Category Archives: pop music

#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.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

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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#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

#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

#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

#171 – A Summer Song

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#171 – A Summer Song by Chad & Jeremy

 – Being a Classic Rocker is not always an exact science. Especially when the archeological dig through our minds lack video or photographic evidence from the world of pop and rock, which was once considered disposable.

If you’re not familiar with what I’m alluding to, the eras of what we consider now as pop culture during the 1950s and ’60s were thought to be nothing more than a passing fad. Many live television shows were just that – live for that moment and then gone forever. Television studios could save money by taping shows in advance of airing and then reuse that same film for the next broadcast. So a lot of what we might remember exists only in our memories.

We’re lucky when a program like The Ed Sullivan Show was a national hit, filmed for airing in all time zones and saved for later repeats. Otherwise, we might not even have these performances by Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and many others from the ’50s and ’60s to watch again and again.

This is the dilemma I faced when trying to find exact information, including video and photographic evidence, of my personal television debut. And that’s frustrating because I think of it as a worthy (personal) pop culture moment since it happened in a Dick Clark Production with Chad & Jeremy.

So to begin this archaeological dig through my mind…

Chad & Jeremy were always one of my favorite British Invasion acts on the (Cuban) heels of the Beatles kicking things off in early 1964. I’ve mentioned in earlier Classic Rockers that as a preteen I didn’t have the funds to splurge on every great record that hit the charts, so after spending on the Beatles’ latest I had to be selective. One I couldn’t resist was the duo’s Yesterday’s Gone. I loved it then and still do.

Jeremy & Chad with Laura Petrie

Though the Beatles and other groups might have been more selective on what television shows they appeared on, Chad & Jeremy seemed more accessible. Along with the usual must watch television variety shows like Ed Sullivan, Hullabaloo and Shindig, they guest-starred (with speaking roles) on The Patty Duke Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

So yeah, I knew who these guys were. I didn’t confuse them with Peter and Gordon, like some of the other kids had an annoying habit of doing.

The summer of 1966 was huge for me. I turned thirteen in June – finally a teenager – the music was great and I earned enough money in my parents’ bakery to have a decent record collection. I also went to my first concert, which was The Beatles at Cleveland Stadium.

Like I said… huge.

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But also being a teenager meant having more freedom than when I was just a “kid.” Now, this is where it morphs into not being an exact science, but sometime in either July or August I was allowed to spend a week living on my cousin’s boat at the popular amusement park, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio. You might know it now as America’s Roller Coast for it’s outlandish collection of HUGE roller coasters and other thrill rides, and to us in the 1960’s it had that same reputation. It was one of the coolest places on earth to a thirteen year old and I would be staying there with my fifteen year old cousin John with nothing more to do than ride rides, swim on the beach (where we learned to surf on wooden “pizza boards”) and roam around with no parental supervision.

Like I said… cool.

The place to be!

One of our favorite rides at that time was the go-cart track. This was very different than you might be picturing during an immediate archaeological dig through your mind. There were no loud gas-powered motors. The track was a large oval with raised curves and electrical strips imbedded into the track. The go-carts had connectors (brushes) underneath and were powered by electricity. When the guy running the ride switched on the power, we’d race around the track using the cart’s accelerator and (sometimes) the brake. When the power was turned off, that’s where we stopped.

It was a popular ride and always had a line of wannabe racers. Since John and I were living on the boat docked in the park’s marina, we’d run in as soon as the gates opened so we could race around at least a few times before it became too crowded. We followed our plan that morning and though we weren’t first in line, we were pretty close.

It was a nice day, sun was out and the sky was blue. The ride was right next to the beach, which I’ve always considered to be one of the nicest beaches on Lake Erie and we could watch boats and people swimming while we waited.

I mentioned the sun and blue sky because if you were going to film anything there really wouldn’t be a need for “studio lighting.” I’m not sure when I noticed there were television cameras set up alongside the track but being a typical thirteen year old I was more concerned about when we would get on the ride. I also remember we waiting a bit longer than what should have been “opening” time. But since we had a good place in line we weren’t about to leave.

Sort of like this – but not really.

Then a guy who seemed to be in charge of the ride asked, “Who wants to ride go-carts?” Before I knew it, John had grabbed my arm and raised it up in the air with his. Obviously he had been paying better attention than me. We were both selected along with about six or eight others and were let in to choose our go-carts.

We drove around for awhile, stopping when the power was shut off and then starting again. After a bit we were told this would be filmed for a television special and before it had a chance to sink in, Chad & Jeremy walked in through the exit gate and sat in two empty go-carts.

Yeah… very cool.

The kids left watching from the sides of the track looked pretty excited as we drove go-carts with Chad & Jeremy for about an hour (if I remember correctly) while the cameras filmed us. At one point we were stopped and I was next to Chad (if I remember correctly). With all my thirteen year old British Invasion inspiration and some unfounded need to sound English, I looked at him and said, “Hullo.”

Yeah… not very cool. At least he answered, “Hello.”

That was cool.

After they had enough film, we ended our marathon go-cart ride. The cameras were moved to the beach and Chad and Jeremy lip-synced a song. This is where video would help. I’ve always thought they sang A Summer Song, but my memory might have been influenced by the time of year. After some online research I learned they were heavily promoting their latest song Distant Shores at that time in 1966 so it might be that one instead.

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But going through my waking mind on September 1st was A Summer Song, which is what stirred this archeological mind dig in the first place. Being a C&J fan of course I own a copy and had just heard it, so it goes into the recent memory category of Dream Songs.

After the excitement of riding go-carts for television cameras, John and I found out Dick Clark Productions was at Cedar Point filming a television special. A lot of different areas were blocked off, but we found out – and saw on television a couple months later – that Paul Revere and The Raiders performed Hungry at the Pirate Ride and The Vogues lip-synced Five O’Clock World while riding in a golf cart along the Cedar Point midway.

Again… very cool.

Dick Clark bringing the action!

I don’t remember the name of the special, but I’m sure it was connected to one of Clark’s programs either American Bandstand or Where The Action Is. It was airing during fall 1966 and we watched, knowing it would be pretty exciting to see ourselves on television. An all too brief go-cart sequence (in black and white) was shown at the very beginning of the special announcing that Chad & Jeremy were featured artists. During this opening segment I remember seeing my cousin John zip by and just as my go-cart came onto the screen…

You could see me only from the neck down.

It was my national television debut, so it was still pretty cool.

But it could have been cooler.

As I said at the beginning of this rambling adventure, a lot of video from the 1960s has been lost and apparently this is one of them. Over the years I’ve occasionally been inspired to search online for any written record, video footage or photos from this Dick Clark Special and have found almost nothing. At one point there was a glimpse of hope when I found a title and air date, but never made a note of it. In other words, this slight bit of information has been lost to memory and I wasn’t able to dig it up again for this version of The Classic Rocker.

Yesterday’s gone, but C&J still cool

About five or six years ago during one of these inspired searches, I somehow found an online contact for Chad & Jeremy. Don’t ask me how, but it might have had something to do with an upcoming appearance they were making at a Beatles fan conference. Since I have written a couple books on the Beatles and been a guest author at a few of these events, maybe that’s how this connection was made.

The contact answered my query and thought it was an interesting story. He said he would ask Chad & Jeremy if they remembered anything about this and get back with me.

Yeah… okay…

But a few days later I was surprised when I received an email from this contact. He said he’d had the chance to ask. One or both said they had a memory of driving go-carts for a television special and… Well, that’s it. They had no photos, video or anything more than I did – which is a memory that’s still pretty vivid even though it took a deep archeological dig into my mind to find it.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

At least I didn’t have to dig too far to find of video of Chad & Jeremy performing Summer Song.

And to make it very cool – the duo is introduced by Dick Cark.

 

To purchase The Very Best of Chad & Jeremy with A Summer Song 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

 

#172 – I’m Not In Love

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#172 – I’m Not In Love by 10cc

 – Okay, I know 10cc is a band from England. Since I just had to look up that last gem of knowledge online, I also know sometimes there were four guys in the band and sometimes there were only two. One of them (Eric Stewart) was an original member of Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders and scored a number one hit in 1965 with Game Of Love. After Wayne split the scene, his backing group released their own hit Groovy Kind Of Love in 1966.

Now that this selected bit of trivia is out of the way…

I’m Not In Love doesn’t remind me of any of that. Maybe the 10cc two-person edition comes closest, except in my memory it’s not two English rock stars singing, but instead two college buddies trying to be funny without any talent or concept on how to carry a tune. There’s a big difference.

And believe me, I’m baffled by this.

Duo 10cc

Not my friends’ lack of talent, but the memory that has stayed with me for so long. It was just a brief clip – a slight moment in time – that should have faded away almost immediately. But for some reason an image of these two buddies pops into my head by just the thought of this song title.

I don’t even need to hear the song.

And speaking of hearing this song, I can’t remember the last time that happened. Strange, since the brief memory clip referred to above is also decades old but seems still fresh. Since I don’t own a copy of I’m Not In Love it fell immediately into the subliminal category of Dream Songs when I woke up with it stirring the other old memory in my mind on August 31st.

It reminds me of a particular episode in college and I have a general idea of when the song was released. But I saw the date when checking out the above trivia on 10cc and was able to pinpoint it to May 1975. And even though we’re more than four decades removed from that year when I was living only two doors down from my two pals in our college frat house, I still picture in my mind both these guys as young twenty-something’s.

Wow… that means I’m thinking of my college pals from decades ago as being younger looking than my kids. That should create a real shock next time I see them in person.

Anyway, here we go with a brief and lasting memory of a moment in time…

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I won’t in anyway talk myself up as some kind of Romeo. But college girls were just as important to me as my college major and to be honest, maybe even more important to a lot of other guys also. If there had been a college major in Hugh Hefner back in the 1970’s, I’m sure those classes would have maxed-out long before Accounting, Finance and even Basket Weaving.

Not like this…

College classes were written in stone. In other words, you knew where and when you had to be in the classroom if you wanted to pass and eventually graduate with anything other than a Hugh Hefner Major. My relationships with college girls never seemed to be written in stone and was mostly determined by being in the right place at the right time.

On one particular night that I semi-remember in spite of the many decades removed, I was sort of half-dating someone. Nothing serious, which is the reference to half-dating. She was coming by my room that evening so we could walk to the library together to study.

However…

An hour or two before she arrived, I met another girl that caught my attention. Where or how I again, don’t really remember. I’m not even sure if we actually dated later, but my two frat house buddies saw me hanging out with her. Later they also saw me hanging out with the girl I was half-dating and walking with to the library.

And then…

After walking my library half-date back to her dorm I met another girl who really grabbed my attention. We wound up actually dating for about a year after. And of course – on this same night – my two buddies saw us hanging out together.

So…

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It actually looked like (and I guess it could be said) I’d had three semi-dates with three different girls that same night. As I mentioned earlier, don’t consider me to be some kind of Romeo – and definitely not a Hugh. But for one night I happened to be at the right place at the right time – three separate times.

My pals had no idea what actually happened, but just to be perfectly clear I’ll fill you in briefly about each of my three dates:

  1. Talking
  2. Studying
  3. Talking

…more like this!

Not exactly the G-rated activities a bragging Romeo would admit to or Hugh Hefner would write about. My three-date night could have been an episode on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, but I will admit it was fun and a bit confusing at times.

Since I had learned in my college career not to take courses with a start time written in stone before noon, I was still sleeping when my roommate left and obviously did not lock the door behind him. Sometime between snores and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, I was awoken by my two (goofball) buddies serenading me with a talentless, off-key a-capella version of I’m Not In Love.

Yeah, they thought they were funny by goofing on my assumed Romeo activities the night before while I just though they were annoying. Well… maybe a bit funny, but that didn’t come out until later. At the moment I might have had a few choice words for them and maybe emphasized it with a thrown pillow, but those details have been lost over the decades.

All that’s left is a brief moment in time when my buddies destroyed the 10cc version and left their own as a lasting memory. I won’t say that’s a bad thing. The original song still sounded pretty cool waking me up this time. It just wasn’t as funny… or annoying.

Here’s a video of 10cc (and not my goofball pals) performing I’m Not In Love.

 

To purchase The Best of 10cc with I’m Not In Love 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