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Handclapping within songs (on the Top 40....in the Fabulous '50s)

Record collector and researcher Bill Bronk dives deep into the art of handclapping as an instrument, and compiles a list of the great handclapping hits on the Top 40 in the 1950s.

By Bill Bronk

"Hound Dog”  B-Side. 1956, RCA Victor 47-6604. 

"Hound Dog”  B-Side. 1956, RCA Victor 47-6604. 

Awhile back, while listening to Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, do what he does best and bodaciously rip his way through “Hound Dog” (1956, No. 1 Pop, RCA Victor 47-6604), like a slap upside my head, it hit me that handclapping was front and center throughout the Elvis classic — driving the whole song and, to my mind, critically enhancing the listener’s experience. Who knows if the song would have been as successful if there was no handclapping — but I can’t imagine the song without it. Think about that. What would “Hound Dog” sound like without those hand claps?

Since Elvis’ version of “Hound Dog” benefitted greatly from handclapping... I wondered: where did Elvis or the brass at RCA get the idea for that? What was their thought process? Was it just a stroke of genius or did they borrow the idea from elsewhere?. Perhaps Big Mama Thornton’s classic recording of a few years earlier (1953, No. 1 R&B, Peacock Records 1612, 78-2258, shown below) could tell me? Aha! Sure enough, handclapping was evident throughout, albeit at a much more relaxed rhythm pattern than Elvis’ bounding-with-energy cover.

thornton

When you think of percussion instruments, you don’t usually think about hands as making music, you think about drums, bells, tambourines, et al, all of which not only help to set a song’s rhythm, but enhance the song, making it more exciting and interesting....colorful, if you will. As we’ve seen with “Hound Dog”, the hands can do just that.

That got me thinking about other hit songs from the '50s era (1950-1959) that use handclapping as another musical instrument to boost a song’s likability and success on the charts (ahem), a handy percussion instrument right at their fingertips. Note that I said “another musical instrument”...because after searching online for anything and everything I could find on the subject, the use of handclapping, surprisingly, is not a well-covered subject...and those who do speak up in those sparse discussions as an interested party either deny that the hands are a percussion instrument or that they unequivocally are. I’ll give a hand up to the latter.

Putting the hands together as a means of making music had to start somewhere. And it doesn’t make much historical sense that it was during the growth of what we know as popular music in the 19th or 20th centuries. With my tongue firmly in cheek, perhaps some music historian might trace it back to the dawn of civilization...when a budding cave dwelling musician was inspired to show his clan folk that clapping his hands in rhythm could make for some really awesome sounds?

Seriously though, handclapping works. In the recording studio, a decision is made to either use it or not. If it is used, why? I would suspect that, even with a drummer doing his best, there’s a feeling that something is missing, something key that’s needed to help produce a hit record. One of the best reasons I’ve seen is one from an online discussion back in 2008 from a person named Stumpy who said handclapping...”helps bring the listener to the song.” In addition to the reasons noted earlier, it does that by being unique, as another way to set your song apart from others. There’s a warmth to handclapping, it’s human...with happy, upbeat rhythms. When you look at the list compiled below, there’s hardly a sad song in the bunch.

As mentioned, this article is focused on the charted songs from the '50s era, not only because I’ve lived through that time and know and love the music, but because, as noted below, there are several competing websites devoted primarily to proclaiming which are the “best,” or the “greatest” examples of hand-clapping in popular songs from the '60s onward to the present day. The lists are good...and if you’re a fan of songs from those eras, check them out. Handclapping has its plusses if used judiciously and minuses if not. On one site listed below, Dalton Vogler, has an interesting take on the overuse of handclapping in current music as “being exhausting”.

A couple of the below listed '60s and beyond websites might mention Elvis’ “Hound Dog” or Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and go no further...overlooking a treasure trove of great Top 40 Rock, Pop, R&B and Country songs from the Fabulous Fifties. My goal was to find as many '50s songs as I could that became hits due to the addition of handclapping, during a period where my research found that handclapping became an increasingly popular tool...helping to add a little extra zip to a record, boosting a song to another level and voila...resulting in a hit record!

I had fun putting this piece together, enjoying listening to all the songs included, as well as songs with hand-clapping that were outside the Top 40. There was no go-to source to locate hand-clapping songs from the 50s...so I went to my own music collection, looking at Top 40 song lists in publications such as Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits and Joseph Murrells Book of Golden Discs (to select for listening, songs which I expected might have used handclapping), Wikipedia, YouTube and various online charts showing hit Rock, Pop, R&B and Country songs. It took awhile! Not a scientific survey, but a good, solid, hands-on look at Top 40 hits in the '50s where handclapping was integral to a song’s success. I found a little over 100 songs. Did I miss any?

For each year of the '50s, the songs are listed starting with No. 1, descending to No. 40. In looking at the lists, you’ll find many No. 1 hits from top performers of the day, including Elvis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ricky Nelson, Andy Williams, Jimmy Rodgers, Don Gibson, The Coasters, Red Foley, Billy Ward and the Dominoes, Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Ruth Brown and Bill Doggett, all heavyweights in their respective genres. Many more handclapping song classics will be found in the Top 10. And everywhere in the yearly charts, you’ll find other popular performers (and a few One-Hit-Wonders) of that time, such as Bill Haley and the Comets, Connie Francis, Bobby Darin, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Ray Charles, Perry Como, the Andrew Sisters...and such vocal and instrumental groups as The Weavers, Johnny Otis, the Cadillacs, the Diamonds, the Fontane Sisters, the Del-Vikings, the Chordettes, the Champs, Johnny and the Hurricanes, Duane Eddy and the Rebels and many more.

While the handclapping I’ve heard in these songs is mostly well thought out, practiced and faultless, If, as I’ve read, there’s no such thing as a professional hand-clapper, who’s doing the handclapping ...where the rhythm schemes are syncopated and sometimes fairly complicated, not just on the 2nd or 4th beat which is common? Whoever they are, let’s give a big hand....to all the handclappers who do such a great job giving recordings that extra oomph, the satisfying sizzle that helps to sell the steak.

  

If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake, Eileen Barton and The New Yorkers, Mercury 78-5392

If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake, Eileen Barton and The New Yorkers, Mercury 78-5392

1950:

If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake, #1 Pop, Eileen Barton and The New Yorkers, Mercury 78-5392; Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy, #1 on both the Pop and Country charts, Red Foley, Decca 78-46205; Well Oh Well, #2 R&B, Tiny Bradshaw, King Records 78 1357; Tzena, Tzena, Tzena, #2 Pop, the Weavers, Decca 9-27077; The Roving Kind, #4 Pop, Guy Mitchell w/the Mitch Miller Orchestra, Columbia 78-39067; A Bushel and a Peck, #22 Pop, the Andrews Sisters with Vic Schoen and his Orchestra: Decca 78-27252.

1951:

Sixty Minute Man, #1 R&B and #17 Pop, Billy Ward and the Dominoes, Federal 12022; My Truly Truly Fair, # 2 Pop, Guy Mitchell, Columbia 78 4-39415; All Nite Long, #6 R&B, Johnny Otis Orchestra, Savoy 78-788; Go Go Go, R&B #10, the Treniers, Okeh Records 4-6804.

1952:

Have Mercy Baby, #1 R&B, the Dominoes, Federal F1057; Sugarbush, #7 Pop, Doris Day and Frankie Laine, Columbia 4-39693.

1953:

Honey Hush, #1 R&B, Joe Turner, Atlantic 2044; Hound Dog, #1 R&B, Big Mama Thornton w/Kansas City Bill and his Orchestra, Peacock Records 78-2258; Marie, #2 R&B and #13 Pop, the Four Tunes, Jubilee 5128; Bearcat, #3 R&B, Rufus Thomas, Sun Records 78-181 (Answer song to Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog); Tennessee Wig Walk, #6 Country, Bonnie Lou, King Records 1237.

1954:

Mambo Baby, #1 R&B, Ruth Brown, Atlantic 1310; Shake, Rattle and Roll, #7 Pop, Bill Haley and his Comets, Decca 9-29204; Crazy ‘Bout Ya Baby, #8 Pop, the Crew Cuts, Mercury 70341; Mambo Italiano, #10 Pop, Rosemary Clooney, Columbia 4-40361.

1955:

My Babe: Little Walter and His Jukes, #1 R&B, Checker 811; Speedoo, #3 R&B and #17 Pop, the Cadillacs with the Jesse Powell Orchestra, Josie 785; Daddy-O, #11 Pop, the Fontane Sisters, Dot 15428; At My Front Door, #12 Pop, the El Dorados, Vee-Jay 78-147 (Instrumental break); Hey Mr. Banjo, #12 Pop, the Sunnysiders, Kapp 113; Rock Love, #13 Pop, the Fontane Sisters, Dot 15333; Daddy-O, #14 Pop (Rockabilly), Bonnie Lou, King 4835; Alabama Jubilee, #14 Pop, Ferko String Band, Media 1010; Razzle Dazzle, #15 Pop, Bill Haley and His Comets, Decca 29552; My Boy Flat Top, #16 Pop, Dorothy Collins, Coral 9-61510; Sixteen Tons, #17 Pop, Johnny Desmond, Coral 9-61529; Mambo Rock, #18 Pop, Bill Haley and His Comets, Decca 9 29418; Hand Clappin’, Red Prysock (frantic sax instrumental) Mercury 70698: (“biggest hit” but peak position on Billboard chart not determined).

1956:

Hound Dog: Elvis Presley, #1 Pop, RCA Victor 47-6604, Rip It Up, #1 R&B and #17 Pop, Little Richard, Specialty Records XSP 579; Honky Tonk, #1 R&B and #2 Pop, Bill Doggett, King Records 4950; Come Go With Me, #2 R&B and #4 Pop, the Del-Vikings, Dot 15538; The Happy Whistler, #6 Pop, Don Robertson, Capitol 3391; Slow Walk, #17 Pop, Sil Austin, Mercury, 70963; Bo Weevil, #17 Pop, Teresa Brewer, Coral 61590; Rip It Up: #30 Pop, Bill Haley and his Comets, Decca 9-30028; Rock Right, #36 Pop, Georgia Gibbs, Mercury 70811.

1957:

I’m Walking: #1 R&B and #4 Pop, Fats Domino, Imperial 5428; Butterfly, #1 Pop, Andy Williams, Cadence 1308; Butterfly, #1 Pop, Charlie Gracie, Cameo 105; Honeycomb, #1 Pop and # 7 Country, Jimmie Rodgers (biggest hit), Roulette Records R4015; Little Bitty Pretty One, #2 R&B and #6 Pop, Thurston Harris and the Sharps, Aladdin Records 3398; Daddy Cool, #3 Pop, the Rays, Cameo 117; Mean Woman Blues, #4 EP chart, Elvis Presley, RCA Victor EPA 2-1515; Buzz Buzz Buzz, #5 R&B & # 11 Pop, the Hollywood Flames, Ebb 119; Whispering Bells, #5 R&B and #9 Pop, the Del-Vikings, Dot 15592; Susie Q, #7 R&B and #27 Pop, Dale Hawkins, Checker 863, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine, #7 Pop, Jimmie Rodgers, (Weavers #19 in 1951, but no hand clapping); I Like Your Kind of Love, #8 Pop, Andy Williams, Cadence 1323; Cool Shake, #9 R&B and #12 Pop, the Del-Vikings, Mercury 71132; Lotta Lovin’, #13 Pop, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Capitol 3763; Rockin’ in the Congo, #13 Country, Hank Thompson, Capitol F3623; Zip Zip, #16 Pop, the Diamonds, Mercury 71165 (Instrumental break); Dance to the Bop, #23 Pop, Gene Vincent, Capitol F3839; In the Middle of an Island, #23 Pop, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Capitol 3762; After School, #32, Randy Starr, Dale 100; Swanee River Rock, #34 Pop, Ray Charles, Atlantic 1154.

1958:

Blue Blue Day, #1 Country and #20 Pop, Don Gibson, RCA Victor7010; At the Hop, #1 Pop, Danny and the Juniors, ABC-Paramount 9871; Get A Job, #1 on both the R&B & Pop charts, the Silhouettes, Ember Records E 1049; Tequila, #1 Pop and #1 R&B, the Champs, Challenge Records 1016; He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, #1 Pop, Laurie London, Capitol 3891; Rockin’ Robin, Bobby Day, #1 R&B & #2 Pop, Class 229; Wear My Ring Around Your Neck, #2 Pop, Elvis Presley, RCA Victor 7240, Stood Up, #2 Pop, Ricky Nelson, Imperial, X 5483; Lollipop,#2 Pop, the Chordettes, Cadence 1345; Whole Lotta Loving, #2 R&B and #6 Pop, Fats Domino, Imperial 5553; Short Shorts, #2 R&B and #3 Pop, the Royal Teens, ABC-Paramount 9882; Wonderful Time Up There, #4 Pop, Pat Boone, Dot Records 15690; The Walk, #5 R&B and #7 Pop, Jimmy McCracklin, Checker 885; Willie and the Handjive, #5 R&B and #9 Pop, Johnny Otis, Capitol 3966; Kewpie Doll, #6 Pop, Perry Como, RCA Victor 47-7202; Rebel Rouser, #6Pop, Duane Eddy and The Rebels, Jamie 1104; Cannon Ball, #6 Pop, Duane Eddy and his “Twangy” guitar w/The Rebels, Jamie 45-1111; Summertime Blues, Eddie Cochran, #8 Pop, Liberty 55144; I Got A Feelin’, #10 Pop, Ricky Nelson, Imperial 5545; Manhattan Spiritual, #10 Pop, Reg Owen Orchestra, Palette 5005; Oh, Oh I’m Falling In Love Again, #13 Pop, Jimmie Rodgers, Roulette R-4045; Stupid Cupid, #14 Pop, Connie Francis, MGM 12683; Mexican Hat Rock, #16 Pop, the Applejacks, Cameo 149; Tequila, #20 Pop, Eddie Platt, ABC-Paramount 9899; Don’t Go Home, #22 Pop, the Playmates, Roulette 4012; Cerveza, #23 Pop, Boots Brown and his Blockbusters, RCA 7269; Early in the Morning, #24 Pop, Bobby Darin, ATCO 612; Ramrod, #27 Pop, Duane Eddy and the Rebels, Jamie 1109; El Rancho Rock, #30 Pop, the Champs, Challenge 59007; Fallin’, #30 Pop, Connie Francis, MGM 2713; The Blob, #33 Pop, the Five Blobs, Columbia 41250; C’Mon Everybody, #35 Pop, Eddie Cochran, Liberty 55166; High Sign, #37 Pop, the Diamonds, Mercury 71291; She’s Neat, #38, Dale Wright with the Rock-Its, Fraternity 792; Got A Match, #39 Pop, the Daddy-O’s, Cabot 122.

1959:

Charlie Brown: #1 R&B and #2 Pop, the Coasters, ATCO 6132; Waterloo, #1Country and #4 Pop, Stonewall Jackson, Columbia 4-41393; Pink Shoe Laces, #3 Pop, Dodie Stevens, Crystalette #724; Tallahassie Lassie, #6 Pop and #13 R&B, Freddie Cannon, Swan Records SR-4041; I’m Ready, #7 R&B and #16 Pop, Fats Domino, Imperial 5585; Forty Miles of Bad Road, #9 Pop, Duane Eddy and the Rebels, Jamie 1126; Just A Little Too Much, #9 Pop, Ricky Nelson, Imperial  5595; Kissin’ Time, #11, Bobby Rydell, Cameo 167; Lucky Ladybug, #14 Pop, Billy & Lillie, Swan 54020; I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday, #17 Pop, Fats Domino, Imperial 5606; Crossfire, #23 Pop, Johnny and the Hurricanes, Warwick M502; Torquay, #39 Pop, the Fireballs, Top Rank 2008.

  

Handclapping Song Websites:

Hand clapping in songs past and present | Steve Hoffman Music Forums

Spotify – Hand Clap Songs

Songs that feature handclaps prominently – SongPop. We Love Music! (zendesk.com)

Give Yourself a Hand: the 20 Greatest Hand Clapping Songs of All Time | by Lon Shapiro | THE WORD IS NOT ENOUGH | Medium

Top 10: Songs with clapping in them – I'm All Outta Bubblegum (imallouttabubblegum.com)

The 10 Best Rock Songs Featuring Clapping (chaospin.com)

10 Songs With Tasteful Handclaps - Treble (treblezine.com)

Songfacts - Songs featuring hand claps

Top 10 Hand Clap Songs (ultimateclassicrock.com)

List of 40+ Songs With Clap in the Title (ranker.com)

Is Pop Music Addicted to Hand Clapping? | by Dalton Vogler | Cuepoint | Medium