Boomers Continue to Live in “Interesting Times”

As this year inches toward its inevitable calendar end, it has certainly been one for the history books. This is nothing new to boomers; the old sentiment of May you live in interesting times appears tailor-made for our generation. Boomers have been eyewitness to history since the first boomers appeared in 1946. Our current historical happenings continue the trajectory.

That got Mister Boomer thinking about what happened 50 years ago. It blows Mister B’s mind to contemplate that the year 1970 was 50 years ago! Here are a few interesting tidbits of history from 1970 –– and especially from November of 1970 — 50 years ago this month. See if you remember:

• The population of the country, according to the 1970 U.S. Census, was 204,765,770.

• The median price of a home was between $22,000 and $25,700.

• Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Company) was chartered by Congress.

Midnight Cowboy won the Oscar for Best Picture.

• The final episode of I Dream of Jeannie aired, after a five-year run on TV.

• The first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) in the U.S. was unveiled at a bank in Buffalo, New York.

... and in November of 1970 …

• Tom Dempsey set an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints in a game against the Detroit Lions (November 8). Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot and had a special shoe created, which enabled his record-breaking kicking career.

Layla by Derek & the Dominoes (featuring Eric Clapton and Duane Allman) was released (November 9). Written by Eric Clapton, it was featured on the double album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

• Charles de Gaulle died (November 9). He was a general who led the French forces against the Nazis during WWII, and became part of the provisional government of France after the war. Mister B’s only connection was that his family was on vacation, visiting Expo 67 in Montreal when Charles de Gaulle appeared there and said, “Vive le Quebec libre!” (“Long live free Quebec!”) to the assembled crowd outside Montreal City Hall. It caused a great deal of consternation because there was a separatist movement in French-speaking Quebec at the time.

• The Soviet Union successfully launched, landed and deployed a robotic rover on the moon, Lunokhod 1 (Moonwalker 1; November 17). Just one year after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the lunar surface, it was the first such device employed on the moon. Nicknamed “the bathtub” for its shape and size, its mission lasted ten months. Powered by solar energy, the rover took the nights off, using a thermal energy heater to keep from freezing. The rover was controlled by operators in the Soviet Union, paving the way for future non-manned missions by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the moon and beyond.

• The court martial of Lieutenant William Calley began (November 17). He was the U.S. Army commander during the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam in March of 1968, when Calley and soldiers under his command were accused of killing 300 unarmed civilian men, women and children in the village of My Lai. Calley had asserted his orders to destroy the village came from his superior company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, who was nearby. Calley was the only person put on trial for murder. In all, thirteen officers and enlisted men were tried for war crimes, and another twelve officers were charged in the coverup that followed. After being convicted in 1971 and sentenced to life in prison, his sentence was reduced to twenty years, then again to ten years, following appeals. Calley was released in 1974.

What events stick in your mind from 50 years ago, boomers?

Boomers Liked Teen-Idol Ricky Nelson

After a casual dinner at the Mister Boomer homestead, Mister B settled in for a couple of hours of mindless television. Suddenly, there on his screen, appeared a commercial for Campbell’s Soup. From the initial frame the soundtrack was immediately identifiable. Mister B inched forward on the sofa and proclaimed, “That’s Ricky Nelson! Campbell’s Soup is using a Ricky Nelson song to sell chicken noodle soup!” The song was, of course, Never Be Anyone Else (1959).

We don’t hear much about Ricky Nelson these days. Yet, though he died in a plane crash on December 31, 1985, no matter what part of the boomer years you were born in, you are aware of Ricky and his music. Ricky was a big deal. Whether through radio-listening osmosis or retro sources, Mister B feels the vast majority of boomers know his music once they hear a reminder.

Ricky was born into a showbiz family. His father, Ozzie Nelson, was a bandleader who turned his family life into a make-believe radio show in 1944, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet — a forerunner of today’s reality TV. The parts of Ricky and his older brother, David, were played by actors until David was 12 and Ricky, eight. The year was 1948, and the show was so popular that Ozzie thought it would transfer to television, but could not find a backer. Instead, the family made, Here Come the Nelsons, a full-length motion picture that was released in theaters in 1952. The success of the film convinced TV producers of the viability of the program, and the first TV episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired on October 3, 1952. The show ran through 1966.

Ricky sang covers of popular songs on several episodes and in TV guest spots, including I’m Walkin’ by Fats Domino. His ability and profile (and a savvy manager-father) got him guest star spots on several TV variety shows, becoming among the first teen idols to use TV as a way to promote a musical career. Consequently, his first single, Be-Bop Baby (1957), sold over a million copies and hit number one on the charts. One year later, Poor Little Fool, debuted at number one in the newly minted Billboard Top 100.

Between 1958 and 1959, Ricky had 12 hit songs on the charts; by contrast, in the same time frame, Elvis had 11. This time overlapped Ricky’s military service, when he was drafted and served between 1958-1960. Among Ricky’s hits were:

Poor Little Fool (1958) – the first number one hit on Billboard’s Hot 100
Never Been Anyone Else (1959) – number 6
Travelin’ Man (1961) – number 1
Hello Mary Lou (1961) – number 9
Garden Party (1972) – number 6

Many boomers may also have forgotten that Ricky appeared in many high-profile movies, including:

Rio Bravo (1952), with John Wayne and Dean Martin
The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1960), co-starring with Jack Lemmon
Over-the-Hill Gang (1960), with Walter Brennan and Edgar Buchanan

… and appeared in many more movies and guest appearances on TV.

Ricky was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Mister B does not recall exactly when he first heard a Ricky Nelson song. More than likely it was on his transistor radio in the early 1960s. Neither Mister B or Brother Boomer purchased one of Ricky’s singles or albums, so he is not represented in the Mister Boomer collection. Nonetheless, it is fun to hear his tunes from way back when.

How about you, boomers? How did you come to know Ricky Nelson?