February 21, 2003

Musical Markers: Life Went Thattaway

Somewhere at the crest of a remote and rocky ridge, probably in the Smokies, I sat with a hiking buddy, many, many years ago. We had pitched camp in a three-sided trail shelter, as I recall, and were enjoying the end of an exhausting day on the trail when each step, all day long, was higher than the one before. We had gained maybe two thousand feet of elevation, just to spend the end of the day on a mountain crest where we could see both sunset and sunrise.

This was one of my first two-night backpacking trips and it occurred to me that I was as far away from 'civilization' as I had ever been. We ate a quick supper, and sat back to watch the sun go down beyond the last of a dozen ranges of overlapping southern mountain ridges. The stars were already appearing when, in the last glory of sunlight, I noticed a coppery reflection from something on the granite rock here at the highest point of the mountain. I was surprised and frankly disappointed to find a three-inch metal plate permanently set in the rock.

So. We were not the first people here. So much for that fantasy. Not only had humans been here before, but they made sure that they or anyone else could come back to this exact point on the planet at any time for centuries to come and find this bronze plate. What I had found, I later discovered, was a Geological Survey 'benchmark', placed there long before I was born. A benchmark is a permanently fixed point of reference: "you are precisely here on the map and you can reliably orient your position, find your bearings according to this known point".

The next song on the oldies station begins with the raucous sounds of seagulls. Not only do I instantaneously know what the song is going to be, but as the first words are sung, I nail the key perfectly, cueing in some unknown way from the unmelodic birdcalls. The Tymes are singing "So Much in Love" and so am I, and it is 1963, a fixed point in memory, rooted and grounded by the music of that sophomoric age. This is a metaphorical benchmark, it occurs to me as we stroll by the sea together under stars twinkling high above, and somehow my body pilots the car safely in the present, under overcast skies heavy with snow. The music of that year, not one particular song but taken all together, is embedded in rock with a brass plate, immutable, known, anchoring that time to this and me to that gangly fifteen-year-old who was becoming me.

As anchors go, I think the top 100 of 1963 holds pretty well. Consider the top ten:

Top 100 Hits of 1963
Chart # Song Title Artist
1. I Will Follow Him Little Peggy March
2. Be My Baby The Ronettes
3. He's So Fine The Chiffons
4. Our Day Will Come Ruby and The Romantics
5. Easier Said Than Done The Essex
6. So Much In Love The Tymes
7. My Boyfriend's Back The Angels
8. Hey Paula Paul and Paula
9. Fingertips (Part 2) Little Stevie Wonder
10. Go Away Little Girl Steve Lawrence

Boyfriend-girlfriend, lovey-dovey, not even any tortured breakup songs or car-crash lost loves in the lineup. An age of innocence by modern standards.

Year for silly/novelty songs: Dominique (some singing nuns?); Sukiyaki (about uncooked fish?); Hello Muddah (I was a 'leader' at camp that year); Tie Me Kangaroo Down (another international inroad into American pop).

Group names often take the formulaic "So-and-so (individual) and the such-and-suches (rest of the bunch) as in Martha and the Vandellas'; Ruby and the Romantics; Franki Valli and the Four Seasons; Randy and the Rainbows; or Sunny and the Sunglows. It was the names of people... Peter, Paul and Mary, Lou Christy, Jan and Dean ... that identified the groups. This was before the era of abstracting and obfuscating with names like Leftover Tuna, Toe Jam, Vowel Movement or the Banal Retentives.

And finally, in the Karaoke Machine: Fred sings...
1) Go Away Little Girl in his syrupy impression of Steve Lawrence
2) Blue Velvet or Blue on Blue, in the heart-wrenching wail of Bobby Vinton
3) And, only if alone unless its payback time, the ear-piercing suprafalsetto of Lou Christy in Two Faces Have I... YiiiYiiiYiiiYiiiYiiiYiii.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

So. What are your musical benchmarks? And be honest: you're really quite impressive singing at least one of the top 100 from 'your year'. (And yes, I do realize that most bloggers were not even with us yet in 1963). Put your lips up to the monitor and belt out a stanza or two for us. Don't be shy.

Posted by fred1st at February 21, 2003 07:26 AM | TrackBack
Comments

One thing I've noticed is that I remember songs much better than movies, TV shows, or world events. Ask me when a TV show or movie was big from my youth (primarily the late 70's thru 80's) and I'm usually off by a year or two. Ask me about a song and I can nail it down to the season of the year that it was "hot."

For me, I guess the year is 1983. Not because anything particularly interesting happened that year musically, but that is the year that I transformed from an average teenager listening to whatever was popular, to an antisocal "metalhead." That change would have a profound effect on how I looked, acted, and who my friends were for the next 4-5 years.

Posted by: Chris at February 21, 2003 08:32 AM

Do you believe in Rock and Roll?
Can music save your mortal soul?

...asked the voice in American Pie.

Well, yes, in a way, we do become our music in a sense, as you allude to this fact, Chris.

All the more reason to be careful what we listen to, to be aware of what it tells us, beneath the words and the beat, about our mortal selves and our times.

Posted by: fredf at February 21, 2003 08:45 AM

1971 - Carol King's Tapestry was released and I was all of 13 years old. Every lyric, every note was aimed directly to ME in some way, and I imagine most 13 yr. old girls felt exactly the same way. "I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down, tumbling down I feel my heart start to trembling whenever you're around Ohhh baby, when i see your face mellow as the month of May...." Plus! "you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like a natural woman." Man I wish I had that cd right now - Maybe Amazon has it.. :)

Posted by: deb at February 21, 2003 10:12 AM

Do you remember "I left my chewing gum on the
bed post overnight" by Lonnie Donnegan? At least,
I think that's who sang it. That was around 1963,
wasn't it?

Posted by: Garland at February 21, 2003 01:20 PM

The late Lonnie Donegan (he died just recently)recorded "Does Your Chewing Gum..." in 1959; it didn't become a U.S. hit until 1961, for some reason.

And "Sukiyaki" has nothing to do with food at all. Kyu Sakamoto's biggest hit is called (to the extent that it can be transliterated) "Ue O Muite Arukou" ("I Look Up When I Walk"), and it's a tearjerker. (The 1981 version by A Taste of Honey uses an entirely new lyric, rather than a translation of the original.) The "Sukiyaki" title was invented at Pye Records in England for Kenny Ball's instrumental remake, and how it got onto the US issue of Sakamoto's original is beyond me. (And Sakamoto is also no longer with us; he was killed in a Japan Airlines crash in the summer of 1985.)

Posted by: CGHill at February 21, 2003 11:19 PM

Incidentally, I took a look at that Top 100 list from 1963; I have ninety-three of those records on my shelf.

Posted by: CGHill at February 21, 2003 11:24 PM

1958

Tommy Edward's "It's All In The Game" was "the" slow dance song with the first boyfriend. [btw-his name was Fred. *G*]

Van Morrison covered it on "Into The Music" (1979). Van's version is even sexier than the original.

Posted by: feste at February 22, 2003 05:50 PM

Can't sing it.
Don't have the range. (Grin).

"The lady came from Baltimore, and all she wore was lace ...

I was there to steal her money, to take her rings and run,
Then I fell in love with the lady, and got away with none." Johnny Cash, the year Smokey and the Bandit was previewed in movie magazines and Mel McDaniel had a monster radio hit with "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On." After "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" and before "Still in Saigon."

Posted by: Sarah at March 5, 2003 11:20 PM

Ferrante and Tiecher,The Theme from Exodus, my sweaty face stuck to her oversprayed hair. It never got any better than that.

Posted by: Tom Love at March 8, 2003 11:14 AM

Just met Lou Christy a few months ago at Joe Franklin's Memory Lane Restaurant, in New York, at 45th STreet & 8th Avenue. Lou looks great. He doesn't seem to have aged. He said he lives in Manhattan. He still tours with rock and roll shows, and still has that great voice.

Posted by: Bruce at July 10, 2003 09:45 PM

Hello,
In 1961-2 I was a high school student at ASIJ, living in Zushi, Japan. My dad was a pilot for Japan Airlines. While enjoying a Japanese movie, staring, Kyu Sakamoto, I heard the most unbelievably beautiful song. I purchased the record at a local shop and brought it back to the states the next year when I attended a girl's boarding school. I played it in the dormitory frequently; everyone liked it.
One girl took my record home with her on the weekend so her dad could play it on his radio station, and the rest is history! Just so you know!

Posted by: marsha cunningham at October 9, 2004 11:08 PM

Hello,
In 1961-2 I was a high school student at ASIJ, living in Zushi, Japan. My dad was a pilot for Japan Airlines. While enjoying a Japanese movie, staring, Kyu Sakamoto, I heard the most unbelievably beautiful song. I purchased the record at a local shop and brought it back to the states the next year when I attended a girl's boarding school. I played it in the dormitory frequently; everyone liked it.
One girl took my record home with her on the weekend so her dad could play it on his radio station, and the rest is history! Just so you know!

Posted by: marsha cunningham at October 9, 2004 11:09 PM

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