Engines of Our Ingenuity

No. 2491
MITCH MILLER AND THE GANG

by Andrew Boyd

Today, we follow the bouncing ball. The University of Houston’s College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.

Pop music isn’t a good measure of an era. But it can tell us a lot about an era.

Norman Rockwell picture of Mitch Miller

Mitch Miller was one of the most powerful forces in the recording industry in the 1950s and early sixties. Miller began his career as a classically trained oboe player. But he found his niche as a pop music executive and producer at then-dominant Columbia Records. Miller was responsible for signing Tony Bennett, Mahalia Jackson, Johnny Mathis, and many other stars of the time.

Mitch Miller albums

But most people remember Miller’s name for his performing group, Mitch Miller and the Gang.

Somebody stole my gal…
Somebody stole my pal…

Harmonica. Banjo. Miller’s “gang” belted out folksy old tunes like Melancholy Baby, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles, and Down By the Old Mill Stream. The music was relentlessly upbeat; unblushingly corny. And it proved a recipe for commercial success.

Between 1958 and 1962, Mitch Miller and the Gang released forty singles. Fully half made it onto the pop chart top forty. One song made it all the way to number one and stayed there for six weeks.

There’s a yellow rose in Texas, that I am goin’ ta see.
Nobody else could miss her, not half as much as me…

The group’s recording success led to an equally successful television show, Sing Along With Mitch, which aired in the early sixties. Viewers were invited to “follow the bouncing ball” as it leapt from word to word at the bottom of the screen.

Mitch Miller albums

Sing Along With Mitch struck a chord with suburban, middle-class America of the time. But times “they were a changin’.” The sixties countercultural movement was burgeoning. And with it came radical changes to the pop charts. In 1965, a year after the Beatles blasted their way into the top forty, Miller and Columbia parted ways. Miller was a man of his time, but in looking to the future, he’d taken his eye off the ball.

Today, it’s hard to imagine Miller’s fare was so successful. But back then, as a child singing with my family in front of our black and white TV, I have to admit. It was simply a lot of fun.

And gee,
I know that she,
would come to me,
if she could see,

 

I’m Andy Boyd at the University of Houston, where we’re interested in the way inventive minds work.

(her broken hearted, lonesome pal.)
Somebody stole my ga...aa...al.
SOMEBODY STOLE … MY … GAL! (my pal my gal)

(Theme music)


Mitch Miller. From the MSN Music web site: http://music.msn.com/music/artist-biography/mitch-miller. Accessed May 5, 2009.

Number One Hits of 1955. From the Wikipedia web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number-one_hits_of_1955_(United_States). Accessed May 5, 2009.

All pictures by E. A. Boyd.



The Engines of Our Ingenuity is Copyright © 1988-2009 by John H. Lienhard.