Various Artists

Calypso Craze: 1956-57 and Beyond

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Two pages into the thick hardcover book that accompanies Bear Family's six-CD/one-DVD box set Calypso Craze: 1956-1957 and Beyond, there's a replicated newspaper clipping bearing the headline "Warning: Calypso Next New Beat; R.I.P. For R&R?," a bulletin that suggests just how crazy this craze was at its peak in the mid-'50s. Like most pop fads, Calypso didn't last: it faded fairly quickly, producing one mega-star -- Harry Belafonte -- several memorable singles, and a beat that surfaced occasionally in the years to come while leaving a bunch of pop culture ephemera in its wake. Calypso Craze: 1956-1957 concentrates primarily on that ephemera, chronicling the mania set into motion by the success of Belafonte's "The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)" in 1956. Calypso existed prior to Belafonte, of course, its roots in Africa and French creole music, but its origins lay in Trinidad and Tabago, where the distinctive lilting rhythms and hearty melodies came into focus. The term Calypso started to surface in the '30s, which is when the first records of this style were made. These are collected on the first disc, "Calypso Comes to America," a disc that opens with Hubert H. Charles' "Marry an Ugly Woman," and runs through a few Trinidadian singles before the Andrew Sisters bring the sound to the states with "Rum and Coca Cola." Then the explosion begins: Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole all try the rhythms (Cole's "Calypso Blues" will be recognizable to rock & roll fiends as the basis for Chuck Berry's "Havana Moon"), and the Duke of Iron heads from Trinidad to New York City where he becomes a nightclub entertainer. All this is prelude to Harry Belafonte, whose career is summarized on the second disc subtitled "The Reluctant Calypso King." If Belafonte was reluctant, his performances were nevertheless joyous and helped inspire many knock-offs, parodies, and homages which are collected on the next four discs. Each of these follows a theme: first, there's "Calypso Is Everywhere," which has some hits, pop songs from the Mills Brothers and Rosemary Clooney a few rock & roll rips and several folk and country tunes, as well as satire from Stan Freberg and Buchanan & Goodman; then, there's "Calypso Goes to the Movies," which collects songs that were used on the silver screen, including selections from the B-movie sensation Calypso Joe, whose eponymous film is featured on the DVD, excerpts from Maya Angelou's pre-poetry career as a calypso singer, oddities from Fess Parker, Mamie Van Doren and, naturally, Robert Mitchum's Calypso Is Like So, which is perhaps the best-known calypso oddity of this boom; next up is a selection of singles from Britain, concentrating on Lord Kitchener and Lord Invader, then it wraps up with "Calypso Goes Global," where the Trinidad rhythms echo around the world. The striking thing about this set is that it appears to be too much -- and six discs is indeed a lot of calypso -- but the box has a light touch, never lingering too long on any one place (the exception being, of course, Belafonte's disc, but that's needed to illustrate his impact) and unveiling lots of wonderful little oddities along the way. Often, the detours are as captivating as the big hits and that's likely why Bear Family focused not on a deep history of calypso the music, but rather the pop culture craze, opening the set with that Charles single and closing with Jimmy Soul's rock & roll appropriate "If You Wanna Be Happy." Calypso wasn't varied or lively enough to be a world-changing movement, not in the way rock & roll was, but it could sustain a couple of years of delightful singles and have enough of an impact to be remembered (and often heard) years later. This box is a testament to that fact.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:00
2 3:05
3 2:33
4 2:52
5 2:45
6 2:48
7 2:50
8 3:09
9 3:04
10 1:54
11 2:47
12
2:40
13 3:24
14 2:41
15 3:23
16 2:43
17
3:18
18
2:56
19 2:29
20 2:15
21 2:47
22 3:02
23
3:08
24 2:01
25 3:07
26
3:05
27 2:25
28 3:09
29 4:22
30
1:08

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:38
2 2:32
3 2:39
4 3:24
5 3:33
6 2:03
7 3:10
8 3:06
9
2:47
10
3:16
11 3:09
12 3:01
13 3:02
14 3:03
15 2:49
16 2:45
17 2:49
18 2:57
19 3:19
20 3:30
21 4:17
22 3:33
23
3:12
24 4:02
25 3:26
26 4:12
27
5:02

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:57
2 2:25
3 2:17
4 2:40
5 2:33
6 2:18
7 3:00
8 2:27
9 2:39
10 3:25
11 2:11
12 2:36
13
2:49
14 2:23
15 2:12
16
2:26
17
2:14
18 2:44
19
2:44
20 2:24
21
2:23
22 2:58
23 2:22
24 2:15
25 2:20
26 2:08
27 3:30
28 2:04
29 2:15
30 2:30
31 6:10
32
2:43

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:31
2 2:24
3 2:29
4
3:00
5 2:43
6
3:16
7 2:41
8
2:29
9 2:15
10 2:17
11 2:12
12 2:39
13 2:42
14 2:44
15 2:14
16 2:34
17 2:30
18 2:35
19 2:12
20
3:11
21 2:29
22 3:35
23 3:00
24 2:29
25 3:37
26
2:44
27 2:37
28 2:35
29 2:42
30
2:14

Track Listing - Disc 5

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:28
2
2:03
3 2:41
4 3:14
5 2:47
6 2:52
7 2:54
8 2:57
9 2:57
10
2:49
11 2:40
12 2:53
13 2:40
14 2:54
15 3:03
16 2:36
17 3:22
18 2:36
19
2:42
20 2:23
21 2:29
22
2:11
23
2:36
24 2:09
25 2:18

Track Listing - Disc 6

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:36
2 2:49
3
2:32
4
2:29
5 1:59
6 2:19
7 3:17
8 2:56
9 2:51
10
3:32
11
2:52
12
2:34
13 3:02
14 2:57
15
2:27
16 2:45
17 2:25
18
1:55
19 2:57
20 2:42
21 1:58
22 2:56
23 5:03
24 1:49
25 2:40
26 3:34
27 2:58
28 3:05
29 2:20

Track Listing - Disc 7

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
blue highlight denotes track pick