As I sat down to write today, the radio station in the background started playing Johnny Burnette’s “Dreamin’” which came out in 1960. That started me to thinking about my favorite period in Rock and Roll music. Although I love music all across time from Benny Goodman’s 1930 to Train’s 2014, the sweet spot for me was 1957 – 1963.
Sure, The Beatles changed everything leading the British Invasion when they landed in New York in February, 1964. But even many of the British acts including the Beatles, reflected the breaking ground music of the early Rock and Roll artists; Tommy Edwards, Conway Twitty, the Everly Brothers, The Silhouettes, The Platters, Danny and the Juniors and the Coasters, just to name a few. No, I’m not forgetting Elvis; he deserves his own place in musical history as “The King”, thank you, thank you very much.
Heck, even some of the early Beatles songs were covers of American Rock and Roll hits, most notably; 1960’s “Money (That's What I Want)” by Barrett Strong and 1961’s “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes. There are tons of other instances of the British acts either recording covers of US Rock and Roll or being strongly affected by US Rock and Roll or Blues. In fact, when asked if they were a Rock and Roll band, the Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger reportedly retorted with a resounding “Naw, we are a Blues Band”. That claim was backed up by The Stones recording in some of the iconic rock and roll studios in the US, most notably the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Ala in the middle of their 1969 US Tour. Their Muscle Shoals tracks include “Brown Sugar”, “Wild Horses” and “You Gotta Move.” The later “Merseybeat” groups developed their unique style but their roots were in ‘57-’63 rock and roll.
But, back to the “Sweet Spot” of Rock and Roll! Music recorded back then, just make you feel good, no matter what the subject material. Even when dealing with the dark side of life, “Teen Angel”, “Tragedy”, “Moody River” and “The Poor Side of Town” still made you feel good. The upbeat music somehow transcended the lyrics and soon we would be walking down the street singing “Do Wa Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Doo” with a smile on our faces and joy for life in our hearts. Oh man, we burned through batteries for our transistor radios like they were water while listening to local DJs Dino Southerland and Alan Sands on the local stations, WAPE and WPDQ, play our music. At night, when the skywave came out to play, we would often catch the sounds of Cousin Brucie on WABC in New York, or Dick Biondi on Chicago’s WLS. Although I never heard him directly on the air, I had the distinct pleasure of running into one of my DJ heroes, Bob Smith, in an airport! Who’s that, you say? Bob’s air name was “Wolfman Jack!” Even today I still enjoy Cousin Brucie on Sirius/XM 60s on 6 on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
I would be remiss if I talked about the Rock and Roll Sweet Spot without mentioning Doo Wop. Built upon vocal harmony, doo-wop was one of the most mainstream R&B styles of the time. Doo-wop features close vocal group harmony, nonsense words, a simple beat, sometimes little or no instrumentation, and simple music and lyrics. We all quickly learned the words belted out by those backup singers in The Ravens, The Orioles, The Penguins, The Crows, The Flamingos, The Blue Jays and The Larks, The Edsels, The Cadillacs, The Fleetwoods, The Impalas, and Little Anthony & The Imperials, The Orioles, Billy Ward and His Dominoes, The Mello-Moods, The Five Keys, The Cardinals and the Four Buddies, just to name a few.
All of these great “non lyrics” led me to the desire to want to be a “Pip,” you know, as in “Gladys Knight and the Pips.” They had all those cool moves down as they glided back and forth behind the frontman on stage putting on a SHOW! Even when I joined a bunch of my fellow WCOS DJs “Doo Wop’ing” on stage behind Peaches and Herb, and after Herb jokingly told us that we were terrible, I still sit in the control room belting out those great background melodies. I think it is a very good thing that microphones in a radio station have an on/off switch that blessedly remains in the off position when I am getting into it and doing the “DJ Air Chair Behind Boogie.” Hey Gladys, now that I am semi retired, I am available for your next tour!
Now for my final point in my claim that 1957 – 1963 was the sweet spot. Just go into a casual restaurant that wants to create a fun atmosphere while their customers chow down on chicken wings or burgers fries and shakes. Even though it has been over 50 years since that era, they still play old school rock and roll. All the other choices available to them and they still play the music we played in high school. Now THAT is something. Oh MY!