sloopy, i don’t care what your daddy do

Sloopy, I Don’t Care What Your Daddy Do

A Rock and Roll Teenage Memoir  •  by Ed Collins  •  1998 … 2001 … 2012

I expected to see Frank Sinatra on the cover of this week’s Time, and there he was, looking dapper with a sportcoat draped over his shoulder, tipping his snap-brim hat.

He died last week.

I can only imagine what impact his death is having on people of his generation. Old as they are, his passing must make them feel older, and during these days, sad.

Sinatra’s generation––the one that also included Walter Cronkite and Walter Winchell, Jackie Gleason and Jackie Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall––must’ve thought that American pop culture began and ended with them.

What got me thinking about this was when a young student of mine arrived for his lesson this week, and before saying hello, said, “Frank Sinatra died.” It took me a moment before I realized why he said it. Besides impressing me with his knowledge of current events, he evidently thought that Sinatra hailed from my generation.

Me, I claim allegiance to Elvis.

 

So the idea here is to write an essay about growing up during the supposed birth of rock and roll. And I’m thinking of you, my young student, as I write this. My idea is to attempt to explain to you what it was like to grow up during the 1950s and ’60s, when rock and roll, (and teenage culture), was in its infancy. I think about this from time to time, especially when I’m out and about, at the mall (almost never) or the grocery store (rarely) or the Padres game (once in awhile) or the movies (routinely), and I hear familiar tunes from my youth. And I also think about it when I hear (what seems to me anyway) the vacuous mainstream pop music of today. Sorry. I admit to presumptuousness, even arrogance, when I question whether these tunes, like mine have, will stand the test of time.

Surely you agree that music plays a big role in one’s youth. It’s during the wonderously weird years of adolescence that you, now, and me, then, are and were, blissfully and/or painfully clueless. Most teenagers are desperate to establish independence from their parents, but lacking any ideas as to how, you grab hold to anything that makes you you instead of them. Clothes, hairstyles, manner of speech and values define you, but it’s music that is the spiritual center of your life. Agreed? Music provides you with a point of reference; it answers questions; it gives meaning to things you’re not sure of; it’s a refuge, it gives solace to those of you who, from day to day, don’t know your arse from your elbow.

I’m wondering if you, like me, will one day connect with your songs the way I have connected with mine. It must have something to do with that emotionally fragile, and at the same time, extremely exciting time of life. It––your music––becomes sort of an endless soundtrack to your life––it reminds us of times, experiences, relationships, feelings; for me, there are songs from those teenage years that elicit some mighty strong emotions, and I must say, they’re all good. I sometimes wonder what brings on these feelings–-what exactly happened during the time of my life that a particular song was being played on the radio 30 times a day.

Memory is a curious thing.

Ungraciously, King Frank gives up the throne

Frank’s career overlapped Elvis’s by a bit, and evidently he wasn’t happy to share the stage, so to speak, with the attractively handsome but effeminate Memphis rock and roller. Although he didn’t meniton Elvis by name, in 1958 Sinatra lambasted rock and roll as being “sung, played, and written, for the most part, by cretinous goons. It manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.”

Before I jump into the R&R genre, I must educate you a bit on the phenomena of Frank Sinatra. To do so, think of the biggest star of your generation, then multiply his (her?) fame by what, I don’t know how many, and that’s what Sinatra was. His early career preceded me, but his mid-to-late career took place during the time that I was head-over-heels smitten with rock and roll (although I do recall getting a kick out of High Hopes, where he sings Just what makes that little old ant Think hell move that rubber tree plant Anyone knows an ant, can’t Move a rubber tree plant). To get an idea of his stature, consider this: 127 of his songs made the Top Twenty of Billboard’s charts. Besides popularizing volumes of hummable tunes, Frank Sinatra was a cultural icon, a controversial spokesman for the fast life of smoke-filled night clubs, loose women––broads or dames, as he called them, one on each arm––bourbon-sipping men wearing cufflinks, tailored suits and leather Florsheim shoes with metal taps on the toes, with their hair slicked back, thanks to a dab or two of Brylcreem. (Bryl-creem, a little dab’ll do ya, Use more, only if you dare, But watch out, The gals will all pursue ya —They’ll love to put their fingers through your hair.)

Sinatra’s popularity soared during the era of Big Band music. I know the names but I can’t tell you who played what. I do know Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington, I know songs by the names of Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, Begin the Beguine, and a tune where very once in awhile the band yelled “Pennsylvania six, five thousand”––I think the number was.

Tortilla-shaped objects made out of vinyl

Ten years after I was born, Bill Haley (and the Comets) sang these words in a style and with a beat that, in part anyway, inspired a generation or three of rock ’n roll music[1]:

One o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock rock,

four o’clock, five o’clock, six o’clock rock,

we’re gunna rock around the clock all night,

we’re gunna rock, rock, rock ‘til the broad daylight.

                  Kinda racy for its time, the idea of no curfew. There were others, of course, but this was an anthem for a musical revolution––the rebellious Fifties. Some people claim that this song was the origin of rock ’n roll music, but from what I understand, black musicians in the South had been singing similar music for years; called rhythm and blues, it just hadn’t made it onto national radio.

I can recall having an interest in popular music before rock and roll made such a stir. I was eight or nine when I would come home from a tough day of backyard football, vocabulary and fractions, grab myself a glass of Tang, then lie on our living room floor and listen to our tiny record player spin 45’s (tortilla-shaped objects made out of vinyl). There, between our uncomfortable green couch and a small book case that barely contained our 20-volume set of Encyclopedia Britanica, let alone any of the classics, was the family record player. It looked like a piece of luggage. There were two levers, I recall, one to select the speed, of which there were three––33, 45 and 78––the other started the turntable spinning, then disengaged a mechanism that allowed the records to drop; then this arm slowly descended until an attached needle landed on the outer edge of the record, fit into a spiral groove and then, in a way I’ve never tried to understand, music came out of the box.recordplayer

A child’s modest record collection begins with Perry Como

Perry Como. Now there’s a name I bet you don’t know; even your parents might not know, unless they had you when they were pushing 50. A former barber, Como was a normal looking guy who wore cardigan sweaters and sang simple songs in an expressionless manner, usually while he stood still as a statue, with his arms hanging at his side. I unashamedly admit that the first record I purchased was Perry’s Round and Round. It went like this:

Find a wheel and it goes round, round, round, as it skims along with a happy sound. As it goes along the ground, ground, ground, til it leads you to the one you love.

Although we kids were bowled over by Elvis and his hip-swiveling and lip-curling, our parents (not mine, thankfully) thought they were losing control of their adolescent children. However, some relief must’ve been felt when they heard us singing along to this Perry Como hit tune and its provocative lyrics:

Hot diggety, dog diggety, boom, what yo do to me,

It’s so new to me, what yo do to me,

Hot diggety, dog diggety, boom, what you do to me,

When you’re holding me tight.

Before or after, I’m not sure, another dog song became a monster hit (and, no kidding, it included a dog barking in the recording). Believe it or not, I can recall the words without Googling them:

How much is that doggy in the window? The one with the waggly tail. How much is that doggy in the window?

I do hope that doggy’s for sale. I must take a trip to California, and leave my poor sweethart alone. If she had a doggy to protect her, my sweetheart wouldn’t feel so alone.

Now, I’m only 10 years old at the time, but everyone was humming that one, even the guy wearing a white tee with his cigarette pack rolled up in one sleeve.

One of my early record investments was Elvis’s Love Me Tender. I could look it up, but I think the flip side was Hound Dog. This tune––Hound Dog––must’ve rankled Sinatra, since its lyrics were seemingly meaningless (You try to figure them out). Yet the song literally moved every young person who, like me, heard it over and over and over again, eliciting involuntary finger-snapping, foot-tapping, head bobbing and other moving body parts that would come to be known as shaking, rattling and rolling:

You ain’t nothin but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time

You ain’t nothin but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time

Well, you ain’t never caught a rabbit And you ain’t no friend of mine

When they said you was high classed  Well, that was just a lie

You ain’t never caught a rabbit  And you ain’t no friend of mine.

 

Johnnie Ray sweat a lot on stage, and could cry on cue, it seemed

Record buying decisions were not easy to make, at least for me, given the fact that at age nine I was underemployed, and that a 45 record cost me the better part of a dollar, and, considering that minimum wage in 1955 was .75/hr, well, you can see that there was little margin for error. A certain way to get a good return on my investment was to buy two songs for the price of one. You see, each record contained two songs––side A and the flip side, side B. As you might have guessed, the record companies typically put out a hit on side A and a clunker on side B. But once in a while they miscalculated, and both sides became hits. This happened in 1951-2, when a guy by the name of Johnnie Ray had two #1 hits on the same record–-Cry on side A and The Little White Cloud That Cried on side B. Bingo!

ray

So satisfied with my purchase was I, that a year later I gathered my quarters together and bought another Johnnie Ray song, Just Walking in the Rain. Why Johnnie Ray? you ask, when I could’ve sprung for another Elvis song (like Heartbreak Hotel: Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell. It’s down at the end of lonely street, At heartbreak hotel). Well, there was just something about Johnnie Ray’s voice that made me a big fan. You can hear for yourself on YouTube. And with minimal effort you’ll find some footage of him performing. His stage persona, I guess you could call it, I learned just now, was ground- breaking stuff. Music historians give Johnnie Ray some credit for influencing future rock and rollers, and it’s hard to fathom, watching these videos. All he does is sing without smiling, move his jaw oddly and his hands psychotically, stand while playing the piano, drag his fingers through his hair, which, of course, messes it up, making him look disheveled. Oh, and from what I learn, he was one of the first performers to take the mic off the mic stand and walk around while per- forming, which, I assume, allowed the girls to look at his skinny body. Amazing. Now for the kicker: Johnny Ray was deaf in one ear, and he per- fomed with a hearing aid that you could see, because a wire stuck out of the side of his head. Another difficult-to-fathom thing is that he enjoyed a huge fan base of teenage girls despite the fact that he didn’t sing fast songs.[2]

You have no idea how primitive media was 50 years ago

Before I continue with this treatise, I should provide you with a cultural history lesson, an anthropological study, so to speak. Whatever, I tell you about my maternal grandmother, born in 1888, a Norwegian farmer’s daughter, who grew up in America’s heartland, living to be 101 years old. So, one Sunday evening after a family dinner, she sat herself down in front of our piano and I watched in amazement as she started sight-reading an old tune. She was around 95 at the time. Her bony hands and misshapen arthritic fingers slowly picked out the tune’s melody––this, she was doing with her right hand––then, when she made sense of the notes, she lifted her left hand up to the keyboard, and methodically identified the chords, one note at a time; before too long she was playing the song with both hands, eyes fixed on the page, mumbling the lyrics. “Grandma!” I exclaimed, “I didn’t know you could play the piano or read music.” Without looking up from the sheet music, she said, “Of course, lots of people could in my day; that’s how we entertained ourselves.”

And that’s my point: Beginning with my parents’ generation––the radio––and then continuing with mine––radio, phonograph and TV––became someone else’s deal. What I mean to say is, there was less doing and more listening or watching. I’m curious as to what the kid demographics (?) are now, what with the addition of the Internet, video games, digital media devices, cell phones, texting, photo sharing and maybe I’m forgetting something. Here’s another example of how things changed: In 1952, when I was six, a stranger came up our walkway, knocked on our front door, then proceeded to sell my mother on the idea of renting her an accordion so I could take lessons at his accordion studio. Imagine.

I doubt you have any idea how primitive media was a half-century ago, when I was your age. Music was not portable; it was in a radio, in a box, kept on our kitchen counter; TV was in a slightly bigger box, sitting atop a dresser in my parent’s bedroom. On top of the TV was an antenna that we called bunny ears. There were three stations to choose from, and the picture was black and white, usually fuzzy and sometimes moving (which, I think, prompted The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling to admonish us not to “adjust our sets––that he controlled the horizontal, he controlled the vertical”).

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
, Poor boy, you’re bound to die

Elvis tunes dominated the charts, rock and roll groups were multiplying by the day, but my next record choice was a folk tune about bananas, sung by Harry Belafonte, a black singer of traditional Carribean music. You baseball fans know this one, of course, because you’ve heard a snippet at a game when you hear the recorded amplification of “Day-oh,” and then people all sround you follow with Daaa-oh.” They sing the refrain without wondering why. Or maybe it’s only played when the home team has runners in scoring position, because the song goes like this:

Day-oh, daaa-oh, daylite come an’ I wanna go home.

Six ha’, seven ha’, eight han, bunch!

Daylight come an’ I wanna go home.

Come mister tally man, tally me banana.

Daylight come an’ I wanna go home,

     My appreciation for acoustic folk music began early and has never waned. I, along with most of my postwar Baby Boomer, peace-loving, anti-establishment, long-haired hippie generation listened to as much folk as rock. Personally, my LP (stands for long-playing record) collection includes what I believe to be every album that The Kingston Trio ever produced, which, of course, includes their mega hit, Tom Dooley, which is a song based on the 1866 murder of a woman in North Carolina. It is best known today because of this hit version recorded in 1958.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
, Hang down your head and cry
, Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
, Poor boy, you’re bound to die
. I met her on the mountain
, There I took her life
, Met her on the mountain
, Stabbed her with my knife…

Although Elvis dominated, there were many non-R&R tunes that filled the disc jockey’s playlist, including, for example, these #1 hits from 1957: Pat Boone’s Love Letters in the Sand (On a day like today, we passed the time away, writing love letters in the sand), Andy Williams’s Butterfly (I knew from the first time I kissed you that you were the troublin’ kind ’Cause the honey that drips from your sweet lips, One taste and I’m outta my mind); Jimmie Rodgers’s Honeycomb (And they roamed the world and the gathered all of the honeycomb into one sweet ball, And the honeycomb from a million trips made my baby’s lips), and Sugartime by the drop-dead gorgeous McGuire Sisters.

Sugar in the morning, Sugar in the evening, Sugar at suppertime

Be my little sugar, And love me all the time, Honey in the morning

Honey in the evening, Honey at suppertime, So by my little honey And love me all the time. Put your arms around me

 And swear by stars above, You’ll be mine forever, In a heaven of love

Meanwhile, over a driving beat and an electric guitar, Elvis was jump-starting our libidos by singing these words:

Wella bless my soul wha’s wrong with me, I’m itchin’ like a man on a fuzzy tree; my friends say I’m actin’ wild as a bug,

 I’m in love, I’m all shook up.

My hands are shaky and my knees are week …

Her lips are like a volcano that’s hot.

I’m proud to say she’s my butter cup, I’m in love …

 

This lyrical poetry wasn’t written by Elvis but a guy by the name of Otis Blackwell. The tune, Billboard’s #1 song for 1957, was composed of a grand total of three basic chords––G, C and D7, which, as the rock and roll library expanded, became the norm (a few basic chords). Many of the classics used the same formula: Lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass guitar, drums, vocals, a strong melody and perfect form (as in not drug out to the point of boredom).

It was all so simple.

So simple.

Simple.

Simple, as in uncomplicated. And for me, as I try to analyze this (and other subjects), the genius was in the simplicity. It was raw, real, honest, pure. So many of those early rock and roll songs were unfiltered, unadulterated, unembellished two-minute works of art.

In the mid-’50s most of these tunes were sung by white guys. Besides Elvis, there were Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Neil Sedaka, Pat Boone, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Anka and Dion, to name a few. What I mean to say is that until a couple years later, we had no access, I guess you could call it, to black groups and their rhythm & blues music. In much of the U.S., not just the South, blacks and whites didn’t socialize together. It was on the radio where we first heard the music. The success of television between 1947 and 1957 forced most radio stations to shift to an all-music format (from dramas and comedy shows) in order to draw audiences, thus increasing the demand for rock and roll music, which greatly disppointed some adults, who much prefered we white kids not listen to what they thought were suggestive lyrics performed by black artists.[3]

Hard to fathom now, but racial segregation was a factor in not hearing the likes of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard (my gosh, if you haven’t seen him perform, you’re in for a unique experience). I’m thinking that, until we kids demanded it (we were an ever-increasing demographic––a whole lot of Baby boomers, with money our now flush parents gave us––made us powerful consumers, and we could and did change the minds of the advertisers who decided which kind of music should be played on the radio. And while I’m at it, just think, that it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed that it wasn’t illegal to descriminate against races, minorities and women, and that schools, restaurants, theatres, hotels and swimming pools could legally be segregated, and that it was legally possible to decide who gets to vote (by requiring an otherwise qualified voter to pass a literacy test).

“And now, something for the youngsters in the audience…”

Now back to Elvis, and Frank’s unfiltered criticism of his kind of music, which he attacked as being “deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac.” (Ouch!)  This may help you understand why he, along with most of suburbia, was so fearful that this new music was not a good influence on their precious children. Frank, it seems, was especially terrified, saying that rock and roll “fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people.”

Frank was talking about me––Cub Scout, Little Leaguer, Crossing Guard, Sunday School-going, goodie-two-shoes who coulda been the inspiration of a Saturday Evening Post illustration by Norman Rockwell (look him up).

eddie

And, believe me, I was typical. My life was typical. My parents were typical. I lived in a typical neighborhood, inhabited by typical white families whose men did the 9-to-5 thing while the women washed clothes in a ringer washer, tended the garden and had snacks ready for their 2.5 children when they returned home from school each afternoon, immediately changed clothes, then ran out the back door with ball or dolls and snacks in hand, to play with their friends until dark, because they could, because homework was minimal and, besides, you were not allowed to monopolize the home phone, in case there was an emergency call coming in because you didn’t have call waiting or, worse yet, were on a party line (others sharing one line).

At night, after a typically uneventful family meal, you were allowed to watch a TV program or two, providing you had completed the minimally assigned homework.

There were no sports on weeknight TV. As I remember, it was only Gillette’s Friday Night Fights and the CBS Game of the Week (Saturday afternoon baseball––the Yankees, usually). Outside of baseball, I just don’t remember. But I do remember, clearly, watching the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights, at 7, I’m thinking. This was a big deal.

edsullivanEd Sullivan was the cultural repositor, depositor of the American people throughout the Fifties. It was a variety show. Everybody, and I mean everbody, tuned in––because his hour-long show had something for everyone. It was a combination of Glee, American Idol, Stupid Pet Tricks and Cirque du Soleil, one act following another: comedians, tap dancers, mimes, acrobats, animals, animal trainers, ventriloquists, and singers.  And when rock and roll took off, he would introduce the group by saying something like this:

“And now, something for the youngsters in the audience … Elvis Presley.”

Think about it: You could see him. Elvis Presley. You could see him sing. You could see him gyrate. You could see him perform[4].

(But it was hard to hear him, from the screaming girls in the audience.)

Since I can still recall most of the lyrics, I’m almost certain that my collection included a copy of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 16 Tons. An ex- radio announcer with a deep baritone/bass voice, Ford made his fame with this song, then went on to focus on gospel music. I’d stack my half dozen or so 45s one on top of the other, then lie back and listen to my short eclectic playlist. From the very beginning, my musical tastes ran the gamut. After we listened to Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock, Ford would completely change the mood in our living room:

Some people say a man is made outta mud

A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood

Muscle and blood and skin and bones

A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get

Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain

Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name

I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion

Cain’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

If you see me comin’, better step aside

A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died

One fist of iron, the other of steel

If the right one don’t a-get you then the left one will.

Pure poetry, huh?

What, you’ve never heard of a duck walk?

Nobody helped usher in the culture of burgers, fries and shakes more than Chuck Berry, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his name takes you a second to recognize (You might not have to if he was white). Unlike Elvis and Sinatra, who expropriated others’ songs, Berry wrote, sang and performed his own music. And man, did he have talent. His vocals, his one of a kind guitar riffs (ranked #7 on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitarists of All Time), his stage presence and musical choreography, I think you call it, were something. Really, if you’ve never seen it, you need to check out Chuck simultaneously playing his guitar while doing his famous duck walk.

berry

I want to include the lyrics of one Chuck Berry tune here, and I can’t make up my mind. I could easily pick Johnny B. Goode, but everyone knows that one (but did you know that that song was included on the Voyager Golden Record, which NASA sent in space on the Voyager spacecraft, in the event it was intercepted by an alien life form (and they were curious, and they had a record playing device of some kind). Some music historians were charged with picking one rock and roll tune––to be included with Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Stravinsky, along with music from around the world––and they picked Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. And I doubt you saw the subsequent Saturday Night Live segment where Steve Martin’s psychic character predicted that the cover of Time Magazine for the upcoming week will show the four words, “Send more Chuck Berry,” which had supposedly been sent from extraterrestrials to Earth the week before.

Back to my dilemma, I … I … I just can’t seem to decide between Mabelline and Nadine, two female subjects of Berry’s infatuation (or imagination). I could include the now-iconic scene from Quintin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, where John Travolta dances with Uma Thurman to Berry’s You Never Can Tell. Remember the two-fingers-across the forehead thing? But, I think, I’ll select … both:

First, Nadine, a perfect summary of all his strengths––fantastic rhythm, great guitar fills, priceless lyrics and story:

As I got on a city bus and found a vacant seat, I thought I saw my future bride walking up the street; I shouted to the driver, “Hey, conductor, you must, slow down I think I see her,

please let me off the bus.”

I saw her from the corner when she turned and doubled back

And started walkin’ toward a coffee colored Cadillac. I was pushin’ through the crowd trying to get to where she’s at. And I was campaign shouting like a Southern diplomat.

Downtown searching for her, looking all around. Saw her getting in a yellow cab heading uptown, I caught a loaded taxi, paid up everybody’s tab, flip the twenty dollar bill and told him catch that yellow cab.

She moved around like a wayward summer breeze; go, driver, go, go on, catch her for me please. Moving through the traffic like a mounted cavalier, leaning out the taxi window trying to make her hear, Nadine, honey is that you?

Oh, Nadine, honey is that you?

Seems like every time I see you darling, you got something else to do.

 

And now Mabelline, and the lyrics “I was motivatin’ over the hill,” which have always tickled my fancy.

As I was motivatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybelline in a coup de ville. A Cadillac a-rollin’ on the open road.

Nothin’ will outrun my V8 Ford. The Cadillac doin’ ‘bout ninety-five, She’s bumper to bumper rollin’ side by side.

Pink in the mirror on top of the hill. It’s just like swallowin’ up a medicine pill. First thing I saw that Cadillac grille

Doin’ a hundred and ten gallopin’ over that hill

Offhill curve, a downhill stretch, Me and that Cadillac neck by neck

The Cadillac pulled up ahead of the Ford.

The Ford got hot and wouldn’t do no more

It then got cloudy and it started to rain

I tooted my horn for a passin’ lead. The rain water blowin’ all under my hood, I knew that was doin’ my motor good.

Maybelline, why can’t you be true? Oh Maybelline, why can’t you be true? You’ve started back doing the things you used to do.

Want more? Finished your homework? Answered your texts? Then check out Bobby Darin live, singing his signature Grammy award-winning tune, Mack the Knife. Darin, along with a few others, was a crossover phenom; parents and their children revered him, (although it’s gunna take a measure of sophisticated taste for you to embrace this). I’m thinking maybe you should just find Splish Splash, a song I  bet I’ve heard a thousand times:

Splish, splash, I was takin’ a bath, long about a Saturday night, yeah A rub dub, just relaxin’ in the tub, thinkin’ everythin’ was alright. Well, I stepped out the tub, I put my feet on the floor, I wrapped the towel around me and I opened the door.

And then a-splish, splash I jumped back in the bath

Well, how was I to know there was a party goin’ on

There was a-splishin’ and a-splashin’

Reelin’ with the feelin’,  movin’ and a-groovin’

Rockin’ and a-rollin’, yeah, yeah

Bing, bang, I saw the whole gang, dancin’ on my living room rug. Yeah. Flip, flop, they was doin’ the bop

All the teens had the dancin’ beat.

He goes on:

Splishin’ and a-splashin’ a-rollin’ and a-strollin’

a-movin’ and a-groovin’ a-reelin’ with the feelin’

Splish, splash. Yeah!

 

The first iPod Touch ran on double-A batteries

Years later my parents made an attempt to keep up with the Joneses by purchasing a console entertainment center. Big as a sofa, it had a turntable and built-in speakers and a radio and a compartment to hold my meager record collection. This must’ve been about the time that what they first called stereophonic high fidelity recording began.

Postwar prosperity enabled the spread of middle-class suburbs and my family got in on the act, moving from the city to what had only recently been the country. For many baby boomers that meant 2-car garages (one car in ours, plus lawn mowing equipment), country clubs (courts at the high school) and bowling alleys (uh-huh); on face of it, everything seemed hunky dory, except there was an ominious cloud that blanketed the country. I’m talking about relations between us and the Russians. It was known as The Cold War––so named because it never featured direct military action, since both sides possessed nuclear weapons, and because their use would guarantee mutual assured destruction I don’t recall any of my friends’ parents building a bomb shelter, but I do remember the duck-and-cover drills––like a fire drill, but you didn’t run outside. Instead, you ducked under your desk, put your hands behind your head, and then looked around the room, making faces at your buddies and sneaking peaks at the girls.

As I said before, I’m thinking of my teenage students as I write this––but at this point in the story I’d be surprised if any are still around. This is a loooong undertaking, and you kids think five seconds is too long for a webpage to load. But, I’m holding out hope that someone has turned off his cell phone and thinks this is interesting, so I’ll plug away.

In was in the mid- to late-’50s, when the portable transistor radio became commonplace. This was the starting point that led to people walking around in public ignoring each other, texting and Googling,

e-mailing, GPSing, maybe even shopping or paying bills, for Pete’s sake.

Now, I don’t want to come down on you here, because it’s not your fault things have sped up so, since your parents were kids and things moved at a much slower pace. And when I was a kid, life literally crawled by (at a deliciously slow and tasteful pace).

Who knew romantic relationships could be so complicated?

In a nearly empty jewelry box, somewhere in my house, there’s a large metal ring that, for a period of hours, hung around the neck of a girl whose name I can’t recall. This, during 7th grade.  The year was 1959. It was possible that a source of romantic inspiration came from Elvis himself: “Won’t you wear my ring around your neck, to tell the world, I’m yours by heck.”

Or maybe from Bobby Day’s Rockin’ Robin:

Well, a pretty little raven at the bird bandstand, taught him how to do the boppin’, it was grand.  He started going steady and bless my soul, he out-bopped the buzzard and the oriole. He rocks in the tree top all day long, hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and a-singing his song. All the little birds on Jaybird Street. Love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet, Rockin’ robin, (tweet, tweet, tweet), Rockin’ robin’ (tweet, tweedle-lee-dee) Go rockin’ robin ‘Cause we’re really gonna rock tonight

This––the asking––was done via note passing. But not directly, I went through an intermediary. On the bus. She, seated in the rear with her giggling friends; me, in the front with my buddies, one of which delivered the note; her “I’d be pleased to” response passed back. It was a smooth operation––that is, until we got to school and everyone started talking. I couldn’t take the ribbing. Nor the gossip. So, on the bus ride home, I took out another piece of lined notebook paper, pennend another message, then, I’m sure, folded it five times and had my associate deliver it.

The second note had to have been brief and filled with misspellings; it might have gone like this:

Sorry, Candy, Suzie or whatever her name was, I guess I just wasn’t ready to take on this commitment. I hope you understand, it’s definitely not you, I really think you’re neat, and if you want to tell your friends that it was your idea to break up I’m fine with that and you can keep the ring if you want. It’s not like it’s valuable or anything.[5]

Our parents had it harder than we did, they told us

It seemed every one of my parent’s generation had the same “When I was your age, we had to walk to school in the snow” story. “And that was after feeding the chickens and milking the cow,” they’d add. My father, I’m guessing, would’ve loved to tell that story, because he stopped going to school altogether at age 12 because of family finances, caused in large part by the death of his father. And now that I think back, I don’t recall him ever makng me feel bad for the easy life I led (although he did insist I had a job of some kind).

The cultural phenomena of rock ’n roll was fueled by teens like me who wanted our own music, and who had the money to buy the records and listen to the radio stations that played it. And, for the most part, the money came from our parents who, for the first time in history, pressed it into our hands for doing household chores. It was our money, or more commonly our parents’ money that made the rock ’n roll industry a success.

The way I understand it, based on limited research and the experiences of my parents and grandparents, it wasn’t until the post-WWII economic boom that people were flush enough to keep their kids in school and out of the workplace. It surprised me a little to learn that during my grandparents’ youth, only 10% of teenagers went to high school; by the 1950s most American teens attended high school instead of working. Although uneducated, my father made enough money in his dairy products sales job to buy a modest home in the suburbs and, if he wanted to, to indulge his children, but since he had such a tough childhood (tougher, still, when, as a young man, he had to struggle through the Great Depression); as it was, and he was, money was not distributed in our house as it was in my friends’. I can still hear him say, “You want it, you pay for it.” So, with lawn mower, rake and broom in hand, I did.

Voices from heaven: Roy Orbison and the Everly Brothers

A couple years ago I made a CD of oldies and gave it out as a Christmas gift. I didn’t include any time-worn tunes––each one of the 30 selections is a bit obscure, but not to me, or any other baby boomers. Some of these tunes came to be known as one-hit wonders. Now, I don’t know anything about The Teddy Bears, but their To Know Him is to Love Him is timeless. And if you’ve never heard

It Was I by Skip and Flip then search YouTube and check it out. Go ahead. Take a break from your homework or video gaming and do it. Then listen to it again, and once more. Now, you tell me, is that cool? Or as we said, beginning in the early ’60s, bitchen?

I did not include anything by the Everly Brothers nor Roy Orbison, because they are too well known, even if their names draw a blanker than normal look from you. Well, in the late ’50s, early ’60s, the Everly Brothers were the pre-eminent close harmony group of the time. No less than the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkle acknowledged their influence. You’ve probably seen the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts movie Pretty Woman––that’s Roy’s voice you hear.  He was one of the founding fathers of rock ’n roll, although he seemingly had no stage presence and he wore thick black-rimmed sunglasses.

royRoy sang songs about fear, anxiety, loss and insecurity (his hits included Crying, Only the Lonely and Running Scared); they were delivered  in a manner and with skill that demanded that you pay attention. It helped that he had a three-octave range and a falsetto that could go right through you. Among my lifelong regrets is not attending a concert he held toward the end of his career (he died young, at age 52). It was held at the Starlight Bowl, in Balboa Park, right behind the organ pavillion, right under the flight path. The morning after the performance, the newspaper critic lauded his voice by explaining how it inexplicably was heard above the roar of the jet engines. I wish I could find the description, because I recall reading it over and over. Maybe he was singing In Dreams, my favorite Orbison tune:

A candy-colored clown they call the sandman

Tiptoes to my room every night

Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper

Go to sleep, everything is all right

                  I just Googled In Dreams. Incredible. It was listed as the #59 tune on Billboard’s 1963 Year-End Hot 100 Chart. It’d be interesting to compare the top 100 tunes of 1973, ’83, ’93, ’03, and see how many still-popular tunes exist. Let’s see what else came out in 1963: The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA at #2 and Surfer Girl at #36, the Surfari’s Wipeout at #20, Martha and the Vandellas’ Heat Wave at #32, The Ronette’s Be My Baby at #45, Tony Bennett’s I Wanna Be Around at #64, Elvis’s Devil in Disguise at #69, R&R Hall of Famer Marvin Gaye’s Pride and Joy at #72, the Drifter’s Up on the Roof, #75, oh my gosh, Country/Pop crossover Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire at #80, the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke’s Another Saturday Night at #88, Ray Charles, the Godfather of Soul, put out Take These Chains From My Heart. Unbelievable: The Chiffons’ One Fine Day at #98. Finally, because the lyrics are hilarious, the Angels’ My Boyfriend’s Back at #12:

[Spoken:]He went away and you hung around

And bothered me, every night

And when I wouldn’t go out with you

You said things that weren’t very nice

My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble

(Hey-la-day-la my boyfriend’s back)

You see him comin’ better cut out on the double (Hey-la-day-la…) You been spreading lies that I was untrue(Hey-la-day-la…)

So look out now cause he’s comin’ after you (Hey-la-day-la…)

Hey, he knows that you been tryin’ And he knows that you been lyin’

He’s been gone for such a long time(Hey-la-day-la…)

Now he’s back and things’ll be fine (Hey-la-day-la…)

You’re gonna be sorry you were ever born(Hey-la-day-la…)

Cause he’s kinda big and he’s awful strong (Hey-la-day-la…)

Hey he knows I wasn’t cheatin’! (Now you’re gonna get a beatin’!)

What made you think he’d believe all your lies? (Wah-ooo, wah-ooo)

You’re a big man now but he’ll cut you down to size

My boyfriend’s back he’s gonna save my reputation

If I were you I’d take a permanent vacation

Eddie Haskell––the first bad boy of television

imagesIn attempting to explain how things were so, so different, I refer to a couple of iconic movies of or about the times. The first one that comes to mind is American Graffiti, with Harrison Ford playing the part of a hot-rod-driving, high school drop-out that older folks liked to call a juvenile delinquent. In the 1950s, this didn’t particularly mean doing gang violence or dealing drugs, but rather boys wearing their hair a bit longer, slicked back, girls wearing excessive makeup, using too much hairspray, both dressing “inappropriately,” using unacceptable (hip) language, breaking curfew, speaking their mind, getting grounded, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer at the drive-in restaurant, or worse, in the high school parking lot.

All this was contradictory to what we saw on TV. The shows we watched were like societal plays on proper morals, values, behavior, manners. Really. The Two and a Half Men of today was the Ozzie and Harriet of then, with soft rock ‘n roller Rickey Nelson, no less, as the perfect child (Hello Mary Lou, Sweet Mary Lou, I’m so in love with you…). And South Park is the Father Knows Best of then. Modern Family of now was the Bonanza of then. Plus, if you hadn’t gotten enough preaching, you could watch The Lone Ranger (“Hi ho, Silver”… Masked man saves the day.) and Lassie (dog solves problems in half an hour), Superman (“Look, up in the sky… Mild mannered reporter solves the problems) and I Love Lucy (Lucy causes the problems). I think you can see them all, at some time of the day, on TV Land channel. In every show,

The main characters were righteous and proud, humble and honest, moral and ethical. These shows had heroes and everyday good people who did the right thing and regularly defeated the guy who did the wrong thing.

Want to check one of these show out, to see what I’m talking about? I suggest you find out what time Leave it to Beaver is on.

In almost every episode, the Beav pulls some harmless prank, his perfectly coiffed mother June feels obligated to inform her mildest- mannered husband Ward, who, when he gets home from his white- collar job, always in a good mood, he sits down with the Beav and explains in simple language the difference between right and wrong. If you take my suggestion, be sure to catch an episode where the Beaver’s brother Wally’s friend Eddie Haskell makes an appearance. He, you’ll be amused to see, is a sanctimonious, two-faced, trouble-making twit––“And don’t you look nice today, Mrs. Cleaver.”

Another suggeston: After checking out the Beaver’s perfect family, then go on your Netflix streaming and search Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean’s 1955 movie about a rebellious teenager who arrives at a new high school, meets a girl (whom he met at the police station for being out alone after dark––tsk, tsk), disobeys his parents, drinks beer, gets in a knife fight, even races stolen cars (all the while in a white T-shirt that never gets dirty).

Many uptight adults evidently did not approve of the way some of us were behaving, looking and talking. Girls were expected to act a certain “ladylike” way and boys were still expected to act like gentlemen. All of us were either to be seen and not heard, or not seen at all. This I remember: When attending social outings with my parents’ friends, my father made it quite clear that we kids were not to speak unless spoken to. I can still recall the dirty looks I got from across the dinner table when I risked to be funny. And the car ride home, when I got an earful: “You think you’re funny. You’re not funny. Did I not tel you not to say anything?  Didn’t I?”

OK, I make a left turn now, get completely off the subject. As I’m thinking about the difference between then and now, what also comes to mind is the phone. And boy, would’ve I welcomed a cell phone when I was a teen. Texting, especially, woulda made things so much easier, so much less stressful; I mean, I was a nervous wreck, a fumbling, bumbling teenage Inspector Clouseau the first half-dozen phone conversations I had with a neighborhood girl by the name of Sandy. This, in 1962, when I was a high school sophomore. So keen to make an impression was I that, before calling, I wrote down a list of subjects before dialing her number. I can only imagine the conver-sation: “So, how was Spanish today? Did you conjugate verbs again? (check) What did you have for dinner? Really? That sounds better than the canned spaghetti we had. (check) Do you like Chubby Checker’s new Slow Twistin’ song?[6] (check) Speaking of music, you wouldn’t want to go to the dance with me on Friday night, would you?” (gulp, check)

“Please Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go.”

So there were these parties and these dances that we attended, and they had nuts and chips and punch and M&Ms and every kid like me was a self-conscious, awkward, angst- and acne-ridden ball of nervous energy. I empathize for the chaperones, because nobody had iPods with headphones or ear buds, so they were forced to always live in the real world, and at gatherings of teenagers that world had to have been loud, just from the piercing voices of the boys whose voices had yet to change, and the squealing giddy girls, not to mention the music that came out of mercifully small speakers connected to turntables, radios or juke boxes. (And how cool would it have been to capture it all on a digital recording device––the songs, the snippets of inane conversation, the squeaky voices.)

What you wouldn’t have heard at these dances was a rock and roll sub genre that came to be known as the novelty song. Now, you’re going to have to take my word for it (Don’t forget, I was there. I can recall the tune and a reasonable percentage of the words.) But most of these songs were not danceable. They were made to amuse, and here’s a sample to amuse you:

Beep Beep is a story about how a Nash Rambler, a forerunner of today’s economical compact-size car, embarrassed a high-flying Cadillac. Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Backseat (with Fred; self-explanatory). And who, you ask, was the most popular British recording artist before the Beatles? Lonnie Donegan is the answer, and he, you wouldn’t know, asked this musical question: Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Over Night).

And then it asks this follow-up question:  When your mother says don’t chew it, do you swallow it in spite? And finally, this one: Can you catch it on your tonsils, can you heave it left and right?…

I’m sure you’ve heard about Custer’s Last Stand, but not the tune, so here goes:

 That famous day in history the men of the 7th Cavalry went riding off

And from the rear a voice was heard, A brave young man with a trembling word rang loud and clear):

What am I doin’ here?

Please, Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go

Hey, Mr. Custer, please don’t make me go

I had a dream last night about the comin’ fight

Somebody yelled “attack!”

And there I stood with a arrow in my back.

Please, Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go (forward Ho!!)—aaww

 

And possibly you’ve heard the song about the self-conscious gal who boldly purchased a new yellow bathing suit but couldn’t stand the attention she got, so she went into the water and wouldn’t come out. In a nutshell:

It was an itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie, Yellow, polka dot bikini,

That she wore for the first time today.

An itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie, Yellow, polka dot bikini,

So in the water she wanted to stay

Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb is without a doubt, the corniest novelty song ever; if you’ve got absolutely nothing else to do, give it a listen, if just to hear some of the era’s lingo, including these:

Boy: What’s with this comb caper, baby?

Why do you wanna latch up with my comb?

Girl: I just want you to stop combing your hair and kiss me.

You’re the maximum utmost.

Boy: Well, I beans & I dreams goin’, I’m movin’ right now, cause that’s the kind of scene that I dig…Baby, you’re the ginchiest!

travolta 

This corny tune introduces the subject of vanity as it relates to hair, which seems to me, anyway, a bigger issue than it is today. I could be wrong.  Certainly you’ve seen the 1978 movie Grease (which took place in 1959, the year before the Kookie song was released). The movie’s title either referred to John Travolta’s character Danny Zuko as a greaser, but I don’t know if that had to do with the stuff he put in his hair to maintain his bad boy image, or it had something to do with the fact that he spent most of his time working on cars. (Danny was not a college-prep student.) [7]

Revisiting my school annuals (’59 through ‘64), I see there wasn’t a boy in the book whose hair covered his ears. And every girl wore their hair up, permed, I think you call it, possibly with help from sleeping in hair curlers, and an abundance of hair spray. Everyone looks proper, like their parents, like old people.

[8]

As I think back, my hair length grew right along with me.

In middle school I wore my hair in what was called a flat top––short all over, like a buzz cut; down the middle there was sort of a landing strip, and in front was a tuft of hair that was kept at attention with a dab of Butch Wax. In high school I wore it short but perfectly in place, thanks to Brylcream (and a comb I always kept in my back pocket). And after high school and during the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks and Bob Dylan, my hair slowly grew over my ears and my sideburns crept down to my earlobe.

My boomerang Won’t Come Back is just what you can imagine, or not: My boomerang won’t come back, I’ve waved the thing all over the place, Practiced ’til I was black in the face; I’m a big disgrace to the Aboriginal race, My boomerang won’t come back. (Conclusion: A witch doctor solves his problem.) And this, I guess you’d call a horror novelty song, about a friendly ET-like alien.

It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater(One-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater)A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eaterSure looks strange to me

Well he came down to earth and he lit in a tree,I said Mr. Purple People Eater, don’t eat me  I heard him say in a voice so gruff
  I wouldn’t eat you cuz you’re so tough.

Gotta include the Monster Mash here, and you’ll see why, to wit:

From my laboratory in the castle east

To the master bedroom where the vampires feast

The ghouls all came from their humble abodes

To get a jolt from my electrodes

They did the mash

They did the monster mash

The monster mash

It was a graveyard smash

They did the mash

It caught on in a flash

They did the mash

They did the monster mash

The zombies were having fun

The party had just begun

The guests included Wolf Man, Dracula and his son

The scene was rockin’, all were digging the sounds

Igor on chains, backed by his baying hounds

The coffin-bangers were about to arrive

With their vocal group, “The Crypt-Kicker Five”

Showing how far we’ve come, squeeky clean Pat Boone could be politically incorrect in the ’50s, it seems, because his Speedy Gonzalez told a story about a philandering Mexican who lies to his wife that he must go shopping downtown, “for my mudder—she needs some tortillas an chili peppers.” Later in the song he comes clean, even inviting her to the cantina: “Hey, Rosita, come queek! Down at the cantina they giving green stamps with tequila.”

And then there’s that classic Wooly Bully, a song about spotting a big-horn sheep, I guess, made famous by Sam the Sham and the Pharohs, who begin the tune by counting, “Uno, dos, one, two, tres, quatro.”My favorite might be Western Music, by The Olympics, in part because there’s a gunshot in the song. Are the lyrics not hilarious?

To save my soul I can’t get a date, 

baby’s got it tuned on channel eight. 

Now Wyatt Earp and the Big Cheyenne, 

They’re comin’ thru the T.V. shootin’ up the land. 

Ah…um…My baby loves the Western movies. 

My baby loves the Western movies, 

Bam, bam, shoot ’em up Pow. 

Ah…um…

My babe loves the Western Movies.

 

I call my baby on the telephone, to tell her half my head was gone. 

I just got hit by a great big brick, she says thanks for reminding me about that Maverick…

 

And if you’ve never heard Witch Doctor, try making sense of this:

I told the witch doctor you didn’t love me true

I told the witch doctor you didn’t love me nice

And then the witch doctor, he gave me this advice

He said to …

Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang Walla walla, bing bang

Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang  Walla walla, bing bang…

Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang  Walla walla, bing bang

 

OK, here’s a question that will certainly date you: Do you know who Alley Ooop is? If not, here’s your introduction:

There’s a man in the funny papers we all know

(Alley Oop, oop, oop, oop-oop)

He lived ‘way back a long time ago

(Alley Oop, oop, oop, oop-oop)

He don’t eat nothin’ but a bear cat stew

(Alley Oop, oop, oop, oop-oop)

Well, this cat’s name is-a Alley Oop

(Alley Oop, oop, oop, oop-oop)

 (Alley Oop) He’s the toughest

 man there is alive

(Alley Oop) Wearin’ clothes from a wildcat’s hide

(Alley Oop) He’s the king of the jungle jive

(Look at that cave man go!!) (SCREAM)

And it continues with the Alley Oop, oopo, oop, oop-oop sandwiched between lyrics that were easier to remember than significant hitorical dates.

He got a chauffeur that’s a genuwine dinosawruh

And he can knuckle your head before you count to fawruh

He got a big ugly club and a head fulla hairuh

Like great big lions and grizzly bearuhs

He’s the toughest man there is alive

Wearin’ clothes from a wildcat’s hide

He’s the king of the jungle jive

(Look at that cave man go!!) (SCREAM)

He rides thru the jungle tearin’ limbs offa trees

Knockin’ great big monstahs dead on their knees

My personal favorite:

The cats don’t bug him cuz they know bettah

Cuz he’s a mean motah scootah and a bad go-gettah

 records

Doo wop, doo wah took on a meaning all is own

At school dances fast songs were the norm. Adminstrators were hesitant to play slow songs, because then chaperones would have to get off their metal folding chairs and enforce the twelve-inch rule. What’s that? Distance––the distance that bodies were to be keep between one another. But when they did play the slow songs, generally at the end of the dance, it was likely a doo wop song.

Beginning in the late ’40s, early ’50s, this genre was born in the city, with guys gathering on street corners and, without instruments, starting to harmonize. The first groups to make it big were the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers. The 1956 song In the Still of the Night, by The Five Satins, featured a “doo-wop, doo-wah” refrain, thus giving a name to the style.

The early ’50s brought the so-called bird groups: the Swallows, the Orioles, the Penguins, the Crows and the Flamingos; and the car groups: The Edsels, the Cadillacs, the Fleetwoods, and the Impalas.

To check it out, start with The Drifters and This Magic Moment, then give a listen to The Platters (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes), and The Miracles (Earth Angel). And my favorite, Little Anthony and the Imperials’ Tears On My Pillow, which I’ll include on the CD.

OK, guys, imagine yourself on the dance floor, shuffling stiffly and monotonously in a small circle, your left hand trying to decide how to hold hers, your right hand nervously resting on her bony hip, self-consciously trying to keep a conversation going, all the while keeping an eye out on your non dancing friends making faces you interpret as encouragement to break the 12-inch rule, or, better, give her a kiss.

I don’t recall any doo-wops in The Coasters hits, but this harmonizing New York group? produced some tunes you’ll certainly find familiar (unless you’re been plugged into your Justinbieberkateperrytaylorswift mix forever): Charlie Brown (#2 on pop charts). Along Came Jones, Poison Ivy, and, my favorite, Little Egypt:

I went and bought myself a ticket and

I sat down in the very first row, wo wo.

They pulled the curtain but then when

They turned the spotlight way down low, wo wo,

Little Egypt came out strutting,

Wearing nothing but a button and a bow, wo wo,

Singing, “Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah”.

She had a ruby on her tummy and

A diamond big as Texas on her toe, wo wo.

She let her hair down and

She did the hoochie koochie real slow, wo wo,

When she did her special number on a zebra skin,

I thought she’d stop the show, wo wo,

Singing, “Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah!”

She did a triple somersault and when she hit the ground,

She winked at the audience and then she turned around.

She had a picture of a cowboy tattooed on her spine,

Saying Phoenix, Arizona, nineteen forty-nine.

Yeah, but let me tell you people,

Little Egypt doesn’t dance there anymore, wo wo.

She’s too busy mopping and

A taking care of shopping at the store, wo wo.

Cause we got seven kids and

All day long they crawl around the floor, wo wo,

Singing, “Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Yeah yeah!”

 buddy

Buddy was an original, a genius of sorts, even with the hiccups

Still with me? If so, then take my recommendation and check out Buddy Holly on YouTube. He and his band, named the Crickets (the Beatles supposedly chose their bug-themed band’s name in homage to Holly), were the real thing in every sense. A tall kinda goofy-looking white guy from Lubbock, Texas, whose blue-inspired rockabilly crossed the racial divide, was an influence

on many to follow (The Beatles cited him as a primary influence). My suggestion is to first give a listen to Rave On, and if that strikes a chord with you, Not Fade Away.

To really get a feel for what was happening in the mid-’50s, there’s a YouTube video of Holly appearing on the Arthur Murray Dance Party, a TV variety show featuring Arthur and his wife teaching their sometimes famous guests how to do a particular dance step. Anyway, on this 1957 segment, with a line of girls wearing evening dresses behind her, Mrs. Murray, I presume, stood in front of the camera and said this:

“Now if you haven’t heard of these young men, then you must be the wrong age, because they’re rock and roll specialists. Now no matter what you think of rock and roll, I think you have to keep a nice open mind about what the young people go for, otherwise the youngsters won’t think you understand them.”

Then Buddy and his two Crickets––a double bass player and a drummer (with a v-shaped bit of hair pasted on his forehead, a “delinquent” hairdo you might have seen Fonzie wearing in Ron Howard’s Happy Days sitcom)––begin to sing Peggy Sue, the group’s signature song to that point. Dressed in a tuxedo, Holly looks out of place, stiff and uncomfortable, but his talent was so large that he was incapable of not bringing it. This was on national TV, a big deal, I’m sure, to Holly. What’s so interesting is that while he’s singing, standing motionless as they undoubtedly were told to, but desperately wanting to change into more comfortable clothes, let their hair down (not for another few years) and start beboppin’ around the floor.

Besides “Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry,” Don McLean’s American Pie includes the lyric “The day the music died”

It was in 7th grade, in 1959, when I was 12 years old, that a private plane carrying Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson crashed in an Iowa cornfield. “Although the plane came down only five miles northwest of the airport, no one saw or heard the crash,” wrote music historian Harry Hepcat, in an article about Buddy Holly. “The bodies lay in the blowing snow through the night….February indeed made us shiver, but it was more than the cold of February that third day of the month in 1959. It was the shiver of a greater, sometimes senseless, reality invading our sheltered, partying, teenaged life of the ’50s.”

Two other big stars perished that night, along with an entire galaxy. Valens was immortalized with the movie La Bamba, and Richardson scored once with Chantilly Lace. And a sentiment shared

by almost every hormonally changed teen in Dick Clark’s Nation.[9]

Chantilly lace and a pretty face
, And a pony tail hanging down
, That wiggle in the walk and giggle in the talk

Makes the world go round

There ain’t nothing in the world like a big-eyed girl

That makes me act so funny, make me spend my money

Make me feel real loose, like a long-necked goose

Like a girl, oh baby that’s what I like.

It was Holly’s passing that stunned the musical world. He was just a kid, only 23 years old, but he’d already produced a dozen chart toppers, including That’ll Be the Day,[10] which, along with a couple of dozen other megahits, is displayed in a large frame in my house. Judy and I created our own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Well, that’ll be the day when you say goodbye

Yeah, yes, that’ll be the day when you make me cry.

You say you’re gunna leave me, you know it’s a lie,

’Cause that’ll be the daaay when I die.

It wasn’t just Elvis, Chuck and Buddy that filled the radio airwaves during the late 50s and early 60s, there was a bunch of listenable tunes by obscure groups, some which were eventually known as One Hit Wonders.[11] Among those songs were an unrelated series dealing with teenage death and tragedy (some brought about by Holly’s death?). I include them here because they are so darkly corny. I start with Jody Reynold’s 1958 classic, Endless Sleep, which went like this:

The night was black, rain fallin’ down
,

Looked for my baby, she’s nowhere around

Traced her footsteps down to the shore,

’fraid she’s gone forever more.

I looked at the sea and it seemed to say,

“I took your baby from you away.
”
I heard a voice cryin’ in the deep,

“Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.”

 

Then there’s Mark Dinning’s 1959 song of undying love. Teen Angel is about a guy, the love of his life and an unreliable car:

That fateful night the car was stalledupon the railroad track
,

I pulled you out and we were safe but you went running back.

Teen angel, can you hear me
? Teen angel, can you see me
?

Are you somewhere up above
? And I am still your own true love?

What was it you were looking forthat took your life that night
?

They said they found my high school ring

clutched in your fingers tight.

Johnny Preston’s 1960 hit, Running Bear, tells a West Side Story-like tale of a couple of hot-for-each-other young Native Americans from ribal tribes whose elders forbid them from seeing each other:

On the bank of the river
, stood Running Bear, young Indian brave
. On the other side of the river
, stood his lovely Indian maid, Little White Dove was her name
, such a lovely sight to see.

But their tribes fought w/each other, so their love could never be.

 Running Bear loved Little White Dove, with a love big as the sky
. Running Bear loved Little White Dove, with a love that couldn’t die. He couldn’t swim the raging river, ’cause the river was too wide
.

He couldn’t reach Little White Dove, waiting on the other side. In the moonlight he could see her, throwing kisses ’cross the waves
.

Her little heart was beating faster, waiting for her Indian brave.

Running Bear dove in the water
, Little White Dove did the same. And they swam out to each other, through the swirling stream they came
. As their hands touched and their lips met,

 the raging river pulled them down
.

Now they’ll always be together
, in their happy hunting ground.

OK, let’s say we have a contest for the corniest, most ironic, iconic, amusingist teen tragedy song of all time. And everyone gets to vote–– me first. Without hesitation, my vote goes to The Shangri-las, for their 1964 mega-whopper-show stopper, Leader of the Pack.

[Spoken:]Is she really going out with him?

Well, there she is, let’s ask her.

Betty, is that Jimmy’s ring you’re wearing?Mm-hmm
.

 Gee, it must be great riding with him
.

Is he picking you up after school today?

Uh-uh

By the way, where’d you meet him?

I met him at the candy store
; He turned around and smiled at me. You get the picture?

(yes, we see)

That’s when I fell for (the leader of the pack)

My folks were always putting him down (down, down)
. They said he came from the wrong side of town.

(Whatcha mean when ya say that he came from the wrong side of town?)

They told me he was bad
. But I knew he was sad
. That’s why I fell for (the leader of the pack)

One day my dad said, “Find someone new.

I had to tell my Jimmy we’re through
.

(Whatcha mean when ya say that ya better go find somebody new?)He stood there and asked me why
. But all I could do was cry. I’m sorry I hurt you

(the leader of the pack)

[Spoken:]He sort of smiled and kissed me good-bye
. The tears were beginning to show as he drove away on that rainy night. I begged him to go slow, but whether he heard,

 I’ll never know.

Look out! Look out! Look out! Look out!

I felt so helpless, what could I do? Remembering all the things we’d been through. In school they all stop and stare. I can’t hide the tears, but I don’t care. I’ll never forget him … The Leader of the Pack.

And if you like this Shangri-Las song, check out Remember (Walking in the Sand).

When I Say ‘I’m in Love’ you best beleive I’m love, luv’

Here comes my guy, walking down the street.


Look how he walks, with a dancing beat.

(Da-Da-Da-Da)


Thick wavy hair  (Da-Da-Da-Da)

A bit too long  (Da-Da-Da-Da)


All day long he’s singing his song.



And when I see him in the street,


My heart takes a leap and skips a beat.

 

Here’s the good part:

Gonna’ walk right up to him
, Give him a great big kiss.

Mwaa


Tell him that I love him, tell him that I care,

Tell him that I’ll always be there.



(spoken)
 What color are his eyes?


I don’t know, he’s always wearing shades
.

Is he tall?


Well, I’ve got to look up.


Yeah well I hear he’s bad.


Mmm, he’s good, bad, but he’s not evil.



Tell me more, tell me more:

Big bulky sweaters…

(Tell me more) 
To match his eyes…

(Tell me more)
 Dirty fingernails…

(Tell me more)
 Oh boy what a prize.


Tight tapered pants, high button shoes.


He’s always looking like he’s got the blues.



And when I see him in the street, my heart takes a leap and skips a beat.


Gonna’ walk right up to him, give him a great big kiss.

 Mwaa

Tell him that I love him, tell him that I care,

 tell him that I’ll always be there.



(spoken)
 Is he a good dancer?


What do ya mean is he a good dancer?


How does he dance?


Close––very, very close…


Google any of these tunes and you’re likely to see the original artist performing or lyp-synching this song on a stage that looks like it was put together by a high school drama department.

I couldn’t find a YouTube original performance of Joanie Summers singing her 1962 hit, Johnny Get Angry (but I did find a Japanese band who covered it, and they even included the kazoo in the bridge). Here the gist of it:

Johnny, I said we were through Just to see what you would do.

You stood there and hung your head,

Made me wish that I were dead.

Oh, Johnny get angry, Johnny get mad

Give me the biggest lecture I ever had

I want a brave man, I want a cave man

Johnny, show me that you care, really care for me

Every time you danced with me

You let Freddy cut in constantly

When he’d ask, you’d never speak

Must you always be so meek?

 

I have no idea if Joe Jones made a career out of his music, but he made a lot of noise with his 1960 hit, You Talk Too Much, which I nearly deleted from this dissertational behemoth, but after re-reading the lyrics, I changed my mind, to wit:

You talk too much
, you worry me to death

You talk too much
, you even worry my pet



You talk about people
 that you don’t know

You talk about people
 wherever you go 



You talk about people
 that you’ve never seen


You talk about people, 
you can make me scream.

My friend had a record player under his dashboard

Left the house every day wearing my high school uniform that consisted of either tan, dark green or brown denim Levis (the fad was to wear them short, which prompted the occasional comment: “Whadda expect, a flood?”) a short sleeve plain shirt, low top Converse basketball shoes and my letterman’s jacket or a v-neck sweater.

During my high school years (’61-’64) my musical interest went in various directions. The hot rod-drive-in culture of the late fifties was hanging on. In 1963 I owned a ’55 Chevy, complete with 3 on the floor, tuck ’n’ roll upholstery, chrome wheels and a $125 custom paint job, which was most admired when sitting in a drive-in burger and shake joint. It was least impressive when watching it leave in its wake a plume of black smoke emitting from its tired 6-cylinder engine. Things were more favorable driving around as a passenger in my friend Ron’s red 1962 Chevy Corvair. Besides the sleek futuristic features and the eye-catching candy apple red color, what made this car special, and I am not making this us, was the record player (45s only) that he had installed under the dashboard.55chevy

So, here I am, 16 years old, cruising the boulevards with my buddies, wearing our school colors, with the faint hope that somehow, someway, some good-looking “chicks,” as they were commonly known––by guys, anyway––would be bold enough to start a conversation with us, because we were way to cool (read that cowardly) to start one. Chances are these girls wore long sleeve snugly fit sweaters and wore their hair up, curled and frozen (thanks to hairspray).

I hope they weren’t watching one night when I was driving my Chevy down El Cajon Boulevard, on the way to Oscar’s, a drive-in fast food restaurant,[12] and I turned left into the parking lot, but only after bouncing across the raised center divider, which prompted roars of laughter from my passengers but panic from me when I saw the red lights of a closely following police car.

The push buttons on our stock (only AM) car radio were tuned to either KDEO, KCBQ or KGB as we channel-hoppped to find our favorite tunes. And what a selction we had: Not only was Elvis still producing (in the mid-’60s he contributed Devil in Disguise, Suspicious Minds and Crying in the Chapel); folk music was hanging on, due in part to the efforts of Bob Dylan and the acoustic trio of Peter, Paul and Mary (Blowin’ in the Wind), and I better not omit all the great instrumental tunes like the Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run or Al Hirt’s Java.[13] Surf music crashed the party when the Brian Wilson-led Beach Boys started with Let’s Go Surfin’ in 1962,[14]between my sophomore and junior years of high school, a tune which inspired me and three buddies to pay $10 each to buy a homemade surfboard and, all but one fail to learn how to surf.

Let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learning how,

Come on and safari with me…

Early in the morning we’ll be startin’ out,

Some honeys will be coming along.

We’re loading up our Woody with our boards inside,

And headin’ out singing our song…

The first Beach Boys’ tune to make it to the top of the pop charts was the 1964 hit I Get Around, which made legitimate some of the teen jargon of the times:

Round round get around I get around

Yeah

Get around … From town to town

I’m a real cool head

Get around … I’m makin’ real good bread

I’m gettin bugged driving up and down the same old strip;

I gotta finda new place where the kids are hip

My buddies and me are getting real well known

Yeah, the bad guys know us and they leave us alone

Wah wa ooo

Wah wa ooo

Wah wa ooo

We always take my car cause it’s never been beat.

And weve never missed yet with the girls we meet.

None of the guys go steady ’cause it wouldn’t be right,

To leave their best girl home now on Saturday night.

 

Want more ’60s jargon? And inane lyrics in an iconic tune? Well, here’s some from Danny and the Juniors in their

You can rock and rolling, slopin’ and strollin’ at the hop, hop, hop, hop. Where the records stop spinning you can lip-synch with the chicken at the hop, hop, hop, hop… And the guys and chicks can get their kicks at the hop.

Feel like this thing is headin’ down the stretch. Before I wrap it up, better mention some more ’60s girl groups––which means, of course, that I identify Phil Spector, the notorious originator of the “Wall of Sound” production technique. The music was dense, layered and  reverberated; Spector called it “little symphonies for the kids.” Spector was hottest between 1960 and 1965, when he produced over 25 Top-40 hits; these days he spends in prison, for the 2003 murder of an actress.

UnknownThe most prolific of the girl groups was The Supremes, featuring Diana Ross. Besides the aforementioned Shangri-Las, there were The Shirelles, The Chantelles, The Chiffons, Ruby and the Romantics, The Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, The Crystals, and, finally, the Ronettes, whose 1963 recording of Be My Baby has been cited as the ultimate embodiment of Spector’s sound, and no less an authority than Brian Wilson, the genius behind the Beach Boys, declared Be My Baby the greatest pop record ever made. (For a time he played it every morning after waking up.) It’s certainly one of the most listened to, according to YouTube. My view just now became the 9, 530, 264th. (That’s 9 million.) I didn’t leave a comment, but I sure got a kick out of a few: “Wish I was born in this time of this kind of music.” … “I’m not born yet, and I’ve got all their albums.” … “I am God and this is my favorite song.”

Returning to the subject of one-hit wonders, I must mention Louie Louie, which, in 1963, was a cover by an obscure white band called The Kingsmen.  By all accounts, this recording was an accidental miracle. One factor in the success of the record may have been the rumor that the lyrics were intentionally slurred by the band; allegedly, this was to cover the fact that it was laced with profanity, graphically depicting sex between the sailor and his lady. The song was banned on many radio stations and in many places in the United States, including Indiana, where it was personally prohibited by the governor; “OK, let’s give it to ’em, right now…” None other than legendary funnyman John Belushi contributed to the song’s iconic status when his character in Animal House (If you have to ask, you’ve lived a sheltered existence), John “Bluto” Blutarsky, teaches pledges in his disreputable fraternity, Delta Tau Chi House, x-rated lyrics to the tune, which, needless to say, annoyed Dean Warmer but amused his wife.

The Beatles changed everything, as did The Rolling Stones

I’d be curious to know the total number of hours I’ve spent listening to Beatles music. Starting with the album Meet the Beatles! (the second Beatles’ album released in the United States, despite the “first album” claim on its cover). It was released in January 1964. I Want to Hold Your Hand, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There. Formed in 1960, they first recorded in 1962, when I was a high school sophomore. John Lennon said little thought went into composition at the time; he and McCartney were “just writing songs à la the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, pop songs with no more thought to them than that—to create a sound. And the words were almost irrelevant.” Later, John Lennon, especially, began writing songs that called for change. (“All we are saying, is give peace a chance…”)

Judy even went to a Beatles concert. On August 28, 1965, before 18,000 mostly screaming girls, they performed at Balboa Stadium, now a parking lot for City College. They sang only 12 songs, and were off the stage in 31 minutes. She still has the ticket and the program.

In April 1964 they accounted for all five of the top five songs. Led by the Beatles, soon thereafter America experienced what became known as the British Invasion, the most famous other band being The Rolling Stones.

While the first Beatles tunes were simple and innocent, and John, Paul, George and Ringo seemed likewise, the Rolling Stones apparently were naughty by comparison. Longer hair, demeanor more serious.  At one point three of the five Stones had faced drug charges.

 

I can’t get no…no, no, no, no…hey, hey, hey!

Before starting this, and certainly by the time I was 10 pages in, I made a decision not to go past 1964, the year I graduated from high school. Well, the Rolling Stones were formed in 1962, but didn’t make it big until 1965, when they released what Rolling Stone Magazine rated the #2 R&R song of all time, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.[15]

The song’s opening guitar riff is something I’ve never tired of hearing. Maybe someone could explain to me how this works, why it works on my senses, why it’s so pleasurable to hear.

When I’m watchin’ my T.V.  And that man comes on to tell me

How white my shirts can be,  But he can’t be a man

‘cause he doesn’t smoke, the same cigarettes as me

I can’t get no, oh no, no, no …  Hey hey hey, that’s what I say

I can’t get no satisfaction I can’t get no girl reaction

’Cause I try and I try and I try and I try I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m ridin’ round the world, And I’m doin’ this and I’m signing that, And I’m tryin’ to make some girl, Who tells me baby better come back later next week, ’Cause you see I’m on a losing streak

 In its day the song was perceived as disturbing because of both its sexual connotations and the negative view of commercialism and other aspects of modern culture. When the Rolling Stones performed the song on Shindig! in 1965, the line “trying to make some girl” was censored.

The Rolling Stones were credited with re-introducing soul music to American audiences. Their arrogant, raunchy and unkempt bad-boy image, along with their aggressive guitar-driven sound have provided a blueprint for hard rock bands that have followed. Rock historians mostly agree that the Stones were eclipsed only by the Beatles as the greatest rock band of all time.

Satisfaction held on for a full four weeks, before being knocked off by a tune sung by a group called Herman and the Hermits. I’m not kidding, and I’m not making these lyrics up.

I’m Henry The Eighth I am, I am!

I got married to the widow next door

She’s been married seven times before

And every one was a Henry (Henry)

She wouldn’t have a Willie or a Sam (no Sam)

I’m her eighth old man, I’m Henry, Henry The Eighth I am!

 

And then music opened our eyes to the realities of a mixed up world[16]

Times were changing in the early ’60s, as we were told by a fellow teenager from Minnesota by the stage name of Bob Dylan, who in no small part helped give a voice to young people.

In 1963 Dylan asked how many Americans deaths would be neces- sary before people decided there had been too many, when he sang Blowin’ in the Wind. And in 1964 his song The Times They Are a Changin’ became an anthem for U.S. civil rights and antiwar movements:

Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam

And admit that the waters around you have grown

And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone

If your time to you is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen

And keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again

And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin

And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’

For the loser now will be later to win

For the times they are a-changin’.

Come, senators, congressmen, Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled

There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin’

Come, mothers and fathers throughout the land

And don’t criticize what you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand, For the times they are a-changin’

End this!

OK, I agree, it’s beyond time to wrap this up. How? Well, one way is to identify the title of this essay, Sloopy, I Don’t Care What Your Daddy Do.

The mangled lyric came from the song Hang On, Sloopy. I  chose the title for no good reason other than I find it amusingly stupid. And then, about midway through the project, while doing my Internet researching, I guess you’d call it, I discover some interesting things about the song. In the early ’80s, the Ohio State marching band included the song in its repertoire at football games. Buckeye fans took the cue and started singing the chorus of “Hang on, Sloopy, Sloopy hang on.” Fast forward to November 20, 1985: the General Assembly of Ohio formally resolved that “Hang on, Sloopy’’ would become “The Official Rock Song of the State of Ohio.’’ The following was part of the resolution:

“WHEREAS, “Hang on Sloopy” is of particular relevance to members of the baby boom generation, who were once dismissed as a bunch of long-haired, crazy kids, but who now are old enough and vote in sufficient numbers to be taken quite seriously…”

and “WHEREAS, Adoption of this resolution will not take too long, cost the State anything, or affect the quality of life in this State to any appreciable degree, and if we in the legislature just go ahead and pass the darn thing, we can get on with more important stuff.”

Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

And everybody, yeah, tries to put my Sloopy down (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

Sloopy, I don’t care what your daddy do (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

’Cause you know, Sloopy, girl, I’m in love with you (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

And so I sing out
, Hang on, Sloopy Sloopy, hang on
,

Hang on, Sloopy
, Sloopy, hang on.

Sloopy wears a red dress, yeah, as old as the hills  (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

But when Sloopy wears that red dress, yeah, you know, it gives me the chills,

Sloopy, when I see you walking, walking down the street (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

I say, “Don’t worry, Sloopy, girl, you belong to me” (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

And so I sing out
, Hang on, Sloopy
, Sloopy, hang on
, Hang on, Sloopy
, Sloopy, hang on. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Give it to ‘em right now.

Sloopy, let your hair down, girl
, Let it hang down on me

 (Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh)

Sloopy, let your hair down, girl
, Let it hang down on me, yeah, yeah

Come on, Sloopy (Come on, come on)Well, come on, Sloopy (Come on, come on)Well, come on, Sloopy (Come on, come on)Well, it feels so good (Come on, come on)You know, it feels so good (Come on, come on)Well, shake it, shake it, shake it, Sloopy (Come on, come on)

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Actually, by the mid 1930s elements of rock and roll could be found in every type of American folk and blues music. Black musicians like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie began playing swing music, which was essentially jazz for dancing. In the Southwest, Bob Wills (and his Texas Playboys) combined big band, blues and country music into a new style of dance music. And Jimmie Rodgers, a country singer famous for his rhythmic yodeling, was elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame––as an early influence. Moreover, his Blue Yodel No. 9 was selected as one of the R&RHoF’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Think I’ll include a couple of Rodgers’s songs on a CD that will accompany this.

[2] Johnnie Ray’s meteoric rise in the music business makes me question what explained it––Was it his voice and song styling or was it mostly his stage theatrics? And this makes me wonder how many great singers did not make the transition from radio to TV, because the camera literally paralyzed them, and their vocal chords. And there must have been other great singers whose careers stalled only because they had crooked teeth or one eye was lower than the other. I’m guessing that’s how the handsome barber Perry Como ended up with his own TV show.

 

[3] If there were double entendres in these lyrics, I was too clueless to decipher them. I just liked melody and the beat. One song that I did try to figure out was called Green Door; it was about a guy who could hear some people having a good time behind a green door that nobody would open for him. The record  was among my collection.

 

 

[4] We eventually did––see Elvis––in 1972, in Vegas, five years before he died. The show, at the Las Vegas Hilton, was sold out. We hung around outside the showroom, waiting to see if there was a cancellation. When they shut the doors, the maître d’ left his post. I literally pushed Judy through the door and we stood in the back, in the dark, behind the back tables, seemingly out of sight, hoping against hope just to get a glimpse of him. The energy in the room was palpable. All eyes were on the stage. Elvis, though, was backstage, probably trying to squeeze into that tight-fitting silk jumpsuit of his. First his orchestra played, then the back-up male singers came out, then the female singers. It seemed there were 50 people on stage. Then they started playing the 2001, A Space Odyssey music, Also sprach Zarathustra, then the orchestra ramped it up another notch with a simple six-note loop of “Da da daaaa, da da daaaa.” (YouTube Elvis Intro) And it went on and on and on, until, just when you were about to think that he might not, he appeared. Elvis. Elvis Presley. After letting the people look at him for a minute he started singing. There was no place I would’ve rather been at that moment. And then we were spotted. Just as I was getting ready to plead or empty my wallet, the guy invites us to sit in an unoccupied table. I was so excited I failed to tip him.

[5] It’s 1959, you’re in 8th grade. For weeks you pester your mother with a request to have a dance party in your garage. Finally, she gives in. You hang a few streamers, cover the tool-lined walls with some crepe paper and, because it smells of gasline and oil, you put the lawn mower outside. Your mother sets up folding chairs and a cardboard table, on which she puts a punch bowl and a couple of bags of chips. Since your record collection only numbers about twelve, you ask Judy Potter to bring hers. Included was the Fireflies’s You Were Mine. It’s one of the only slow songs, so you play it a lot. With both arms wrapped tightly around a girl who is half a head taller than you, you dance, stiffly, more or less, to the beat of the song, next to the free-standing ringer washing machine and not far from where motor oil routinely drops from your family’s 1956 Rambler station wagon. Late into the party, sometime around 9:00 p.m., you slide over and flip off the lights. “Alright,” says Timmy or Tommy. After a couple more spins of You Were Mine, just when your cheek is almost permanently stuck to hers, the lights come on. It’s your mother. “Keep the lights on!” she barks. “Yeah,” you say, “Who turned off the lights?” Someone laughs, then they all start laughing, but you don’t know why. “You’ve got lipstick all over your face,” says the tall girl.

 

[6] In 1962 there were nine top-100 tunes with the word ‘twist’ in the title.

 

[7] Or maybe the title came from the tune Greased Lightning: Why, this car is automatic, it’s systematic, it’s hydromatic … Why, it’s greased lightning!

And it’s here where I must include the lyric about the cars of the late ’50s, early ’60s, whose style we likely will never see again: We’ll get some purple fringe taillights and thirty-inch fins, oh yeah

 

[8] That’s not to say that before the rock and roll culture there wasn’t tension between kids and their parents. It’s just that the defining line was blurred quite a bit: Not only did kids dress like their parents and wear their hair like their parents, they shared the same language and listened to the same music (and radio dramas shows). It seems like a lot of rules were set in place during the ’50s. Girls, for example, were prohibited from wearing pants, boys jeans.

 

[9] Dick Clark was best known for hosting American Bandstand, television’s longest-running variety show, from 1957 to 1987. It was something you didn’t want to miss––watching kids dancing to popular records of the day, at least one musical act lypsynching to one of their recent hits. Rolling Stone Magazine noted once that two-thirds of the inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had their television debuts on his show. Also, the show was among the first where blacks and whites performed on the same stage and the live audience seating was desegregated. Singer Paul Anka claimed that Bandstand was responsible for creating a “youth culture.”

[10] This was the first song John Lennon learned to play on the guitar. And Wolfman Jack introduced it on the night Curt and Laurie, Steve, John Milner, Terry “The Toad” and Carol cruised Modesto in American Graffiti.

 

[11] In cynical retrospect, one wonders how some of these tunes made it onto the disc jockey’s playlist. What I’m refering to was known as payola, which was (is) the illegal payment by record companies to the radio stations to promote their records. All I know is that certain tunes seemed to be played more often than many of us wanted to hear them.

[12] Oscar’s Drive-In evolved to Jack in the Box, the first drive-through––as in take your food off our premises. At Oscars’ food was served by carhops in a covered parking lot. Later, the innovation of a two-way intercom allowed one car to place an order while another car was being served. The strategy was not to place your entire order at once, so you could hang out longer (burger and Coke, fries and shake, another burger and onion rings, etc.).

[13] Here’s the briefest collection of the widest range of top-10 pop hits of the ’60s: David Rose’s The Stripper, Theme From a Summer Place by Percy Faith, Cast Your Fate to the Wind by Vince Guaraldi, Floyd Cramer’s Last Date, Alley Cat by Bent Fabric, Apache by Jogen Ingmann and, just because I like the artist’s name, Nut Rocker by B. Bumble & the Stingers.

[14] I have to sneak this in, because I know there’ll never be a sequel to this:

The album Pet Sounds, by the Beach Boys. Their 11th album.  1966. Ranked number 2 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. (Also in the top 10: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band (at #1), plus three other Beatles albums, a couple of Bob Dylan’s, Marvin Gaye, the Clash and the Stones.)

 

[15] The Stones’s Satisfaction was eclipsed only by Bob Dylan’s 1965 song, Like a Rolling Stone. Go figure.

 

[16] On November 22nd, 1963, I was sitting in English class when a voice came on the school intercom to inform us that President Kennedy had been assasinated. It was before and after this date that nuclear war “issues” led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Marilyn Monroe allegedly commited suicide, and the U.S. began bombing North Vietnam.