Boomers Knew A Place to Go

In our current topsy-turvy, “we’re not in Kansas any more,” Oz moment, the concept of home has engulfed us. That’s not to say that boomers, aging as we are, weren’t already in the process of redefining what home and shelter means to us. Yet, this week, as Mister B pondered the historical landscape of everything that holds resonance for boomers — the 55th anniversary of Medicare; the launching of rover vehicles to search for signs of ancient life on Mars; the profound connections between the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and those of today’s Black Lives Matter protests; the political turmoil and uncertainty before a Presidential election — what he really landed on was what “place” has become. “Place,” as opposed to “home,” was somewhere to go that was not home. It was a location that could change attitudes and moods; provide comfort or discomfort; be educational or mind-freeing. Yeah, man, it was … a place.

So naturally, with all that rattling around Mr. B’s cranium, he woke up on two mornings this week with “place” songs reverberating between the ears for a get-outta-bed soundtrack. Here are Mister B’s top choices for “place” songs from the boomer era. See if your sense of place is stirred by any of these memories:

A Summer Place A Summer Place movie, 1959
An instrumental version of the song by Percy Faith was released in 1960, and it spent nine weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching the number one spot. It was covered by a slew of other artists, in both instrumental and vocal versions. Among the vocal versions are Andy Williams in 1962; Julie London in 1965; Bobby Vinton in 1965; The Lettermen in 1965, and many others. Mister Boomer remembers being told it was a go-to make-out song for those warm summer nights listening to the car radio.

Somewhere (A Place for Us)West Side Story, 1957 on Broadway, 1961 on film
We have Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim to thank for this American classic. The Supremes recorded their version in 1965. It’s another boomer era song that keeps popping up, with new recordings still being released. Drama mixed with a sense of place has given this song a perpetual place in our consciousness.

In My Life — The Beatles, 1965
Right from the opening lyrics:

There are places I remember …

the song is a transportive trip down memory lane (as opposed to Penny Lane). Finishing in part, with:

In my life, I loved them all …

it is certainly aspirational for all boomers at the current stage of our long, strange trip. It was part of the Rubber Soul album, which is probably Mister B’s favorite Beatles recording.

No Particular Place to Go — Chuck Berry, 1964
Interestingly enough, when Chuck Berry wrote this song, he did not have anywhere to go because he was in prison. Convicted of violating the Mann Act — transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes — Berry was sent to Springfield, Missouri’s Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. Berry claimed his innocence throughout his life, but served more than a year. There’s a place you’d rather not visit.

Name of the Place is I Like it Like That — Chris Kenner, 1961
Written by Chris Kenner and Allen Toussaint, Kenner was the first to record it. His version was released in 1961, and landed in the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100. This song lyrically invites us to a place that is named, “I Like It Like That.” The band beckons us to “come on, let me show you where its at.” Who wouldn’t like a place with a name like that? The Dave Clark 5 released a version in 1965, which is probably the version that Mister Boomer heard on his transistor radio. The Kingsmen also recorded it that same year.

I Know a Place — Petula Clark, 1965
Following her smash debut hit, Downtown (1964), Petula Clark struck gold a second time with this ditty. The suggestion to forget your troubles and head “where the music is fine and the lights are always low,” stuck with U.S. listeners. The song spent five weeks in the Top Ten, and Clark was awarded a Grammy for Best Contemporary (R&B) Female Vocal Performance. When someone told you they “knew a place,” you’d try it out, wouldn’t you?

We Gotta Get Out of This Place — The Animals, 1965
Mister Boomer was elementary-school age when the song was first issued. He credits it as being the first rock anthem of his young life. Moving from grade school to high school seemed like a forever task. School kids immediately clamped onto the chorus; Mister B would later learn older kids identified with the song for different reasons, as did soldiers in Vietnam. It still kicks it, as far as Mister B is concerned. It’s sung with raw emotion that speaks of a desperate hope that if this place is not going to cut it, another place has got to be better.

The places we can go will all be available to us again, but in the meantime, set the turntable arm down on the vinyl and you’ll be at the place you were when you first heard these tunes.

Which “place” song is your favorite, boomers?

Mister B Takes Another Nostalgia Trip

In this time of stay-at-home orders, if there is one train Mister B has been on frequently, it’s the nostalgia train. It may have been a long, strange trip, but boomers are so incredibly privileged to have such a rich pop culture history, to serve as the backdrop for our personal Wayback machines.

This latest excursion for Mister B involved yet another piece of our musical history. For some unknown reason, a song popped into his head and has been stuck there as an ear worm for a week. When Mister B thought about it, he realized that this particular song was among the earliest he had heard, often enough on his transistor radio, to be able to sing along when it was played:

Does your chewing gum lose its flavor
On the bedpost overnight?
If your mother says, don’t chew it
Do you swallow it in spite?
Can you catch it on your tonsils?
Can you heave it left and right?
Does your chewing gum lose it’s flavor
On the bedpost overnight?

Were you hearing the tune while reading the lyrics? That was Lonnie Donegan’s novelty hit, Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight)? from 1961. So, if you are like Mister B, you are recalling lyrics to a song that is 59 years old, and you may not have heard it in decades.

To a preteen boomer like Mister B, it was silly, yet memorable. Mister Boomer didn’t know anyone who had bedposts, but could imagine some kids might want to try to save their chewing gum one way or another. Mister B would not be among them, not only because he wasn’t an avid chewing gum fan to begin with, but he’d also experienced enough wads of chewing gum beneath diner tables to dissuade any thoughts of recycling one’s own previously-chewed material. Consequently, it was funny, but not realistic.

An examination of the song and its lyrics, however, bring into question the whole purpose behind the novelty hit. It was a reworking of a song from 1924, Does The Spearmint Lose Its Flavor On The Bedpost Overnight? An American song, it would have been part of the pre-Depression landscape of an economic boom that ushered Calvin Coolidge into the White House in that year’s presidential election.

Lonnie Donegan was known as the King of Skiffle in the UK at the time of the song’s U.S. release. Skiffle was a musical genre that held references to American folk music, jazz and blues. Many bands from the British Invasion named skiffle as a major influence for their music. John Lennon’s first band was a skiffle band. Lonnie Donegan was a major star in Great Britain, releasing 24 consecutive Top 30 hits. He was the first male star from the UK to have two U.S. Top 10 hits before Chewing Gum was released. So it begs the question, why a novelty song in 1961?

That year, the U.S. was listening to the Shirelles, Chubby Checker, Patsy Cline, Connie Francis, Roy Orbison and Ricky Nelson, among others. Donegan’s music was unlike any of them, but referenced the same influences of American music. Perhaps it was a way to introduce skiffle back to the country that spawned its influences?

There is another possible strange connection that could help to answer the question, and it had to do with the 1960 presidential election. The lyrics to the song travel around like the performers in a Vaudeville show, stopping only for a punchline. There are stanzas about grandmothers looking to get lucky with prowlers who got stuck on the bedpost, newlyweds on their honeymoon, big brothers taking your chewing gum, and several others. Among them is a decidedly political stanza that Donegan kept from the 1924 original:

Now the nation rise as one
To send their only son
Up to the White House
Yes, the nation’s only White House

To voice their discontent
Unto the President
They pawn the burning question
What has swept this continent?

When the song was written, Calvin Coolidge had won a massive victory over his Democratic rival, and an independent candidate. Coolidge became president when Warren Harding was assassinated, then won a full term in the election of 1924. He was hardly a reform candidate, nor was the country in great distress, so it is unclear as to what the original satirical intent of the lyrics might allude. Forty years later, why did Lonegan choose to include the stanza when he altered others? John Kennedy had won the 1960 presidential election and was inaugurated as president in January of 1961, just seven months before the release of the song. However, Donegan had released the song in the UK in 1957, a time of Recession in the U.S. under then President Dwight Eisenhower. Is it possible that Donegan, an Englishman, was commenting on American politics? Was he a Kennedy fan? Was his song saying that the staleness of gum on a bedpost — a stand-in for the previous administration — was now apparent for all to see, and it was time for change? Or is that reading too much into a silly novelty song?

What do you think, boomers? In your youth, do you recall singing along to Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight)? Do you still have a copy of the 45 RPM?