Atom, uranium and Hillbilly

Every art form had to deal with the arrival of the atomic age in one manner or another. Some artists were reserved and intellectual in their approach, others less so. The world of popular music, for one, got an especially crazy kick out of the Bomb. Country, blues, jazz, gospel, rock and roll, rockabilly, Calypso, novelty and even polka musicians embraced atomic energy with wild-eyed, and some might argue, inappropriate enthusiasm. These musicians churned out a variety of truly memorable tunes featuring some of the most bizarre lyrics of the 20th century. If it weren’t for Dr. Oppenheimer’s creation, for example, would we have ever heard lines like “Nuclear baby, don’t fission out on me!” or “Radioactive mama, we’ll reach critical mass tonight!”?

There are various subgenres (see below) that comprise the master genre we like to call the Atomic Platter, but mainly these compositions celebrate, lament or lampoon the Bomb and the Cold War that sprang from the mushroom clouds over Japan.

The earlier songs are less self-conscious, more naive (in some cases to the point of downright wackiness) and therefore more intriguing. Needless to say, another reason why many of these songs were selected is—put simply—they swing! Pondering the cultural climate that encouraged songs like 1957’s profoundly strange yet catchy Atom Bomb Baby is a lot more rewarding than, say, examining the obvious metaphors from a pre-electric Dylan protest song like “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” And Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction is a memorable “important” song. (more…)

early July 2011 fortnight’s favorites

Howdy folks. We begin with the Starday label and CHUCK MAYFIELD, “Lucky Me” from 1955. Fine backing. Then, a perhaps surprising choice for Hillbilly bop, HANK PENNY, whose I like the drive and pugnancy of “Hadacillin Boogie” for RCA.

starday 161 chuck mayfield lucky me +RCA 20-4862 hank Penny Hadacillin boogie

A personality and band leader more than a good singer, DUDE MARTIN had good moments, like this Dick Stratton’s version of “Pistol Boogie”.

dude martin

Back to Starday and the fine, Rockabilly bordering Hillbillybop “Living High and Wide” by GLEN BARBER, deceased in 2010. He had previously cut the famous classics “Ice Water” and “Shadow My Baby” (which even had a sax – Link Davis?).

Very early ’50s, on the London label, we come to HANK DALTON (was it another pseudo for Wayne Raney) and his great “Hummingbird Special”.

To finish, back to April 1956 with PAUL DAVIS, “I Don’t Want A Back Seat Driver” (MGM 12472), a loping rhythm on this fine uptempo. I am pretty sure this is the same who cut 4 years later “Six Days On The Road” for the Bulletin label, forerunner to giant Bill Dudley hit in 1963.

glen barber

Glen Barber