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About This Time 70 Years Ago… It’s The Hits Of June-ish 1954!

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The Hottest Hit On The Planet:

“Three Coins In The Fountain” by Frank Sinatra. Also, The Four Aces

The Trevi Fountain in Rome – helpfully described by The Four Aces as, “somewhere in the heart of Rome” – may be the most famous fountain in the world.

The Italians put a crazy amount of effort into earning that title. Possibly a little bit too much. It’s all a bit much.

These two hippocamps are being wrestled with by two Tritons, a Greek god of the sea. One of the Tritons is playing a trumpet solo on a conch-shell.

Together they are pulling a chariot carrying Oceanus, who – perhaps counter-intuitively – was a river god. He was also the personification of The River That Encircled The World, which sounds like a longwinded way of simply saying “the ocean.”

Then there are two female statues, representing Abundance and Salubrity, the latter of which is giving a snake a drink of water from a bowl.  

Above them are even more gods and goddesses… as I said, it’s all a bit much. The whole thing is so big that they had to build a mansion behind it, just so it could have a more satisfying backdrop.

And the reason for all of this? Pope Urban VIII was living across the road at the time, and he wanted to have something interesting to look at when he glanced out of his window.

There is also a legend. Or a tradition. If you throw a coin into Trevi Fountain, it’ll mean you’ll come back to Rome one day. But not everybody wants to return to Rome. The traffic is crazy. So the Italians came up with a brilliant way to upsell; if you throw two coins you’ll find love!

If you throw three coins: You’ll get married!

This where Three Coins In The Fountain comes in.

It was a movie. A big blockbuster movie. A movie whose plot revolved around the three love affairs of three American women. Whatever. I feel safe to say that no-one saw Three Coins In The Fountain for the plot. They saw it so they could see Rome – and Venice – with all the wonders of Cinemascope.

People had thrown coins into Trevi Fountain before Three Coins In The Fountain. They had done so since pagan times when a virgin first showed the Roman soldiers where the fountain lay. But not many people threw coins into Trevi Fountain before Three Coins In The Fountain. Afterwards though… oh boy!

The movie had a song.

The composers of the song – Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn – were only given a vague outline of the plot.

Which may explain why the song itself is so vague. And also why Jule and Sammy don’t seem to quite understand how either the fountain, or the movie, works.

“Three coins in the fountain
Each one seeking happiness
Thrown by three hopeful lovers
Which one will the fountain bless?”

They seem to be under the impression that it was a zero-sum game. That only one of the three-hopeful lovers would have their wish come true. Yet in the movie, all three hopeful lovers have their wishes come true. It’s a theme song to a movie that contradicts the entire premise of the movie!

To be fair, the women themselves don’t seem to know how the fountain works. Not feeling either motivated nor masochistic enough to watch the entire movie to confirm it, but they seem to only throw one coin in each.

Enough coins in other words to return to Rome, but not enough to find love. It’s a miracle that the fountain decided to grant them their wishes anyway. Has anyone seen the movie who can confirm the number of coins each of the three women throw?

A whole bunch of pop stars recorded versions of the theme song.

Frank Sinatra recorded the version in the movie itself, and it was his version that sensibly topped the charts in the UK.

Frank’s version isn’t great or anything – it’s not a great or anything song – but it’s a hell of a lot better than the version the US sent to the top.*

That version was by barbershop quartet The Four Aces. Barbershop quartet-purists will no doubt complain that The Four Aces were not real-barbershop. They didn’t wear stripes or pork-pie hats.

There were a lot of vocal groups like them at the time – The Four Lads for example, informing us of the current accepted nomenclature for Constantinople (it’s an 8.)

But other than being referred to as “vocal groups” or “vocal quartets” they’ve never really been given a proper genre name. Barbershop will have to do. They sure as hell weren’t doo-wop!

The Four Aces were arguably the biggest of this wave of barbershop quartets and many of their records – “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” for example, it’s a 7 – are splendid things.

“Three Coins In The Fountain” however, is not. There’s something about it that just annoys me. What is that something? Let’s see if I can put my finger on it.

Frank’s version is fine.

He reads his lines with his trademark curmudgeon grumble, as if he realizes, deep down inside, that this is just some bullshit line that the locals feed the tourists. Being of Italian extraction himself, Frank would be well aware of this.

The Four Aces, despite also being of Italian extraction, come across as the gullible tourists who have swallowed this bullshit. They appear to truly believe it, instead of just politely pretending to, in the traditional “when in Rome do what the Romans do” manner.

But it’s more than that.

The Four Aces sing as though their lives would be ruined, irreconcilably ruined, if the fountain does not grant them their wish.

All four of them crying out “MAKE IT MINE!!!!!” as if competing for the fountain’s favours against the other three, throwing their comrades under the bus.

Also, shouldn’t it therefore be four coins in the fountain?

It’s all a bit over the top. A bit like the Trevi Fountain itself, really.

The Four Aces version of “Three Coins In A Fountain” is a 3. Frank’s is a 5.

*I presume that the record company didn’t push Frank’s version because there was already a whole lot of Frank on the charts, and on the radio. Most notably “Young At Heart,” a monster hit with a far better tune, far better rhymes and dispensing far better advice: “if you should survive, to 105, think of all you’ve derive, out of being alive!”

“Young At Heart” is a 9.


Meanwhile, in Movie Musicals Land:

“The Man That Got Away” by Judy Garland

Another song from a movie! But this time… a good one!!

How’s this for perfect casting? A Star Is Born, the movie that began by celebrating the Hollywood dream and ended up exposing the Hollywood nightmare, casting the star that, more than virtually anyone other than Marilyn, lived her life to both of those extremes!

I mean, by the time Judy starred in A Star Is Born she had already attempted suicide. Twice! Even worse – from a Hollywood point-of-view – she almost wasn’t a star anymore. Judy was precariously close to tumbling down the dumper. A Star Is Born could almost have been a Judy Garland biopic. Or at least it could have been if instead of playing Barbra Streisand or Lady Gaga she had played Kris Kristofferson or Bradley Cooper.

The plot of every A Star Is Born is broadly the same. Established star with a drinking problem – usually going by the name of Norman until having a celebrity named Norman started to seem a little unlikely – on the verge of being a has-been, meets a bright young thing with a spark – usually named Esther, although that name too has been phased out – who he helps to break into the industry.

She becomes a star; he continues to drift into has-been-dom. And so he drinks some more. The drinking spirals out of control. She wins one of those Big Deal Awards at the Grammys or Oscars. He drunkenly interrupts her speech. He goes into rehab. It doesn’t take. He commits suicide.

If you’ve seen one A Star Is Born you’ve arguably seen them all. Although if you haven’t seen the 1954 A Star Is Born, then you haven’t seen Judy go from nervous breakdown to “on with the show” in less than a minute.

Although the exact industry – whether music or the movies – varies from version to version, not to mention the exact suicide method – whether hanging, or car crash, or walking out into the ocean and never coming back – the key plot points remain. But still, some things do change.

The biggest change between Judy’s A Star Is Born – the second – and the original, is that Judy’s was the first to be a musical!

You don’t cast Judy Garland in your movie and then have no songs for her to sing!

“The Man Who Got Away” would end up being the theme song to the second, long-drawn out final act of Judy’s career; her role as a tragic-hyperactive bi-polar figure. A lot of this was the fault of the Hollywood studios.

They were prescribing her Benzedrine with phenobarbital – quite often also laced with morphine – to make her lose weight. She was drinking about as heavily as Norman. She stumbled around the world, from sold-out show to sold-out show.

The winds would get colder, suddenly she’d get older, the road would get rougher, lonelier and tougher, until finally she died of an accidental barbiturate overdose in London in 1969.

“The Man That Got Away” is a 9.


Meanwhile, in British Land:

“Cara Mia” by David Whitfield

Maybe it was the result of the NME introducing the first UK chart in 1952, but the mid-50s saw a whole new crop of British pop stars. Sad to say however: most of them sounded like British pop stars of a far older vintage.

An article in the Picture Post around this time provided a handy summary of who was who.

An article in the Picture Post around this time provided a handy summary of who was who.

There was Dickie Valentine, apparently a rather dull crooner, but a master impersonator of other dull-crooners… or possibly not.

His Nat King Cole in this clip is unforgivable, although his Johnny Ray is rather good. It’s worth pointing out that the song he’s singing – “You Made Me Love You” – was a hit for Al Jolson back in the 1910s. That’s how old school these new pop stars were.

Then there was Frankie Vaughan, whose debt to Al Jolson was so strong that the Picture Post described him as “neo-Mammyism.” His act was so vaudeville that he performed with a cane. He sang with a “yip” at the end of this words. A lot of people welcomed this sort of thing.

Over in America, Judy Garland had received a special Tony Award for her services in bringing real vaudeville back, as though they thought it was a good thing.

But the biggest was David Whitfield. As in most popular. But also physically. Based on the Picture Post blurb, David Whitfield was a man’s man.

He’d been a sailor in the Royal Navy. He’d been a cement mixer. His doctor told him he had the biggest vocal-chords he’d ever seen. He sang songs like “Rags To Riches.” He came from Hull.

For “Cara Mia” – David’s biggest hit – he teamed up with Mantovani, the hottest orchestra leader in the UK, creator of a luscious and haunting sound designed to make you feel as though your kitchen was a cathedral. People were always banging on about his “cascading strings.” “Charmaine,” his first hit record, is an 8.

Mantovani may have been Britain’s hottest orchestra conductor, but he was born in Venice. His family left for England when he was 7, but that was still Italian enough to write a song called “Cara Mia.” It’s Italian for “my beloved.” The rest of the lyrics aren’t in Italian though. They are in English. After all, they had to be sung by a cement mixer from Hull.

“Cara Mia” is not from an opera. I’m honestly not sure whether listeners were supposed to assume that it was from an opera. Probably. Otherwise, why have an Italian title? On the other hand, there were so many Italian – or Italian-American – tenors around at the time – Mario Lanza for example, Al Martino… – that maybe David and Mantovani were simply trying to get their hands on some of that faux-Italiano magic. I mean, clearly it was big business (see above).

“Cara Mia” is a 6.

Meanwhile, in Jump Blues Land:

“Shake Rattle & Roll” by Big Joe Turner.
And also Bill Haley & His Comets.

Okay, this is more like it!

It’s Big Joe Turner!

When Big Joe Turner is about, you know you’re going to shake, and rattle, and roll! And when I say shake, rattle, and roll, I mean dancing.

When Big Joe Turner says shake, rattle, and roll, however, he does not mean dancing. What does Big Joe mean then? Read on to find out!

Big Joe Turner sang party songs.

Big Joe Turner had been singing party songs – and was one of the leading proponents of jump blues, the most guaranteed party-starting genre of music of the early 50s – long before he recorded “Shake, Rattle & Roll.”

Big Joe Turner had been singing party songs since “Roll ‘Em Pete” in 1938!

“Shake, Rattle & Roll” was written by Jesse Stone.

Or Charles F Calhoun as he called himself when writing jump blues songs, a name that he swiped from a local builder.

Either as Jesse or Charles, he wrote a whole bunch of jump blues and proto-rock’n’roll classics: “Money Honey” for The Drifters for example – whilst also claiming to have come up with the rock’n’roll beat, when he realized, travelling through the South, that Atlantic Records’ product wasn’t moving off the shelves because they didn’t make you move on the dancefloor.

That was in 1949. So the first rock’n’roll record – which Joe/Charles wrote, or at least arranged – may be this little thing: “Cole Slaw” by Frank “Floorshow” Culley. Hey, it seems as viable a candidate for the title of “first rock’n’roll record” as any other you’re bound to hear bandied about.

You could definitely dance to that!

“Shake, Rattle & Roll” is not however about dancing. “Shake, Rattle & Roll” is not a command to get out onto the dancefloor and shake, rattle, and roll. It is, of course, a song about sex. Big Joe Turner is feeling horny. Big Joe Turner is being an old perve: “The way you wear those dresses, the sun come shining through/ I can’t believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you.”

Big Joe continues:

“I’m like a one-eyed cat peepin’ in a seafood store.” That sounds innocent enough, when you are a child. It sounds significantly less innocent once you get older (I don’t need to explain this metaphor to you, do I? You can figure it out for yourself?)

Speaking of no longer being a child: “well I can look at you and tell you ain’t no child no more.” Oh Big Joe, you dirty dog, you.Pretty soon Big Joe is getting over the hill, and way down underneath. He rolls his eyes. He grits his teeth. Big Joe is definitely having an orgasm, right?

You know what happened next of course. Bill Haley recorded his own version.

Bill Haley – let’s not forget His Comets! – were probably already the hottest rock’n’roll band in the land.

They’d had a hit the year before with “Crazy Man, Crazy” which sounds… oh, you already know what it sounds like. It sounds like every other Bill Haley song. “Go! Go! Go Everybody!! Rock! Rock! Rock Everybody!!!” … etc.

Bill Haley songs had a template. They were not difficult songs to write. Once you understand the template, you can insert any old rubbish in there. I mean, probably my favourite Bill Haley record is this one, a demo that he made for a song called “Football Rock’n’Roll,” which demonstrates his entire creative process. There’s not a lot to it.

“Shake, Rattle & Roll” very clearly fit the Bill Haley template. So, of course he was going to record a cover of it! But before “Shake, Rattle & Roll” could become a hit for ol’ Bill, some changes had to be made. Some lyrics had to be altered. Because nobody wants to hear Bill Haley singing about having sex. Also, Bill knew that he had to be careful not to shock white DJs and white parents of white children too much.

Bill did keep the “one-eyed cat” line in though. Bill had plausible deniability for that line. Bill Haley was blind in his left eye.

That was the reason for the great big curl he always plastered over his forehead; it was a way of distracting people from looking at his wonky eye. So Bill was “one-eyed.”

He probably also considered himself a crazy cat. Bill Haley could sing a line like “I’m like a one-eyed cat” and not be singing about his penis (that’s what the metaphor was, in case you didn’t get it before).

Big Joe Turner’s version of “Shake, Rattle & Roll” is a 9. Bill Haley’s version is an 8.


Meanwhile, in Doo-Wop Land:

“Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” by The Spaniels

1954 marked the beginning of the golden age of doo-wop. Black vocal groups had been around since The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers in the 30s, groups who had huge pop hits.

At some point in the late 40s however, it seems to be generally agreed, it became something of an underground scene – or, more accurately, street corner – the turning point being The Orioles and “It’s Too Soon To Know.”

Whether The Orioles were significantly different from The Ink Spots – other than The Ink Spots’ famous and probably unintentionally hilarious spoken monologues – is debatable. If nothing else, The Orioles certainly kickstarted a wave of vocal groups named after birds: The Crows for example, and The Ravens.

The Spaniels didn’t name themselves after a bird. They named themselves after a dog.

And they – or lead singer Pookie Hudson, Pookie being a name that would very much suit a spaniel – had written the ultimate doo-wop lullaby.

The composer credits at RateYourMusic also mention Gerald Gregory. He was the bass singer. A doo-wop group simply wasn’t a doo-wop group unless they had a bass singer with a comically deep voice. How deep was Gerald’s voice?

His high school friends called him “Bounce” because his voice was so deep it could bounce around the corners of the school’s corridors. This is not something I knew voices could do, but I’ll go with it. Naturally, when his fellow Spaniels gave him a song to sing – the B-side to their debut single no less! – they called it “Bounce.”

Regarding “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight,” Gerald presumedly wrote his own “duh-duh, dit, duh-duh” bits. These are very clearly the best moments of the record, partially because they are so catchy, and partially because Gerald sounds like a muffled saxophone. The deepness – the “duh-duh, dit, duh-duh”-ness – of Gerald’s voice is truly one of the wonders of the modern world.

In addition to providing the band with an unmistakable “duh-duh, dit, duh-duh” hook, Gerald was also at least indirectly responsible for their name. Gerald brought his new wife to one of their early gigs. She wasn’t a fan. She complained that they sounded like a bunch of dogs. Charming.

“Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” is, like so many other songs of the era, about the end of the date, and the need to go home, otherwise your date will get in trouble with her folks.*

We imagine these folks – or at least I do – listening to this sweet-murmuring from the other side of the door, or from the top of the stairs.

These kids were just out of high school remember; they were still probably old enough to get grounded.

Although, come to think of it, although Pookie is concerned that his date’s mother and her father won’t like it if he stays too long, he does also make it clear that it is three o’clock in the morning. By the standards of the 1950s, these parents were remarkably relaxed.

A very different version – in which the “duh-duh, dit, duh-duh” bits are indeed played by a saxophone – would soon be recorded by the cutey-pie trio The McGuire Sisters, thereby giving them their first big hit.

It isn’t only regarding this cutesiness and the lack of a bass singer that The McGuire Sisters version is different. In The Spaniels record, the action is clearly taking place at his girlfriend’s house.

The McGuire Sisters on the other hand – being a few years older – are at their lover’s house.

They need to leave, so that their mother and father don’t hear any gossip about these goings-on on the grapevine. Although presumedly, at 3 o’clock in the morning, it’s a little too late to be worried about that! 

They also seem apologetic to their lover that they “can’t treat (him) right.” The McGuire Sisters may sound as though sugar wouldn’t melt in their mouth, but they are being surprisingly saucy!

The McGuire Sisters’ version of “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” is a 6.

The Spaniels’ version is a 9.

*Sort of like a “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” without the festive cheer and possible date-rape interpretations.

And with that, Goodnight, Everyone, Goodnight!

To hear these and other 50s hits, tune into DJ Professor Dan’s Twitch stream on Monday nights Melbourne time… so about Monday lunch time London time… breakfast New York time?

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rollerboogie
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rollerboogie
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June 3, 2024 5:50 am

Never saw the film and the song doesn’t do much for me, but as for the actual Trevi fountain- we went to Rome in ’06 and it was the first major thing we saw. It was stunning. It almost didn’t feel real to me, as if I was in some sort of mythical place. It definitely set the stage for what was to come. We were there 5 days and saw so many mind-blowing things and there was plenty that we never got to. Sure it can get crowded and the drivers are crazy, but to me, none of that really mattered when we were there. Experience of a lifetime.

I’ve never heard the Big Joe Turner version of Shake, Rattle and Roll. It’s great.

I’ve been obsessed with Istanbul, Not Constantinople by The Four Lads for a number of years now and was happy to see it briefly mentioned. It’s a 10.

JJ Live At Leeds
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June 3, 2024 11:43 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

I went to Rome in 2006 as well. First foreign trip me and the future Mrs J took. It was January but the view of the Trevi fountain was still obscured by multitudes of tourists. We didn’t throw a coin in, couldn’t get near it. I was surprised at how small the square is that they’re located in, or maybe it’s just that the fountains take up so much of it. They did look spectacular, what we could make out of them.

Despite the crowds, Rome is a wonderful place. So much history and so much to see. The crazy drivers just add an extra layer of entertainment, crossing the road was like a real life game of Frogger.

Phylum of Alexandria
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June 3, 2024 7:15 am

The first time I noticed anyone talking about peeping in a seafood store was Willem Dafoe in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. But Lynch had changed it from a one-eyed cat to One-Eyed Jack. The scene (and the larger film) really takes the ick factor to 11.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2YCseaZK0Q

Ozmoe
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Ozmoe
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June 3, 2024 8:35 am

Three Coins in the Fountain, ugh! Otherwise known at the film that stole an Oscar nomination for Best Picture from Rear Window. Or maybe it was A Star is Born, I forget. Anyway, any movie that has Clifton Webb playing a straight romantic lead is hard to endure.

I think the best summation of the song’s status case in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where Steve Martin tried to do a group singalong to it on a bus, only to lose out to John Candy when the latter got everyone to join in the theme for The Flintstones. A classic bit of comedy there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh0nmrOSFHw

JJ Live At Leeds
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June 3, 2024 11:34 am

That’s a scenery chewing performance from Dickie Valentine. Just listen to the screams once he gets up off his stool, the ladies loved it. One of them at least.

I’ve never seen any variant of A Star Is Born. Give it another 20 – 30 years and another one will be along, maybe I’ll catch that one.

Ozmoe
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June 4, 2024 7:48 am

I would recommend checking out the Garland version only because she really pours her heart and soul out into it. And James Mason is fantastic as always.

Low4
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Low4
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June 3, 2024 4:33 pm

Thanks for clearing that up.

blu_cheez
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June 3, 2024 4:57 pm

“Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” was the song Sha-Na-Na would end their TV shows with:
https://youtu.be/UbF1tBzOukk

LinkCrawford
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LinkCrawford
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June 5, 2024 11:00 pm
Reply to  blu_cheez

This was my first memory of the song, too.

LinkCrawford
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LinkCrawford
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June 5, 2024 11:04 pm

“Three Coins in the Fountain” is definitely better by Sinatra. The Four Aces version is just overbearing.

I would be so delighted to find myself in 1954 in a car driving through town turning on the AM radio and hearing all of these songs. Well…except the Judy Garland song. I haven’t gotten to the point in my life where I really can appreciate her voice. I like “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, but her adult ballads just leave me a little cold. (I like “The Trolly Song”, too, I guess).

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