Retro Dee writes about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s on this site. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every Wednesday.
Hey everyone, Welcome to Music in the 50’s. I’m Retro Dee with another post about some of the great hits of yesteryear that we’re still enjoying today!
For this post, I’m going to list 5 Hits from the 1950’s that I didn’t think were real songs. Yes, that’s right. The following 5 songs I either thought were just children’s songs, or made up entirely.
Let’s have a look!
“Witch Doctor” (1958) Dave Seville
I honestly, really, truly, totally thought this was written as a kids’ sing-along song. We used to sing it in Girl Scouts. Years later I saw it being advertised in a commercial for Wee Sing, so I was really convinced. I was more than a little surprised to find it was a chart-topping hit. But yes! “Witch Doctor” made it all the way to Number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1958.
No offense, but I can think of a lot of other songs in 1958 that should have made it to Number 1. However, I appreciate its fun-filled nature. And I’m sure Liberty records appreciated the fact that its success saved them from bankruptcy. “Witch Doctor” was written and performed by Dave Seville (real name Ross Bagdasarian) who also created The Chipmunks!
“Purple People Eater” (1958) Sheb Wooley
Yes, I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. I thought this was a Halloween song. I guess the way “Jingle Bells” is a Christmas song, I believed that this was one of the few official songs of the Halloween Season. Every Halloween, it was there, playing somewhere on some sound system or other. As I began to really study music of the 50’s, not only did I find that this was an actual mainstream hit, it reached Number 1 in the Summer of 1958, four months before Halloween!
“Maybe Baby” (1958) The Crickets
As a huge Buddy Holly fan, it’s not easy for me to admit that at one point, I thought my Dad made this song up. He used to sing it. He didn’t sing the whole song; only the “Maybe Baby” part. I think I was around 6 or 7, and practically every time I replied “maybe” to a question, my Dad would break out in song: “Maybe Baby!” It was kind of annoying, but in an endearing sort of way. I’m not sure when I finally figured out it was a song by Buddy Holly (or, more technically, The Crickets, on the Brunswick label) It was, of course, always present on the jukeboxes of the retro-themed diners.
“Western Movies” (1959) The Olympics
It took me far longer to find out that this song was, indeed, a real song. And guess who used to sing it? Yep, my Dad! He’d sing the whole chorus, just whenever he felt like it. I knew he couldn’t be singing about me, however, because I don’t think I’ve ever sat through an entire Western movie in my life!
So one Saturday evening when I was listening to The Grooveyard, you can imagine my surprise when this song came on. “That’s the song Dad used to sing!” I exclaimed, to no one in particular. In fact, I think the only one in the room was my cat. I was just that surprised, that I spoke out loud. (Later, I ended up with this song on not one, but TWO CD compilations: “Juke Box Giants” from APM records and “Do You Want To Dance?” from K-TEL records) It’s a fun song. I just wish the gunshot sound effects weren’t on it. I’m always afraid it will scare the neighbors if the volume’s up too high. Yikes.
“MTA” (1959) The Kingston Trio
In the 3rd grade, I had a really cool teacher who always made learning fun. One day, he brought this song into class, in part to teach us about the MTA public transit system. Being from California, none of us had heard of the MTA. (Funny enough, my parents are from Boston, and I’d still never heard of it. But I digress.) This song was a lot of fun to listen to in class. For years, I just assumed it was a song about the MTA, made to do just what we were doing, learn about public transit.
Once again, while listening to The Grooveyard, I was shocked to find out this was an actual hit in 1959! And by golly, I didn’t even know it was The Kingston Trio! Every time I hear it, I have fond memories of the 3rd grade and Charlie on the MTA.
Bonus Songs: “Memories Are Made of This” (1956) Dean Martin and “Playmates” (1955) The Fontane Sisters
Dad was at it again, singing as usual. This was another one of his favorites: “Meeeemories are made of this!” Seeing as so many people covered this song, why not have a Dad Version too? The funny part is how, once again, I thought this was a tune Dad made up.
My Dad never told me he made these songs up, he just sang them. I assumed he made them up too… But then there was the time my friend Missy actually told me she made up that “Playmates” song. You know, the one little girls would hand clap to about the dollies three and apple tree and all that junk. I remember excitedly running to my Mom and saying, “Listen to this song Missy made up!” and I began singing it. To which my Mom replied: “I used to sing that as a kid! Missy did not make that up.”
Well, it turns out Mom was right! Not only did Missy not make it up, “Playmates” was a 1955 hit by The Fontane Sisters. Even after reading that for a fact, I’m still pondering, incredulously: “A hit for… adult listeners?” Whatever, I’m not judging. Those were much simpler times.
So what did we learn? Well, for one, many of the songs that we credit to childhood memories and Wee Sing, were actually real, bonafide hits back in the Nifty Fifties. Can you imagine such a world where simple sing-a-longs and lullabys topped the charts? Me neither. But it’s fun to pretend.
Voting is now open in the ninth annual Great 88 survey. Pick your 10 favorite songs from 1961 here daily. A full first round schedule and additional information can be found here. You can also find the results of earlier surveys in the Great 88 section.
Listen to “The Grooveyard” following “Rick’s Redneck Ranch” each Saturday night at 7 PM on 88.1 FM on Long Island or by clicking the 88.1 FM link on wcwp.org, via the TuneIn app. or the WCWP app on your iPhone or Android device. You can also follow us on Twitter. and on the Facebook groups for the show and WCWP.
Join us for the Greatest Hits and Forgotten Favorites on . . .
…Where Oldies Come Alive!