Category Archives: AM

#159 – Fun, Fun, Fun

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#159 – Fun, Fun, Fun by The Beach Boys

 – Though I’m tempted, we won’t go all the way back to 1964 and when we first heard this one. In fact, there’s no reason to even focus on just the 1960’s since Fun, Fun, Fun has lived on through the decades. It’s still almost impossible to visit a beachside bar, diner, ice cream stand, or fast food joint where sand could be called a condiment, without hearing this classic rocker on the sound system.

By the way, if we were returning mentally to the 1960’s I’d have to change that statement to read “jukebox.”

Fun, Fun, Fun is one of the Brian Wilson and Mike Love collaborations that defined the Southern California lifestyle many of us could only imagine while growing up in the Midwest. For the boys of summer, it was year-round sunshine, surfing, riding in convertibles, and hanging out with girls at the beach (listed not necessarily in preferred order). For me personally, it only took a few decades after The Beach Boys started sending us these messages via Top 40 AM Radio that I finally surfed into the 1990’s and was living in Los Angeles.

But it wasn’t quite the easy fun, fun, fun that they had promised.

After a cross-country drive from New York City, I crashed with a former girlfriend who after a few years of Splitsville had morphed into the close friend zone, in The Hollywood Hills for a month and began my California lifestyle. The first non-fun shock was having to buy a car and pay insurance after years of subways, taxis, buses and walking. The next step was embarking on a career move, which took a while but eventually turned out pretty good. But the move that was the biggest hassle was a physical one. When the rich girl that owned the house where I was crashing learned an extra person (me) was sharing the large basement apartment (I had my own room, just to make the arrangements perfectly clear) she decided to double the rent.

The California Sound

It’s too bad because it was cool starter space while I tried to figure out Los Angeles. And though we called it a basement, it only fit that description if you looked at it from the front of the house. From the back it was just another ground floor space with lots of full windows and a private entrance.

It also came with a bit of star power.

The renter before us had been the actor Randy Quaid who was still getting junk mail sent to him at that address. My close friend zone roommate also told me our rich landlord, who was a semi-famous model, actress (with a very famous New York sports legend father) and lived in the upstairs house, was dating one of The Eagles. I took her word for it, though I never saw him and can’t remember which one. But we also assumed she was dating the actor Andrew Stevens since we looked out our window one day and he was mowing the back lawn.

Fun, fun, fun in The Hollywood Hills.

With the threat of raised rent meaning I’d have to start paying my fair share, I felt it was a fair idea to get my own place. Through the connections of an actor pal who had also made the move from Manhattan to Hollywood, I sublet a super-fab condo in the Silver Lake neighborhood (with a mountain view looking down at Dodger Stadium) for the summer. The owner, who was also an actor no one had ever heard of, scored a gig touring the country doing regional theater and for a fair price I would take care of his place and his cat. Fair enough.

But he had one stipulation: no one else was allowed to live in the condo with me. Okay…

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I moved in on a Saturday as he was leaving for the airport. A couple hours later my best rock and roll pal from NYC (imagine Steven Tyler and you’ll be close) who was also making the move to Southern California, arrived at the same LAX Airport. I picked him up in my Mustang convertible and moved him into the condo’s off-limits spare bedroom.

Okay, not exactly fair as a renter – but a great way to kick off a Southern California summer of fun, fun, fun.

Inspiring Place

Being a Beach Boys fan, one of my first goals was to find a Foster’s Freeze. If you’re not familiar with the legend of the song, these are well-known ice cream stands (and restaurants) with locations around California. Supposedly Brian Wilson and Mike Love were hanging around the F.F. on their home turf in Hawthorne when they spotted a girl drive by in her daddy’s car and looking like she was having too much fun.

It inspired the 1964 song.

For a couple guys from NYC making this new turf their new home, I thought it would be a symbolic way for my Steven Tyler-ish pal and I to kick off the fun, fun, fun. We may not have made it all the way out to Hawthorne, but we found one not too far away in The San Fernando Valley and toasted with what we referred to as A Bucket ‘O’ Shake. In other words, the Foster’s Freeze milkshakes were SO huge that a steady diet would have us looking like Brian Wilson in the 1970’s. Not a pretty thought, so we kept ourselves on a strict limit.

And speaking of the song, Fun, Fun, Fun joined this list on September 23rd. Of course, I own a copy as any wannabe sun drenched rocker dude should, but since the beaches where I live now are closed by Labor Day, I hadn’t heard it for quite a few sunsets. It surfs its way into the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

Finding a Foster’s Freeze held promise of a Beach Boys inspired summer, but then reality set in.

Beach Boys Landmark

Since Silver Lake was nowhere near a beach and we discovered it was a long drive to the sand and surf. One of our first potential beach bum lessons learned was if you didn’t arrive before… oh, let’s say eight o’clock in the morning – regardless of the day – good luck finding any parking within an hour or two walking distance. In our seemingly endless desperate searches for an open parking space, we spent more hours cruising packed streets and full lots from Santa Monica to Redondo Beach than the amount of time the girl in the song spent behind the wheel of her daddy’s T-Bird.

More often than not we’d scrap the idea of meeting any California beach girls and hit a Foster’s Freeze where we’d make plans to find an apartment with a swimming pool and reserved parking spaces when my sublet was over.

But we were still enterprising guys from New York cruising into our first summer in Southern California. If we couldn’t get to the party, we’d bring the party to us.

When I had hit Los Angeles a few months earlier, I immediately – and I’m talking within the first week – got involved with an acting group and an improvisational comedy troupe. The benefits of both were not only as creative and performing opportunities, but also a fast track to make new friends. The acting group actually cost money to belong since we rented a weekly rehearsal space and occasionally a small Hollywood theater to showcase audition scenes for agents and casting directors. The improv troupe performed in bars and clubs on the weekends, but our “pay” usually consisted of chicken wings and beer. So neither could be considered a get rich quick showbiz deal. In fact, it turned out to be the opposite.

But the real payoff was fun (fun, fun).

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The majority of my friends have always been creative people. And who would be more creative than actors, writers, comedians and rock and rollers? Right… I can’t think of any either. So instead of stressing out about making early morning beach treks hoping for nonexistent parking opportunities and if we were lucky, enough empty space on the sand for a beach towel, we decided to throw Saturday night parties in my condo sublet and let the fun happen on its own.

At least a few of these might still be legendary for our Southern California guest list attendees. The condo would be standing room only packed, with the overflow filling our backyard patio. My Steven Tyler-ish pal (who shall remain nameless to protect any possible identity crisis) gave the rocker girls someone to drool over and there was never a shortage of alcoholic beverages that were either brewed and iced or blended and decorated with tiny paper umbrellas.

The laughs were loud and the music was louder. And the only time the parties would end was when my New York actor pal, who had turned me on to the condo in the first place and lived upstairs with his wife, would appear somewhere in the early morning hours and politely suggest it might be time to shut everything down.

Out of respect to our good pal, we would. Some partiers would hit the road while most crashed on whatever piece of furniture or empty floor space was available. The next morning would resemble an outtake from the movie Animal House, but no one was allowed to leave until the place was clean, spotless and damage free.

It’s the least I could do after promising no one else would inhabit the condo. And yeah, I know… not fair at all. But at least I got away with it.

Or thought I did…

After an amazing summer and a growing crowd of creative friends, the landlord’s regional theater tour was coming to an end and my Steven Tyler-ish pal and I had to vacate the premises. We put our Foster’s Freeze planning sessions to work and scored a large two bedroom apartment in North Hollywood with parking and a swimming pool and moved out. But before we left there was a major and thorough (at least we thought) cleaning of the condo. Everything was left looking just as it did the day we moved in.

But when you’re dealing with actors, writers, comedians and rock and rollers, there’s always the unexpected.

SomeTHING like this…

About a month after our North Hollywood relocation I received a call from the actor who had sublet me the condo. He was sitting on the couch watching television when his hand slipped between the cushions. He felt something funny, so he reached in – and pulled out a rubber human hand.

Needless to say, he freaked out – at least a little bit. But on the good side, he thought it was funny.

As mentioned, our crowd was creative. And though no one aspired to be Carrot Top, there was no shortage of gag gifts, stupid decorations and a general sense of craziness at our parties to keep everyone entertained. I don’t remember what improvised excuse I came up with for the rubber hand in the couch, but I had the feeling he knew I hadn’t been living the lifestyle of a solitary monk all alone in the condo taking care of his cat.

That was the last conversation we had.

Of course, those weren’t our last parties in Southern California as we shifted our focus into making North Hollywood more fun (fun, fun) than sitting in beachside traffic jams. And though we didn’t have the same Hawthorne experience as cousins Brian and Mike decades before, I remember hanging out at a Foster’s Freeze in the San Fernando Valley creatively coming up with a theme and guest list for our next Saturday night hit.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of The Beach Boys from 1964 performing Fun, Fun, Fun.

To purchase Sounds of Summer: Very Best of The Beach Boys with Fun, Fun, Fun 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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#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

 

#164 – Soul Finger

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#164 – Soul Finger by The Bar-Kays

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

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

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

What does that mean?

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

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

Memphis based soul

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

This is how it would work:

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

What do I mean by that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah, sometimes it’s a bit annoying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Off the blocks!

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

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

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

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

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

If you know what I mean.

Otis Redding & The Bar-Kays

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

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

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

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

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

 

 

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

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing