Category Archives: 1960s music

#192 – Sweet Caroline

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#192 – Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond

 – There are a few pop culture bandwagons I’ve been happy to miss. I’ve never owned a pet rock; could care less if anyone ever solves a Rubik’s Cube, and was never into the cult of Neil Diamond.

Now don’t get me wrong. I get it for the legions of fans who are.

Diamond has sold multi-millions of records, is one of the top pop songwriters of all time and his concerts still sell out. He’s also been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I get it.

I also loved the dedication and humor sent his way in the film Saving Silverman and the characters’ tribute band, Diamonds in the Rough. Neil made a cameo appearance, which definitely made him a cool guy in my mind. And way back in 1966 I loved Cherry Cherry and was thoroughly impressed when I learned he had written the classic I’m a Believer for The Monkees.

But when it came to my personal tastes in 1969, Neil and Sweet Caroline were nowhere to be found. The music scene was splitting off into different extremes ranging from Woodstock rockers (Classic Rocker preferred) to bubble gum schlockers (Classic Rocker avoidance). Diamond didn’t seem to fit into either category. To my ears, his songs were aimed for a crowd that would now be called Adult Contemporary and not played on the FM rock stations I preferred.

But as I’ve written before, not too many cars in 1969 were equipped with FM radios. And since my pals and I were sixteen years old with newly earned driver’s licenses, AM Top 40 was still our cruisin’ music and we could only hear the current pop chart hits.

Not so sweet memories

One of the songs we heard constantly over our car radios in the fall of 1969 was Sweet Caroline. It definitely has a catchy tune, which seems to be a requisite to land on this Dream Song List, and has obviously stayed with me. Since I’ve never owned a copy and can’t remember the last time I’ve heard it, waking up with this tune running through my head on the morning of June 28th definitely places it into the subliminal category.

And yes, it brings back memories. But they’re not the best…

I was one of the younger members of my high school class and almost all my friends had been driving for months before I was even old enough for a temporary license. That meant I spent a lot of time hanging out at home waiting for rides. Fortunately, my best pal Kevin was as psyched as most sixteen year olds about driving and could always be relied on to be my chauffeur.

Cruisin’ around together gave us plenty of time to talk about a lot of stuff, including who was (or in my case, who would be) the better driver. We even made a bet which one would be the first to have an accident. Yeah, it’s the kind of stuff sixteen year olds would talk about, but at least we were cool enough not to bet on ourselves.

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When I finally scored my driver’s license we were two weeks into August 1969. That made life very different, even though I was still working the same job I’d had since turning ten years old. Don’t worry; we’re not dealing with unlawful child labor when I say that. My job was the chief dishwasher, bread slicer and floor sweeper at our family bakery. As baby boomers will know, parents and grandparents were allowed to put the kids to work so we could pay for our own record collections. For me a was a good deal because while the other kids were sleeping in or watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was collecting a pay envelope and peddling off on my bike to buy the latest Top 40 vinyl releases.

So on a Wednesday morning about two weeks into August 1969, my dad asked me to take my mom’s car to pick up a vacuum cleaner from a local repair shop and drop it off at home. I not only looked at the opportunity as a break from shoving baking pans into an overheated washer, but also a chance to drive.

I was psyched, but you already know what’s coming… right?

I was almost home when I thought I saw one of my younger neighborhood pals walking along the sidewalk. What could be cooler than a “older” sixteen year old pulling up and offering him a ride? Yeah, I thought so too – but when I looked out the passenger window it wasn’t him.

Too bad I wasn’t looking at the road instead.

This was a residential section, so fortunately I wasn’t going more than 25-30 mph. But even at that non-freeway snail’s pace things can happen fast. When I turned my attention back to driving, I had a few split seconds to realize the car in front of me had stopped to make a left turn.

Cue the sound effects!

Okay, let’s take a moment here to imagine your favorite comedy movie where the idiot behind the wheel drives off a cliff or high bridge. The film goes to slow motion and you see everyone in the car go bug-eyed with their mouths hanging open and in a low, slow-mo sound effect they all go, “OH $#$%%#!!!

In my case I envision a Blues Brothers car chase. The cowboys, Nazi’s and police in hot pursuit of Jake and Elwood demonstrate that slow-mo movie look and sound as they fly through the air, hurl off a road, or spin through a mall upside down.

That’s how I still picture my slow-mo self at that moment: “OH $#$%%#!!!”

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

I’ll interrupt this driving moment to make it clear no one was hurt in the making of this non-comedy movie real life action sequence. As for my mom’s car… Well, that’s another story.

Something like this.

Her car came to a sudden, crunching stop embedded into the rear of the car stopped in front of me. In slow-mo I can still see the front hood of her blue Oldsmobile Cutlass flying up in the air and landing on the road next to me. Then without any notice or fanfare, the engine dropped out with a crash accompanied by the sound of broken glass (or could it have been broken metal?). In an era before airbags, I’m sure my steel grip on the steering wheel and locked arms bracing for impact kept me from a face plant on the dashboard.

The guy I rear-ended happened to be a kid I had been going to school with since about third grade. He jumped out of his car and delivered one of the most famous lines you’d hear during a similar scene in a Hollywood movie:

“WHAT THE $#$%%#??!!!” 

At that point I figured I should probably get out of my car too. The only problem was the doors were jammed shut, so I crawled out of the window. I definitely did not feel as cool as Jake or Elwood.

Wait ’til mom hears about this!

The car was totaled. In fact, the only part that was salvageable was the AM radio, which was still playing while we waited for the police and a tow truck. And just in case you’re wondering, it was not playing Sweet Caroline.

That memory is still coming up…

Within a hour my dad had picked me up in his car and I was back at work to finish washing pans and sweeping the floor. Fortunately, my parents took it all quite well and were happy no one was hurt. And with insurance my mom got a new car.

So business as usual? Well, not quite…

My punishment would be handed out during a date in traffic court a few months later. But the real punishment that hit home for me as a sixteen year old psyched about driving came as advice from the police and even the judge, who were all frequent visitors in the family bakery. They mentioned to my parents it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to drive before traffic court, just in case I saw another neighbor walking along the street.

So until I had to face the Judge in his courtroom, rather than in our bakery, I was back to hanging out at home waiting for friends – like my pal Kevin – to drive me somewhere. It was also a good stretch of time to lose any skills a sixteen year old might continue to develop while sitting behind the wheel of a car.

Sweet Caroline? It’s coming up…

When I finally went to court, which was only about half a block from the bakery and probably with a box of our donuts in the outer office, the judge just gave me a talk about being more careful. That was it. Then I asked the BIG question: when can I start driving again?

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He said I could have been driving the entire time.

Say what? “OH $#$%%#!!!” And no – I didn’t say that, but it probably ran through my mind. And with so much time away from driving, it was almost like starting from scratch. At least that’s what it felt like.

My instructor in “learning to drive again 101” was my dad. My backseat driving coach was pal Kevin. The first step was to cruise around some country roads until I got the hang of it again, so the three of us took off in mom’s new car.

I have to admit to being a bit scared. Totaling a car will do that to someone. On the two lane back roads we had some laughs with my instructor and coach joking about sharp corners, stop signs and oncoming cars. But at one point as we went under a low bridge and around a corner, a large truck was coming from the other direction. I put a steel grip on the wheel, went over the right side edge lines and slowed down to a crawl as the truck blew past us. They faked being scared (at least I hope they were faking!), but I broke out in a slight sweat. Driving wasn’t as cool for me as it was when I first got my license.

And looking back, that’s a good thing. I actually learned to be a more careful driver rather than a psyched sixteen year old with a license.

BUT – and here it is…

The song playing on the AM radio at that moment the truck blew by us? The Top 40 hit Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. And yes – it’s true. I remember that, which is why the song still carries that memory for me.

BUT there’s another part of this story that also has a steel grip in my memory bank. Remember the bet I made with my pal Kevin?

There were only a couple weeks until school started when I wrecked my mom’s car. That same evening we had marching band (very cool – don’t ever doubt that) practice at the high school. I called Kevin with my non-comedy sorrowful tale of on road destruction and asked him for a ride. Since the main attraction of being in the band was hanging out with girls, an assorted group of us piled into Kevin’s car (actually his mom’s car) after practice and…

Well… You already know what’s coming – right?

Wait ’til your mom hears about this one!

We drove to a local restaurant for something to eat. When we were leaving, there were about four or five kids crammed in the backseat and three of us – Kevin driving, me in the middle and another pal Rob riding shotgun – sitting in front. Kevin made a sharp right turn out of the parking lot that caused all of us to lean left. In fact we leaned so far left that

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

Kevin was shoved against the driver’s side door with his arms locked in place. He yelled out something to the effect of a slow-mo, “OH $#$%%#!!!”

Everyone else sort of screamed. The car scraped over a concrete curb causing a stream of sparks to fly up in the air around us, smashed through a landscape of bushes, and dug a couple donut shaped ruts in the front lawn of the restaurant before coming to a stop. Once again, no one was hurt except for another mom’s car. But this time all it took was a tire change and a slow unsteady drive home.

As you can tell, Kevin won the bet, but only by a few hours. And I became a more careful driver at the age of sixteen because to tell the truth, two accidents in one day was “$#$%%#!!!”

Back to Sweet Caroline? Yeah, I know it’s a standard at Boston Red Sox Games and an uplifting, healing song for The Boson Marathon after runners and supporters were attacked by cowardly militant scums (or in more polite terms, $#$%%#!!!).

I get it.

But for me, I’d rather for-get the experience of Sweet Caroline and my sixteen year old driving experience. Hail, hail public transportation!

Here’s a video of the great (I get it!) Neil Diamond performing Sweet Caroline.

To purchase All-Time Greatest Hits by Neil Diamond with Sweet Caroline 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

Comment? Please use the form below and as always… Keep Rockin’!!

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They say it’s your birthday (again)!!

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11885210_10206750047483724_1164378672389296806_n – Guess I should have saved my past birthday posts after the number of years writing The Classic Rocker. It would’ve been like another mini timeline of where, what and what the heck was I thinking! With today being this year’s birthday, here’s the experience (and it was a good one!)…

This really happened and even I wouldn’t dare make this one up.

Today is my birthday. Last night at 11:30 pm I’m standing in line to buy beer. No one in front of me was carded. I got to the counter and the guy asked for my ID. I told him I was “flattered” and it was my birthday.

I also checked to make sure there were no hidden cameras and I wasn’t being “punked.”

The guy said something about my hair (still got it!) and something else. I wasn’t really listening because I was pumped up and psyched-out about this newsworthy anti-aging event. I gave him my driver’s license.

Seriously – his eyes popped out and he goes, “Holy shit!!

He asked about health tips and I told him to only drink light beer. But then he rang up the beer and charged me for it?! I reminded him it was my birthday! He said I still had 30 minutes before the big day, so I (happily) paid up.

I’m good for another year… ha!!

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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 2016 – North Shore Publishing

August 15, 1965 – The Beatles At Shea Stadium

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– It started earlier than you might think…

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Sid Bernstein

During the winter of 1963 Sid Bernstein, a New York producer and entrepreneur, decided to expand his horizons by taking a course in Political Science. The instructor said if students wanted learn about democracy they need to study Great Britain, so Bernstein trekked down to Times Square every week and bought the British newspapers.

After reading updates about the government, he turned to where his real interests were – the entertainment section. He noticed the name of a pop group called The Beatles. At first the articles were small, but each week they continued to grow in size. They also included two words about their performances that caught Bernstein’s eye:

SOLD OUT!

To his producer’s way of thinking, these were the same words that described fame-predicting appearances by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, two of the BIGGEST names in showbiz. Since expanding his horizons could also mean taking a chance, he located the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and booked the group – then unknown in the U.S. – for two shows in February 1964 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Epstein Beatles

Brian Epstein and “The Boys”

When dealing with Epstein there were always stipulations. If The Beatles were not getting radio airplay in the U.S. by December 1963, the deal was off. It was a long wait, but as history tells us they made the deadline. I Want To Hold Your Hand broke the airwave barrier, they were scheduled for three February appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show – and Bernstein SOLD OUT both shows at Carnegie Hall.

Following the Beatles summer and fall 1964 tour of North America, Bernstein took another chance and scheduled them to appear in the brand new, state of the art Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens. Again there were stipulations that included no advertising without a paid deposit, but Bernstein made a bold guarantee and backed it up by selling 55,600 seats through word of mouth. Once again…

SOLD OUT!

Nothing on this scale for a pop concert had ever been attempted before. Elvis had performed a handful of stadium shows leading up to his army induction, but the largest had been in front of 26,000 fans at The Cotton Bowl. The Beatles had to more than double that number to fill Shea Stadium.

Dressing Room

Away from the crowd

On August 15, 1965 The Beatles landed on top of a building at the neighboring New York World’s Fair and were delivered into Shea Stadium via a Wells Fargo armored truck. The dressing room was crowed with visitors including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and future kingpin business manager for Apple Corp and three of the four Beatles, Allen Klein.

If only Brian Epstein had known…

Their entire visit to New York, beginning Friday, August 13th through Tuesday, August 16th, was filmed for a Beatles In New York (not the title, but the idea) television special. Only backstage and concert footage was used for the final version.

Introduced by Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr ran to a small stage set up over second base on the baseball playing field and performed ten songs in about thirty-seven minutes. Whether anyone heard them depended on where they were seated, if they were screaming – or if they were next to someone screaming. Many of the male fans thought they sounded great. Many of the female fans don’t remember.

Shea on stage

Never before in the history of popular music…

Filmed in 35mm, the quality of the concert footage is similar to blockbuster Hollywood movies of the era. For comparison, The Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock movies were filmed in 16mm.

The resulting television special, The Beatles At Shea Stadium, was planned for holiday (Christmas) airing in December 1965. One member of the Beatles inner circle approved the version submitted by Ed Sullivan Productions, while five others didn’t. A secret recording session took place in January 1966 to correct the sound and the special wasn’t broadcast in the U.S. until a year later. By that time fans were only weeks away from the release of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever by a mustached, psychedelic-clothes-wearing, pre-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The film has been restored, color-corrected with both the overdubbed and original audio remastered for mono and stereo. It has yet to be released.

But on television that January evening in 1967 they were still the mop-topped Fab Four riding high on the release of their summer 1965 film, Help! And they played, sang, laughed and sweated during a hot New York August night in front of a SOLD OUT audience of 55,600 fans.

It was 50 years ago on August 15, 1965.

It was the birth of stadium rock.

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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 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

February 9, 1964

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I was taken by complete surprise. Well, almost.

Jack Parr

Jack Parr

I had heard of The Beatles before February 9th only because my mom let me stay up late the night Jack Parr aired a brief clip during The Tonight Show on January 3, 1964. It had to be a Friday night and not a school night, but I’m not sure. And it wasn’t because we knew The Beatles were going to be on. Again, I had never even heard of them. We just enjoyed watching Jack Parr. For me it was his sense of smug humor (for lack of a better term). I always thought it was a bit risqué to watch his show because I was still a preteen and he was for adults. It reinforces my opinion that my mom was a little more with it than other parents who wouldn’t let their children stay up late to watch when Parr was host of The Tonight Show.

I also thank her and my dad for taking me to a Beatles concert. Again, I’ve heard too many stories from other young fans “under parental control” who were not allowed.

Other than Parr’s brief clip I have no memory of hearing anything else about The Beatles until February 9th. There was too much other “stuff” going on. I’ve been very clear about my recollections of this time in past Classic Rocker columns and my books The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. We were still dealing with a very bleak time in our country’s history following JFK’s assassination in Dallas on November 22nd. We watched the funeral and news updates on television and heard discussions at home and in school about The Cold War and The A-Bomb. Even my neighbor had a bomb shelter and as a preteen baby boomer it was obvious things had changed very quickly.

I often describe my memories during these days as being in black and white. That probably comes from remembering and still seeing reruns of newsreels and television shows from that era being broadcast in black and white. The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Patty Duke Show. You know the ones I’m talking about, so no need to mention them all. All the shows were in black and white which undoubtedly affects my memories.

I didn’t even know anyone who owned a color television in February 1964 – not even my neighbor with the bomb shelter. But having a color television wouldn’t have made a difference. The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white.

Ed Beatles 2

Rehearsal pre-fab

My dad, mom, little sister and I had been on a four day family vacation that started on Wednesday, February 5th. It was a driving trip to Washington, DC and we arrived home in the early evening of Sunday February 9th.  I had no plans to do anything except eat dinner and avoid doing any homework until the last minute. As we did just about every Sunday at 8 pm we all sat down in front of our only television (“The black and white one,” as John Lennon described A Hard Day’s Night at their legendary Shea Stadium concert about a year and a half later) to watch The Ed Sullivan Show.

Dad, mom and sis were on the couch. I sat on the floor with my back against the couch. I remember it as vividly as where I was when my fifth grade teacher announced to the class President Kennedy had been shot. There are a few dates you’ll always remember if you were alive at that time. These are two of the earliest for me.

It would be cool to say we watched because of The Beatles, but don’t remember it that way. We always watched Ed Sullivan. Like for many of us in the U.S. he was part of our television family on Sunday nights.

As the first performers, he announced The Beatles.

Beatles Ed Sullivan

A moment in time

For myself at that moment and for millions of others watching, our world immediately went from black and white to color. It was that dramatic. To use a comparison from my book The Beatles In Cleveland it was like the film The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was swept away from a black and white Kansas and unexpectedly dropped in colorful Oz.

And The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white!!

Beatles music has been listened to, analyzed, discussed, broken down, recreated, and even taught and studied in universities since. There’s no need for me to do that now. The influence is still felt over half a century later.

But it wasn’t just the music. They had an image unlike anyone else before them. You can talk about how shocking Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince appeared twenty years later, or even more recently with Lady Gaga, Lil’ Wayne and Miley Cyrus. In February 1964 the Beatles’ “look” was shocking compared to what was considered “normal” at the time.

To put it into a baby boomer context based on our television viewing habits. No man in 1964 had hair like that except for Moe from The Three Stooges.

John Lennon MarriedInstead of letter sweaters and slacks, the Beatles wore business suits with tight pants, skinny ties and boots with pointy toes and high heels (Cuban heeled Beatle Boots). It was shocking! And I only learned their first names because they were flashed under their individual shots on the television screen. The music was lively and happy, the Beatles bounced in time and the girls screamed. Then it was over.

Well, not quite for me. Where we lived in northern Ohio, the dividing line between Eastern Standard Time and Central Standard Time in 1964 was drawn between Cleveland and Toledo. That meant we had two separate television markets airing shows an hour apart. At 8 pm EST I watched the Beatles live on The Ed Sullivan Show. An hour later at 8 pm CST I tuned into the Toledo CBS affiliate and watched it again. I did that for each of their three appearances that month.

Beatles Ed 2

Long haired rock’n roll

I was able to watch their U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show twice that same night. It was also rerun later that year, but then I never saw it again until buying a bootleg videotape on 8th Street in Manhattan more than twenty years later. Now like many other fans, I own a legit DVD copy of The Ed Sullivan Show appearances and pretty much have every moment memorized.

The very next day it was also obvious things had changed.

On the Wednesday before, I had left school early for our drive to Washington, DC. There had been no mention of The Beatles in my classroom or anywhere that I can recall.

On Monday morning following The Ed Sullivan Show most of the girls in my fifth grade class had Beatles fan magazines hidden in their desks and their television debut was the main topic of conversation. The guys tried to act cool about it – or at least that’s my perception because we weren’t supposed to be attracted to them like the girls were. They were in love and lust. But I remember listening to their conversations and know some of the guys, me included, wanted to be like The Beatles. It seemed a lot more fun than kicking a ball around the playground.

I’m sure it was also within that first week one of the guys in my class came to school with a Beatles wig. I bought one myself and still have it. There were also a lot of Beatles trading cards, photos, magazines and other merchandize brought to school that would be considered valued collectors items today.

Beatles Bowing

From black & white to color

Of course, there was the music. By the Saturday following their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show I owned the LP Introducing The Beatles as a gift from my parents after listening to me beg for a week. The next Saturday (after more pleading) I had a copy of Meet The Beatles. Somewhere within that time frame I came up with the sixty cents (somewhere in that $$ neighborhood at that time) for the 45 rpm record I Want To Hold Your Hand b/w I Saw Her Standing There.

The floodgates were open and haven’t been closed since. It was February 9, 1964. It all changed that evening and nothing was ever the same again. Thank you to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s been a memorable journey to say the least.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and the author of The Beatles In Cleveland and The Beatles At Shea Stadium

Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com at THIS LINK.