Category Archives: A Hard Day’s Night

#185 – Turn! Turn! Turn!

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#185 – Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds

 – It’s unreal how young many of us were when the 1960’s music scene started changing our lives. And if we really stop and think, it’s mind-boggling how fast everything was changing. It seemed we were being exposed to new sounds and looks on a weekly basis.

When The Beatles kicked open the floodgates with their February 1964 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was more than the music. It was also the visuals – how they looked. It was considered pretty shocking and for many of the boomers, also very cool.

The younger boomers had been too late for the original 1950’s rock ‘n’ rollers who brought a sound and look that earned them dangerous and rebellious reputations – mainly from the older generations. But our firsthand adolescent exposure in the early ’60s was through clean-cut male crooners in letter sweaters and girls in party dresses and bouffant hair. To emphasize my point, The Singing Nun had a number one song in late 1963 with Dominique.

Believe me, there was nothing dangerous, rebellious or shocking about that.

So The Fab Four with long hair, tight tailored business suits and high-heeled Beatle boots made a definite impression. But by 1965 that visual was practically clean-cut compared to what was happening. The second wave of The British Invasion included The Rolling Stones, who were considered the anti-Beatles with longer hair and a dislike for matching suits.

And on this side of the Atlantic the new wave included The Byrds.

The Sound

They were different. Of course it was visual, which is the direction this rambling is headed. Like The Stones they ditched matching suits and grew hair longer than a mop top. When I first saw them on television singing Mr. Tambourine Man in early 1965, the only one that seemed to have eyes visible beneath his hair was Jim McGuinn (who didn’t change his name to Roger until 1967). And when I stop and think about it, I’m sure his eyes were only noticeable due to the rectangular “granny” glasses he pioneered into one of many teenage fads of the 60’s.

Musically they were also different. The Beatles were at first considered rockers and The Stones were bluesmen. The Byrds were folkies. Mr. Tambourine Man was a Bob Dylan song while their second number one, Turn! Turn! Turn! was written by Pete Seeger. And even though George Harrison was playing a 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar when recording the soundtrack for A Hard Day’s Night, it wasn’t considered the main “Beatles sound.”

Still, it was enough to influence a former folkie. With McQuinn the 12-string “Ric” became the basis of The Byrds sound and kicked open the floodgates for folk rock.

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The electric guitars and harmonies of McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby made Mr. Tambourine Man very different from the Bob Dylan solo acoustic version. Add the visuals that came along with The Byrds, including longhairs Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman, and the whole package could be pretty shocking for older generations and original folk music diehards.

But for many of the boomers, that’s what also made them very cool.

The Look

The Byrds released Turn! Turn! Turn! in early October 1965. Decades later when I woke up with the song “jangling” through my head on July 28th, it was still very cool. But what’s uncool is when I admit there are other Byrds songs on my digital playlist, but I don’t own a copy and hadn’t heard it in a long time. Maybe I could count the original 45 rpm vinyl since I rode my bike to the local record store in 1965 to buy it, but it would take an archaeological dig through my stored archives to find it. So I’ll just admit to my current lack of coolness and add it to the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

And speaking of digging through the past…

For my end of the baby boomer generation, we weren’t even teenagers yet when The Beatles, The Stones and The Byrds were changing our lives. We were still kids playing with our friends, who were also kids. Televisions had been earning a reputation since the 1950’s as the first electronic babysitters, but that didn’t mean we sat around all day watching cartoons and reruns of I Love Lucy. We had every inch of our backyards memorized and had explored all the woods, fields and creeks within walking distance of our neighborhood.

We did sports; we built forts and we played war. That might even be a decent title for a folk song if anyone wants to borrow it. And though I’m a dedicated peacenik who is stunned beyond disbelief that government madmen have control of nuclear warheads, many of us as kids in the 60’s were blissfully unaware of similar Cold War dangers. Of course that changed fast when we hit our teenage years and the escalating war in Vietnam was broadcast nightly on television news.

That was definitely uncool.

But as young preteens we’d choose sides to hit, pass or shoot a ball. If we were playing war, we might launch a sneak attack on a group of foreign neighborhood kids that might be playing too close to our assumed realm of influence. We’d battle with words and bravado, or during more immature standoffs throw chunks of dirt. If one of our foes landed with a hard chunk and your friend took off crying, the goal was to win the race to his house and tell his mom how brave he’d been in the heat of battle, and then race home before we all got in trouble.

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We built tree houses as high up in the trees as we’d dare to climb. On the opposite extreme we’d sometimes dig a large hole in the ground, cover it with plywood and use dirt, sticks and leaves to camouflage our underground forts. We also made tunnels, which were ditches covered with boards and dirt that were only big enough for us “little kids” to crawl through and keep out the “big kids.” We also believed “big kids” wouldn’t know where these bunkers were located because we could disappear in a small hole and end up crawling in a direction unknown to them.

And yes, as a kid it was all very cool.

After digging and covering one of our underground forts in the fall of 1965, a few of us were inside hiding out and listening to our favorite Top 40 AM radio station. I remember we had an old rug covering the ground so we weren’t sitting on dirt and a battery powered lamp so we also weren’t sitting in the dark.

The deejay announced the new Byrds song and played Turn! Turn! Turn! And when it finished, he shouted in his hip Top 40 radio deejay voice, “That was so good, let’s play it again!” And he did. We immediately heard the song a second time! I’ve always remembered that because it was the first – and only – time I’ve ever heard a song played twice in a row on the radio.

At that moment the deejay seemed dangerous, rebellious and shocking – and also very cool.

The Hit

But what became even more dangerous and shocking (I’ll skip rebellious since it was completely unplanned) during this second spin through Turn! Turn! Turn! the roof to our underground fort started caving in. Fearing we were about to be buried in a pit, we screamed, shouted and flew through our escape tunnel in record crawling time.

Popping out of the ground we saw a neighborhood “big kid” standing on the sinking ground with a stunned look on his face. He had taken a shortcut home through the woods and since we had been good at camouflaging our location, walked on top of our fort. The plywood boards cracked and popped and dirt started falling through the cracks. Stepping off before a complete collapse, he probably gave us some type of “big kid” lecture about making dangerous traps in the woods and then continued his walk home.

He turned, turned, turned (sorry, I can’t help myself) our fort into just another hole in the ground. If we had been playing war, we were the losing force.

A final note about Turn! Turn! Turn!

When Pete Seeger wrote the song he took the lyrics from the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. And I’m not sure where I read this, but for that creative reason it holds the record as a number one song – with the oldest lyrics. Now there’s a sound visual…

To check out the song and shocking visuals, here’s a video of The Byrds performing Turn! Turn! Turn!

 

To purchase The Byrds – Greatest Hits with Turn! Turn! Turn! 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 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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#186 – Viva Las Vegas

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#186 – Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley

 – It’s almost impossible to think of one without the other. Las Vegas and Elvis – even though they weren’t quite so joined at the (swivel) hip when this title song for the movie was released in 1964. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was still five years away from his legendary July 31, 1969 debut at the International Hotel that caused an international ruckus announcing his return to live shows.

Okay, it wasn’t actually his debut in Vegas. That happened during his ground-breaking year of 1956. Teenagers were going completely bonkers over him, but when Elvis performed at the Frontier Hotel in front of a more mature audience that regularly haunted the casinos and bars and were more in-tune to the sounds of Frank Sinatra and future members of The Rat Pack, he bombed.

But thirteen years later his fans had outgrown the need for fake ID’s and were mature enough to sell out every performance.

A lot of the credit for his return to The Throne of Rock is given to his 1968 television special, Elvis (also known as The Comeback Special). It turned an entire segment of baby boomers that were swept into the music scene by The British Invasion in 1964 into Elvis fans. But the first generation from the 1950’s had never left him. Instead of competing directly with the younger long-haired fabs and flower children, he had spent eleven years churning out movies that may not have been mentioned in any Academy Award discussions, but were successful money-earners and kept him in the public eye.

Viva Las Vegas was one of those.

According to the entertainment trade magazine Variety, Viva Las Vegas was one of the top-grossing movies of 1964 coming in at number fourteen. And to just give boomers an idea of his popularity during this ground-breaking year of The British Invasion, The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night came in at number sixteen.

Yes, Elvis actually beat the Beatles.

Viva Las Vegas – the song – also beat all other artists the morning of July 27th when it joined this list of Dream Songs. But there was nothing subliminal about it since this classic Elvis movie title track resides on my digital playlist and I had just heard it the day before. Welcome to the recent memory jackpot winnings.

Cash in your chips and buy that pink Cadillac!

Las Vegas has been a long time favorite destination for The Classic Rocker. The lights, excitement, weather and no clocks are the main attractions for someone who does his best to never travel anywhere without sidewalks and taxi service. But there’s no need to worry about dialing 1-800-gambling problem, thanks to Mrs. Classic Rocker. Her only casino fun comes from penny slot machines and if we’re not on a trend to win or at least break even, we can be found avoiding a losing streak tanning next to a pool or in a showroom.

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The story behind their greatest concert and making the TV special

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And yeah, we’ve seen Elvis impersonators in Vegas. How can you go there and not? Since I talked in a past Classic Rocker about seeing the real deal not long after his second Vegas debut, you can bet it’s never as good. But it’s still a lot more fun than sitting at a penny slot machine if the trend is a losing one.

The first time I hit Vegas there were no Elvis impersonators since the original was still up and running. It was just after summer 1976 and my pal Gary and I were bored. We realized it was time to viva things up and we scored a package deal through a travel agency for a few nights at the once legendary and now (also) gone Dunes Hotel.

The Las Vegas Strip was glitz and glamor for the era, but nothing like it is today.

For a couple of college guys, we weren’t too smart. My first memory after landing at the Las Vegas airport has us both agreeing The Strip didn’t look that far away. So lugging suitcases in the days before some genius (and future millionaire inventor) added wheels to make lugging luggage obsolete, we decided to save money by walking to our hotel. That was the first time I truly understood the meaning of desert mirage. We probably walked about a mile in desert heat before realizing the hotels didn’t look any closer than they did when we started out.

A taxi – or a camel – would’ve been the smarter choice. We made a U-turn and lugged our luggage back to the airport for a ride.

Hitting the Dunes casino filled with one arm bandits, no clocks, and free drinks from cocktail waitresses in low-cut tops and short skirts meant boredom wouldn’t be in our immediate future. We walked around with big plastic cups filled with coins and played nickel slot machines until we noticed the sun was up. I don’t remember if we won or lost, but we had a blast.

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We also had filthy hands from scooping dirty coins out of the machines before shoving them into different ones. Today Vegas gives us a much healthier option thanks to paper vouchers the machines spit out when hitting the “cash out” button. Now if there was only a guaranteed option that could make us much richer…

As mentioned before, gambling was part of the experience, but never the focus. We were also tourists and wanted to check out the sights, other hotels and other casinos. But falling victims to the dreaded desert mirage syndrome that included stifling and airless desert heat, we decided once again to walk. Each hotel appeared closer than it actually was and immediately became an air-conditioned destination to cool down before trekking off to the next.

From memory I’ll say we hit The Frontier, The Sands, The Riviera, The Sahara and at the time, the brand new and entertaining Circus Circus. We were amazed at the live trapeze artists flying above us in the casino.

We also made a direct connection with Viva Las Vegas. While the real Elvis was filling jumpsuits and live performance venues outside of Vegas during our brief visit, his movie costar (and rumored off-screen love interest) Ann-Margret was headlining The Hilton Hotel showroom. For her show we took the money we’d saved from free drinks, cashed in a few buckets of nickels, bought advance tickets and traveled in the back of an air conditioned taxi.

Review?

Viva Las Vegas AND Ann-Margret!!

Again, for a couple college guys we weren’t too smart. Her performance was a lot more than what we had expected. Ann-Margret had played the Conrad Birdie obsessed teenager Kim McAfee in the hit movie musical Bye Bye Birdie. But since that flick was even older (by one year) than Viva Las Vegas and predated The British Invasion (also by one year), we somehow thought she was a holdover from the older generation. After all, she had played Roger Daltry’s mother in the boomer obsessive movie musical Tommy in 1975, which also happened to be one year before our Vegas excursion.

Tommy can you hear me?

So we thought she was old enough to be Roger Daltry’s mother – right?

Wrong! That only happened thanks to movie magic.

This was my first Las Vegas show and the one I can still measure all others against. It was an evening of high energy singing, dancing and Vegas glitz from a knockout performer who reinforced my idea that showbiz could be a career. Less than a year later I was living in New York City and building one.

And I’ve been an Ann-Margret fan ever since.

As for Elvis, he was gone in (also) less than a year. It was quite a shock and no matter how hard the impersonators and computer-imaged simulators have tried to replace him, there was and will only ever be one. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the city of Las Vegas may seem now like they’re one and joined at the (swivel) hip, but in 1964 when much of the boomer generation was looking toward Britain for a jolt of entertainment, Elvis and Ann-Margret were rockin’ it up Viva Las Vegas style.

For an original entertainment jolt, here’s The King performing the title song from Viva Las Vegas.

To purchase the deluxe edition of Viva Las Vegas starring Elvis and Ann-Margret 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