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Early 1950s Playlists

by Don Robertson (the guy who was there!)

The Banjo Craze

In 1948, the American bandleader Art Mooney (1911-1993) resurrected an old song from 1927 called “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover”, complete with a banjo leading the rhythm section. The recording reached No. 1 on the popular charts and the other side of the record “Baby Face”, originally a hit in 1926, reached a 1948 position of No. 3. Another recalling of the banjo and the style of music during the 1920s took place in the mid-1950s. “The Man with the Banjo” by the Ames Brothers was released on December 24, 1953. The banjo craze came in full swing in 1955 with the other titles in the playlist. Art Mooney jumped back on board with his cover version of the Ferko String Band’s 1955 “Alabama Jubilee” that reached No. 13 on the pop chart.

The Crazy Otto Craze

The Crazy Otto Craze came in the same year as the Banjo Craze – 1955. It arose out of a 1953 recording by a German pianist named Fritz Schulz-Reichel, who called himself Der Schräger Otto (The Crazy Otto) and played a piano that he especially detuned to sound “old timey.” He had made recordings of medleys of old songs. One of them, on Side 2 of the original 1953 German recording, was duplicated by a Tennessee pianist named Johnny Maddox, and his version became a huge hit in the United States, spending 20 weeks on the Billboard Charts – peaking at Number 2 for seven weeks. It eventually sold in excess of two million copies. This naturally spawned other Crazy Otto-style recordings and American releases by the real Crazy Otto in Germany. Enjoy… It was fun.

Leroy Anderson and His "Pops" Concert Orchestra

Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) was an American composer of light classical concert tunes. At Harvard University Graduate School, he studied composition with Walter Piston and George Enescu and received a Master of Arts in Music in 1930. His first two tunes were “Jazz Pizzicato” and “Jazz Legato”, both composed in 1938. In 1945, he composed “The Syncopated Clock” and “Promenade”. In 1950, he was signed to Decca Records, where he conducted his tunes with an orchestra. His music was sold in the record stores, filed under “Classical Music”, but it was featured on popular music radio programs. He composed “Blue Tango” in 1951 and his recording, with his “pops” orchestra was released in December. It went to number one on the charts, and Billboard ranked it as The Number One Song of 1952! That’s how important his music was at the time. The tune became famous and many cover versions were made by other orchestras.

Hugo Winterhalter

Hugo Winterhalter (1909-1973) was an arranger and composer who studied violin and reed instruments at the New England Conservatory of Music. During the mid-1930s, he began arranging for the dance bands of Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Raymond Scott, Claude Thornhill and for singers Dinah Shore and Billy Eckstine. After two years arranging and conducting sessions at MGM and Columbia Records, he went to RCA Victor where he arranged sessions for the label’s popular singers. RCA also released instrumental tunes arranged and conducted by Winterhalter, some with singers, choral groups, and instrumentalists. He charted with “Blue Tango”, “Vanessa” and “The Little Shoemaker”. “Canadian Sunset”, with pianist Eddie Heywood, reached No. 1 in 1956, and was awarded a gold disk. His orchestral arrangements are special in the way he would create a colorful orchestral sound through the use of instruments that were unusual in popular music, like the french horn. 

David Carroll and His Orchestra

This playlist consists of the novelty and other instrumental tunes by “David Carroll” that I heard heard on my radio in 1955. Some of these tunes, like “Cornsilk”, “Scatter-Brain”, and “Melody of Love” were throughbacks to to the 1930s and the recordings of Wayne King and his orchestra. One sunny 1955 day, I saw that David Carroll and his band would be appearing in my home town of Denver. I had to see how his colorful novelty tunes were created, and to see thes great “David Carroll” in person. I convinced my mother to drive me there. When I arrived, there was no David Carroll, and someone else was conducting. During the break, I asked the conductor where David Carroll was. He said: “My name is Jerry Gray. David Carroll is just an A&R man at Mercury Records and they use his name for any instrumental recordings that the label records.” Well! Anyway, I found out that the sound that I most wondered about was a pair of clarinets. 

Great Records From England

England was represented on the American charts during the era of the early 1950s by some great recordings by the popular orchestras of England and some of its great singers. We open this playlist with the other-worldly strings of the great English popular music conductor Mantovani with his rendition of the song “Charmaine”. Frank Chacksfield had a hit song in both America and England with the song “Ebb Tide”, which sailed to the top of the popular music charts. British film composer and conductor Malcolm Lockyer composed the “fun” song “Picnic for Strings” and it was covered by Frank Chacksfield in another recording that sounded very similar to the original. The song “Cara Mia”, sung by English singer David Whitfield, reached No. 10 on the US charts in 1954 and was awarded a gold record. English singer and entertainer Vera Lynn’s recordings and performances were very popular during the second world war and brought comfort to British soldiers and sailors.