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Atomic Platters

Entry updated 9 April 2015. Tagged: Music, Theme.

The name – coined by Bill Geerhart at the Conelrad website [see links below] – for a short-lived sub-genre of 1940s and 1950s pop music concerned with an atomic World War Three and its aftermath (see Holocaust). Many, though not all, of the artists and songs that might be so classified fell into later obscurity, but this was in its day a fairly lively aural manifestation of the fascinations of Golden Age science fiction. The earliest Atomic Platter is probably "Atomic Cocktail" (1945) by jazz musician Bulee "Slim" Gaillard (1916-1991), recorded only months after the attack on Hiroshima. A number of similar releases troped the bomb in Religious apocalyptic terms, or echoed in various ways the Buchanan Brothers' pious 1947 insistence that "There's A Power Greater Than Atomic". It was also the Buchanan Brothers (the group comprised Dennis "Terry Cashman" Minogue, Eugene Pistilli and Thomas Picardo Jr) who first brought UFOs into the mix, with "(You Got To Pray To The Lord) When You See Those Flying Saucers" (1947), which claims that alien spaceships "more than atom bombs" are signs of the impending End Times. Similar records, such as "Jesus Hits Like An Atom Bomb" (1950) by Lowell Blanchard (1928-1968) and "Jesus is God's Atomic Bomb" (1950) by Swan's Silvertone Singers ring the changes of this notion. More strictly science-fictional perspectives on the subject were also part of the vogue, as with Bill Haley's jaunty "Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)" (1954) (see Bill Haley and His Comets), in which nuclear holocaust has the agreeable side-effect of freeing up available women for the narrator. More nakedly satirical was "We'll All Go Together When We Go" (1959) by Tom Lehrer (1928-    ), an enduringly witty perspective on mass death. One song that took the subject rather more seriously was "Atomic Nightmare" (1957), a calypso by "The Talbot Brothers of Bermuda", which includes not only atomic devastation but "a flying saucer streaking through the sky". Nor did such songs remove themselves from real-life concerns. Many Atomic Platters engaged directly in the political debates of the day, by (for instance) hectoring contemporary leaders (Roosevelt Sykes' "Sputnik Baby" [1957] begins by buttonholing the Soviet leader, "Listen Mr Khruschchev –"), or egging on McCarthy's witchhunts (for instance "Get That Communist, Joe" [1954] by The Kavaliers) or otherwise commenting on current affairs – viz. the unambiguously titled hillbilly record "Death of Joe Stalin (Good Riddance)" (1953) by Buddy Hawk and his Buddies. It must be said that very few of these songs have any artistic merit, although there is a sprightly wit about "Radioactive Mamma" (1960) and "Crawl Out Through the Fall-out" (1960), both by Sheldon Allman (1925-2002), and the barbershop novelty record "Watch World War Three (On Pay TV)" (1960) by the Crown City Four is fairly entertaining. Odder is "Fifty Megatons" (1963) by Sonny Russell, in which the narrator, blown out of bed by a nuclear attack, is abducted by Aliens ("Three spacemen grabbed me and gave me a flip") and flown in their rocket ship to the Moon. By the mid-1960s the vogue for this sub-genre of chart-music had run its course, despite belated attempts by the producers of Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb to cash-in with the wacky "Love That Bomb" (1964) by Dr Strangelove and the Fallouts. It has not been resurrected. [AR]


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