These were the good old days?

In the interest of not going completely insane due to my dogs barking at every single thing that has the audacity to make any kind of a sound outside of our house, I play music via the iHeartRadio app through the living room TV so it’s audible throughout the house.

About a month ago, after spending weeks listening to the Eclectic Rock station, I needed a change. So I poked around and found the iHeart50s station.

I went through a fairly dedicated 50s phase in my teen years, so there wasn’t much on the station I hadn’t heard, even if most of it was decades ago. They did manage to surprise me a few times, though.

Like with this Paul Petersen gem. I’ve heard other songs of his, no idea how this one got past me because it’s hilarious.

What surprised me more, though, was listening to familiar songs through much older and wiser ears, and realizing just how much I didn’t get back when I heard them the first time.

So next time Boomers give you shit about how violent music is today, you can remind them THIS JAUNTY TUNE ABOUT A SERIAL KILLER was #1 for 9 weeks

or maybe mention this catchy dance number that also hit #1 and stayed there for a month, about a man who was murdered in cold blood over a gambling debt.

If said Boomers are okay with violence but think there’s just too much sex in today’s music, ask them how they felt about Fred in the backseat MAKING OUT WITH SEVEN WOMEN AT ONCE whilst his hapless companion drove them around.

Granted, it only hit #9 in the charts. But this one made it to #7.

If you don’t feel like listening to the whole thing, here’s a summary of the lyrics: “My hot wife was really horny, we had a lot of kids as a result who were also really horny so we have a lot of grandkids. Also a farm.”

And up there with all the sex and murder, there was… this. Which hit #1 and stayed there for 3 weeks.

I did most of my oldies listening in the 80s, which was a truly terrible decade in many ways but at least had the decency to omit this from mainstream playlists, so I’d only heard it a few times before. “Problematic” doesn’t even begin to cover it. “Overtly racist bullshit and you wonder why Native Americans think white people are assholes” is closer. I like to hope the iHeart50s station plays this as often as they do as a reminder that the good old days were not always all that good. Oh, and both the people in this song drowned, in case you were worried about Johnny Preston missing the 1959 “let’s make swingin’ chart toppers about horrible deaths” bus.

Once in a while, a song was just plain clueless.

First verse: “I broke her heart and made her cry”
Third verse: “I wonder why she left me”
Really?

For years, I was unable to hear Dion & the Belmonts ‘Teenager In Love’ without actually hearing this in my head:

Turns out that’s still true. If you’re interested, that segment is part of a much longer medley, most of which is hilarious. The part about The Kingston Trio, however, is really fucking dark, a thing I’d forgotten or perhaps intentionally blocked out.

I was somewhat reassured by how silent the audience was during that bit. Still… dang.

But in amongst all the clueless murder group sex racism and literally everything about Jerry Lee Lewis chaff, surprising wheat was to be found.

For its time, this song was shockingly progressive. So much so that I’m pretty sure a lot of people listening to it don’t realize it’s essentially saying that women are in charge of their own sexuality.

And on the subject of sexuality, a lot of people are of the opinion that this song was about exactly that.

Specifically, homosexuality. And I won’t say I disagree with that interpretation, but given that the song was written in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement, I consider it more likely that the relationship referenced was interracial. The people I do disagree with are the ones who insist this is nothing more than a ballad about young lovers just eager to grow up so they can start living happily ever after. The message was written quietly enough to make that a plausible scenario so the song would actually get played. But note the pointed use of the words “afraid” and “right”. The line isn’t “wish we could show the world that we’re in love”. It’s “wish we didn’t have to BE AFRAID” to show that, a very different message. The lines aren’t “til we can meet/kiss openly”. They are “til we HAVE THE RIGHT”. The legal right. The legal right that was not fully granted until 1967. This song is as heartbreaking as it was groundbreaking.

Also heartbreaking is both this song and the fact that, for all the numerous and well-deserved accolades showered upon Chuck Berry in his lifetime and after his death, I will never feel he got the credit he deserved for being the storyteller that he was.

That is fucking poetry right there.

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  1. Great read. At the start I thought, well I’ve never had a 50s music thing, but I know every song here and realised I’ve only ever listened passively so meaning was lost on me. And now I’m wondering what I’m missing with pretty much everything else I listen to!

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