The Year 1959
That’s 60 years ago if you’re counting. A five cent piece was actually made of nickel hence the nickname, and you could actually buy things with it, now it’s mostly steel and only 2% nickel and not worth the metal its made from. Among other events that year, Fidel Castro arrived in Havana, February 3 was “the day the music died” and the Barbie doll was born on March 9th. Call it reflection, self indulgence or a bit of both, here is a look at some of the popular songs from the year that myself and many others in my life were born.
“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” written and performed by Johnny Cash. While released in December of 1958 this was a chart topper from 1959 hitting #1 on Feb. 23 and finished the year ranked #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 Country Songs. U2 (2001).
Bobby Darin was the only artist to have two songs finish the year in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100. I blogged the #1 song (‘Grammys’ Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans”). He hit #6 with “Dream Lover“, and at #2 was his version of “Mack the Knife“. This song has an interesting background, it was adapted from “Moritat von Mackie Messer” (sung by Kurt Gerron .39 mark in the clip-from a 1928 stage production) music written by Kurt Weill and Lyrics written by Bertolt Brecht, it’s from their music drama “Die Dreigroschenoper” known in English as “The Threepenny Opera”. Darin’s recording is based on the English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein who translated the whole play. Before Darin did the song, new ad-libbed lyrics were added in 1955 by Louis Armstrong, for example; in honour of “Lotte Lenya” (original star of both the German and English plays) who was present during his recording session for this first version of the song based on the English lyrics. Darin’s rendition one of over 340, includes this addition as well as some of his own words with references to other ‘real life’ people.
The year end #1 Country song was from the very popular family group “The Browns“. This time based on a French song, “Les trois cloches” by Edith Piaf & Les compagnons de la chanson (1946) written by Jean Villard. Translated into English by Berthold Reisfeld and first recorded by The Melody Maids in 1948. Edith Piaf would record an English version in 1950. All leading up to the sixth English version from The Browns (Jim Ed, Maxine, and Bonnie) , “The Three Bells“. This song also ended the year #7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
So what does one of Garth Brooks biggest hits have to do with 1959? Nope, he was born in 1962. The song “Mr. Blue” performed by ‘The Fleetwoods’ hit #1 in November and ended the year at #10. It was written by Dewayne Blackwell who just happened to write “Friends in Low Places” along with Earl Bud Lee. First released in 1989 by David Chamberlain, but Brooks was the first to record it as a Demo in 1988 and would re-record it for his debut Album “No Fences”. It was of course a smash hit going to #1 and won ‘Single of the Year’ in 1990 at both the ACM and CMA awards. Brooks also covered “Mr. Blue” on that album and Bob Dylan did it as well (Basement Tapes) though I can’t find a decent video of either version. Mike Preston also had a #12 hit in the UK with this song in 1959.
Caterina Valente (Jan. 14, 1931) a French born Italian, was a huge international singing sensation and in 1959 she was nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Best Vocal Performance, Female’ category for this song “La Strada Dell’Amore” written by Hans Bradtke and English by Jack Reardon. Recorded originally in German, Valente was fluent in 6 languages and sang in at least another 6. Her flawless vocals in all languages were equally matched by her remarkable guitar playing. Here is a clip from the Mike Douglas show. Known for her comedic timing as well she was a frequent guest with Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Perry Como and Danny Kaye. She also acted in several movies and was an accomplished dancer. I don’t think there’s been anyone as talented. Coincidentally I ran across this, she released it in the US on Decca Records in 1959, a version of “Mack the Knife”, or “Complainte de Mackie” recorded in German (originally in 1956).
North American Song Awards and Charts were much more ‘international’ in this time, with many foreign language songs and artists offering a diversity that is somewhat lost today.
This was a big year for Jazz music with pieces like “Take Five” written by Paul Desmond and performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet from the Album ‘Time Out’. This song was shortened for a single release, and would not chart until it’s re-release in 1961 where it hit #25 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and #5 on the Easy Listening Chart, also #6 in the UK on the Record Retailer chart. This would go on to become the biggest selling Jazz single of all time.
Other great Jazz releases from 1959; Miles Davis “So What” from what many consider to be Davis’s and possibly Jazz Music’s greatest Album “Kind of Blue” I have this album and I can tell you it’s remarkable. Ornette Coleman who wrote “Lonely Woman” from the album, ‘The Shape of Jazz to Come’ developed a unique sound with a plastic saxophone. He was quite innovative and set off a new movement of ‘avant-garde jazz’ which is related to ‘free jazz’. Now that I’ve mentioned it; Ornette couldn’t afford a proper sax at one time, hence the plastic horn, he also played the violin and trumpet-no plastic there I’m pretty sure. The always amazing Ella Fitzgerald would win the Grammy for ‘Best Jazz Performance – Soloist’ for the Album ‘Ella Swings Lightly’ with songs like a cover of “Blues in the Night” Music written by Harold Arlen and the Lyrics written by Johnny Mercer. Originally written for the movie “Blues in the Night” (1941) performance by William Gillespie. Covered over 200 times according to SecondHandSongs.com. While not released until January 1960, another Saxophonist John Coltrane would record the iconic Album ‘Giant Steps’ between two sessions in May and December of 1959.
Some surprises to me at least that made the year end Billboard Top 100 songs! Morgen by Ivo Robic, Petite Fleur by Chris Barber’s Jazz Band w/Monty Sunshine on clarinet and Battle Hymn Of The Republic by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Jiles Perry “J. P.” Richardson Jr. better known as the Big Bopper, “Chantilly Lace“. He performed this in 1959 at the last concert he, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens would perform at the ‘Winter Dance Party’ in Clear Lake Iowa.
Ritchie Valens, “Hurry Up” released posthumously in October 1959, written by Shari (Sharon) Sheeley, Eddie Cochran’s fiance who survived the 1960 car accident where he died from his injuries and singer Gene Vincent was seriously hurt.
“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” written by Paul Anka and performed by Buddy Holly. He sang this song at his last stage appearance. It was released less than a month before his death in a plane crash that killed the pilot and his two performance friends near Clear Lake on February 3, 1959.
I’ll blog more about this when I do Buddy Holly. Thanks to Don McLean’s American Pie (1971) this event has been dubbed “the day the music died”.
A playlist of all the videos.
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