kentucky kernel

Atom Bomb Baby
The Five Stars
Atom Bomb Baby

Song: Atom Bomb Baby / You Sweet Little Thing

Artist: The Five Stars

Record Label: Kernel Records A-002

Released: 1957

Location: 2015 E3 Showcase Trailer

Much like its predecessor, this song is heard in the showcase trailer serving as a cheering contrast to the murderous rampage.

However, the song itself is a curious phenomenon of the Atomic Age and the Cold War. While some songs recorded during this time expressed fears of the atomic bomb as well as its political ramifications, several songs also demonstrate how it has seemed into the culture.

“Atomic” became an adjective for something powerful or awe-inspiring. The lyrics include terms like “nuclear fission in her soul“ and “chain reactions in my heart“, originating from the chemical processes that drive the atomic bomb, but have now leapt into the national vernacular.

The Five Stars enjoyed regional success with this song in the Midwest through the Kentucky-based Kernel Records, being its second release. It was popular enough to be picked up by a major record label, Dot Records 15579, which brought The Five Stars to nationwide attention.

However, the topical song just bubbled under Billboard’s Top 100. Reviews called it “Run-of-the-rock warbling by the group on a routine rhythm item with a rock and roll beat.” and “Quite dated rhythm novelty. Unlikely to stir any action in this market.”

Oddly, a country-styled song with an identical title hit record stores that same year, this one composed by Ann Jones. Dude Martin‘s “Atom Bomb Baby” did slightly better supported by a major record label, RCA Victor. Billboard reviewed it as “Rowdy-dowdy novelty shucker with a heavy-syncopated corn jazz beat” with an overall rating of 65/100 or “Satisfactory” for Folk Tunes.

The Five Stars lineup at the time of recording “Atom Bomb Baby”

Like the song itself, there were several groups that also recorded under the same name as The Five Stars including a gospel group from Baltimore, Maryland and a black doo-wop group from Dallas, Texas. 

However, The Five Stars heard here are a white doo-wop/rock group from Indianapolis, Indiana.

The earliest lineup had lead singer Ron Russell, 1st tenor Jim Bruhn, 2nd tenor Larry Hoffman, baritone Bill Campbell, and Ron Bunyard as bass. Russell, Campbell, and Hoffman formed the group in October 1956 after a car ride harmonizing with the radio. Campbell invited fellow madrigal singer Jimmy Bruhn as the first tenor and Russell invited Ron Bunyard as bass for their touring group dubbed “The Emeralds”. However, Bunyard would drop out of the group and be replaced by another of Campbell’s fellow madrigal singers, Bruce Miller.

They appeared on a local central Indiana television show hosted by Boyd Bennett and his band, the Rockets. Bennett introduced them to his producer John F. Young. He was the writer of “Atom Bomb Baby” and looking for a group to record it. Young would also change their name to “The Five Stars”, citing that “The Emeralds” was already used by other bands. Ironically, they would realize later that other groups had also performed under the name as “The Five Stars”.

“Atom Bomb Baby” with “You Sweet Little Thing” as the B-Side would become The Five Stars’ first record, initially released on a local Kentucky label, Kernel Records and becoming popular enough to be picked up by a major record label, Dot Records, which brought The Five Stars to nationwide attention.

Of all the artists that recorded topical numbers about the atomic bomb,The Five Stars were most successful of the rock groups, probably second only to Bill Haley’s “Thirteen Women”.

Despite their success, Miller would drop out shortly afterwards and be replaced by Boyd “Popcorn” Johnson. Their followup to their hit was singing backup to singer Dottie Fergerson for “Slow Burn” and “You and Me and Love” on May 24, 1957. It too was released on Kernel before being picked up by Mercury Records, the label unfortunately omitting their contribution.

In March 1958, they released “Pickin’ On the Wrong Chicken” and “Dreaming” on the Indianapolis label, Note Records. Then-unknown jazz guitarist, Wes Montgomery also performed in the session. It was another regional hit and was picked up by Dick Clark’s fledgling record label, Hunt Records, for nationwide distribution.

With the support of Dick Clark, The Five Stars appeared the same month on American Bandstand to perform “Pickin’ On the Wrong Chicken”. Though Clark played the record steadily over six weeks, it failed to reach Billboard’s Top 100.The same year, The Five Stars recorded “My Paradise” and “Friction”.

Their last known record was “Am I Wasting My Time” and “Gambling Man” in 1959. The group would eventually break up in 1961.

Notably, “Atom Bomb Baby” was featured with renewed interest in a 1982 documentary film, The Atomic Cafe, detailing a modern retrospective at the culture behind the Atomic Age and the Cold War. The soundtrack includes many other songs about “The Bomb”.

Listen to the flip side “You Sweet Little Thing” here.