Archive for July, 2016


by Robert Seoane

Chuck Berry went to jail in February of 1962 and took Fifties rock ’n’ roll with him. Questionable allegations dogged the 33-year-old rock ‘n’ roll pioneer regarding whether he had sexual relations with a 14-year-old Apache waitress named Janice Escalante. But no evidence was found until he transported her across state lines to work as a hat check girl in his new club, violating the Mann Act. The Mann Act forbids transporting “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose.” This law was for people of all ages, resulting in being used at times to criminalize adults having consensual sex. The Mann Act was altered in 1986 to read “any person” over “woman or girl” and changed the wording to “any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense”. It’s still on the books today.

Berry stood trial for two weeks in March 1960 and was found guilty, facing a $5000 fine and a five-year stint in prison. Berry’s lawyers appealed and a second trial was set in May of ‘61. He was found guilty again, but this time was sentenced to three years in prison. After a second appeal failed, Berry started serving his time the following February. He was locked up for a year and a half.

By 1962, Rock ‘n’ Roll music had been tamed and silenced by the White Establishment who, as offensive as it sounds, believed that scary rock ‘n’ roll was an evil coming from the depths of “nigra”, “primitive”, or “jungle” music, with the sole purpose of perverting their children into doing all sorts of unimaginable interracial atrocities they could conjure in their minds. Little Richard was now a Reverend and preaching the gospel. Jerry Lee Lewis’ career was destroyed after he married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Elvis’ musical output, although still churning out slick hits, didn’t have the rough edges of his Fifties rock ‘n’ roll output, and Buddy Holly was dead.

Rock ‘n’ roll music in 1962 was as dull and neutered as a paper doll, having been transformed into bland pop by the White Establishment, and still two years away from a healthy dose of new blood that America was to receive from an island called Great Britain.

Mick and Keith, both holding photos, in September 1962

In 1962, many of the legendary British acts of the Sixties were at the starting line of their careers, still struggling and developing their talent.

The Beatles were already veterans in the club circuit with their almost daily performances of rock ‘n’ roll standards in Hamburg and Liverpool.
• 20-year-old Brian Jones, founder of a group he called The Rollin’ Stones, had put an ad in the paper looking for musicians to form a new band after having performed as Elmo Lewis in a group he formed called The Roosters. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards answered that ad.
• 16-year-old Jimmy Page was in a group called the Crusaders, still six years away from meeting Robert Plant to form Led Zeppelin.

Jimmy Page blending in with the background, 1962

The Who were called the Detours and were two years away from bringing drummer Keith Moon into the band.

Missing ingredient to the Who, drummer Keith Moon, with Mark Twain & The Strangers in 1962

The Kinks were called the Ray Davies Quintet, and had a 17-year-old Rod Stewart perform briefly with them as lead vocalist.
Pink Floyd was three years away from forming, with 16-year-old Syd Barrett in a band called Geoff Mott & the Mottoes, and childhood friend Roger Waters, three years his elder, coming by often to hear them play.

Syd Barrett , 1962

• Besides busking on the streets with his already amazing guitar prowess at age 16, Eric Clapton was performing in pubs with his friend Paul Jones,

Eric Clapton, 1962

• …and 15-year-old David Jones, not yet named David Bowie, was forming his first group, the Konrads, available for high school dance parties and weddings.

David Jones, the future David Bowie, 1962

In contrast, future American superstars of the Sixties hadn’t yet launched their musical careers, either still in school or serving the military and uninspired by the music of the moment. In many cases, it would take their British counterparts to come over to the USA and show them how it was done, as the Brits offered a totally new, matured, confident and joyful rock sound, derived from the American blues artists that were popularly being ignored in America for Elvis clones. To put it simply, rock ‘n’ roll was still two years away from puberty.

Bob Dylan, 1962

In 1962, the only three indications of what was to come could be found on records originating from three distinct places:

• New York, from a young man that went by the name of Bob Dylan,
• California, from a trio of brothers and their cousin along with a high school pal who had been called the Beach Boys,
• …and Detroit, from a new label called Motown who was developing much of the best R&B talent of the 20th Century.

But none of them sounded like the raw, untamed rock ‘n’ roll that originally sparked its popularity, even as the Beach Boys emulated the Everly Brothers’ pitch perfect melodies. Instead, they each pointed at three new, separate directions, catching fire from the spark of rock ‘n’ roll, with their own distinctive and unique voices and poised to produce music that would last to this day.

Other icons of rock ‘n’ roll were still years away from their own rightful places in rock.

 “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell. They work you to death, fussing and fighting.” –Jimmy Hendrix in a letter to his father from the Army; Nov. 1962

Jimmy Hendrix, 1961-1962

“He has no interest whatsoever in the Army … It is my opinion that Private Hendrix will never come up to the standards required of a soldier. I feel that the military service will benefit if he is discharged as soon as possible.” -Hendrix’ platoon sergeant, James C. Spears’ final report on Hendrix.

James Marshall Hendrix greeted 1962 enlisted in the army, and spending the time there trying to figure out how he could get the hell out. On June 29, 1962, Jimmy was granted an honorable discharge on the basis of unsuitability by Captain Gilbert Batchman.

Jim Morrison was studying at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Grateful Dead founders Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh met in 1962 at a bohemian party in San Francisco’s Menlo Park.
Simon and Garfunkel were one of the few with experience, having had a brief career in the Fifties as Tom & Jerry. But in 1962, Paul Simon was at Queens College City University of New York and Art Garfunkel was attending Columbia.

Besides the rising popularity of folk music due in large part to the Kingston Trio and Joan Baez, the pop songs on the radio in 1962 were a blend of doo-wop and sugary pop. Everybody sounded safe, especially the most popular new artists of that year.



Below: Dennis Wilson; from left, clockwise: Al Jardine, Mike Love, Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson

“I’m not a genius, I’m just a hardworking guy.” – Brian Wilson

The first big rock ‘n’ roll tsunami since Elvis came in the form of five white guys with angelic voices and a rock ‘n’ roll beat. The Everly Brothers plus three. With exquisite harmonies and leader Brian Wilson’s prolific songwriting ability that improved with every new single release, the Beach Boys would become the biggest rock ‘n’ roll group in the country by 1963, complementing the current twist dance craze with irresistible songs that sparked a surfing craze, then a hot-rod craze. The Beach Boys music epitomized the California teenager to the rest of the world, and they came around just when rock ‘n’ roll desperately needed a jolt of youthful exuberance.

The Beach Boys influence didn’t only just extend to the public with celebrations of the materials of youth, they also served as a profound influence on many of their fellow musicians of the time. Their landmark album and the peak of their recording creativity all came together in their 11th studio album “Pet Sounds” (1966). When Beatle Paul McCartney first heard that album, his competitive edge sharpened.

“It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian’s writing. I love the album so much. I’ve just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life—I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard that album. I was into the writing and the songs… Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened… Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.” –Paul McCartney


The Beach Boys welcomed 1962 playing on New Year’s Eve at the Ritchie Valens Memorial Dance Party in Long Beach, California, where they were paid $300 (approximately $2300 in 2016 dollars). Murry Wilson, their manager and father to Brian, Carl and Dennis, booked the gig for them, following Ike & Tina Turner at the show. Their debut single “Surfin”, released just a month before, was already a hit in Southern California, reaching Number Three on the local charts and even managed to enter the national Billboard Pop chart to climb to Number 75, having moved 40,000 copies around the country.

“(My father, Murry Wilson) deserves credit for getting us off the ground … he hounded us mercilessly … [but] also worked hard himself.” – Brian Wilson

Murry was certainly dedicated to the success of his sons’ band. Three days before the New Year’s Eve gig, he bought Brian an electric bass guitar and an amplifier, causing a reorganization within the group. Al Jardine was playing bass at the time, so he moved to rhythm guitar and let Brian play bass. Murry encouraged and believed in them, but his controlling nature got the best of him over the years. He was harboring a buried resentment that he was a failed musician and his children were about to reap the rewards of success and fame that he had always longed for. He was living vicariously through them and attempted to keep control of their careers through manipulation and criticism.

Torrance High School performance; Torrance, Ca., March, 1962


During the first month of the year, fellow Beach Boys Brian Wilson and cousin Mike Love worked laboriously on writing a follow-up single to “Surfin’”. The “Beach Boys” name was selected by the label Murry had signed them to, Candix Records, over their chosen name, the Pendletones. Wilson and Love stuck to keeping the “beach” theme incorporated into their songs in most of their early work, unwittingly inventing California rock as they wrote. Mike was primarily the lyricist, mostly because Brian wasn’t good at lyrics, his mind being constantly engaged in musical ideas that only he could hear.

The fruit of their labor was a song called “Surfin’ Safari”. On February 8th, 1962, and paying for it with their own coin, the Beach Boys recorded a demo version of the song at World-Pacific Studios along with other compositions, including one that Brian had penned alone the year before, loosely based on the Belmonts’ version of the Disney song from “Pinocchio”, “When You Wish Upon A Star”. That song was “Surfer Girl”.

“They’re anglin’ in Laguna in Cerro Azul, they’re kicking out in Dohini too. I tell you surfing’s runnin’ wild, it’s getting bigger every day from Hawaii to the shores of Peru.
Come on baby wait and see, yes I’m gonna take you surfin’, surfin’ safari with me. Let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learning how, come on a safari with me…” Surfin’ Safari – The Beach Boys

Despite their initial local success with “Surfin’”, there was doubt within the group as to the odds that they could make a living being rock stars. A few days after the ”Surfin’ Safari” recording session, Al Jardine left the group, deciding to focus on his studies to become a dentist. But Jardine couldn’t stay away for long and he would occasionally join them in live performances. He was replaced primarily for recording sessions by the Wilsons’ childhood friend and next-door neighbor David Marks, who used to join the the boys in the sing-a-longs Brian would organize and record on his treasured reel-to-reel tape recorder that his dad had bought him for his sixteenth birthday. David would play with them during all of 1962 until Jardine returned to the group the following year, this time for good. Marks wasn’t completely forgotten though; he re-joined the Beach Boys in 1997 to tour with them for two years, and then again in 2012.

They went back into the studios on April 19th, this time with David Marks instead of Jardine, and recorded two new songs, “Lonely Sea” and “409”, as well as re-recording “Surfin’ Safari”, with Mike Love singing lead and Brian, Carl and Dennis Wilson all singing backup.


“The Lonely Sea” was written by Gary Usher and Brian Wilson. Usher was happening along the neighborhood one fine evening in 1962 when he heard the Beach Boys practicing in their garage. Brian and Gary soon became fast friends and wrote this song together. Brian insisted they drive to the beach to record the surf on his reel-to-reel tape recorder and incorporate it into the intro of the song.

Gary Usher

It’s a slow, haunting ballad that’s benefited by Brian Wilson’s dreamlike vocalization and the Beach Boys’ harmonies, and it carried elements of other transcendent Beach Boys ballads to come. This one however, with its short spoken monologue in the middle, just misses the mark. It was never released as a single, instead placed as one of the tracks on their second album, “Surfin’ USA” a year after it was recorded, on March 25th, 1963.

It was also showcased in a 1965 beach comedy movie called “The Girls On the Beach” where the Beach Boys perform the tune along with the title song of the movie and “Little Honda”. They were joined in the film with early Sixties pop star Lesley Gore, who’s big hit was “It’s My Party” (1963). Also in the movie were the Crickets, still attempting to exist six years after Buddy Holly’s demise.

Gary Usher and Brian Wilson were to write nine other songs together, including the beautiful “In My Room”, but father Murry didn’t like Usher and constantly harangued Brian, discouraging him from working with the boy and even attempting to persuade Brian to drop him as a friend.


1962 Bubbletop Chevy Impala with 409 block engine

Written by Brian Wilson, Gary Usher and Mike Love, “409” is a precursor to their 1964 hit “Fun, Fun, Fun”, with similarities in its structure. It was the B-side of the single release “Surfin’ Safari”, and was also one of the tracks in their debut album of the same name. Because hot-rod cars were synonymous with teenagers and the Southern California beach scene, the song neatly fit into the Beach Boys identity.

“409” sparked a brief hot-rod music craze that would later be picked up by copycat group Jan and Dean with songs like “Drag City” (1963), which sounds a lot like “409”, along with “Dead Man’s Curve” and “Little Old Lady from Pasadena”, both 1964 Top Ten hits. Ronny and the Daytonas also made it into the Pop Top Ten with “Little GTO”, reaching Number Four in 1964 on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart.

George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” (1973) was set in 1962. Teenagers then drove their hot rod cars on weekends cruising the scene, and doing the occasional chinese firedrills (getting out of the car at a red light and running around the car in front of you before the light turns green).

Cruising has dwindled over the decades. In 2016, the youth of America are driving less and waiting longer to get their driver’s license. Social media has replaced the need for cruising.

In May of 1962, Candix declared bankruptcy. The record label was having major cash flow problems that Murry didn’t know about. Infuriated, he set out to find another label for his kids’ group. He took the recordings they had done and set out to knock on doors. He went to Dot Records and got rejected. The same thing happened when he contacted Liberty Records. It was the third record label, Capitol, when Murry met a young man who was looking for a new sound.

Capitol Records’ Producer Nik Venet and some of the artists he produced (Bobby Darin’s name is misspelled)

“I signed them to Capitol Records. It was a master purchase. They brought the first record ready-made. They had a minor release earlier on an independent label, a local chart record, I think it was ‘Surfin’.’ The father had brought a master of the second record. He wanted to make a new deal. He wanted to sell the master and was asking $100, a small royalty. He didn’t want very much . . . a very humble man. –Nik Venet, Capitol Records

Young up-and-coming entrepreneur Nik Venet signed the Beach Boys to a seven-year contract with Capitol Records, and released the recordings the group had done on their own of “Surfin’ Safari” with “409” as its B-side on June 4th, 1962. That same week, Billboard wrote about the song and praised Mike Love’s vocals, announcing that the song had hit potential. It managed to crack the Pop Top Twenty, reaching Number 14 on Billboard’s national Pop chart. Because of this initial promising success, Capitol Records approved the recording of an entire album.

“We bought the master. Gave him $300 for it and made him a good royalty deal. He wanted to give us the publishing and I had to advise them to open a small company with the boys, with the group, split it between them and keep the publishing.” –Nik Venet

Nikolas Kostantinos Venetoulis started to work for Capitol Records in 1958 when he was 21 years old as Nik Venet. Besides discovering the Beach Boys, he’s either discovered or recorded many of the biggest artists of the 50s and 60s in a varied array of musical genres, including Nat “King” Cole, Stan Getz, Glen Campbell, Jim Croce, King Curtis, Bobby Darin, the Kingston Trio, The Lettermen, Fred Neil, Ricky Nelson, Lou Rawls, Linda Ronstadt, Sam Cooke, Wayne Newton, Gene Vincent, Bobby Womack and Frank Zappa. He was also Executive Producer of Mel Brooks’ and Carl Reiner’s “2000-Year-Old Man” recording.


“The group is mainly comprised of people from Hawthorne, California, named Wilson … there’s Brian, Dennis, Carl, and their Dad, Murry Wilson, a long-time songwriter who acts as manager for the outfit. Then there’s the boys’ talented cousin, Mike Love … who sings both the lead tenor and deep bass parts in their unusual vocal arrangements. … [and] young David Marks, a neighbor of the Wilsons who plays a driving rhythm guitar. Brian, the oldest of the Wilson boys, is the group’s leader and vocal arranger. Carl is the very accomplished lead guitarist, while brother Dennis sings and plays the drums. None of them, incidentally, had any formal training, but they all grew up in an atmosphere where music was a regular part of their lives.” — excerpt taken from the album’s original liner notes

Beach music, created by the Beach Boys in 1962, quickly became the music teenagers wanted to dance to. It was a totally new sound, a perfect alternative from the doo-wop that had been commanding the airwaves since the mid-Fifties, and best of all, you could still twist to it. It was the soundtrack to many Sixties summers, heard on little transistor radios on the beach. They sounded fresh and exciting, even as the Beach Boys’ early songs also retained the spirit of early rock ‘n’ roll with their Chuck Berry-like guitar licks, sometimes outright stealing entire signatures from the Berry songbook, and their amazing Everly Brothers’ style harmonizing.

Their harmonies were the group’s signature sound and can be directly attributed to Brian Wilson. Their pitch perfect vocals were perfected over the years whenever teenage Brian used his prize possession, his reel-to-reel tape recorder, to record himself with his brothers and other family members singing traditional songs, honing their talent and perfecting their harmonies. They had hit on a sound that would prove timelessly popular, to the point that Beach Boys music is now inextricably woven into American culture.

The photo session for the album cover was taken in Paradise Cove, north of Malibu, by in-house Capitol photographer Ken Veeder

The Beach Boys’ debut album “Surfin’ Safari” was released in October of 1962. Although Venet is credited as producer, Brian had a lot of input in the production, at times producing entire tracks mostly by himself. His contract had stipulated that he would be in charge of production, even though he doesn’t get the credit on the album. Brian was a perfectionist in every detail of production, even down to where it was recorded. Capitol Records recording studios were large and spacious because they were used to recording orchestras, but a small rock ensemble needed a smaller room. He convinced the label to let them record in an outside, smaller studio by saying they would pay for the production. They also gave Capitol all the rights to the songs. What they asked for in return was a higher royalty rate on their record sales. They got it.

The album “Surfin’ Safari” is a heaping helping of the first explosive strains of California rock ‘n’ roll. The surfing theme would snowball over the next three years with groups such as the aforementioned Jan and Dean, but by 1963, everyone was dancing and listening to the new sound coming from California in the form of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari” album. It was designed to be a dance party record, with nary a ballad to be heard anywhere, filled with nothing but rock ‘n’ roll dance tracks celebrating the life of a California teenager. It was meant to be heard on the beach while twisting on the sand with friends. The album peaked at Number 32 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart and would stay in the charts for 37 weeks, over eight months.


Brian wrote nine of the twelve songs contained in the album and co-wrote some with Gary and Mike, venturing out of the beach theme for some of them. The second track of the album following “Surfin’ Safari” and the second song Gary and Brian wrote together, was “County Fair”, about a teenage couple going on a date to the fair, complete with a spoken monologue repeated twice in the song where the girl encourages her date at a fair to ring the bell on a high-striker game. It was similar in pace to the title track and would land on the b-side of their next single.


“Ten Little Indians” is a rock ‘n roll variation of the old children’s song. The song opens with the stereotype war whoops that was perpetuated by countless “cowboys and Indians” Hollywood movies still popular in 1962, then settles into a familiar rock ‘n’ roll beat. The original “Ten Little Indians” can be traced all the way back to 1868, written by Septimus Winner for a minstrel show. The modernized Beach Boys version was written by Brian, Gary and Mike and released as the A-side of their follow-up single to ”Surfin’ Safari”, backed by the aforementioned “County Fair”. The single climbed up to Number 49 in the Billboard pop chart, but was more popular in the Midwest, reaching the Top 30 in Philadelphia, Chicago and Pittsburgh and making it into the Top Ten at Number Nine in Minneapolis.


The next track maintains the relentless dancing beat as they sing about chugging down root beer, a sly reference to alcohol while still retaining the teenage innocence that the times demanded be displayed to the general public. Naming the members of the band in the song, including Gary Usher, and double entendres abound in the lyrics.

Here a mug, there a mug, everybody chug-a-lug… Gary likes a girl’s tight black pants, Larry knows he doesn’t stand a chance, Carl says hurry up and order it quick, Dave gets out to chase that chick, Dennis wonders what’s under the hood, a big chrome tach and it sounds real good, I go down to the root beer stand and drink up all that I can…” Chug-a-Lug – The Beach Boys


“Little Girl” is one of three songs from the album not written by any of the Beach Boys. It’s a doo-wop cover song written by Vincent Catalano and Herb Alpert. Sung sweetly by drummer Dennis Wilson, Brian played with the form of the original song quite a bit until he came up with a version that would carry the Beach Boys sound. It’s said that Brian completely produced this track without Venet’s help.

“409”, the b-side to the “Surfin’ Safari” single that the group had recorded on their own, closed the Side A and their very first single, “Surfin’” opened Side B. The next track, “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” was an attempt to write about the catch phrases of the day. Other tracks on the second side are “Cuckoo Clock”, a tune who’s refrain would go “cuckoo, cuckoo, go away silly bird”. At this point, it sounded like they were running out of things to write about. The remaining three songs on the album more than made up for it.


The Beach Boys’ version of Gene Vincent’s classic song is a faithful interpretation of the original, played with a good shot of California rock ‘n’ roll, but the next track is one of the highlights of the album.


“Moon Dawg” is considered the first surf rock song ever recorded, just not by the Beach Boys. Written by singer-songwriter Derry Weaver, he recorded “Moon Dawg” in 1959 with his group the Gamblers. The song was produced by Venet when he worked at World Pacific Records and he recommended it to the Beach Boys to record. It’s only fitting that they did put this down on vinyl because it’s the first of its kind, and passes the torch from the Gamblers, who struggled from 1959 to 1961 trying in vain to enter the Billboard Top Pop 100, to the Beach Boys, the group that would define and popularize the surf guitar sound.

Starting with a steady drum roll courtesy of Dennis, it settles into a rock ‘n’ roll beat accompanied by Brian’s bass. Enter the background ahh-vocals, then a slick sounding Berry-like guitar lick with actual howling as background vocal… and you got yourself a classic, led by a Chuck Berry/Duane Eddy-like guitar twang.


Famous Sixties super-model Twiggy in a typical Sixties shift dress

A shift was a one-piece, sleeveless woman’s dress without a waist seam, allowing the woman to “shift” around comfortably when wearing it. Still worn today, it originated in the 1920s with the flapper dress designed by Coco Chanel, then became popular again throughout the Sixties with new colorful patterns, evolving into the Sun dress in the Seventies. The Beach Boys’ last track on their first album was called “The Shift” and it celebrated how much they liked to see a girl wearing them.

“Check out the chick with the new dress on (Wearin’ a shift and it looks real fine)
They call it a shift and it comes on strong (Wearin’ a shift and it looks real fine)
When she’s got it on, well she can’t do no wrong (Wearin’ a shift, wearin’ a shift)
(Turns me on now) (get a shift now)” The Shift – The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys sound would grow and develop into more complex music as the Sixties progressed and they took their fans on their musical journey with them. By the end of the Sixties, they were the top selling American band for albums and singles according to Billboard and Nielsen/SoundScan. They’re also the American group with the most Top Forty Billboard Pop hits, having had 36 singles charting from 1962 through 1988, with “Kokomo”, their very last single to enter the Top Forty making it all the way to Number One. Although not written by Brian Wilson, but by John Phillips of the Mamas and the papas, Scott Mackenzie who had a hit with “San Francisco” in 1967, and Mike Love. It was a fitting final bow to America’s rock ‘n’ roll band.



GE Transistor radio with top ring handle, Model P-850C, Circa 1962

While the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan were pointing towards two different directions in popular music, AM radio in 1962 sounded much the same as it had been since Elvis was drafted into the Army. Doo-wop was still king and so was the heartthrob of the moment. Boy singers were cropping up as fast as the record labels could put them on record and release them to cash in. Here are a few of the more memorable and popular in 1962.



Gene Pitney

There was a new type of boy singer sprouting up in 1962. They followed the Roy Orbison vein of romantic pop ballads but with less rock ‘n’ roll and more orchestration. Gone was the rock ‘n’ roll Elvis look-alike, replaced by an old fashioned crooner with a young face. One of the most popular boy singers of that year was Gene Francis Alan Pitney. He charted four singles in the Billboard Pop Top Ten between 1962 and 1964. The torchy ballad “Town Without Pity” would be the song to launch his career. It was also the title song to a 1962 Hollywood movie of the same name with ‘A’ movie star of the day, Kirk Douglas. The song, written by Dimitri Tiomkin along with the rest of the film score, would go on to win a Golden Globe and earn an Academy Award nomination, where Pitney sang it during the 1962 broadcast. The song launched Pitney’s career, climbing up to Number 13 on Billboard’s Pop chart on January 27, 1962.

Pitney would go on to write songs like “Rubber Ball” and “Hello Mary Lou” for fellow boy singers Bobby Vee and Ricky Nelson, respectively, and “He’s A Rebel” for girl group The Crystals, all of them Top Ten hits. As a solo artist, he hit the Top Ten with the single that followed “TWP”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, a Burt Bacharach-Hal David song named after another movie of the day with then-big stars James Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin as Valance. The Pitney song wouldn’t make it into the film because of a contractual dispute, but on June 16, 1962, it climbed to Number Four in the Billboard Pop Top Ten chart without any help from the movie. It’s a country-inflected cowboy song with a galloping tempo, telling the tale like the one in the film. A new sheriff is in town and he aims to stop that rascal Liberty Valance in his tracks, for the sake of all the womenfolk and all that’s good in this country. Catchy song, too.

His next single “Only Love Can Break A Heart” was also a Bacharach-David composition, and became Pitney’s highest charting song, reaching Number Two on November 3rd, 1962. It’s schmaltz-o-rama, sounding a lot like Bobby Vinton, another boy singer of the day that drowns his ballads with lush orchestration. This one is no different. Pitney hits the high notes with passion though, and the song does have a haunting melody that tends to hold one sway.

In 1963, Pitney got three more singles into the Top Twenty, including “24 Hours From Tulsa”, an insanely catchy Bacharach-David tune that should have charted much higher than Number 17 on December 7, 1963. Although it wasn’t a chart hit, Pitney is known most for “24HFT”.

He wouldn’t make it into the Top ten again until October 3rd, 1964 with his Number Four hit, “It Hurts To Be In Love” by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller, who, like Bacharach and David, also hailed from the “Brlll Building” songwriting stable.

In this recording, Pitney’s musical backing drastically changed. Gone was the lush orchestration, replaced by a rock ‘n’ roll beat and distinct drums. Thanks to the sudden onslaught of new rock ‘n’ roll music ushered in by the Beatles in 1964, the boy crooner was practically gone from the charts. This was Pitney’s way of staying competitive. The song is alright too, complete with a catchy middle that transcends into a satisfying hook and carries the melody along.

Except for one more Top Ten song called “I’m Gonna Be Strong” that reached Number Nine on December 12, 1964, Pitney’s radio listening audience dwindled steadily until he regularly languished closer towards the bottom of the Top 100 for the rest of the Sixties. One of the reasons for his growing scarcity on the radio after 1964 can be found in this particular song. It’s a nice ballad in the Roy Orbison style, starting out spare and soft and ending in a huge crescendo.

Pitney did a lot better over at the UK, Europe and Australia, managing to chart well up until 1974. He continued touring throughout the rest of his career. For his musical contributions and his distinctive singing style, he was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

On April 5th, 1996, Pitney was found dead of a heart attack in his hotel room after his performance in St. David’s Hall in Cardiff, Wales. He was 66 years old.



Bobby Vinton

At the same time that Gene Pitney was charting with schmaltzy pop ballads, Stanley Robert “Bobby” Vinton was busy buying one thousand copies of his own debut single “Roses Are Red (My Love)”, from the label he was signed to, Epic Records, and then hiring a woman to deliver a copy of the song along with a dozen red roses to every Pop DJ in the area. It apparently worked because by the Summer of 1962, Bobby Vinton had become a pop star. The record made it to Billboard’s Number One on July 14th, as well as reaching Number One in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa and The Philippines.

Vinton scored three more classic schmaltz ballads each subsequent year. In 1963, he released “Blue Velvet”, a song originally covered by Tony Bennett in 1951. Vinton’s version remains the most popular, having made it to Billboard Number One spot on September 21, 1963 and staying there for three weeks.

“Blue Velvet” was also the inspiration for David Lynch’s 1986 movie of the same name, and was showcased in the film in a very creepy way.

Bobby Vinton’s third and last Number One hit holds a special distinction. It made it to the top spot on January 4th, 1964 and stayed there for four weeks, only to be toppled by a song called “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by a four man group called the Beatles, newcomers from England, who would literally change and direct rock music through the rest of the Twentieth Century. It was a passing of the torch, from the Establishment-rooted pop heartthrob to a sound brimming with youthful excitement and optimism, complete with British accents.

Vinton’s last Number One was “Mr. Lonely”, reaching the top position on December 12th, 1964. It’s one of his signature songs, delivering the lyrics as if he was about to cry. Coincidentally enough, Gene Pitney also peaked on that same day with his final Top Ten, “I’m Gonna Be Strong”. It was almost as if once the year ends, the old would be ushered out to be replaced by the new.

Vinton had a totally of nine Top Ten Hits including his four Number Ones sporadically through the rest of the Sixties and Seventies along with several other records that managed to enter the Top Forty. He even managed to have a half-hour hit TV series on ABC from 1975 to 1978 called The Bobby Vinton Show. Since then he dabbled in an acting career on several TV dramas and movies, including two John Wayne films.

Bobby Vinton is 81 years old as of 2016 and still lives with his wife who he’s been married to since 1962. His son Robert, one of his five children, followed acting as well and plays his father Bobby in a small role in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1990).



The boy singer of the summer of 1962 was 18-year-old Brian Hyland, who was coming off a Number One song two summers earlier called “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini”. It was a dreadful novelty song, devoid of anything worthwhile to listen to more than once, if that long, but on August 12, 1960, it was the Number One Pop song of the land for a week.

Much of the success of the song has a lot to do with what Hyland is singing about. The bikini had been introduced fourteen years earlier in 1946 by French designer Louis Reard. Reard named his design after the Bikini atoll in the South Pacific’s Marshall Islands, where seven nuclear bomb tests were conducted between 1946 and 1958. By 1960, Reard’s bikini was using less fabric than ever before, and Hyland’s novelty song capitalized on the theme to incredulous success.

Hyland’s only other Top Ten Pop hit was a remake of a 1960 song by a group called the Four Voices. The song went nowhere so, liking the melody, Hyland gave it a try. “Sealed With A Kiss” peaked at Number Three Pop on July 28th, 1962 and remains a a truly pretty Sixties “bubble gum pop” classic.

“Though we gotta say goodbye for the summer, baby, I promise you this. I’ll send you all my love every day in a letter, sealed with a kiss.” Sealed With A Kiss – Brian Hyland

Fellow early Sixties boy singer Bobby Vinton recorded “Sealed With A Kiss’ exactly ten years later where it peaked at Number 19 on August 19th, 1972. The song endures today in its timeless melody, which goes to show that even if it comes from pop music knows as “bubble gum”, a genre derided as toothless and “not really rock ‘n’ roll”, then you can make the same argument over the Beatles’ “Yesterday” or the Beach Boys’ “In My Room” and countless other ballads where the rock ‘n’ roll beat don’t necessarily dominate or even exist, but the heart of the song is deeply rooted in the spirit of innovation that rock ‘n’ roll forever carries.



Gene Chandler

Whenever they were booked to sing somewhere, the R&B group the Dukays would do vocal exercises to limber up their vocal chords, many times repeating “do, do, do…” Dukays member Eugene Dixon would incorporate fellow member Earl Edwards‘ first name as a joke during their exercises and would start to vocalize, “do, do, do, duke of earl…”

Soon, Dixon and Edwards got together and turned that into a full blown song with the assistance of their mentor Bernice Williams. They recorded it with the Dukays but their record label, Epic, passed on it, offering to release the song from their contract with them so Dixon could record it as a solo artist. Dixon took them up on that offer and launched his solo career after changing his name. Dixon’s favorite actor of the time was Jeff Chandler, so he took the actor’s name and shortened his own first name from Eugene to Gene.

The label released “Duke Of Earl” by Gene Chandler in late 1961, debuted in the Billboard Hot 100 on January 13, 1962 and quickly rose to Number One in the Pop and R&B charts by February 17th. “Duke Of Earl” stayed at Number One for three weeks in the USA and for fifteen weeks in the Top Forty.

Many cover versions of the song have been recorded since. “Duke Of Earl” has been selected by the Grammy and the Rock & Roll Hall of fame as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. It would be one of the last doo-wop songs to make it to the Top spot on the national Pop charts, but it’s deeply rooted in Fifties rock ‘n’ roll and sung with a heartfelt earnest by Chandler. Although Chandler would continue to record and chart singles in the Hot 100, he never made it into the Top Ten or matched the success of his first song.

Gene Chandler would tour off that one song for decades, at one point calling himself after the song that landed him a niche in rock ‘n’ roll history, the Duke of Earl. &8 years old as of 2016, he occasionally still performs in Las Vegas, Chicago and Europe.