The good 'ol days of 'Your Hit Parade'
Once upon a time, young misses dressed in bobby socks, saddle shoes, pleated plaid skirts and Sloppy Joes, with their hair in pageboy-style, huddled around on Saturday nights with the radio dial turned to “Your Hit Parade.”
And what music that was. Music that curled one’s toes, made one purr. Music that made one yearn for a smooth dancer to lead you to the dance floor.
That was before television, and parents and other “oldsters” clustered around the radio to listen to “Amos ’n’ Andy” and “Fibber McGee and Molly.” But for us teenagers, the knob was turned to the “Hit Parade.”
I had finished high school when I became a “Hit Parade” enthusiast and was working in Canyon City at the Grant County Agent’s office, saving money to go to college. Most of my girlfriends also worked at jobs in county agencies. Public dances were an important part of our social life — dances all around the county and beyond: Long Creek, Spray, Fox, John Day, Canyon City, Dayville, Hardman. And on Saturday nights, we had radio knobs turned to the “Hit Parade” before heading out for dances.
That wonderful music had a beat that anyone could dance to. The songs told a story and had words that could be remembered. Songs we could sing together riding home later after a dance.
Over east of the mountains, we loved country music: “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” sung by Hank Williams; “Four Walls” by Jim Reeves; “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation” by Marty Robbins; Fred Rose’s rendition of “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain,” and Ernest Tubb’s “Walking the Floor Over You.”
We cared little that a fine new Capitol building was being constructed in Salem because the previous one had burned down, or that a mighty dam, the Bonneville, was being built on the Columbia to produce hydroelectric power. What we gals were interested in was Saturday night. All week, we theorized as to which song would be No. 1. We rooted for our favorites to be top choices, as we did for our school’s athletic teams.
“Your Hit Parade,” a 60-minute program sponsored by American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike Cigarette, began in April, 1935, on NBC and was on the radio until l955, and on television from 1950 until 1959. The first radio format consisted of some 15 songs performed by various vocalists. “Soon,” sung by Bing Crosby, was the No. 1 song on the first episode. Other singers included Lanny Ross, Kay Thomson, Buddy Clark. Frank Sinatra in 1943 joined “Your Hit Parade,” but while singing “Don’t Fence Me In,” interjected not only a few original words of his own, but opined that the song had too many words, then missed a cue. He was fired — only to be rehired after his popularity grew.
One young gal who loved the show was Rita Walker — now Rita Walker Anderson of McMinnville. Off she trudged to McMinnville High in saddle shoes, skirt and sweater in those days before girls were permitted to wear pants to school. She graduated from high school in 1957 and has lived in McMinnville about ever since. But back in “Hit Parade” days, she and her high school friends regularly listened to that program. Likewise, she never missed “I Love a Mystery.” With regard to “Hit Parade” performers, she liked Pat Boone, but Elvis Presley was “the one.”
Said Rita, “My girlfriends and I were really hung up on Elvis.” When he rendered “Lovin’ You,” or “Blue Suede Shoes,” or “Love Me Tender,” they well-nigh swooned.
In Tule Lake, Calif., another teenager, Joyce (Joyce Cushman, now of McMinnville), also was hooked on the “Hit Parade.” Her family homesteaded in Tule Lake in 1927, and at an early age, Joyce learned to dance to that music — including swing. Her teacher was her brother’s girlfriend, Mary. Mary, a good dancer who could lead, was a fine instructor for beginning girl dancers.
Said Joyce, “I loved the ‘Hit Parade.’ After I’d hear those songs, I’d try to play them by ear on the piano. When I couldn’t, I’d run out and buy the sheet music.” A favorite number was Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” The big band music of Glenn Miller, Les Brown and the Dorsey Brothers was the ultimate for Joyce, who also played guitar and clarinet. She and her girlfriend often played the then popular, “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue,” as a duet.
Although Joyce regularly had to make trips to Portland, these trips were not permitted to interfere with listening to the “Hit Parade.” She and her girlfriends each hoped her favorite would be the top hit. And Joyce often heard those songs at dances other than at Tule High. She was permitted to go to public dances when chaperoned by big brother. This attendance was sanctioned by big brother only if 14-year-old Joyce surreptitiously drove, with brother and Mary in the back seat.
Fans across America on Saturday nights were glued to the radio for the “Hit Parade.” Another of those listeners, then an Illinois teenager and now a McMinnvillan, will never forget such numbers as “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” or “String of Pearls” or “Always,” — and especially the music of Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.
Along with the songs, we remembered those tobacco auctioneers auctioning off the “fine tobacco” used in Lucky Strike Cigarettes. Perhaps, too, you recall the names of other vocalists who appeared on the show, such as “Wee” Bonnie Baker, Dorothy Collins, Dick Haymes, Gisele MacKenzie, Dinah Shore, Ginny Simms.
Over in Canyon City, I likewise listened, and many of those songs have stayed with me all these years — songs that bring tears to my eyes and induce me to get up and dance by myself now when I hear them.
But how glad I am that back then, I turned that radio dial to the “Hit Parade.” And today, when some of those wonderful songs are replayed, my toes again curl — and I begin to purr.
Elaine Rohse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.