Around This Time 70 Years Ago… It’s The Hits Of March-ish, 1954!


The Hottest Hit On The Planet:

“Secret Love”
by Doris Day

Clive James – in his 20th Century cultural history Fame In The 20th Century – described Doris Day (in his typically droll and caustic manner) as:

“…energetic and sexless, a deadly combination which left a man with nothing to do except contemplate marriage – usually the one he already had.”

The man was a harsh critic. I have him on a t-shirt.

George Michael held a more favourable opinion of Doris Day, using her name as a unit of measurement when comparing how bright something was.

George, the composer of many a queer anthem, was likely a great appreciator of “Secret Love”, a song that has been described as “the first queer anthem.”

But before we get into “Secret Love”, a bit of background.

Poor Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff. Cursed at birth with the name Doris.

Also cursed with the name Kappelhoff, but at least she had the good sense to change that. She changed it in 1939, just before a name like Kappelhoff may have become especially cursed.

At some ill-defined point in the early 50s, Doris Day became a virgin again.

“I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin,” as the old joke went. “Miss Chastity Belt” they called her.

Quite an achievement for a woman who had already been married twice.

And given birth to one son. Although if any Hollywood movie star/jazz-pop singer was going to have an immaculate conception, it most likely would have been Doris Day.

The fact that so many people seemed to believe that Doris Day was a virgin when all the evidence pointed in the opposite direction is testament to her ability to keep her love secret. Or to limit the telling of her secret to stars and golden daffodils. Inanimate objects, you see, don’t talk.

“Secret Love” was from the Western romantic comedy, Calamity Jane, with Doris as the titular tomboy cowgirl, and a plot full of lesbian sub-texts and subverted gender roles!

There’s cross-dressing galore!!

In addition to Calamity herself, raiding the wardrobe of Davey Crockett, we have vaudeville entertainer Francis/Frances performing a drag show because they hired him by mistake, thinking that he was a her.

Not to mention Wild Bill Hickock dressing up as “a squaw carrying a papoose”, the result of losing a stupid bet. Doris doesn’t look that much like a tomboy when singing “Secret Love.”

That’s because it is after the inevitable makeover scene, in which she is transformed into a more conventionally attractive girlie-girl. Calamity is given a woman’s touch! Told you there were lesbian sub-texts!

“Secret Love,” with its themes of hiding who you are and who you love and having your secret love feel ‘impatient to be free,” may have very well have qualified “Secret Love” for the title of “the first queer anthem.” Even if Doris hadn’t already spent half the movie goofing off with gender roles.

But it’s not as much fun as “I Just Blew In From The Windy City,” is it?

“Secret Love” is an 8.

Meanwhile, in Lounge Singer Land:

“That’s Amore” by Dean Martin

“When… the… moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie: that’s… a-more!!”

And that’s poetry!!

What was it with the early 50s and pop culture’s obsession with Italian novelty songs?

Soldiers’ memories of the war, perhaps?

The realization that Italy contained many, many foods that rhymed with each other?

“Try an enchilada with da fish-a-bacala” as Rosemary Clooney put it so well in “Mambo Italiano…”

…hang on – enchiladas aren’t Italian… are they?

So obviously Dean Martin, the hottest, goofiest Italian American comedian – who happened to have originally been a nightclub singer – had to have an Italian novelty song of his very own. He was, after all, one half of the comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Jerry Lewis was a comic genius.

He must have been a comic genius. With a voice as annoying as his – and a trademark look that involved crossing his eyes on cue – he must have been a genius of some sort for anyone to put up with him.

Everyone loves Dino. I can’t imagine anyone not finding Dino utterly charming. I also can’t imagine anyone willingly spending more than a couple of seconds in Jerry Lewis’ presence. But apparently people did, and he was universally considered the funniest man in the world.

Jerry Lewis was such a goofball that Dino – no slouch in the goofball stakes himself – was relegated to the role of “straight man” in the duo. But even as “straight man” he still got to sing goofy shit like “That’s Amore.”

“That’s Amore” was from a movie called The Caddy, in which Dino becomes a professional golfer, and Jerry becomes his caddy.

But they keep on having arguments on the golf course. Which are so funny that they are offered the opportunity to turn said arguments into a slapstick nightclub act.

You will be relieved to know that Jerry is not on the version of “That’s Amore” that was stamped on the 45s.

In addition to pizza pies and wine, “That’s Amore” includes probably the only known reference to pasta e fasule – pasta and beans – in pop. A tarantella, in case you are wondering, is a folk dance. One that does indeed seem to involve a lot of tippy-tippy-tay-ing.

“That’s Amore” is a 7.

Meanwhile, in Blues Land:

“The Things I Used To Do” by Guitar Slim

  • If you are going to call yourself Guitar Slim, you are going to want to deliver the finger-picking goods.
  • You can’t call yourself Guitar Slim and then NOT be a total guitar whizz!
  • Less importantly perhaps, you can’t call yourself Guitar Slim and not be slim.

Audio and visual evidence suggest that Guitar Slim delivered on both expectations!

Guitar Slim played guitar so fast it sounded as though he was from the future. Or perhaps from India. For there are moments where his guitar playing does sound surprisingly like a sitar.

Guitar Slim was a showman!

He’d been a showman ever since he was a teenage jitterbug dancer, back when they called him “Limber Leg Eddie” and “Rubber Leg.” Whatever Guitar Slim did, wherever Guitar Slim went, awesome stage names just seemed to follow! He was simply the kind of guy who attracted awesome stage names.

Just look at his promotional photo. Looking at that photo, you can just tell that a Guitar Slim show is going to be a good time!

A Guitar Slim show was a good time! Here are some of the things he used to do:

  • He’d take his guitar and walk out into the crowd. But he wouldn’t stop there. He’d take his guitar and walk straight through the crowd. And he’d keep on walking out the front door! And start playing in the street! Some say his extension chord was 150 feet long!
  • He wore brightly colored outfits! Most of the rock’n’rollers did of course, but most rock’n’rollers didn’t also dye their hair to match their clothes!

Sadly, I have been unable to unearth a color photograph of Guitar Slim. He died, at least partially due to partying too hard – but officially due to pneumonia – in 1959, before color photographs went mainstream.

Limber fingering on the fretboard aside it’s difficult to get too excited about “The Things I Used To Do” – you can’t dance to it for one thing – even if Ray Charles did produce and play piano on the thing.

Then again, you don’t have to get excited about “The Things I Used To Do.” Getting excited is Guitar Slim’s job, and he does his job well. The way he blurts out “the THANGS that I uUsedToDo” is both joyous and contagious. Still, it’s a little unclear why “The Things I Used To Do” became THE bluesy ballad of the just-before-the-rock’n’roll explosion, as well as being quite possibly the Biggest Blues Ballad of the entire 50s!

Because that – so the metrics tell us – is what it was!

It must have been. Because people just loved Guitar Slim.

 “The Things I Used To Do” is a 7.

“I Got Sumpin’ For You” on the other hand! Now that’s a stompin’ track! That’s a dirty distorted tone! That’s a tune to limber your leg to! I’m sure Bo Diddley was a fan. It’s a 9:

Meanwhile, in Soppy Ballad Land:

“Oh My Papa” by Eddie Fisher

No, no, no.

Nup, nup, nup.

I don’t like Eddie Fisher. How could I? How can anyone? After what he and Liz did to that charming Debbie Reynolds?

Which, for those of you unfamiliar with the biggest celebrity scandal of the 1950s was to divorce Debbie and then instantly marry Elizabeth Taylor! And Elizabeth was supposed to be Debbie’s best friend!!

I never liked that Liz.

How could he? Why would he?

Debbie was the cutest girl of the 50s! And sure, from that copulation we got Carrie Fisher, and the galaxy was saved, so it wasn’t a total loss… for Eddie Fisher is Carrie Fisher’s Papa!! You probably knew that bit.

But all of that was still a few years into the future. Or a long time ago, in a galaxy far away.

In 1954 Eddie’s biggest crime was singing songs like “Oh My Papa. But “Oh My Papa” – a weepy ballad about how wonderful Eddie’s Papa was – was bad enough. Eddie gushes about the days when he sat on his Papa’s knee, his Papa so funny and adorable and wonderful… it’s all a bit much.

Originally “Oh My Papa” was in German – “Oh Mein Papa.” And the reason why the Papa was so funny was because he was a clown.

Eddie’s version does not leave the impression that Eddie’s Papa was a clown. Instead, he just comes across as an old guy who sat in his armchair and made Dad jokes all the time.

So that was the version that America got. The UK got another Eddie:

Eddie Calvert.
And his “golden trumpet.” It was probably actually brass, but photographic evidence does suggest that he polished it far more than technically necessary, but just enough to look as though it was made of gold.

What UK Eddie’s version lacks in schmaltzy lyrics – it’s almost, but not quite, an instrumental – it makes up for in ghostly opera singers and church organs.

Both versions attack the song with the same dogged determination to squeeze every ounce of cool out of it.

Both versions are spectacularly successful in accomplishing this goal.

It’s not the song’s fault. It’s Eddie’s. And also the other Eddie’s. And just to prove that it’s not the song’s fault, that the song itself is not an inherently terrible and irredeemable song… here’s Bjork:

Eddie (Fisher)’s version is a 2. Eddie (Calvert)’s version is a 3.

Meanwhile in Barmy British Land:

“I See The Moon” by The Stargazers

Yes, there was British music before The Beatles! There was even British music before Cliff Richard! John Lennon is reputed to have once said:

“Before Cliff Richard and the Shadows, there was nothing worth listening to in British music.”

But obviously he didn’t believe that, because he joined a skiffle band.

So what was British music like before Cliff Richard and The Shadows? Well, there was The Stargazers.

Whose interests were clearly branching out into gazing at other celestial bodies, with their hit “I See The Moon.” It’s a song that may or may not be based on a nursery rhyme.

The Stargazers were already famous across the UK for featuring in the BBC radio show Worker’s Playtime broadcast live from factory canteens across the nation.

Probably more relevant to the overall vibe of their hit records were their appearances on “The Goon Show:” the gist of which you can garner from the following facts:

The show was originally titled Crazy People. It starred Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers.

It featured episodes with titles such as:

  • The Expedition For Toothpaste
  • The Mystery Of The Monkey’s Paw
  • The Mystery Of The Cow On The Hill
  • Where Do Socks Come From?
  • And The Collapse of the British Railways Sandwich System

It also featured a lot of sound effects, typically described as “zany:”

So, “I See The Moon” is a comedy record. In which the joke is that The Stargazers – despite having the words “singing group” on their letterhead – can’t sing at all. There’s also this whole bit where a pompous gentleman is constantly correcting the lady with the tambourine:

I guess you had to be there?

“I See The Moon” is a 2.

Meanwhile in Jazz Land:

“My Funny Valentine” by Chet Baker

Today I discovered that Chet Baker died in 1988.

I always assumed he died looong before that. As in, in the 50s, when he was still young and people were saying things like he was the “James Dean of Jazz.” I guess I took the metaphor a little too literally.

People mostly called Chet the “James Dean Of Jazz” because of how he looked.

He had a James Dean daydream look in his eyes. He had slicked back hair and a white t-shirt. Also because of the way he talked. Quiet. Not surly. Not sullen. Not mumbling exactly. Just quiet.

Then again, since the three things that everyone knows about Chet Baker are that…

  • (a) he played the trumpet, softly
  • (b) he sung, very softly, and
  • (c) he was a junkie, an early death almost seems inevitable.

The fact that he made it to 1988 at all, seems like quite the accomplishment.

By the time Chet finally reached his end, he had already looked half dead for decades.

This was partially because of his heroin addiction, partially because he was punched in the mouth in 1966 and lost all his teeth.

And partially because his love of jazz, and his desperate need to be eternally on the road playing the music, meant that he spent virtually every night of his life sleeping in a car.

Quite when Chet began to use heroin is a matter of debate. 1957? Earlier? Whether singing or playing trumpet, Chet always sounded as though he was drifting in and out of consciousness. Also drifting in and out of key.

His 1954 album, Chet Baker Sings, was hell to record, since, other than an ability to sound like a sullen teenager who feels that the whole world doesn’t understand him, Chet’s vocal ability was… limited.

But the world was full of sullen teenagers who felt the whole world didn’t understand them, and they lapped it up.

“My Funny Valentine” is a funny little song; a love song filled with funny little insults. Her figure is less than Greek? Her mouth is a little weak? Her looks are laughable? Unphotographable? He asks her if she’s smart… strongly suggesting that he suspects not.

All this made “My Funny Valentine” the perfect song for Chet – whose croon was likewise, far, far, short of Greek – to sing. Chet captured… let’s call it the essence of a mixed-up kid in love with another mixed-up kid, alone, together, in this crazy world.

Rock’n’roll may have been on the verge of becoming the music of choice for rebellious teenagers, but for those who preferred to lock themselves up in their rooms instead of going out drag racing, Chet offered a gloomy alternative.

How gloomy? Like several of the songs on Chet Baker Sings, “My Funny Valentine” would also be recorded by Frank Sinatra.

And even though Frank delivers it in his typical staring-at-the-bottom-of-a-whiskey-glass grumble, he sounds like a stand-up comedian compared to Chet. Here he is singing it to Nancy. For once, it’s a Frank and Nancy performance that comes across as sweet and adorable, instead of awkward and creepy:

“My Funny Valentine” is a 9.

What a crazy time it was to be alive!

To hear these, and other 50s hits, tune into DJ Professor Dan’s Twitch stream on Sundays, 8pm Melbourne time, 9am London time, 1am L.A. time (of the night before), middle of the night (before) New York time!!! 

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Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
March 4, 2024 8:14 am

Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind that Chet Baker was using heroin well before 1957. He started out playing with Stan Getz and then Charlie Parker–both deeply hooked on junk.

On the artistic side, I think it’s neat that Charlie Parker tended to find young trumpeters with a sparse, melancholy style rather than a Dizzy Gillespie type. He was looking for interesting new avenues of sound, including dramatic counterpoints to his frantic playing.

Chet Baker Sings really is amazing. Bossa nova from the end of the decade basically sounds like samba musicians committing themselves to Chet’s style. Like Chet, Astrud Gilberto turned her limited vocal range into lounge pop magic.

And Chet’s take on “My Funny Valentine” is one of my very favorite songs ever. His morose delivery of those silly lyrics somehow turns the song authentically romantic, and beautiful.

Now that’s amore!

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March 4, 2024 10:39 am

Agreed. I really like Chet Baker Sings precisely because it’s imperfect. It’s heartfelt and that’s what matters.

Famed Member
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March 4, 2024 10:37 am

Chet Baker died when he fell out of a window of the Hotel Prins Hendrik in Amsterdam, right across the square from Centraal Station. There’s a plaque memorializing him by the front door. It’s small but worth seeing next time you’re there.

Famed Member
March 4, 2024 11:59 am
Reply to  Virgindog
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March 4, 2024 12:26 pm
Reply to  mt58

I stayed at the hotel in the background of that thumbnail. Seriously, folks, visit Amsterdam. Yes, it’s touristy in spots, but I’ve been three times and would go back again in a heartbeat.

JJ Live At Leeds
Famed Member
March 4, 2024 1:58 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I second that recommendation.

I’ve been in my 20s when I set a never to be beaten record for most alcohol consumed in a single day.

In my 30s as a romantic getaway with Mrs J.

In my 40s as a family holiday taking our then 7 year old. Spent 6 days there and found loads to do as a family. The benefit of past visits enabled us to avoid walking her through the Red Light area. Though even that is quite sanitised and safe to walk through due to it being such a tourist magnet.

There’s something for everyone.

Famed Member
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March 4, 2024 2:04 pm

The first time I went, it was a father/son trip when my kid was 17. We joked ahead of time that we’d go into a “coffeeshop” and just have coffee. I thought that would be funny but once we got there, he wouldn’t go. He didn’t want to be anywhere near the drugs.

I was simultaneously proud and disappointed.

JJ Live At Leeds
Famed Member
March 4, 2024 12:03 pm

Looking at the cover of Movieland I’m still wondering what is the answer to; ‘Is Liz Taylor Bored?

Surely not with all those husbands to get through. And with all the looking over her shoulder given the ‘movie TV secrets’ headline; ‘Five people named who could want to see Liz die!’ Way more lurid than I expected for the time.

It’s all a lot more exciting than the Eddies doubling up on Oh! My Pa-pa.

As for The Stargazers, post war rationing was still in place until 1954. Little known fact that it extended to comedy/novelty records which were limited to producing no more than the occasional chuckle so as not to excite the populace. If you let them have fun it’ll be anarchy? They’ll be demanding bananas next.

The Stargazers had an influence on The Beatles. Dick James was one of them. He left later in the 50s to go into music publishing and in 1963 founded Northern Songs Ltd with John, Paul and Brian Epstein. He appears in the Get Back documentary showing them through the catalogue of songs he’d just acquired for the company.

It all turned very sour shortly after that though as he sold off his share in Northern Songs later that year without giving John & Paul the chance to buy control and they lost the rights to their songs.

After which he formed the DJM label and set Elton John on the road to superstardom.

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March 4, 2024 12:10 pm

I’m embarrassed that I’ve never heard nor heard of Guitar Slim until this very moment. The ghost of Chuck Berry breaths a sigh of relief.

Heck of a column: mentions three of the most popular singers of the pre-rock era (including the greatest pop singer of the 20th C), one of the most significant film comedians of the time, the leading lady of Singing in the Rain, and maybe the most beautiful woman in the history of mankind. Oh yeah, Peter Sellers and a junkie too.

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March 4, 2024 12:23 pm
Reply to  Low4

What more could we ask for?

Famed Member
March 4, 2024 2:32 pm

Love the opinions and knowledge of music, but even more, I love the validation of my intense dislike of anything that Jerry Lewis ever did. I have seen several of his movies in bits and pieces, and I don’t recall ever laughing at one of them.
I’m glad that I never met him because I am sure that I would have had a nearly uncontrollable urge to bounce a brick off his head.

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March 4, 2024 2:47 pm

Violence aside, you’re a LA LA LA NICE LADY!

Phylum of Alexandria
Famed Member
March 4, 2024 3:34 pm

Probably not a mark of sophistication that I find such shamelessly goofy stuff hilarious, but no education can cover up the fact that I’m a grown up child.

Famed Member
March 4, 2024 4:02 pm

Sometimes loud-mouthed schnooks are funny. Foghorn Leghorn is my favorite WB cartoon character. But Jerry Lewis is difficult to take.

I like Doris Day. She is attractive I guess, but never a knockout. But I do like a lot of her music. “Secret Love” is a pretty good song. Another neat thing about it is that it was recorded in one single take. She didn’t even practice it with the orchestra. That’s some talent.

I’m cool with “Oh My Papa”. Mrs. Crawford always had a soft spot for it, because she loved her dad, but also because she remembered Jim Nabors performing it on his TV show Gomer Pyle, USMC. But who could ever trust Eddie Fisher again? What nut would prefer Liz Taylor to Debbie Reynolds? Unfathomable. And just not nice.

Thanks for the education…I’d never heard Guitar Slim or the Stargazers! Fun article!

Pauly Steyreen
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Pauly Steyreen
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March 4, 2024 7:19 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

“What nut would prefer Liz Taylor to Debbie Reynolds? Unfathomable.”

100% agree. Like when Ben Affleck went from J. Lo to J. Garner… Lopez should’ve stayed away from a dud with such poor judgment. Affleck is the dictionary definition of a tool.

Debbie Reynolds was a class act who spent her life taking care of her daughter Carrie Fisher. Elizabeth Taylor looks like an attention-starved joke by comparison…

Edith G
Famed Member
Edith G
March 4, 2024 10:37 pm
Reply to  Pauly Steyreen

And yet in their latter years, Debbie and Liz did reconciled… go figure.

I’ve been sad for not being around in the last few weeks, it’s been overwhelming lately.

Among the things that I just read: DJ, this series is great, Chuck’s tribute to her late mother was touching, the coolest band name was a good stuff (how could I missed that?), we could talk about the samples or interpolations forever, and the O, Canada story was very interesting.

Famed Member
March 5, 2024 7:21 am
Reply to  Edith G

Hopefully life eases up a bit, Edith G. You don’t owe us anything, but we’re happy to have you here when you can!

Famed Member
March 6, 2024 4:16 pm

Meanwhile, Neil Cicierega’s deconstruction of “That’s Amore” is a 10. *BELLS*

Last edited 1 month ago by Aaron3000
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