Make the Yuletide Gay

(Edited, because Willie sent me a Christmas present.)

Let’s set the Wayback Machine for 1957—50 years ago this Christmas. Elvis got drafted that week, and giants roamed the radio. At WMCA in New York, DJ Alun Williams used the survey dated December 20, 1957, to extend holiday greetings to the cats and kittens listening in, strange punctuation quirk and all:

Did you know that _you_—the record buyers—are the _real_ Kings and Queens of the music world? When you’ve heard them _all_, you decide which tunes rate tops . . . and that’s how disc hits are crowned! It’s just as easy as dialing our daily platter sessions on WMCA—570 on your dial—where we spin all the new hits _first_ to help you make your choice! Hope you tune in often . . . and let us all at WMCA help make your holiday season gayer than ever!

Well, gosh, thanks.

Here are a few of what the kings and queens were crowning half-a-century ago.

1. “At the Hop”/Danny and the Juniors (holding at 1). Quintessentially of its time, and timeless too. What I mean is this: “At the Hop” is what the two generations born since 1957 believe ’50s music is supposed to sound like.

4. “Rock and Roll Music”/Chuck Berry (up from 5). Danny and the Juniors followed “At the Hop” with “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay.” It merely affirms what Chuck Berry had already proven here.

7. “You Send Me”/Sam Cooke (holding at 7). An earthquake in its day. “You Send Me” was Cooke’s first attempt at breaking out of the gospel field into pop. (Here’s a quick plug for Peter Guralnick’s fabulous biography of Cooke, Dream Boogie. It’s superb. Even if you don’t consider yourself a Cooke fan, and I didn’t, it’s still a fascinating story of an artist with a unique vision for his time.)

8. “Great Balls of Fire”/Jerry Lee Lewis (up from 10). Sometimes we need a reminder that things like “Great Balls of Fire” were once current hits like any other record, and did not spring into existence with the Big Bang.

9. “Liechtensteiner Polka”/Will Glahe (up from 13). Glahe, a German bandleader, had gone to Number One for a month in 1939 with “Beer Barrel Polka” (yep, that one). This is something every self-respecting polka band today will know, and it was big enough nationwide to gain Glahe an American Bandstand appearance on December 27, 1957. Just my luck—there are Bandstand clips on YouTube for nearly everything else, but not this.

12.-13. “Jailhouse Rock”/Elvis Presley (down from 11) and “Peggy Sue”/Buddy Holly (down from 12). See #8.

16. “Jingle Bell Rock”/Bobby Helms (first week on the chart). Every holiday perennial has to start somewhere, and “Jingle Bell Rock” began in 1957. After reaching Number 6 in Billboard its first year out, it would return to the charts at four of the next five Christmases, although because it fits both pop and country formats, it’s never really been off the radio at Christmas in any year since.

And two from the “Wax to Watch” category: “Colonel Bogie” by Edmundo Ros and “Colonel Bogey” by Mitch Miller, two versions of the famous whistling theme from the movie Bridge on the River Kwai, which had been released in the States only a few days before. You know the tune. Prove it to yourself.

No mp3 this week, but damn, I wish I had “Liechtensteiner Polka.”  Wait a moment—it turns out I do, thanks to Willie at Davewillieradio, who sent it to me. Now you can have it too. File it between David Gilmour and the Go-Gos.

“Liechtensteiner Polka”/Will Glahe (buy it here)