The Golden Age of American Popular Music

Although Ace's extensive Golden Age series is the best such series of compilations ever undertaken for the golden age of rock & roll (covering approximately the mid-'50s to just before the Beatles had their first U.S. hit), this is weaker and more ill-defined than any previous volume. According to the blurb on the back cover, these 28 tracks are "mainstream American popular music that transcended rock'n'roll and the British Invasion," though the verb "transcended" seems ill-fitting here. More accurately, these are chart pop hits -- some big, some only reaching the bottom half of the Top 100 -- from 1956-1964 that were only tenuously related to early rock & roll, and were so quaint in style that they'd be totally washed out to sea by the British Invasion. These aren't non-rock-related "pop" hits, however, in the sense that Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin's were; by and large, they have some links to rock & roll and the teen audience, if only faint ones. So you get hits by also-ran teen idols (Tony Orlando's "Bless You," Paul Petersen's "My Dad"); forgotten hits by celebrities more known for acting than singing (Petersen, Anthony Perkins); pop balladeers who nonetheless crossed over to teen-oriented radio (Johnny Mathis, with "It's Not for Me to Say"); and harmony groups and solo singers with the mildest of R&B doo wop influences. Truth be told, it's pretty wimpy stuff for the most part; when the Tempos' "See You in September" and Gene McDaniels' "Tower of Strength" stand out as by far the most memorable, forceful tunes, you know you're not exactly dealing with hard-hitting rock & roll, even of the poppiest sort. To its credit, this compilation does include numerous chart hits that aren't commonplace on CD anthologies (or oldies radio), Billy Grammer's "Gotta Travel On" and the Rover Boys' "Graduation Day" (which charted one place higher than the Four Freshmen's much more famous version) being among the most well-known such items. The annotation, as is customary for Ace, is thorough and informed as well. In general, though, it (perhaps unintentionally) summarizes the limpest, most forgettable pop to hit the radio during the golden age of rock & roll, and epitomizes the worst of the kind of music that drove many young adults away from rock & roll until the British Invasion, folk-rock, and soul lured them back in. ~ Richie Unterberger

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