“When people run in circles it's a very, very mad world
Mad world, Halargian world, mad world.”
Mad world, Halargian world, mad world.”
“Mad World,” Tears for Fears
Driving to school during the 8 o’clock hour, I heard on WXRT R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” In between came “Waste a Moment” by Kings of Leon and “Mad World,” which contains a phrase, “Halargian world,” pertaining to a make-believe planet, a phrase that many mistook for “enlarging your world.” Previewing Saturday’s morning show on the year 1978, Lin Brehmer played “Can’t Stand Losing You” by the Police and the Talking Heads gem “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel,” written and sung by David Byrne.
Jerry Lee Lewis and Myra Gale
I’m assembling a playlist for an October 23 Art in Focus appearance in Munster, where I’ll spin records for my “Reliving 1957: A Dance Party” program. I’ll start with Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up” (“I’m itchin’ like a man in a fuzzy tree”) and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” (“All you gotta do, honey, is kinda stand in one spot, wiggle around just a little bit”). I’ll mention that soon after the release of the monster hit “Great Balls of Fire,” Lewis’ marriage to 13-year-old Myra Gale in December 1957 caused prudes to organize boycotts of his records. A Time/Life CD of 1957 hits that came out 30 years later proclaimed:
The unprecedented success of Elvis Presley didn’t just open the door to Rock ‘n’ Roll; it blew a hole in the civilized façade of popular music that would never close again. Through that hole they poured – piano bangers and guitar slingers, storming honkers and frenzied screamers, wild-eyed rockabillies and misty-eyed doo-woppers.
The Dell-Vikings, one of the few integrated doo-wop groups of the 1950s, hailed from Pittsburgh and were led by Clarence Quick. They had two top ten hits in 1957, “Come Go with Me” and “Whispering Bells.” I’m hoping to get Henry Farag’s group Stormy Weather to perform one or both of them.
Next I’ll play Little Richard’s classic “Keep a Knockin’ (But you can’t come in).” In 1956, the Macon, Georgia, native scored two hits with “Tutti Fruiti” and “Long Tall Sally.” He followed them up in 1957 with “Lucille” (about a female impersonator), “Jenny, Jenny,” and “Keep a Knockin’.” Born Richard Penniman into a religious household, he honed a unique style in New Orleans nightclubs. Music critic Lee Cooper (Rock Music Studies, February 2017) wrote:
Sporting make-up and mascara, grooming his hair into a stunning pompadour, and flirting with both women and men, Richard was an irrepressible force of nature who combined gospel fervor, boogie-woogie piano pounding, vocal pyrotechnics, and suggestive, if sometimes silly, lyrics into a manic musical style.
Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Rock and Roll,” was performing in Sydney, Australia, in 1957 when he spotted Sputnik, the Russian satellite, flying overhead and decided on the spot to become an evangelist. For five years, he didn’t record secular music.
A four-member group from Woburn, Massachusetts, The Tune Weavers, first known as the Tone Weavers, recorded “Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby.” About a girl wishing an ex-boyfriend a Happy Birthday, it appealed to guys’ fantasies about being forgiven for puerile behavior. Featuring lead singer Margo Sylvia, it sounded much like the Girl Group songs that peaked in the years ahead. “Happy, Happy Birthday, Baby” reached number 5 on the Billboard pop chart and even higher on the R and B list despite none of the singers being African American. Most Black stations didn’t discriminate and embraced “blue-eyed soul singers” such as Frank Sinatra, Johnny Otis or Elvis Presley.
“At the Hop” by Danny and the Juniors got a big boost from Dick Clark, whose “Bandstand” afternoon TV show went national in 1957. The song was first titled “Do the Bop” until Clark suggested that the Philadelphia group build the lyrics around the concept of a record hop. In December 1957, Clark booked them as a last-minute substitute for a no-show act and the song quickly soared to number 1.
“Wake Up Little Susie” by Phil and Don Everly, a follow-up to their smash hit “Bye Bye, Love,” is about a couple falling asleep at a drive-in movie and waking up at quarter to 3 in the morning. Although pretty innocent, Boston city fathers banned “Wake Up Little Susie” from radio play. The Everly Brothers had a further string of hits, including “Bird Dog,” about a guy who tries to steal another’s girlfriend.
The most popular Philadelphia deejay was WIBG’s Joe Niagara, at least prior to the payola scandal, during which time the “Rockin’ Bird” fled to Mexico. He often played the same song by two different artist and asked listeners to vote on their favorite version. “Little Bitty Pretty One” was first recorded by Bobby Day, most famous for “Rockin’ Robin,” but most teenagers (myself included) preferred the more soulful version by Thurston Harris. The song was covered by Frankie Lyman in 1960 and the Jackson 5 in 1972.
Most Rock and Roll pioneers were men. The so-called Girl Groups didn’t come along until the end of the decade, and Connie Francis’ first hit, “Who’s Sorry Now?” though recorded in 1957, wasn’t released until the following year. The brilliant country singer Patsy Cline (“Walkin’ After Midnight”) had trouble breaking into the mainstream. One exception was LaVern Baker, who performed in Chicago joints such as Club DeLisa for a decade before breaking into the Top Ten with “Tweedlee Dee,” followed by the number 1 hit “Jim Dandy.” Since I plan to introduce myself as Jim Dandy, I’ll try to get a senior citizen to boogie with me. Baker’s final hit, “C.C. Rider,” was a cover of the Chuck Willis 1957 classic.
The Diamonds, a Canadian quartet, scored solid gold in 1957 with “The Stroll” and “Little Darlin’, whose falsetto was almost a parody of the doo-wop style.” “Little Darlin’ had been a rhythm and blues hit for the Gladiolas, written by lead singer Maurice Williams, who later recorded “Stay.” The Diamonds also covered Frankie Lyman’s “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “Church Bells May Ring,” originally by the Willows.
My favorite 1957 ballad was by Johnnie and Joe’s “Over the Mountain, Across the Sea,” released by Chicago’s Chess Records. The duo were one-hit wonders but became a staple at Oldies concerts until Johnny Louise Richardson’s death of a stroke in 1988.
“Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly and the Crickets was originally titled “Cindy Lou” until changed in honor of drummer Jerry Allison’s girlfriend. “That’ll Be the Day,” the group’s first hit, came earlier in 1957 and took its title from a John Wayne line in the western movie “The Searchers.” Holly idolized Elvis Presley and performed with him at a Pontiac auto dealership opening in his hometown, Lubbock, Texas. Holly’s career was cut short when a small plane he had chartered crashed on February 3, 1959, near Clear Lake, Iowa, also killing Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson – the day the music died, according to Don McLean, as sung on “American Pie.”
Buddy Holly memorial near Clear Lake, Iowa
In the same Clovis, New Mexico, Norman Petty studio where Buddy Holly and the Crickets recorded their early hits, Buddy Knox recorded “Party Doll,” a million-selling record with vacuous lyrics but, as teen judges said on “American Bandstand,” a great beat. Norman Petty, a musical genius, also recorded Roy Orbison, Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Bowen, Chita Rivera, and many others.
The doo-wop classic “Could This Be Magic?” was a perfect make-out-on-the-dance-floor song by The Dubs, a Harlem group formed by the merger of The Five Wings and The Scale-Tunes. The Dubs toured with a cavalcade of stars put together by promoter Alan Fred but never repeated the success of “Could This Be Magic?”
Because I am not interested in playing old-fashioned songs, I’ll exclude from my 1957 playlist “Tammy” by Debbie Reynolds, “Old Cape Cod” by Patti Page, “Round and Round” by Perry Como, “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis, “A Teenager’s Romance” by Ricky Nelson, and anything by Pat Boone, including “Love Letters in the Sand.” Although not a big Paul Anka fan, “Diana” has a decent cha cha beat so I’ll give it a spin and see if anybody gets up to dance.
My .45 record collection contained just about every Fats Domino hit of the 1950s, including the 1957 duo “I’m Walkin’” and “Blue Monday.” In tenth grade I was elected to the Upper Dublin student council on a promise to pipe music into the school cafeteria. My first offering was “Blue Monday,” written by the “Fat Man’s” band leader Dave Bartholomew and featuring a mean saxophone solo by Herb Hardesty.
“Raunchy” by Bill Justis was one of many instrumental 1950svhits, including “The Crazy Otto” by Johnny Maddox, “So Rare” by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, and “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy. Bill Justis, who played the trumpet and saxophone, was a rock and roll pioneer who arranged music for such Sun artists as Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Charlie Rich.
Sometimes called the “King of Soul,” Sam Cooke had a meteoric career before being fatally shot in 1964 at age 33 by motel manager Bertha Franklin. At age 14 as a member of the Highway QC’s he recorded gospel songs on Vivian Carter’s Vee-Jay label. Cooke’s brother Jimmy Keyes was lead singer of the Vee-Jay doo-wop group Magnificents. Cooke subsequently became the lead singer of the Soul Stirrers and at live shows female fans rushed the stage to show their approval of his sexy presence. As a solo artist, Cooke’s “You Send Me” was the first of many hits, including “Chain Gang” and “Wonderful World,” which start out, “Don’t know much about history.”
The Platters, Elvis Presley’s favorite group, scored a big hit in 1957 with “I’m Sorry.” Fronted by tenor Tony Williams and with a female member, Zola Taylor, The Platters’ previous number 1 hits were “The Great Pretender” and “My Prayer.” Like Fats Domino with “Blueberry Hill” and “My Blue Heaven,” the group also revived old standards such as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Twilight Time.” The group’s manager and arranger, Buck Ram, had worked for band leaders Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. The first time I heard the Platters was on a novelty record called “The Flying Saucer” by Bill Buchanan ad Dickie Goodman that interspersed segments of popular songs with fake news commentary about aliens invading Earth.
What to say about Chuck Berry, the greatest Rock and Roll lyricist ever, whose songs focused on teen concerns during the Eisenhower Era: sex, cars, and Roll and Roll. Muddy Waters introduced the St. Louis native to Leonard Chess of Chess Records, and his first hit, “Maybellene,” was about a guy in a V8 Ford chasing an unfaithful girlfriend driving a Cadillac Coupe DeVille. “Maybellene” was followed by “Roll Over, Beethoven (and dig those rhythm and blues).” In 1957 came “School Days” and “Rock and Roll Music,” which earned Berry headline billing on Alan Freed’s “Show of Stars’ also starring Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers.
In 1957 at age 15 I went to a Rock and Roll show in Philadelphia without telling my parents and gaped at a lineup of stars with hit records that included Gene Vincent, who performed “Lotta Lovin’.” Emulating Elvis, Vincent combined country and rhythm and blues into a sound known as rockabilly. With his group the Blue Caps Vincent had a top ten hit in 1956 with “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” later covered by the Everly Brothers. His live performances were even wilder than Elvis, though he toned things down for an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. In Sydney, Australia, on a bill with Eddie Cochran and Little Richard, he played before a crowd of 72,000. When Vincent toured England, among his biggest fans were the Beatles.
“Ain’t Got No Home” by Clarence “Frogman” Henry is one of my all-time favorites. A pianoman from New Orleans whose main inspirations were Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, Henry could sing, as the song stated, like a girl or croak like a frog. I saw him live at a Bourbon Street nightclub and requested the B side to “Ain’t Got No Home,” “Troubles, Troubles.” He pointed to a tip bowl on his piano and replied, “Sure, for five bucks.” I gladly complied.
“Just Because” is a classic dance number sung by New Orleans Blues great Lloyd Price, nicknamed “Mr. Personality’ for one of his many hits that include “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and “Stagger Lee.” Almost all feature Eddie Saunders on tenor sax. His onetime protégé Larry Williams also had two 1957 hits, “Short Fat Fanny” and “Bony Moronie.”
I’ll never forget first seeing another New Orleans phenomenon, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns on “American Bandstand.” On “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” the lead singer was Bobby Marchan, New Orleans’ most famous female impersonator. Before forming his band, Smith played piano in studio sessions with Little Richard and Lloyd Price. I bought every Huey “Piano” Smith record I could find, including “We Like Birdland” and “Don’t You Just Know It.” Everyone had a “B” side worth listening to, such as “Well, I’ll Be John Brown” and “Don’t You Know Yokomo.” Usually “B” sides were notoriously bad.
Eddie Cochran had two monster hit in 1957, “Sittin’ in the Balcony” and “Summertime Blues.” After the death of his friends Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, Cochran developed a morbid premonition that he would die young. Sure enough, he was killed in 1960 while a passenger in a taxi in England. “Summertime Blues” is a lament about having to work late “just to try to earn a dollar.” In the last verse he calls his Congressman, who tells him, “Whoa! I’d like to help you son but you’re too young to vote.”
I’ll conclude the program by playing Elvis Presley’s “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” which was the number I pop hit for seven weeks and also reached the top of the country and R and B charts. Elvis performed the song in his second movie, “Loving You,” and it signaled a shift away from cutting edge songs to more mainstream fluff. With the lyric “Put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere,” Elvis could have been talking about his manager Colonel Tom Parker, who believed his future lay in Hollywood, making cheap musicals.
Lou Nimnicht with Jimbo and with partner Steve Watson
At the Archives, with IUN’s Jaclyn Smith videotaping, I interviewed duplicate bridge sapphire master Lou Nimnicht, who recalled a hand he played in college a half-century ago, with all four players bidding Spades. I asked how common was cheating. In local games, it is mainly inadvertent, like taking a long time between bidding or playing a card. Is it cheating, he speculated, if one takes a long time while holding a singleton? Originally from Davis County in Southern Indiana, Lou is a big Pink Floyd and Kurt Vonnegut fan and an admirer of class act President Barack Obama. He offered to partner with me, maybe at Woodland Park in Portage. I’m mulling it over with some trepidation.
Kevin Clutter stopped by the Archives. Thirty years ago, he interviewed his mother Marcella, whose remembrances I published in volume 14 (1988). Just 15 in 1945 when she heard the news about Victory in Europe (V-E Day) during World War II, she and friends hired a taxi and went to Chicago to join in the celebration. She told Kevin:
We arrived back in Whiting in the wee hours to find our parents had been looking for us. We had not told a single adult of our plans. It had been a spur of the moment decision. Our families had called one another, sent out brothers and sisters looking for us, and finally had gone to the police. We were walking home when a parent found us. They were so relieved and understanding that not one of us as punished.
In the summer of 1946 Marcella went to Riverview Amusement Park for the first time. She told Kevin:
My date insisted on riding all the rides. The biggest roller coaster terrified me. I went along with the idea because I wanted to date him again and did not want to be considered a poor sport. I was so frightened I couldn’t get out of the seat afterwards. The ticket taker took that to mean I wanted to ride again – so we went on a second ride.
Yoga Dave on left
Our bridge group ate at Wagner’s in Porter. The ribs were delicious. At the condo I beat Tom Eaton by a mere 140 points thanks to making a 5-Diamonds bid doubled. Sunday Dave went with me to Miller Market, where Toni’s yoga instructor “Yoga Dave” was selling Romanian food (we opted instead for tacos) and Buddy Goettsch was on stage performing. His playlist included songs by Jim Croce, Billy Joel, and Elvis Presley. Dave was impressed that Goettsch (below) put on a good show even though most folks seemed not to be paying close attention. Tom Serynek introduced me to his granddaughter Taylor, who was wearing a Park Service uniform and graduating from Ball State in December.