Boomers Liked Their Wine

Recent reports indicate that beer and wine consumption in the United States fell for the third consecutive year. Experts attribute the decline to many factors, including health and lifestyle choices, particularly among millennials. However, one group that is not changing its consumption habits are the over 55 demographic: boomers.

Mister Boomer found the story of boomers’ connection, particularly to wine, vast and interesting. Alcohol of all types was manufactured in the U.S. from its inception. Indeed, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned distilleries. The European connection to booze runs deep. So it was a fatal shock to the alcohol manufacturing industry when Prohibition became the law of the land in 1920. For the next 13 years, it was illegal to manufacture and sell alcoholic beverages. Nonetheless, where there is a will, there is a way. People began getting doctors’ prescriptions for beer and brandy. Mister Boomer’s grandmother used to say, “For medicinal purposes,” every time she took the first sip of her brandy. He now knows this was a connection to her living through Prohibition. Then, organized crime stepped in to provide all types of alcohol to anyone looking to ignore the law.

When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the alcohol industry had to, in many instances, grow their businesses all over again. This was particularly true of the wine makers in the U.S. Vineyards that did not convert to becoming grape juice makers had to gro wine grapes from scratch. It took a couple of decades for the wine industry, then composed primarily of companies that were family owned, to get back on its feet. More than 800 wineries began the same year Prohibition ended. Among them was a company that was started by two brothers — Ernest and Julio Gallo. This company would play a major role in the consumption of wine by boomers in the coming decades.

Boomers showed a strong interest, and even reverence, for wine as reflected in the music of the era. From the early days of rock & roll, the topic of wine appears again and again. Take, for example:

Drinkin’ Wine Spo-dee-o-dee — Stick McGhee, 1949
An R& B guitarist, Stick McGhee adapted a chant he heard at Army boot camp into a boisterous song about getting drunk on wine. Written in 1947, it became a hit for McGhee when he recorded it in 1947. Jerry Lee Lewis was among the many musicians who professed a liking of the song, and recorded it. Lewis performed the song in his very first live appearance in 1949.

Kisses Sweeter than Wine — The Weavers, 1951
Though a love song, and not about wine per se, it exemplifies the comparison of kissing a love’s lips to drinking wine that became a repeated theme in boomer music. Written by The Weavers in 1950, it was a hit for the band in 1951. Later recordings became hits for Jimmy Rogers in 1957 and Frankie Vaughn in 1958. Peter, Paul and Mary released their version of the song in 1966, on The Peter, Paul and Mary Album.

Bottle of Wine — The Fireballs, 1967
Written by Tom Paxton and originally released in 1965, it’s another wine song that was recorded many times in subsequent years. This one, however, pointed to the dark side of wine consumption:

Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine
When you gonna let me get sober
Leave me along, let me go home
Let me go home and start over

Sweet Cherry Wine — Tommy James & the Shondells, 1969
This song became a drinking anthem of sorts for some boomers, despite Tommy James saying the song was about his Christian faith.

Sweet cherry wine, so very fine
Drink it right down
Pass it all around
So stimulating, so intoxicating
Sweet cherry wine

Spill the Wine — Eric Burdon & War, 1970
The song describes a sex dream in near hallucinogenic terms, where a naked man, surrounded by women of all types, is approached by a woman with a bottle of wine.

In her hand was a bottle of wine
In the other a glass
She poured some of the wine from the bottle into the glass
And raised it to her lips
And just before she drank it, she said
Spill the wine, take that pearl

—-

Meanwhile, consumption of wine in the U.S grew exponentially with the Boomer Generation. By some accounts this rise directly corresponded with the majority of boomers coming of age, increasing more than 14 percent every year between 1969 and 1975. Vineyards noticed this boomer predilection for wine and produced products targeting the boomer demographic.

Ernest & Julio Gallo, already the largest supplier of table wine in the U.S. by the early ’60s, released Boone’s Farm Apple Wine in 1961. Within a few years, other flavors, including grape and strawberry, joined the product line. Many boomers will recall Boone’s Farm as the gateway to their underage drinking. Mister Boomer was not among them. He tasted Boone’s Farm Apple Wine only once, and he was of legal age at the time. Mister B was headed to an outdoor concert, and stopped for provisions at a store on the way. His date ran straight to the alcohol and grabbed a bottle of Boone’s Farm Apple Wine. “What are you having?” she asked as the two strode to the checkout counter. Then, as today, females drive sales of wine in the U.S. One taste at the concert was enough for Mister B; it reminded him of apple-flavored cough syrup.

Mister Boomer’s relationship with wine began with his grandfather, who made his own wine from the fruit of the grape vines that grew on a pergola in his yard. When the family got together for dinner on Sunday afternoons, his grandfather would dole out a half of a shot glass of his wine for each of his grandchildren, in keeping with the European tradition. Mister Boomer recalls sipping the wine through his dinner, an introduction to drinking wine at dinner by the age of seven. Mister Boomer was fortunate enough to have a sip of the final remaining bottle of his grandfather’s wine, ten years after his death. His grandmother had saved the remaining stock and distributed it sparingly among her children and grandchildren, one sip at a time for a decade. One of his grandfather’s shot glasses now has a place of honor in Mister B’s collection of family memorabilia.

What was your relationship to wine like in your early days, boomers? Did you ever drink Boone’s Farm Apple Wine?

Boomer Songs That Stood the Test of “Time”

Now that we are in another new year, Mister Boomer can’t help but think about the passage of time. As boomers, we may not be in our last chapter, but we’ve got more pages behind us than ahead of us. Pondering such things, songs that had “time” in their lyrics started coming to Mister B’s mind. On closer examination, what Mister B discovered about these boomer era songs that mention time is, more often than not, they had to do with wanting, winning and keeping love. Many also show that, given time, songs that did not catch boomers’ attention at first did so later on. Here, in the order reflecting the year in which they were released, are a few “time” songs that, in Mister B’s estimation, have not only stood the test of time, but have become … timeless.

Times They Are A-Changin’ — Bob Dylan (1963)
Some might call this one the quintessential “time” song. It became an anthem of the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements, with lyrics that sounded like both a warning and prophesy to many boomers.

The song begins like many traditional folk songs, with an invitation to gather and hear a story. The subsequent stanzas then speak directly to writers and critics, congressmen and senators, mothers and fathers.

Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

Nonetheless, Bob Dylan was quoted in an interview with Melody Maker magazine that he never set out to write a protest song. Rather, Bob said it was “… about a bitterness towards authority; the type of person who sticks his nose down and doesn’t take you seriously, but expects you to take him seriously.”

So many people felt the song was particularly apropros to the 1960s, yet there are a plethora of similarities happening now that make the song just as relevant to boomers today. On the technology side alone, the way work and the workplace continue to change has deep ramifications for boomers who are not ready to retire. The songs’ lyrics say you better get with the program, because time is marching on:

If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Time Is On My Side — The Rolling Stones (1964)
This one tells the story right off the bat: Go ahead, you can leave, baby, but I know you will come back … and I can wait until that happens:

Time is on my side, yes it is
Now you always say
That you want to be free
But you’ll come running back (said you would baby)
You’ll come running back (I said so many times before)
You’ll come running back to me

A hit for The Rolling Stones, it was a cover song that was written by Jerry Ragovoy. It was first recorded as an R&B song and released on Verve Records in 1963 by Kai Winding and his Orchestra. That version was engineered by Phil Ramone and included background vocals by Cissy Houston, Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick. The song failed to chart.

When The Rolling Stones released their version a year later, it became the first Top Ten hit the band would have in the U.S., peaking at number six on Billboard’s Pop Singles Chart.

Time Won’t Let Me — The Outsiders (1966)
Another song that gets right to the point: I haven’t got forever, so let me know the story:

I can’t wait forever
Even though you want me to
I can’t wait forever
To know if you’ll be true
Time won’t let me (No)
Time won’t let me (No)
Time won’t let me wait that long

The Outsiders were originally called The Starfires, but changed their name when they signed with Capitol Records, which is when they recorded Time Won’t Let Me. The song peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Time of the Season — The Zombies (1968)
The haunting melody, catchy bass line and call-response lyrics of this tune gave it a lot of gravitas out of the gate with boomers, but deep down, the lyrics make no bones about it:

It’s the time of the season for loving

The song was written by keyboardist Rod Argent for the album, Odessey and Oracle. First released in England, it failed to chart there. Ironically, in the U.S. it reached number 3 on Billboard Hot 100 the same year the band disbanded.

Time Has Come Today — The Chambers Brothers (1968)
The only major hit by the band, it peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Top 100. It is considered by some to be a call to action for Civil Rights, though the movement is never mentioned in the song. However, some of the lyrics do profess a social consciousness that speak to the title.

Now that time has come (Time)
There’s no place to run (Time)
I might get burned up by the sun (Time)
But I had my fun (Time)
I’ve been loved and put aside (Time)
I’ve been crushed by the tumbling tide (Time)
And my soul has been psychedelicized (Time)

For a lot of boomers, the song gained notice for its sheer length; the album version was 11 minutes long. As AOR (album oriented rock) began to dominate FM radio in the late sixties, boomers heard the long version as much as the three minute version released for AM radio. Regardless of the song’s length, though, boomers responded to the repetitive yet memorable melody that combined blues, rock, funk and gospel all in one.

Time In A Bottle — Jim Croce (1972)

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

Recorded for the album, You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, the song was never intended to be released as single. ABC, Croce’s record company, decided to release it as a single after he died in a plane crash in September of 1973. With the lyrics of, But there never seems to be enough time / To do the things you want to do / Once you find them, the irony was not lost on boomers. The song reached number 1 in January of 1974.

Of course, there were many other songs dealing with the passage of time during the boomer years. As we boomers age, we recall how time seemed to stand still when we waited for class to end in school, but how quickly it passes now. Heading into 2019, Mister Boomer wishes you all, as Paul Anka sang, the Times of Your Life.

What “Time” songs of our shared youth pinged your radar, boomers?