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IN PART 1 YESTERDAY, Frank Sinatra thrilled bobby soxers (and ticked off sponsor Lucky Strike) in the weekly Your Hit Parade show rating popular music. Today in Part 2, we see moms, dads, and kids singing along in car rides. And, hints of an MTV to emerge decades later comes with TV’s translation of this vintage radio show.
Mobile Sing-alongs. The popularity of Your Hit Parade in the late 1940s and 1950s gave rise to social phenomena that seem anachronistic today: the family car ride and the family sing-along.
Gasoline in the Fifties was 25¢–30¢/gallon (figure $2.72–$3.27 in today’s dollar). Car ownership had evolved from post-war austerity. And “Let’s go for a ride!” was commonly heard.
Imagine: just driving around, with no express purpose other than family entertainment.
Cars back then had radios, typically am, not fm, and music shows such as Your Hit Parade were common fare. What better family entertainment during the drive than a sing-along? Magazines published lyrics encouraging this, particularly helpful with newer songs often soaring to the top of the play lists.
A Personal Favorite. I don’t know when I first heard it, but one of my favorite songs appeared on Your Hit Parade, December 18, 1943, rebroadcast recently on Sirius XM “Radio Classics.” The war-time ballad “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” has particularly clever lyrics by Frank Loesser (later of Guys and Dolls, 1950; Most Happy Fella, 1956; and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, 1961).
During World War II, Bette Davis was a real patriot, active in selling War Bonds and helping to establish the Hollywood Canteen for Servicemen.
Then Along Came TV. As a social analyst noted, “The automobile took the family out of the house; television brought them back into it.” And Your Hit Parade followed suit, with TV versions running from 1950 to 1959.
This visual medium presented a particular challenge for a weekly program with specified topics, namely the hit songs that week. A song’s recurrence on radio was easily treated with a new arrangement, a different singer. But TV required rather more differentiation.
As Wikipedia notes, “The seven top-rated songs of the week were presented in elaborate TV production numbers requiring constant set and costume changes.”
“However,” Wikipedia continues, “because the top songs sometimes stayed on the charts for many weeks, it was necessary to continually find ways of devising a new and different production number of the same song week after week. After the show was revamped in September 1957, the top songs were reduced to five, while “extras” were increased.”
Wikipedia also observes, “The show faded with the rise of rock and roll when the performer became more important than the song. It is said that big band singer Snooky Lanson’s weekly attempts to perform Elvis Presley’s “Hound Hog” in 1956 hastened the end of the series.”
Ur-MTV? Was Your Hit Parade a precursor of MTV, the cable channel launched in 1981? Well, sorta. As noted in Wikipedia, “The channel originally aired music videos and related programming as guided by television personalities known as video jockeys. In the years since its inception, it significantly toned down its focus on music in favor of original reality programming for teenagers and young adults.”
One challenge was, and is, the diversity of the term “popular music.” Your Hit Parade was decidedly middle road, albeit with occasional excursions into country-western (Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” Hank WIlliam’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart”), folk (The Weaver’s “On Top of Old Smokey,” “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know ’Ya”), and Black performers (The Mills Brothers’ “Daddy’s Little Girl,” “Glow Worm,” Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa” and “Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup,” Eartha Kitt’s “C’est Ci Bon” and “Santa Baby”). The website songsandmemories aided this compilation.
Then, in 1954 came Bill Haley and the Comet’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”
Today. The website Music Genres List runs to more than 40 pop entries, among them Bubblegum, Christian, Dance, Electro, Louisiana Swamp, Rap, Psychedelic, Schlager, Synth, Wonky, and Progressive.
As difficult as it is these days imagining a family actually taking a car ride, it’s even more difficult imaging them finding something to sing together.
Inevitably, Your Hit Parade’s familiar closing theme became prophetic: “So long for a while/ That’s all the songs for a while./ So long to Your Hit Parade,/And the tunes that you picked to be played./So long!” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022