Category Archives: 1960s television

#160 – Those Were The Days

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#160 – Those Were The Days by Mary Hopkin

 – Take an old Russian folk song, rewritten English lyrics, a talent show winner and a Beatle and you come up with a 1968 hit record. That was the formula for one of the earliest releases by Apple Records that hit number one in England. In the States it was kept from the top spot by another early Apple release, Hey Jude by the same Beatle and his three business partners.

Working off trivia memory that I must have read somewhere, Paul McCartney heard this song performed in a London club by Gene Raskin, an American folksinger. Raskin is the guy that wrote the English lyrics, which is information I can’t claim to have in my memory bank. He’s given songwriter credit on the record.

One Beatle and Mary

McCartney liked the song, but never had any intention for the Beatles to record it. Those Were The Days was so very different than anything else on the pop charts that he needed someone very different to record it. When Mary Hopkin won the televised British talent show Opportunity Knocks, he found the voice. Taking a break from recording The Beatles (The White Album) he took her into EMI Studios and produced this very different sounding song.

It was also a very different way to wake up on September 21st with Mary Hopkin’s voice singing this song in my mind. It’s not one you hear… well, at all on Classic Rock Radio. And since I don’t own a copy and haven’t heard it in… well, it seems like forever, it goes in the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

But I did own a copy at one time. It’s a very catchy tune and after hearing it on Top 40 AM Radio late that summer, I bought the 45 rpm single. But it wasn’t the type of song my friends and I would play at parties because it wasn’t exactly uplifting. It wasn’t the vinyl you’d put on a turntable to get everyone up to dance.

But speaking of parties…

My best friend and I were fifteen years old and had summer jobs at my family’s bakery when this song was climbing the charts. We lived in a tourist town on the shores of Lake Erie and though we started work early in the morning, we’d usually be finished around noon. That gave us plenty of daytime to hang out at the beach or ride our bikes around town looking for adventures. And since fifteen year old guys don’t need a lot of rest, we’d stay up most of the nighttime supposedly sleeping outside in one of our backyards (both with and without a tent), which was actually an excuse to have no parental supervision. That meant we could also ride our bikes around town all night looking for more adventures.

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We were pretty much inseparable and kept ourselves – and our circle of friends – very entertained.

I’ll go ahead and say Kevin and I were ringleaders of fun because we always had ideas and something going on. One of our objectives was to have parties so we could hang out with the cool girls in our class. But we didn’t want to throw a party like everyone else. We had to make it seem like an event, which meant we would have a theme.

Our most popular was a movie premier.

If you wanted to see a movie in 1968 you either went to the local theater or watched television. There were no video rentals, we had never even heard of Beta, VHS or the very futuristic DVDs, cable, internet or streaming services. Of course that lack of technology wouldn’t stop this great theme idea. We just had to make our own to make it happen.

Something like this!

Kevin’s family had a home movie camera (we’re talking about using a reel of film) so we became producers, writers, actors and directors. Kevin and I were cast as the stars (hey, it was our movie) and if we needed villains for any scenes, we’d use his younger brother and best friend. We’d pick on them anyway, so the only difference would be filming it.

We’d create short scenes of craziness and comedy bits, separated by brief psychedelic light shows. This visual effect was accomplished by holding the camera lens directly on different colored light bulbs for a few seconds each, resulting in changing color bursts when we projected it on a screen, signaling the end of one bit and the beginning of the next.

We had no editing capabilities, so whatever we shot would be in the movie. There was also no sound with 1968 home movie cameras (at least not on the one we had), so like silent movies we had to write out any important dialogue on poster boards and hold it up in front of the lens. It’s no wonder our sight gags (silent) worked the best.

Much of this is lost to memory, but one bit is worthy of being stuck in my mind.

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The scene opened with me sitting at an empty kitchen table. I’d rub my stomach acting like I was hungry, act like I had a great idea and snap my fingers. Kevin would stop the film and I’d stay motionless as he put an empty dinner plate in front of me. He’d start the film and just like in the television show Bewitched, it looked like I had magically made the plate appear. We continued with the routine until I had silverware, a napkin, lit candles, a wine glass and then the glass filled (but not with wine). In what should have been my final finger snap conjuring up a delicious meal, an old shoe appeared on the dinner plate.

But wait – that wasn’t the end of the bit. Acting disgusted, I snapped my fingers again. Then, like magic, I disappeared and Kevin was sitting in my chair at the table with a sandwich on the plate. Acting happy, he reached for the wine class (not with real wine) and took a sip.

Laughter and applause from our audience, a psychedelic light show on the screen – and then onto the next scene.

Samantha Stevens

As the scene’s featured thespian my emotions had to run from hungry, to surprise, to almost elated and at the end, disappointment. Too bad we never came up with an awards ceremony theme to our parties because I would’ve been a shoe-in (pun intended – thank you).

The final films were about ten minutes long. But just so our invited guests (especially the cool girls) didn’t have to watch a completely silent movie, we’d also record a soundtrack playing various instruments (we had some talent) onto my reel-to-reel tape recorder. We’d do our best to sync the sound and film when we’d hit “play” on both at the same time.

Together we were also a good promotional team and built up the anticipation for these premiers that would happen at one of our houses. And since we also had a good group of friends these were successful parties. There were always enough laughs for us to show the latest film a few times, then play the latest records, dance, laugh some more and talk up the cool girls. And if our star power was bright enough (like a psychedelic light show) the evening might end with a kiss, or two… or three.

So, would I say those were the days? Yeah, they really were fun.

But even though I enjoy reminiscing as The Classic Rocker, and Mary Hopkin with Those Were The Days stirred up memories of my cinematic career as a fifteen year old child actor (where was The Disney Channel when I was looking for a job?) I don’t think I’d ever want to go back. Just like each song on this countdown serves as a reminder, I think there are plenty of adventures, laughs – and even a little magic – down the long and winding road ahead. I’m still finding ways to entertain myself. Yesterday was cool, but you never know – tomorrow might be even cooler.

I just wish there was a psychedelic light show I could use to signal my next bit. Why? Because it would look very cool projected on a screen before my entrance into the new scene.

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Here’s a video from 1968 (with production quality a lot better than mine!) of Mary Hopkin performing Those Were The Days.

 

To purchase Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records with Those Were The Days and Mary’s follow up hit Goodbye (written by Paul McCartney) 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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

 

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#162 – The Mighty Hercules Theme Song

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#162 – The Mighty Hercules Theme Song by Johnny Nash

 – Surprised? Yeah, I was too. I had no idea the singer, producer and songwriter of the 1972 Reggae hit, I Can See Clearly Now, was the same voice leading us into each episode of this 1963-1966 cartoon series. It’s amazing what can be learned through a quick online search for something – really, anything – about an obscure and mostly forgotten television cartoon theme song.

Okay, maybe not completely forgotten if you’re old enough to have watched and have a talent (or curse) for remembering catchy tunes. Since I fall into both categories, Hercules was muscling its way onto this Dream Song list on the morning of September 19th. And when you think about it, that means it’s been simmering in my mind for decades.

Do I own a copy? You’re kidding – right? This one is definitely subliminal, but admittedly a fun addition.

The Mighty Hercules was one of the many cartoons rushed into production and aimed specifically for the younger segment of baby boomers. Even though a television set was becoming fairly common in homes during the 1950s, the preteens of the early 1960s were the ones that didn’t know what life was like before the small screen became a regular piece of living room furniture.

Johnny Nash

I’m sure you realize that unlike Johnny Nash, Hercules was a mythical Greek strongman who could probably take Superman the distance. If you need a reference, think Rocky vs. Apollo Creed. Based on pure speculation and memories, the cartoon Hercules was sent down from the Mount Olympus of animation to ride the then current trend for Greek Mythology adventures. As young kids we still pulled ourselves away from the television for our hometown movie theaters where I remember watching the films Jason and The Argonauts (released on my birthday in 1963) and The Three Stooges Meet Hercules (1962) on a big screen.

On college campuses the trend was a little more risqué than heroic with toga parties. But I didn’t study that aspect of Greek Mythology until watching the frat boy documentary Animal House on another big screen over a decade later.

In our preteen version during the early 1960s, we’d run home from these movies and reenact our Hercules and Argonaut adventures. We’d crash through solid walls of cardboard boxes and sword fight using the cardboard tubes we’d slide out of the wrapping paper rolls our mothers were saving for Christmas or birthday gifts.

Think how much money they could’ve saved shopping if they had just given us the cardboard rolls and boxes as presents. Call it a Hercules Power Gift Pack and we would’ve been happy.

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Come to think of it, we might also have sung The Mighty Hercules Theme Song after a hard-fought victory and total destruction of our cardboard city walls. Maybe that’s why I remember more of the words to this song than I do the arithmetic formulas we were supposed to learn in grade school.

Truthfully, which is what I imagine they’d expect on Mount Olympus, I was never into The Mighty Hercules cartoons. At the age of ten it would only be a few months before The Beatles changing everything with their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and my most entertaining piece of furniture would move from the television set to the record player. The Hercules shorts (lasting no more than five minutes each) were probably part of my early morning TV viewing during breakfast before rushing out to catch the bus for school.

And when I think about it (again) the song has stayed with me for longer than I Want To Hold Your Hand. Yeah, it’s amazing (again) and I didn’t have to do an online search to realize that.

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On another note, this cartoon along with others rushed out for boomer entertainment, were not exactly works of art. The colorfully drawn cartoons our parents watched in movie theaters when they were kids were later packaged as kid’s programming and aired on television in black and white for our generation. And as mentioned in earlier Classic Rockers, that was also how we discovered The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals (Our Gang) from decades before.

The cartoons produced in the 1930’s, 40’s and early 50’s were made to be shown in theaters with feature films. Hercules and many others from the 60’s were quickly drawn to be watched on a small screen.

Clutch Cargo

Another I distinctly remember from this era was the series Clutch Cargo. It also couldn’t be classified as artistically drawn, but it was fascinating to watch since human mouths were somehow superimposed over the characters animated faces. If you know what I’m talking about – watching these cartoon characters “talking” – I’m sure, you’ll agree. But if not don’t think I’m being weird.

You had to see it to believe it.

It would be another decade before I’d hear the name Johnny Nash and as mentioned earlier, many more before I’d discover his link with The Mighty Hercules. But during my college daze in 1972, somewhere deep in my mind, the mythological cartoon connections to Mount Olympus must have still been simmering. Otherwise I have no excuse for wearing a toga at a frat party and doing my best dance moves to I Can See Clearly Now.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s the opening theme for The Mighty Hercules sung by Johnny Nash

 

 

To purchase The Mighty Hercules on DVD 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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#164 – Soul Finger

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#164 – Soul Finger by The Bar-Kays

 – This song has me running in my mind. Notice the wording of that sentence. It’s not running through my mind, though it is at this moment. But I’m talking about running, like on a track team, which is something I haven’t done since Soul Finger was running on a regular basis on AM radio when it was released in the spring of 1967.

Thinking back to our favorite Top 40 stations in the 1960’s, instrumentals didn’t get a lot of respect from the deejays. Yeah, some were huge hits like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by Hugo Montenegro released in 1968 (not the same as the 1966 Clint Eastwood movie soundtrack version) and Love Is Blue by Paul Mauriat also in 1968.

But these hits were treated differently by our on-air hosts. They were played all the way through without deejay patter over the top.

What does that mean?

Radio deejays’ personalities were almost as popular – and sometimes more – than the songs they were playing. Murray The K, Cousin Brucie and Wolfman Jack are the first names that come to mind and were nationally known. Fans would tune in to hear those voices from those guys as much as the hit songs they’d play during their shows.

It was the same in local markets where competing Top 40 AM stations featured deejays fast-talking to be the most popular and listened-to. It would definitely be obnoxious and turn off listeners if they talked (patter) over songs with lyrics and we were trying to hear the words. So they’d normally hype their personalities and talk between songs and over instrumentals.

Memphis based soul

But even while playing songs with lyrics, there were still ways for deejays to get around this. Especially when they were playing a new release billed as exclusive to their station. That would be a big promotional scoop and it was important for their listeners to know.

This is how it would work:

Supposedly, the fantastically popular deejay would be given the next BIG hit by a current BIG artist before the record was sent to rival stations. His job was to make sure we knew that, while also preventing another station from taping the song and scooping this exclusive by also playing it on air.

What do I mean by that?

Two examples come to mind. When The Byrds released Turn! Turn! Turn!, a station in my northern Ohio listening area had the exclusive. During the song’s instrumental break, the deejay would announce, “You’re listening to this exclusive on…” and mention his station.

Before The Beatles’ Nowhere Man hit the stores, the same station was granted the exclusive rights in our region. But instead of waiting for the instrumental break, this is how I remember it coming from my transistor radio:

  • Beatles (singing): He’s a real nowhere man…
  • Deejay: “The Beatles!”
  • Beatles: … sitting in his nowhere land…
  • Deejay: “Only on (mentioned the station)!”
  • Beatles: … making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

Yeah, it was a bit annoying, but didn’t stop us from listening. Especially since tuning in to this station was the only way we could hear it. At the time I was a preteen with a small reel to reel tape recorder. I knew the song would be played at least once every hour, so I’d hold the tiny microphone in front of the tiny transistor radio speaker so I could have my own exclusive copy before my friends. I’d hit record when I knew the next song was about to play. If it wasn’t Nowhere Man, I’d stop the tape, rewind and wait for the next song.

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I didn’t know the definition of bootlegging, but it wouldn’t have stopped me anyway. Eventually within the hour, I scored a decent copy. After that I kept the play – rewind – play – rewind cycle going on my tape recorder until it hit the stores a week or two later and I could get my hands on a vinyl 45 rpm copy.

But that bootlegged version made a lasting impression. Every once in a while, all these decades later I’ll hear Nowhere Man and unconsciously add the deejay’s patter between the opening lyrics as if that’s how The Fabs recorded it in the first place.

And yeah, sometimes it’s a bit annoying.

The Bar-Kays released the instrumental Soul Finger in April 1967. It became a legitimate hit and not only because it’s a catchy tune, but like the exclusive Nowhere Man we probably heard it every hour. But for a different reason.

Deejays could lay down their fast-talking patter over it.

Soul Finger was a song deejays weren’t afraid to talk over. So, when they’d segue into the news and weather report every hour, which was a common break on AM radio back in the 60’s, they’d play The Bar-Kays hit. Most of the time the entire song wouldn’t be heard because there may have been less than a minute before the break, so it was used as an instrumental lead-in.

During this time, they’d fast-talk announcements about upcoming concerts, benefits, promo for stores, restaurants, car dealers – whatever. The song would fade out – wherever – and the news report would begin.

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Since we were still glued to our AM dials, multiple listens of a catchy tune is a sure way to have it burned into your mind. That’s the only explanation for Soul Finger joining this Dream Songs list on September 14th. I can’t remember the last time I heard it and since I don’t own a copy, it goes onto the subliminal memory chart.

Fortunately, there was no fast-talking deejay patter included.

Other than that annoying programming habit, Soul Finger brings back one specific memory that rewinds us back to the beginning of this Classic Rocker rambling. You remember, where I’m running in my mind…

When Soul Finger was running us into hourly AM radio news breaks during spring 1967, I was in my last year of junior high and running on the eighth grade track team. As an athlete I had two natural abilities. I could run fast and jump high, which is also how I scored a starting position on our junior high basketball team. I know for a fact that was the case since dribbling or shooting a basketball was never priority after I scored my first guitar.

Off the blocks!

There was a guy on the track team who was supposedly my friend. I don’t remember how that came about since we really had nothing in common. But that’s not important because we were just kids and by high school had moved on to different cliques.

Anyway, there must have been some type of envy (jealousy) on his part. He wanted to be an athlete while I wanted to be a rock star. But I had beat him out as a starter on the basketball team and was doing the same at track. I found out he hadn’t been too pleased about either.

We were getting ready to run against a rival school in the fifty-yard dash. This was my main event and I honestly don’t remember anyone else on our team that could beat me – especially this friend. If you know anything about sprint races, we used starting blocks, which were metal contraptions you placed on the track behind the starting line. Runners would crouch down, put their feet against the blocks and use them to push-off at the start of the race.

Maybe most of the blocks were being used in other events, but when we were getting ready for mine this friend grabbed the last contraption before I could. When I said something about this, he gave me a pretty hard look and said, “I’m faster than you,” and took a running lane with the other starting block sprinters. I had to take an outside lane and an almost standing position waiting for the starter’s gun to kick off the race.

And yeah, I kicked it during the race – meaning that friend’s butt. I don’t remember if I actually won the race against the other school, but I smoked (athlete’s term for winning) him. Afterward I just remember him storming away from me like a bad sport. He wouldn’t talk or even look at me. It’s probably best he didn’t because I might have flipped him a soul finger.

If you know what I mean.

Otis Redding & The Bar-Kays

On a very sad note, this was the only hit by the original members of The Bar-Kays.

That same spring, they were picked by the legendary Otis Redding to be his touring backup band. On December 10, 1967 following a television appearance on Upbeat and a concert in Cleveland, four of the six members lost their lives with Redding when their plane crashed into Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin.

The only survivor was trumpet player Ben Cauley. He later reformed the group with bass player James Alexander who had been on a different plane.

Have a comment?

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Here’s a video of the original Bar-Kays performing Soul Finger.

 

 

To purchase Soul Finger (the album or single) by The Bar-Kays visit Amazon.

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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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#165 – I Want You Back

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#165 – I Want You Back by The Jackson Five

 – There was a popular television show when I was a kid called, I’ve Got A Secret. The song I Want You Back by a preteen Michael Jackson and his brothers has really nothing do with that, except for bringing back how I felt – sort of – when I first heard it in 1969.

The show was hosted by popular television personality, Gary Moore – not to be confused with the guitar playing Gary Moore decades later. A supposedly unknown person would be introduced, chalk his or her name on a blackboard and sit behind a desk with the host. Moore would give a panel of four celebrities a brief hint of what secret the guest was hiding, while the viewing audience would be given the answer at the bottom of our black and white television screens.

The two guests I remember most were Brian Epstein and in a separate episode, Pete Best. Brian’s secret was that he managed The Beatles while Pete’s was being a former Beatle. Of course, to first generation Fab Four fans, there was nothing secret about either guest and we immediately knew when they walked out to sign their name on the chalk board. But it was fun watching the older generation (I also remember Groucho Marx as an occasional guesser) try to figure out who these guys were.

My secret in 1969 was that I really liked The Jackson Five. It may not seem like such a scandalous admission now, but this was around the time when another great musical divide was occurring within the generational gaps.

Anyone have a driver’s license?

As mentioned in previous Classic Rocker ramblings, my particular segment of the boomer generation was too young to experience firsthand the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950’s. The dangerous element was toned down into being popular music in the early 1960’s, then burst into the fab stratosphere as pop in 1964. This morphed into more rebellious pop-rock, drifted into hazy psychedelic and eventually just all-out anarchy rock toward the end of the decade. By early 1969 The Beatles had just released The White Album, The Who were promoting Tommy by trashing instruments and acting like punks before anyone ever heard of punk music, and we were just getting into Led Zeppelin.

Woodstock was only a few months away and by the fall we were listening to Abbey Road.

But there was another form of music “bubbling” beneath the surface labeled as bubble gum. My teenaged “just getting our driver’s license” crowd had zero interest in this AM radio takeover, even though we were often forced to listen since that was the only bandwidth our parents’ cars came equipped with at the time. Without doing an internet search, my recollections go to Donny Osmond and his Osmond Brothers, The Archies and… well, that’s the extent of how deep I want to go into the memory bank on this topic.

Bubble gum seemed to be music made for my little sister’s demographic and she was seven years younger than me.

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Now, there’s no way I can ignore Motown in the above listings. I suppose the Top 40 deejays tried to fit it into the pop music category, but we knew it was more than that. Hitsville in Detroit gave us more rhythm and soul than most of the light weight pop acts. Motown could sound clean and smooth, or hot and sweaty. My favorites were The Temptations with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and The Four Tops with the great Levi Stubbs. But in 1969 Stevie Wonder was still trying to distance himself from the Little adjective that had been stuck on him for his early records and label head Barry Gordy was grooming The Supremes as a lounge act and Diana Ross for solo superstardom.

Okay, now that I’ve set the stage for what a sixteen-year-old boomer was listening to and my thoughts about it all, in the winter of that year we were presented with The Jackson Five and their first hit record, I Want You Back.

Kings of soulful pop!

First thought: This is a kid singing.

Second thought: This is great!

Now, I wasn’t sure if this realization would seem cool to my fellow-teenaged friends that, along with me, were listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The Who (and The Rolling Stones). But it was impossible for me not to turn up the AM radio dial or even sit still when hearing I Want You Back.

These kids just… Okay, did it rock? Was it pop? Bubble gum? It didn’t sound like the Motown of The Temps, The Tops or Little Stevie, but it couldn’t be ignored. At least by me and the millions of other fans that sent this record screaming up the record charts. Maybe it was because my little sister and her age group were finding their own musical personalities at the time and jumping on the Jackson (and Osmond) bandwagons. There was no reason why I couldn’t also make room on my playlist for this rocking’ and soulful family band.

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But like the television show, I had a secret. There was no way I could ask my friends to turn off Led Zeppelin and listen to The Jackson Five if I wanted to remain hip enough to look cool. So, without Groucho and the other panelists outing me on national television, I kept it to myself. At least for a while.

But here’s another secret…

Ed’s ready to bust a move!

The first time I saw The Jackson Five was on The Ed Sullivan Show. And one of the most memorable parts was how Michael and his brothers danced. So yeah, I wanted to dance like The Jackson Five. Too bad my feet, arms and… well, everything else could never move like that. It’s also too bad I never realized that when I was on a dance floor. More on that in a moment, but first…

I Want You Back danced its way onto this Dream Song List on September 10th. And yeah, I own a copy, it’s on my digital playlist and I had just heard it. So, this one moonwalks into the recent memory category.

I won’t pull any punches here. Myself and my buddies were far from possessing any soulful or rhythmic moves. I might have imagined myself as Michael or even Jackie (or Tito?) at our high school and later college dances, but reality has a way of exposing our secrets. For a description, if you combine The Twist with leg jerks and flaying arms as if you were being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos – it would look better than what we were doing. The effort might have been there, but the talent was missing.

I recently had a chance to reconfirm this no-so-secret admission.

A couple days ago I was just about to leave the house when I Want You Back came on. At this moment, at least for the first verse or two, time and commitments are forgotten. There’s no way to prevent a dance attack and I was doing my best twisting, jerking and flaying moves when I looked up and into a mirror directly in front of me. It was far from being Michael, Jackie or even Tito staring back at me. Of course, I didn’t stop – but from now on I’ll keep these moments between you and me.

Can you keep a secret?

Have a comment?

Please use the contact form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of The Jackson Five with a very young Michael on lead vocals performing I Want You Back.

 

 

To purchase The Ultimate Collection: Jackson 5 on Motown Records with I Want You Back visit Amazon.

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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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#167 – Would You Like To Swing On A Star?

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#167 – Would You Like To Swing On A Star? by Bing Crosby – but I learned it from a cartoon!

Not the cartoon!

– There’s a good chance this version of The Classic Rocker will come off sounding like it was written by a five or six year old kid. There’s a good reason – since that’s the age this golden oldie imbedded itself into my memory bank and has stayed buried in there ever since.

Would You Like To Swing On A Star? (officially titled Swinging On A Star) has nothing to do with Classic Rock. I’m sure we both know that and there’s no way to twist and turn any chord progression, lyric, meaning or artist’s rendition to make it fit that category. The original was by Bing Crosby in 1944 and Frank Sinatra also famously crooned it sometime later. But as I’ve made clear in past ramblings and even in About Dream Songs the only requirement for making this list is to have it running through my mind when I wake up in the morning.

Classic Cinema

In this case, my subconscious must have been deep into an alternate playlist when I opened my eyes to join the real world on September 6th. Since it has been so long since I’ve heard this song and it stretches so far back in my past, I’ll compare that night’s sleep to a journey in a time machine. And since I just made that reference, I’ll go ahead and wonder if the movie The Three Stooges Meet Hercules might have been an unconscious influence. It was one of my favorite films in 1962 and even inspired me to invent my own time machine out of cardboard boxes (it didn’t work). And since it was from the same era I’m about to visit in this Classic Rocker confession, I’ll go ahead and group the movie and song together and call it a major mind-blast from the past.

As a baby boomer, I’m among the first generation to grow up with a television in the house. I never knew life without one, just like kids today have no experience in a world without computers or cell phones. We’ve been described as having televisions instead of babysitters, but it really wasn’t any different than our parents and grandparents sitting around the house and listening to the radio. It was just another form of entertainment like online games and streaming videos are today.

Remote controlled flight

Except our graphics weren’t as good as what my kids are watching and if someone mentioned “remote controls” we probably thought they were referring to an episode of The Jetsons. That’s a good reason why my kids compare my childhood experiences to The Flintstones.

At four years old I graduated (yeah, there was a ceremony) from nursery school and was shipped off to afternoon kindergarten the next school year. The school also had morning kindergarten, but my parents must have already recognized my night owl tendencies. To this day I have a difficult time putting words together before noon, but can come off as a semi-genius after lunch.

So up until around 1 pm every weekday, I took mornings easy with lunch in front of the television before heading off to the afternoon grind of organized playgrounds, crafts and nap time. Then after graduating (yeah, there was a ceremony) my system was sent into total shock the next year when first grade was an all-day experience with a starting time somewhere around the outrageously early hour of 8 am.

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Luckily, I lived close enough to the school during the early boomer era when it was actually safe for a first grader to walk home alone for lunch. Since we lived not far away in an apartment above the family business, I could take almost the full hour to eat and watch television because my grandpa would take a break from work to drive me back to school. This cut out the time needed for me to walk back and also use the authority I assumed by being his only grandchild at the time.

In other words, I’d ask grandpa to drive me around the block a few times before I had to go back into the school. He always did.

Captain Penny

For kids my age in the Cleveland, Ohio viewing area a local legendary character, Captain Penny, hosted our lunchtime “must watch” television show. In the real world his name was Ron Penfound and he starred in his own kid’s show from 1955 until 1971. Captain Penny dressed as a railroad engineer with hat, gloves and neckerchief and was as popular with us little kids as The Beatles would be years later with us teenagers.

He is also the one who introduced us to The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals and cartoon shorts. All these had been popular with generations before us, but since this was still the days of having only three television channels and not a lot of original programming (old movies were still shown in primetime), this was our main source of broadcast entertainment.

Captain Penny would caution us after each Three Stooges short to “Don’t do this at home.” And at the end of his show he made sure we all knew, “You can fool anyone – but you can’t fool mom.

The cartoons we watched (broadcast in black and white) had been movie shorts our parents watched in theaters when they were little kids. Popeye The Sailor was big among Captain Penny aficionados, along with another character that didn’t seem to last as long…

Lulu and Tubby

Little Lulu was a mischievous little girl who had a best friend, Tubby Tompkins. They were also the popular stars of comic books, which were also a major source of entertainment since pictures were easier to read than our first grade See Spot Run books. I remember having a major collection of comics stuffed into a small closet in our small apartment. I’d open the door and stacks would spill out onto the floor where I’d sit and read before stuffing them back into the closet to be saved.

A lot of these comics were saved for so long that more than a few decades later I cashed in by selling many on eBay. I would’ve definitely needed a time machine made from something other than cardboard boxes to imagine that business endeavor while stuffing comics back into the closet when it was time to watch Captain Penny.

But wait. Even though the memory bank is running on full, it’s about to take a U-turn…

Between 1957 and 1963 there was a popular primetime sitcom called The Real McCoys. It starred movie character actor Walter Brennan as Grand Pappy Amos McCoy and future movie character actor Richard Crenna as his son Luke McCoy. Kathleen Nolan played Luke’s wife Kate and their kids were Hassie and Little Luke. The farmhand, since they lived on a farm, was Pepino.

Yeah, I remember all that. As mentioned, the brain is running on full right now.

It was about a family moving from West Virginia to California. It was sort of like The Beverly Hillbillies, but without a mansion and Mr. Drysdale to watch the money.

The show also had a VERY catchy theme song that is about to merge with Little Lulu and Bing Crosby. You can check it out here…

 

 

Probably more times than I should admit to during nursery school, kindergarten and first grade while sitting in front of the tube, I watched Captain Penny show us a Little Lulu cartoon – probably more times than he would’ve like to admit – where she skips school to go fishing. In a dream-like sequence, Would You Like To Swing On A Star? is heard (with a brief visit from a cartoon Bing) while she swings on a star in the night sky and warned she could end up as a pig or a fish if she doesn’t get back to school.

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The song stuck in my head and I’ve never been able to shake it out. But the words got… sort of… mixed up with The Real McCoys Theme Song.

Yeah, I already know. Complicated…

So the version of Would You Like To Swing On A Start? running through my much older mind was the same one that has been with me since a very, VERY much younger time. It’s a combo of the two already mentioned, with some added lyrics from a very inventive five or six year old kid.

A Bout With A Trout!

So if you know the tune, feel free to sing along:

Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
Would you like to be as you are
Or would you rather be a pig
A pig is an animal with zillions of feet
Roars like a lion but is gentle as a lamb
And now here’s Luke who beams with joy
As he makes Kate Mrs. Luke McCoy
Da da da da dada da da da
Or would you rather be a pig?

So there you go. After all this rambling from a Classic Rocker, the beginning musical seeds were seemingly planted by Little Lulu, Captain Penny, Bing Crosby and Grand Pappy Amos McCoy. Who would’ve ever thought that?

Have a comment (or memory)?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

And who would’ve ever thought we could actually sit back today and watch the cartoon – drawn in the 1940’s – that had such an influence? No need to bring back The Three Stooges and a working time machine because we have the internet. Here’s Little Lulu learning a life lesson to Would You Like To Swing On A Star? The full length cartoon is called A Bout With A Trout and can be found on YouTube.

You might enjoy that also because it includes the catchy Little Lulu Theme Song. I remember it, but that would turn into another long story…

 

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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

#169 – 25 or 6 to 4

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#169 – 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago

 – Sometimes there’s nothing like a solid horn section to punch up a great rock ‘n’ roll song. For me that feeling goes back to the early days of Little Richard (though I was too young to actually experience it at the time) when a dirty-sounding saxophone raged over his pounding piano. And even today since a young Little Richard is never too old for the digital age of listening, the volume is worthy of being turned up whenever The Upsetters – his backing horn section – kick it in with him.

The same can be said for Bobby Keys and The Rolling Stones. Brown Sugar would not be the same song without his sax, even if Keith Richards and Mick Taylor had practiced what Keef refers to as “the ancient art of guitar weaving” for the instrumental break.

Saxophone was one of the founding instruments in rock ‘n’ roll. But as also a big fan of rhythm & blues, soul and Motown, a horn section with brass trumpets and trombones are also requirements. I have a feeling any promoter suggesting James Brown, Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye could have cut costs by leaving the horns at home would have found himself with nothing but an empty stage to promote.

But when I was finally old enough to experience what was happening in the world of pop music, it was the beginning of The British Invasion. Other than The Dave Clark Five with Denis Payton on sax, groups featured guitar players. Even when American groups counterpunched with The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful, no one was blowing into anything other than an occasional harmonica – and that includes Bob Dylan.

With a horn section!

In May 1966 The Outsiders caught my attention with Time Won’t Let Me and a great backing horn section. Then later that summer The Beatles released Revolver with the Motown influenced Got To Get You Into My Life. But it wasn’t so much that horns were changing the pop music we were listening to. It was more like pop was borrowing from the other styles to give us a lesson in what a big segment of the youngest baby boomers was missing by only listening to our local Top 40 AM radio stations.

What does that have to do with 25 or 6 to 4? I’ll tell you…

I remember a slight bit of personal confusion when Chicago hit big in 1970. Pop had morphed into rock and the main engine driver was a high-powered electric guitar. Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton were making that notion very clear. Horns could be a great background enhancement, but none of our radio favored bands seemed to have these jazzy players as permanent members.

So with embarrassed hindsight, my perception of Chicago predated the lyrics Dire Straits sang a few years later in Sultans of Swing:

They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playin’ band. It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

But then Chicago changed that.

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Their innovative style as a band in the pop-rock world wasn’t really new. Al Kooper’s original Blood, Sweat & Tears made the scene in the late 1960’s and was the first group I took notice of that had a permanent horn section. But just like the subsequent version led by David Clayton-Thomas, they were too jazzy for my tastes.

It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

Chicago’s first LP under the name Chicago Transit Authority went unnoticed by me. But the opening riff of 25 or 6 to 4 when it was released in June 1970 definitely caught my attention. It rocked. And I don’t think I’m saying anything dedicated classic rock fans will object to, but it struck a rock chord by sounding a lot like Babe I’m Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin. And then the horn section came in over the grungy guitar and…

That’s what they call rock and roll.

This sound was coming in through my grungy brain on the morning of September 4th. It rocks its way into the recent memory category because I had just heard it. In fact, this song has occasionally crept into my Top 25 list of Most Played Songs that iTunes so conveniently keeps track of. And by the way, in case you can’t tell from the countdown aspect of these Classic Rocker ramblings, I enjoy that feature immensely.

I should have been more welcoming to the brassy horn sounds of Chicago. But as mentioned, The Guitar Gods had taken hold of the rock scene. I say this because at the time I was a player that could have fit into either section.

My guitar fumbling (for lack of a better term) started soon after The British Invasion – like many other baby boomers. But my skills have never been anything to write home about. I tend to blame that on never having the best guitars. I went more for “looks” (does it look cool?) rather than ease of playing. But trumpet was the opposite. I had access to two very cool horns and a practiced ability to play them.

My interest in the trumpet didn’t start when my parents “told me” that’s the instrument I’d play in the junior high and eventually high school band. It was a tradition on my dad’s side that started with his father and continued with him. And believe me, they were both good players. Especially my dad who played bugle in the U.S. Navy and made trumpet his creative outlet by performing with numerous bands around where we lived. He could play anything from jazz, big band to marching band. I have memories as a very little kid going with my mom to watch his shows. He had invested in a very good (let’s call it expensive) trumpet in the 1950’s and yeah, he looked and sounded cool.

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My grandfather was a lot older than my friends’ grandfathers. He was 46 when my dad was born. I don’t know how young he was when he started playing, but know he had purchased a silver cornet in 1905 and was a member of the town’s concert and marching band. Not only do I still have my dad’s trumpet, but also my grandpa’s silver cornet – and the 1905 proof of purchase receipt.

Yeah, you could say I’ve always been good at hanging on to important stuff.

Herb Alpert & TJ Brass

I alternated between the trumpet and cornet when I joined the school band, but again – I didn’t have much interest. I thought the guitar was cooler. But in April 1967 I watched a television special by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and beginning at that exact moment – by the end of the show – trumpet looked pretty cool. I’m positive that I immediately went to my room and started practicing on grandpa’s cornet. My dad – most likely shocked but overjoyed at the same time – got out his trumpet and started teaching me. Before long we were playing duets and it became a father-son bonding I’ll always have with him.

Another totally shocked victim of my new-found love for brass was our junior high band director. For close to three years I had been languishing in the lower reaches of the trumpet section, barely able to make any type of recognizable musical noise. A few weeks after the Herb Albert TV special we had tryouts for “chair placement” and I aced it.

I still remember him staring at me – smiling – and wondering out loud why this happened “to him” when I’d be moving on to the high school band and a different director in just a few months. My band friends were also flabbergasted (again – lack of a better term) when I propelled past about 30 other trumpeters from the back end of the section to third chair. I never looked – or went – back after that.

Beatles Horn Section

But would I have wanted to be in a rock band like Chicago? Honestly, not in the horn section. As Paul McCartney once pointed out, his first instrument had also been the trumpet – also a gift from his dad – but you can’t play and sing at the same time.

Since that’s what I had in mind when I auditioned for the high school musical – and aced it – my trumpet playin’ band days came to an end. When I took off for college and later New York City, a couple guitars were in the back of my station wagon and the brass horns were left behind.

But they didn’t go unused, since I’ve always been good at hanging on to important stuff. More than a century after my grandpa bought his cornet and half a century after my dad bought his trumpet, my son Paul was playing both in the high school band. But now that he’s a professional singer, they’re both on the shelf waiting for the next generation.

And as for Chicago, they’ve also lasted for a few generations. Sometimes there’s nothing like a solid horn section to punch up a great rock ‘n’ roll song. And since there are still plenty of rock ‘n’ rollers from first generation baby boomers on down, I don’t hear that sound fading out any time soon.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

To watch the original Chicago lineup performing 25 or 6 to 4, check out this video…

 

 

To purchase Chicago’s Greatest Hits with 25 or 6 to 4 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

August 15, 1965 – The Beatles At Shea Stadium

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– It started earlier than you might think…

sidbernstein

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