I know a little bit about a lot of things. I am a sponge for factoids. That probably comes from my college years when I was a tourist guide and tips depended on coming up with fresh, interesting pieces of information about the the District of Columbia and its monuments. Mostly I write about things I know about; every-so-often I don’t. Sometimes I write about things that just make me feel good. This is one of those times.
Every day, for blocks of times, a week, a month, I get in the car and shower myself with the music of my teens. I’m addicted to Sirius XM’s ’50’s on 5 and ’60’s on 6. I often do what I hated the only friend I had who had a car–switch channels. I don’t like the music of the ’60’s when the ’60’s were turning into the ’70’s. I don’t like some of the silly ’50’s music like, ” Does your chewing gum stick to your bedpost at night.” I can do without the Chipmunks and without space aliens tunes.
I became curious about what I did like and why. I’ll share it. I like music of groups. The girl groups like the Shirelles or the Supremes. I like the Platters, the Four Tops. The Rays, the Fleetwoods, The Platters, and the Drifters are a few more. While it was mostly transition music, I loved the Kingston Trio. The Black groups, Barry Gordy’s stable of groups, came out of the church. Most of the singers began singing in church. The music had a strong beat and lots of 7th chords which get the blood running. Neil Diamond, white and Jewish, had the uncanny ability to reproduce these sounds. The music was also soulful. Earth Angel, Soldier Boy tugged the heart strings. One could hear the singers’ own heartbreaks of youth echoing through the radio or phonograph’s speakers.
But what of those Italian street corner groups? Dion DiMucci who lives a mile from me in Boca Raton, the Four Seasons who I was positive were Black until I saw a picture of them, Jay and the Americans who I believe are into their fourth Jay because their songs have retained such popularity. Groups like the Rays, The Spaniels, the Fleetwoods, the Tokens they all had that “something.” I just learned from Neil Sedaka that the Tokens were originally The Linc-tones and that it was he who played the bells in “Church Bells May Ring.” The Linc-tones were a Brooklyn, NY group of four who came out of Abraham Lincoln High School.
And of course Just to name three, there were single singers who had it. Here are some who did not. Freddie Freeman, Fats Domino Billie Joel. Here are two who did: Connie Francis and Jackie Wilson. But it was the harmony of the groups I loved. If I had to reach into the hat of my other love, country and western music, the Statler Brothers had it marvelously.
So, I pondered, what is it about this music that still speaks to me? Two things come to mind. One is the harmony. There is something about harmony that is soothing, that makes something memorable to me, that causes a tune to stay in my head for hours. It plain makes me feel good.
The other is the memories. This music has an uncanny ability to transport. Listening to certain songs, my thoughts can be so specific that I can find myself back in time at a particular dance with a particular person, in a particular place. Sometimes they produce a tableau of a period in time. It could be the neighborhood. It could be the house I lived in. Maybe it was my high school or certainly summer camp. What about you? Let me know.
To me, the music is timeless. I tell my kids and god-daughter, most of their music won’t do that for them. It’s too raucus. The words run together. The sound outplays the words and when they have children the words won’t be the one’s they want their kids to hear. That’s why rock n roll is here to stay–at least from my perspective.
Bill Gralnick, who shows up here almost every Sunday (sometimes not, and a few times not at all) is obsessive about writing. He loves when he hears from you. Share your own views on what he writes. He is writing a humorous memoir trilogy. They two are timeless, written to shake your memories loose. The first is The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn. The second, just published is George Washington Never Slept Here. The first is for anyone who grew up anywhere in a neighborhood. The second is for anyone who went to college or sent a kid to one. Both are available on Amazon.com in e-book for kindle or paperback. Try them–you’ll like them.