Author Archives: The Classic Rocker

About The Classic Rocker

Author of "The Beatles At Shea Stadium" and "The Beatles In Cleveland." Visit TheClassicRocker.com

#199 – Leave It To Beaver Theme Song

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#199 – Leave It To Beaver Theme Song

 – The television sitcom Leave It To Beaver portrayed the television image of Middle America in the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Everything was perfect. The family unit included a nice house, a mom and a dad, and two kids. Dad supported the family; mom took care of the family and any problems the kids were in could be solved by the family within a half hour episode.

Were things really that simple? Maybe on television, but not in real life.

The 1960’s, as many of us remember the decade, was simmering in the background. The show was broadcast into our living rooms each week in glorious black and white beginning October 4, 1957 until signing off on June 20, 1963. Elvis was still pre-army when viewers first met the Cleaver family and when the final episode aired we were only five months away from JFK’s fateful trip to Dallas.

In May 1963 Bob Dylan released his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, with songs about civil rights and nuclear war. In August Dr. Martin Luther King declared “I have a dream” in Washington D.C. and went on to be named Time Magazine’s Man Of The Year. And The Beatles were gearing up for a televised surprise attack on our senses that came on February 9, 1964.

Along with many other factors including The Space Race, The Cold War and The Vietnam War, our generation was in for a change. A BIG change. The sitcoms – and many are considered classic and still very entertaining – were far from being reality shows for the era.

The Cleavers

Leave It To Beaver was one of the moving picture postcards of The American Dream delivered into our living rooms every week. As referred to above, it was broadcast in black and white. But when you think about it, there really was no “black and white” on television during these years. Except for African Americans appearing as guest stars or supporting players, the first black leading character on a network series didn’t happen until 1965 when Bill Cosby starred in I Spy with Robert Culp.

As a member of the younger edge of baby boomers (I was five years younger than Jerry Mathers, who played Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver), Leave It To Beaver was one of my weekly looks at the outside world. But it really didn’t seem that much different from where I was growing up in northern Ohio. School, friends, girls (not always the same as “friends”), dealing with teenagers and respecting adult authority were about as deep as things got. I was fortunate that my parents were always more open than some of the others. My mother was from Detroit and they both enjoyed taking me on weekend excursions to other big cities such as Cleveland, New York and Chicago.

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The Beatles At Shea Stadium

The story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special

20% OFF Retail Price with FREE Shipping (Continental U.S. Only)

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In all honesty, that’s where I’d see minorities. But the cities to me were exotic places with energy, excitement and adventures on every block and didn’t seem to exclude anyone because of color, sex or religion. As a young visitor in those days before the race-related riots of the 1960’s, I was never exposed to any inner city problems. Like the Cleavers and their social circle in Leave It To Beaver, it was life in a protected bubble. But these youthful real world experiences in big cities helped me form the opinion there were no reasons why we all couldn’t – or shouldn’t – live together.

Not The Cleavers

So when I write about the dramatic changes that still make the 1960’s the most talked about and studied decade of the Twentieth Century, The American Dream and The American Reality on how the 60’s played out serve as bookends. Start with Leave It To Beaver and end with the film Woodstock and you’ll understand why Boomers are so passionate about this decade of change.

For the first generation to be accused of having television as an adult authority figure, sitcoms were our windows to the outside world. And just like race, sex and religion, what we learned from television went a long way in defining how we look at the world – and how the world looks at us.

One of my favorite (and funniest) personal examples happened more than twenty years after Leave It To Beaver faded off into rerun land. I was living in New York City and breaking into the comedy biz. Before ending up with my career “behind the scenes,” I did stand-up comedy. But once again in all honesty, I lacked the necessary edge that in my opinion makes seasoned NYC comedians the funniest. After one particular bleak performance on stage at a famous comedy club, a couple of my black comedian friends (while laughing) told me I was too “white bread” to be truly funny. I was too Ricky Nelson from Ozzie and Harriett, which is another television postcard of 1950’s and 60’s American Dream.

And you know what? I laughed with them because it was true. There was no way around the stereotyping. But looking back, even my friends didn’t get it right. I was more Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver in the 60’s than the cool Ricky Nelson from the 50’s.

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The Leave It To Beaver Theme Song (actual title; The Toy Parade) is a classic example of the catchy tunes that lured viewers to their television sets and can still set off nostalgic memories for the boomer generation. I’ll even go out on a limb and say most of us can hum it all the way through (there are lyrics, but never heard on the show) just like we can sing I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. This particular TV tune waxed nostalgic in my waking mind on May 9th. Since it doesn’t fit the classic rock requirements to be on my digital playlist, I can’t remember the last time I heard it and The Toy Parade falls onto the subliminal side of the Dream Song List.

Eddie Haskell

One comic element of Leave It To Beaver that has stayed real for me through the decades is the supporting character Eddie Haskell. If I were to ever list my all-time favorite television characters, he would have to be in the Top 10. Played by Ken Osmond who later left showbiz to become a police officer, Eddie Haskell embodies the heart, soul and devious mind of every wise guy kid who ever stirred up any type of trouble and tried to schmooze his way out of it by being overly polite and agreeable toward whatever adult authority was coming down on him.

My dad, who had a wonderful sense of humor and could make me laugh until I cried, would compare my friends and me to Eddie Haskell whenever we tried to talk our way out of whatever predicament we had gotten ourselves into. And I also used it to describe my son to anyone that might remember the legendary TV name.

Since he was born in 1995, I’m sure Paul has no idea who Eddie Haskell is. But when someone from my generation gushed over how nice and polite he was while growing up, I reminded them of this iconic television character. They knew immediately what I was talking about. Kids can still be typical kids before the BIG changes of adulthood and no different than we were growing up in the 60’s. And similar to when we started asserting our independence while moving into our teenage years, there were many times at home when I felt I was talking to Eddie Haskell in all his American Dream wise guy glory.

The only glitch in the process was that I had grown out of my Eddie Haskell phase. I’ve reverted back to being The Beaver.

The theme song arrangement changed during the years, with the final season using a “swing” style. Below is the opening sequence to Leave It To Beaver from season four, which is the one that scored on this list.

If you’re a dedicated fan, you can purchase the complete Leave It To Beaver series on DVD from Amazon.com. Also separate seasons and episodes are available through the link.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Beatles Program

Chuck Berry – Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll

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 – I drove for more than a few miles Saturday evening with my mouth hanging wide open. I had just heard Cousin Brucie announce on his SiriusXM radio show that Chuck Berry had passed away. At the age of 90 we couldn’t expect one of the true originators to continue duckwalking across the rock and roll landscape forever, but it was still a shock.

It’s the end of an era – though the legend will live on.

It’s doubtful I ever go a day without hearing a Chuck Berry riff. As a Classic Rocker with musical tastes never straying too far from the basic three chord rock and roll that excited and influenced every important rocker that followed him, he is still an important foundation for my daily playlists. Chuck Berry was covered and copied by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and way too many others for me to even attempt to list. They handed it down to the next generation and the legacy continues.

If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’” – John Lennon

I’ve stolen every lick he ever played.” – Keith Richards inducting Chuck Berry into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Since The Classic Rocker is about music and memories, here’s one of mine…

As fate would have it, I had just talked about my experiences going back to the roots of rock and roll in the most recent song on this Dream Song List. My album collection in the late 1960’s and early 70’s was being restocked with the originals by Chuck Berry and other members of the first class inducted into The Rock Hall. My goal was to play guitar like Chuck, piano like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and sing like Elvis. It didn’t exactly work out that way, which is why you’re reading these ramblings rather than listening to any of my albums.

During my freshman year in college – and I’m not kidding – my dorm room featured Chuck Berry wallpaper. As a Berry fan, I might have been an originator among interior decorators.

Chuck was playing a show at another college nearby. Of course I would be there, but that’s another story for another song on this list. Especially since I wound up on stage with my hero and had a rockin’ good time. But the buildup had started a couple months before.

I went to my local record store (vinyl you crazy cats!) to check out what was new. I saw a stack of flyers on the counter advertising the concert. I went crazy (cat) right there about my commitment to the greatness of Chuck Berry. The store manager picked up the pile of flyers, handed them to me and said I could hang them up. I was probably guessing correctly he meant for me to hang them up around campus, but since no discount was offered to me on the ticket price or the album I’m sure I purchased that day, it meant the only place these flyers would be hung up were in my dorm room.

I have a photo somewhere of the coolest room on campus that spring, but would need to dig through too many boxes of Classic Rocker keepsakes to find it. Trust me when I say the flyers made the walls both colorful and unique.

Which is also a good description of Chuck Berry’s overwhelming influence on popular music. The exact birth date of rock and roll will always be debated, but it’s a no-brainer to say the fuse was ignited with his first big hit in 1955, Maybellene. The future of rock and roll followed in a direct line behind him. And when you think about it, there’s no higher praise you can give to someone that meant so much to so many.

Rock on Chuck Berry! You will be missed, but not forgotten.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

#200 – I Can’t Get No Nookie

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#200 – I Can’t Get No Nookie by The Masked Marauders

masked marauders – I didn’t get completely taken in by this hoax in late 1969, but I’ll admit to being on the fence for a listen or two. It was an era of rock music exploding into different genres and groupings. Cream and Traffic had formed Blind Faith. The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Hollies begat Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The Yardbirds had morphed into Led Zeppelin.

But the biggest supergroup of them all was The Masked Marauders. But then again, not really.

I remember “sort of” a rock and roll revival happening that fall with my buddies that were into music. The big album, of course, was Abbey Road. Paul McCartney’s song Oh Darling was a throw back to a 1950’s sound with pounding piano and raspy voice. I don’t know if that’s what triggered it, but a few of us started looking back to that decade to hear the originators.

It’s important to remember we were at the younger end of the baby boomer generation. The early rock’n rollers had been replaced by the watered down versions being fed to us in the early 1960’s. For example, we weren’t exposed to Little Richard singing Tutti Frutti. Nope. Instead we saw Pat Boone singing his tepid version on our black and white family television shows.

Lennon Jagger

Lennon and Jagger unmasked

I only knew songs like Roll Over Beethoven, Long Tall Sally and many more classics because they were covered by The Beatles. That was also true for releases by The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits and other British Invasion bands. They were reworking American rock and roll hits and bringing them to my generation for “seemingly” the first time. The originals were standards for the older kids who were already teenagers when we were in preschool.

Around the time of Oh Darling and my early teenage years I wanted to know where this music came from.

I had a friend who went by his initials “BS.” He was one of the smarter guys in my high school class, but also an agitator who wasn’t afraid to use his column in the school newspaper to stir up trouble between the “jocks” and the “brains.” His initials stood not only for his first and middle name, but also the slang you might use to tell someone they’re “full of it.”

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Thursday March 9, 2017 – Lakewood, Ohio!

Join The Classic Rocker for a FAB evening of Beatlemania!

Doors open 6:30 pm – show time 7:00

FREE admission – reservations suggested

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The dates are a little out of whack, but I distinctly remember him turning me on to I Hear You Knocking by Dave Edmunds in late 1970. This was a throw back to real, three chord rock and roll from the 50’s while the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and other rock acts at the time were going for more complicated songs, sounds and arrangements. So along with those albums, including Abbey Road and Led Zeppelin I, we were digging through record bins for vinyl by Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis.

But I bring up BS and sharing our rock music research because I distinctly remember him telling me about this supergroup called The Masked Marauders. I hadn’t read the Rolling Stone Magazine article that started the “buzz” but with Blind Faith and CSN&Y the hot groups at the moment, anything seemed possible.

Stones Dylan

Keef, Mick & Bob marauding about.

According to rumor, The Masked Marauders were made up of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. There were also hints that Keith Richards and Donovan were part of the lineup, but there was no way this could be confirmed. In an era many decades before the internet and social media, all we could rely on were rumors and our ears.

In late fall 1969 or early winter 1970, BS informed us he had a copy of the self-titled Masked Marauders LP and invited us to his house to listen. Three or four of us sat through both sides of the disk with individual reviews of “no… yes… well, maybe?

I’m sure BS claimed it was real, but I left highly doubtful.

I know because if I had believed this gathering of my favorite rock stars had joined forces near Canada’s Hudson Bay (on the liner notes) and recorded an entire album, I would have run out and bought a copy. I never did.

masked-marauders-news-clipping

It wasn’t long after that everyone found out The Masked Marauders was an elaborate hoax from Rolling Stone Magazine. An article satirizing the trend for “supergroups” was a little too believable for many fans of the above mentioned (supposed) members. In taking the hoax a step further, a California based group was hired – along with Dylan, Jagger and Lennon impersonators – to record the album.

The Masked Marauders LP was released by Reprise Records in November 1969. It goes down in history as the only record ever on their just-made-up Deity label.

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20% OFF Author Signed Copies!

The Beatles At Shea Stadium

The story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special

20% OFF Retail Price with FREE Shipping (Continental U.S. Only)

Signed by the author and only through the website – BeatlesSheaStadium.com

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I compare it to Orson Wells reading War Of The Worlds over the radio on Halloween in 1938. A lot of people bought into it and caused a panic that Martians were really landing. In 1969 the same “blind faith” almost landed The Masked Marauders onto the Billboard Hot 100 Album Chart.

One of the (many) fun things about writing The Classic Rocker is not knowing where the next song is coming from. If you’ve read the concept and followed any of these ramblings, some songs are from recent memories while others have been embedded in my subconscious and somehow just came out. In this case, the song I Can’t Get No Nookie has to hold the longevity record for being buried under decades of useless information before climbing to the top of my morning music chart. It happened on April 29th and I’m more surprised than anyone to add it to the subconscious list.

I’m sure someone must have played it when we were in college. Otherwise, the last time I heard it had to be in 1969 or 1970. The mind plays strange tricks – and in this case, strange music.

Dylan Jagger

Bob, Mick and Jack

I Can’t Get No Nookie has to be a play on (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. On the MM LP the lead vocal is by the Mick Jagger impersonator. It’s also a catchy tune and with the word “nookie” I’m also sure as teenage guys we sang it for laughs more than a few times in high school or cruising around in cars on weekends.

There’s also another credit I can throw to this fake album.

Using the excuse mentioned above about not hearing the original rock’n rollers until after The British Invasion calmed down, I’ll embarrassingly admit The Masked Marauders introduced me to the classic Duke Of Earl. It was a track supposedly sung by Bob Dylan, but it connected with us as a new song. None of our favorite groups by 1969 had covered it and since there were no oldies stations on our radios at the time, chances were good we hadn’t heard – or remembered hearing – the original by Gene Chandler in 1962.

It made such an impression that for our high school talent show in the spring of 1970, we put together a group to perform the song. On the stage in our school auditorium we had a piano, bass, electric guitar (me) and drums. A few pals stood around one microphone singing back up (“Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke Of Earl, Duke, Duke…“) while our friend Gary did the lead vocals. Not that he was the best singer, but probably because he’s the only one that knew the words.

And before we started, we plugged in a string of Christmas lights draped over the upright piano as our “light show.” Both the lights and our song drew big applause.

david-1971

Classic Rock(er)

For the next year’s talent show we went even more retro with our rock’n roll revival adding greased hair, rolled up t-shirt sleeves, cuffed jeans and sunglasses. We called our group Peter Priest & The Rabbis (in good humor) and with two electric guitars, bass, drums and my pal Tim as lead singer, we rocked through loud versions of Blue Suede Shoes and Long Tall Sally.

We did two shows and played “by the rules” for only the first.

During the second show for the younger kids (9th and 10th grades) we decided to keep playing until we were chased off stage. Once we started some of the girls from our class ran into the auditorium and stood by the stage screaming. And after we finished our second song, we kept tearing through three-chord 1950’s rock’n roll until the teachers realized we had no intention of stopping.

The curtain was closed and as our class advisor ran on stage waving his arms for us to stop, Gary (our lead singer from the year before) opened them back up. The advisor ran off in a panic and we kept playing.

Finally he pulled the plug.

Since we were seniors graduating in less than a month and basically good kids, we didn’t get into any trouble. In fact there were more laughs than any supposed punishment over our “hoax” to keep the show going. We never went on to become an undiscovered supergroup, but like the legendary Masked Marauders we had our brief moment in the spotlight.

And it was very rock and roll.

Of course there is no video of the elusive Masked Marauders, but for your listening pleasure…

To purchase The Masked Marauders with I Can’t Get No Nookie visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Beatles Program

#201 – I’m A Loser

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#201 – I’m A Loser by The Beatles

Beatles I'm A Loser – When it comes to personal memories, this song is a double-edged sword. Good vs. evil. The White Knight against The Queen of Darkness. It represents a battle in the generation gap war that I lost at the time, but felt I’ve gone on to win. And in my own convoluted way, I’ll tell the tale…

Like probably every first generation Beatles fan in North America, I first heard I’m A Loser on Friday, October 7, 1964 when a film of their live performance was aired on the ABC television show Shindig. This was a highly anticipated big deal since we didn’t actually see the group very often. There were no VCR’s or even a science fiction thought of YouTube, so fans only “saw” The Fab Four during their three February appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show (rerun on CBS that summer), a clip of Ed interviewing them on the set of A Hard Day’s Night followed by the performance of You Can’t Do That (edited out of the final concert scene in the feature film), or by going to the theater to see their first movie (as John Lennon called it, “The black and white one.“).

Interview Sullivan

Interviewing The Beatles

Many lucky fans saw them in person during the August – September tour or closed circuit theater showing of their first U.S. concert at Washington Coliseum. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those.

But other than that, all we had were the records and magazines.

So when ABC started running advertisements for their appearance on Shindig, I put it on my mental calendar as a “must watch” event. But I never realized that because it was on a Friday evening I would be called out as a “wannabe Beatle” in front of my classmates by an evil old school teacher.

Sound harsh? Yeah, I know…

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Thursday February 23, 2017 – Stow, Ohio!

stow-library-2017

Join The Classic Rocker for a FAB evening of Beatlemania!

Doors open 6:30 pm – show time 7:00

FREE admission – reservations suggested

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Friday evenings in the fall were “supposed” to be reserved for high school football games. I had been going since I was a little kid, mainly for something to do. We had absolutely no interest in what was happening on the field and spent our time running around under the bleachers and eating junk food. And since we lived in a small town in northern Ohio there was no danger walking to the games and home with friends. It was nothing out of the ordinary.

Host Jimmy O'Neill

Host Jimmy O’Neill

Not like seeing The Beatles on Shindig. There was nothing ordinary about that and was well worth skipping one game out of the entire season. So I stayed home to watch.

The next day I saw a kid in my class who told me our sixth grade teacher had been at the football game. From what I remember, she made a BIG DEAL out of going to only one game a year and wanted to make sure all her students were there because that’s where we were “supposed” to be on a Friday night. During her only appearance in the fall of 1964 she saw the other guys from my class and asked where I was.

They told her I stayed home to watch The Beatles. My friend said she wasn’t too happy about that.

Maybe I’ll set this scene a little deeper. I mean, why not. I’ve already said I sound harsh

The two teachers I had in sixth grade were a humorless old woman and old man that split the mornings and afternoons with two classes. They both should have retired years before. They were truly old school and I honestly don’t remember either being supportive or nurturing toward students. Their shared attitude was “learn this or suffer the consequences” and I blame them for making an entire year of school essentially joyless. To say they were verbally abusive to anyone that didn’t follow their golden rules would be an understatement.

In fact, I’ll go even deeper. The woman had been my father’s third grade teacher. My dad was an excellent trumpet player and taught me a lot about music. She’d also had our neighbor in her class, who was a teenager in the 1950’s. He was an excellent basketball player (earned a full ride to Ohio State University) but also liked Elvis Presley. When he was gone I’d sometimes sneak into his room with his younger brother and we’d listen to his record collection. Both were good students and good kids. So was I.

By the Monday morning following The Beatles appearance on Shindig, she’d had all weekend to stew over my absence at the high school football game and her BIG DEAL appearance. It was almost as if I had cussed out my mom, given apple pie to the communists and spit on the American flag. I have a vague memory of walking into the classroom and hearing her talk about being at the game, but not seeing everyone who should have been there.

Then class started.

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20% OFF Author Signed Copies!

The Beatles At Shea Stadium

The story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special

20% OFF Retail Price with FREE Shipping (Continental U.S. Only)

Signed by the author and only through the website – BeatlesSheaStadium.com

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When she asked anyone a question, it was mandatory for the student to stand next to his or her desk to answer. I don’t remember whatever outdated nonsense she was trying to shove into our young minds, but before I knew it I was standing next to my desk and being asked a question I had no answer for.

That’s when the other edge of the sword came down.

She was determined to make me the loser in front of the entire class. Immediately she was shouting full volume at me. But it wasn’t about not knowing the answer – but the fact that I had skipped a high school football game and stayed home on a Friday night to watch THE BEATLES ON TELEVISION! In her eyes I was the enemy of all that was good and decent and a pervert among angelic high school football fans. Her exact words still ring in my ear:

  • “Your father wanted to be Harry James!”
  • “Your neighbor wanted to be a hound dog!”
  • “And YOU want to be a BEATLE!!!”

I had been singled out in front of my friends and classmates and verbally attacked like I had done something wrong. After flushing her anger about me and disapproving musical memories of my father and our neighbor out of her evil system she told me to SIT DOWN!

Harmonica Contraption

Harmonica Contraption

At the time I was shaken up (what 11-year old wouldn’t be?). But you know what? It was the only thing she ever said to me that made sense. I won’t give her any credit as an inspiration, but I think it’s pretty cool I went on to write two books about The Beatles and none about high school football.

Harsh? Yeah, but I look at my books as being the fun result of the double-edged sword!

I’m A Loser assaulted this Dream Song List on April 28th. It’s been a favorite since I watched the Beatles on Shindig and is on my digital playlist. That also places it into the recent memory category since I had just heard it.

I’m A Loser is also especially memorable because the group already looked different on Shindig than earlier that summer in A Hard Day’s Night. Their hair, especially Lennon’s, was a lot longer. He also had a harmonica hooked to a metal contraption around his neck that allowed him to play it and his guitar at the same time.

I had seen photos of Bob Dylan with the same setup, but he was still considered a “folkie.” Lennon as a pop-rocker made it cooler.

But there was definitely a Dylan influence in this Lennon-penned song. The lyrics were a lot more introspective than we’d heard on The Ed Sullivan Show only seven months earlier. It also signaled a more country-twang feel in some of their newer songs such as Honey Don’t, Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby and I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party.

Even though we’d heard I’m A Loser in October 1964, we couldn’t own a copy until the U.S. LP Beatles ’65 was released on December 15th. On first listen I immediately remembered it was the song from Shindig with John Lennon playing the harmonica contraption and acoustic guitar. He was cool and the song was cool – and this hit of countrified Beatlemania went a long way to make my personal sixth grade double-edged sword a lot easier to deal with.

Here’s a video of The Beatles performing I’m A Loser on Shindig from 1965

To purchase Beatles ’65 with I’m A Loser visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

#202 – Hold Me Now

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#202 – Hold Me Now by Thompson Twins

Thompson Twins – We were definitely into the MTV era when this song was riding high on the video charts during the winter into spring 1984. That’s when the network’s initials really meant what it provided: Music Television. And for that reason, Hold Me Now seems more of a fashion statement to me than just a catchy tune. It also stirs thoughts of a reality statement that carries a deeper message.

Let me explain that better…

MTV ran 24/7 and during the early years it was the same format as AM Radio. VeeJays played music videos, instead of spinning disks. And for the artists to make a splash – an impact – the visuals became just as important as the music.

But in reality, it’s always been that way with pop music – and real life.

Elvis’ greasy hair, sideburns and gyrations were visual magnets to teenagers and a nightmare for their parents. The same could be said about The Beatles’ mop tops and high heeled, pointy-toed boots. Along with the music, their appearances made enough of a splash to be the topics of news reports, comedian punch lines and an older generation’s scorn.

Thompson 2

A different look

Much of what made them different was how they looked.

Part of being an artist is having a recognizable image and as pop progressed into rock it seemed the coming generation has always tried to outdo its predecessor. Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper, The Ramones… Okay, those are only a few off the top of my head, but you know what I mean. Mention any of them and chances are good you’ll also have a strong mental visual image because they looked different.

So by the time MTV was pushing both visuals AND music into our lives 24/7 the artists that wanted to make a splash had to go all out. For your own visual think of the two biggest pop stars at that time – Michael Jackson and Madonna. Their songs alone were good enough to be hits on the radio, but add their unique images and the combination is a reason why both are still considered icons today. Mention Michael’s sequined glove or Madonna’s wedding veil and you’ll immediately “picture” the songs (Billie Jean and Like A Virgin).

You might also remember a portion of society did not like them because of how they looked.

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Monday February 4, 2017 – Tiffin, Ohio!

Join The Classic Rocker for a FAB evening of Beatlemania!

Doors open 6 pm – show time 6:30

FREE admission – reservations suggested

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Hold Me Now had the same visual effect in 1984. (The) Thompson Twins were noticeable to a lot of us at first because there were actually three members instead of (two) twins. Funny. Also MTV threw this song into heavy rotation so it seemed whenever we actually looked at the television screen rather than treating it as background music, we would catch the video. And from my memory, it was part of the Big Hair Era the 80’s is still famous for.

Some liked the look – some didn’t and still don’t.

My NYC cohorts (as part of the boomer generation) were past the age of trying to shock the older generation with our looks. And I don’t remember being a big fan of 80’s music or fashion while it was happening. It all seemed more comical to me than cool. But I’m totally into creative artists expressing themselves through whatever medium they choose to work in. And during this segment of the 80’s it seemed like pop musicians were more concerned with grabbing attention visually rather than with music.

The Midnight Runners with Dexy

Looking different

They wanted to look different.

An example of what I mean would be Dexys Midnight Runners in 1983 with Come On Eileen. They wore bib overhauls and came off more as street urchins than musicians. And why am I suddenly thinking of the Broadway musical Oliver as I write this…?

Okay, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that when you consider all the fashion trends we’ve lived through. Even Ann and Nancy Wilson from one of my favorite rock bands from the 1970’s, Heart, moved into bigger success with the 80’s MTV generation when their managers reinvented the sisters with teased hair, frilly dresses and too much makeup. I read Nancy’s book and they weren’t happy about it. They were rockers closer to Led Zeppelin than The Go Go’s, but it was standard wear if you wanted to sell records and concert tickets via MTV.

You had to sound AND look different to stand out from the crowd. If you don’t believe me, ask Boy George.

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Thompson Twins are remembered because of Hold Me Now and a look that’s somewhere between big hair and street urchin. It’s a catchy song and definitely memorable since I’ve never owned a copy, but woke up with it in my mind on April 27th. That gives it a hold in the subliminal playlist of Dream Songs.

No, look at me now!

Way different!

A lot of the girls I ran with or saw around NYC were into the Madonna look that included teased hair and worn high. Yeah, a few even wore their bras outside their shirts. And Thompson Twins included three distinct looking characters that could be called MTV fashion icons in 1984. As the music scene continued through the decade, the clothes seemed to get even more outrageous and hair on both girls and guys was teased and sprayed higher and higher.

And you know what? Not everyone liked the look. It seemed some people were more concerned about it, rather than simply hearing the music. In a visual society first impressions often make lasting opinions.

And it’s always been like that.

But the good thing about being different simply through fashion is that images are easy to change. That’s why we can look back at the 1970’s fashions and cringe (at least some of us!) but not be labeled with how we looked in the past. Leisure suits, big bellbottoms, platform shoes, droopy mustaches and… Well, I’m done cringing. They’re all long gone and I won’t be looking at any old photos from that era any time soon. I’ve changed.

Which brings me to a more important opinion.

With the benefit of hindsight, I’ll compare the general outrageousness (looking to make a splash) of the 80’s to the 1960’s. But it’s not the 1960’s of shocking society with Beatles haircuts or hippie clothes. I’m talking about the differences in looks that lead to inequalities.

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For a showbiz example (this is The Classic Rocker after all), what I’m talking about is depicted in the 1988 movie Hairspray and the later Broadway musical and film. In the story there was a segment of society that wanted to hold back – discriminate against – people because of how they looked. It’s about the struggle and fight for equal rights and not being accepted based solely on appearance. The main characters were not accepted by the powers that be. The message is racism, but it occurs on many levels. Motor Mouth and Seaweed weren’t accepted because they were black. Tracy was kept out of the “in-crowd” because she was overweight.

Some people make judgments only on appearance. But wait, am I getting too deep based on a simple 1980’s pop song that actually has nothing to do with this topic? Well, as The Classic Rocker I’m allowed an opinion – and in my opinion that’s despicable, racist and wrong. It just took Hold Me Now with a visual image that some people didn’t like to remind me of it.

Too different?

Too different?

Like Elvis in the 50’s and The Beatles in the 60’s, many pop stars of the 80’s including Thompson Twins, Dexy, Michael, Madonna and Boy George were often judged on their appearance. They were expressing themselves as artists, but some people wouldn’t listen because they didn’t like the way they looked. And using Hairspray as a fictional account for what was actually going on in real life, it was much deeper than that. Some people are too quick to judge based on first impressions. And when it comes to equal rights you can’t just change your status by changing clothes or hairstyle.

It’s a problem that rocked the 60’s and is still around today.

But other than the more important and continual campaign for equal rights, a common thread between the two decades was making a splash. The ones who appeared different were the ones that were noticed first and were either admired or scorned because of it. So when I hear Hold Me Now I have a visual image of an era when the trend was big hair – teased, shaved, weaved, braided, curled, uncombed and sprayed. I thought the visual was comical in some ways, but didn’t knock it because it was different.

It also didn’t affect how I heard the music.

In the BIG picture we’re still looking for many preconceived opinions and inequalities based on appearances to disappear from society forever. The BIG fight for equal rights should never stop until it’s won. But in a very small way, fortunately for me and other boomers we were past the stage of shocking the older generation with our looks when Thompson Twins and the others were dominating MTV. And for that reason, our 80’s photos aren’t as cringe-worthy as they could have been. At least for some of us…

Here’s the video of Thompson Twins that was in heavy MTV rotation in 1984.

To purchase Thompson Twins – Greatest Hits with Hold Me Now visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

#203 – Billie Jean

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#203 – Billie Jean by Michael Jackson

Michael 1One of the best things about living in New York City (and there are many) is never knowing whom you might meet next. Sometime between the months of March and May 1983 I met a very interesting guy in my Gramercy Park neighborhood. Now don’t get excited and think I’m going to drop Michael Jackson’s name, because I can’t. I never met him.

But I was forewarned that his performance of Billie Jean on the television special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever was going to be earth shattering.

The guy that told me this knew what he was talking about because he had been at the taping. In fact, he played a big role not only behind the scenes but also on camera.

I hung with a tight group of friends in Gramercy Park. I’ve always compared living in NYC to living in a small town. It’s a BIG place made up of small neighborhoods. We’d go Uptown, Downtown, Midtown and to The Boroughs for concerts, dinners, ballgames – whatever. But when it was time to go “home” we’d end up back in our neighborhood. And the main hangout was our own Cheers style bar restaurant, The Honey Tree, on the corner of 3rd Avenue and East 20th Street.

It was the type of place where everybody knew your name. And when someone new walked in and got involved in one of our conversations, arguments or just plain stupidity (“How’s it goin’ Norm?!“) it made the evenings into late nights a lot more interesting. Some of the names that dropped in were Robin Williams, Peter O’Toole, Ed O’Neill and the entire band Journey.

But those are stories I’ve already told or saving for later.

The Jacksons

The Jacksons

Since most of us were in our late-20’s and had the ripe old age of 30 directly in our sights, we were pretty set in our musical tastes. The jukebox at The Honey Tree was filled with classic oldies from the 60’s and 70’s. If you wanted to hear disco or punk, there were other neighborhood hangouts, which is another great thing about NYC.

When you’re looking for something else it can always be found.

So even though you’d have to live under a rock not to have heard of Michael Jackson, in 1983 more than a few of us would rather listen to his old songs with The Jackson 5. We really weren’t looking for something else. These were the big Motown hits, I Want You Back, The Love You Save and I’ll Be There. My girlfriend (at the time) and I would be up and dancing whenever one of these songs was placed on the jukebox turntable.

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Of course The Jackson 5 was only one of the many artists that put Motown on the music map forever. Boomers grew up listening to The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the other amazing artists that made up the Detroit sound. And it was a big deal when it was announced the television special celebrating 25 years of the record label would air on May 16th.

Lester Wilson

Lester Wilson

One night during the months mentioned above, a guy walked in and before too long he was in the middle of one of our conversations. Or it might have been stupidity… But that doesn’t matter. He seemed funny and had a lot of personality, so he fit right in. His name was Lester Wilson and when we asked what he did, he said he was a dancer.

We didn’t know any professional dancers, so we started with the questions. He told us he was also a choreographer, had worked on Broadway and in films, and had just finished working on Motown 25. Since I’m working off memory, I can’t remember why he was in NYC at this time – but after checking out his bio online it had to be something good. I’ll also guess he was staying at The Gramercy Hotel which is why he was a regular part of our Cheers crowd for the next few months.

Lester told us about Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean performance. I can’t remember the adjectives, but mind-blowing would be a good description. He kept saying we’re not going to believe it when we see it. So on May 16th we watched.

jjkrcyOkay, we all know the legend. Michael reunited with his brothers to sing our favorite Jackson 5 hits. When they finished the brothers left the stage and Michael pulled out the sequined glove, the fedora and moonwalked into music history.

But what was especially cool for us was seeing our new pal Lester dancing center stage during the show’s gala opening number. If you want to check it out, below is a link for the entire show. You only need to watch the first four minutes – he’s the guy in the red sweater with the long hair. The group is also billed as The Lester Wilson Dancers.

Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.

Since The Classic Rocker is all about memories I can’t simply focus on Motown 25 or Lester when I hear Billie Jean. Whether you like Michael Jackson or not this was his moment – similar to The Beatles debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. He already had a successful solo career, but this put him in the stratosphere of pop music. Elvis was the 50’s, The Beatles were the 60’s and Michael was the 80’s. The other decades have their own musical personas, for example the 70’s went from hippies to heavy metal to punk to disco. The 90’s were grunge, hip-hop and rap. But those periods never had a single artist that overwhelmingly dominated and influenced our popular culture as these three.

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Billie Jean dominated my Classic Rocker mind on the morning of April 26th. At the time I didn’t own a copy, but that’s changed since and now it’s on my digital playlist joining my Motown and Jackson 5 favorites. But because I hadn’t heard it for a long time until that waking moment, it’s on my subliminal music chart.

Temptations and 4 Tops

The Temptations and 4 Tops

Lester Wilson was a very interesting guy. I can’t remember how long he was part of our neighborhood scene, but that’s another thing about living in NYC. People come and go (including me) and when you’re part of it, life is rarely boring.

Since I’ve always been a huge Motown fan I remember going with my girlfriend (at the time) to see The Temptations and The Four Tops on Broadway. It was at least a year later because the show opened with Levi Stubbs (lead singer for The Tops) singing Marvin Gaye’s hit What’s Going On to open the show. Gaye had been murdered by his father on April 1, 1984 and this was soon after. The curtain was closed and just a single spotlight was aimed at the stage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Stubbs finished, but within moments everyone was on their feet dancing along to one of the best concerts I was ever fortunate enough to attend.

Afterwards we went to our neighborhood Cheers for a nightcap and Lester was at the bar. We raved about the show and I remember saying he should have warned me Levi Stubbs had grown a beard. I wasn’t used to seeing him that way from photos. Yes, that’s a small detail – but one I remember from our conversation, which also helps put all these years in some type of order.

I did an online search for Lester Wilson and learned he was much bigger than he had let on during this time. Not only did he choreograph Motown 25 and Broadway musicals, but also the movies Saturday Night Fever (coached John Travolta), The Wiz, Funny Lady, Sister Act and others. But I’m sad to learn he passed away only ten years after we met in 1993 at the youthful age of 50.

As I mentioned above, you never know whom you might meet next in NYC. I may not have met Michael Jackson, but I had been warned the music scene was on the verge of changing by a guy who had.

Here’s a video of Michael’s performance of Billie Jean on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.

To purchase The Essential Michael Jackson with Billie Jean visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

#204 – I Got You Babe

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#204 – I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher

– It was all about the look when this duo hit the pop scene in 1965. Yes, they had a very catchy number one pop song with I Got You Babe, but the look was a publicist dream and what landed them not only on the covers of teen magazines, but also featured in mainstream newspapers and magazines.

Their attention grabbing look – or in showbiz terms, hook – happened because no one else looked like Sonny and Cher.

In this era of The British Invasion, if someone wasn’t tuned-in to the pop music scene (think older generation or too young to really know or care), it was easy to confuse one group with another. The look for most of the British groups included mop top hair, matching suits, Beatle boots and guitars.

I’m pretty sure even my dad, who was cool enough to take me to a Beatles concert in 1966, had a hard time figuring out what group I was watching on The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig or Hullabaloo. It could the The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits or The Animals. Was that Peter and Gordon or Chad and Jeremy? A lot of adults weren’t exactly sure.

If you lived through it – you know what I’m talking about.

Borscht Belt comics (think Jackie Mason, Milton Berle and Jack E. Leonard) and television hosts (think Dean Martin introducing The Rolling Stones on The Hollywood Palace TV show) made jokes about all of the pop stars looking alike. They couldn’t tell one group from another and they all made the same “noise.”

Then they got a look at Sonny & Cher.

sonny-and-cher

They got the look!

I’ll go ahead and call them the first hippies, even though the term (derived from being hip or hep in the 1940’s) hadn’t even been used to define the counterculture when I Got You Babe was topping the music charts in August 1965. Sonny’s hair was shaggier than even The Stones or The Kinks (noted for being shaggier than the combed and blown-dried Beatles) and Cher fit the Carnaby Street look with bangs to her eyes and straight hair over her shoulders. But the look went way beyond that.

The first time I remember seeing bellbottoms, other than my dad’s Navy uniform or in WW2 movies, was either in a photo or television appearance by Sonny & Cher. There were no suits or “party dresses” that talent managers convinced their acts to wear to attract a larger audience (think Brian Epstein getting The Beatles out of their leather gear). They wore fuzzy sheep wool vests, striped pullover shirts, silky bellbottoms, wide belts and whatever other accessories you might find wandering around thrift shops and beach shacks in Southern California.

Their outfits were certainly nothing we would ever find in a department store in the Midwest.

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For comics their names became the punch lines. For adults they could finally pick out Sonny & Cher from the other acts. And for boomers, they signaled a new trend. Within two years the newly-named hippies took S&C’s look and added on.

I Got You Babe had the necessary music and lyric hooks to compete with The British Invasion and the oncoming American groups like The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Byrds. The song was constantly on the radio during the late summer of 1965 and impossible to ignore. And once it was in your head, it stayed there for awhile, which is how it landed on this Dream Song List on April 21st. I hadn’t heard it in a long time so it’s one of the subliminal tunes and has made a lasting impression.

It also has a lasting memory…

For a week in August 1965 my 14-year old cousin Johnny and I “camped out” in a large tent my dad’s cousin had set up for us in the backyard of his house in Sandusky, Ohio. I’ve been fortunate because most of my relatives are “colorful” people. That’s a term of endearment for me. I’ve always enjoyed being around people who are different, adventurous, opinionated, and in some ways a bit “crazy.” It seems my family has handed down those traits through generations, which makes reminiscing or eventually confessing to past discretions just as funny as a night in a comedy club.

Sign here please!

Sign here please!

I was only 12 years old and Cousins Carl and wife Melba were older than my parents – and at the top of my list when it came to “colorful.” I can’t remember ever being bored or not laughing when they were around. Their daughter and my cousin Mimi was a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall in New York, which always added more “colors” to our get-togethers. If you’ve read my book The Beatles At Shea Stadium, Mimi had dinner with The Beatles the night before the concert in The Rainbow Room at the top of 30 Rockefeller Center.

We were at their house in Sandusky when she told me the story and gave me Ringo’s autograph on the back of a Rockette rehearsal schedule.

Carl had set up a huge canvas tent in their backyard. I noted it as “camping out” earlier because it was nothing like that in reality. Yeah, Johnny and I slept in sleeping bags on army cots, but we had electricity through an extension cord plugged into the house and full use of the kitchen, bathroom, record player and television. There was no “roughing it” when we “camped out.”

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Since I don’t have an older brother, John (we’ll drop the “ny” for now since we’re both a few decades older) was given that position in my mind. Our families are close and I can’t remember a Christmas night we didn’t spend together while growing up. And since we only lived a couple miles from each other (and still do) we shared many adventures. One includes the Beatles concert mentioned earlier.

John taught me the fine art of being an “all-nighter.” We’d have sleepovers at each other’s houses, which included mini “vacations” each summer. At those events bedtime was nonexistent. Parents would go to sleep and we’d sit up playing board games and watching old black and white movies until the channels signed off. There was no such thing as 24-hour television in the mid-60’s and it took years of mental reprogramming to not think The National Anthem ended with an electronic signal and TV test pattern.

To understand what I’m talking about, here’s a video of a channel sign-off from the 60’s.

In the summer these all-nighters would be outdoor adventures. Either walking or riding our bikes we could be cruising through our hometown anytime between midnight and dawn. In the 1960’s it was safe and that’s undoubtedly why I still find the nighttime much more interesting and exciting. I’ve never reprogrammed from that mental state and there’s a good chance it will be closer to sun-up than sundown when I post these ramblings.

1964_blue_streak

Cedar Point postcard

But we didn’t limit ourselves to nocturnal travels. One great adventure included taking a ferry from downtown Sandusky to the world famous “roller coast” of Cedar Point Amusement park. We stayed until closing and while taking the last ferry back we were caught in the middle of a loud and wild, Lake Erie wind-blown thunderstorm. I still remember the lightening and heavy rain as the large boat rocked through the waves. But we didn’t see it as any big deal since we grew up on the lake and after walking the couple miles through the damp darkness to Carl’s tent we spent a few more hours playing Monopoly under electric candlelight and listening to AM Top 40 radio.

And speaking of Cedar Point, the next year John and I finagled our way into a Dick Clark television special and rode go-carts with Chad and Jeremy for a couple hours.

But since that duo doesn’t finagle their way onto this Dream Song List until later, I’ll save the story for now.

During one of our daylight treks we walked a few miles to a shopping center where I bought the LP The Early Beatles on Capitol Records. It was the same as Introducing The Beatles on VeeJay Records, which I’d had since February 1964. But as a dedicated fan I needed this version for my collection.

sonny and cher fur

I got fur babe!

I also picked up I Got You Babe. The look may have caught my attention at first, but the catchy tune got my money. And since I’d had every song on the “latest” Beatles album memorized for a year and a half (Capitol Records also had a way of getting our money), it was good to have something actually new.

“They say we’re young and we don’t know…”

That first lyric by Sonny Bono says a lot to the Baby Boomer Generation. But my best memory is that we were still very young when I Got You Babe came out – and were in the process of learning. It brings back the first real feelings of freedom and independence that continued to grow during our teenage years. Sonny & Cher never made an impact on our generation like The Beatles and The Stones, but at this moment in 1965 they had the look and the sound of being different. And that’s a big part of how many of us remember the 1960’s.

Here’s a video of Sonny & Cher performing I Got You Babe from 1965…

 

 

To purchase The Best of Sonny & Cher with I Got You Babe visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing