Where Were You in October 1962?

Fifty years ago this month — October, 1962 — the winds of change were stirring the cultural cauldron. Teen idols, girl groups and instrumental easy listening music still dominated the airwaves, prompting some popular music critics to state that rock ‘n roll had run its course and guitar-based music would soon be a thing of the past. Into the fray the Beach Boys released Surfin’ Safari, their first album, and across the pond The Beatles’ Love Me Do, their first single, was released on the EMI Parlophone Record label. The flip side of the record was P.S. I Love You. Both songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Earlier in the year Decca Records had passed on signing the group.

In that same month The Beatles were one of the opening acts for Little Richard at the Liverpool Empire Theatre, and The Motown Revue began touring, with its first stop in Washington, D.C. The Revue featured Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes, the Contours, Martha and the Vandellas and Little Stevie Wonder.

Meanwhile, Elvis’ Return to Sender hit number two on the Billboard charts, and the number one soundtrack album of October and the entire year of 1962 was West Side Story.

At the movies we saw our fascination with Cold War spy thrillers blossom with the introduction of James Bond to the silver screen in Dr. No, first released in London on October 5, 1962. Also in October, The Manchurian Candidate debuted in the U.S., presenting a much darker look at the spy game.

Sean Connery, in addition to starring as James Bond, had a minor role in another motion picture that was released in October 1962: The Longest Day. The movie told episodic stories about soldiers involved in the Normandy invasion during World War II and made a huge impression on future filmmakers. Laden with high-powered stars of the time, the movie became seriously influential in a string of war movies in the decades that followed.

In theater, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf? opened on Broadway, challenging theater-goers and critics with sardonic humor and verbal abuse dished toward each other by the lead characters. At the same time Beyond the Fringe was being performed, echoing the dichotomy of all aspects of cultural history in 1962: the seriousness of Woolf was countered by the political humor of Fringe.

Television saw Johnny Carson replace Jack Paar on the Tonight Show in October of 1962. Earlier that year, we were introduced to McHale’s Navy and The Beverly Hillbillies.

October of 1962 sports headlines saw the New York Yankees in the World Series. To paraphrase Yogi Berra — the catcher for the Yankees at the time — who said years after 1962, will this year be “deja vu all over again?”

And so 1962 barreled on into the fall, presenting the public with striking contrasts that in retrospect were the harbingers of things to come:

  • While the Supreme Court ruled separate seating on public transportation was illegal, in the same year Bo Diddley had a hit with You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover.
  • While Pope John Paul XXIII convened Vatican II, the first council to take a look at modernizing the Catholic Church in hundreds of years, the Mashed Potato was a big dance hit and the plastic wiffle ball and ball first appeared.
  • While the Space Race was heating up with the U.S. launching several successful missions orbiting the Earth, the Cold War was red hot with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. We’ll delve further into this event next week.

What memories of October 1962 come to mind for you, boomers?