GREAT PRETENDERS: My Strange Love Affair with '50s Pop Music
Former Newsweek music critic Karen Schoemer checks out some singers of the pop tunes of the '50s and, surprised to discover that their records were not a waste of vinyl, finds love in the kitsch.Former Newsweek music critic Karen Schoemer checks out some singers of the pop tunes of the '50s and, surprised to discover that their records were not a waste of vinyl, finds love in the kitsch.
At first, Schoemer approaches the music beloved by nubile teens half a century ago with snotty disdain, hissing and dissing their lack of soul or talent. As she first hears it, it is crappy, goofy, awful and dopey. And yet, finally, she gets it: It's all about love -- sweet, virginal love. She seeks the singers who, back in the day, gave us "Doggie in the Window," "That Lucky Old Sun" and the rest of the Great American Rotten Music Songbook—tunes now heard only in elevators, if ever. In a where-are-they-now profile mode, she interviews the talent: Patti Page, Frankie Lane, Pat Boone, Georgia Gibbs, Tommy Sands, Fabian and Connie Francis -- names meant to inspire a powerful frisson of nostalgia among the nation's elders. The septuagenarian and octogenarian ex-stars, who in their heyday perpetrated top of the charts, insipid R&B covers and were featured in movies you probably never heard of, complain about evil managers and manipulative executives. The author's visit to an era of music irretrievably lost is mingled with her own coming-of-age story. (One chapter is entitled "Me Again.") Entwined with the music she once derided is the history of herself, her parents, her love life and her work. Readers may judge for themselves if the melodies of the Fifties are worse than gangsta rap and punk metal.
Contributions of some stereotypical pop singers before the Beatles revived Western culture, mixed with plenty of the writer's own catharsis.