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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomer-Era Variety Shows: the 1950s (Part 1)

World War II ended and by 1947, television caught on in a big way as individual stations appeared in the largest cities. Within four years, a couple of dozen stations had grown to hundreds. The adaptation of TV by the public is still on record as the quickest rise of any technology — faster than indoor plumbing, home electricity, radio, the telephone and even the smartphone. There were just over 100,000 TV sets in the country by 1947, but by 1950, 8 million sets had been purchased — a rise from less than one percent to 88 percent of homes owning a TV.

Of course, the correlation to the Baby Boom was no accident as more couples were married, started families, bought homes and moved to the suburbs. As TV stations began to broadcast 20 hours per day, the race was on to capture the most viewers, especially in the post-dinner hours, the prime time when parents and their children might gather around the household TV.

Networks and local stations turned to Vaudeville traditions for programming inspiration. Vaudeville was a form of live variety entertainment that began in the 1880s. Vaudeville shows mixed singing, dancing, comedy, magic, acrobatics and sketch performances live on stage. By the 1930s, it saw a precipitous decline in attendance due to the Depression, the spread of movies and widespread embrace of radio in the home. As the public taste for entertainment shifted, many Vaudeville performers made the transition first to radio programs, then on to TV.

The first hour-long musical variety show broadcast regularly on network TV was Hour Glass, airing from 1947 to 1948. It pioneered the live commercial that became the standard for variety shows that followed. The show featured performers — many of whom had been Vaudeville performers — that included Dennis Day, Bert Lahr and Peggy Lee, among others. It also marked the first time a radio performer — ventriloquist Edgar Bergen — appeared on TV.

It seemed like various forces were all in alignment for variety shows on TV: expanding audience, at-the-ready supply of performers and willing sponsors. Yet there was another important factor to the explosion of TV variety shows in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, and that was: the music. The American Federation of Musicians controlled the market for live musicians, and TV was a live performance venue in the early days. At the dawn of television broadcasting, the question of what and how to pay performers was brought to the forefront, as it had when silent movies transitioned into “talkies.” Various music unions had contracts in place for film appearances of musicians, but TV was a whole new — and potentially lucrative — landscape. Consequently, as music publishers sought license fees for their music and musicians, the AFM banned live music on TV until 1948. The TV industry acquiesced to the demands of the music unions as ASCAP, the company known for managing music licensing fees, charged three times the fee for a TV appearance than was charged for a film appearance.

There were other ways the TV industry struggled with how to present music. The burgeoning industry was struggling with what role it should play in the culture at large, a debate that was very much in the public realm and even on the minds of Congressional legislators. As a result, operas and classical concerts were broadcast in the 1940s and early ’50s. Variety shows took their cue from these early broadcasts, and regularly included operatic and classical music stars in their programming, alongside pop music and jazz. To further control the “live” appearance of singers, lip-synching was heavily employed to avoid any variations in the performance of a singer from the expectations of the audience. At the same time, if a show could avoid paying for live musicians, all the better for their bottom line.

Here are a few of the influential variety shows that appeared along with the Baby Boom:

Toast of the Town / The Ed Sullivan Show (1948-71)
The longest-running variety show in the history of television, Toast of the Town was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show in its ninth season. Initially, Ed Sullivan was not the show’s host as guest hosts acted as emcee, and introduced the acts. The first show was hosted by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

There is probably not a boomer who was over the age of 7 by the early ’60s who doesn’t remember The Beatles appearing on Ed Sullivan. The man had an uncanny knack for picking acts that were on the verge of breaking out. Famous (or infamous) icons of the Boomer Era who appeared on Ed Sullivan’s show included Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clark Five, The Righteous Brothers, Peter and Gordon, The Byrds, The Mama and the Papas, The Doors, James Brown, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Herman’s Hermits, The Beach Boys, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, Janis Joplin, The Jackson 5 and many, many more.

Unlike a lot of the variety shows on TV, Sullivan wanted his musical acts to perform live, not just lip-synch. That led to some interesting disagreements with lyrics deemed questionable for TV when the Rolling Stones and The Doors appeared, as most boomers recall. Sullivan also featured classical music, opera, jazz, dance, jugglers, comedians and a crazy little puppet mouse, Topo Gigio, that was a favorite of Mister Boomer’s grandmother … And that is the story of The Ed Sullivan Show in a nutshell, that the show was popular with every member of the family because Sullivan booked acts that could please everyone.

Texaco Star Theater (1948-56)
This comedy-variety show started out as a radio show in 1938. Like Ed Sullivan, the show had a series of guest hosts, but when Milton Berle hosted, the show’s ratings skyrocketed and he was made the permanent emcee. Texaco Star Theater is best remembered as the show that earned Berle his “Mr. Television” nickname.

The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950-55)
A show with “comedy” in its name should have the best comedians of the day, and this show did. Hosts included Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Bob Hope, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, among others. As a musical-variety show, hosts also included Donald O’Conner, Jimmy Durante, Eddie Cantor, and a bevy of stars our parents remember better than boomers do. Like Texaco Star Theater, a single sponsor — Colgate — commanded the commercials throughout the program. Commercials were performed live like other shows, often by the stars themselves.

Your Show of Shows (1950-54)
More than just another variety show, some say this one was the most influential of them all. Featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, the show had a writing pool of Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, among others. It was the first show to feature an ongoing comedy sketch, “The Hickenloopers.” Some say every comedy show that followed owed a debt to Your Show of Shows. Carl Reiner stated that The Dick Van Dyke Show was inspired by the show.

The Nat King Cole Show (1956-57)
Featuring the first African-American TV series host, the show aired without a sponsor. Advertisers feared they would upset their customers in the South, so NBC aired it anyway, footing the bill. Nat King Cole was an immensely popular singer, but 1950s white America wasn’t at all sure they wanted to see a black man host a TV show. The star ended the show himself in its second season, when no sponsor could be found.

Mister Boomer remembers his family tuning in as Mr. Cole opened each show at his piano, singing a song.

Of course, there were many other variety shows aired in the first complete decade of the Baby Boom. Families gathered around the TV each week to laugh, be entertained and maybe get a little highbrow culture as the flickering black and white images of our boomer youth appeared on a tiny screen.

Were you old enough to watch variety shows in the 1950s, boomers? Which were your family’s favorites?

Next up: Variety Shows in the 1960s

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,TV and have Comment (1)

Boomer Songs Sang About the Working Man

As we mark another Labor Day, it’s time for our national salute to workers everywhere. Boomers have always had a special connection to working class people. After all, it was the rise of the middle class after the War that allowed the Baby Boom to come into existence. You can see this connection to workers in the music of the day.

So, in honor of Labor Day, here are a few boomer-era songs of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that either call out the plight of the working person or mention a profession by name:

Get A Job – The Silhouettes (1957)
Richard Lewis, who wrote the song’s lyrics, said the song came from a time when he got out of the Army and wasn’t immediately working, so his mother told him to “get a job.” Two decades later it became the signature song of Sha Na Na, who took their name from the song’s lyrics.

Five O’ Clock World – The Vogues (1965)
..When the whistle blows, no one owns a piece of my time. Is there a more perfect sentiment for Labor Day? Of course, the irony is, if you get off work at 5 p.m., then the company has in fact owned a piece of your time since 9 a.m. Still, a great song.

Working in a Coal Mine – Lee Dorsey (1966)
Occasionally Mister Boomer mimics the singer’s rendition of the last sentence, Lord I’m so tired, at work. He does realize that the millennials in his workplace have no idea what he is referencing. How long can this go on…

Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford (1955)
We learned in this song that digging sixteen tons of coal will only get you one day older and deeper in debt.

Coal Miner’s Daughter – Loretta Lynn (1970)
It looks like in the era when many boomer houses received coal deliveries for heating, our songs put the profession of coal miner right up there synonymously with hard work. Lynn recorded this autobiographical song in 1969, but it wasn’t released until a year later. By 1970, very few houses were still heated by coal, marking the beginning of the decline of the industry that’s still going on today.

Paperback Writer – The Beatles (1966)
Paul McCartney sings that he needs a job and he wants to be a paperback writer.

Lovely Rita – The Beatles (1967)
The singer — Paul McCartney — is said to have gotten the inspiration for this song when he saw a meter maid issuing a ticket. Some guys do love a working gal in a uniform.

Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (1964)
It’s hard to remember sometimes that The Beatles all came from working class families themselves. Ringo came up with the phrase after the band had worked all day and night. Once it was decided that Ringo’s malapropism would make a good title for their upcoming movie, John went about writing the title song.

Please Mister Postman – The Marvelettes (1961)
Please Mister Postman, check and see / If there’s a letter, a letter for me… Who knows how much longer postmen and women will be delivering mail to our homes? Letters are few and far between these days already. Back when it was a major means of communication, the song was the first Motown song to reach Billboard’s Hot 100.

Wichita Lineman – Glenn Campbell (1968)
A lot of working people can relate to the loneliness exuded from these song lyrics written by Jimmy Webb: I am a lineman for the county / And I drive the main road / Searchin’ in the sun for another overload. The haunting melody was portrayed beautifully in Glenn Campbell’s voice. Campbell, as most boomers know, was a member of the Wrecking Crew, that group of top-notch studio musicians who appeared uncredited on dozens of hit songs throughout the 1960s. The group also backed Campbell on this recording, which became his signature tune.

Working for the Man – Roy Orbison (1962)
In this Roy Orbison song we hear the plight of the working man, in this case, in the Texas oil fields: Oh well I’m pickin’ ’em up and I’m laying ’em down / I believe he’s gonna work me into the ground …
But later in the song we learn that he’s working for this man because he’s making time with the boss’ daughter and some day he plans on being “the man” himself.

If I Were a Carpenter – Bobby Darin (1966)
The old if “I had a profession like a carpenter, would you still love me enough to get married and have a kid” song. Written by Tim Hardin, he personally performed it at Woodstock (1969). It was covered earlier by Joan Baez (1967), and Four Tops (1968), then by Johnny Cash and June Carter (1970) and Bob Seger (1972), among others. Of course, a good many boomers recall the song from Bobby Darin’s version.

Sky Pilot – The Animals (1968)
Released during the Vietnam War, the song seems upbeat in tempo, but lyrically it’s not about an airplane pilot, but rather a military chaplain trying to offer comfort to troops as they head into battle. It’s another of those tough jobs we heard about on our transistor radios.

The Boxer – Simon & Garfunkel (1969)
Here Simon and Garfunkel use a profession — a boxer — to illustrate one man’s struggle to overcome loneliness and poverty. It was the most heavily produced song the duo ever released.

Talking Care of Business – Bachman Turner Overdrive (1974)
Randy Bachman wrote this memorable ditty under the title of White Collar Worker when he was still a member of The Guess Who. The band didn’t think it was their kind of song, so he took it with him when he left. After performing the song on Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s early tours in the early ’70s, Bachman overheard a radio DJ say, “We’re taking care of business.” He took the line and replaced “White Collar Worker” with it, and the rest is history.

Car Wash – Rose Royce (1976)
This title song from the movie of the same name tells us that working at the car wash, You might not ever get rich / But let me tell you it’s better than digging a ditch … It was the group’s only hit.

Welcome to the Working Week – Elvis Costello (1977)
I know it don’t thrill you / I hope it don’t kill you … Are you seeing a pattern, boomers? Most of our songs about working say we don’t like our jobs and a good portion of the time, we tolerate them to get home to our loved ones.

If you are still working, enjoy your holiday off, boomers! Then it’s back to working for the man. What is your favorite boomer-era working song?

 

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Music and have Comments (2)

Mister Boomer’s Morning Jukebox Update

Mister Boomer has mentioned in past posts that he is afflicted with a condition he has labeled Morning Jukebox Syndrome. The symptoms are simply that upon waking several days a week, a song is “playing” in his head. These songs most often were in progress, like when you walked into the drug store to get an ice cream sundae and someone had already filled the jukebox with quarters for a long-term set. Sometimes he’d come in at the beginning of a song.

What is fascinating to Mister B is not that an aging boomer would conjure up songs from a half-century ago, but that a good number of them are songs that he hasn’t heard in decades; nor does he own copies of most of them.

Be that as it may, here is another dozen ditties that recently popped into Mister B’s morning brain. Almost all of these were released as singles, which is how Mister B probably remembers them. Most if not all are available where you download or stream music, unless you want to blow the dust off your 45s and give them a spin! Mister B thinks they would make a pretty good playlist on their own — morning, noon or night.

The Beat Goes On — Sony & Cher (1967)
What better song to wake up to? The legendary Wrecking Crew — that super group of studio musicians that appear on dozens of hits in the 1960s — recorded the music with Sonny and Cher. Carol Kaye is credited with coming up with the classic bass line that many music critics say is the reason this song became a hit. Sonny and Cher felt strong enough about the song that “And the beat goes on” was carved into Sonny’s tombstone.

You Can Make It If You Try — Sly & the Family Stone (1969)
If you’re into morning affirmations, Sly & the Family Stone is a good choice. This musical equivalent of the “I think I can” train hit number two on the charts, selling more than one million copies. It appeared on the SFS classic album, Stand! along with the iconic hits Everyday People and the title song.

Good Morning Starshine — Oliver (1969)
Cue the stretch, tossing back the covers, getting out of bed and pulling back the curtains to let the sun shine in. One morning Mister B heard the Oliver version of this song echo through his cranium, though the song first appeared in the Broadway musical, Hair, in 1967.

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! — The Buckinghams (1967)
Another Morning Jukebox cover, this song was a hit for the Buckinghams. A Cannonball Adderley tune, it has gone on to become a classic favorite for jazz musicians and remains one of the most covered tunes of the jazz-blues era.

The Rain, The Park & Other Things — The Cowsills (1967)
Boomers probably recall this song more from the lyrics than the title when they heard, I love the flower girl. It reached number two on the charts for the Cowsills, a family band that was actually playing gigs — minus mom — before the Partridge Family existed. First it was three of the brothers (Bill, Bob and Barry), then later, two more brothers (John and Paul), sister (Susan) and their mother (Barbara) joined in. This song, and the album of the same name, marked the point when their mother joined the band and toured with them.

Your Song — Elton John (1970)
Appearing on Elton John’s second album, this ballad was the B-side of of the single, Take Me to the Pilot. DJs preferred playing Your Song, which propelled it to become a hit. Elton was opening for Three Dog Night when he and Bernie Taupin composed the song. They gave it to Three Dog Night for their album, It Ain’t Easy (March 1970), where it got little attention. Elton’s 45 RPM B-side appeared in October of that same year.

Daydream — Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
If you hear What a day for a daydream… first thing in the morning, does that say this may not be the most productive of days?

First I Look at the Purse — The Contours (1965)
Written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers (of the Miracles), the song was released on 45 RPM first by Motown artists, The Contours. Smokey later did a fantastic version of his own that Mister B also recalls with deep affection. Boomers may remember the cover version by the J. Geils Band in 1970, too.

Bad to Me — Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas (1964)
Though credited as written by Lennon-McCartney, John Lennon said it was Paul who wrote the song. They gave it to Billy J. Kramer to record, a friend who shared the same manager, Billy Epstein. It became only the second of three songs written though not recorded by Beatles members, that reached the Top 40. (The first was World Without Love recorded by Peter & Gordon (1964) and the third, Goodbye, recorded by Mary Hopkin (1970).

Friday on My Mind — The Easybeats (1966)
This single was this Australian band’s only hit in the U.S., but it has become a classic. It’s been covered many times, notably by David Bowie (1973) and Peter Frampton (1981). Let’s face it, no matter what day of the week we wake up in, Friday is on our minds.

You Got What It Takes — The Dave Clark Five (1967)
This version was a cover of the song Marv Johnson wrote and recorded in 1959. It sounds outright caveman-ish these days, with lyrics including:
You don’t live in a beautiful place
Oh, you don’t dress in the best of taste
And nature didn’t give you such a beautiful face
But baby, you got what it takes
Combined with lyrics from My Funny Valentine (1937) and Joe Tex’s Skinny Legs and All (1967), these songs contain the worst back-handed compliments ever put to music. Can you imagine what social media comments would do to these songs if they were released today? Why it popped into Mister B’s head remains a mystery, but it is a catchy melody.

Silence Is Golden — The Tremeloes (1967)
The song was co-written by Bob Gaudio of The Four Seasons, along with Bob Crewe. It made its recording debut as the B-side to Rag Doll (1964), but it was the Tremeloes version Mister Boomer heard one morning. Maybe that is because the band’s Here Comes My Baby (1967) remains one of Mister B’s favorites from a year brimming with classic hits.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, boomers; the beat goes on! What songs have been running through your cerebral cortex these days?

Further reading: Music Flashbacks: A Sign of an Aging Boomer?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Sang, 1-2-3

Music in which a singer counts numbers didn’t start or end with the Boomer Generation, but Mister Boomer has noticed that there were an abundance of songs in the boomer years that used “1, 2, 3” (or “1, 2, 3, 4”) as an inherent part of a song’s lyrics. Sure there are loads of examples of a band member counting at a song’s beginning to get all the bandmates started at the same time (for example, I Saw Her Standing There by the Beatles comes to mind). And of course, there were the telephone number songs like The Marvelettes’ Beachwood 4-5789, but we’re talking about using number counting within a song.

A case in point is Wilson Pickett’s Land of 1000 Dances (1966). Before Mr. Pickett gives a shout out to a bunch of popular dances, he growls:
1,2,3
(Horns flourish)
1,2,3
Aow! Uh!
Alright! Uh!

Counting is natural to the beat of music, but in this case it also refers to the songs’ content — namely, dance. Here, 1, 2, 3 could just as easily be referring to counting dance steps. A great example of soul expression like this song could have him reciting numbers from a loading dock log and he’d still have us at 1, 2, 3.

In the song 1-2-3, as sung by Len Barry (1965), we see that another reason to count 1, 2, 3 could very well be that a lot of words rhyme with three. We hear here that falling in love is both elementary and easy:
1-2-3, that’s how elementary it’s gonna be
C’mon let’s fall in love, it’s easy (it’s so easy)
Like taking candy (like taking candy) from a baby

The Grass Roots gave us a classic counting song: Let’s Live for Today (1967). The count is situated at the beginning of the refrain. As such, are we to think the songwriter thought another line was needed, but he couldn’t come up with one, so he added the count? Or that the count of “1, 2, 3, 4” marks the passage of time, the ticking of the clock, the reason why we are advised to “live for today?” That’s for you to decide, boomers. What’s interesting to Mister B is that in the first chorus, “1, 2, 3, 4” is sung, but the next two times the refrain is sung, the singer drops the “one” and starts with “two” to sing, “2, 3, 4”:
1-2-3-4
Sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today
Sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today
And don’t worry ’bout tomorrow hey, hey, hey, hey

Oh my! In retrospect as an adult, 1-2-3 Red Light, by the 1910 Fruitgum Company (1968) sounds positively predatory. This song was labelled “bubble gum” at the time, a musical confection so named for its pop beat and sound rather than its subject matter. In this song, the narrator/singer is pleading to his date. He states that when he makes a move, his counterpart flashes the red signal, staying “stop!” Our intrepid singer doesn’t stop there, though, as he tries to to plead his case:
Every time I try to prove I love you
1,2,3 red light
You stop me
Baby you ain’t right to stop me
1,2,3 red light

As we saw in Len Barry’s 1-2-3, the Jackson 5 found love as easy as ABC (1970), which we all know is as easy as 1, 2, 3. Here we may see a very similar sentiment but hear a completely different sound:
A, B, C — it’s easy as 1, 2, 3
As simple as do re mi
A, B, C, 1, 2, 3
Baby, you and me girl

And in Mister Boomer’s estimation, the mother of all counting songs: I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag, the anti-war ditty performed by Country Joe and the Fish live at Woodstock (1969):
And it’s one, two, three
What are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam
And it’s five, six, seven
Open up the pearly gates
Well, there ain’t no time to wonder why
Whoopee! we’re all gonna die

What’s your favorite counting song, boomers? Would you care to add to this list?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Will Take Women’s Names in Beatles’ Songs on the White Album for $200, Alex

Mister Boomer has been a fan of the TV game show, Jeopardy, for several decades, from the time Art Fleming hosted and on to Alex Trebek. However, his schedule doesn’t permit him to watch it much these days. One of the things he always thought would be fun would be to be able to compose a category for the game board. Having given it some thought for years, Mister B knows exactly what he would do, should Alex Trebeck call and give him the chance: his category would be Women’s Names Mentioned on the Beatles’ White Album (1968).

The Beatles sang about various women, both real and fictional, from their very origins and all through their recordings. In the early days they covered popular rock ‘n roll songs that named (Miss) Lizzy, (Long Tall) Sally, Lucille and many others. Then each of their albums named women in their own songs, if not in the titles themselves. There was Anna (Please Please Me, 1963) and Eleanor Rigby (Revolver, 1966); Lucy (in the sky with diamonds, no less; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967), and that French babe, Michelle (Rubber Soul, 1965); Rita (a lovely meter maid; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967) and Loretta (who apparently had better get back; Let It Be, 1970), to name but a few. Yet there was not an album release that held such a preponderance of women’s names in it until The Beatles, aka The White Album.

Astute Beatles mavens on the Internet mention more women’s names on that double album with the white cover than any other Beatles album, so it must be true! That provides plenty of material to compose a Jeopardy category for Mister B, which might go something like this:

Jeopardy Contestant: “I’ll take ‘Women Named on The Beatles White Album’ for $200, Alex.”
Alex Trebeck: “And the answer is, ‘Her name was Magill, she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as …’ ”
Contestant: “Who is Nancy?”
Alex: “Correct! From the song, Rocky Raccoon. You have control of the board.”
Contestant: “Same category for $600, Alex.”
Alex: “And it’s the Daily Double!”
Contestant: “I’ll make it a true Daily Double.”
Alex: “The answer is, ‘She was Mia Farrow’s sister, who was visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi the same time as the Fab Four in 1968, where they summoned her to ‘come out to play.’ ”
Contestant: “Who was Julia?”
Alex: “Ooh, I’m sorry, that is incorrect. The answer is ‘Who is Prudence?’ from the song, Dear Prudence. That brings you back to zero. We’ll be right back after these commercial messages.”

Other women named on the album include:

• the aforementioned Julia (Julia)
• Martha (Martha My Dear)
• Sadie (Sexy Sadie)
• Molly (singer of Desmond and Molly Jones fame, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da)
• Honey (Honey Pie, though a term of endearment rather than a direct woman’s name, Mister B liked Honey as a name since he was a fan of Honey West)

In doing research for this post, Mister Boomer found several references to using Beatles songs as inspiration for naming babies. Mister Boomer has to confess that he has never met a Sadie (sexy or otherwise) or even a Prudence. Each era has its own list of popular names, and cultural background plays a large role in naming, too. That is why you see a lot of boomers named Robert, Michael, Lisa and Susan, yet their children received names like Joshua, Jason, Jennifer and Jessica; indeed a person’s decade of birth can often be identified by their name. Yet if the assertion is true, then boomers continued naming their children with names that would have been popular in the boomer era and earlier. How traditional, man!

How about it, boomers? Would you create a Jeopardy category based on any Beatles songs? Do you have any connection to women’s names mentioned on The White Album? Have you, or have you known anyone who used Beatles songs as inspiration in naming their children?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Music,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments Off on Boomers Will Take Women’s Names in Beatles’ Songs on the White Album for $200, Alex

Boomers Made Gary Lewis Famous

Entering a store recently, Mister Boomer immediately recognized the music playing as Count Me In by Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Walking through the aisles, it transported him back to his boomer-boyhood bedroom with his transistor radio. There, as a pre-teen, he’d listen to the local radio stations that played rock and pop music. The songs of Gary Lewis & the Playboys were among the first memorable tunes Mister B latched onto during his formative years.

The son of comedian and actor Jerry Lewis, Gary’s interest in music was stoked when he received a drum set for his fourteenth birthday in 1960. Four years later he formed a band called Gary & the Playboys, installing himself as the band’s drummer. He didn’t use his last name because he didn’t want people to connect him with his famous father, and therefore give him favorable treatment based on his name alone. His father, however, was not enthusiastic about his rock ‘n roll leanings, so Gary kept him out of the loop when it came to his band. In contrast, his mother, Patti Palmer Lewis — a one-time singer in a band herself — was supportive both verbally and financially. When the fledging band had a chance to audition for a slot at Disneyland, they jumped at it. The Disney people were impressed with the band’s youthful exuberance and boy-next-door looks and hired them. It was while playing at Disneyland in 1964 that producer Snuff Garrett “discovered” Gary and started their musical collaboration.

Their partnership produced immediate returns, with the help of financing from Lewis’ mother to record This Diamond Ring. The record was released in January 1965, and climbed the charts to number one by the third week in February. The song was written by Al Kooper, Bob Brass and Irwin Levine, and produced by Garrett. Kooper in particular was not enamored with the choice of Lewis to record his song; he had the Drifters in mind. He also voiced concern over the band’s level of musicianship and Lewis’ vocal ability. Garrett met the objections by hiring The Wrecking Crew, made famous by being labeled Phil Spector’s “house band” during his “wall of sound” recordings. Leon Russel joined the Crew on keyboards, and arranged the music for This Diamond Ring. Together, the Crew were known as super-session musicians who appeared on more than one hundred hit recordings, including those by The Monkees, Sonny & Cher, Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys. The contribution of The Wrecking Crew to the Pet Sounds album was documented in the 2014 movie, Love & Mercy. The Playboys only played backing tracks on the record, and Lewis’ voice was overdubbed with session singer Ron Hicklin. Neither were rare occurrences in the days when record companies held all the cards when it came to recordings.

Meanwhile, even Lewis didn’t have confidence in his singing ability. Garrett got Lewis to take vocal lessons, and recruited Buddy Rich to give him some pointers on his drumming. Despite his earlier reticence, Garrett persuaded Gary’s father, Jerry Lewis, to lobby to get his son on The Ed Sullivan Show. In look and sound, Gary Lewis & the Playboys were groomed to be America’s answer to the British Invasion bands like Gerry & the Pacemakers and Herman’s Hermits. The band landed a gig. Ed Sullivan required bands to play live, but since the record had been heavily produced in the studio, during their appearance on December 6, 1964, Lewis sang the song to a pre-recording while the band mimicked playing. Nonetheless, the broadcast one month before the release of the record helped propel This Diamond Ring to the top of the charts. It wouldn’t be long, though, before Garrett took Lewis out from behind the drum kit and made him the front man.

In the next year and a half, the band racked up an impressive series of hits, though band members came and went. The band was only one of two artists of the 1960s to have their first seven releases hit Billboard’s Top 10 (the other being The Lovin’ Spoonful). This Diamond Ring was followed with Count Me In (which reached number two), Save Your Heart for Me, Everybody Loves a Clown, She’s Just My Style and Sure Gonna Miss Her. Despite the success of This Diamond Ring, the band was not able to reach the top of the charts again.

Like many other rock ‘n rollers before him, including Elvis, Lewis was drafted into the Army in January of 1967. He served his time in Seoul, South Korea, narrowly escaping being sent to Vietnam. Even before his Army stint, most of the original band members had moved on, but when he returned, he started up the band again, replacing any of guys unable or unwilling to continue, but the band could not gain any momentum. They officially disbanded in 1970. Lewis tried a solo career for a few years, then drifted into the oldies circuit, where he continues to perform to this day.

As far as Mister Boomer is concerned, the Gary Lewis song that most resonated with him was She’s Just My Style. Its release coincided with his first major crush, a long-haired blonde girl at his school. Every time he heard the song, he saw visions (in slow motion, of course), of the girl walking down the school hallway, sweater tied around her neck and hair blown by unseen winds. She may have been just his style, but she epitomized the out-of-my-league girls Mister B would pine for in his boomer school days.

What was your favorite Gary Lewis & the Playboys song, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)