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CONELRAD: Atomic Platters | Fallout Shelter by Billy Chambers [1962]
Cold War Music from the Golden Age of Homeland Security
Fallout Shelter - 1962 Landmark Atomic Platter

Pop culture historians and music scholars have long noted that the so-called teenage "death" songs of the late fifties and early sixties (1959's "Teen Angel," 1960's "Tell Laura I Love Her" 1962's "Patches," etc.) were, in effect, allegorical Bomb songs. These dire, yet catchy songs about train accidents, car wrecks and double suicides channeled the atomic angst of America's youth into mainstream hit singles.

The unforgettable 1962 release "Fallout Shelter" took a more direct approach in conveying the fears of teenagers Fallout Shelter by Billy Chambers, D.J. Records 1962 - click to enlargeeverywhere over nuclear annihilation. Its melodramatic storyline of a boy who wants to share his family's shelter with his girlfriend and his father's intervention is a perfect blending of elements from the overt and the allegorical/subtle Bomb song.

And with the tune's lyrics about radiation sickness and fire-filled skies some might argue that the subtle route would have been the more profitable one. But then this particular non-charting record was written by a 21-year-old man who was more obsessed with impending hydrogen doom then he was in cracking the Top 40.
I'd rather die with you than live without you and I hope that you feel the same.

Mom and Dad and I were getting ready for the game I couldn't play tonight, you know, my leg's still kinda lame.

Then I heard my mother call out our savior's name. I looked to the east and the sky was filled with flames.

Then Dad said don't worry, we don't have to be scared, we've got our new fallout shelter waitin' for us there.

When I told Dad I'd go get you, he said don't you dare, there's no room for your girl, son, that just wouldn't be fair.

I'd rather die with you than live without you and I hope that you feel the same.

Then I thought of all the happy times that we had spent together and the way we pledged our love to each other forever.

Could I be there in that shelter with you out here rather than hold you in my arms? No, my darlin', never.

Old Uncle Ben, everybody's friend, sits in there with his gun. The streets are all deserted now, did you see those people run?

You hold my hand, I understand the sickness has begun and if we live or if we die our hearts will beat as one.

I'd rather die with you than live without you and I hope that you feel the same.

However, Bobby Braddock, the songwriter and producer of "Fallout Shelter," admitted to CONELRAD in an interview that drugs may have exacerbated his World War III mania: "To be very candid, I was a musician going through serious psychological problems due to an overdose of speed at the time and I was quite paranoid; I had tried to talk my parents into having a fallout shelter built—I remember we went to a place that built them and looked at their model."
Bobby Braddock - circa 1964-66
A secondary, non-amphetamine induced inspiration for his song, according Braddock, was a 1961 episode of the "The Twilight Zone" (The Shelter) in which a false attack alert throws a small community into chaos with a neighbor's shelter becoming a flashpoint of mob violence. Braddock would soon abandon his Cold War obsessions and focus on producing more commercial fare. Indeed, he went on to become one of Nashville's biggest hit makers (1968's D-I-V-O-R-C-E among many others) and Braddock continues to be a major talent in the country music industry to this day.

"Fallout Shelter," which was recorded in two or three takes along with the ironically titled A-side of the disk ("That's When I Stopped Living"), was sung by 24-year-old Billy Chambers and a chorus of back-up singers from Florida Southern College. Chambers, who was in a rock band called the Dynamics, was recruited for the session because Braddock liked the singer's voice. This record would remain the only solo music issued by Chambers who left show business shortly after the single's release for the more stable field of construction. Chambers passed away in 1991 at the age of 52 from cancer.

Carl Chambers, Billy's cousin and the lead guitarist on "Fallout Shelter," recalled to CONELRAD in an interview that his cousin recorded the song primarily because Braddock had wanted him to do it and because he "really liked the other (A-side) song."

Carl Chambers added that there was a more favorable reaction to the A-side than to the more historically significant B-side. "Most people were put off by ‘Fallout Shelter,' although it seems that some found humor in it...our parents thought it was kinda morbid."

Braddock is even more direct in his recollection of how the song was received: "The reaction was about as close to zero as it could have gotten. Two or three stations may have given it a spin or two."

Local press attention that accompanied the release of the record ("soon to be on sale at all record shops") ignored the content of the songs and instead played up the community ties of the musicians who played on it.

Following CONELRAD'S initial interview with Bobby Braddock we provided him with a copy of "Fallout Shelter" because he no longer had one. He offered this harsh, but humorous self-assessment: "After hearing this little gem for the first time in decades, I'm now worried that the Board of Taste may get an injunction to shut down your website. There are few redeeming things about this record. The melody was okay, Billy wasn't a bad singer, guitar was good, but the lyrics were awful, the arrangement was hideous and it was so badly mixed that it's almost impossible to hear the words. But, it was fun revisiting it anyway."

Despite Braddock's less than charitable critique of his early composition, CONELRAD believes "Fallout Shelter" is a landmark Atomic Platter and one deserving of special attention. Whatever one thinks of the song's quality, it is difficult to dispute that it captured the period immediately preceding the Cuban missile crisis in an arresting manner. The defiant stand of the song's narrator echoed the way many young people (speed addicted or not) felt about the morality of shelters.

Now, just what was the title of the A-side again? We've forgotten.

CONELRAD would like to thank Bobby Braddock and Carl Chambers for their time and their insights into the history behind "Fallout Shelter."

Billy Chambers Vocals with Choral Accompaniment
Bobby Braddock Piano
Carl Chambers Lead Guitar
Gene Voss Rhythm Guitar
Glenn Voss Acoustic Bass
Tom Grimes Drums

Words and music by Bobby Braddock
Produced by Bobby Braddock
D.J. Records [Auburndale, FL] 629A-2974
Sponsored by the New Key Music Co. (Nashville, TN)
Recorded 1962 | Length: 2:55 | 45RPM (B-side to "That's When I Stopped Living")
Recorded at the Tuesday Music Club in Lakeland, FL
Engineer: Ernie Garrison
Record Distribution by the Stone Distributing Company (Miami, FL.)

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