Noteworthy: Your Hit Parade

In Japan, cultures are taught at the youngest age to honor their elders. The generation gap continues to turn large groups of people culturally against each other. So given how every generation enjoys the thrust and commonality of its brand of Pop, this is a great time to turn back the clock and see where it all originated.

Long before describing music as Pop was a pejorative, to have music that was Popular was actually the goal. For a song to find its way to Your Hit Parade, it truly had to find the widest swath of the general audience. This translated into not only hearing it on the radio but even your local dance band needing to know these go-to tunes at the drop of a hat.

If the twenties solidified the music business, then the 30's and 40's were its cultural moment. The Victrola and the radio replaced the piano in the parlors of America. Dance crazes like "The Charleston" and "The Lindy Hop" swept across the nation. Bands played them every Friday and Saturday night at one or several local halls. Radio stations were primarily used to promote these events.

Through sponsorships, the dance bands caught fire as the larger radio networks would pipe them into your home. Still, the band was not of great importance and the singers were largely interchangeable. The song was the thing. With that, songwriters were drawn to Hollywood. Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hammerstein were true household names. That is until Jazz music morphed into Swing music.

Benny Goodman introduced his Swing band to dancing masses in 1935, and other bandleaders quickly followed. The rivalry between Chick Webb, Artie Shaw, The Dorsey Brothers, and the mighty Duke Ellington created enough music to last into the next century. Leaders, composers and competitors, they each strived to have the very best players in their band. With so much interchange, there was overlap in the songs that were played. All these differing arrangements needed some method of separation. So in 1936, Billboard magazine introduced their weekly chart of the most Popular songs.

"Minnie The Moocher" made immortal by Cab Calloway, the first appearance of electric guitar from Charlie Christian in the Benny Goodman Orchestra and Miss Billie Holiday stepping up to sing in front of Artie Shaw all insured that Swing music was also knocking down barriers and creating opportunities. The technological miracle of adding sound to films made way for the crooners as Rudy Vallee, Hoagy Carmichael and Bing Crosby stepped out in front of their own bands as successful solo artists. Crosby became even larger once he got his own weekly radio show.

In the Forties, America entered World War II and the Hit Parade became more important than ever. Kate Smith's "God Bless America" would top the charts three separate times in three separate years. With the men going off to war, vocal groups like The Andrews Sisters dominated radio. Big band music even welcomed satire in the form of the zany Spike Jones. The Hit Parade further expanded to encompass singing cowboys like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, while Swing welcomed distinct new Latin rhythms from Xavier Cugat and Tito Puente. Finally, aided by her iconic appearance in Busby Berkeley's "The Gang's All Here," Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda became the highest paid performer in the United States.

With so many performances being broadcast and recorded, and so many stars emerging from the ranks - the backing bands sought recognition as well. Musicians were members of the American Federation of Musicians. In the early Forties they maintained that as performers they should receive some form of royalty from the records that were being sold. When they made no true progress, the musicians went on strike from 1942-1944. While they still performed live, nearly two years of recorded music was lost forever. In addition, many of the labels simply decided the bands were not as important as the vocalists - so small groups were only necessary. Frank Sinatra first sang with Tommy Dorsey. However, as you know, then Sinatra became a force of nature.  The next generation was waiting in the wings to crown him as a teen idol - the big band behind him would never be the same again.

Finally, during the strike the major labels simply dipped into their vaults of recordings to get by. Musicians that were uncontracted were driven to smaller artist-driven labels. It was in this petri dish under auspicious circumstances, the musicians wrote their own music and infused Big Band swing with a little R&B and a lot of experimentation creating Bebop. By the 50's, the most popular musicians topped the charts. Radio grew more important to each locality, so genres were stratified as Country & Western could be found on one end of the dial with Rhythm & Blues on the other. The Hit Parade continued to stay important and vital, however only by blending the best music of all available styles.

Mik Davis is the record store manager at T- BONE's Records and Cafe and a GED instructor. 

 

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