I was listening on my new Nexus 7 the top songs of 1954 that I had recorded in 2005 from the University of Delaware’s Saturday morning radio programming (WVUD, Boptime with Even Steven). Even back in 1954, I was puzzled by the popularity of Italian songs and singers. We had:
- “Oh My Papa” by Eddie Fisher
- “That’s Amore” by Dean Martin
- “Young at Heart” by Frank Sinatra
- “Three Coins in a Fountain” by the Four Aces
- “Here” by Tony Martin
- “Papa Loves Mambo” by Perry Como
- “Rags to Riches” and “Stranger in Paradise” by Tony Bennett
(Bennett singing “Rags to Riches” was later used in the opening of the movie Goodfellas, still popular on TV today. It is playing in the background of scenes of mob violence. In a voice-over, the Lucchese mobster Henry Hill famously says, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”)
These songs were sung by grown men, not teen-aged American Idols as you would expect. Of course, we had Doris Day (“Secret Love,” “If I Give My Heart to You”) and Rosemary Clooney (“Hey, There,” “This Ole House”), but they were no spring chickens, either. As I recall, we wanted to be grown up, and adults were our role models, not our contemporaries. Why listen to someone as mixed-up as we were?
Pop music in 1954 seemed to be in transition with disparate variety among the top songs. In addition to the Italian-flavored songs, there was a growing awareness of R&B through mainstream remakes (“Shake, Rattle, and Roll” by Bill Haley and the Comets, “Sh-Boom” by the Crew Cuts). A black do-wop group, The Four Knights, had “Oh Baby, Mine.” “Skokiaan” was an African song recorded as a polished mainstream instrumental by Ralph Marterie, although most listeners had no idea where it originated or what it meant.
You can see the full list of the top 30 for 1954 on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billboard_year-end_top_30_singles_of_1954