Your Hit Parade made it’s American debut on the radio in 1935. What would later become a family television viewing staple in 1950’s settling in with it’s most memorable performers, experienced a long succession of musicians, including 19 band leaders and more than 50 performing acts – solo and group. The show was long sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarette’s far ahead of the nation’s TV tobacco band and before anybody really worried about the hazards of tobacco use.
The original program didn’t have a set name in 1935 and would be referred to as “The Hit Parade” and often “The Lucky Strike Hit Parade”. In those early radio days the Hit Parade would feature the most popular songs of the week featuring the top 15. The format changed before long adopting a more ‘suspenseful’ format, counting down the 15 songs in order of popularity – culminating in the “Top Three” before placing the spotlight on one of those three as “The Number One Song”. So number one garnered two spots on the show, performed by two different musical artists or groups.
Rankings for the show were based on sheet music sales, radio broadcast play reports and juke box spins. Insiders alluded that this methodology was sometimes bypassed for production purposes.
The program’s roots actually went back a bit further starting in 1928 with the program titled “Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra” (tobacco was definitely King back then). The program morphed into the “Lucky Strike Dance Hour” and then “The Lucky Strike Magic Carpet Show” before settling in for a long run as “Your Hit Parade”.
Interestingly, the original performers remained anonymous with the spotlight placed solely on the songs, and for their efforts they received around 100 dollars per program performance.
Frank Sinatra’s debut on the program singing “Don’t Fence Me In” did not go well with Frank muffing the lyrics, resulting in his dispatch following the program. When his popularity rocketed he did return for a time making appearances in ’47 and into ’49 along with Doris Day.
Many name performers would sing on the radio program through the years including Dick Haymes, Georgia Gibbs and the great Johnny Mercer. Being all things “Lucky Strike” the show had featured it’s very own tobacco auctioneers, one of who Lee Aubrey Riggs managed to release his very own recording. Lucky Strike featured other artists as well on RCA records under name as a program or promoted by “The Lucky Strike Orchestra”.
Just imagine how much fun it was back in the day to gather around the old gramophone and listen in awe to the tobacco auctioneer culminating his rap with “SOLD AMERICAN!” (American Tobacco Company).
The Tube Arrives
The hugely popular show made it’s move to TV in 1950. The television format featured only seven songs and the production staff was challenged to find many ways to present each song due to the extreme longevity on the charts back in the early to mid 1950’s. With the advent of The Hit Parade on TV, a curious era would be launched when Baby Boomers would actually join their parents of the “Greatest Generation” to settle down in the comfort of America homes enjoying music together! I sort of think that more than actually ‘enjoying’ I was just sort of intrigued by the show’s production and studio sets – fog – modern dancers – drama – and plain old silliness!
The challenge was met by introducing each week many “Hit Parade Extras”.
The line-up we baby boomers most related to – and easily the most identifiable with the TV show, were Russell Arms, Gisele MacKenzie, Snooky Lanson and Dorothy Collins. Of those four, MacKenzie would actually land her own ‘top ten’ hit during her appearances on the Hit Parade, 1955’s “Hard to Get” which reached number 5.
So Long (Hit Parade)
The Hit Parade came under duress with the arrival of marginal songs such as Green Door, Butterfly and others which hinted at the rockers soon to follow. Elvis Presley’s monster hits in 1957 signaled the end for the program. No matter how hard they tried, Snooky Lanson and Russell Arms just couldn’t pull off the karma of of King. The Hit Parade would switch networks in 1958 and then return – but the magic was gone.
Best let the cast send the message – the end-of-the-show closing song performed by the Hit Parade Stars along with the “Hit Paraders”. Here we have the closing theme during a 1951 program – first voice heard is Eileen Wilson followed by Snooky Lanson and then Dorothy Collins with “The Hit Paraders” topping it off.