The River's Badge

Friday, June 23, 2017

1983 Was Not A Red-Letter Year In Country Music


In 1983 I was still driving my '76 Chevy Malibu. I liked it. It fit. It was also the first brand-new car I'd ever owned, so I felt like I had moved up in the world. I'd graduated from a used powder blue 1966 Chevrolet Impala to a they-saw-me-coming '74 Chevy Vega hatchback with the hue and texture of a can of Campbell's Cream of Tomato soup. Each of those cars had cost a couple hundred dollars at the most; the Malibu I had to finance! Sign papers for! The Malibu had a sometimes-it-works air conditioning system and tan folding faux leather seats. It was perfect, and it wasn't orange!

I didn't have far to travel in my tiny town -- my longest drive was north along Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's house; a fifteen-minute cruise if the stoplights didn't hit just right. I visited Mom and Dad a lot on sunny afternoons  -- my kids were in elementary school and I worked second shift. My days were free and Dad and Mom were my tether. Easing the Malibu into their driveway and spying Dad bent over in the front yard, yanking weeds from the flower bed, felt like home, even though I'd never ever lived in that house. I knew Mom would be upstairs in the kitchen, running a damp rag across the counter top, checking the Mr. Coffee to determine if it'd stopped dripping. I'd pull out a chair from the dining room table and Mom would offer me coffee and a slice of pie and we'd talk about nothing much. Dad would broach the stairs, swiping a handkerchief across his brow; pour himself a cup and ease his butt into an adjoining seat. I have no recollection of what those conversations entailed, but I remember that when I turned to go home, I always felt better -- stronger somehow.

Music was in the doldrums. I was on the verge of giving up on country, and soon I would. Shelly West was still basking in the after-glow of the Urban Cowboy fad and Crystal Gayle was a novelty, famous for her ridiculously long hair and the fact that she was Loretta Lynn's little sister. Sylvia was a producer's creation -- another try at Chet's Nashville Sound that was a long-time gone and hardly lamented. Alabama was still hanging around, as they were wont to do. Merle was on a down-slide; Charley Pride was still grasping onto the tattered shreds of his once-red-hot career. Even the artists I loved, like Ronnie Milsap and the Oaks, were looking at their careers in the rear-view mirror. John Conlee had exhausted his one big hit. Much like the late sixties, producers paired male and female voices, but the result was pop pap; as opposed to "After The Fire Is Gone". Country was lost and needed someone to save it. That someone hadn't yet ridden over the horizon.

Still, like any year in music, there were gems.

Alabama was on it's next-to-last gasp:


I think the first time I became aware of the Oak Ridge Boys was when they recorded Rodney Crowell's "Leavin' Louisiana In The Broad Daylight". Then I did a bit of digging and found that they were once a gospel band. As a Midwesterner, I was oblivious to gospel music. Alice and I, though, had seen the Statesmen as an opening act at one of the many country concerts we'd attended, and we'd gotten on board. The deep bass voice, the tenor, and the harmony parts had roped us in. The call and response.

For a time, country gospel became our new obsession. Of course, we were fourteen, so everything to us was brand new.

That history cemented my love for the Oak Ridge Boys, who had this hit song in 1983:


Along about July, a couple of old hands rode to the rescue:


Along about 1979, I talked Mom into attending an indoor rodeo with me. I told her that a new country artist would be performing in between the barrel racing and the calf roping. In the west, rodeos were not considered weird or corny. I'd been to lots of rodeos -- I was familiar with the eight-second rule for bull riders. It's not so much that I was a rodeo fan, but that live entertainment was sorely lacking in our town. We went to whatever the box office put forth. I was, however, enamored with Reba McEntire and had never seen her in person, so....


 Later, I would resent Reba for unnaturally expanding the boundaries of what could be called "country". She took advantage of her fame. She loved on-stage costume changes and male background dancers. But she was country once, and I'm happy I could introduce Mom to her voice.

The Number Eighty-Seven song of the year flew past me, because I'd by then long abandoned country music (as it had abandoned me).  It's funny how life works. Eighty-seven? Truly? This song rests firmly within my top twenty country songs of all time, and it only reached eighty-seven on the charts? Country fans needed a firm shake. (And speaking of rodeos):


The truth, though, sad as it may be, is that on my drive up Ninth Street to Mom and Dad's, with the seventeen-story Capitol Building casting its shadow across my sun visor, is that THIS is the song that 1983 will be remembered for. 

I remember that drive, and that day, so succinctly. I remember muttering to myself, "If I hear this song one more time, I'm going to stab my radio with a serrated carving knife."

Funny how time works. The song doesn't seem so bad now, thirty-four years after the fact. 










 










Friday, June 16, 2017

1987 And MTV


I know the old joke -- Remember when MTV played music?

In 1987, I was in that sweet spot -- thirty-two years old, with two kids who were still fun to be around. I had a job I still liked; second shift at the local hospital, a work schedule that suited our family's circumstances just fine.The Medical Floor had two wings, a modern robin's-egg blue-walled cubby with a softly-carpeted waiting area near the elevator, furnished with cushy magenta chairs and sunflower prints on the walls; and the old annex, with its scuffed linoleum and the clatter of every dropped dinner tray echoing off its cavernous walls. I believe in the thirties the old wing was used as a psychiatric cell. Our work schedules were hand-drawn three months in advance, so we worker drones would know where we belonged on any given day. I rotated between the old and new wings. I liked the old one. I can't explain it rationally -- I think it just felt more real. A hospital is a sad place, but we didn't give in to sorrow. We couldn't. We had our "regulars"; those who were admitted every couple of weeks or so -- the elders with emphysema, the teenage kids with cystic fibrosis, who were the most joyous humans on the planet. We all knew their timeline was approaching its end and we huddled together and dripped tears on the newspaper print when a sad obituary was flayed across the nurses' station.

I was a civilian -- a ward clerk who tended to the doctors' orders and the next-day's breakfast choices. I scheduled surgeries and made sure the lab techs drew blood for the appropriate tests. I filled water pitchers. I helped to turn the patients when the RN's were busy tending to a combative old man who had wrested out of his restraints.

Around lights-out, the nurses and I settled in at the station and worked on our craft projects. Cross-stitch became my salve, my Zen. We flipped up the volume on the radio dial and bounced a bit in our chairs to the latest hits. Ten o'clock, I zipped through the sliding doors in the lobby, keys in hand; breathed in the cool night air, and snuggled inside the warm leather for my short drift home.

Our radio station was Y93. I was alive. Our Minnesota Twins were on a tear. I adopted baseball in 1987. We could feel it -- this time they were going to win it all -- our ragtag heroes, Gaetti, Hrbek, Kirby, Frank Viola, Dan Gladden, Brunansky. I learned to call strikes. I became a fool baseball expert in 1987.

And the radio and MTV featured songs like this:


I remember calling our local station and requesting that song, and the supercilious woman disc jockey informing me that they didn't play "that crap". She only deigned to play ZZ Top and Eric Clapton, apparently. You know, the stuff you twirl the dial on your radio to get away from. Because, you know, one just can't get enough of "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)".

1987 was also the year a savant voice appeared; somebody who couldn't possibly be that good, but she was. She was but twenty-four years old and she put all the old dudes and dudettes to shame. The sun sparkled in her eyes. Just watch:


Is Wang Chung a weird name? It doesn't seem weird to me, in hindsight. I do, though, remember an episode of Cheers in which Fraser Crane recited these immortal words:

Everybody have fun tonight
Everybody Wang Chung tonight




Concert videos, even "fake" concert videos, were awesome to we MTV viewers.  It's like we're there! 

Okay, I understood the stagecraft, but that didn't detract from this song's impact. Although I will say the song would not be quite as fabulous if it weren't for the "ooh-wah ooh-wah" talkbox. Just sayin'.


Not to mention the hair. And flying into the crowd was a cool touch.

And speaking of hair, let's just say this: Yes, it was the eighties. Yes, we had big hair; even the boys. Height was the desired standard. I had essentially the same hairstyle that John Bon Jovi had. It wasn't weird, because everybody looked like that. Sure, in hindsight it's weird. Again, it was the eighties. We also wore eyeglasses with gigantic frames that stretched from the tip of our hairline down to just above our upper lip. Again, it was the eighties.

Also, we had music videos with super models flouncing across the hoods of cars:


Some Irish band (who'd never last) appeared on the scene in '87.


If you're a girl, you'll understand this next song. If you're not a girl, you will be flummoxed. I don't understand the male brain. I guess men like fast cars and big guns and quick scene flashes. I guess it's why my husband likes "Big Trouble In Little China", which, while we're watching it for the twentieth time, allows me time to take a quick snooze. I don't know why men don't feel the emotional impact of this (please disregard the crappy preview):


There are the purists who say that Peter Cetera ruined Chicago. Then there's me who says, who the F gave a damn about Chicago before Peter Cetera joined the group? I don't know what Peter Cetera is doing nowadays, but I assume he's sitting at home counting his wads of cash. Cetera was ubiquitous on 1980's movie soundtracks. Think "Karate Kid".

Peter Cetera teamed with Amy Grant for a big 1987 hit:




I don't know about you, but for me, 1987 is defined by Huey Lewis and the News. There was just something about Huey. He was geeky and not anyone one would associate with pop music. And yet it worked. Sorry this video is so badly constructed:



As a sorta country-pop geek, this was my VERY FAVORITE single from 1987, and I love it today:



Ahh, 1987 was a year. I love it for the tingling sensation of new untraveled roads. I miss it for the person I was then; wide-eyed, abashed.












Thursday, June 15, 2017

People Who Don't Like Country Music...


My husband, no country music fan, remarked the other day that the reason early-to-mid-sixties rock was so good was because of the harmonies. "That's when producers were still in charge," he said. His unspoken conclusion was that the rock artists of the late sixties weren't overly concerned with production. It's true. There were exceptions, but the late sixties were an anarchic time; artists were naive in their "let it all hang out" mindset toward music. Unlike now, which is essentially an anarchic time, too, but artists are now willing to bend a knee in worship of dollars and "likes". Perhaps that's why I find modern music tiresome -- it's so blatantly manipulative. I'll gladly take the naive badly produced song. At least it was honest.

But as my husband uttered the word, "harmonies", I thought, exactly! That's country music!

If the Everly Brothers had begun their career only a few years later than they did, they would have been country artists. Because country music is (or was) all about harmony.


There is an innate reason why humans are drawn to harmony. I'm not a scientist, so I don't know the reason for that. Maybe the answer is found in nature -- the way the flutter of the wind through the trees mingles with a bird's trills; and we feel alive and soft, cradled inside the earth's hands.

We're drawn to harmony and yearn to sing along. Even if we do it badly, it doesn't matter because it feels so good, so natural.

When I was sixteen or so, I'd recently purchased my first "real" reel-to-reel tape recorder, and I impressed myself with my wondrous ability to sing three-part harmony to this song, by bouncing tracks (the recording itself only featured two-part harmonies, but I said, let's go all out!):



In the early sixties, country music featured not only two-part, but three-part harmonies, where I no doubt got the idea for my "Silver Wings" rendition.

For example:


The absolute master of harmonies was Ray Price. Ray had his Cherokee Cowboys, of which a guy named Roger Miller was once a part. As an added bonus, Roger wrote this song and added his half-step to Ray's vocals:


And don't forget Buck Owens and Don Rich. In the early sixties, country music basically drizzled down to Buck Owens. The Grand Ol' Opry kept doing its thing, but nobody could compete with Bakersfield, and Nashville keenly knew it. If it wasn't for Don Rich, well...


There is no question what my favorite harmony song from the late sixties was. I know I recently featured this video in another post, but bear with me -- I can't find an original performance video of Mel Tillis doing:


From the Everlys to Porter and Dolly to Restless Heart to Brad and Dolly to Waylon and Willie, to Naomi and Wynonna, up to Vince and Patty, harmony is what country music is known for:



My visceral reaction to harmony singing, when it's good, is that it stabs me in the heart.

Everybody needs that little stab sometimes. That's how we know we're alive.








Saturday, June 10, 2017

"It's So Corny"


From the age of thirteen, when I took the deep dive into country music; which, honestly, I never would have done if not for my new best friend, I faced the quizzical, derisive expressions of anyone who ever asked me what kind of music I listened to -- if I chose to respond honestly. The truth was, I was kind of embarrassed, too. If I replied "country", the other person would say, "You mean like 'Folsom Prison Blues'?" Okay, yea, "Folsom Prison Blues", because that's the only country song the other person had ever heard of. Truthfully, I never liked that song. More truthfully, I never liked Johnny Cash, except for "I Still Miss Someone" and "Ring Of Fire". But the general (ignorant) wisdom was that anyone who listened to country music must love the brum brubb-a brum brum of Johnny Cash and his three-piece band. Because country fans were steeped in corn.

Or they'd say, "I really like that song, 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix'." Okay. That's another track on my mental list of songs I never, ever wanted to hear again. That was not country music.

If I'd taken the time to tick off the list of artists I listened to, nobody would have known who they were, so I instead let people think I was a die-hard Johnny Cash fan. Nobody'd ever heard of Merle Haggard, Faron Young, Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson, Mel Tillis, Dolly Parton, Ray Price, Charley Pride, or Marty Robbins.

The truth, though I never shared it with anyone, was that I had excellent taste in country music. I understood it was an acquired taste -- shoot, even I had to acquire a taste for it. On first listen, yes, it was corny. The thing about country, though, was that it wasn't the crossover hits that defined it. The crossover hits were watered down to appeal to a wide audience. Thus, they weren't real country. The crossovers were an amalgam of treacly strings combined with a southern accent. The worst of two worlds.

Being a country fan was like being a rock fan in the sixties. You didn't want to claim songs like "Yummy Yummy Yummy" or "I'm Henry VIII, I Am", but they were part of your posse, so if you liked "Strawberry Fields", you were thus tarnished with the stench of "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. It came with the territory. It didn't matter how much you protested, if you were a rock fan, you liked "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro. If you were a country fan...well...you liked "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro (trust me, nobody ever anywhere liked that song).

I included a pic of Loretta Lynn in this post for a reason. She was (is) a really talented artist and certainly knew how to write hits, but her songs were the epitome of corn. And in them she always wanted to start a fight with someone. Loretta Lynn was another of the country stars, like Johnny Cash, that I didn't bond with.

When I was about eight years old, I went with my parents to see Loretta Lynn at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, Texas. It was an odd scene -- folks had to bring their own booze in with them -- the hall only served "mix" (7-UP or whatever other accompaniment one wanted with their cocktail). Dinner was served at long tables with white tablecloths. Patrons shared a table with approximately thirty strangers. The waiters came by to take our orders -- I probably ordered a hot dog or fish sticks -- if they were on the menu. I remember the waiter asking me what kind of dressing I wanted on my salad and I replied, "none". He asked, "No salad?" and I said, "No, no dressing.". Yes, I ate bare lettuce mingled with carrot slivers and radish slices. I was a pathologically picky eater.

Be that as it may, we saw Loretta Lynn and her band perform, I guess in between the garlic bread and the baked potato. Someone in our party (which consisted of my parents and my sister and brother-in-law) went up and got Loretta's autograph. They brought the signed photo back to the table and I remarked, "It looks like it says 'Buffalo Lynn'." Henceforth, Loretta would always be known as Buffalo Lynn to me.

Later I would discover "Blue Kentucky Girl" and wonder why Loretta never sang more songs like that; songs that were plaintive and not pugilistic.

The pugilistic side was what country fans had to try to (or try not to) explain to rubes who scratched their heads when we admitted that we listened to country music.

So, let's rip off the Band-Aid:


I wonder whatever happened to old Henson Cargill:



I really can't convey the number of times this next song was played on the radio. Somewhere in the dark recesses of the stratosphere, there is a little satellite bouncing around, streaming this track. And little aliens are exclaiming, "If I have to hear this song one more time, I'm going to slit the sinewed tendons that attach my arm to my hand".


I give Bobby Goldsboro a lot of (deserved) grief for his 1968 hit, but really, is it any worse than this?


Okay, I know you've been waiting:



Here are the songs I was actually listening to:










But really, no one would get it.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

I've Apparently Forgotten About The Year 1966 -- On Purpose?


Mostly, 1966 was a good year for me...until December. So, yes, mostly good. The year started out well. I had a birthday party in May. That was only the second birthday party I'd ever had in my life, and I have no memory of my first one, since I was five and had no "friends"; only cousins. For this one, in 1966, I got to invite actual friends. I had a best friend, Cathy, and a new friend who'd just moved to town -- I think her name was Denise...or Debbie (obviously it wasn't a long-term friendship). Having a new friend created some friction between Cathy and me, which was rather unfair. I didn't quiz Cathy on who she hung out with in her neighborhood while I was ensconced out at the farm. The best thing about staying overnight at Denise/Debbie's house was that she lived next door to my boyfriend, Chuck. At night we'd hold up notes in her bedroom window and Chuck would write notes back and hold them up for us to read (okay, it was fifth grade, for heaven's sake). Chuck was my boyfriend by default -- he picked me. I'd come to school in the morning and find anonymous notes inside my desk. It took me a while to figure out where they'd come from. The fact that Chuck stared at me incessantly was my first clue.

So, I had a boyfriend and a birthday party. I invited all my school friends and Cathy, who attended a different elementary school. I would like to say that I invited all the girls in my class, but I'm sure I didn't. Girls are not inherently nice. We have our feuds and resentments and just genuine dislikes. I remember one girl, Kristin, who I absolutely hated. I don't remember why, but I was not nice to her, nor was she to me. She'd apparently pissed me off one too many times. One Saturday afternoon, I phoned the local pizza parlor from my sister's apartment and ordered mass quantities of pizza and a bucket load of sodas to be delivered to Kristin's house. (In those days, there was no credit card required.) It was a crappy thing to do, but at the time I felt very proud of myself. When I think about it now, I just feel like a creep. The funny thing is, today if I knew Kristin, we'd probably be pals. Or maybe not. So, no, I didn't invite every girl I knew to my birthday party.

Cathy and I perused Popplers Music in Grand Forks every Saturday afternoon, and I let her know as my birthday approached which certain '45 I really, really loved. The trouble was, I loved a lot of current '45's. But I had to pick one so she'd know what to get me for my birthday. I picked this one:


Why did I like this?? Now when I hear it, all I can think of is the Dating Game. Let's just say this single did not stand the test of time.

Now, Debbie/Denise also wanted to know which single I wanted for my birthday. I told her this:


When I opened Debbie/Denise's present, I exclaimed, "Oh, I love this song!" Cathy replied, "I thought you said you loved the Tijuana Brass." 

"Well, I love them both," I hurriedly replied. Cathy was pissed for the rest of the day. 

So, yes, I loved a lot of tracks in 1966. (The Righteous Brothers single at least holds up today.)

In 1966, we had a lot of the (by today's standards) old standbys. They weren't old standbys at the time. We had The Mamas and the Papas, The Supremes, The Rascals, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys. The Beatles, of course. Believe it or not, there was a time when these acts were new. Rubber Soul had been released in '65, but it was still reverberating in 1966. The album was world-shattering.

In browsing the list of the top 100 singles of 1966, I decided to pick out the ones I like the best (and, no, Herb Alpert is not included.)

The Vogues:


Later, sometime in the early seventies, I saw The Vogues performing in a little basement bar in Mandan, North Dakota. They were awesome! Sad that they were stuck performing in little basement bars, but did I mention they were awesome? I think they just loved performing. I saw Bobby Vee in that same little basement and he was loving it, too. Some bands wouldn't admit to themselves that they'd sunk to performing in little holes in the ground. The Doobie Brothers played there, too, and were a bit too haughty for their modest circumstances. I'd forgotten about that little bar, which is sad, because it was only 500 feet away from my parents' motel. 

But I digress.

The Lovin' Spoonful:


I think hearing this song was the first time I realized that good music could be quiet. I'd been raised on big pounding drums and big pounding piano and big electric guitar solos, so this song smacked me hard. I never realized it, but The Lovin' Spoonful influenced the way I write songs. As geeky kids, Cathy and I trolled the streets of Grand Forks with our transistors clamped to our ears, and this song in particular made me feel joyful. I've seen John Sebastian on some of those PBS specials and documentaries about Greenwich Village, et cetera, and now he's an old dude, but he definitely had something. To me, the most joyous pop song of all time is "Do You Believe In Magic", largely because of Zal Yanovsky, who's passed away, but boy, what a joie de vivre Zal possessed. That's what music is supposed to be - joyful.

Neil Diamond:


Neil is currently on tour, celebrating fifty years of performing. Fifty! No, that doesn't make me feel old at all; not at all. Cherry Cherry was Neil's first big hit and it charted in 1966. I followed along with Neil's career; purchased his singles recorded on the yellow Bang label. I bought a bunch of them. Neil Diamond was someone who wouldn't let you down. Probably the worst actor off all time (see The Jazz Singer), but sure enough, I watched that movie on HBO over and over, and I have no earthly idea why, other than that I liked Neil Diamond.

The Rascals:


My husband posits that The Rascals could have had a much longer career than they did, because they were so good. I don't know what happened, but I miss them. Granted, those of a certain age will associate this song with a Dr. Pepper commercial, but be that as it may, The Rascals were great.

Here's one...

Okay, yes, Nancy Sinatra only had one true hit, but...have we forgotten it? Nope. It's a weird thing about songs. Nobody can predict what will stick. I mean, think about Ode To Billie Joe, which was, in essence, a real downer, and yet it was gold. Gold! Same with this one. I've karaoked it, because well, who wouldn't?




The Beatles:

I probably fell in love with my husband in 1966, but I was eleven, so...

Chuck was a faded memory by then. Chuck was actually kind of a loser anyway. My (now) husband visited our farm with his family in the summer of 1966. We bonded over my Beatles singles (specifically We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper). Oh, I was eager to share my record collection with him, and he "got it". Most people I knew didn't. When you meet someone who is tripping the same line as you are, you don't forget, because that doesn't happen...hardly ever.

So, this one is a biggie for me:


Johnny Rivers:

Back on the streets of Grand Forks, Cathy and I had become taken with the whole "secret agent" fad. "Get Smart" was playing on our TV's; "The Man From U.N.C.L.E" was a big hit on network TV. I guess James Bond was going strong at the cineplex (we, however, were still mired in bad Elvis Presley flicks). Thus, we decided we, too, could be secret agents. We surveilled the downtown department stores. Our transistors became official transmitters. We had "code names". And Johnny Rivers did this song:


My fun and frolic ended in December when we moved to a new state. Obviously, I knew no one. I was keenly alone. For a painfully shy kid, a friend meant everything. I didn't have any friends. Everybody was a stranger. I don't think I'd ever, up 'til then, initiated a friendship. Friends found me. And I was picky about friends. I couldn't just be friends with any random person. So, everyone in my class was a phantom. What does one do when she needs friends but has none? She creates friends. These became my friends:


As 1966 slid into 1967, I found someone. It took a while, considering my exacting standards. But I made a friend for life. And yes, she approached me.

So, life went on. It wasn't necessarily easy. That's why I don't really tend to remember 1966 fondly. Again, as memory goes, the majority of the year was pretty good, but humans latch onto the bad things, and the bad things overshadow everything else.

In retrospect, though, it was an eventful year in myriad ways.

Growing up isn't easy.











Friday, June 2, 2017

Revisiting Music Before My Time - Top Hits of 1963


It's not that 1963 was technically before my time. I mean, I was alive. But I had very little cognizance of music at that time. Really, it was only later that I caught up with '63's top hits.

The sixties was an odd time in music. The decade could be cut into thirds. One part schlocky, one part innovative, and another part angry and angsty.  Just like with country music, in the early sixties record producers were not convinced that "roots" music was acceptable, so they proceeded to ruin it, mostly by adding strings and background chorals. By roots music, I mean Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly. By "ruin it", think Elvis Presley.

The advantage to catching up with a year's music after the fact is that one doesn't have recurring nightmares of the world's worst songs blaring through their transistor's speaker. We can separate the wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately, when I peer at Billboard's Top 100 list for the year, the flashbacks wash over me. My sister graduated from high school in 1963, so I was exposed to her favorite tunes, not only on the radio, but during Saturday afternoon's broadcast of American Bandstand, where all the girls wore wide skirts, mohair sweaters and "flats"; and the boys were decked out in sports coats, skinny ties and ducktail hairdo's (it was a much more formal time, I'm assuming).

The number one record of 1963 was this:



I've tried to put my finger on why this song reeks. Some things are hard to describe, so let me just say I find this to be "icky". Maybe it's the misplaced flute flourishes. Maybe it's the fact that Jimmy, while singing about "getting back to that girl", in fact sounds like a girl himself. No offense.

Nevertheless, I'd listen to Sugar Shack all day, given the choice between that and the number two record of the year. Let me tell you why this track is so hateful:  Well, at age eight, I couldn't understand why Bobby Vinton was so obsessed with the material of the dress his girlfriend wore. I still can't, really. It's rather creepy -- his fabric fetish. It seemed to me that he missed the dress more than the girl.


The number three single of the year was better, but it did contain a recitation, which was another big trend at that time. Shoot, Jimmy Dean made a whole career out of recitations (think "Big Bad John"). This was an odd producer choice. So, the song isn't good enough "sung", so let's talk it! Recitations had their heyday in the early sixties and soon fell out of favor, when singers realized they were expected to sing. The number three song brings to mind my other sister, who was a titch older than my American Bandstand-loving sibling. I don't have a lot of memories of my oldest sister from that time, because she graduated from high school, moved out, and promptly got herself married. I do remember that she liked this song, though:


I suddenly had a flashback regarding this next song. I remembering corralling two school friends and lip-syncing to this song in front of my third grade class. It must have been show-off -- I mean show and tell day. I did lots of outlandish things before I finally realized I was a real pain in the ass. 

This song is most remembered for the fact that George Harrison cribbed it for "My Sweet Lord". In George's defense, however, so many songs could be composed from those first three notes. 


Girl singers were all the rage in 1963. Alas, it was a different time, in that, record heads felt the need to ascribe adjectives to their singers. Thus, "Little" Peggy March:



I don't know how "little" she is. Hang on -- okay, four foot ten. That is little -- speaking from one who is apparently semi-little at five foot one and one-half. 

Speaking of girl singers, who would today be referred to as "singers", this next song played a seminal role in my ascension to "singing wanna-be", because I loved it so much and I perched atop our picnic table in the backyard and sang my lungs out along to:




Before I get too far into 1963, I want to make sure I include this next song. In my two-second research, I learned that this is a traditional folk song. Thus, I imagine it was recorded by many artists. However, none could do it better than Bobby Bare. Some songs are timeless and this is one:


And, aside from the Sugar Shacks and fabric-obsessives, there were a few truly innovative artists who scored hits in 1963. If you were to ask me who the best singer of all time is, I am pretty sure I'd need to go with this next one. My older brother had an LP of this artist's greatest hits, recorded on Monument Records, that I wore out when my brother wasn't around (I was not allowed to touch his albums; little did he know). This is what music does at its best -- it makes your heart soar to the heavens. I endeavor to include videos from the time they were fresh, but I make an exception for this one, because one needs to hear it in all its glory:


I've really, really tried to like Elvis Presley. I guess it's like a kid today who seriously wants to like the Beatles, but just can't (although that's not a fair comparison). My memory of Elvis is Sunday afternoon movies that mostly involved sports car driving and/or scuba diving with a song thrown in now and then for good measure. Elvis could have been better than he was, but he was mismanaged. Someone needed to tell him to cut back on the booming baritone, which sounded clownish. It's not that Elvis wasn't a good singer, but he was drowning in sub-par songs. I do understand how my older sisters came to revere hm, because there was most likely nobody like him at the time; certainly not foppish Jimmy Gilmer or Bobby Vinton. Maybe Elvis was too faux-dramatic for my tastes. It's like the way someone is supposed to sing to signal the world that they're a great singer, when they just need to relax and be themselves.

By 1963, Elvis's best days were already behind him, sadly. But my best friend and I dutifully paid our twenty-five cents to see his movies on Sunday afternoons, and this one is semi-okay (I believe it is from "Clambake"):





Truth be told, I took a lot of my musical cues from my dad. Of course, I was nine years old. Anything my dad liked, I liked. Looking back, my dad's taste in music tended toward catchy lines and/or catchy melodies. I have a fuzzy memory of skipping down the street, singing this song:


This next song is more of a 1964 memory than a 1963. Novelty songs were HUGE at that time. By 1964 I was living at Triple Service with my cousins. Triple Service was situated in a tiny town that had nothing in its favor. My mom had enrolled me in the local Catholic school, which was an ill fit. A really tight fit. I had long had a bias against nuns, with justification. After-school time was my freedom. My cousin Karen and I climbed to the roof and perched between the red wooden letters that spelled out T-R-I-P-L-E S-E-R-V-I-C-E and serenaded unsuspecting patrons with this song (sorry, no live video, but that's probably for the best):




It's not that 1963 wasn't a harbinger of things to come. We had the Four Season, who apparently have no live videos on YouTube, and we had the Beach Boys just coming on the scene. Too, we had Sam Cooke (no live videos, but kudos to the person who created this for their creativity):




Dion hadn't become all maudlin with Abraham, Martin, and John, and was still doing songs that we needed to dance to:




1963 was getting ready for 1964, when all heck would break loose.  Nobody knew in 1963 that the musical world was about to spin off its axis. We were still pining for velvet and traipsing down to the Sugar Shack. 

But oh boy...

































Sunday, May 28, 2017

I Don't Just Write About Music


I write about music a lot because that is my life's breath. And I know you who read my blog have come to expect that from me. I honestly could write about music every day, forever.

I did want to take a brief intermission, however, to tell you that I actually write. Novels, that is.

My last novel was completed and published two years ago. Sometimes one just needs a break. I needed time to gather my wits and to pursue other things, and for me, writing is hard. I wasn't sure I wanted to spend every waking moment thinking about a new story. Writers are strange people.They get too involved. It's easier and more fun to write about music and about hit singles and about artists because it's not about me. Well, it's sorta about me, but in context. I sort of became the protagonist of my last novel, which was unhealthy. I imbued too much of me in it and I became overly protective.

So I needed some distance.

Now, two years later, I think I'm ready to start again.

I tonight re-read the start of my new novel, and I rather like it. Perhaps I'm ready. I've determined, though, that I'm not going to "become" this protagonist. I will keep a steely distance.

In between blogging about music and "years in music" and all those good things; savory things; I will update you on my novel's progress.

Now back to our regularly-scheduled musical fun...