Category Archives: Actors

#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

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#166 – C’mon Marianne

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#166 – C’mon Marianne by The Four Seasons

 – You don’t need to have age revealing personal memories of placing a vinyl 45 rpm on your portable Hi-Fi record player to know The Four Seasons were HUGE during the era when the times really were a’changing. Okay, that’s a round ’bout Bob Dylan-isk (I just added that ending syllable to make up that hyphenated word) way of saying they were having hits before, during and after The British Invasion. That’s was a HUGE accomplishment for a U.S. pop group, especially when success on the music charts after February 9, 1964 pretty much required an English accent and long hair.

The only other band I can think of with the same resume would be The Beach Boys. They held down the West Coast sound while The Four Seasons were… Jersey Boys.

Along with catchy tunes and harmonies, Frankie Valli was The Voice that made their sound distinctive. No one else sounded like him. Brian Wilson could hit some high falsettos singing about surfer girls and woody hot rods, which was a common West Coast term for a surfer dude’s car rather than a common term for a New Jersey guy’s… ah, never mind. But Frankie could belt the upper octaves. There was never a doubt who you were listening to when hearing a Four Seasons song.

And it’s lasted for decades.

Jersey Boys based on The Four Seasons was a hit Broadway show, movie and a favorite revue in regional theaters, Las Vegas and on cruise ships. It’s the power of their hit songs and a story that even during their chart-topping days in the 1960s was rumored to have had a little help from The Underworld.

But I won’t go there. At least not right now…

That’s for the theater and movie fans to drool over. For me it was about the music. And even as a fan of almost every song that came from an English accented, long haired band during the mid-1960’s, I would never change the AM radio dial when The Four Season’s latest release came on.

C’mon Marianne was on just about every AM station’s playlist during the summer of 1967, but those were really some fast changin’ times. Sgt. Pepper came out in early June and by mid-summer everything had changed. Well, just about everything. The Four Seasons stayed true to their sound and image and C’mon Marianne would be the last time they hit the Top Ten during this Decade of Change.

It was The Summer of Love.

Even as a junior high kid who only knew about hippies because I saw them on television, there was a feeling The Four Seasons wouldn’t be contributing to the soundtrack for my segment of the boomer generation for much longer.

Frankie and the boys still looked like they were hanging out in New Jersey while everyone else was shifting their focus to San Francisco and London. They were as far from psychedelic as Frank Sinatra Jr. and had a better chance of drawing a crowd in a Las Vegas lounge than by singing on the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I didn’t like their music.

In fact C’mon Marianne is on my digital playlist and I had just heard it the day before waking up to Frankie Valli falsetto’ing (just made that word up too) through my mind on September 8th. And if you’re keeping count, that makes it a recent memory Dream Song.

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What I am saying is these Jersey Boys stuck to who they were and what got them there. When psychedelic music reached our portable record players in album form, The Four Seasons weren’t on the vinyl playlist. The times had a’changed (sorry, I’ll stop with the Dylan-isk innuendos).

It would never prevent me from telling Frankie Valli he’s a great singer and I’m a fan. And that’s a good thing because a couple decades and a few years after C’mon Marianne I had the opportunity to do just that.

In the early 1990’s I had a very cool job in Los Angeles scheduling stand-up comedians to appear on a television show called A&E’s An Evening at the Improv. My boss was the legendary Budd Friedman, known to everyone that has anything at all to do with the industry as The Godfather of Comedy.

There’s no underworld reference in that. It’s just that he’s The Guy that started the modern comedy club concept with The Original Improvisation (shortened to The Improv) in New York, then Hollywood and eventually throughout the U.S.

Yeah, it was like The Comedy Invasion and he was Ed Sullivan, if you catch my reference.

We would pre-tape these one-hour shows (running on The Arts & Entertainment Network, hence “A&E” in the title) at The Improv comedy club in Santa Monica. They were aired weekly, which meant there were fifty-two shows a year. Since production expenses would be too over the top to deck out the club with cameras, lights, sound equipment and crew every week, we’d film two or sometimes three hour long shows in one night.

The on camera set up went this way…

Budd, wearing his trademark monocle, would open each show by greeting the live audience and home viewers. Then he would introduce a celebrity guest host who would do a short monologue and introduce the comedians. While each performed his or her seven-minute set, the guest host would sit at a table with Budd until it was time go back on stage, announce a commercial break and after, introduce the next comedian.

Repeat the process for five comedians and that was a show.

The Godfather of Comedy

Since we filmed two or three shows at once, we had to make it look like each was done on separate nights. That meant Budd had to change into different clothes for each show since he would be on stage and sitting with the guest host at a table that the cameras would focus on a number of times so television viewers could see them laughing at the comics.

Me? I didn’t have wardrobe changes in my behind-the-scenes job requirements.

Usually during one of the shows there would be an open seat at the four-person table and Budd would ask me to sit with them. That was also very cool because I knew when it would air and could tell my parents in Ohio to watch for me. Yeah, almost – but not quite – a celebrity son. Then after that particular episode was finished, I would disappear to sit at a table behind the cameras to keep up the illusion each show was filmed on a different night in front of a different audience. It would look pretty suspicious for television viewers to see This Guy (me) sitting at the featured table wearing the same exact clothes for what would seem to be two or three weeks in a row.

As mentioned, I worked with the comedians. So I never really gave much thought about the guest hosts. To be quite honest, I didn’t even know who many of them were. Most were supporting actors on sitcoms I didn’t watch, or hadn’t been on television for years and needed some screen time to let people – and casting directors – know they were still around.

The Godmother of Rockin’ Cars

But one guest host that really attracted my attention was the actress Tawny Kitaen. She played Tom Hanks‘ fiancé in the movie Bachelor Party, but was better known to my male buddies back in New York City as the “hot chick” rolling around on top of a hot car in an MTV music video for Here I Go Again by Whitesnake. It had been on heavy viewing rotation when I lived in NYC pre-Hollywood and if we were hanging out in a bar when it came on television, everything stopped. You could hear a pin drop and ever guy’s jaw hit the floor.

She was The Babe at that moment.

When it came time to film Tawny’s guest hosting episode, I was unfortunately minus a wardrobe change and relegated to a back table. But it was one of the few times I ever brought a camera to a taping and immediately after introducing myself we cheerfully (at least for me) took a photo together. When I mailed copies (pre internet) to my buddies at our local NYC hangout, I’m sure everything stopped except for their jaws hitting the floor.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Frankie Valli. That’s the next episode, but first an interesting commercial break…

I don’t know the relationship and again, I won’t go there. Not even later. But Tawny had an entourage with her and there were only four chairs at Budd’s table. So some of her gang was sitting at a table next to me. Following a commercial break Tawny announced there was a celebrity in the audience – and introduced O.J. Simpson. A spotlight and camera zoomed in on the table directly behind me where O.J. stood up and waved to the crowd.

This wasn’t too long before the infamous murder and notorious trial. So at the time it was no big deal. But thinking back on it now… Yeah, it’s kind of creepy.

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There was one other time I wished a camera had been a job requirement. It was when I arrived for a taping and learned Frankie Valli would be our guest host. Normally I would meet the guest hosts in the club’s showroom right before filming started. But this moment dictated an exception to that routine.

For the first and only time I went searching backstage to find The Voice.

Since it wasn’t a large area and a small office would be set up as a dressing room, I very quickly looked past a half-opened door and saw Frankie sitting in a chair. He was wearing makeup (remember, this was television) and a dark suit with a high white collar and tie looking like…

Well, looking like a Jersey Guy.

Now it might have just been me. In fact, I’m SURE it was ME basing my first impression on a preconceived stereotyped image.

The Godfather of Vocals

I knocked on the door and introduced myself as the talent coordinator for the show. Once he was assured I had a reason to be there we made small talk about the comedy biz before I took the opportunity to tell him I’d been a big fan for a long time and it was a thrill to meet him.

Frankie Valli could not have been a nicer guy.

That should have been the end of the story and it actually is, except for my misconstrued preconceived stereotyped image kicking in. Frankie held out his hand for me to shake and I remember noticing he wore a large ring – or maybe even two that definitely told me he wasn’t just another guy from just another neighborhood in New Jersey. With his high collared buttoned white shirt, dark tie and suit, and a hair style that was closer to Sonny Corleone’s than a hippie holdover from The Summer of Love my mind wandered to the rougher parts of New Jersey, The Underworld and…

Well, I was greeting The Voice himself.

Yeah, I might have mentally viewed it closer to The Don (as in Sonny’s dad) – which is wrong. I know that. But when it comes to Frankie Valli he deserves respect. And just to dig myself into a deeper hole with insinuations, preconceived notions, unfounded stereotyping, too many long-gone rumors and too many viewings of Jersey Boys, when he said I could enter dressing room to say hello…

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Have a comment?

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

Sorry – I searched – but couldn’t find a video of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons performing C’mon Marianne. So what I found instead was this STRANGE film of STRANGE teenagers from the 1960’s with the song used as a soundtrack. Enjoy? That’s up to you. It might find it difficult just getting through it.

 

To purchase The Very Best of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons with C’mon Marianne, 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

#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