[On December 10, 1949, Antoine “Fats” Domino recorded “The Fat Man,” his first recording at New Orleans’ legendary J&M Recording Studios and one of the first rock ‘n roll recordings ever made. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy 50s musical icons—share your own thoughts on them and any other musical icons and moments for a hard-rocking weekend post!]
On three signature songs from the 1950’s top-charting and best-selling female artist.
1) “Confess” (1947): There’s a certain amount of luck required for any artistic success, as illustrated nicely by a key element of Page’s first solo single (recorded after she had spent a couple years singing for other groups like the George Barnes Trio). Due to a musicians’ strike her label couldn’t find any background singers for the recording session, and so Page and influential Mercury Records engineer Bill Putnam decided to overdub Page’s own vocals instead, making her the first pop artist to harmonize with herself in this way. That innovative technique, born out of necessity but made successful by Page’s voice and talent, helped make “Confess” a Billboard Top 15 hit and would become a signature style for Page, featured in many of her biggest 1950s hits.
2) “Tennessee Waltz” (1950): Page didn’t write “Confess” (that was songwriting duo Bennie Benjamin and George David Weiss), but it was given to her specifically by Mercury Records. Whereas “Tennessee,” Page’s best-selling single and one of the biggest-selling songs of the 1950s, came to her via a far more circuitous route. It was written in 1946 by country star Pee Wee King and first recorded by his band, then covered in short order (as was the norm in that era, as I noted in Monday’s post) by Cowboy Copas and R&B singer Erskine Hawkins and his orchestra. It was apparently that last version which renowned producer Jerry Wexler passed along to Page, and so it’s fair to say that her cover combined the song’s country origins with that R&B sound and her own pop inclinations (as well as another example of her signature overdubbing) to yield one of the first modern “crossover” hits. And a hit Page’s version certainly was, as it sold over 7 million copies throughout the 50s.
3) “(How Much is That) Doggie in the Window?” (1953): I’ll confess (see what I did there?) that the popularity of novelty songs in early pop and rock music has always mystified me—apparently “My Ding a Ling” was Chuck Berry’s only number one hit, for one example; or there’s the number three hit “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight)?” (1959), for another. The popularity of Page’s “Doggie” (written by popular songwriter Bob Merrill), which went number one, stayed on the charts for five months, and sold over a million copies, is slightly more understandable, as it was part of a children’s concept album (Arfie Goes to School) and so had that built-in youthful audience and appeal going for it. And yet—I’m pretty sure “Doggie” was the only song from the 1950s best-selling female artist I had heard prior to researching this post, which is partly a commentary on my need to learn more about 50s music but also partly a reflection of just how ubiquitous such novelty tracks can become. In any case, there’s a lot more to Page, as I hope this post has illustrated!
Next 50s icon tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other musical icons or moments you’d highlight?
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