Boomers Enjoyed Unstructured Summer Play

If there is one thing Mister Boomer misses terribly from his early boomer days, it is having a summer off from school. As an adult, responsibilities to family and work take precedent, so time in the summer (or lack thereof) becomes more precious as he ages. Decades later, as he ponders those wonderful summer days, he realizes what he misses is not only the time out of the classroom, but the sheer freedom of it all. A week away from the work desk cannot hold a candle to two-plus months of unstructured play.

Once the last school bell had rung, children were free from the commands of teachers. Parents not only allowed this freedom, but encouraged it. In fact, most boomers will tell you their parents did not know what their kids did during the day. As long as they were home for dinner, parents did not want to know about their children’s summer activities unless they came home bleeding, or escorted by a police officer.

We were free to keep ourselves busy. Sometimes that meant inventing games, other times it was exploring, while others, still, it meant a time to be mischievous. The point was, children were left to their own devices to work things out. In Mister Boomer’s case, the neighborhood group included kids from age 7 to 14. Though the older kids often took the lead in deciding what to do, the entire group was able to voice their opinions or offer suggestions. In this group dynamic, it was not unusual for strange games or competitions to appear, with rules being concocted on the fly. It also meant that on occasion, there might be some blood, usually because of some foolhardy attempt at one thing or another, more than fighting.

Virtually every child development study these days points to a lessening in the amount of unstructured play time compared to that of our boomer days. Consequently, the debate over structured play versus unstructured play has been going on for decades since the boomer generation. Every boomer grandparent is aware of the often grueling schedule their grandchildren keep during the summer, being ushered from one practice to another, one structured activity to another. Mister Boomer makes no claims to the authoritative reasoning behind such discussions, other than the fact he grew up as a boomer.

In 2016, Michael Patte, professor of teaching and learning and a child life specialist, released a white paper called, From Pick Up Games to Play Dates –- The Decline of Child-Initiated, Unstructured Play and the Rise of Backseat Children. The good professor summarizes the reasons for the decline in unstructured play as:

• Safety concerns
• Increased time spent at school
• Desire by parents for childhood to be a time of resume building for college
• Increase of structured play activities

He goes on to say that unstructured play is key to proper balance in childhood development. Unstructured play assists in:

• Social competency
• Self-discipline
• Aggression control
• Problem solving
• Conflict resolution

Surely we boomers were not conscious of such teaching moments, but Mister B feels that when you think back, you will recall times when that is exactly what was occurring in the fields, playgrounds and streets of our youth during summer vacations.

Boomers in the 1960s and ’70s advocated for more freedom of all types for everyone. Self-expression was a big part of that freedom. Could that desire have been rooted in the way we were allowed to spend our summer vacations — in total and complete unstructured play?

Do you think about unstructured play these days, and the freedom you had as a kid during summer months, boomers?

“Baby” Songs Were Boomer Songs

Mister Boomer hates “pet” names. He always has. It hardly seems possibly to walk around a home improvement store these days without hearing the strains of “honey,” “snookums,” or “muffin” emanating from one or the other significants in a couple. One of the worst of these so-called terms of endearment is, “baby” (or the less formal, “babe”). This one always baffled Mister B, as he thought those little bundles of joy and poo had cornered the market on the label. Who wants to be called that? Anecdotally, Mister B has noticed a decline in the use of this term, but measured by the number of songs that featured it in the 1960s, that decade had to mark the peak of its usage.

Even though Mister B isn’t the type to use such pronoun substitutes, he does, however, still enjoy many of the “baby” songs of the 1960s. There are dozens that feature “baby” in the title and/or prominently in the lyrics. Most appear to be either pleas for forgiveness, pity or permission, while others are pledges of undying loyalty. Something they all have in common is a memorable melody and many have legendary musical openings. Also, they have all been covered by multiple artists through the boomer years and beyond. Here are Mister B’s Top 10 favorites of the genre:

10. Baby, Now That I’ve Found You: The Foundations (1967)

Baby, now that I found you I can’t let you go
I build my world around you, I need you so
Baby even though, you don’t need me

“Baby” is heard 10 times in this song. A catchy tune, it has staying power. Donny & Marie Osmond covered it in 1977.

9. Cry Like a Baby: The Box Tops (1968)

When I think about the good love you gave me
I cry like a baby
Living without you is driving me crazy
I cry like a baby

Despite the crying baby references, Mister B took notice of the use of the electric sitar in the the song. Cher covered it in 1969, and Petula Clark released her version in 1971.

8. Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat: Herman’s Hermits (1965)

Every time I see you looking my way
Baby, baby, can’t you hear my heartbeat?
In the car, or walking down the highway
Baby, baby, can’t you hear my heartbeat?

This song topped out at #2 on the charts, blocked from the top spot by Stop! In the Name of Love by The Supremes. Marianne Faithfull released her version that same year.

7. Baby, I’m Yours: Barbara Lewis (1965)

Baby, I’m yours
And I’ll be yours, until the stars fall from the sky
Yours, until the rivers all run dry
In other words, until I die

Nice melody, but talk about being a little obsessed! You may want to cool it a little, Barbara, or he may bolt for the door. Cass Elliot recorded the song in 1972.

6. Baby, Please Don’t Go: Them (1964)

Now baby, please don’t go
Now baby, please don’t go
Please don’t go back to New Orleans
You know I love you so
Baby, please don’t go

This song is an old blues number from 1925, illustrating that the term was used for decades before Them put their bluesy-rock stamp on it (with a 19-year old Van Morrison belting out the vocals). Big Joe Williams recorded it in 1935, John Lee Hooker in 1949 and Muddy Waters in 1953.
Oddly enough, this song was the B-side to another hit from Them, Gloria.

5. I Got the Feelin’: James Brown (1968)

I got the feelin’
Baby, baby I got the feelin’
Baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby, baby
Baby, baby

This woman is treating James badly, but he can’t fight the feeling. How can she refuse his string of “baby” pleas, oozing urgency and lust? Boomers couldn’t, taking the song to #1 on the R&B charts, and #6 on the pop charts.

4. Don’t Worry Baby: The Beach Boys (1964)

Don’t worry, baby
Don’t worry, baby
Everything will turn out alright

Brian Wilson has said the song was the male answer to The Ronettes, Be My Baby, but Mister B is getting ahead of himself. Read on.

3. Baby, I Need Your Lovin’: The Four Tops (1964)

Baby, I need your lovin’
Got to have all your lovin’

A true classic boomer song, it did not crack the Top 10 list, topping out at #11. Johnny Rivers had better luck with it in 1967; his version hit #3 on the charts.

2. Be My Baby: The Ronettes (1963)

So won’t you
Be my, be my baby
My one and only baby
Say you’ll be my darlin’
Be my baby now
Waa-oh-oh-oh

Certainly the quintessential song of the genre, here is the female voice asking the question.

1. Ooh, Baby, Baby: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1965)

I did you wrong, my heart went out to play
But in the game, I lost you
What a price to pay, I’m crying
Ooh, baby, baby
Ooh, baby, baby

Was there ever any doubt that Smokey’s song would be number one for Mister Boomer? It is the most covered song The Miracles ever recorded. Versions include those by Ella Fitzgerald (1969), Todd Rundgren (1973) and the one that is almost as famous as Smokey’s original, Linda Ronstadt (1978).

When it came to “baby” songs in the 1960s, the hits just kept on coming. Did Mister B miss one of your favorites, boomers?