My dad is such an asshole.
I knew—I fucking knew—that as soon as he saw my Tom Petty review, he’d ask for another favor. And I knew exactly what the favor was going to be.
He pounced one day while taking a look at the hot water hookup to our bidet, something I’d asked him to do to so my partner and I could avoid the unpleasant sensation of icy water on our clits. I hung around while he worked, listening to him chatter away about French and American politics, his recent addiction to the television series The Americans and a trip back to Chile that he and maman are planning for winter. I knew he was just fucking with me, and as soon as he finished the job he put his cards on the table.
“Well! Now that you’ve done Tom Petty, how about the Wilburys?”
“No way, Dad! Why on earth would I want to waste my time on a bunch of old farts way past their prime?”
“Because it was one of the most beloved albums of its time.”
“Beloved by other old farts way past their prime. Just like you, Dad!”
“I’ll defer to your mother on the subject of my primeness. Now—about the Wilburys . . .”
“I already gave you a Dylan review! I was even complimentary in spots.”
“You trashed ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ one of the most beloved songs in history.”
“Shit, Dad, his version went on forever. The Byrds wrapped it up in a couple of minutes. And anyway, The Wilburys came twenty years after his so-called prime. And what’s with you and ‘beloved?’ Have you been working on your eulogy?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. I want something to offset your rendition of ‘Born to Lose.'”
“Which I will sing with everlasting affection.'”
“I’m touched. But back to the Wilburys . . .”
“Dad, I don’t have time!”
“You said the other day you were short on 80’s albums. With Full Moon Fever and The Wilburys you can close the gap.”
I was so locked into debate mode that I completely missed the point that he was now asking for two reviews. “Fuck, Dad! Except for Tom Petty, they were all washed up. George went dry about the same time Dylan did and Jeff Lynne was never more than a Beatles wannabe.”
“You forgot Roy Orbison.”
Shit. I did forget that Roy Orbison was a Wilbury. That gave me pause, and Dad seized the opportunity.
“Admit it. You love Roy Orbison. Doing the Wilburys would be a great way for you to pay your last respects. You know he died just a few weeks after the first Wilburys album came out.”
“If you tell me he was one of the most beloved singers in history, I’ll cut your nuts off.”
“But he was—and you know it. Give the man his due.”
“Hold it right there. I’m not Rolling Fucking Stone. I’m the altrockchick, with a devoted fan base in the dozens. Nobody gives a shit whether or not I give Roy Orbison a proper sendoff.” Then something clicked in my brain. “Hey, wait a minute! I did give him a proper sendoff! I covered his last single—‘Mystery Girl’—in the Playlist review. You lose, Dad!”
“But . . . ”
“But nothing. No fucking Wilburys!”
He looked crushed, and I love it when men look crushed. Now I could get exactly what I wanted in the first place.
“There is something I want from you that would be a helluva lot more fun than the Wilburys.”
Head hung in utter defeat, he mumbled, “What’s that?”
I explained that there aren’t any great collections of 60’s singles, and many of those songs have had surprising staying power—they’re as familiar to Millennials as they are to Baby Boomers. 45s dominated the music scene at the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll and only started to fade into the background when albums gained prominence and listeners started to abandon AM radio for the higher-quality sound of FM in the late ’60s. I told him I wanted to go through his stack of 45’s, select the most interesting and create a virtual compilation album for review.
He lifted his head. “Hmm. That would be pretty interesting. You could cover a lot of ground that way.”
“It would fill in a lot of gaps, close some loose ends and I think we’d have a gas doing it.”
“Cool! When do we start?” He had now completely submitted to my will and was ecstatic about it. That’s dominance!
“After I get back from Milan—next weekend?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
As noted in his post dedicated to his gorgeous, sophisticated, compassionate and extremely modest daughter, my father bought his first 45 way back in 1961: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens on RCA Victor. A dedicated follower of the Top 30 charts, he collected hundreds of 45s over the next seven years. He expanded his collection with music from his early childhood years when his older brother went to college and left him a few dozen 45s from the 50s and early 60s. Beginning midway through 1967, when albums had established their dominance, the collection thins out dramatically. The few singles he bought after that consisted of Beatles releases and a few odds and ends. He purchased his last 45 in 1970: “Venus” by Shocking Blue.
Great fucking song, literally and emphatically.
At first I was daunted by the sheer volume of sides, but after sorting through the pile I discovered that I had already reviewed many of these songs in reviews of various compilation albums. There were also plenty of “Dad, what the fuck were you thinking?” turkeys that helped shrink the pile to almost manageable. Several that I flung into the reject pile fall into the category of “novelty songs,” a genre that was very popular in the 50s and 60s. Novelties in his collection include:
- “Transfusion” by Nervous Norvous
- “The Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley
- “Witch Doctor” by David Seville
- “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Over Night?” by Lonnie Donegan
- and too many others to mention
I chose one from the pile, as one was all I could take.
After looking through all the content in his collection, I would describe my father’s tastes as strongly oriented towards rock and soul with a typical teenage boy’s fascination with girl singers who made him want to whip his skippy. He was also fond of male falsetto but denies any same-sex fantasies. My father’s undying loyalty to his hometown is apparent in the relative quantity of San Francisco and Bay Area releases. I would characterize his early garage rock collection as “excellent.” British readers will note the absence of Cliff Richard and The Shadows, but in my dad’s defense, Cliff Richard was a virtual nonentity in the States during what was his peak period in the U.K.
What follows is a series of five reviews of 45’s from five different time periods: 1955-1958, 1959-1963, 1964-1965, 1966 and 1967. The dates attached to each song generally reflect the month in which the song first appeared on the Billboard Top 100, according to the wonderfully well-organized and well-researched site Weekly Top 40. These dates may lead to some confusion among listeners who associate a record with a special moment in their lives—first fuck, first car, first cigarette, first blow job, getting dumped or busted at the prom—whatever. Singles were often released in different countries at different times, and sometimes a song would take a while to catch on after its release. I’ll explain those peculiarities when relevant to a song’s history.