Dickie Goodman – Martian Melody (Luniverse)
Jim Lowe – Take Us To Your President (Dot)
Rockers – Rocket Ship (Mark)
Buchanan & Goodman – Flying Saucer the 2nd (Luniverse)
The Saucerman – Saucer Serenade (Luniverse)
Buchanan & Goodman – The Flying Saucer Goes West (Luniverse)
The Busters – Astronaut (Arlen)
Billy Lee Riley – Flying Saucers Rock and Roll (Sun)
I hope the new week finds you well, and in the mood for something new and different.
The mix I bring you today, Iron Leg Digital Trip #15, is something of a departure.
Some years back, thanks to the good graces of my father-in-law I came into ownership of a collection (mountain is a more suitable description) of 45s numbering in the thousands. I spent the better part of a summer combing through the many boxes, initially pulling out the big ticket items (some for my crates, some for the sale/trade box), and then on to exploring everything else. Though it would be fair to say that the vast majority of the collection was either incredibly common and/or incredibly lame, there was a bunch of great stuff, much of it new to me.
The cool thing – aside from a number of great soul and funk 45s – there was a lot of British Invasion stuff, and a fair amount of rockabilly/old school rock’n’roll discs.
As I was going through the latter category I started to notice – and put aside – a small pile of 45s that all centered around the late 50s/early 60s flying saucer/space craze.
Since that day I’ve always wanted to take that little snapshot of an era and make a mix out of it.
And so I did…
Anyone that ever stayed up late for a monster horror chiller theater type scare show on a Saturday night already knows that the 50s and early 60s saw the world (especially middle America) obsessed with flying saucers and all things outer space. Since the term ‘flying saucer’ was coined in 1947, the idea that we might be visited by beings from outer space (or more specifically in a motif set long before by folks like HG Wells, Mars), in combination with the space race aspect of cold war hysteria pop culture filled up with any number of recurring motifs/archetypes.
Martians, little green men, super intelligent robots, flyings saucers, rocket ships, all turned up in movies and television, not to mention food, drink, toys and most importantly science fiction literature (which fed the movies and TV) to the point of ubiquity.
A small – but significant – part of this world was evidenced in pop music.
This mix opens with a cut by Johnny Bond. The tune ‘X-15’ – dedicated to the supersonic experiment rocket of the same name which first took to the air in 1959. Bond was a longtime western swing/cowboy singer (he worked with Gene Autry) who recorded the first popular version of the classic ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’. He recorded ‘X-15 in 1960 and it has a great sound on the country end of the rockabilly spectrum.
Dickie Goodman was one half of the novelty hitmaking duo Buchanan and Goodman. They hit the charts a number of times in the 50s and 60’s, their specialty being what became known as “break-in” records, in which snippets of actual pop records were dropped into an ongoing comedic theme. ‘Martian Melody’ was a short instrumental that appeared on the flipside of 1961s ‘Touchables’, which if you haven’t already figured it out was a parody of ‘The Untouchables’ . Though Buchanan and Goodman hit the charts a number of times as a duo, most successfully in 1956 with ‘The Flying Saucer Pts 1&2’, Goodman had a much larger number of hits under his own name over a dozen times between 1961 and 1977. As was the case with his later soul and funk based break-ins, which featured interesting instrumentals on their b-sides, ‘Martian Melody’ – which was recorded twice ?!? – is worth a listen, if only for the chipmunks-esque opening intro, and the oddly pitched music which has the potential to be vaguely nauseating for those with motion sickness.
The next cut is by a guy that I knew for years as a middle-of-the-road, easy listening DJ in New York City, having no idea that he’d had a recording career in the mid-50’s (his version of ‘Green Door’ also recorded by Esquerita and later Wynder K Frog was a hit in 1956). Jim Lowe’s ‘Take Us To Your President’ – from 1958 – is a twist on the ‘take us to your leader’ meme, with the invaders being moon men who decide to fall by to get some of that good earth grub (including potatoes, meat, tomatoes, salmon, tuna), since they apparently subsist on a diet of green cheese. The music here is pretty bland, but you get plenty of wild theremin effects.
The Rockers (who also recorded as Dusty Boyd and the Rockers) were an Upstate New York group who recorded the low-fi ‘Rocket Ship’ in 1958. The vibe here is pure, hiccupping rockabilly which sounds like it was actually recorded in outer space.
The next cut is the follow-up to Buchanan and Goodman’s ‘Flying Saucer’, imaginatively titled ‘Flying Saucer the 2nd’. Released in 1957, the record included break-ins from the Everly Brothers, Diamonds and Marty Robbins among others, as well as a couple of calypso records, for a small taste of yet another fad.
The next two tunes are actually both sides of the same single. The instrumental ‘Saucer Serenade’ is a solid, R&B sax number. I would love to find out where Buchanan and Goodman got these instrumental tracks – especially Goodman, who put a couple of tasty funk instrumentals on his later singles. Were these leftover tracks laying around a studio somewhere, instrumentals that had been released under other names and were essentially being re-used, or were they in fact original recordings for these 45s?
The a-side of the record was 1958s ‘The Flying Saucer Goes West’. It is – at least in my opinion – the best of their ‘flying saucer’ sides (which reached into the mid-60s), which probably has a lot to do with the music they drop into the mix, which included snippets of tunes by Huey Piano Smith & the Clowns, the Champs, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Though I haven’t been able to track down any info on the Busters, ‘Astronaut’ which was released in 1963 came out on the Philadelphia-based Arlen label. It’s a great, honking, reverbed sax instro that wouldn’t be out of place as background music for a buxom stripped swinging her tassels over a bar somewhere.
The last track is probably the all-time classic of the rockabilly/flying saucer subgenre, 1957s ‘Flying Saucers Rock and Roll’ by Billy Lee Riley. It helps that Riley’s backup band was billed as the Little Green Men. Riley was one of the greats of Sun rockabilly, recording the all-time classic ‘Red Hot’, later covered by Robert Gordon. ‘Flying Saucers Rock and Roll’ has a wailing vocal by Riley, reverbed guitar and pounding Jerry Lee-style piano. Riley went on in the 60s to a more R&B sound.
I hope you dig this little snapshot of a pop culture back alley. I have some cool mixes coming up, including a new garage punk mix and some more rockabilly.
I’ll see you later in the week.