1954 in Music

My list of music reviews for music originally released in 1954.

1. Rock with Bill Haley and the Comets (8/10)

Supposedly the first “Rock and Roll” LP. Certainly the whitest version of R&B so far. Read the review of Rock with Bill Haley and the Comets.

2. Bernard Herrmann: Garden of Evil Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (8/10)

Garden of Evil is an ominous, interesting piece of music. It’s still somewhat conventional – it lacks the invention of a lot of Hermann’s later work – but it’s a pretty great piece of music as these ’50s Hollywood “dramatic” scores go. I think it’s only under-known because the movie itself is so.

3. Charles Mingus: Jazzical Moods, Vol. 1 (8/10)

Proto Mingus still works for me. Read the review of Jazzical Moods Volume 1.

4. Jacques Brel et ses chansons aka Grand Jacques (8?/10)

The original record is more of an EP, only EPs didn’t exist back then. Read the review of Jacques Brel’s debut “album.”

5. Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman: The Egyptian Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (7/10)

Read the review.

6. Ella Fitzgerald: Songs in a Mellow Mood (6/10)

This is more of the same as the Gershwin album. If you like the Gershwin album, you will like this. If you don’t like that album, you probably won’t like this.

7. Igor Stravinsky: Two Poems of Konstantin Balmont [1911] (6/10)

Stravinsky didn’t create this arrangement of his piano and voice piece until 40 years later, but the arrangement does feel of a piece with the stuff he was writing in the teens.

Very brief pieces with vibrant orchestration but as a stand-alone set it’s hard to care that much.


1. Ray Charles: “I’ve Got a Woman” (10/10)

This up-tempo R and B track – now most famous as part of “Gold Digger” combines R and B with a pace borrowed from gospel, and Charles’ vocal, to differentiate from rock and roll and help invent soul. Essential listening.

1. Elvis Presley: “That’s All Right” / “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (10/10)

I don’t know that I believe “That’s All Right” is the first ever rock and roll song. I think you could provide plenty of evidence it’s not. But it’s still immensely important, serving to popularize both Elvis and rock and roll and basically changing the world.

2. B.B. King: “You Upset Me Baby” (9/10)

This is an upbeat sort of “jump” blues type thing (I think it’s jump). There is lots of precise playing from King and this year feels like a bit of a banner year for establishing his signature style.

3. B.B. King: “Whole Lotta Love”(9/10)

This has a classic blues beginning much like “Please Love Me” and lots of strong playing from BB. Though this is not the song you think it is (that’s the Willie Dixon one), it’s a pretty great one. B.B. pronounces “height” like my father; he adds an “h” where there isn’t one.

4. B.B. King: “Every Day I Have the Blues”(9/10)

This features lots of fills from BB and feels like a signature track.

5. Billie Holiday: “I Thought About You” (8/10)

From the same session as “Willow Weep for Me”; she uses the full breadth of her supposedly limited range, and sounds great.

6. Billie Holiday: “Willow Weep for Me” (8/10)

A significantly Cooler jazz track. Not a standard I know well, but definitely a good stab at it, possibly definitive.

7. B.B. King: “When My Heart Beats Like a Hammer” (8/10)

This is a slow blues again featuring lots of playing from King, showing off his famous style. Good stuff.

8. B.B. King: “Sneakin’ Around” (7/10)

This is a slow blues-style number with that kind of swooning horn section famous in the 50s. It’s got vaguely doo wop vocals to balance his ballad-singing and it’s clearly an attempt at a crossover.

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