1950s EASY-POP Songs and Singers...on the verge of Rock 'n Roll
Songwriters of the 50s and singers who recorded some of their hit songs
Richard Adler & Jerry Ross Tony Bennett’s Rags to Riches; Rosemary Clooney’s Hey There from Broadway’s ‘Pajama Game’; Eddie Fisher’s Heart from ‘Damn Yankees’; and Doris Day’s Everybody Loves a Lover (with music by Robert Allen).
Robert Allen & Al Stillman Perry Como’s Christmas classic Home for the Holidays; Johnny Mathis’ Chances Are and It’s Not For Me To Say; and the Four Lads’ Moments to Remember, No Not Much, and There’s Only One of You.
Bennie Benjamin, composer & George David Weiss, lyricist Kay Starr’s Wheel of Fortune and Patti Page’s Cross Over the Bridge.
Irving Berlin, composer & lyricist Eddie Fisher’s Count Your Blessings; Bing Crosby’s White Christmas; Kate Smith’s God Bless America; Ethel Merman’s There’s No Business Like Show Business; and Judy Garland’s Easter Parade.
Jerry Bock, composer & George David Weiss, lyricist Peggy Lee’s and Sarah Vaughan’s versions of Mr. Wonderful; Eydie Gorme’s Too Close for Comfort both from Broadway’s ‘Mr. Wonderful’; and Bobby Darin’s Artificial Flowers (words by Sheldon Harnick) from Broadway’s ‘Tenderloin.’
Johnny Burke, composer & lyricist (also composed under the pseudonym K. C. Rogan) Perry Como’s Wild Horses; Johnny Mathis’ Misty; the Skyliners’ Pennies from Heaven; and Patti Page’s Now That I’m in Love.
Sammy Cahn, lyricist (often collaborated with Jule Styne and Jimmy Van Heusen) Doris Day’s It’s Magic and I’ll Never Stop Loving You; the Four Aces’ Three Coins in the Fountain; Dinah Shore’s I’ll Walk Alone; Mario Lanza’s Be My Love; the Ames Brothers’ Forever Darling; Frank Sinatra’s Love and Marriage, Same Old Saturday Night, Hey Jealous Lover, All the Way, and High Hopes; and the Christmas holiday classic Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Joe Darion, lyricist Teresa Brewer’s Ricochet; Patti Page’s Changing Partners; and Jack Jones’ The Impossible Dream from Broadway’s ‘Man of La Mancha.’
Hal David, lyricist (often collaborated with composer Burt Bacharach) Perry Como’s Magic Moments; Teresa Brewer’s Bell Bottom Blues; Carl Dobkins’ My Heart is an Open Book; and Sarah Vaughan’s Broken-Hearted Melody.
Ray Evans, composer & Jay Livingston, lyricist The Christmas classic Silver Bells; Debbie Reynolds’ Tammy; Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa; Dinah Shore’s Buttons & Bows; and Doris Day’s Que Sera, Sera.
Sammy Fain, composer (often collaborated with lyricist Paul Francis Webster) Dinah Shore’s Dear Hearts and Gentle People; Doris Day’s Secret Love; the Ames Brothers’ Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing; Johnny Nash’s A Very Precious Love; and Pat Boone’s April Love.
Terry Gilkyson, composer and lyricist Frankie Laine’s Cry of the Wild Goose; Doris Day’s Mister Tap Toe; and Dean Martin’s Memories Are Made of This.
Norman Gimbel, lyricist Teresa Brewer’s Ricochet (with Joe Darion and Larry Coleman); Dean Martin’s Sway; Andy Williams’ Canadian Sunset; and Little Peggy March’s I Will Follow Him.
Al Hoffman, composer/lyricist (often collaborated with Dick Manning and Bob Merrill) Mairzy Doats; I’m Gonna Live Till I Die; Eileen Barton’s If I Knew You Were Coming I’d’ve Baked a Cake; Pearl Bailey’s Takes Two to Tango; Perry Como’s Papa Loves Mambo and Hot Diggity Dog; and the words and music for Walt Disney’s ‘Cinderella.’
Jack Lawrence, composer and lyricist Rosemary Clooney’s Tenderly (with Walter Gross); Bobby Darin’s Beyond the Sea (with Charles Trenet); Don Cornell’s Hold My Hand; and Les Baxter’s Poor People of Paris.
Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, composer and lyricist Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock, Don’t, Treat Me Nice, and She’s Not You; Gale Storm’s Lucky Lips; and the Drifters’ On Broadway.
Carolyn Leigh, lyricist Frank Sinatra’s Witchcraft, Young at Heart, and (How Little It Matters) How Little We Know; Peggy Lee’s Pass Me By; and Lucille Ball’s Hey Look Me Over.
Dick Manning, composer/lyricist (often collaborated with composer/lyricist Al Hoffman) Pearl Bailey’s Takes Two to Tango; Teresa Brewer’s Jilted; Tommy Edwards’ Morningside of the Mountain; Jimmie Rodgers Secretly; and Perry Como’s Papa Loves Mambo and Hot Diggity Dog.
Bob Merrill, composer/lyricist (often collaborated with composer/lyricist Al Hoffman) Patty Page’s classic How Much is that Doggie in the Window?; Jimmie Rodgers’ Honeycomb; Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano; Eileen Barton’s If I Knew You Were Coming I’d’ve Baked a Cake; Perry Como’s Tina Marie; Guy Mitchell’s My Truly, Truly Fair; and Sarah Vaughan’s Make Yourself Comfortable.
Lee Pockress, composer and lyricist Perry Como’s Catch a Falling Star; the PlayMates’ What Is Love; Johnny Tillotson’s Jimmy’s Girl; Anita Bryant’s In My Little Corner of the World; Shelley Fabares’ Johnny Angel; and Carl Dobkins’ My Heart is an Open Book.
Harry Warren, composer Doris Day’s Lullaby of Broadway; Vic Damone’s Affair To Remember; Jill Corey’s I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me); Judy Garland’s On the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe; and Dean Martin’s That’s Amore and Inamorata.
Paul Francis Webster, lyricist (often collaborated with composer Sammy Fain) Mario Lanza’s Loveliest Night of the Year; Doris Day’s Secret Love; the Four Aces’ Love is a Many-Splendored Thing; Pat Boone’s Friendly Persuasion; and the Ames Brothers’ A Very Precious Love.
Those Catchy, Sing-Along Lyrics
A fifties EASY-POP song was usually lilting and playful with an adolescent teen idealism—not intended to be a realistic depiction of the way the listeners were but an optimistic vision of the way they wanted to be.
The lyrics were always easy-to-sing-along-with and incorporated catchy phrases, unique meters, and unexpected rhymes. While the songs were neither erudite nor deep, they were often clever and inventive narrative poems consisting of simple stanzas and a recurrent refrain.
According to historian James Harris “50s POP is important music, but it is not serious music. The lyrics were simple, straightforward, and upbeat, not cynical like many of the songs near the end of the twentieth century.” (Harris, 1993, p.8)
By 1950, fewer songs were written in publishing offices in New York. A Tennessean, Pee Wee King wrote The Tennessee Waltz that turned into a smash hit for Patti Page. Hillbilly, Hank Williams wrote Jambalaya, a #1 hit recorded by Jo Stafford. A desert-living, sandaled, Eden Ahbez wrote Nature Boy, Nat King Cole’s hit. An ex-murderer named Huddie Ledbetter was composer/lyricist of Goodnight Irene that was recorded by the Weavers. A watchman at a dry-cleaning company in Pittsburgh, Kohlman Churchill, wrote Johnny Ray’s Cry. Polio victim Melvyn Endsley who was confined to a wheelchair wrote Guy Mitchell’s Singing the Blues. (Whitcomb, 1972, p.205)
Alan Freed whose fame as a rock-and-roll disc jockey obscured the fact that he was the songwriter of the gentle and sentimental hit record Sincerely for the McGuire Sisters. The original tin-whistle version of Skokiaan was recorded in what is now Zimbabwe. Stuart Hamblen wrote This Ole House as a gospel song.
Unique 50s slang was reflected in popular songs. Phrases like ‘going steady,’ ‘slippin’ around,’ and a ‘double-dare’ often appeared in popular songs. Eddie Fisher had his ‘dungaree’ doll and Dean Martin called the moon a ‘pizza pie.’ The Four Lads called Martha ‘the most.’ Teresa Brewer was ‘jilted’ in one recording and in another her boyfriend began to ‘ricochet’ just like a rifle bullet. (Coral records felt that the word ‘ricochet’ was so unusual that the title should be spelled phonetically RICK-O-SHAY in parentheses on the record label so the buyer would recognize it as the song they heard on the radio.)
Fifties lyrics identify names that were popular. Perry Como was taken with Tina Marie; in Mostly Martha, the Four Lads loved Martha more than Jane, Trudy, Grace, or Jean; and Ricky Nelson loved Mary Lou. In Left, Right Out of Your Heart Patti Page was mistakenly called Susie by her soldier boy when her name was actually Cindy Lou, Eddie Fisher also longed for Cindy, Oh Cindy, and Buddy Holly’s biggest hit song was originally called Cindy Lou, before it was changed to Peggy Sue because that was the name of the Crickets’ drummer Jerry Allison’s girl friend at the time.
Lyrics were innocent in the fifties—gay meant happy, bawling meant crying, and Doris Day’s title song from the film Tunnel of Love was understood as a reference to the amusement park ride rather than the sexual connotation it might suggest today. In the recording of One Boy, Joannie Sommers having ‘coke’ with her boyfriend meant a soft drink not an illegal substance.
Rock, R&B, and jazz historians sometimes criticize the lyrics of 50s EASY-POP songs as being ‘sappy’ and ‘gushy.’ Fifties POP songs were hopeful and enthusiastic. They were never afraid to show naïve feelings and virtue in simple, straightforward words. The lyrics were neither as trite nor banal as critics claim and while they were not provocative or stimulating, they were imaginative and colorful.