Like many inhabitants of this blue orb stuck at home with no particular place to go, we’ve been binging on TV series and movies. This represented a major lifestyle change for us because in the good ol’ pre-pandemic era we rarely watched television and had access to only one streaming platform: Amazon Prime, French Edition. When the second wave hit after last summer’s false ray of hope, we reluctantly added a Netflix subscription.
Recently we reached the point where we had watched everything we wanted to watch, so we sampled a few TV series and movies that we wouldn’t have bothered with under normal circumstances but were “highly rated.” We discovered that our tastes hadn’t changed: violent-and-stupid really doesn’t work for us. We were also blown away by the prevalence of dark-and-dystopian options. Why anyone would want to watch dark-and-dystopian when we’re living dark-and-dystopian is beyond me.
Our desperation spiked after the authorities re-installed the curfew and took to the airwaves to deny that they were even thinking about another lockdown, which told us that another lockdown was imminent. The news motivated us to initiate a more thorough search for entertainment options. My partner took Netflix, I took Amazon Prime.
Instead of searching by genre, I decided to check out Amazon’s personalized recommendations. Based on my purchasing habits, Amazon thought I might enjoy some musicals, indicating that their recommendations are not at all personal and their algorithms are in serious need of an overhaul. I didn’t find much of interest until something on the third page caught my eye: a woman in a yellow two-piece bathing suit. “Is that Ursula Andress?” I wondered. I was so wrapped up in trying to determine whether or not those were her perfect cheekbones that I didn’t even notice the guy whose image loomed large in the forefront.
The perfect antidote to the poison of dark and dystopian!
I rushed into the living room where my partner was digging through Netflix on her laptop. “Stop what you’re doing and search for Elvis movies!” I chose to ignore the look of horror on her face and returned to my little corner of the world to check out Amazon’s Elvis offerings. As things turned out, my partner would happily report that Netflix had zero Elvis movies, only Elvis documentaries (I suspected sabotage but my own efforts confirmed her findings). As for Amazon, pickings were pretty slim. The French had invented their own Elvis impersonator in the form of Johnny Hallyday, so I guess there isn’t much of a market for the real thing. I ignored Love Me Tender because it doesn’t qualify as a real Elvis movie, leaving me with six choices featuring the typically odd translations of English movie titles into French:
- Bagarres de King Creole (Fights of King Creole): King Creole
- Sous le ciel bleu d’hawaii (Under Blue Hawaiian Skies): Blue Hawaii
- L’idole d’acapulco (The Idol of Acapulco): Fun in Acapulco. The French apparently take a dim view of fun.
- Des filles encore des filles (Girls, Still Girls): Girls, Girls, Girls
- Café europa en uniforme (Café Europe in Uniform): G. I. Blues
- L’homme a tout faire (The Handyman): Roustabout. This listing was really weird, as the poster image wasn’t from Roustabout but It Happened at the World’s Fair.
I knew my dad had a copy of Jailhouse Rock, so our Elvis binge would be limited to seven of his thirty starring roles—more of a binge-ette than full immersion. My partner’s dread still burning in my mind, I suggested we start with Blue Hawaii. “It can’t be that bad—I adore “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” and Angela Lansbury’s in it!” I reeled her in with the Angela Lansbury revelation—we both loved her as the incestuous, domineering mother in The Manchurian Candidate. “You’re right—it can’t be that bad,” she replied with an undeniably wan smile.
Well, it could and it was—really bad. Colossally bad. The film felt like an advertisement for the Hawaiian Tourist Board with Elvis choosing to rebel against parental authority by offering his services as a wannabe tour guide. Instead of saving “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” for the wedding scene with its tailor-made-for-a-wedding lines “Take my hand/Take my whole life too,” Elvis wastes the tune on his love interest’s mother after giving her a music box he picked up in Austria while he—er, his character—was in the service. Angela Lansbury delivers a disappointing and thoroughly ridiculous performance as The King’s domineering mother, playing an ex-southern-belle married to a bore who runs a pineapple company. Needless to say, the guys who ran things were all haoles; the Hawaiians featured in the picture either smilingly served their haole masters or frolicked in the water with guitars, drums and ukes close by in case Elvis suddenly decided to launch into song—a decision he made with terrifying frequency. Halfway through we spontaneously launched into our MST3K act, which enabled us to get through the wedding scene and the disappointment of yet another version of “Hawaiian Wedding Song” without a psychological scratch.
I was pretty sure that my partner would threaten to end our relationship if I pushed to extend our Elvis binge beyond this one movie, but much to my surprise, she expressed the same feelings I had. Though the plot was contrived and the acting fell far short of Olivier or Bette Davis, we both admitted that the film, as awful as it was, “exerted a strange fascination” over us. That little piece of phraseology was a fragment of memory retrieved from a review of one of Ed Wood’s cinematic masterpieces I read years ago. When you watch an Ed Wood film, you know it’s as crappy as crappy gets but you can’t take your eyes off the screen—and the same applies to most (but not all) Elvis movies.
We decided to go for it and one week later we were very, very happy—happy that the weak demand for Elvis flicks in France restricted our journey to seven films. Jailhouse Rock and King Creole were clearly several cuts above the rest, but even Ursula Andress and her perfect cheekbones couldn’t save Fun in Acapulco. Though a complete turkey, The King’s popularity was such that Fun in Acapulco was the #1 grossing musical film of 1963 and the #1 box office hit the week after the Kennedy assassination (apparently the movie-going public of that era recognized the value of Elvis as an antidote as well). The soundtrack highlights the racist American belief that all those brown people south of the border from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego can be conveniently lumped under the heading of “Mexicans” with tunes like “Bossa Nova Baby” (bossa nova = Brazil) and “(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car” (rhumba = Cuba). The backstory of the film is far more interesting than the film itself, but I’ll send you over to IMDb for those juicy tidbits.
Our journey did have one positive outcome: it reminded me that I’ve only reviewed one Elvis Presley album and three Elvis singles. Given that he was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll and had an enormous influence on everyone from Bob Dylan to the Beatles, I decided that this was an unacceptable state of affairs—especially when you consider that I’ve reviewed two albums from the other Elvis (Costello). With this review, the score is now Presley 2 1/4, Costello 2, restoring The King to his rightful place in Elvisdom.
This second LP from Elvis is curiously hard to find in its original format. The UK release was titled Elvis Presley No. 2; the most available version bears the title Rock ‘n Roll No.2, usually co-packaged with his third album, the soundtrack from Loving You. As my modus operandi is to preserve the historical record, I will focus solely on the twelve tracks that appeared on the original release, Elvis.
Presley’s golden period was very brief in chronological terms. If you count The Sun Sessions (though none of that material caused much excitement at the time), we’re talking four years before he was inducted into the US Army; after his discharge, he returned to his new home in Dullsville. Though he still topped the charts and did well at the box office in the period following his stint in the military, his post-Army musical offerings lacked the spark and edge of early Elvis records. Under contract to make three films a year, the bulk of his album releases from 1962 to 1968 were in the form of film soundtracks loaded with substandard work from substandard movies. Live concerts completely vanished during that period, in large part because the highly unethical and profit-oriented Colonel Parker decided that tours were an unnecessary expense, given the ample profits earned from the films.
In 1956 he was still in the early stage of his career and Parker was busy building the brand after the stunning success of “Heartbreak Hotel” and the iconic debut album, booking television appearances and shows across the country—which left Elvis pretty much in control of his recordings. Elvis led the sessions for the follow-up album and selected most of the songs, concentrating on his sweet spot in the R&B-Country spectrum. Working with The Jordanaires and his trusty touring band of Bill Black, D. J. Fontana and the amazing Scotty Moore, Elvis must have felt right at home, ready to rock, roll and croon his heart out.
The song selection included five numbers written or popularized by African-American artists, and the debate as to whether or not Elvis was a “cultural appropriator” because he made a ton of money covering the contributions of black performers and songwriters still burns hot today. Nick Bhasin’s excellent piece on SBS gets to the heart of the controversy:
Indeed, even if he adored the black musicians that inspired and came before him, Elvis has come to represent the cultural crime committed against them. He became a target for people who were (rightly) tired of the “parade of white heroes” they were taught to idolise. He didn’t invent the racist system that held him above his black contemporaries, but he certainly benefitted from it.
“To me, Elvis represented somebody who — because our country was not ready then to embrace the black artist and make them No. 1 — became No. 1 because of his rendition of what some black people sounded like,” trumpeter Wynton Marsalis said. “What made it distasteful is that we had people who could do it better than him, but who couldn’t be accepted at that time because of the colour of their skin.”
For me, it doesn’t take away from Elvis’s legacy to acknowledge the greatness of these artists.
In fact, that’s probably what Elvis would have wanted . . .
“A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” he said. “But rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like coloured people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing like Fats Domino can. I know that.”
In another superb analysis, Brian Ward’s piece on The Conversation points out how Presley’s influence served to end at least one historic example of segregation:
Even more compelling is the sales evidence. In early 1956, Presley’s breakthrough RCA single “Heartbreak Hotel” simultaneously topped the traditionally white pop and country music singles charts and the traditionally black rhythm and blues chart. Indeed, Presley had 24 Top 10 rhythm and blues hits between 1956 and November 1963, including four number ones.
To put this into a broader historical context, this was probably the most integrated popular music market in US recording history: 175 Top Ten rhythm and blues singles were cut by more than 120 different white artists while black artists regularly enjoyed pop chart hits. By November 1963, Billboard could no longer differentiate between white and black consumption and suspended its separate black singles chart.
The bottom line is this: Elvis dug black music, loved to sing it and sang it well. He spent part of his youth living in a mostly black neighborhood in Tupelo; after the family moved to Memphis, he spent a lot of time taking in the blues scene on Beale Street. When he embarked on a career as a singer, his repertoire consisted of the songs he learned in his youth—R&B, country and gospel from both black and white artists. There is no evidence that his motives were contaminated by racism. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Sam “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars” Phillips or Colonel Parker, the illegal immigrant who rubbed Eddie Murphy’s head for good luck while playing the tables in Vegas. Elvis was just singing the kind of music he loved to sing and happened to arrive on the scene at a time when American teens were ready to . . .
“Rip It Up”: Elvis burns hot on the first of three Little Richard numbers, all of them singles Mr. Penniman had released earlier in 1956. Although on paper he was still relatively green as a performing artist, The King knew what not to do with stop-time opportunities—overplay his hand. The empty space of stop-time automatically shines the aural spotlight in the singer, so there’s no need to oversing your part. Elvis cools it in the first three lines, slowly building to ready-to-burst excitement in the line that leads to the chorus. He also relaxes his pronunciation (particularly in the chorus), inspiring a generation of singers who would follow The King’s lead and slur their way to rock stardom. Don’t give me that rain-in-Spain-falls-mainly-on-the-plain bullshit, man, this is rock-and-fuckin’-roll! And if you need any further proof that the boys in the band had little use for sheet music, pay attention to Scotty Moore’s absolutely nasty, dissonant, note-defying garage rock solo.
I’ll confess that listening to the song spawned an evil thought in my brain. If you don’t hear from me for a while, it won’t be because I died from the virus or was committed to a mental institution due to a severe case of Covid Claustrophobia. It will mean that the gendarmes took me out of the movie theatre in handcuffs (kinky!) because I ripped up the seats at the local cinema.
“Love Me”: Elvis made history with this tune that was originally written by the Leiber-Stoller team as a parody of country-western my-baby-dumped-my-sorry-ass-woe-is-me songs: it was the first non-single to reach the Billboard Top 10 (climbing to #2). The only reason it wasn’t released as a single is that RCA felt it would confuse listeners and compromise the sales numbers for “Love Me Tender.” Baby, I’ll take “Love Me” over that boring “Aura Lee” ripoff any day of the week! I melt every time Elvis sinks to the low-end of his register to start a verse and I get the chills every time he goes high on the line “Just to feel your heart beating close to mine.” The sincerity of his pleas for attention is immensely exciting for this dominant female—I just love to hear him begging and begging for more!
Ten versions of this song from a variety of performers were released prior to the Presley version; none made the hit parade. Elvis succeeded where others failed because he had a gift for making a song his own.
“When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold”: We’ve had fast, we’ve had slow and now it’s time for something in the middle. Elvis thought so highly of this Gene Sullivan/Wiley Walker tune first popularized by the great country songwriter Cindy Walker that he performed it during his last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Elvis take has a bit more bounce than Cindy’s version, though I do miss the muted trumpet of her arrangement. Featuring another melody that allows Elvis to open the verses in the low end, his excellent performance is supported by an exceptionally tight group vocal from The Jordanaires and some fine pickin’ from Scotty Moore.
“Long Tall Sally”: I had no idea Elvis covered this song until I bought this album . . . and now I understand why. Elvis really doesn’t get it up except in the “ducked back in the alley” verses and I don’t believe him when he sings “We’re gonna have some fun tonight” in the fade. By contrast, Little Richard gets it up and keeps it up all the way to the finish, delivering one of the most exciting performances in rock ‘n’ roll history. While McCartney’s take lacks the sexiness of the original, he does imbue his tribute to Little Richard with plenty of enthusiasm. The good news for Elvis fans is that The King clearly outshined The Kinks’ version, a debut single so abysmal I don’t know how they managed to survive (but I’m glad they did).
The highlight of the Elvis rendition is Scotty Moore’s lead solo that takes rockabilly to another level entirely. I just . . . can’t help falling in love with Scotty Moore.
“First In Line”: First, let me confess that I’m extremely uncomfortable with the “proper” use of an apostrophe-s in nouns ending in s. So, when I write Elvis’ instead of Elvis’s, just read it however you would say it and allow me my moment of rebellion.
We now return to the fifth track on Elvis’ second album, “First in Line.”
Whoa! Where’s Elvis’ voice coming from? Another room? Heaven? It’s certainly not natural reverb—the sound is too cold. It can’t be Sam Phillips’ slapback echo; he was out of the picture by then. It’s not Duane Eddy’s water tank. I’m guessing Elvis was in another room since it sounds like chamber reverb . . . but I could easily be wrong. Let’s just say the primitive reverb used in the ’50s and ’60s was anything but subtle. When used in excess (like it is here), reverb has a tendency to muddy the sound, robbing vocals of clean, crisp notes and clear articulation. Too bad—this would have been a nice slow dance number if the reverb hadn’t given Elvis’ voice an otherworldly quality that’s kind of creepy.
“Paralyzed”: The beat, tempo and some of the lyrics would have felt pretty familiar to even the most casual Elvis fan, as the song is really a twin of “Don’t Be Cruel,” which was also an Otis Blackwell composition (Elvis earned co-writing credit on this one). Even the preacher returns for a curtain call (“In front of a preacher you said I do”). Similarities notwithstanding, Elvis makes the song work by changing his tone from pleading suitor to a guy who’s absolutely dazzled by the babe on his arm. His “oohs” in response to her captivating beauty tell me he’s feeling a series of tingles in his dingle. The most obvious differentiating factor is the absence of The Jordanaires’ sharp “bop-bops” at the ends of the verse lines that added a nice touch of syncopation to “Don’t Be Cruel” and made it the more danceable song.
“So Glad You’re Mine”: It should be pretty obvious that “So Glad You’re Mine” sounds completely different than the other songs on the album as it was recorded eight months earlier during the sessions for his RCA debut album. You will find the song on deluxe editions of that more celebrated work, but I’m blown away that it didn’t make the first cut. This is my favorite high-register Elvis vocal ever! If you want to hear a great example of honky-tonk blues, look no further—Elvis was really feeling it when he recorded this one, nailing all the blue-note opportunities with marvelously libidinal overtones. Scotty Moore’s solo is sort of a warm-up for his rising-to-blues-heaven solo on “Too Much,” and it fits the song like a wet t-shirt. Kudos to Steve Sholes for placing this track in the pole position on side two, giving it greater prominence in the bad old days of disc-flipping.
“Old Shep”: Elvis goes way back in time for this one, drawing on memories of his first public performance at the ripe old age of ten when he sang Red Foley’s “Old Shep” in a singing competition at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show.
Hey—you gotta start somewhere.
The challenge presented by this boy-and-his-faithful-dog story lies in its highly emotional content that might lead a ham-handed arranger to bury the song in harps and violins and an undisciplined singer to try to wring every last tear from the listener by overdramatizing the vocal. Elvis wisely chose a simple arrangement of piano, bass and a touch of guitar with The Jordanaires at very low volume. His vocal balances sincere emotional expression with due restraint, especially when we arrive at the point of the story when any human being equipped with a working heart would collapse into mush:
As the years fast did roll
Old Shep, he grew old
His eyes were fast growing dim
And one day the doctor looked at me and said
“I can do no more for him, Jim”
With hands that were trembling
I picked up my gun
And aimed it at Shep’s faithful head
At this point I scream, “No! Don’t do it, Elvis! You’ll never forgive yourself!” Thankfully, Elvis heard my heartfelt cries for a temporary stay of execution: “I just couldn’t do it, I wanted to run/I wished they would shoot me instead.” I love how Elvis gradually lowers the volume on those lines; I can see him slumped over, crying softly in the face of a terrible dilemma.
Oh, how I wish I knew about this song when I was still dating, for I would have played “Old Shep” for potential suitors to gauge their reaction, sorting their responses into three categories to simplify my decision-making process:
- The dude chickened out—he should have pulled the trigger. Throw the psychopath out. Consider a restraining order.
- So what—it’s just a dog! Throw the sociopath out. Anyone who can’t appreciate the special bond and companionship offered by our canine friends is a LOSER.
- Poor Old Shep! Poor Elvis!—Meet me in my bedroom in fifteen minutes.
“Ready Teddy”: With supercharged backup from D. J. Fontana and Scotty Moore, Elvis recovers from his “Long Tall Sally” slump and hits a grand slam with “Ready Teddy,” outperforming Little Richard’s original by a rock ‘n’ roll mile. Truth be told, Mr. Penniman left the field wide open by leaving his piano in storage, singing along to a horn section that can’t match his energy and winds up slowing things down. There are no such obstacles in the Elvis take, allowing Elvis to ride the propulsive rhythm, belting out the stop-time lines like there’s no tomorrow. The centerpiece of the song comes in the form of an extended Scotty Moore guitar solo split into two parts by a Fontana drum roll even more fierce than his rolls on “Hound Dog.” Elvis and the boys really burn the joint down to the cinders on this one.
This Blackwell-Marascalco collaboration contains a line about teenage sock hop fashion that I find utterly fascinating: “Flat top cats and the dungaree dolls.” I’d never date a guy with a flattop haircut and wouldn’t be caught dead in dungarees unless they were cut to be topless with an open crotch and came in black leather. I really can’t get my head around chicks looking like farmhands dancing to rock ‘n’ roll.
“Anyplace Is Paradise”: This smoky little number comes from Joe Thomas, an ex-jazz-saxophonist who rose in stature to become the top R&B guy at Decca and RCA. As a cool-down number following “Ready Teddy,” it works, but it’s not the most memorable song in the Elvis catalog.
“How’s the World Treating You”: I dunno, but it seems to me that Elvis’ selection of this piece written by Chet Atkins and Boudleaux Bryant of Everly Brothers fame wasn’t one of the better choices he made in his lifetime. As in “Love Me” he plays the submissive role, but in that song he’s a submissive filled with passion and not the whiny, self-pitying wimp he portrays here. Word on the street is that Elvis was the uncredited piano player on this song (as well as “Old Shep”), and all I can say is that he’s lucky he made it in show biz because he couldn’t have landed a job as a piano player in even the most pathetic dive in the world.
“How Do You Think I Feel”: With its sanitized Latin beat, this song brought back the trauma I suffered by watching Fun in Acapulco, so I don’t think I’m in the right state of mind to give it a fair evaluation. Sorry!
Well—this was fun! I now return to the grim reality of French incompetence in pandemic management without a damn thing on TV.
Oh, well . . . The Golden Girls never gets old.
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 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. I’ve got to get this book off my plate!”
“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 Roy Orbison. 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. 45’s 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 60’s. 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 45’s 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 45’s from the 50’s and early 60’s. 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 50’s and 60’s. 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 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.
Covered in Other Reviews: Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Dion, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley (début album), Eddie Cochran.
Americans dominated popular music from 1955 to 1963, a phenomenon driven primarily by the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll in the years 1955 to 1958. As is true with almost anything Americans dominate, they fucked it up, and almost killed rock ‘n’ roll in the process.
The primary drives of American culture during this period were the five C’s: conformity, consumerism, convenience, comfort and communism. The American economy exploded in the postwar era, and a generation sick of the sacrifices demanded by depression and war wanted more, more, more! More cars! More appliances! More push buttons! More babies! The United States dominated the world in nearly every tangible category you can name, from military might to technicolor movies, a condition that should have created a tremendous sense of security in the populace. This was not to be the case, as unscrupulous politicians from both major parties constantly fanned the flames of communist paranoia, so much so that when a puny satellite measuring less than two feet in diameter started orbiting the earth, the entire country was thrown into a tizzy. Behind the façade, American confidence was a very fragile thing.
The patriotism engendered by the war provided a fertile ground for the ethnocentric paranoia that manifested itself in the notion that there were two kinds of people: those who were “Real Americans” and those who were not, the latter group consisting of “Negroes,” “Indians,” and other undesirables. The definition of a “Real American” constantly morphed over time to include a hodgepodge of nostalgic impulses, pre-existing biases and behavioral expectations from the burgeoning consumer culture. Real Americans had eggs for breakfast and meat-and-potatoes for dinner. Real Americans kept their lawns up and painted their fences. In a Real American family, the man was the breadwinner, the woman the cook, cleaning lady and all-purpose nanny. Real American kids were expected to behave, and those who didn’t were termed “juvenile delinquents.”
And though Real Americans must have been fucking their brains out to produce all those whiny bundles of joy, Real Americans never spoke about sex in polite company. Lucy and Ricky slept separately in twin beds in the early 50’s, as did Rob and Laura in the early 60’s.
While most teens of the 50’s went along with the program and strived to become the good boys and girls their parents wanted them to be, others felt differently. The pressure from a conformist society in denial about sex weighed heavily on those horny adolescents. Born in the waning years of the Great Depression and entering childhood during a global conflict, they were as eager as their parents to experience the joys of plenty. Their basic needs for security and safety fully satisfied, they wanted something more, something different, something their hopelessly square parents couldn’t give them. Like the character of Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, they had a hard time expressing exactly what they wanted, so they literally became rebels without a cause: I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want this!
This strange state of consciousness combined with the insatiable sex drive of the teenager made them the perfect audience for a new form of music—music that encouraged non-conformity, validated sexual urges and confusing emotions, and above all, allowed you to dance your blues away, preferably all night long.
This is what the period from 1955-1958 was all about: rebellion for the hell of it, rebellion because it felt good.
“Rock Around the Clock,” Bill Haley and the Comets, March 1955: The single that changed everything was originally a b-side released in 1954 that had a modest run on the charts. What rescued the song from obscurity was its appearance in the classic juvenile delinquent movie, Blackboard Jungle. The film version begins with an extended drum solo, a call to the ancient rhythmic impulses that merged into the famous stop-time intro that caused teenage blood to boil over and send thousands of adolescents into the aisles to shake their fannies and engage in general mayhem. Compared to the heat generated by some of Ruth Brown’s R&B hits, “Rock Around the Clock” feels rather tame, but to white teenagers of the 1950’s, who had probably never heard of Ruth Brown, the punctuated snare shots, the pizzicato guitar solo and the growling sax must have sent their libidos into overload. I think the basic message of the song is as important and as validating as the music: instead of “Johnny, it’s past your bedtime,” you get to “rock, rock, rock ’til the broad daylight!” Take your curfew and shove it up your ass, mom and dad! Haley’s vocal is rather dull and weak on the blue notes, but he does sound like he’s having a good time.
The alleged a-side, “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town)” is an Atomic Age classic: the singer dreams that the H-bomb has been dropped, leaving himself as the world’s sole penis possessor with thirteen women to take care of him. He doesn’t fuck a single broad before waking up, making him the biggest moron to ever survive the H-bomb.
“Sixteen Tons,” Tennessee Ernie Ford, November 1955: The advent of rock ‘n’ roll didn’t change the status quo as much as historical hype might lead you to believe. Rock wasn’t much more than another category of music to add to the already diverse popular music offerings in the 1950’s. The charts brimmed with lush pop songs, Latin-influenced instrumentals, mood music, country-western ditties, novelty pieces and, eventually, rock ‘n’ roll. In the midst of all this diversity came Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version of “Sixteen Tons,” which is simply one of the greatest vocal performances on record in any genre.
The piece grabs you right from the start with its mournful clarinet melting into Ernie’s opening fermata (a note prolonged beyond its expected duration) on the word some. He then picks up the hidden beat with four finger snaps that form the lead-in for the stand-up bass and drums. When Ernie arrives at the chorus, a thin, wavering trumpet enters to add some texture, but all the touches are on the light side—the arrangement is carefully attenuated to focus the listener’s attention on Ernie’s vocal. And a magnificent vocal it is! His expressive variations—the shift to a threatening whisper on the phrase, “better step aside,” the cocky little laugh in the line, “Cain’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line,” and the grand a cappella finale—are the work of a master. Merle Travis’ song is a gritty depiction of life as a coal miner, and Ernie makes us feel the silent desperation burning inside the man. The closing diminuendo of the clarinet is as perfect as perfect gets, a sad punctuation mark emphasizing the dreary truth that our coal miner is forever trapped in a pattern of inhuman absurdity. While most pop songs lapse into melodrama, “Sixteen Tons” honors us with a completely aesthetic experience, achieving what very few popular songs have ever achieved: tragedy with catharsis.
“I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” Elvis Presley, May 1956: This is my favorite Elvis song of all-time and I was delighted to see it in dad’s collection! What’s more amazing than Elvis’ performance, though, is the engineering brilliance that created that performance. The story is a beaut: RCA, eager to record a follow-up hit to “Heartbreak Hotel,” flew Elvis to Nashville during a one-day break in his touring schedule. The plane developed engine trouble, powerlessly plummeting through the air several times before the pilot regained control. Needless to day, when Elvis and the boys arrived at the studio, they weren’t in the best of moods. Elvis had no idea what to record (!), so they turned to producer Steve Sholes for suggestions, and he came up with “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You.” After seventeen less-than-satisfying takes, Sholes gave up and sent the band home.
Realizing he wouldn’t get Elvis in the studio for months left Sholes with very few options, so he took parts of two reasonably acceptable takes and spliced them together. Sholes must have been seriously on his game, because no one noticed. In a few months, Elvis had his second gold record.
Scotty Moore’s opening lick is truly attention-grabbing, but what I really love about the song is the complexity of the chord structure, sweetened by a brief key shift in the bridge. The melody also features significant movement, and, combined with the truncated lyrical lines, make for an extremely challenging vocal. You can hear Elvis taking breaths at shorter intervals, and sometimes he inhales with such speed that it sounds like he’s surprised he has to breathe so often. There are dozens of mini-phrases in “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” and Elvis nails every single one. The choppiness you may experience comes from the phrasing challenge, but think about it a minute—aren’t nearly all genuine expressions of passion for another a little choppy? We stutter, we can’t find the right words, our volume oscillates and our tongues get tied. The weird confluence of events preceding the recording session gave us a frazzled Elvis who managed to create an emotional honesty in his performance that is far more satisfying than the experience of listening to a technically brilliant but completely lifeless singer. When I listen to Elvis’ voice here, I hear sincerity, and when someone’s verbally making love to you, that’s really all you want to hear.
The b-side, Arthur Crudup’s “My Baby Left Me,” is a song Elvis could have sung in his sleep. He was a great translator of early R&B.
“Be-Bop-a-Lula,” Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps, June 1956: Gene was Capitol’s answer to Elvis, and you can hear the vocal similarities especially when Gene drops down to the lower part of his range. However, Gene’s vocal style was far more “out there” than Elvis Presley’s, and drummer Dickie Harrel’s screams are something you would never hear from Scotty Moore or a Jordanaire. The movement from mellow to bash makes for an incredibly sexy build, and Cliff Gallup’s lead solos and “Jumpin'” Jack Neal’s bends on the string bass are to die for. Alas, this would be Gene’s last trip to the American Top 10. He would abandon his homeland for a reasonably successful career on the other side of the pond, survive the auto accident that killed Eddie Cochran, develop a serious drinking problem, attempt to kill Gary Glitter for messing with his babe and die at the ripe old age of 36.
“Don’t Be Cruel”/”Hound Dog,” Elvis Presley, July 1956: I realize that “Don’t Be Cruel” was technically the A-side, but I’ll take “Hound Dog” over “Don’t Be Cruel” anytime. What began as a comic relief number became a signature song of the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, phase one, especially after Elvis displayed his pelvic flexibility on The Milton Berle Show. On Berle’s show he moved like a guy in the dying stages of an orgasm trying to get that last bit of shot out of his system. When I fuck a guy, that’s exactly how I want him to look when I’m done with him—spent, deliriously happy and ready to rock again! Elvis belts this sucker out in his best drawling growl, encouraged by Scotty Bowman’s sharp fills and D. J. Fontana’s muscular drum rolls. What makes “Hound Dog” all the sweeter is that it sparked a nasty reaction from American Puritans, various members of Congress, and the now seriously-uncool Frank Sinatra. Good Boy Elvis dismissed the song as “silly,” but Bad Boy Elvis is the guy on the record, and that’s the guy we’ll remember.
By the way, Elvis’ version is nothing like the Big Mama Thornton original. Big Mama’s take is like Memphis Minnie Meets the Fifties, an ode to female sexual control. Elvis’ version is somewhat closer to the one by Freddie Bell and the Bellboys, which is godfucking awful and moves like a stegosaur with hemorrhoids.
As for “Don’t Be Cruel,” it’s a good song and it’s got a nice beat you can dance to, Dick, but so very, very tame in comparison.
“I Walk the Line,” Johnny Cash, September 1956: It’s a shame that nice deep voices are relatively rare in popular music, and when I worked my way through the flood of falsetto that greeted me when I started listening to singles from the 60’s, I found myself missing them terribly. Here Johnny not only changes keys in every verse but also drops octaves, most noticeably in the last verse, where his voice seems to fade into the nether reaches of the underworld. I hate to be a girl, but I think it’s so cute that he hums right before each verse to find the key! You combine that vulnerability with a deep voice expressing undying devotion and you’re going to get one horny altrockchick! Okay, let me admit it up front so I don’t have to deal with it later—I would have fucked Johnny Cash but I would have never fucked Lou Christie. There! I’ve said it! Fetish confessed!
“Little Darlin’,” The Diamonds, March 1957: The falsetto “ya-ya-ya-ya” is frequently borrowed for satires of 50’s music, making this an iconic song of sorts. It’s actually a Canadian white boy cover of a Maurice Williams song that he performed with The Gladiolas. Whitewashing remained a common practice throughout the 50’s, with Pat Boone leading the way with his bleached version of Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That a Shame.” While Stephen Erlewine of AllMusic thinks The Diamonds’ version is the bees knees, I find their performance deeply offensive. The Diamonds’ attempt to sound African-American is so over-the-top that it’s the aural equivalent of blackface. Yecch!
“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Jerry Lee Lewis, June 1957: The only member of the Million Dollar Quartet I haven’t covered, Jerry Lee Lewis was the voice of the devil whispering in my ear during piano lessons, “Fuck that Schubert lieder. You know you want to boogie, baby!” I gave into Jerry Lee’s pleadings one day and scared the hell out of my piano teacher when I got stuck on a particularly difficult passage and vented my frustration by banging out the left-hand run from “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” I even threw in a few slides with the right hand. Damn, that felt good!
Jerry Lee’s emphasis on the piano as a percussive instrument was critical to the development of rock ‘n’ roll, for he rescued the most versatile of all musical instruments from the squares and “longhairs,” making the piano a viable alternative to the guitar. I really dislike it when people use the term “thunderous” when talking about Jerry Lee’s style, because thunder is a random, arrhythmic occurrence, and Jerry Lee Lewis is rhythm personified. Let’s just call his style “fucking hot” and move on.
While his contributions on the piano alone would have earned him a place in any hall of fame you care to mention, it was his singing that blatantly confirmed the sexual messages in his music. His phrasing flies over the rhythm, almost like he’s providing a guided commentary on the erotic underpinnings of the sounds he’s creating on his piano. The back-and-forth shifts between melody and spoken word express extreme confidence in both his ability to maintain the rhythm without bass support and his own sexual prowess. When he talks to the imaginary babe during the down-low passages (“All you gotta do, honey, is kinda stand in one spot/Wiggle around just a little bit, that’s when you got it, yeah!”), he is in full seduction mode, getting the likely virgin to loosen up and ride along with those funny sensations building up in her clitoris. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” validated the heavenly union between sex and rock ‘n’ roll, angering Puritans of all stripes.
Had I been alive back then, I would have told them to fuck off but Puritans don’t know how to do that.
My father’s collection also includes “Great Balls of Fire,” but I find Jerry’s vocal on that one a bit too obvious and over-the-top, even for me.
“Jailhouse Rock,” Elvis Presley, October 1957: Sadly, “Jailhouse Rock” proved to be the last single featuring Elvis in full rock-out mode, growling his vocal with consistent intensity over five stop-time structured verses. By comparison, “Hard-Headed Woman” from King Creole is a pale imitation, a choppy song with an arrangement that drowns Elvis’ voice far too often. Here he’s still Bad Boy Elvis, in perfect sync with his character in the film, where he plays a guy sent to the joint for manslaughter. In a few short months he would forever become Good Boy Elvis by entering the U. S. Army. After his release, he would stick to pop songs and ballads and appear in a series of eminently wholesome and forgettable movies that made him rich enough to fly his friends in his private jet to Denver at the drop of a hat to dine at a restaurant that served his favorite peanut butter sandwiches.
“At the Hop,” Danny and The Juniors, December 1957: Danny and the Juniors began life as The Juvenairs, performing primarily as an intermission act at (where else?) sock hops. Members John Medora (sometimes Madara) and David White had written a tune called “Do the Bop,” but by the time they played the song for producer and vocal coach Artie Singer, the Bop fad had faded into history. Singer suggested (some argue it was Dick Clark who made the suggestion, but it hardly matters) they change the title to “At the Hop,” transforming what would have been another one-shot dance-fad number into a song about the teenage experience. Sock hops and mixers had become essential rituals in teenage culture in the 1950’s, events where adolescents could show off their moves and both cats and chicks could bridge the chasm between the sexes through the arts of dance and flirtation . . . under the watchful eyes of chaperones.
“At the Hop” not only celebrated this cultural development but helped shift adult perceptions of rock ‘n’ roll from something dangerously rebellious to a form of good, clean fun. The lyrics even argue that rather than serving as the harbinger of revolution, rock ‘n’ roll could serve a supporting role in the general cultural trend towards conformity. The line, “Do the dance sensation that is sweepin’ the nation at the hop” essentially urges teenagers to get with the program and do what all the other teenagers do. Don’t be a square, hit the dance floor! That line also embraces another important feature of American culture in the 1950’s: faddism. The Fifties were a fad factory, and one of the most effective ways to validate your credentials as a real American was to jump on the fad bandwagon. The Hula Hoop is the classic example (20 million were sold in the first two months after it hit the shelves), but the 50’s also brought us 3-D movie glasses, DA’s and sideburns, drive-in diners with carhops, Pez dispensers and coonskin caps. The era was also an assembly line of dance fads, a trend that continued well into the 60’s with The Twist, Watusi and Mashed Potatoes. Fads are extremely effective means of defining cultural norms, and a relatively pleasant way to enforce obedience.
Despite its obvious nod to conformity, I would also argue that “At the Hop” subtly encouraged revolution by expanding the definition of “normal” to encompass the pseudo-sexual expression manifested in dance. More than any other song in the decade, “At the Hop” made rock ‘n’ roll normal and safe for kids—and by redefining “normal” to include previously unacceptable behaviors, it reminded people that the boundaries of “normal” are fluid, not static—a notion that would be fully exploited in the second half of the 60’s.
Danny and the Juniors initiated these cultural changes by . . . being Danny and the Juniors. The one feature I love most in this song is Danny Rapp’s unadulterated Philly accent. You don’t hear any of the vocal gyrations and drama of Elvis, Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. You hear the guy you know from sixth period Algebra performing with his buddies at the high school talent show! You don’t have to be “kooky” to do rock ‘n’ roll! Anyone can do it—even you!
The desirability of pursuing a career in rock ‘n’ roll is intensified by boogie-woogie piano and solid group collaboration throughout the song, from the opening four-part harmonic build to the increasingly complex call-and-response vocals. When Danny opens the vocal on the third instead of the root in the last verse to shake things up a little bit, it feels like the group is infused with a fresh burst of energy that they maintain right to the hard stop on the final “at the hop!” There are few songs in rock ‘n’ roll history as joyful at “At the Hop,” and if this song doesn’t make you smile, you may need several sessions with a shrink or a call girl to clean out your psychological intestines.
Even with the title change, the song spent several months hanging around the bottom of the charts until Dick booked them for a slot on American Bandstand. After the televised publicity, the song rocketed to the top and became one of the biggest hits of 1958. Dick also demanded half the royalties for the song, giving credence to the belief that the title change was his idea and reminding us that Dick Clark didn’t become the most influential person in the music business by being a nice guy.
“Get a Job,” The Silhouettes, January 1958: Written by the four Silhouettes, the arrangement for which Howard Biggs was given credit was actually the group’s creation as well. Biggs wanted to replace the “dip dip” opening with a musical introduction, a suggestion that has to rank as one of the dumbest ever made. The layering and variation of the doo-wop syllables that establish the foundation create a fascinating backdrop, but my favorite parts come at the ends of the bridges when the meager instrumentation fades and all we hear is a soaring solo voice over pounding drums and handclaps, soon to be joined right on cue by full harmonic power. Outfuckingstanding! And the sax solo between the two bridges ain’t chicken liver either.
“Do You Want to Dance?” Bobby Freeman, May 1958: Bongo drums were all the rage during the 50’s and early 60’s, popular with beatniks, college geeks and pop fans alike. Bobby Freeman’s song is as much an ode to bongos as a dance song, and if anyone could write a song about bongos, it would have to be a guy from San Francisco, the beat generation mecca where Latin-tinged jazz became all the rage during Orlando Cepeda’s rookie season with the Giants. On “Do You Want to Dance” we get bongos at the start, bongos throughout the verses, bongos re-starting the song after a brief pause, and bongos punctuating the finish. I find the slapping sound intensely irritating after about 45 seconds, and I’ve never cared for any of the many cover versions of this song (though I do like the genuine enthusiasm in Bobby’s vocal). Bobby would later perform at the Condor Club where another San Francisco legend and one of my personal heroines, Carol Doda, first shook her fully-exposed, fabulous set of tits for legions of adoring fans.
“Rebel Rouser,” Duane Eddy, June 1958: Duane Eddy did as much as anyone to bring the guitar into prominence and inspire budding guitarists to attempt to duplicate the unusual sounds he wheedled out of his ax. Here the low-string riff is enhanced by an echo chamber, spiced with spots of vibrato from Duane’s whammy bar and supported by a strong, pounding beat. Duane plays the same pattern over and over again, masking the repetition by moving up a half step every twelve bars. Apparently the producers felt the song needed more variation and added a blow-with-all-your-might sax solo in the final mix. Unfortunately, it’s painfully obvious that it’s a patch—the sax player never fully connects with the original groove and is so loud that the star of the show fades from earshot. I want a “naked” version of “Rebel Rouser!”
“Chantilly Lace,” Big Bopper, August 1958: J. P. Richardson was a popular local DJ when he capitalized on the latest dance fad (The Bop) and changed his over-the-air name to The Big Bopper. During 1958 and early 1959 he would also establish himself as a successful songwriter, penning a #1 country hit for George Jones and a #1 pop hit for Johnny Preston, “Running Bear,” one of the painfully long line of death songs popular for a few years in the early 60’s.
Thankfully, my father’s collection does not include “Tell Laura I Love Her.”
He also had a hand in the creation of his signature song, “Chantilly Lace.” The idea to create a song reflecting only one side of a phone conversation was an inspired choice that enabled the Bopper to slip a ton of innuendo past the delicate ears of the Puritans. The Bopper plays his role in the masquerade to perfection. His timing is exquisite, especially after he moans the line “But, baby, I ain’t got no money, honey.” He holds that silence long enough for the girl on the line to say something like, “The thing I want won’t cost you a dime” leading him to respond with his heartiest laugh and most emphatic “you KNOW what I LIKE!” I adore his voice on the chorus, sung with the gorgeous baritone confidence of a man who knows exactly what he wants.
Speaking of fabulous tits, Jayne Mansfield (another one of my heroines) released an answer song to Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace,” a kittenish, sexually submissive, and thoroughly risqué piece called “That Makes It.” The song makes a playful attempt to reproduce what Chantilly Lace is actually saying to the Bopper on the other end of the line. It’s worth the price of admission for one vocal passage that consists entirely of moans and squeals of delight that ends with “Ooh, that’s so kinky!” While I vehemently disagree with Jayne’s wish for “a man who’s cool, who really knows how to rule/the way he keeps ’em in line/makes ’em feel so fine,” this was a pre-liberation song and the thought of female domination probably never crossed her mind—despite millions of drooling admirers who would have sacrificed their dicks and first-borns for a shot at Jayne Mansfield.
“La Bamba/Donna” Ritchie Valens, November 1958: I first learned “La Bamba” in seventh grade Spanish class, and later I found out that my Aunt Pug learned it in her seventh grade Spanish class, too. I had no idea that Ritchie Valens would be part of the educational curriculum in California schools for almost three decades! “Donna,” a slow-dance number Ritchie had written about a lost love, turned out to be the bigger hit, but “La Bamba” is the one that achieved iconic status.
Ritchie was reluctant to re-jigger a Huapango folk song to fit a syncopated 4/4 backbeat, but with a great band behind him (including the versatile Carol Kay and Little Richard’s drummer Earl Palmer), he delivered a multi-faceted once-in-a-lifetime performance. His lead guitar solo is one of the best in early rock and he nails his lead vocal, easily riding the strong dance beat and trilling his r’s like a native (he was one of many Mexican kids who grew up on an English-only diet).
On February 3, 1959, Ritchie, The Big Bopper and Buddy Holly would all lose their lives in a plane crash, an event Don McLean would later christen “The Day the Music Died.” The tragedy was really another nail in the coffin for early rock, as by this time it was already suffering from degenerative disease. Jerry Lee Lewis had fallen out of favor after marrying his 13-year old cousin, Little Richard had shifted to preaching and gospel songs and Elvis was wearing khaki. Chuck Berry would be indicted for violating the Mann Act in December 1959, and the most promising rocker of them all, Eddie Cochran, would die in an automobile accident in 1960. Combined with the earlier loss of James Dean, that gorgeous symbol of alienation and rebellion, it’s no wonder that the populace bought into the notion that rock ‘n’ roll was a passing fad similar to the hula hoop and, to borrow a phrase from David Bowie, that teenagers would “grow up and out of it” In the end, the strong conformist leanings of American culture reasserted themselves, much to the delight of record company moguls who were never really comfortable with the rebellious trappings of rock ‘n ‘roll.
We now move on to the lean years of 1959-1963, our next stop on the journey through my dad’s 45’s.