Every art form had to deal with the arrival of the atomic age in one manner or another. Some artists were reserved and intellectual in their approach, others less so. The world of popular music, for one, got an especially crazy kick out of the Bomb. Country, blues, jazz, gospel, rock and roll, rockabilly, Calypso, novelty and even polka musicians embraced atomic energy with wild-eyed, and some might argue, inappropriate enthusiasm. These musicians churned out a variety of truly memorable tunes featuring some of the most bizarre lyrics of the 20th century. If it weren't for Dr. Oppenheimer's creation, for example, would we have ever heard lines like "Nuclear baby, don't fission out on me!" or "Radioactive mama, we'll reach critical mass tonight!"?
There are various subgenres (see below) that comprise the master genre we like to call the Atomic Platter, but mainly these compositions celebrate, lament or lampoon the Bomb and the Cold War that sprang from the mushroom clouds over Japan.
CONELRAD is primarily interested in presenting the "first generation" of songs that were written during this period - works that are less familiar to the public than the songs produced during the folk revival/folk-rock period of the sixties and after. The earlier songs are less self-conscious, more naive (in some cases to the point of downright wackiness) and therefore more intriguing. Needless to say, another reason why many of these songs were selected is—put simply—they swing! Pondering the cultural climate that encouraged songs like 1957's profoundly strange yet catchy Atom Bomb Baby is a lot more rewarding than, say, examining the obvious metaphors from a pre-electric Dylan protest song like "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." And Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction is a memorable "important" song, but isn’t the lesser known answer song by The Spokesmen, Dawn of Correction, a lot more interesting?
CONELRAD is pleased to present a searchable database that contains details on all of the Platters that we have been able to collect over the years. Initially, this database will be populated primarily with the tracks from our Bear Family Records co-production, ATOMIC PLATTERS: COLD WAR MUSIC FROM THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOMELAND SECURITY.
But, over time, there will be many additions because our collecting experience indicates that this may very well be an inexhaustible genre. And, as always, we welcome reader suggestions; for like the U.S. Constitution and the Rolling Stone Record Guide, the Atomic Platters database lives to be amended, challenged and debated.
THE ALCHEMY OF THE ATOMIC PLATTER: SUBGENRES
An overtly atomic song will usually have the word itself in the title or in the lyrics. This subgenre also includes the Hydrogen Bomb songs. Examples include The Slim Gaillard Quarette's Atomic Cocktail and Al Rex's Hydrogen Bomb.
This subgenre concerns itself with topics that are as broad as the Cold War itself or songs that don’t quite fit in any other category. Examples include Toni Fisher's "West of the Wall" and Floyd Tillman's This Cold War with You.
The UFO phenomenon is a peculiar by-product of the Cold War and it is an obsession that remains with us to this day. Indeed, Roswell, New Mexico, the Bethlehem of the alien crash cover-up "movement" is a minor tourist attraction. The Flying Saucer subgenre is one of the strangest in the pantheon of Cold War music. Examples include The Buchanan Brothers' "When You See Those Flying Saucers" and Billy Riley’s "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll."
The Korean War was, of course, one of several "hot" sideshows of the Cold War. The songs inspired by this conflict are not all "atomic," but tunes like Eddie Hill's Manchurian Candidate-like saga I Changed My Mind serve to justify a separate category.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS (PSAs)
Hundreds of 30-to-60 second "atomic safety" PSAs were produced and aired during the Cold War (thousands if you count the Emergency Broadcast System test announcements). These audio postcards from another era are fascinating reminders of how seriously the subject of survival was taken. This subgenre is also notable for the number of celebrities who pitched in for the cause of survival. Examples include the intentionally humorous Psychiatrist (Shelter Signs) and the unintentionally hilarious Excellent Chances with announcer Groucho Marx. Sometimes, as in the case of the long running civil defense radio program, STARS FOR DEFENSE, such PSAs were folded into the content of a show—not unlike the once common practice of broadcasters doing on-set commercials for various products.
The vitriol and spectacle of the McCarthy years (not to mention McCarthyism's lingering aftermath) spawned quite a few memorable songs including Get that Communist, Joe and To Russia with Care.
The Sputnik 1 launch of October 4, 1957 ignited a space race that, in addition to landing a man on the moon, gave the world a plethora of songs about satellites, rockets and mutniks. Examples include Carl Mann's Satellite no. 2 and Ray Anderson and the Homefolks' Sputniks and Mutniks.
Uranium mining was touted in the media of the day as some kind of modern gold rush. In the 1950s, the U.S. government encouraged private citizens to prospect for uranium that was needed for nuclear testing and nuclear weapons production. The uranium "boom" was enough of a fad to inspire a few tunes (Elton Britt's Uranium Fever, Warren Smith's Uranium Rock, and The Commodore's Uranium), a couple of movies (URANIUM BOOM, DIG THAT URANIUM) and a memorable episode of THE LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR.
The Vietnam War, another "hot" sideshow in the grand circus of the Cold War, provoked a wide range of songs reflecting a mainly anti-war ideology. The songs included in the Atomic Platters database are not the "usual suspects." The songs that we have chosen to feature are ones that are sympathetic to the highly unpopular war. Examples include Marty Robbins's Ain't I Right and Tommy James' The Commies are Coming.
Cold War themed spoken word albums are the windier cousin to the civil defense oriented PSAs that proliferated during the era (see Public Service Announcements). While there were several spoken LPs devoted exclusively to atomic preparedness (If the Bomb Falls, The Complacent Americans, Survive!), most were anti-Communist tirades preserved on wax (Communist Cancer, The Marxist Minstrels, Inside a Communist Cell).