1-CD-Album deluxe with 72-page booklet, 28 tracks; playing time: 75:06 minutes.
One event towered over 1953, and it happened between midnight and dawn on January 1. Somewhere in West Virginia Hank Williams died in the back seat of his Cadillac. As often happens, there was an immediate uptick in demand for his records, and MGM cut back its mid-January release schedule from twelve to six records to meet the orders. Its plant in Bloomfield, New Jersey worked around the clock cranking out Hank. Acuff-Rose's two Hank Williams song folios usually sold around 700 copies a month, but both sold 5500 copies in the three weeks after his death. Dee-jays block-programmed his music in segments as long as two hours. The tribute records flooded out (we have a selection of them on 'Songwriter To Legend', BCD 16286) and, more than fifty-five years later, the tributes still appear. Arguably, no one ever had a greater impact on country music.
In sales terms, Hank Williams wasn't the best-selling country artist of his day. Eddy Arnold and Red Foley way outsold him, but younger artists were drawn to the enigma of Hank Williams in a way that they were never drawn to Arnold or Foley. That said, two of 1953's breakthrough artists, Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins, owed far more to Arnold than Williams. For Hank Williams, death was the best career move he ever made. In terms of forging a legend, no one would ever do better. Within a few years, most of his contemporaries had to figure out how to come to terms with rock 'n' roll and then the Nashville Sound. Hank was painfully ill-equipped to deal with either, and death spared him the indignity of trying. Ironically, three artists who came to the fore after his death, Hank Locklin, Jim Reeves and Webb Pierce, were older than him. His rise and fall had been that meteoric.
Many of the big country hits of 1953 were up-tempo novelties. In fact, RCA's top-selling disc in all categories for a couple of weeks was Homer & Jethro's How Much Is That Hound Dog In The Window, but we've omitted it together with Eddy Arnold's biggest hit of the year, the crassly self-referential Eddy's Song (the lyrics were his song titles strung together). We've also omitted Goldie Hill's answer song to Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes and Hank Thompson's nursery-rhyme-like Rub A Dub Dub, both of which topped the charts. In their place, we have grittier, if poorer selling, songs like Dim Lights, Thick Smoke And Loud, Loud Music and Let Me Go, Devil.
The next volume in this series, covering 1954, will mark the debut of Elvis Presley, and while Elvis was strikingly original, there was already something stirring in country music. In 1953, Curtis Gordon released Rompin' And Stompin' (available on a Bear Family CD devoted to Gordon's work), Red Foley covered Faye Adams' R&B hit Shake A Hand (available on 'Sugarfoot Rag' in Bear Family's 'Gonna Shake This Shack' series), and both Lucky Joe Almond and Little Jimmy Dickens covered Piano Red's Rockin' With Red (the latter also available on Bear Family). In that vein, we've included Merrill Moore's Red Light and Tommy Duncan's cover version of Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog.
In the broader industry, 1953 marked the fifth anniversary of the introduction of the LP, and that year the dollar sales of LPs to home consumers outstripped the dollar sales of singles and EPs (ten-inch LPs still outsold twelve-inch LPs, but by 1955 the sales would be roughly 50/50). Of course, jukebox operators only bought singles and the ops still accounted for a large slice of the business, but the trend toward long-playing records was gathering steam. Acknowledging that, Columbia Records started its Epic subsidiary primarily as an LP label. Country music, though, was still a singles-driven market, and these are some of the best country singles of 1953.