Fifty years ago today, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, to open the Space Age. An AP story that came out over the past weekend reported that the Sputnik launch was more a spur-of-the-moment gamble than the calculated outcome of a long process; the process, such as it was, did not so much intend to get a satellite into orbit as it did to develop a ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States. Whatever its true purpose, Sputnik scared the bejeezus out of the American people. Justified or not, we felt threatened in a way we hadn’t since the dawn of World War II. The feeling—annihilation hanging over our collective heads, ready to fall at any minute—would become familiar over the next 30 years of Cold War. But 50 years ago tonight, that feeling was new.
So on that nervous night 50 years ago, many American families no doubt sought escape. Some chose the TV, and many would have watched the premiere episode of a new show on CBS called Leave It to Beaver. Others—younger ones—may have turned on the radio. Nobody could have known it then, but many of the hit records of October 4, 1957, were weaving themselves permanently into the fabric of world popular culture, where they’ve become part of the common experience of millions of people, including two generations born since those records first appeared. Imagine it: “Wake Up Little Susie,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “You Send Me,” along with less momumental but still well-remembered records like “Chances Are,” “Tammy,” “Honeycomb,” and “Little Bitty Pretty One,” all on the radio as current hits on the same day.
Sputnik changed the world, but that music did, too.
Recommended Reading: The other day, Pete and Michael at Ickmusic broke down the new Springsteen album track by track; Live Daily has the setlist and a review of the first show of Springsteen’s tour in Hartford, CT. Also, I’m reading some new blogs that I recommend to you: Write On: Random Musings from the A Side, which is not merely new to me, but new to everybody—only about a week old. Based on the first few entries, it’s very promising, with a couple of good entries about radio. Any Major Dude With Half a Heart has been featuring a lengthy series of time-travel pieces, with music. And finally, the folks over at Stuck in the 80s are celebrating their 100th podcast; being a 70s guy myself, I don’t get over there often enough, but there’s good stuff whenever I go.