Great Balls of Fire: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1958

Continuing along with my journey through every one of Billboard’s Hot 100 lists, I’ll move along with the Hot 100 of 1958. In terms of quality, this matches up on pretty much an equal level as the 1957 list – there were a good number I loved, a like number I hated, and a bunch more dwelling somewhere in between. Overall, 1958 was a pretty strange year for music. While the previous year featured many rock ‘n’ pioneers at the height of their careers, this year saw many of them start to briefly fall off the face of the mainstream. Elvis Presley was drafted off to the Army at the early part of the year, yet still managed to gather a good amount of influence in the year-end Hot 100. Chuck Berry also had two rather iconic entries in the list – “Johnny B. Goode” (#73) and “Sweet Little Sixteen” (#29) – but would face arrest near the end of the year. Likewise, Jerry Lee Lewis, despite facing certain controversies of his own, still nabbed two spots of his own with “Breathless” (#95) and “Great Balls of Fire” (#36). On the other side of things, 1958 was the year that Little Richard denounced rock ‘n’ roll, eventually leaving the music industry altogether. As such, his talent was nowhere to be found in the ’58 list.

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With so much happening in the world of rock ‘n’ roll outside of the actual music itself, there were many more additions of doo-wop and basic pop music in this year’s list, along with some other weird novelty stuff. True, Elvis still leads the pack with five entries, but none of them really stand out as particularly memorable; possible exceptions going toward “I Got Stung” (#65) and “Hard Headed Woman” (#49), although I much prefer Wanda Jackson’s cover of the latter. Second place in quantity is a three-way tie between The Everly Brothers, Pat Boone, and Ricky Nelson, each with four songs. I already went over my newfound love for The Everly Brothers and my newfound hatred for Pat Boone, so I won’t spend too much time on them. At this point, Ricky Nelson is no newbie to the Hot 100, as he had a couple songs in the 1957 list. However, all four of his songs on this list are very strong and carve out their own unique identities in their own ways. From the peppy wholesomeness of “I Got A Feeling” (#67), to the melancholy simplicity of “Lonesome Town” (#53), to “Stood Up” (#16) which meanders somewhere in between, such entries are definitive of why he’s my favorite of the 50s teen idols.

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Of course, since this is a feminism-driven blog, it’s probably important to look at how women fit into this list. Altogether, the 1958 Hot 100 includes works from twenty-one women across nine entries. This is only slightly better than the 1957 list – which includes seventeen women across twelve entries – but to put things into perspective, this list features 130 men across ninety-five entries (some songs feature both men and women, which explains the overlap). Of course, I didn’t take certain aspects into account, such as backup bands or singers, but rather who the song is specifically credited toward; nonetheless, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to presume that the tally for men on the chart are probably much higher. The highest ranking song on this list not by a man is “Sugartime” from The McGuire Sisters at #26, once again demonstrating a year where women don’t seem worthy enough to crack into the top ten of a given year. I really can’t wait until these numbers start to change, because so far this has only proven the hard fact that the music industry is unwelcoming to ladies.

(On a side note, I may be showing my age here, but if any other millennials feel a sense of nostalgia over the tune to “Sugartime”, there’s a reason. In the late 90s, Bagel Bites used an uptempo cover of the song with changed lyrics to promote their product in TV commercials. Boy, was my mind blown upon hearing the original for the first time!)

royal-teens-short-shorts-1A weird trend that I’ve noticed beginning with this year specifically is the introduction of novelty songs into the mix. Wikipedia defines “novelty song” as “a comical or nonsensical song, performed principally for its comical effect”, which “may apply to a current event such as a holiday or a fad such as a dance”. Given the fact that the Hot 100 measures album sales, radio airplay, and overall popularity of particular songs, it’s always interesting when novelty music charts high enough to make it on the year-end list. There are about six songs from 1958’s list that would qualify as novelty songs, including The Playmates’ “Beep, Beep” (#60), Lou Monte’s “Lazy Mary” (#80), The Royal Teens’ “Short Shorts” (#35), and Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” (#12).

Of course, the concept of a novelty song is so vaguely defined that it often becomes difficult to completely discern whether a song is indeed novelty or just happens to have a sense of humor in its lyrics. This is how I feel about The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak” (#21), which is certainly a funny song, but also legitimate in its artistic prowess. Yes, the lyrics essentially detail the plights of a suburban teenager who doesn’t want to do their chores (If you don’t scrub that kitchen floor / You ain’t gonna rock and roll no more), but with this logic would that also make The Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” (#14) a novelty song as well (After breakfast every day / she throws the ‘wanted’ ads right my way / And never fails to say / Get a job)? I also theorize that one vital attribute of novelty music is the aspect of one-hit-wonder-dom, which certainly isn’t true of The Coasters – they even had two songs making previous appearances on the ’57 Hot 100. Of course, this theory is blown completely away once “Weird Al” Yankovic enters the scene, but we’re a few decades ahead of ourselves.

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There were a good number of instrumental hits on this list as well. Instrumental tracks were found on the 1957 Hot 100 as well, but only a total of two songs across four entries (two songs were originals, two songs covers). In the ’58 list, however, this number blew up with a total of nine instrumental songs. Most of these are jazz and orchestral tracks, such as Tommy Dorsey Orchestra’s “Tea For Two Cha-Cha” (#33), Billy Vaughn’s “Sail Along Silvery Moon” (#6), and even the theme music for The Bridge on the River Kwai, Mitch Miller’s “March From the River Kwai and Colonel Bogey March” (#61). While last year’s “Raunchy” earns the title of the first instrumental rock hit to chart, this year’s list features three purely instrumental rock tracks. They are The Royaltones’ “Poor Boy” (#97), Duane Eddy’s “Rebel ‘Rouser” (#46), and The Champs’ “Tequila” (#8).

What really surprised me in this category was the strange lack of Link Wray, who is considered one of the most important in instrumental rock ‘n’ roll. He charted pretty highly this year with both “Rumble” and its B-side “The Swag”, both of which are considered fairly important tracks to instrumental rock scene even today. However, at the end of the day the Billboard charts are all a game of numbers which, unfortunately, happened to not work out in Mr. Wray’s favor.

domenico-modugno-volare-nel-blu-dipinto-di-blu

One reason I decided to take on this Hot 100 challenge in the first place was to gain a wider perspective of the cultural influence that these songs and artists may possess in the wider scope of things. One of the most interesting songs I’ve researched thus far is Domenico Modugno’s “Volare”, which takes the #1 spot this year. “Volare” is actually the moniker that it’s most well-known by to non-Italian audiences, the actual song title being “Nel blue dipinto di blu”. Originally an entry in 1958’s Eurovision competition – and subsequently becoming one of the most popular Eurovision songs of all time – it is generally understood as a song hugely important in changing the landscape of Italian pop music. It was essentially the introduction of the Italian music scene to international listeners and Modugno is widely considered an important figure in the country’s transition from tradition to modernity. I was not previously unfamiliar with “Volare” by any means; however, its enormous popularity and cultural significance is something of which I was certainly previously unaware. Because of this, I can finally appreciate this beautiful melody so much more than ever before.

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Since I am an avid taker of notes, yet also still trying to find ways to efficiently organize them, here are a few short, collected points that I want to add before I move on to my top choices of the year

  • Frankie Avalon, widely considered one of the bigger teen idols of this era, makes a good three appearances on this list, with “Ginger Bread” (#100), “I’ll Wait For You” (#99), and “De De Dinah” (#86). While I’m not as repulsed by him as much as I am by Pat Boone, I am not a fan of his. I don’t particularly hate him though… although I can’t get past his dastardly nasal voice.
  • Hooray, Johnny Cash is in the Hot 100! Although, it’s not particularly the kind of Cash I’m used to listening to. The lyrics to “Ballad of a Teenage Queen” (#81) are practically indiscernible from much of the other cool pop music in the list (all the world was at her door / all except the boy next door / who worked at the candy store), yet with his dark smoky voice, it still somehow feels like a Cash song to the core.
  • A weird trend that started this year in charts: Christian music. There isn’t a whole much, but Pat Boone’s “A Wonderful Time Up There” (#24) as well as Laurie London’s rendition of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” (#17) are relatively jarring placed next to the rest of the secular music in the Hot 100. This also ties in with the then-new popularity of Christmas pop music around the latter part of the year, none of which made the year-end list. As I mentioned before, it was a pretty strange year in rock ‘n’ roll; perhaps the music landscape opted for more conservatism at least for a little while.
  • Danny & the Juniors’ “At the Hop” (#20) is a fun song and all, but it’s also the epitome of what I usually connect with the term “white people music”.
  • Just an observation: the 1958 Hot 100 contains two songs from Buddy Holly & the Crickets (“Peggy Sue” (#50)  and “Oh Boy” (#71)), one from The Big Bopper (“Chantilly Lace” (#52)), yet not a single one from Ritchie Valens. True, the only thing they all truly have in common is their tragic deaths in the early ’59 plane crash, yet the impact of Valens in the Latino community (particularly his reworking of “La Bamba”) is tremendously important. Once again, however, the Billboard charts are little more than a game of numbers, one which sadly continues to marginalize such communities.

Finally, without further ado, here are my choices for top six of 1958’s year-end Hot 100. Yes, you read correctly – I had such a difficult time narrowing it down to only five, I’m giving you guys my top six this time!

3900691438186) “Witch Doctor” (#4)

Long before modern-day Hollywood decided to forever bastardize the name of the Chipmunks, David Seville tampered with his own vocal recordings to create a unique high-pitched voice all his own. The resulting song, “Witch Doctor” is one of the catchiest songs to come out of 1958. Out of the relatively large amount of novelty songs released this year, this one is probably the best; as I loved it as a child, it is also the one I hold the nearest to my heart.

chordettes5) “Lollipop” (#37)

One would be hard-pressed to find another female vocal group that harmonizes as well and with as much young happiness as The Chordettes at their finest. This song and “Mr. Sandman” proves that these four ladies sure had some talent for carries melodies that are absolutely infectious. Apart from its catchy chorus, the lyrics capture the joy and rapture of young love in ways where other artists could’ve easily dwelled into artificiality and fallen flat. Good luck getting this one out of your head today.

1a8090d4caefcb87ab6132c6c0cd2ce1d09e6cd44) “Maybe” (#89)

Right after The Bobettes, The Chantels were the second all-Black girl group to find success in the US charts. “Maybe” is a simple song – as many slow ballads of these days are – but the one aspect that sets it apart from the others lies in Arlene Smith’s soaring, heartbreaking vocals. It’s a punch to the emotions that refuses to ease up from start to finish. Accompanied by a smooth piano hook and lovely backing vocals from the rest of the Chantels, it’s hard not to be wooed by this melody.

Coasters3) “Yakety Yak” (#21)

Take out the papers and the trash!” From that opening line, I was completely hooked and I haven’t stopped listening since. The Coasters are absolute pros at combining clean vocal harmonies with quick-paced, soul-infused saxophone kicks. As I mentioned before, I’m not too sure I completely buy this as a novelty song – its subject matter is humorous, sure, but humor should always be welcome into the realm of popular music and still remain legitimized by its artistic qualities. No one knows carries this candle better than The Coasters.

tumblr_n104tuNg9P1qzezj5o1_1392407923_cover2) “All I Have To Do Is Dream” (#2)

It seems that my love for The Everly Brothers continues into 1958. They have a few more songs on this chart, though I can’t say I’m a very huge fan of “Bird Dog” (#13) , “Problems” (#62), or “Devoted to You” (#88). This song, however, captures everything I appreciate about love songs that just happen to hit me right where it matters. On an additional note, this is a really great song to listen to when you’re missing someone you love really much and wish they were right next to you, listening to the song with you. In other words, the placement of this song may change over time; for now, however, it feels so right.

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1) “Tequila” (#8)

As someone who really hates tequila, I really love “Tequila”. It’s probably evident by now that a song automatically achieves a heightened importance for me once it’s used in a movie I really like. It’s also pretty obvious that Latino representation in media is really important to me. Overall, however, I just really like fun music that I can dance to, no matter the time of day. It just so happens that “Tequila” fits all of these prerequisites perfectly. It’s probably one of the more quirkier non-novelty tracks on the 1958 Hot 100, yet never obnoxiously so. With its smooth, sexy, Cuban-fused beat, tied together by a killer saxophone riff and complete with the single utterance of that infamous word, it’s easy to see that the game has been won.

 

 

 

 

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5 Responses to Great Balls of Fire: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1958

  1. Pingback: Teen Beat: Billboard’s Hot 100 of 1959 | Films Like Dreams

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