Saturday, November 17, 2007

How the 1950s Saw Themselves

In 1958, RCA Camden released "Hits of the '50s", just 1/5 short of the actual decade's end. Not that they were missing much -- the hits for the rest of the decade echoed what's on this record: light popular music, with just a touch of rock-and-roll. This is a 'cover' album in the traditional sense, new versions of popular music performed by B-list musicians rather than the one who popularized the song. The Honeydreamers, Connie Haines, Dave Martin and the Strollers, they had names outside of this album, and are a step above a studio band. The songs are actually pretty good: Peter Ricardo's version of the Banana Boat Song takes from the Tarrier's version, and is a bouncy alternative to the rather somber Bellafonte version.

However, the cover is excellent:

That space helmet kicks ass -- remember, in 1958, sending a person into space was still a sci-fi fantasy. Once we started popping people out of our atmosphere, space helmets stopped looking like this one, opting for a more stark, aviation style.

The antenna on top is a classy Googie, Jetsons thing -- with radio and television dominating the world, everything in The Future would need an antenna, even your head (they were actually pretty close). Back in the fifties, though, putting airtight plastic over a kid's head was preparation for their spacefaring futures -- their flying cars were only a few years away. Until then, though, Dad dons his porkpie hat, mom wears her opera gloves, everyone hops into the Volkswagen to drive it to the farthest star. Make sure the canvas roof is closed, though. That cloth sunroof, incidentally, warranted a credit on the back of the cover: Volkswagen Sunroof supplied by Fifth Avenue Motors, New York City. The photographer's name, the models' names? Nowhere to be found.

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