Category Archives: Singers

#180 – Sloop John B

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#180 – Sloop John B by The Beach Boys

 – Here’s something I’ve mulled over in my Classic Rocker mind the past few decades. I’ve been to four Beach Boys concerts and have seen a different lineup of the core five members each time.

Let me explain that better…

The Beach Boys were the three Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis and Carl, their cousin Mike Love and Brian’s high school football buddy Al Jardine. And yeah, I know Wilson neighbor David Marks is considered an original member and played on their early albums, but by the time the band was releasing hit singles competing with The Beatles and other British Invasion groups on the pop charts, Marks had left. Also Bruce Johnston came on in 1965 to take Brian’s place in live performances and has been with the band longer than Ronnie Wood has been with The Rolling Stones.

But the first-mentioned five are the only Beach Boys inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So we’ll use them as the core lineup.

Now after that brief diversion, let me get back to my explanation…

On the really big “shew”!

The Beach Boys are one of the few major U.S. hit-makers outside of Motown that I remember paying attention to during The British Invasion that started with The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Because of finances as a preteen making only a few bucks every week working in the family business and mowing lawns, I had to be selective in my record purchases. Any new release by The Beatles was worth the bike ride to my local record store. Otherwise a song would need to really grab me to dig into my reserves and make a purchase.

The Beach Boys scored more than a few of those. I don’t need to list the classics since I’m assuming you’ll know them all anyway. But I’m proud to say I pretty much wore down my 45 rpm vinyl singles of I Get Around and California Girls, just to name two.

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But somewhere after the release of their classic album Pet Sounds and The Summer of Love in 1967 when Sgt. Pepper and the psychedelic music craze changed everything from pop to rock, The Beach Boys seemed to disappear. I don’t remember them making the transformation – for lack of a better term. It may have had something to do with their follow-up LP Smile not being released, but I’ll go ahead and take the blame for not paying closer attention. We were getting more into albums, so when the singles Heroes And Villains came out in 1967 and Friends the next year, I didn’t discover them until the early 1970’s.

And speaking of the ’70s…

Central Park 1971

I had a personal transformation during the summer of 1971 when I watched a television special called Good Vibrations From Central Park that featured The Beach Boys. Honestly, I didn’t even know they were still together. But the real shock was how they looked. They had somehow morphed into the Woodstock Generation by ditching the surf band striped shirts and white slacks for hippie bellbottoms, long hair and beards.

They played hits including Good Vibrations, but also a completely unexpected version of Okie From Muskogee. It was a cornball country novelty song as far as I was concerned (sorry Merle Haggard), but somehow The Beach Boys sounded and looked cool doing it. They also had a crowd of New York City hippies in Central Park singing along.

Their comeback became official later that year when they were on the cover of Rolling Stone and released the LP Surf’s Up, which I consider a classic and one of my favorites. I was back to being a fan.

So what about the core lineups? Okay…

I grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio and can only guess I was home from college for Thanksgiving Break when I took my girlfriend to see the reinvented Beach Boys at Cleveland Music Hall on November 20, 1971. It was a smaller venue with great acoustics compared to the larger Public Auditorium next door and the band, with a horn section sounded great.

Of course Surf’s Up was featured, along with the hits.

In the smaller venue there was more interplay between the band and audience. I remember some guy yelled out, “Where’s Dennis?!” Carl answered back, saying Dennis had hurt his hand and not with them. And since Brian had stopped performing, that concert only included core members Carl, Mike and Al.

A memory from that show includes Al Jardine’s guitar strap breaking and his acoustic guitar dropping onto the stage. As the exasperated father yelled on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell LP:

“That’s no way to treat an expensive instrument!”

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Five months later on April 28th The Boys were back in the Cleveland area at John Carroll University. I can only guess I was on spring break from college and my girlfriend had dumped me, because I was there with two of my best friends. Dennis made it to this one and joined the core lineup with Carl, Mike and Al.

Since this was a college show it was a younger and more rambunctious crowd and there was a rush to get closer to the stage. Of course we were part of this music madness. Our pal Tim must have had some open running room in front of him and picked up enough speed that by the time he reached the stage the security guys grabbed him and kept his momentum continuing through the exit door. Locked out, he spent the end of the concert in the parking lot waiting for us.

I finished the concert close enough to be part of a small group that Mike Love allowed on stage to help sing the chorus of Barbara Ann. And yeah, it was very cool.

Brian & Carl Central Park 1977

My third concert included the entire core when Brian performed with the group in New York’s Central Park on September 1, 1977. I had only moved to the city a few months before and have an almost positive memory of going to the concert alone.

Well… okay, there were about a million other people there so it was far from a lonely experience.

As a Beach Boys fan, it was a real thrill to see the reclusive Brian Wilson on stage. And according to what I just found searching the internet to confirm this date, he sang lead on Sloop John B that hot, dry afternoon. And yeah, hot is a key word in that last sentence since we were in a late summer heat wave. I still have photos somewhere showing the band as small figures on a distant stage with clouds of dust  (from the softball fields?) hanging in the air.

Then I took a break for 22 years…

By the next time I saw The Beach Boys I was doing what a lot of boomers were doing when I was rocking out to the entire core lineup in Central Park. I was more mature and settling down with a family.

Making a return to northern Ohio I was writing concert reviews for a local newspaper. I was doing a feature on The Beach Boys at The Sandusky State Theater (near Cedar Point Amusement Park for all you roller coaster enthusiasts) and decided to make it a family outing. The date was October 22, 1999 and along with my wife Debutant Deb, sons 11-year old Chaos Kevin and 4-year old Dangerous Paul, we raided my once extensive collection of Hawaiian shirts so we could all dress surf-worthy for the show.

The Beach Boys

This version only included core member Mike Love and long-time member Bruce Johnston with their backing band. They were still billed as “The Beach Boys” since Love had legally secured the name from the surviving members, Brian and Al. Dennis had been gone since 1983 and Carl since only 1998.

The two cores and replacements reproduced the hits and we had the kids up and dancing for most of the show. And I have to admit it was great for a mature Beach Boys fan, though the other core members were very missed. It wasn’t the group picture I still have in my mind.

Sloop John B joined this Dream Songs list on August 9th. Brian Wilson rightfully deserves the title genius when it comes to his contributions and innovations to the 1960’s as a composer and producer, but he didn’t write this one.

It’s an older folk song that folkie Al Jardine suggested for the group. Brian did an updated arrangement and included it on Pet Sounds.

It’s one of my favorite tracks by The Beach Boys and even though Brian and Mike took turns singing lead on the recording, it turned into one (of many) that featured Carl during their live performances. Of course I own a copy and had just heard it, so we’ll surf this one into the recent memory category.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Here’s the 1966 promotional film for Sloop John B. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not what you might expect…

To purchase The Very Best of The Beach Boys: Sounds Of Summer with Sloop John B 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

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#183 – Rock Your Baby

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#183 – Rock Your Baby by George McCrae

 – This song is a snapshot in time. In my case, I’m not sure it’s one I want to look back on. To put this in perspective, some of you with short memories or worse yet, have kids that enjoy making fun of what you were like as a kid might come across an old box of photos.

You’re like, “Hey, check this out. Here’s a photo of me when I was really little. Look how cute I was…

But no matter how hard we try, nobody ever stays as cute as they were as a little kid. Maturity has a habit of doing that. So now your kids – or your short memory – continue to dig through the box of old photos documenting your personal aging process. There’s visual evidence of middle school and high school – including your prom and graduation photos. And when it comes to baby boomers, eventually everyone lands in the mid 1970’s.

Did we… really?

For those of you that lived through it, you already know what I’m talking about.

For younger boomers, this was the first time many of us were on our own. We were out of the house and away from any parental supervision and school dress codes that might have influenced the way we looked. Granted, some of my good friends were serving in the military where government regulations commanded a conformed look with uniforms and haircuts. But for a lot of us on college campuses or as members of the workforce, all hell was breaking loose when it came to what we looked like thanks to mid-1970’s fashion sense.

If you’re having a hard time following this verbal rambling (and I’ll get to the song in a moment), here’s what you need to do. Depending on where you fit in the boomer age scale, if you were at least eighteen and younger than thirty in 1974, dig through your old photos from that era. For those younger or older looking to have a good laugh at our expense, do an online search for 70’s fashion trends.

I’m sure you’ll run into a few memorable snapshots in time…

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In our defense we were cool, or at least thought we were. But the visual evidence of our once misconstrued beliefs can sometimes be a bit cringe worthy. For guys we’re looking at big hair, mustaches and bellbottoms that were skin tight down to our knees then would flair out to cover our platform shoes. For girls… well, it was the same – hopefully without the mustaches.

The look!

For an immediate mental visual, think mid-70’s Tony Orlando, Michael Jackson (or better still, Jermaine) and Farrah Fawcett. Yeah, now you’ve got the picture… or snapshot from our time.

And for a soundtrack, think Rock Your Baby by George McCrae.

During the summer of 1974 there was no escaping this song. It hit number one on the music charts and since a lot of us college-aged boomers were relegated to only AM radio in our cars, it was heard constantly on every Top 40 station’s playlist. Disco was firmly settling in for a long run and if your car wasn’t equipped with an 8-track to supply the need for rock, you were force-fed the trend during every road trip.

As a confession, I followed the 70’s fashion trend. In fact, I can’t remember any of my friends that didn’t. We were in our late teens or early twenty’s and just like the generations before us, we did our best to look cool.

Too bad the old photos do nothing to prove that fact. I had been told more than a few times I looked like Tony Orlando and it never bothered me – until that fact was pointed out decades later when looking at my old college photos.

Rock Your Baby disco’d (not rocked) onto this Dream Song list on July 31st. Loosely comparing its inclusion to a line Groucho Marx once delivered about shooting an elephant in his pajamas, “How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.”

That’s how I feel about this song disco’ing (not rockin’) through my mind as I woke up – in my own pajamas. I don’t really know why…

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Was it ingrained into my memory because it was such a huge hit during my college years? Yeah, I guess so. Did I like it? Not really. Did I dance to it? Well… yeah – who didn’t? But it definitely goes into the subliminal category since I’ve never owned a copy and haven’t heard it since… well, probably 1974.

In the name of research to make these Classic Rocker ramblings more meaningful than cringe worthy, I went online to look at a video of McCrae performing Rock Your Baby. Unfortunately, it dredged up another memory and the result is another confession.

Fashion sense

I once owned a leisure suit.

I’m positive it was given to me as a Christmas gift by my mother, who did her best to stay current with fashion trends. But the blame ends there – because I wore it. The two piece leisure suit was made with a brown, suede-like material and had a short-cut jacket and bellbottoms that were tight to my knees, then flared out over my high heeled (not platform) shoes. To complete the ensemble I wore a shiny silver shirt and a wide belt with a big buckle.

Cool?

Since I wore it around the time George McCrae was topping the charts with this disco classic I might have thought so. Since then I’ve done my best to push it out of my memory – except it keeps coming back like a bad dream.

So is there anything else I need to say about this song? Nothing from my personal point of view. I’ve already admitted too much. Instead I’ll crawl back into my Classic Rocker mindset and try and ease the pain of embarrassment from using Tony Orlando as a fashion icon and knowing a leisure suit once helped shape my college image.

But I’m also not someone who knocks music others might love and bring back great memories. As mentioned, Rock Your Baby was a huge number one hit in the summer of 1974. It sold over eleven million copies, making it one of less than forty singles to have ever sold more than ten million or more copies. Obviously for some boomers it was the song of the summer.

But let’s keep that for long memories rather than short.

If you want to look cool today, make sure none of your kids ever discover a leisure suit hanging next to a pair of bellbottoms in your bedroom closet. I suggest maturing boomers store these memories someplace hard to find – like in boxes with your 70’s photos and posters of Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson (or Jermaine) and Tony Orlando.

For your own leisure suit memory, here’s a video of George McCrae performing Rock Your Baby.

To purchase Rock Your Baby – The Very Best Of 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

#185 – Turn! Turn! Turn!

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#185 – Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds

 – It’s unreal how young many of us were when the 1960’s music scene started changing our lives. And if we really stop and think, it’s mind-boggling how fast everything was changing. It seemed we were being exposed to new sounds and looks on a weekly basis.

When The Beatles kicked open the floodgates with their February 1964 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was more than the music. It was also the visuals – how they looked. It was considered pretty shocking and for many of the boomers, also very cool.

The younger boomers had been too late for the original 1950’s rock ‘n’ rollers who brought a sound and look that earned them dangerous and rebellious reputations – mainly from the older generations. But our firsthand adolescent exposure in the early ’60s was through clean-cut male crooners in letter sweaters and girls in party dresses and bouffant hair. To emphasize my point, The Singing Nun had a number one song in late 1963 with Dominique.

Believe me, there was nothing dangerous, rebellious or shocking about that.

So The Fab Four with long hair, tight tailored business suits and high-heeled Beatle boots made a definite impression. But by 1965 that visual was practically clean-cut compared to what was happening. The second wave of The British Invasion included The Rolling Stones, who were considered the anti-Beatles with longer hair and a dislike for matching suits.

And on this side of the Atlantic the new wave included The Byrds.

The Sound

They were different. Of course it was visual, which is the direction this rambling is headed. Like The Stones they ditched matching suits and grew hair longer than a mop top. When I first saw them on television singing Mr. Tambourine Man in early 1965, the only one that seemed to have eyes visible beneath his hair was Jim McGuinn (who didn’t change his name to Roger until 1967). And when I stop and think about it, I’m sure his eyes were only noticeable due to the rectangular “granny” glasses he pioneered into one of many teenage fads of the 60’s.

Musically they were also different. The Beatles were at first considered rockers and The Stones were bluesmen. The Byrds were folkies. Mr. Tambourine Man was a Bob Dylan song while their second number one, Turn! Turn! Turn! was written by Pete Seeger. And even though George Harrison was playing a 12-string electric Rickenbacker guitar when recording the soundtrack for A Hard Day’s Night, it wasn’t considered the main “Beatles sound.”

Still, it was enough to influence a former folkie. With McQuinn the 12-string “Ric” became the basis of The Byrds sound and kicked open the floodgates for folk rock.

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The electric guitars and harmonies of McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby made Mr. Tambourine Man very different from the Bob Dylan solo acoustic version. Add the visuals that came along with The Byrds, including longhairs Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman, and the whole package could be pretty shocking for older generations and original folk music diehards.

But for many of the boomers, that’s what also made them very cool.

The Look

The Byrds released Turn! Turn! Turn! in early October 1965. Decades later when I woke up with the song “jangling” through my head on July 28th, it was still very cool. But what’s uncool is when I admit there are other Byrds songs on my digital playlist, but I don’t own a copy and hadn’t heard it in a long time. Maybe I could count the original 45 rpm vinyl since I rode my bike to the local record store in 1965 to buy it, but it would take an archaeological dig through my stored archives to find it. So I’ll just admit to my current lack of coolness and add it to the subliminal category of Dream Songs.

And speaking of digging through the past…

For my end of the baby boomer generation, we weren’t even teenagers yet when The Beatles, The Stones and The Byrds were changing our lives. We were still kids playing with our friends, who were also kids. Televisions had been earning a reputation since the 1950’s as the first electronic babysitters, but that didn’t mean we sat around all day watching cartoons and reruns of I Love Lucy. We had every inch of our backyards memorized and had explored all the woods, fields and creeks within walking distance of our neighborhood.

We did sports; we built forts and we played war. That might even be a decent title for a folk song if anyone wants to borrow it. And though I’m a dedicated peacenik who is stunned beyond disbelief that government madmen have control of nuclear warheads, many of us as kids in the 60’s were blissfully unaware of similar Cold War dangers. Of course that changed fast when we hit our teenage years and the escalating war in Vietnam was broadcast nightly on television news.

That was definitely uncool.

But as young preteens we’d choose sides to hit, pass or shoot a ball. If we were playing war, we might launch a sneak attack on a group of foreign neighborhood kids that might be playing too close to our assumed realm of influence. We’d battle with words and bravado, or during more immature standoffs throw chunks of dirt. If one of our foes landed with a hard chunk and your friend took off crying, the goal was to win the race to his house and tell his mom how brave he’d been in the heat of battle, and then race home before we all got in trouble.

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We built tree houses as high up in the trees as we’d dare to climb. On the opposite extreme we’d sometimes dig a large hole in the ground, cover it with plywood and use dirt, sticks and leaves to camouflage our underground forts. We also made tunnels, which were ditches covered with boards and dirt that were only big enough for us “little kids” to crawl through and keep out the “big kids.” We also believed “big kids” wouldn’t know where these bunkers were located because we could disappear in a small hole and end up crawling in a direction unknown to them.

And yes, as a kid it was all very cool.

After digging and covering one of our underground forts in the fall of 1965, a few of us were inside hiding out and listening to our favorite Top 40 AM radio station. I remember we had an old rug covering the ground so we weren’t sitting on dirt and a battery powered lamp so we also weren’t sitting in the dark.

The deejay announced the new Byrds song and played Turn! Turn! Turn! And when it finished, he shouted in his hip Top 40 radio deejay voice, “That was so good, let’s play it again!” And he did. We immediately heard the song a second time! I’ve always remembered that because it was the first – and only – time I’ve ever heard a song played twice in a row on the radio.

At that moment the deejay seemed dangerous, rebellious and shocking – and also very cool.

The Hit

But what became even more dangerous and shocking (I’ll skip rebellious since it was completely unplanned) during this second spin through Turn! Turn! Turn! the roof to our underground fort started caving in. Fearing we were about to be buried in a pit, we screamed, shouted and flew through our escape tunnel in record crawling time.

Popping out of the ground we saw a neighborhood “big kid” standing on the sinking ground with a stunned look on his face. He had taken a shortcut home through the woods and since we had been good at camouflaging our location, walked on top of our fort. The plywood boards cracked and popped and dirt started falling through the cracks. Stepping off before a complete collapse, he probably gave us some type of “big kid” lecture about making dangerous traps in the woods and then continued his walk home.

He turned, turned, turned (sorry, I can’t help myself) our fort into just another hole in the ground. If we had been playing war, we were the losing force.

A final note about Turn! Turn! Turn!

When Pete Seeger wrote the song he took the lyrics from the biblical Book of Ecclesiastes. And I’m not sure where I read this, but for that creative reason it holds the record as a number one song – with the oldest lyrics. Now there’s a sound visual…

To check out the song and shocking visuals, here’s a video of The Byrds performing Turn! Turn! Turn!

 

To purchase The Byrds – Greatest Hits with Turn! Turn! Turn! 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

#186 – Viva Las Vegas

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#186 – Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley

 – It’s almost impossible to think of one without the other. Las Vegas and Elvis – even though they weren’t quite so joined at the (swivel) hip when this title song for the movie was released in 1964. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was still five years away from his legendary July 31, 1969 debut at the International Hotel that caused an international ruckus announcing his return to live shows.

Okay, it wasn’t actually his debut in Vegas. That happened during his ground-breaking year of 1956. Teenagers were going completely bonkers over him, but when Elvis performed at the Frontier Hotel in front of a more mature audience that regularly haunted the casinos and bars and were more in-tune to the sounds of Frank Sinatra and future members of The Rat Pack, he bombed.

But thirteen years later his fans had outgrown the need for fake ID’s and were mature enough to sell out every performance.

A lot of the credit for his return to The Throne of Rock is given to his 1968 television special, Elvis (also known as The Comeback Special). It turned an entire segment of baby boomers that were swept into the music scene by The British Invasion in 1964 into Elvis fans. But the first generation from the 1950’s had never left him. Instead of competing directly with the younger long-haired fabs and flower children, he had spent eleven years churning out movies that may not have been mentioned in any Academy Award discussions, but were successful money-earners and kept him in the public eye.

Viva Las Vegas was one of those.

According to the entertainment trade magazine Variety, Viva Las Vegas was one of the top-grossing movies of 1964 coming in at number fourteen. And to just give boomers an idea of his popularity during this ground-breaking year of The British Invasion, The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night came in at number sixteen.

Yes, Elvis actually beat the Beatles.

Viva Las Vegas – the song – also beat all other artists the morning of July 27th when it joined this list of Dream Songs. But there was nothing subliminal about it since this classic Elvis movie title track resides on my digital playlist and I had just heard it the day before. Welcome to the recent memory jackpot winnings.

Cash in your chips and buy that pink Cadillac!

Las Vegas has been a long time favorite destination for The Classic Rocker. The lights, excitement, weather and no clocks are the main attractions for someone who does his best to never travel anywhere without sidewalks and taxi service. But there’s no need to worry about dialing 1-800-gambling problem, thanks to Mrs. Classic Rocker. Her only casino fun comes from penny slot machines and if we’re not on a trend to win or at least break even, we can be found avoiding a losing streak tanning next to a pool or in a showroom.

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And yeah, we’ve seen Elvis impersonators in Vegas. How can you go there and not? Since I talked in a past Classic Rocker about seeing the real deal not long after his second Vegas debut, you can bet it’s never as good. But it’s still a lot more fun than sitting at a penny slot machine if the trend is a losing one.

The first time I hit Vegas there were no Elvis impersonators since the original was still up and running. It was just after summer 1976 and my pal Gary and I were bored. We realized it was time to viva things up and we scored a package deal through a travel agency for a few nights at the once legendary and now (also) gone Dunes Hotel.

The Las Vegas Strip was glitz and glamor for the era, but nothing like it is today.

For a couple of college guys, we weren’t too smart. My first memory after landing at the Las Vegas airport has us both agreeing The Strip didn’t look that far away. So lugging suitcases in the days before some genius (and future millionaire inventor) added wheels to make lugging luggage obsolete, we decided to save money by walking to our hotel. That was the first time I truly understood the meaning of desert mirage. We probably walked about a mile in desert heat before realizing the hotels didn’t look any closer than they did when we started out.

A taxi – or a camel – would’ve been the smarter choice. We made a U-turn and lugged our luggage back to the airport for a ride.

Hitting the Dunes casino filled with one arm bandits, no clocks, and free drinks from cocktail waitresses in low-cut tops and short skirts meant boredom wouldn’t be in our immediate future. We walked around with big plastic cups filled with coins and played nickel slot machines until we noticed the sun was up. I don’t remember if we won or lost, but we had a blast.

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We also had filthy hands from scooping dirty coins out of the machines before shoving them into different ones. Today Vegas gives us a much healthier option thanks to paper vouchers the machines spit out when hitting the “cash out” button. Now if there was only a guaranteed option that could make us much richer…

As mentioned before, gambling was part of the experience, but never the focus. We were also tourists and wanted to check out the sights, other hotels and other casinos. But falling victims to the dreaded desert mirage syndrome that included stifling and airless desert heat, we decided once again to walk. Each hotel appeared closer than it actually was and immediately became an air-conditioned destination to cool down before trekking off to the next.

From memory I’ll say we hit The Frontier, The Sands, The Riviera, The Sahara and at the time, the brand new and entertaining Circus Circus. We were amazed at the live trapeze artists flying above us in the casino.

We also made a direct connection with Viva Las Vegas. While the real Elvis was filling jumpsuits and live performance venues outside of Vegas during our brief visit, his movie costar (and rumored off-screen love interest) Ann-Margret was headlining The Hilton Hotel showroom. For her show we took the money we’d saved from free drinks, cashed in a few buckets of nickels, bought advance tickets and traveled in the back of an air conditioned taxi.

Review?

Viva Las Vegas AND Ann-Margret!!

Again, for a couple college guys we weren’t too smart. Her performance was a lot more than what we had expected. Ann-Margret had played the Conrad Birdie obsessed teenager Kim McAfee in the hit movie musical Bye Bye Birdie. But since that flick was even older (by one year) than Viva Las Vegas and predated The British Invasion (also by one year), we somehow thought she was a holdover from the older generation. After all, she had played Roger Daltry’s mother in the boomer obsessive movie musical Tommy in 1975, which also happened to be one year before our Vegas excursion.

Tommy can you hear me?

So we thought she was old enough to be Roger Daltry’s mother – right?

Wrong! That only happened thanks to movie magic.

This was my first Las Vegas show and the one I can still measure all others against. It was an evening of high energy singing, dancing and Vegas glitz from a knockout performer who reinforced my idea that showbiz could be a career. Less than a year later I was living in New York City and building one.

And I’ve been an Ann-Margret fan ever since.

As for Elvis, he was gone in (also) less than a year. It was quite a shock and no matter how hard the impersonators and computer-imaged simulators have tried to replace him, there was and will only ever be one. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the city of Las Vegas may seem now like they’re one and joined at the (swivel) hip, but in 1964 when much of the boomer generation was looking toward Britain for a jolt of entertainment, Elvis and Ann-Margret were rockin’ it up Viva Las Vegas style.

For an original entertainment jolt, here’s The King performing the title song from Viva Las Vegas.

To purchase the deluxe edition of Viva Las Vegas starring Elvis and Ann-Margret 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 2017 – North Shore Publishing

 

 

#189 – Copacabana (At The Copa)

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#189 – Copacabana (At The Copa) by Barry Manilow

 – Flash, glitz, disco dancing, spinning mirror balls and the steady South Beach Brazilian influenced beat churning up the nightlife. And no, I’m not describing the actual Copa nightclub or even Studio 54 in the 1970’s.I’m just guessing what it must have been like visiting Barry Manilow’s house during this high point in his career.

There’s no way The Classic Rocker can knock Barry Manilow.

Okay, he may have crossed the line into more Las Vegas glitch than the serious song writer-singer stereotype he fit into when first grabbing our attention with the hit song Mandy in 1973. But he morphed into a glitzy showbiz entertainer that has awarded him with a longer career than most of the other serious song writer-singer troubadours from that era.

Singer song-writer

And he wasn’t that outrageous at first. At least not compared to some of the other entertainers that were glimmering up their stage presence in the early 1970’s. If you need a reminder, check out videos of Mick Jagger, Elton John and David Bowie during that time.

I rest my case.

In comparison, Manilow has been called more nerdy than cool. But in addition to his musical talents he’s a performer – and his fans love his performances. He was popular enough to host his own network television specials and the songs Mandy, I Write The Songs (that Manilow didn’t write) and a host of his other hits are great examples of mid-1970’s AM radio pop music.

And you know what?

It was obvious he was having fun and didn’t mind to be fun(ny) at the same time. His 1978 hit Copacabana is the perfect example. I honestly was never into the song, but Manilow performing it on television in a puffy shirt is somehow burned into my mind. That’s probably how it wound up on this Dream Song List since it was catchy and memorable. Did I like it? I didn’t dislike it, but it was too far removed from my rock ‘n’ roll playlist to ever own a copy. But you would’ve never known that the morning of July 12th.

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Yeah, I know.

The dedicated rockers hooked on three-chord riffs, heavy metal, power pop and head banging grunge will accuse me of losing my edge. But as often used in my defense, I don’t get to choose what songs make this list. I just report on what’s going through my mind and Copacabana is a subliminal category example of the extreme. I just didn’t know my waking mind was capable of a hot Latino beat so early in the morning.

For all practical purposes I could end this Classic Rocker rambling right now.

I don’t have any specific memories attached to Copacabana other than watching Manilow perform it on television. And as far as the already mentioned song Mandy, one of my college pals had a girlfriend with the same name when it came out in 1973. He acted like it was written for her, but as guys we ignored his ramblings and wrote him off as any competition for the single girls.

Then again, The Classic Rocker has never been called practical, so this rambling will continue…

Barry and his Bette

Barry Manilow is from New York City. I remember reading his bio somewhere when he first hit the music charts and learned he wrote commercial jingles (for State Farm Insurance and McDonalds to name only two). He came up as a singer-songwriter in the local club scene and was the piano player and musical director for Bette Midler. By the time I moved to NYC in the late ’70s he was headlining tours and making television specials.

So I never ran into him. But I did meet a close connection – his mother.

Edna Manilow lived in my neighborhood and occasionally in the late ’70s or early ’80s would stop by the restaurant I managed for a glass or two of wine. Since Barry is older than me, his mom was… well, a lot older. She was pleasant and talkative, but more with the older business crowd that would frequent the place after work and treat me more like a kid than a manager. But since I was still in my 20’s it was a stereotype I couldn’t break away from.

Barry and his mom

They all knew Edna was Barry’s mom and lived in his apartment not far from Gramercy Park. I’ll guess it had to be somewhere in the upper East 20’s (streets) on either 2nd or 3rd Avenue. One afternoon she took her new friends (not including me) to see the apartment. When they returned I was told about all of Barry’s stuff that was still there including clothes, albums and photos. I’m sure they also mentioned a piano, but no spinning mirror balls.

Okay, that’s about it. Well… except for this…

After only a couple months of being around, Edna left the neighborhood. I don’t recall any specific conversation on where she was moving, but the next time there was a Barry Manilow special on television (I’m guessing the early ’80s) we had it on in the restaurant. Again, I don’t recall if someone had advance notice, but there was an opening scene that included Edna with Barry. It was actually pretty cool and it looked like she was having a blast. I’m sure she enjoyed her son’s celebrity status and the one thing I remember during the short time she was part of our neighborhood scene, she was very proud of him.

And finally, that’s really it. Well… except for this…

Here’s the video that must have burned Copacabana into my mind – puffy shirt and all.

To purchase Ultimate Manilow with his greatest hits including Copacabana, I Write The Songs and Mandy 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 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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