame,” and Bo Diddley’s song about Bo Diddley. Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” is a far better song than “Rock Around the Clock.” It sounds more like rock; Bill Haley’s song has some residual swing to it. But “Rock Around the Clock” was released two months before “Maybellene” and so takes the prize. The list also includes The Moonglows, Etta James, and Little Walter.

I’m not going to write about black music of the 1950s, because I don’t remember much about the ’50s aside from learning how to dress myself, how to hold a crayon, and how to play hide and seek (while hiding, don’t yell “I’m over here!”). I still use all of these skills at work. But I do remember the black music of the ’70s, and that’s where we’re going next time. Get up. Get on up!

Many thanks to Loyal Reader Accused of Lurking for sending me this illuminating list.

Random Pick of the Day 1
Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed and Delivered (1970)
The heart of this album are the glorious “We Can Work It Out,” “Signed, Sealed and Delivered,” and “Heaven Help Us All.” The rest of the album is expertly put together but not distinctive.

Random Pan of the Day
Stevie Wonder, Where I’m Coming From (1971)
This album doesn’t go anywhere. But I hate panning anything by Stevie Wonder, so here’s a bonus Pick:

Random Pick of the Day 2
Stevie Wonder, Music of My Mind (1972)
This is where Stevie, who was just 22, explodes into musical adulthood. The synthesizers on this disc are years ahead of their time. The first two songs, “Love Having You Around” and “Superwoman,” are 15 minutes long. I like them both, but is this where Prince picked up the idea that it was OK to go on and on and on and on?

On “I Love Every Little Thing About You,” Wonder gives us a straightforward love song with a real beat. On “Sweet Little Girl” he does Barry White before there was a Barry White to do. On “Happier Than the Morning Sun” he out-McCartneys McCartney. On “Keep on Runnin’ ” he shows he can rock when he feels like it. This is a pop album with a fist inside a velvet glove. And he hasn’t even written “Superstition” yet.

 

I almost included The Three Tenors. They’re not rock, obviously, but Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras are the premiere tenors of our time. When they’re together, everything they touch turns to gold. People would pay money to hear them sing “Who Let the Dogs Out?” But they never recorded “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and I finally decided against them. Also, I hate opera.

Let’s go 3!

3 Doors Down

3 Mustaphas 3
Paul Simon’s Graceland is as far as I go with “world music,” a term that covers every instrument and musical scale ever played that isn’t usually played in North America. If world music is your thing you’ll enjoy 3 Mustaphas 3, as the members seem to be having a lot of fun playing their various Dr. Seuss string-like things. I find that their singing sounds like the Minions from Despicable Me, but that’s probably my American provincialism speaking. Allmusic.com suggests you start with Soup of the Century (1990). I suggest Graceland or The Rhythm of the Saints.

311
Pioneering rap-metal outfit that helped open the door for Korn and Limp Bizkit. Curse you, 311! Their 1994 hit “Down” is a marriage of rap and Nirvana. Their other hit from that year, “All Mixed Up,” is rap, metal, reggae, and jubilant all at once. That’s the one song I can recommend by 311.

3OH!3

Fun Boy Three

Loudon Wainwright III
I admit that this is cheating. The guy was born with that number, he didn’t pick it! But this gave me a chance to listen again to “Dead Skunk” (“Take a whiff on me that ain’t no rose/roll up yer window and hold yer nose”) and “Lullaby” (“Shut your mouth and button your lip/You’re a late-night faucet that’s got a drip”), two of folk-rock’s greatest achievements.

The Three O’Clock
Bands have been returning to their music’s roots since rock was old enough to grow roots. One such roots movement was “The Paisley Underground,” a loose grouping of early-’80s LA bands that loved the ‘60s. The Dream Syndicate loved The Velvet Underground. The Bangles loved The Mamas and the Papas. Rain Parade loved The Doors.

Then there was The Three O’Clock. (Their biggest fan: Prince.) They worshipped The Monkees and The Association, though to me they sound like their contemporaries The Go-Gos. Their best-known song and the one I like is “Jetfighter,” from Sixteen Tambourines (1983).

Third Eye Blind
They came along in the aftermath of grunge and produced hard rock for a hip college crowd that was thrilled to see them in concert and forgot all about them before they hit 30.

Best known for the catchy “Jumper” and the even catchier “Semi-Charmed Life” from their self-titled 1997 debut; the former is about talking a friend off a ledge, the latter is about trying to escape crystal meth. The suicide song sounds surprisingly upbeat, but the other is downright happy. The singer and his girlfriend are in love with meth and they feel fine, despite the bleak words they’re singing. I don’t know if this emotional disconnect is intentional. It’s definitely weird.

Third World War
No listing on Allmusic.com, no music on Rhapsody, but a tantalyzing reference on Wikipedia, where I learned that these Brits formed a sort of proto-punk band in 1970 that produced two albums, toured Finland, and made no money. I found their song “Ascension” on YouTube – it sounds like Jethro Tull had an affair with Joe Cocker. I listened to a couple others, but while my interest declined I can understand why punk pioneers Joe Strummer and Henry Rollins cite Third World War as an influence.

Three Dog Night

Timbuk 3
Forever known for “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades,” which would’ve been perfect for Huey Lewis & The News. “Things are all right, and they’re only getting better,” Timbuk 3 sang on this 1987 release, and though things didn’t get better for them professionally they did turn out a pretty interesting record, Greetings From Timbuk 3 (check out “Facts About Cats,” “Just Another Movie,” and “Shame on You,” another good song for Huey if he had ever learned how to rap). Too bad that the glare from Timbuk 3’s one novelty number obscures the rest of their work.

4 Non Blondes
Joan Armatrading meets Guns N’ Roses with a hint of Heart. Their one album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More (1993), yielded the hit “What’s Up,” which is pleasant enough. 4 Non Blondes eventually featured six non-blondes, one of whom was a guy.

Bobby Fuller Four

Classics IV
Classics IV started out in life imitating The Four Seasons. That’s enough by itself to get them kicked out of this conversation. But they eventually produced three classics (there, I said it) of the ’60s, “Stormy,” “Spooky,” and “Traces.” (“I close my eyes and say a prayer/that in her heart she’ll find/a trace of love there…”)

If you were 12 or 13 as I was when these songs appeared, then like me you occasionally tune in to the Oldies station in the car and you don’t turn these off when they pop up in the rotation. The first slow dance I ever had was to “Traces.” Unless it was “Crimson & Clover.” Whatever the soundtrack was, once I was mashed up against a girl-type person I suddenly understood what everyone in rock was singing about.

Objectively speaking, these songs pretty much suck. “Spooky” is particularly nuts – the singer never knows what his girlfriend is going to do next. Check this out: He asks her if she wants to go to the movies and she says no. Then she rethinks her decision and says yes. Alfred Hitchcock could’ve made an entire movie out of these psychodynamics.

Perhaps because they recorded “Stormy” and “Spooky,” at one point they covered “Sunny.” That one’s not bad!

Four Bitchin’ Babes
Folk-comedy from a rotating cast of bitchin’ babes brought together by Christine Lavin. Their first album, which I have yet to hear, is Buy Me Bring Me Take Me: Don’t Mess My Hair!!! (1993). I’ve heard Fax It! Charge It! Don’t Ask Me What’s for Dinner! (1995), and it’s not all laughs on this disc, as in the first track, “My Mother’s Hands.”

Frankly I’m getting tired of all the folk music and world music on this list, and that includes our next contestants:

Four Men & a Dog
Irish boys playing Celtic music with an international flair. There have been more than four men in this lineup although only four at a time. The dog stays home. If the long-running radio program Thistle & Shamrock is your idea of a good time, you probably already have posters of Four Men & a Dog on your bedroom wall. (For years I wondered why that show only had one announcer, and if she was Ms. Thistle then where was Mr. Shamrock?)

Gang of Four

The Four Aces
Famous a cappella group of the early 1950s that were shot to pieces like a rural stop sign by rock ’n’ roll. I know I don’t get paid for writing this blog but somebody owes me something for listening to their two biggest hits, “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.”

The Four Freshmen
We’re not exactly on a roll here with the number 4. The Four Freshmen are The Four Aces set to music. Eighteen freshmen have sung in their lineup, on such albums as Four Freshmen and Five Trombones, Four Freshmen and Five Trumpets, Four Freshmen and Five Saxes, Four Freshmen and Five Guitars, and Four Freshmen and Five Dr. Seuss String-like Things. Surprisingly, the band existed as a recording unit for six years before they thought of naming an album Freshmen Year.

The Four Fellows
See The Four Toppers.

The Four Havens
I thought this had something to do with Richie Havens and his family, but I was wrong. I’ve heard one track, “One Note Too High,” from somewhere in the 1950s. It’s an uneasy clash of R&B and doo wop. I think they were on to something interesting here but it’s impossible to judge from one song and no context.

The Four Horsemen
Obscure metal act of the early 1990s in which everyone went to jail or died. If they’re known for anything, that thing is “Rockin’ Is Ma’ Business,” which would’ve been done far better by AC/DC. In fact AC/DC can do everything they can do backwards and in high heels. However, for a while the Horsemen had a punk/metal drummer named Chuck Biscuits, which is the second-best drummer name of all time (the #1 spot is still held by punk pioneer Spit Stix).

The Four Seasons
Awhile back I read Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, in which the hero spends 50 pages at the bottom of a dry well. In the dark. I’d rather reread those pages than listen to The Four Seasons.

But, because I am always fair and balanced, I must note that this bland, boring steamroller has been playing and touring and selling records for 50 years. The British Invasion, funk, reggae, disco, punk, grunge, rap, and Lady Gaga have all tried to kill The Four Seasons and all of them have failed. The Four Seasons will still be playing, touring, and selling their bland, boring records 50 years from now (and you can bet your download device of choice that I’ll still be complaining about them).

The Four Seasons’ lineup of past and present members stands at about 40. They will catch 101 Strings sometime before the bicentennial of the Civil War in 2061.

The Four Tops
They’ve lasted just as long as The Four Seasons and they’ve done it with only five guys. Long list of hits, particularly when Holland-Dozier-Holland was feeding them material in the mid-’60s, but my favorite has always been “River Deep, Mountain High” from 1971 (recorded with The Supremes’ survivors after Diana Ross left).

The Four Toppers
Early ’50s singing group that basically broke up when half of them were drafted during the Korean War. They transformed into The Four Fellows on their return. They’re worth remembering because Fellow David Jones wrote “Soldier Boy” while serving in Korea.

Tomorrow night: Rikki. Don’t lose that number, OK?