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Memory Kits: Music of the 1950s

Memory kits are for people with dementia, memory loss, or cognitive impairment. They are intended to stimulate conversation or reminiscence with a person with cognitive issues

Music of the 1950s

Louis Armstrong - "La Vie en Rose" (1950)

Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 -- July 6, 1971), nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an "inventive" trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. With his instantly-recognizable gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also skilled at scat singing (vocalizing using sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics).; accessed October 4, 2022.; accessed October 4, 2022.

Big Mama Thornton - "Hound Dog" (1952)

Elvis Presley may have made "Hound Dog" a household name, but the origins of the song are rooted deep in Alabama.

"Hound Dog" belonged originally to a rhythm and blues singer, named Willie Mae Thornton, who, at the time of Elvis's recording, was making her living on what Black entertainers called "The Chitlin' Circuit." She had a big voice and suitably imperious manners, all of which had given rise to a nickname that had quickly supplanted her given name. On her rendition of "Hound Dog," released as a 78 rpm record, she was billed as "Big Mama" Thornton. 

"Big Mama's" version of "Hound Dog," recorded for Peacock Records on a hot August day in 1952 in Los Angeles, was the crowning achievement in the career of a singer who left her mark on rock and blues history.  "Hound Dog" quickly climbed to No. 1 on the 1953 all-Black rhythm and blues charts and became a 500,000-plus seller. It also became by far the biggest success in Willie Mae Thornton's career.

The Chordettes - "Mr. Sandman" (1954)

The Chordettes' recording of the song was released on the Cadence Records label on both 78 RPM and 45 RPM formats. Cadence's founder, Archie Bleyer, was the orchestra conductor on the recording and provided a rhythmic beat on the recording, using his knees.[2][10] Bleyer's voice is heard in the third verse, when he says the word "Yes?" The piano is played by Moe Wechsler. Liberace's name is mentioned for his "wavy hair",[11] and a glissando (a flourish common in his music) immediately follows. Pagliacci is mentioned for having a lonely heart,[11] which is a reference to the opera Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo.

In the United States, the Chordettes' single reached No. 1 on all three of Billboard's popular music charts,[12] and was ranked No. 9 in Cash Box's ranking of "1955's Top Pop Records as Voted in the Cash Box Poll".; accessed October 4, 2022.; accessed October 4, 2022.

Johnny Cash - "Folsom Prison Blues" (1955)

Cash was inspired to write this song after seeing the movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951) while serving in West Germany in the United States Air Force at Landsberg, Bavaria (itself the location of a famous prison). Cash recounted how he came up with the line "But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die": "I sat with my pen in my hand, trying to think up the worst reason a person could have for killing another person, and that's what came to mind."[3]

Cash took the melody for the song and many of the lyrics from Gordon Jenkins's 1953 Seven Dreams concept album, specifically the song "Crescent City Blues".[4] Jenkins was not credited on the original record, which was issued by Sun Records. In the early 1970s, after the song became popular, Cash paid Jenkins a settlement of approximately US$75,000 following a lawsuit.[5]

"Folsom Prison Blues" was recorded at the Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee on July 30, 1955. The producer was Sam Phillips, and the musicians were Cash (vocals, guitar), Luther Perkins (guitar), and Marshall Grant (bass).[6] Like other songs recorded during his early Sun Records sessions, Cash had no drummer in the studio, but replicated the snare drum sound by inserting a piece of paper (like a dollar bill) under the guitar strings and strumming the snare rhythm on his guitar. The song's sound has been described as country,[2][7][8] rockabilly,[8][9][10] and rock and roll.[10][11] The song was released as a single with another song recorded at the same session, "So Doggone Lonesome". Early in 1956, both sides reached No. 4 on the Billboard C&W Best Sellers chart.[12]

When photographer Jim Marshall asked Cash why the song's main character was serving time in California's Folsom Prison after shooting a man in Reno, Nevada, he responded, "That's called poetic license."[1; accessed October 4, 2022.; accessed October 4, 2022.

Doris Day - "Que Sera, Sera" (1956)

"Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)"[a] is a song written by the team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans that was first published in 1955.[4] Doris Day introduced it in the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956),[5] singing it as a cue to their onscreen kidnapped son.[4] The three verses of the song progress through the life of the narrator—from childhood, through young adulthood and falling in love, to parenthood—and each asks "What will I be?" or "What lies ahead?" The chorus repeats the answer: "What will be, will be."

Day's recording of the song for Columbia Records made it to number two on the Billboard Hot 100[6] and number one in the UK Singles Chart.[4] It came to be known as Day's signature song. The song in The Man Who Knew Too Much received the 1956 Academy Award for Best Original Song. It was the third Oscar in this category for Livingston and Evans, who previously won in 1948 and 1950.[4] In 2004 it finished at number 48 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

It was a number-one hit in Australia for pop singer Normie Rowe in September 1965.,_Sera_(Whatever_Will_Be,_Will_Be); accessed October 4, 2022.; accessed October 4, 2022.

Chuck Berry - "Johnny B. Goode" (1958)

'"Johnny B. Goode" is a 1958 rock song written and first recorded by Chuck Berry. Released as a single, it peaked at number two on Billboard magazine's Hot R&B Sides chart and number eight on its pre-Hot 100 chart.[2]

"Johnny B. Goode" is considered one of the most recognizable songs in the history of popular music. Credited as "the first rock & roll hit about rock & roll stardom",[3] it has been recorded by many other artists and has received several honors and accolades, including being ranked seventh on Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time"[3] and included as one of the 27 songs on the Voyager Golden Record, a collection of music, images, and sounds designed to serve as a record of humanity.'; accessed October 5, 2022.; accessed October 5, 2022.


Nat King Cole - "Unforgettable" (1952)

'"Unforgettable" is a popular song written by Irving Gordon. The song's original working title was "Undeniable"; however, the music publishing company asked Gordon to change it to "Unforgettable". The song was published in 1951.

The most popular version of the song was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1951 from his album Unforgettable (1952), with an arrangement written by Nelson Riddle.[3] A non-orchestrated version of the song recorded in 1952 is featured as one of the seven bonus tracks on Cole's 1998 CD reissue of 1955's otherwise completely instrumental album, Penthouse Serenade. On March 30, 1961, Nat King Cole recorded the tune anew in a stereo version (with Ralph Carmichael and his Orchestra) of the Riddle arrangement, for the album The Nat King Cole Story (1961). '; accessed October 4, 2022.; accessed October 4, 2022.

Frank Sinatra - "I've Got You Under My Skin" ((1953)

Sinatra first sang the song in 1946 on his weekly radio show, as the second part of a medley with "Easy to Love".

He recorded a studio version of the song with Nelson Riddle orchestral arrangement and slide trombone solo by Milt Bernhart at Capitol's Melrose Avenue studios[7] for his 1956 album Songs for Swingin' Lovers! Riddle was a fan of Maurice Ravel and said that this arrangement was inspired by the Boléro.[8] Sinatra aficionados usually rank this as one of his finest collaborations with Riddle's orchestra.

Sinatra re-recorded "I've Got You Under My Skin" for the album Sinatra's Sinatra (1963), an album of re-recordings of his favourites.[9] This time the trombone solo was by Dick Nash because Bernhart was unavailable.

A live version of the song appears on the 1966 album Sinatra at the Sands with Count Basie and his orchestra.[10]

Another version of the song is an electronically assembled duet featuring Sinatra and U2 lead singer Bono on Sinatra's 1993 Duets album.[11][12] The track was released on a "double A-side" with U2's "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)". The single peaked at number four on the UK charts.[13]

Sinatra usually included "I've Got You Under My Skin" in his concerts—a tradition carried on by his son, Frank Sinatra Jr.[14]; accessed October 4, 2022.; accessed October 4, 2022.

The Penguins - "Earth Angel" (1954)

"Earth Angel", occasionally referred to as "Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)", is a song by American doo-wop group the Penguins. Produced by Dootsie Williams, it was released as their debut single in October 1954 on Dootone Records. The Penguins had formed the year prior and recorded the song as a demo in a garage in South Central Los Angeles. The song's origins lie in multiple different sources, among them songs by Jesse Belvin, Patti Page, and the Hollywood Flames. Its authorship was the subject of a bitter legal dispute with Williams in the years following its release.

Although the song was going to be overdubbed with additional instrumentation, the original demo version became an unexpected hit, quickly outstripping its A-side. The song grew out of Southern California and spread across the United States over the winter of 1954–55. "Earth Angel" became the first independent label release to appear on Billboard's national pop charts, where it peaked within the top 10. It was a big hit on the magazine's R&B charts, where it remained number one for several weeks. A cover version by white vocal group the Crew-Cuts peaked higher on the pop charts, reaching number three. More cover versions followed, including recordings by Gloria Mann, Tiny Tim, and Johnny Tillotson.

The Penguins' only hit, it eventually sold in excess of ten million copies. The original recording of the song remained an enduring hit single for much of the 1950s, and it is now considered to be one of the definitive doo-wop songs. In 2005, it was one of fifty recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry, deeming it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important."; accessed October 4, 2022.; accessed October 4, 2022.


Elvis Presley - "Hound Dog" (1956)

"Hound Dog" is a twelve-bar blues song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Recorded originally by Big Mama Thornton on August 13, 1952, in Los Angeles and released by Peacock Records in late February 1953, "Hound Dog" was Thornton's only hit record, selling over 500,000 copies, spending 14 weeks in the R&B charts, including seven weeks at number one. Thornton's recording of "Hound Dog" is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll", and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in February 2013.

"Hound Dog" has been recorded more than 250 times. The best-known version is the July 1956 recording by Elvis Presley, which ranked number 19 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004, but was excluded from the revised list in 2021; it is also one of the best-selling singles of all time. Presley's version, which sold about 10 million copies globally, was his best-selling song and "an emblem of the rock 'n' roll revolution". It was simultaneously number one on the US pop, country, and R&B charts in 1956, and it topped the pop chart for 11 weeks — a record that stood for 36 years. Presley's 1956 RCA recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1988, and it is listed as one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll".; accessed October 5, 2022.; accessed October 5, 2022.

Patsy Cline - "Walkin' After Midnight" (1957)

'"Walkin' After Midnight" is a song written by Alan Block and Don Hecht and recorded by American country music artist Patsy Cline. The song was originally given to pop singer Kay Starr; however, her label rejected it. The song was left unused until Hecht rediscovered it when writing for Four Star Records. Originally Cline was not fond of "Walkin' After Midnight", but after making a compromise with her label she recorded it. However, the first released recording was by Lynn Howard with The Accents, released August 1956.

In January 1957, Cline performed the song on an episode of the CBS television program Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. It garnered a strong response from viewers and was therefore rush-released as a single on February 11, 1957. "Walkin' After Midnight" became Cline's first major hit single, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard country music chart and No. 12 on its pop chart. Although the song was her only hit until 1961, the single version sold over one million copies and is often included on authoritative lists of the all-time greatest songs in country music.'; accessed October 5, 2022.; accessed October 5, 2022.