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.

Atomic. An overtly atomic song will usually have the word itself in the title or in the lyrics. This subgenre also includes the Hydrogen Bomb songs. Examples include The Slim Gaillard Quartette’s Atomic Cocktail and Al Rex’s Hydrogen Bomb.

Uranium Uranium mining was touted in the media of the day as some kind of modern gold rush. In the 1950s, the U.S. government encouraged private citizens to prospect for uranium that was needed for nuclear testing and nuclear weapons production. The uranium « boom » was enough of a fad to inspire a few tunes (Elton Britt’s Uranium Fever, Warren Smith’s Uranium Rock, or Riley Walker’s Uranium Miner’s Boogie, and The Commodore’s Uranium), a couple of movies (URANIUM BOOM, DIG THAT URANIUM) and a memorable episode of THE LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR.

Other sub-genres could include Cold War, UFO, Korean War.

Below is a partial list (up until 1959) of songs related to atom bomb and uranium (all musical genres) :

WHEN THE ATOM BOMB FELL (1945) by Karl and Harty

ATOMIC COCKTAIL (1945) by Slim Gaillard Quartette

ATOMIC DID IT (1945) by Maylon Clark

ATOMIC BOOGIE (1945) by Pete Johnson

ATOMIC POLKA (1945) by Brunon Kryger

ATOMIC BOMB BLUES (1946) by Homer Harris (with Muddy Waters)

ATOM BUSTER (1946) by Barney Kessel

ATOM AND EVIL(1946) by The Golden Gate Quartet

ATOMIC ERA (1946) by Bud Freeman & Ray McKinley

ATOMIC POWER (1946) by The Buchanan Bros.

THERE’S A POWER GREATER THAN ATOMIC (1946) by Whitey and Hogan

UP AN ATOM (1946) by Gene Krupa

WHEN THEY FOUND THE ATOMIC POWER (1946) by Hawkshaw Hawkins

ATOM BOMB (1947) by Dude Martin and his Round-Up Gang

ATOMIC MAMA BLUES (1947) by J. & B. Mellish Edwards

OLD MAN ATOM (1947) by The Sons of the Pioneers

BIKINI BLUES (All Men Are Cremated Equal) (1947) by Dexter Gordon

WHEN YOU SEE THOSE FLYING SAUCERS (1947) by The Buchanan Brothers

JESUS HITS LIKE AN ATOM BOMB (1949) by Lowell Blanchard and the Valley Trio

TIC, TIC, TIC (1949) by Doris Day

ATOMIC BABY (1950) by Amos Milburn

ATOM BOOGIE (1950) by Sammy Franklin and the Atomics

BRUSH THE DUST FROM THAT OLD BIBLE (1950) by Bradley Kincaid

MR. STALIN, YOU’RE EATING TOO HIGH OFF THE HOG (1950) by Arthur « Guitar Boogie » Smith & his Crackerjacks

NO, NO JOE (1950) by Hank Williams

WHEN THE HELL BOMB FALLS (1950) by Fred Kirby

ADVICE TO JOE (1951) by Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys

ATOMIC TELEPHONE (1951) by the Spirit of Memphis Quartet

THE CIVIL DEFENSE MARCH (HEADS UP AMERICA) (1951) by Sammy Cahn and Paul Weston

I’M GONNA DIG MYSELF A HOLE (1951) by Arthur « Big Boy » Crudup

PRELUDE TO OBLIVION (ATOMIC STYLE) (1951) by Alexander Brott

WHEN THEY DROP THE ATOM BOMB (1951) by Jackie Doll and his Pickled Peppers

DEATH OF ELLENTON (1952) by the Johnson Family Singers

GREAT ATOMIC POWER (1952) by The Louvin Brothers

I’M NO COMMUNIST (1952) by Grampa Jones (also covered by Jim Eanes)

ATOMIC BABY (1953) by Linda Hayes w/ the Red Callender Sextette

ATOMIC SERMON (1953) by Billy Hughes and his Rhythm Buckaroos

BERT THE TURTLE (THE DUCK AND COVER SONG) (1953) by Dick « Two Ton » Baker

THE DEATH OF JOE STALIN (GOOD RIDDANCE) (1953) by Buddy Hawk

STALIN KICKED THE BUCKET (1953) by R. Anderson

ATOMIC CHRISTMAS (1954) by Samuel Adam Short, Jr. ATOMIC KISS (1954) by Earney Vandagriff

ATOMIC LOVE POLKA (1954) by Ray Henry

GET THAT COMMUNIST JOE (1954) by the Kaveliers

SH’BOOM (1954) by The Chords

13 WOMEN (and Only One Man in Town) (1954) by Bill Haley and his Comets

URANIUM MINER’S BOOGIE (1954) by Riley Walker

YOU HIT ME BABY LIKE AN ATOMIC BOMB (1954) by Fay Simmons

ATOM BOMB (1955) by Glenn Barber

ATOM BOMB (1955) by Joe Houston

ATOMIC BOUNCE (1955) by Johnny Latorre

HYDROGEN BOMB(1955) by Al Rogers and the Rocky Mountain Boys

URANIUM FEVER (1955) by Ruddy Gaddis

URANIUM FEVER (1955) by Elton Britt, the Yodellin’ Cowboy

50 MEGATONS (1956) by Sonny Russell

GUIDED MISSILES (1956) by the Cuff Links

STRANDED IN THE JUNGLE (1956) by the Cadets

ATOM BOMB BABY (1957) by The Five Stars

ATOMIC LOVE (1957) by Little Caesar with the Red Callender Sextette

JESUS IS GOD’S ATOMIC BOMB by (1957) by Swan’s Silvertone Singers

LEAVE DE ATOM ALONE (1957) by Josephine Premise

SPUTNIK BABY (1957) by Roosevelt Sykes

SATELLITE BABY (1957) by Skip Stanley

SPUTNIK (Satellite Girl) (1957) by Jerry Engler and the Four Ekkos

SHAKE IT OVER SPUTNIK (1957) by Bill Hogan

URANIUM (1957) by the Commodores

URANIUM BLUES (1957) by Loy Clingman

FUJIYAMA MAMA (1957) by Wanda Jackson

ATOMIC FALLOUT (1958) by Bobby Mizzell with Jerry Woodard and the Co’s

ATOMIC NIGHTMARE (1958) by the Talbot Brothers of Bermuda

GONNA BUILD A ROCKET (1958) by Galen Denny

GONNA RIDE THAT SATELLITE (1958) by Jimmy Gartin

MISSILE RIDE (1958) by Reno and Smiley

RUSSIAN SATELLITE (1958) by Mighty Sparrow

SATELLITE FEVER – ASIATIC FLU (1958) by Lonnie Miley

THE SPUTNIK STORY (1958) by Bill Thomas

SPUTNIKS AND MUTNIKS (1958) by Ray Anderson and the Homefolks

URANIUM ROCK (1958) by Warren Smith

A-BOMB BOP (1959) by Mike Fern

ATOMIC ENERGY (1959) by Jimmy Womack

BOMBS AND ROCKETS (1959) by Carl Ruth

FALLOUT! (1959) by Henry Mancini

HYDROGEN BOMB (1959) by Al Rex

I’ve chosen several representative hillbilly recordings dealing with the theme. The earliest was done by the Buchanan Brothers : « Atomic Power » from 1946. Chester (born 1924 in LaPorte, Indiana) and Lester (born 1920 in Canton, Ohio), were raised in rural north Georgia in the 1930s on a farm that their father, Ephraim Shadrack Buchanan, moved the family to during the Depression. The brothers listened to Carson Robison records as children and later learned to play mandolin and guitar. They performed locally and at nearby fiddle conventions, but it wasn’t until they traveled to New York City in search of welding work at Bethlehem Steel that they were discovered and became professional musicians.

Bob Miller, a songwriter, and his wife Esther VanSciver, were representing country acts in New York and caught wind of Chester and Lester through a record store owner who had come to know the brothers and their talents through their record listening habits. Miller wasted no time and signed them to the Bluebird label in 1944. The brothers recorded between 1944 and 1947 28 sides for Main Streets Records, Bluebird and RCA Victor. After a falling out with their management and a general dissatisfaction with being pushed toward a more pop form of country, Chester and Lester returned to Georgia where Chester became a successful businessman (trailer parks and shoe manufacturing) and Lester went back to welding. Lester retired to Florida in 1973 and continues to live there to this day. Chester remained in Georgia and passed away in 1992.

Atomic Power: The Buchanan Brothers [1946]                                    

Oh this world is at a tremble with its strength and mighty power     

There sending up to heaven to get the brimstone fire

Take warning my dear brother, be careful how you plan

You’re working with the power of God’s own holy hand

Refrain: Atomic power, atomic power

Was given by the mighty hand of God

Atomic power, atomic power

It was given by the mighty hand of God

You remember two great cities in a distant foreign land

When scorched from the face of earth the power of Japan

Be careful my dear brother, don’t take away the joy

But use it for the good of man and never to destroy

Refrain

Hiroshima, Nagasaki paid a big price for their sins

When scorched from the face of earth their battles could not win

But on that day of judgment when comes a greater power

We will not know the minute and we’ll not know the hour

 

Then from 1948, Dude Martin and his Round-Up Gang for « Atom Bomb Baby ». Dude Martin was born on his father’s cattle ranch near Plainsburg, California in 1915. As a child he learned how to play his father’s banjo and by the age of 15 playing that instrument and competing in rodeos were Martin’s favorite pursuits. It was in high school that he started a band, The Nevada Nightherders, in order to take part in a school show. The band continued to play as an act after the school show and before they knew it, they were offered a slot on KLX in Oakland. By 1939 the band had increased to ten members and was known as ‘Dude Martin’s Roundup Gang.’ At this point they moved over to KYA in San Francisco where they performed for approximately ten years. In 1949 Martin decided to make the transition to television and for two years starred on KGO’s ‘The Dude Martin Show.’ In the early ’50s he moved to Los Angeles and re-started his TV show on KTTV (where he would also become station Program Director for a period). After he recorded for RCA Victor, Martin cut sides for Mercury including Pistol Boogie, Tennessee Wedding, I Was Sorta Wonderin’, Mosey On, Strange Little Girl and I’ve Turned A Gadabout. In addition to recording and performing, Martin was a talent scout and manager. He helped guide the early careers of singers Guy Mitchell, Rusty Draper and Sue Thompson.

Martin earned his nickname ‘Dude’ from his habit of dressing in the finest western garb money could buy. One of his early PR biographies claims that the singer had a wardrobe valued at $15,000, including 18 pairs of hand-made boots and 27 Stetson hats.

Atom Bomb Baby: Dude Martin’s Round-Up Gang [1948]

She’s a red headed atom bomb baby

A fortified block bustin’ gal

When she aims at a target it’s just too bad

Because her concentrated action drives a sane man mad!

She’s used her TNT tactics

To bring a man down to her size

It would take a secret weapon or a Superman                                       

To harness her energy

There’s no if, no or maybe, this atom bomb baby

Made a total wreck out of me!

She’s a jet propelled atom bomb baby

A super charged uranium gal

Once she strikes her objective and turns on the juice

Ten will get you 50 if you ever get loose

She’s used her TNT tactics

To bring a man down to her size

It would take a secret weapon or a Superman

To harness her energy

There’s no if, no or maybe, this atom bomb baby

Made a total wreck out of me

She’s a red headed atom bomb baby

A fortified block bustin’ gal

When she aims at a target it’s just too bad

Because her concentrated action drives a sane man mad!

She’s used her TNT tactics

To bring a man down to her size

It would take a secret weapon or a Superman

To harness her energy

So stay clear away from this red headed A-bomb

Cause she belongs to me!

 

Then from 1950, Red Pleasant on the Selective label, for « Jesus Hits Like An Atom Bomb », a song already recorded on Mercury by Country D.J. Lowell Blanchard, and later by the Pilgrim Travelers. I did not find any biog. info on him though.

 

Jesus Hits Like An Atom Bomb: Lowell Blanchard and the Valley Trio [1950]

 

Refrain: Everybody’s worried ’bout the atomic bomb

But nobody’s worried ’bout the day my Lord will come 

When he’ll hit, great God a-mighty, like an atom bomb

When he comes, when he comes

 

In nineteen-hundred and forty-five the atom bomb became alive

In nineteen-hundred and forty-nine the USA got very wise

It found a country had crossed the line, had an atom bomb of the very same kind

The people got worried all over the land, just like folks got in Japan

 

So, I say everybody’s worried (yeah) ’bout the atomic bomb

But nobody’s worried (no) ’bout the day my Lord will come

When he’ll hit, great God a-mighty, like an atom bomb

When he comes, good Lord, when he comes

 

Refrain

 

Well now, God told Elijah, he would send down fire, send down fire from on high

He told the brother Noah by the rainbow sign, there’ll be no water, but fire in the sky

Now don’t get worried, just bear in mind, seek King Jesus and you shall find

Peace, happiness, and joy divine, with my Jesus in your mind

 

So, I say everybody’s worried (yeah) ’bout the atomic bomb

But nobody’s worried (no) ’bout the day my Lord will come

When he’ll hit, great God a-mighty, like an atom bomb

When he comes, great God, when he comes.

 

A few years later, in 1954, a largely unknown artist recorded from the Utah label Atomic : Riley Walker and the great « Uranium Miner’s Boogie », a quintessential Hillbilly bop tune. In 1955, three entries. First, Elton Britt, well-known for his Nashville crooning songs, cut « Uranium Fever » for RCA.

Uranium Fever: Elton Britt [1955]

 

Well, I don’t know, but I’ve been told

Uranium ore’s worth more than gold

Sold my Cad’, I bought me a Jeep

I’ve got that bug and I can’t sleep

 

Refrain: Uranium fever has done and got me down

Uranium fever is spreadin’ all around

With a Geiger counter in my hand

I’m a-goin’ out to stake me some government land

Uranium fever has done and got me down

 

Well I had talk with the AEC*

And they brought out some maps that looked good to me

And one showed me a spot that he said he knowed

So I straddled my Jeep and headed down the road

 

I reckon I drove about 100 miles

Down a bumpy road out through the wilds

When all of sudden I bounced to a stop

At the foot of a mountain, didn’t have no top

 

Refrain

 

Well I took my Geiger and I started to climb

Right up to the top where I thought I’d find

A hunk of rock that would make it click

Just like I’d read about Vernon Pick

 

On the second day, I made the top

And I’m tellin’ you, Steve, I was ready to stop

The only clickin’ that I heard that day

Was the bones in my back that had gone astray

 

Refrain

 

Well, you pack up your things

You head out again

Into some unknown spot where nobody’s been

You reach the spot where your fortune lies

You find it’s been staked by 17 other guys

 

Well, I ain’t kiddin’, I ain’t gonna quit

That bug’s done caught me and I’ve been bit

So with a Geiger counter and a pick in my hand

I’ll keep right on stakin’ that government land

Refrain

*The Atomic Energy Commission

 

Same year, or maybe later, Glen Barber – famous for his Starday sides – recorded « Atom Bomb » for D, which remained unissued until the early 2000s. A fine slice of Rockabilly. In 1955-56, Earney Vandagriff recorded « Atomic Kisses » for California’s Rural Rhythm.

1959 saw « Hydrogen Bomb » by ex-Comets bass player Al Rex on Arcade (unissued until the 1980s). Seems however that « bomb » was only used for its pronunciation.

Later in 1961, the Louvin Brothers also did « The Great Atomic Power ».

All in all, atom and uranium had been pretty used by hillbilly artists.
Rudy Gaddis, « Uranium fever » (Starday 217) download
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