Sunday, 9 July 2017

Playlist: Snapshots in Time: Volume II - 1955-1959

Buddy Holly and The Crickets That'll Be The Day
Buddy Holly and The Crickets

Info: In the second of our series Snapshots in Time, we take a look at the second half of the 1950's, and whilst this period was still dominated by the popular genre of jazz, the birth of a new type of music was not only emerging, but exploding instantly. Rock and roll was like an electric shock, a defibrillator whose twin charges both rattled a highly conservative McCarthy-era America, and awakened entirely new feelings and exhilaration among a youth on the verge of a counterculture in the decade to come.

Whilst Little Richard and Buddy Holly remain iconic to this day, and are by no means 'hidden gems', it would be remiss to not include them on this playlist. Firstly as while there were other equally famous recorded rock and roll artists at the time (Elvis, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry for example), their numbers were relatively few, and secondly, a bridge is compulsory from the mid-50's for what was to follow in the 1960's. 

We open with vocal jazz artist Sarah Vaughan, who was born in 1924 in New Jersey, and her track, 'April In Paris', which appeared on what was her fifth (and self-titled) studio album, easily her most popular, alongside the 1958 live album, At Mister Kelly's. The presence of the legendary jazz trumpeter Clifford Brown (whose magic you can enjoy from the 2:56 mark), leads us nicely onto the next track from his album, Study In Brown, many of the tracks from which would go on to become jazz standards. 'Cherokee' by Brown with Max Roach begins with a jazz opening reflecting a tribal Native American Indian percussion, before spurting off into wild abandon.

Duke Ellington - At Newport Jazz Festival

After Duke Ellington's famous live album at The Newport Jazz Festival with 'Tea For Two' comes one of my favourite 50's albums, Louis Prima's The Wildest!, the New Orleans swing artist released the hit album in 1956, which contains the ridiculously feel-good 'I'm Just a Gigolo' / 'I Ain't Got Nobody' medley, it's wild and raucous, and in some ways paved the way for the 'alarming' rock sounds which were already brewing. 

And so to said genre, bubbling to a boil courtesy of the likes of Little Richard and his debut Here's Little Richard, a mix of covers and originals, Speciality Records scout Bumps Blackwell was ordered by the label boss to find the next Ray Charles, and so Blackwell headed south, specifically to the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans where he found jump blues pianist and singer Little Richard Penniman, an early shift in rock history was just about to occur. 

Texan Charles Hardin Holley, or Buddy Holly to the rest of us, who had an untimely death in a plane crash at the age of 22, would have been nowhere near aware, during his short musical career, of the impact he would have on rock music. Two of Holly's songs, 'Not Fade Away' and 'Peggy Sue' have both been covered more than 80 times. The latter was written for and about 17 year-old Peggy Sue Gerron of Lubbock in Texas, where Holly was born. Gerron recalled the Christmas that the single sold over a million copies and receiving a phone-call from Buddy who was in New York at the time, she merely responded; "Oh my, that's a lot of records".

Billie Holiday Lady in Satin Vinyl

From the opening line of 'I'm A Fool To Want You', Billie Holiday's seductive gravelly vocal draws you right into where she wants you to be, accompanied by orchestra. This was Holiday's comeback album in the 1950's, since her heyday in the 1930's she had developed a severe heroin addiction, and the album's producers were initially reluctant to work on Lady in Satin, thankfully the gamble paid off. Sadly a career that began in the nightclubs of Harlem ended shortly afterwards when she passed away in 1959, just over a year after the release of this album.

After the pure genius of John Coltrane's self-titled opening track from Blue Train, and whose wife I will talk about later in this series...I find myself at a complete masterpiece in The Dave Brubeck Quartet's 'Take Five' from their Time Out album. Whilst I'm beyond a novice when it comes to jazz, this track is just riddled with calm and cool, the repeated piano progression and absolutely perfect off-timing percussion are incredibly gratifying, from the 2:30 mark the snare dwarfs the upright bass and keys, magical.

If, like me, you find country music a bit of a hard nut to crack, the Nashville sounds of Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs might make you think twice. A collection of stories with an unsurprisingly western cowboy slant, 'Big Iron' was Robbins' second biggest hit in 1959 after 'El Paso'. The LP was recorded in one day and 'El Paso' was the first country single to ever win a Grammy. In later life Robbins traded stories of sauntering through unforgiving landscapes on horseback for a career as a stock-car race driver, ho-hum!

To listen and read about REMY's first Snapshots in Time series from 1950-1954, go here

Recommended Documentaries:

Buddy Holly - Arena: BBC4 Documentary
Dave Brubeck - Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way (2010)

Track Listing:

1. Sarah Vaughan - 'April in Paris' - Sarah Vaughan 
2. Clifford Brown - 'Cherokee' - Study in Brown 
3. Duke Ellington - 'Tea For Two' - Ellington at Newport
4. Louis Prima - 'Just A Gigolo' / 'I Ain't Got Nobody' - The Wildest!
5. Little Richard - 'Tutti Frutti' - Here's Little Richard
6. Buddy Holly - 'That'll Be The Day' - The "Chirping" Crickets
7. Billie Holiday - 'I'm A Fool To Want You' - Lady in Satin
8. John Coltrane - 'Blue Train' - Blue Train
9. The Dave Brubeck Quartet - 'Take Five' - Time Out
10. Marty Robbins - 'Big Iron' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs