It was always going to be a dangerous mission. Trevor Churchill’s brainchild, THE GOLDEN AGE OF AMERICAN POP, had been in development for some time and the prototype was about to be launched into the fray with a bundle of seemingly undifferentiated repertoire. The potential embarrassment factor was high with risk of heavy flak on the way and snipers on the ground in the landing zone. Trevor was calling for volunteers. There was a lot of nervous shuffling among the ranks. Some of the lads took to studying their toecaps, while others took an inordinate interest in the state of their cuticles, or tried to look inconspicuous by melting into the background.
We say undifferentiated because Trevor believes there’s a customer out there for every hit record that ever was. This time he’d set himself the difficult task of pigeonholing records from pop’s ‘Golden Age’ which stubbornly defied easy categorisation: they weren’t quite novelties, not quite MOR, and, save for a few borderline cases, not quite Easy Listening. Most of records sounded a tad too grown up to appear on “Teenage Crush”. This was pop so pure, plain and simple that even the driven snow appeared mucky by comparison. Hits that conjure up images of mom’s apple pie, white picket fences, sunny dispositions, God, country and my baby, and all that.
Unchartered territory then, even by Ace’s intrepid standards. But, as you all know, Ace likes to go where others fear to tread and with the help of a brave volunteer or two (step forward Private Tony Rounce, Queen’s Light Pop Fusiliers) the whole thing came together amazingly well. Suddenly, it all made sense.
You might be surprised to discover that only a relatively small proportion of records that made the Hot 100 during the so-called ‘Golden Age’ (1955-1963) had much to do with rock‘n’roll. Just as many hits from that era were left-field one-offs, or random hit singles by inhabitants of the LP chart such as Dean Martin or Johnny Mathis, or folksters such as the Kingston Trio or the New Christy Minstrels, or barbershop quartets who’d strayed out of their territory like the Quaker City Boys.
Deejays and radio programmes often favoured this gentler, more innocuous stuff because it was less likely to offend sponsors and, truth is, American kids (and maybe a parent or two) were just as likely to snap up records such as See You In September by the Tempos or Gotta Travel On by Billy Grammer as the tougher, edgier stuff. Even a cursory glimpse at the charts of the day, will tell you that.
Our flagship series, “The Golden Age of American Rock‘n’Roll” set the standard for subsequent Ace pocket treasure troves such as “Teenage Crush” and “Early Girls”.
“The Golden Age of American Pop” conforms to the same level of quality and then some. The packaging is very pretty indeed, and even before you’ve slipped the CD into the player, you will find yourself examining the lavishly illustrated booklet this way and that as though it were a precious miniature.
Many of the 28 cuts are either new to CD or difficult to find properly mastered, as they are heard here.
Paul Petersen’s My Dad, Graduation Day by the Rover Boys and Just Like In The Movies by the Upbeats conjure up the innocence of the Eisenhower era (actually, Kennedy was in by the time My Dad came out –ED). Dorsey Burnette magnificently over-emotes on Tall Oak Tree. He must have been gurning madly before the mike, to conjure up those sounds. Forever by the Little Dippers is cloying but cute. This little gem – a Top 20 hit in late ’59 - was written and conceived by the music publisher Buddy Killen who went on to produce all of Joe Tex’s 60s soul classics. Tony Orlando’s Bless You and Gene McDaniels’ Tower Of Strength are pure class with the latter featuring genius use of trombone in the arrangement.
In The Misty Moonlight by Jerry Wallace forged a difficult path into the American Top 20 at the height of Beatlemania in mid-1964. Though barely remembered today, Wallace was a fabulous vocalist who notched up a long run of pop and country hits over a twenty year period. A hidden hero of sorts.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Moonlight Swim by Tony Perkins. A passable vocalist, Perkins had already cut an LP and a couple of pop 45s for the Epic label before RCA picked up the baton and placed him on the charts with Moonlight Swim in late 1957 – some four years before Perkins’ portrayal of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho brought him international recognition. Yikes! Who’d want to take a moonlight swim with Norman: two take a dip - only one returns!
By Rob Finnis
Click here for information on the Golden Age of American Rock'n'Roll Series