Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Highland School Juke Box 1962

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by Robert Giles

When the weather was too bad to go out on the playground, we had recess in the gymnasium. The gymnasium in the old building was a basketball court. Along one length of the court were metal fold-away risers or "bleachers". Opposite the risers on the other side of the court was a stage shrouded by a heavy red velvet curtain.

The curtain was kept closed unless there was a movie. Sometimes we would watch a travelogue. But most of the time, a couple boys would be delegated to wheel out the juke box and play records for us to dance and listen to.

In 1962 I was in the 7th grade. If you are thinking that most of the dancers were  girls, you are right. The boys mostly milled around and talked or flipped baseball cards or sat on the bleachers and watched.

I was no dancer but I liked music. Still do.

Note: The links below will open shortened versions of the songs in iTunes. Be patient. Its a little clumsy, but allows you to sample and "remember" the songs. Enjoy.

A clarinet tune, "Stranger on the Shore", by Acker Bilk was the Number 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit of 1962. I don't think it was in the Highland School juke box. It was pleasant - I guess it would fall into the "easy listening" category today. Strictly for an older crowd. I don't think "Acker" ever made the Billboard Hot 100 again, but maybe he did. I have nothing against him personally. His parents just handed him a funny name, that's all.

Speaking of funny monikers, clocking in at number 37 was "Alley Cat" by Bent Fabric. I guess the Hot 100 was big enough for both Acker Bilk and Bent Fabric in the same year (for a minute I thought maybe they were the same person - they aren't).

Our juke box did have some other specimens that weren't too hip --

Roses are Red (My Love), Bobby Vinton
Johnny Angel, Shelley Fabares
Soldier Boy, The Shirelles
Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Neil Sedaka

"Johnny Angel" is just the kind of sticky, sugary stuff that girls always wanted to slow dance to. Shelley Fabares should have stuck to The Donna Reed Show.

Neil Sedaka is probably in the rock and roll hall of fame but I wanted to break up this particular record every time I heard it. It wouldn't have been hard to do - just one quick snap over the knee. 

How did the Shirelles get stuck with the "soldier boy" lyric? And Bobby Vinton is from western Pennsylvania, or claims to be. Unbelievable. 

1962 was the year of the dance craze - all these songs made the Hot 100 --

The Loco-Motion, Little Eva
The Twist, Chubby Checker
Slow Twistin', Chubby Checker

Twistin' the Night Away, Sam Cooke
The Wah Watusi, The Orlons
Peppermint Twist, Joey Dee and The Starlighters

Dear Lady Twist, Gary "U.S." Bonds
Twist and Shout, The Isley Brothers
Percolator (Twist), Billy Joe & The Checkmates
Twist, Twist Senora, Gary "U.S." Bonds
Twistin' Matilda (And the Channel), Jimmy Soul
Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes), Dee Dee Sharp
Soul Twist, King Curtis
Let's Dance, Chris Montez

I have to say that to market a hit record in 1962, all you had to do was add the word "twist" to the song title. 

Billy Joe & the Checkmates relied on a cheesy percolator noise for their only hit ever - "Percolator (Twist)". It wasn't enough to have it sound like a coffee pot - adding the word "Twist" sealed it.

"Soul Twist" by King Curtis is probably the most fraudulent use ever of the word "twist" in a song title.

The best crazy dance song of 1962 - I have to agree with the public on this one - was "The Loco-Motion" by Little Eva. "Twist and Shout" by the Isley Brothers is a close second. The original Chubby Checker hit "The Twist" is also good as is Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away".

"Twist, Twist Senora" was originally recorded by Harry Belafonte under the title "Shake, Shake, Senora" (a wonderfully comic addition to the "Beetlejuice" soundtrack). The Gary U.S. Bonds version does clinch my argument about adding "twist" to a song title.

Dee Dee Sharp had a hit with "Mashed Potato Time" in 1961. In 1962 she came back with "Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)". Lame. I blame the record company.

So , what are my personal favorites from 1962?

Let Me In, The Sensations
The Loco-Motion, Little Eva
Green Onions, Booker T and The MG's
I Can't Stop Loving You, Ray Charles
Duke of Earl, Gene Chandler
Break It to Me Gently, Brenda Lee
Playboy, The Marvelettes
Twist and Shout, The Isley Brothers
I Know (You Don't Love Me No More), Barbara George
Baby It's You, The Shirelles
What's Your Name, Don & Juan
You Don't Know Me, Ray Charles
Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream), Roy Orbison
Things, Bobby Darin
Let's Dance, Chris Montez
You'll Lose a Good Thing, Barbara Lynn
I'm Blue (The Gong-Gong Song), The Ikettes
If I Had a Hammer, Peter, Paul & Mary
Where Have All The Flowers Gone, The Kingston Trio
Surfin' Safari, The Beach Boys

It's surprising that there were so many gems on the Hot 100. There were a lot of clunkers as well.

  • Instrumentals were still popular.
  • A large number of songs were from the R&B genre.
  • "Girl Groups" and female solo artists were well represented.
  • Peter, Paul & Mary scored their first hit that year with "If I Had a Hammer".
  • The Beach Boys introduced a new craze in 1962 - surf music.
  • Did you know that "The Loco-Motion" was written by Carole King and her (then) husband Gerry Goffin and that Little Eva was their babysitter.

The very next year (1963) marks the beginning of The British Invasion.

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