Previously, I discussed THE MELTING POT of our democracy and the cultural impact it had on the development of American music . We also touched upon the technological advances specifically the birth of the radio networks which in time broadcasted this “American Music” to the masses.
Following up on that let’s look at how the radio and television championed rock music, at least for me it did. I mentioned how in 1964 my black and white single speaker television became stereophonic and in living color. This happened metaphorically as my TV didn’t change but what it showed changed my life.
It started with the BEATLES February of 1964 on Ed Sullivan and then other shows like Shindig, Hullabaloo, Where The Action Is, American Bandstand, Upbeat, Lloyd Thaxton, Clay Cole, and acts such as The Shindogs (aka The Wrecking Crew), The Blossoms, The Animals, James Brown, Roy Head, The Yardbirds, the Zombies, and The Kinks all changed my world.
BEFORE THE BEATLES
What was life like in America for a preteen (age 12) BEFORE THE BEATLES? Besides reading for enjoyment there was AM radio, television (with few channels and limited hours of broadcasting) and of course the movies.The television shows of the Fifties mostly depicted the American family as a cohesive (white) unit consisting of a stay at home Mom (always in a dress) accompanied by the head of the household Dad (usually in a tie) who was employed with a non-descript job, and they the parents having two or three kids while happily living in Suburbia aka/ Cul-de -sac America, the place where the kids rode bikes everywhere and never having to lock the bike up, sorta like cowboys of yore slinging a rope to secure their horse knowing the horse would not be stolen. Or the shows featured urban couples without children.
I LOVE LUCY was the most popular show of the day. Here we find The Ricardo’s (the tenants) interacting with The Mertz’s (the landlords) both childless urban apartment dwelling couples. (Lil Ricky was added later) Also, there was FATHER KNOWS BEST a more traditional Mom, Dad, with siblings show, followed by the ever popular Ward and June aka THE CLEAVERS of Leave It To Beaver fame and of course The Honeymooners, again another childless urban dwellers. Rounding television viewing out would be the numerous cowboy shows, and there were many of that genre.
The radio hits I distinctly remember from the fifties were: How High The Moon(Mom and Dad’s favorite Les Paul song),(HOW MUCH IS) THAT DOGGIE IN THE WINDOW, MR. SANDMAN, followed by Elvis, Elvis, Elvis in 1956-58. Throw in a little Everly Brothers WAKE UP LIL’ SUSIE, Sam Cooke’s YOU SEND ME and who could forget THE PURPLE PEOPLE EATER (1958) and that’s the radio I remember at about 6 years of age.
In 1959 the tunes I remember most were Johnny Horton’s BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS, Bobby Darin MACK THE KNIFE, Lloyd Price MR.PERSONALITY and STAGGER LEE, VENUS by Frankie Avalon,DREAM LOVER by Bobby Darin, and Santo & Johnny’s SLEEP WALK. But as years went on I heard Elvis, Buddy, Fats and Chuck with plenty of DoWop/Blues/ Race Records and of course those lily white artists who were SURFIN’ the USA ,The Beach Boys. Many dance records were played such as THE TWIST, LET’S TWIST AGAIN, MONKEY TIME, THE MASHED POTATO, and The MONSTER MASH. Occasionally one could hear a protest tune or drug referenced song like Puff The Magic Dragon. And most of these hit record recording artists could be seen on television every afternoon for the 1/2 hour show on AMERICAN BANDSTAND.
The movies of the day were CLEOPATRA with the ever popular and beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, BYE BYE BIRDIE, SOME LIKE IT HOT,and the epic BEN HUR which I saw at RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL.
Alaska was admitted to The Union as the 49th State, followed by HAWAII as the 50th, so new flags were going up everywhere (July 4,1960). And I remember something about Fidel Castro coming to power in CUBA. The MERCURY SEVEN astronauts were announced with a big spread in LIFE magazine. And my folks discussed the value of electing a Catholic as President after viewing on television (Sept 26) for the very first time a live Presidential Debate between RICHARD NIXON and JOHN KENNEDY.
In November of 1960 the American people elected JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY as the 35th President of THE UNITED STATES.
For the next two years the news is filled with stories about racial inequalities, a Russian/ US Space Race, The Cold War, and this place called Vietnam. There was the construction of the BERLIN WALL , weather satellites, a U-2 spy plane being shot down over Russia, Alan Shepard becomes an American hero going into space, and THE BAY OF PIGS invasion which lead to the CUBAN MISSLE CRISIS standoff. James Meredith becomes the first African-American to enroll at the University of Mississippi.
And my radio kept on playing:
1961: I FALL TO PIECES- Patsy Cline, RUNAWAY- Del Shannon, CRYING- Roy Orbison, RUNAROUND SUE- Dion, as well as THE BRISTOL STOMP, QUARTER TO THREE, MAMA SAID, and hits by The Shirelles, The Miracles, Ricky Nelson, Ben E. King, and the ever classic BLUE MOON by The Marcels.
1962: MASHED POTATO TIME- Dee Dee Sharp, THE STRIPPER- David Rose, JOHNNY ANGEL- Shelley Fabres,THE LOCO-MOTION- Little Eva, SOLDIER BOY- The Shirelles, DUKE OF EARL- Gene Chandler, and THE TWIST by Chubby Checker, followed by TWISTIN’ THE NIGHT AWAY by Sam Cooke and The PEPPERMINT TWIST by Joey Dee and The Starlighters (the first album I ever bought).
1963:SUGAR SHACK (one of the first singles I ever bought at WT Grants)- Jimmie Gilmore and The Fireballs, HE’S SO FINE- The Chiffons, MY BOYFRIEND’S Back- The Angels, HEAT WAVE- Martha and The Vandellas, FINGERTIPS- Little Stevie Wonder, BE MY BABY- The Ronettes, and two “strange” records PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON and BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND by Peter, Paul and Mary.
August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. gives his “I HAVE A DREAM” speech
November 1963- President John F. Kennedy is assassinated.
Locally, the NY Typographical Union walked out shutting down the NY Daily News, the New York Journal -American, the New York Times, the New York World- Telegram & Sun, the New York Daily Mirror, the New York Herald Tribune, the New York Post, the Long Island Sun Journal and the Long Island Daily Press.
Subsequently WABC- FM radio adopted an all news format to keep the folks informed during this strike. Overall, a total of $100 million in advertising and circulation were lost. After the strike some papers doubled their daily rates which affected their readership, others slowly closed shops because some readers never came back from the 114 days hiatus until November 1963 with the assassination of JFK.
This was my life “before The Beatles”.
See you next time… Chapter 9:THE BRITISH INVASION . Comments? firstname.lastname@example.org