Boomer Proms: A White Sport Coat and A Pink Carnation

The list of things that are different between our boomer years and today’s youth is long and growing all the time. A case in point is that age-old rite of passage, the prom. It’s that season again, and it got Mister Boomer thinking about the contrasts between the generations.

For starters, more often than not, boomers drove themselves to the dance. Two or three couples would travel together. Either one of the guys had their own car by then, or a parental vehicle was procured. In a worst case scenario, the parent of one of the troupe would act as chauffeur. Today’s kids? While they still travel in groups, they prefer riding in limousines.

Our mode of dress also exhibited contrasts. For most of us, the prom was our introduction to formal wear. Boys wore tuxedos while the girls could either take a page out of the fashionably stylish looks of Peggy Sue Got Married or the traditional excess of Gone With the Wind. Today it seems practically anything goes. The ultra-casual manner of daily school dress is supplanted by “dressier” styles for the prom, but guys often wear suits instead of formal wear, with regular shirts and ties. In some ways, girls embrace the late sixties in that skin is in and practically no style is verboten, as long as it passes school rules.

Prom fashions from advertising in 1961.

Music was another category that illustrates our differences. Depending on how prohibitive the school district was in our respective region, the music played at our proms could be everything from “grown-up” orchestral arrangements to rock ‘n roll. No matter what it was, however, it would be played by a live band. Unlike sock-hops, though, proms were occasions when boys looked forward to the slow numbers, so they had a reason to dance close. Then it was time to break out the Twist, Pony or Frug. Today’s kids have DJs playing the stuff they listen to. Despite the fidelity advances of today’s sound systems, they are missing the experience of live music. And it is unclear to Mister B how boys and girls can dance to rap at all, let alone get close.

Marty Robbins had a hit with A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation in 1957.

Mister Boomer went to two proms: the first one he was asked to attend by a friend. (How’s that for the beginnings of Women’s Liberation?) The second was his own school’s prom. For both proms, Mister B borrowed his father’s car and drove with his date.

For prom number one, Mister B’s date told him about the yellow dress her mother was making for her, so suggested a brown color. He picked up a sporty double-breasted, dark chocolate tux and paired it with a ruffled yellow shirt and bow tie. The couple had an era-appropriate Polynesian dinner before the dance — complete with drinks in pineapples (non-alcoholic, of course), and all in all, shared a good evening.

A few weeks later, he attended his own prom. This time his date wore light blue, so Mister B opted for a white brocade tuxedo jacket with black lapels, black tux pants, a light blue ruffled shirt and black bow tie. Unfortunately, color rules dictated that he had to settle for a white carnation instead of pink.

What was your prom experience like, boomers? Did you make your children come back to your house with their respective dates so you could photograph them in their sartorial splendor? Have they seen your prom pictures?

Oops! They Did It Again, Boomers!

Well, the marketers have done it again: co-opted a boomer-era song for their own devices. In this case it’s the 1966 hit, L’il Red Riding Hood, made popular by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. The song has been re-recorded with a sultry female voice as the backdrop to a Volvo car commercial.

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs hailed from Dallas, Texas. The band was headed by front man Domingo “Sam” Zamudio. In the early 1960s the band gained notoriety by wearing robes and turbans onstage, and traveling in a 1952 Packard hearse. “Sam” is said to have acquired inspiration for his campy costuming watching Yul Brynner’s pharaoh character in the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments.

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in a publicity shot from an ad in Billboard magazine, 1965.

After a couple of years of playing gigs and selling records they had paid to press themselves, the band was signed by the Pen label in Memphis, Tennessee. It was there they recorded Wooly Bully, which hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts in June of 1965. Eleven months after the release of Wooly Bully, a band shake-up saw Sam hiring an entire new set of Pharaohs. This new band was the one that recorded L’il Red Riding Hood. The song peaked at No. 2 in August of 1966, and remained on the charts for 14 weeks.

For several centuries the folk tale of Red Riding Hood has been considered a metaphor for a young girl’s sexual awakening. The song, as sung by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, furthers this train of thought, though sung from the perspective of the big bad wolf. In this case, the “wolf” was a term used to describe a man whose intentions were on the lecherous side, in pursuit of a young girl (Red Riding Hood). He begins the song with a wolf howl and sings about being attracted by the girl’s “big eyes” and “full lips.” He mentions his deceitful ways to charm the young lady, saying he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in an effort to make her “see things my [his] way before we get to grandma’s place.”

The Big Bopper recorded Little Red Riding Hood in 1958, but his song was both musically and lyrically different from the one recorded by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, which was written by Ronald Blackwell.

Mister Boomer recalls hearing the song on his transistor radio in 1966. Shortly thereafter, Brother Boomer purchased the 45 RPM, as he did most of the music in the household. Mister B thought it was an OK song that was worth a snicker or two for its covert handling of a topic that piqued a young teen’s growing curiosity of the opposite sex, but all in all, a fun novelty classified along the lines of hits by Ray Stevens. The song was enthusiastically enjoyed by Mister B’s younger sister and mother, though. That 45 RPM now resides in Mister Boomer’s personal collection.

So what does all that have to do with a car commercial in the 21st Century? Those clever marketers have re-recorded the song (at least parts of it) with a female voice singing the part of the wolf. Amanda Seyfried recorded the song in 2011, but she is not the singer in the commercial; that would be Oregonean singer/songwriter Laura Gibson. The implication of transposing the gender of the narrator is that the car is the prize and the female is the one in relentless pursuit. One might presume that the female is playing the surrogate of Every TV Viewer. Confounding definition, the commercial is filled with contradictions. As a wolf snarls in front of a red car, each frame is tinged with shades of red, the universal color of desire and passion. Yet it finishes focused on a young girl wearing a red hooded garment sitting in the back seat of the red car, being chauffeured by her father, and howling like a wolf! The song, the references to the Red Riding Hood story and Sam the Sham’s 1966 hit would make the soundtrack instantly identifiable to a boomer, yet oddly enough, the commercial seems aimed at a different demographic altogether. In fact, it looks to be aimed at the children of boomers. In the end, do we see a commercial targeting a younger-than-us generation that, according to the marketers, can now afford this sporty automobile, but as parents can still summon the desire for such a prize?

What do you think, boomers? Does the commercial flash you to back to Sam the Sham, or have you reaching for your checkbook to buy a car?