Category Archives: rock and roll

#165 – I Want You Back


#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?

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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.



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

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing


Top 3 Classic Rocker Christmas Songs


Top 3 Classic Rocker Christmas Songs

 – Once my head hit the pillow Thanksgiving night, I never dreamed there was a chance I wouldn’t wake up from my turkey hangover this year. But the overindulgence of tryptophan had me stirring the next morning to what I assumed were angels singing in the background. It was a festive sound, but then I realized there were no harps or even Victoria’s Secret models with wings. And since I long ago passed the requirement for Billy Joel’s “Only the good die young,” there was a better chance I had made a U-turn on the stairway to heaven and was heading in the opposite direction.

Then again if I wanted to declare Billy Joel my spiritual advisor and musical guru, this could be a joy ride where “sinners have much more fun.” And besides, maybe I could melt off a few pounds in the heat.

When my head cleared from the turkey fog, I realized I hadn’t gone to Rock’n Roll Heaven or hell. I had only slept through the official change in holiday seasons and the classic rock station on my clock radio had changed formats.

I must’a had too much to dream last night.

It’s officially Christmas Season and a simple sleigh ride through the radio dials brings that message home faster than if you were living next door to Clark Griswold. It’s the only time of the year when Burl Ives, U2, Mariah Carey, Willy Nelson and Perry Como can co-exist on one single airwave.

You wanna hear some Bruce? Okay, he’s in the mix. But instead of arriving in a pink Cadillac he’s riding with Santa Claus all the way to town. The Beach Boys are there too with Little Saint Nick sitting shotgun in their surf woody.

I don’t know when this conglomerate of standard, classic and modern holiday jams started, but guess it was a commandment from the higher ranks of Clear Channel or another radio god. I don’t have it in front of me, but somewhere there’s an office memo stating after the last bite of Thanksgiving turkey knocks everyone semi-unconscious…

Thou shalt not play nothing but Christmas music on thy classic rock radio station.

At least that’s what happened in my demographic and I’ve been living with it. I have to, since I padlocked my station of choice on my vintage boom box so the kids can never change it.


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Based on what I’d learned in required college math classes and unused since graduation (until now), we spend one-twelfth of the year listening to Christmas songs. Some are pretty good, while others remind us that life’s not all that bad when Christmas vacation is finally over and you voluntarily have to attend school assemblies if you want to hear children’s choirs.

In case you missed it, that was a well hidden reference to my personal music hangover caused by hearing the children’s dirge from A Charlie Brown Christmas over and over again on the radio without benefit of watching the animation on the tube. I just felt it might have been too hidden for some of you, so I tore off the gift wrapping and just said it.

As my kids would say, that’s real talkAs Charlie Brown disciples might say, get over it Mr. Grinch.

It may not sound like it, but The Classic Rocker is into the holiday spirit and hasn’t even thought about breaking off the dial padlock on the vintage boom box so I can listen to songs we hear during the other eleven-twelfths of the year. There are some definite favorites and hearing them slip-sliding over the airwaves is like welcoming an old friend home in time for the next family sanctioned holiday feeding frenzy.

Some Christmas songs are classic just because of the circumstances. For example, the pairing of David Bowie and Bing Crosby for Little Drummer Boy can still cause more second looks and confusion than trying to figure out how Charlie Brown’s pal Schroeder can outplay Billy Joel on a toy piano. And Keith Richards‘ holiday ode to Chuck Berry with Run Rudolph Run only shows that a rock star’s eggnog is more potent than what we can legally purchase in the grocery store.

I would say those two songs are worthy runners-up for the list I’m about to rock around your Christmas tree. And I’m also tempted to give a shout-out to Mariah Carey for All I Want For Christmas Is You, except that would be like inviting one of your kids to the office Christmas party. It ain’t gonna happen, but here’s a gold star for your effort anyway kid.

There are a few Christmas songs that pass the strict criteria I’m laying down to differentiate between what’s naughty and nice. Naughty means you’re only allowed out for one-twelfth of the year.


Well, the following songs are still not gonna be heard on my vintage boom box in June. But if by chance some deejay was just regaining consciousness six months after attending Keith Richards’ Christmas party and in his eggnog fog broadcast the wrong playlist, I could be sitting by the pool drenched in sunblock, sipping an umbrella drink and still reach over to turn up the volume.

The Top Three Classic Rock Christmas Songs

No. 3 – Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley.

“Ah’m’a havin’a ba-loo Christmas, without you…”

When you hear The King hittin’ the low notes to start this holiday cry fest, you forget all about the wobbly voiced sopranos that kept Snoopy voluntarily out of hearing range and in his doghouse. It brings images of a solo Santa in a sparkling jumpsuit aching for a Mrs. Claus to share a cup of eggnog with. Then again, in an effort to spread holiday cheer, I can also imagine this Santa packing a sack of car keys for a fleet of pink Cadillacs triple parked in the driveway of Graceland as gifts for The Memphis Mafia.

If I could dream…

This song was included on Elvis’ Christmas album that caused more explosions in 1957 than New Year’s Eve at The Griswold’s. It was only a year after his epic breakthrough that had little girls swooning and crying while their parents trembled and cried in horror at the image of a white guy with greasy hair and sideburns singing “race music” to their children. At that time you didn’t see Perry Como or Bing Crosby wearing tight slacks and shaking their hips in time to a stand-up bass, but Elvis broke a holiday sound barrier that year that has never snapped back into place.

It was a scandal and Elvis was scandalous. Ed Sullivan practiced television parental control by only allowing him to be shown from the waist up. Milton Berle tamed him for the entire family by making Elvis The Pelvis focus his singing on a top hat wearing hound dog. The gimmick worked, earning Uncle Miltie big television ratings instead of supermarket tabloid headlines.

So when this hellion of rock’n roll tackled Christmas as flamboyantly as he did rockin’ and rollin’ in the jailhouse, the moral majority said enough was enough. There were demands to ban his holiday music collection and send him back to where he came from, which was driving a truck and singing to his mama.

But that didn’t happen. Swooning teens pushed the album to number one and Blue Christmas has gone on to become a standard heard every year. In fact it’s used by the same swooning teens that are now the horrified grandparents of Lil Wayne fans as an example of the good’ol days of family holiday music.

Here’s Elvis performing Blue Christmas during his amazing Come Back television special in 1968…


No. 2 – Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by John and Yoko

This one was another lump of coal for the Geritol Generation in 1971. It had only been a few years earlier that John and Yoko, better known as johnandyoko, rattled and rolled parental moral fibers by displaying their naked selves on the cover of their Two Virgins album. Even though it had been gift wrapped in brown paper by the censors, it probably had Hugh Hefner thinking about dress codes and gave a young Richard Simmons his idea for a career.

But if that wasn’t enough to earn Lennon a coveted spot on Richard Nixon’s naughty list, this song helped. After years of bed-ins, protests, marches and songs like I Don’t Wanna Be A Soldier Mama and Power To The PeopleHappy Christmas (War Is Over) still carries their message to more people than all their other “happenings” put together.

It’s become a standard Christmas song thanks to the johnandyoko original and more cover versions than names on Nixon’s vintage enemies list. And you know what? It’s actually a protest song with the same message johnandyoko were telling us since their public honeymoon bed-in at the Amsterdam Hilton.

War is over if you want it.

What they wanted was for us in 1971 was to end the war in Vietnam. Since this was a sugar plum fairy coated protest song, there’s a chance Nixon’s wife Pat might have thought it was Bing, Perry or Frank. I have visions of Tricky Dick reacting with an eggnog spit take the first time Pat had it piped through the White House sound system.

In an interview Lennon said he had learned the message of his song Imagine got through to more people because of the catchy melody and pop production. So instead of screaming, ranting and chanting to end the war, he said it with a catchy and now classic holiday melody and pop production.

It worked. The message still comes across loud and clear every holiday season.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) is a beautiful song and a beautiful message. It also serves as a yearly reminder of how much we lost when John Lennon was taken away from us on a December evening in 1980. Our generation was never the same again. Happy Xmas johnandyoko.



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No. 1 – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love

What’s this song have in common with Happy Xmas (War Is Over)? Both were produced by that mad little Christmas elf himself, Ronnie’s ex-husband Phil Spector.

They say genius lives on the edge of madness. Then again, maybe I’m just quoting from memory the teacher’s comments on my fifth grade report card. But before Spector hit tabloid headline-worthy crazy, he made some damn good records.

One classic LP that hasn’t lost any holiday cheer over the last half century is A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector. The man behind the Wall of Sound filled two sides of vinyl with holiday pop rock from The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans and the Classic Rocker’s personal favorites, The Ronettes.

But the real favorite on this gift from Phil is Darlene Love’s powerful, rockin’ and soulful plea for her baby to please come home for Christmas. Every listen brings chills, whether you’re opening packages at The North Pole or South Beach. It’s that good and a standard that can’t be topped.

Sorry Bono.

In case you missed it, “Sorry Bono” was a not so hidden reference to the U2 version which is good, but not Darlene Love worthy. And for those speed reading, it shouldn’t be confused with “Sonny Bono,” who was a go-fer for Spector during these sessions that employed his future meal ticket Cher as a background singer.

As fate would have it, this song and the album didn’t get the attention it deserved when released on November 22, 1963President John F. Kennedy’s trip to Dallas sucked the air out of any holiday cheer and Spector’s gift tanked in the sales department. The album didn’t hit the yearly holiday hit parade until it was re-released by Apple Records in 1972, which happened to be owned by johnandyoko and three other guys.

Just another common thread in the web of Christmas songs…

Darlene Love is still belting it out, but we lost a Christmas tradition in our house when David Letterman stepped down as host of The Late Show. Darlene’s annual rendition with Paul Shaffer and the band was must watch television for many years.

The tradition may be gone, but not forgotten. The video below is Darlene’s final appearance during Dave’s final season.

When the fake snow falls on the audience in The Ed Sullivan Theater we’ll go for the rock star eggnog and toast another season of holiday cheer. When the fog clears, it signals the start of summer and raises questions of why I’m waking up next to Keith Richards’ swimming pool wearing a Santa hat.

Happy holiday!


Have a comment?

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



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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

February 9, 1964


I was taken by complete surprise. Well, almost.

Jack Parr

Jack Parr

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

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

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

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

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

Ed Beatles 2

Rehearsal pre-fab

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

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

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

As the first performers, he announced The Beatles.

Beatles Ed Sullivan

A moment in time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beatles Ed 2

Long haired rock’n roll

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

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

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

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

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

Beatles Bowing

From black & white to color

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

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



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

Visit Dave’s author page on at THIS LINK.