The Fifties

A behind-the-scenes look at what might have appeared on young Linda Wise’s turntable in Stony River. No point looking at Tereza Dobra’s records; she spent her money on the movies. And poor Miranda Haggerty had only a collection of old 78-RPMs to listen to: records with names like “I’m An Old Cowhand” and “Yes We Have No Bananas.”

The cost of a 45-RPM in the Fifties was anywhere from 89¢ to a dollar, about the same as an iTunes download today (although in the Fifties you got a song on each side of a record). Linda would have bought her records at a store in downtown Stony River, New Jersey. She’d have previewed them in a sound-proof booth before committing what might been as much as her weekly allowance to a purchase, despite having already heard the songs on the radio, a jukebox or, after 1957, TV’s American Bandstand.

In 1955 when the book opens, Linda is two months shy of age 12 when she was probably partial to songs like “Sixteen Tons” and “The Ballad of Davy Crocket,” songs she’d later consider “square.” In her 14th year, we find her in her bedroom where she’s set up her phonograph to endlessly repeat “My Prayer” by The Platters. She isn’t conscious of the impact the entry of black R&B music into white culture will have on her generation’s support for civil rights; only that it speaks to her soul and unmentionable body parts.

The Platters and groups like the Satins and the Penguins with their harmonies and high notes gave Linda goose bumps and caused her to lose her grip on the earth for a few minutes. Make-out music. She’d yet to make out with anyone…but whenever she heard a shoo do be shoo be wah she thought she knew what it would be like to have your heart all aglow. Honestly, sometimes it embarrassed her how badly she longed for it. — From Stony River (Penguin Canada, 2012)

She pines over a boy when she vacations with her parents in “boring” Kansas. I can imagine “Thousand Miles Away” playing in her mind on this trip and, later, when the boy moves, “Since I Don’t Have You.” Recalling how he claimed her figure was as “zaftig” as Peggy Lee’s, she might have added “Fever” to her 45s. (Not all white singers were uninspiring.)

After school Linda would have watched American Bandstand where ordinary kids like her slow danced to “It’s All In The Game” and “You Send Me” and did the jitterbug to “Rockin’ Robin” and “Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On.”

Fifties music was full of double entendres that would have been lost on Linda. She might have bought “Chantilly Lace” only to learn her mother wouldn’t allow her to play it in the house. Betty Wise would not have approved of the Big Bopper’s, “Ooh baby, that’s-a what I like.” (She wouldn’t have liked “Fever,” either.)

But Betty isn’t here, so bop on over to “Flashback” right now and have a listen to the tunes on Linda’s Turntable.