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Popular Music Today

The Record Shelf

By Bryce E. Nelson

The academicians' current concern with folk songs and jazz is understandable. Feeling removed from the vitality of life, they turn to these forms of music to reassure themselves that they still retain the youthful vigor they associate with "the people." A far more representative and exciting form of proletariat culture, however, is that of popular music.

This has not long been true. Up pto about three years ago, popular music was --- and syrupily romantic --- listening. Reflecting an emphasis on the value that America places on --- adolescent period), the almost exclusive theme of popular music is still the glorification of romantic love. But instead of the earlier preponderance of sleepy ballads, popular music is characterized today by a new vibrancy.

Now it may be going too far to say that the purpose of music is little more than sexual sublimation, but this is certainly an important element in its value to the participant. The recent advent of the popularity of the "Big Beat," Rock and Roll, is only to be commended; both the music and the listeners are becoming more honest. Since the first big rhythm and blues hit, "Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom," in the summer of 1954, popular music has become increasingly interesting.

The following spring saw the ascendancy of Bill Haley and his Comets with their very big "Rock Around the Clock," a song which caused major riots from Boise to Berlin. However the Comets, like most of those achieving popular music stardom, turned out to be somewhat of a flash in the pan, and yielded to such people as Fats Domino and Elvis Presley.

Presley is certainly the most interesting performer in the field today. He has become popular more quickly than any other singer in recording history, last year selling thirteen million records. The growing sideburn cult and the wearing of "I Love Elvis" skirts are further indications of his adoption as an idol by the American adolescent sub-culture. The nature of the songs he records, mainly concerning romantic love, but often lack of romantic success, is an important factor contributing to his popularity, as is his emergence from the especially other-directed youth culture. The average teen-ager can vicariously share Presley's easily-acquired wealth, his cars, power over women, and seeming rebellion against adult authority.

The extremity of adult reaction against the Presley phenomena has made impartial judgement of Elvis' singing almost impossible. "Big El" has become more intellectually respectable in recent months as Estes Kefauver, Charles Laughton, Burl Ives, and the New York Times have expressed their approval, but the quality of Presley's singing is not by any means fully appreciated yet.

Uncle Elvis uses his remarkable inflection to convey his unusual vocal combination of power and tenderness, and in doing so partakes of the best elements in popular, blues, and country music. Art perhaps best being described as the depiction of motion, Elvis is indeed the finest artist in the field today.

The current Elvis hit is "Too Much," which in the three weeks since it has been recorded has moved into second place across the country and is threatening the very good number one song "Young Love." Both recordings of this, one by the Southern Gentleman Sonny James and the other by Tab Hunter (his first record), have sold about two million copies.

These two have pushed the calypso hits, Terry Gilkyson's "Marianne" and the Tarrier's and Belafonte's "Banaha Boat Song" from the top rungs. The "respectable" disk jockies hope that calypso will end the rock and roll craze. Since calypso includes the "Big Beat," it will certainly be much more successful than the previous white hope--fife and drum music as exemplified by the "Yellow Rose of Texas." Rock and roll, however, is here to stay.

Tunes of this type predominate in the top ten, including Fats Domino's "Blue Monday", Ivory Joe Hunter's "Since I Met You", and Guy Mitchell's "Singing the Blues". There are, though, some nice ballads moving up: Pat Boone's "Don't Forbid Me", Johnny Mathis's "Wonderful, Wonderful" and George Hamilton IV's "Only One Love." Hamilton, who next to Elvis is the most interesting young singer around, is sure to have a hit as big as his first "A Rose and a Baby Ruth".

The best popular song around, though, is Mickey and Sylvia's "Love is Strange" with intriguing lyrics and an exceptionally frantic instrumental background of electric guitar notes effectively capture the spirit of the age. Songs with more --- lyrics are Hadda Brook's "Old Man River" and Bob Cort's "It takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Blues."

Despite the large number of unexciting songs that achieve popularity, it cannot be doubted that popular music is better than ever, a dynamic art form in an artistically unproductive decade.

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