Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night- The Battle Rages- Jerry Lee or Elvis?- Jerry Lee Lewis’ “High School Confidential”- Billie And Peter Paul Square Off
This is the back story, the teen listener back story if you like, going back to the primordial youth time of the mid to late 1950s with its bags full of classic rock songs for the ages. Of course, any such efforts have to include the views of one Billie, William James Bradley, the schoolboy mad-hatter of the 1950s rock jailbreak out in our “the projects” neighborhood. Ya, in those days, unlike during his later fateful wrong turn trajectory days, every kid, including best friend Markin, me, lived to hear what he had to say about any song that came trumpeting over the radio, at least every one that we would recognize as our own.
Billie and I spent many, many hours mainly up in his tiny bedroom, his rock heaven bedroom, walls plastered with posters of Elvis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, somewhat later Jerry Lee Lewis, and of every new teen heartthrob singer, heartthrob to the girls that is, around, on his night table every new record Billie could get his hands on, by hook or by crook, and neatly folded piles of clothing, also gathered by that same hook or by crook, appropriate to the king hell king of the schoolboy rock scene, the elementary school rock scene between about 1956 to 1960. Much of that time was spent discussing the “meaning” of various songs, especially their sexual implications, ah, their mystery of girls-finding-out-about worthiness.
Although in early 1959 my family had started the process of moving out of the projects, and, more importantly, I had begun to move away from Billie’s orbit, his new found orbit as king hell gangster wannabe, I still would wander back there until mid-1960 just to hear his take on whatever music was interesting him at the time. These commentaries, these Billie commentaries, are my recollections of his and my conversations on the song lyrics in this series. But I am not relying on memory alone. During this period we would use my father’s tape recorder, by today’s standard his big old reel to reel monstrosity of a tape recorder, to record Billie’s covers of the then current hit songs (for those who have not read previously of Billie’s “heroics” he was a pretty good budding rock singer at the time) and our conversations of those song meanings that we fretted about for hours. I have, painstakingly, had those reels transcribed so that many of these commentaries will be the actual words spoken during those conversations(somewhat edited, of course). That said, Billie, king hell rock and roll king of the old neighborhood, knew how to call a lyric, and make us laugh to boot. Wherever you are Billie I’m still pulling for you. Got it.
High School Confidential lyrics-Jerry Lee Lewis
You better open up honey it's your lover boy me that's a knockin'
You better listen to me sugar all the cats are at the High School rockin'
Honey get your boppin' shoes Before the juke box blows a fuse
Got everybody hoppin' everybody boppin'
Boppin' at the High School Hop
Boppin' at the High School Hop
Shakin' at the High School Hop
I've rollin' at the High School Hop
I've been movin' at the High School Hop
Everybody’s hoppin' Everybody's boppin'
Boppin' at the High School Hop
Come on little baby gonna rock a little bit tonight
Woooh I got get with you sugar gonna shake things up tonight
Check out the heart beatin' rhythm cause my feet are moving smooth and
Boppin' at the High School Hop
Shakin' at the High School Hop
Rollin' at the High School Hop
Movin' at the High School Hop
Everybody’s hoppin' just a boppin' just a boppin'
Come on little baby let me give a piece good news good news good news
Jerry Lee is going to rock away all his blues
My hearts beatin' rhythm and my soul is singin' the blues
Oooooh Boppin' at the High School Hop
Shakin' at the High School Hop
Rollin' at the High School Hop
Gettin' it at the High School Hop
Everybody’s hoppin' Everybody's boppin'
Boppin' at the High School Hop
Peter Paul Markin comment:
“Who are you taking to the hop? Come on now, tell me, tell me, your old buddy Billie, who you asked? Was it Theresa? Was it Donna? Was it Karen?” That was the incessant bugging by my old elementary school boy compadre, Billie, William James Bradley if you didn’t know already, every time a school sock hop came up. But you know, or you should know, that was just a little way that he had to bait me about my shyness, or rather my awkwardness around girls. Around girls that he, king hell king of the late 1950s rock night “discarded” and left for the rest of us, especially for me.
And he knew, he knew damn well that I had not gotten up the nerve to ask any of those three ex-flames, or any girl, to the dance coming up in a few days. For one thing because, as king hell king of the rock night, and therefore king, crowned or uncrowned, of the sock hop he had all the configurations, combinations, set-ups, and, and, no-go bust-ups all computed out, no, not on some machine memory depot but in his head. For another because he didn’t know that I had decided just to go to the dance alone and maybe getting lucky there. Heck, I had done it before, a few times, although not with any great success but if there is any rhyme or reason to youth it is around the possibilities of getting lucky. Of course, old Billie had “selected” Laura as his escort, no awkwardness in Billie, although I had heard, heard from more than one budding teenage source that she “liked me,”(don’t ever tell him this though for I will deny it on seven stacked bibles). Or liked my seriousness, and my clowny, get in the way bookishness. So I am going “stag” on the hope, the hell or high water hope that Billie will let his old buddy, his old amigo, his, well you know, have a dance with his escort to see if I have some “magic.”
Now, and ever since I heard about her opinion of me, I have been wracking my brain to figure out this question. How could she “like me”, or not like me for that matter, I do not know because although I had looked over in her direction in class dreamily (yes, dreamily) more than somewhat I had never said word one to her, or her to me. Now this Laura, if you want a description is not drop-dead beautiful, at least by Billie-Markin defined drop-dead beautiful, twelve and thirteen year old girl beautiful, but she has something else that I would not (and Billie definitely would not) figure out how to say for many years, she was fetching. Definition: nice figure, meaning having a shape, if you really want to know, because when you think about it, boy or girl, twelve and thirteen year old boy or girl, any girl that had a shape (meaning had womanly contours, hips, breasts, nicely-formed legs) rather than a stock stick figure tomboy-like girl was bound to get ahead in that be-bop night, and probably now too.
But more than that, for me, if not for Billie, she didn’t giggle, silly giggle like the other girls when a boy said something stupid-funny (and the twelve and thirteen year old boy universe is more than somewhat filled with stupid-funny stuff done by eons of clueless guys, trying, trying just like me, and just like Billie if he could have ever been honest about it, to figure out the key to the girl-charm thing, yes, there is plenty of room in that universe even now for the stupid-funny) and, she carried herself in a way, sometimes with a certain thoughtful look, sometimes by a thing she did by putting her fingers to her lips, and maybe the most important, that she knew she was a girl and was content with that knowledge. She would lack for no dates or admirers, ever. Oh, ya she was also smart, not Billie street smart, not Markin two-thousand facts smart but asking and answering teacher smart, without being crazy smart about it that you also knew every boy, or almost every boy, in the twelve and thirteen year old boy universe did not like in girls then, and maybe now for all I know. It only gets sifted out later.
But enough of Laura, of Billie, christ of Markin as well, of pre-sock hop arrangements, derangements and dreamily kid in the night be-bop stuff let us get to the sock hop. Hey, wait a minute, you know what sock hops are, or you heard from your parents or grandparents what sock hops are, right? Back in the fifties, yes, the 1950s (and a little bit into the 1960s but the term had kind of died out by then, at least for “non-squares”). If you don’t then I’ll fill you in quickly now, but you’ll see you really know about all of this because it is nothing but a “primitive”, maybe Stone Age when you hear it, version of any school dance scene since they started making teenagers a separate social category in the world, the whole wide world even. Okay the idea was to hem in this mad dash, this mad craze to dance, and dance guys with girls and vice versa, that kids have been into since the radio and jukebox came on the scene, maybe back in that Stone Age now that I think about it.
So dear mother and father, you name the generation, figured out if you can’t beat them join them, and the schools (and churches later) were in cahoots. So every once in a while to keep three eyes on this stuff (and to avoid the feared, seriously feared, basement or “family room”-launched “petting parties” if kids are left to their own devices), maybe a few times a month they would throw a sock hop (the sock part comes from the fact, the hard fact, that most girls, most twelve and thirteen year old girls, wore ankle socks. Ya, no nylons, etc. If you don’t believe me look it up on Wikipedia, or something). Now, most times, this was nothing but some parent or teacher acting as dee-jay and "spinning platters” (records) in some dank, well-lighted, too well-lighted school gym or church basement, christ more than once in the school cafeteria when the gym was being used for other purposes that night. Yes, the night, the night in those days being from seven to about ten in the evening so you would have to think pretty hard about not going, stag or dated up, to the dance if for no other reason than to be able to get out of the house, the cramped, nowhere project house (really apartment) for a few hours uncramped freedom.
This night, this night that Billie kidded me about, this Billie and Laura night, though somehow, although I am vague on the details of how they were brought in, we are not reduced to cranky, scratchy records but a real live local band, a band that prided itself, I heard, on doing covers of the “hot” new singers and groups we knew from American Bandstand (an afternoon television show that had Philly kids, older Philly kids, dancing and swaying to whatever dee-jay Dick Clark, is he still around?, decided was wholesome and fit for the ears of America’s afternoon rock obsessed youth). So this is a time you definitely did not want to miss. And to truth to tell I went early, nervously early if you must know, to see what was up and watch the band set up.
Now this is not just any time in the 1950s, although the sock hop thing, the worried parent, worried about those “petting party” things(and more, much more, about sex things) and this wild and woolly rock obsessed thing their no understand what kids are into could have been anytime from about 1955 on, from the time that Elvis exploded onto the scene with those swiveling hips, that jumping girl guitar, that unkempt hair (ya, unkempt to them), and that permanent sneer came onto the scene.
No, this is 1958 when the Elvis thing had died down a little now that he was dead, or we thought he was dead, and for a fact he might have well have been dead in the constant teen chew-up of rock talent from the kind of music and movies he was into after giving us such great stuff like Jailhouse Rock, Good Rockin’ Tonight, Heartbreak Hotel and One Night With You. Ya, the king was dead, long live the king, and let’s move on, okay. Billie and I talked about it, about how guys, rock guys that is, seen to have a short shelf-life, but as Billie knew, knew from his own bumpy rock “career”, that’s show biz. So this night we are wondering, wondering like crazy, how the band will work out and whose music they will cover.
Like I said I got there early and watched the band set up, including a piano besides the guitar and drums so I figure maybe they will do some Little Richard or Fats Domino stuff. Seven o’clock comes and here comes Billie with Laura. Wow, Billie has on a nice jacket, wide lapels like all the rock guys are wearing these days (I’ll tell you about how he got it sometime but you can figure that a projects boy didn’t get it as a birthday present from Ma and Pa). Really sharp. But double wow on Laura who has on a cashmere sweater, some wide skirt and, can you believe this, nylons, to show off her nice legs. Oh ya, and just a hint of smile on her face like she is here with the king of the rock night, crowned or uncrowned, and she has staked out the territory as queen, demure queen, but queen nevertheless.
Yes, fetching (although we will agree between ourselves that I don’t know that word, or how to use it in relationship to describing girls and their charms just yet, alright). But here is where the sweetest part comes in when Billie and Laura make their royal entrance and come over to where I am standing when Billie introduces me, formally introduces Laura to me, she gives me this, well, I don’t care if I do wear out the word, fetching smile and says “I’ve seen you in class but you never seem to pay any attention to me. I thought that report you gave on Greek democracy in class was very well done.” Be still my heart, she actually remembers the report… and me. And here I am wearing some bedraggled (always bedraggled, always) stripped (stripes, jesus) white collared shirt, ratty black pants, and old Thom McAn Easter-bought brown shoes. Well, she remembered my report, that’s a start, and it actually was pretty good because I went to the Thomas Crane Public Library right up in Adamsville Square to look the stuff up.
But enough of reports, and "be still my hearts" because the music is going on. A few covers of Little Richard and Fats as I expected, with that piano and all, some Buddy Holly that sounded a little tinny, a few other non-memorable odd and ends, including some Elvis that sounded, and I again swear on seven bibles, like old time parents’ music, like Frank Sinatra, or those guys. The suddenly, the leader of the band said that he had a special guest on the piano for the next number. We all wondered what the song would be while they were setting the piano up closer to the front. I heard somebody say it was going to be something by a new guy, Jerry Lee Lewis. Whoa! I have only heard him once or twice but I thought his piano was smoking so maybe this guest guy could do a good cover on it. Billie, Billie king hell king of the rock night, must have known something was up, and why (always why) because he brought Laura over and asked me if wanted to dance the next dance with her. Me, two left feet, or two right feet, stag, coming to the dance stag just hoping that I would get lucky with “discarded” Theresa, Donna, or Karen dance with fetching Laura. No way. The she said “but I really want to dance with you, you being Billie friend, and he says you are a good dancer,” and then turns a very whimsical smile on me.
Well what are you going to do when a woman (alright girl, but a girl with a shape) wants to dance with you, and had something nice to say about your school report, and, oh yes had that smile, that come hinter smile that leaves a man (okay, boy) anywhere from twelve to twelve hundred weak at the knees. Well, the music is starting so I say yes, okay yes.
And what does our guest pianist do but a cover, a hot cover by the way, of Jerry Lee Lewis’ latest, High School Confidential, which I had heard about but had not heard. Great. Laura and I are dancing away and she is doing nothing but give me meaningful smiles and, maybe that rumor about her “liking me” was true. I am just dancing away like crazy and people are looking at me like where did he learn how to do that. After the dance I returned Laura to Billie, a little miffed Billie but I could have been wrong on that. And then Theresa came over and asked if I wanted to dance. A few dances, a few Laura-less dances later the call for last dance came, and not feeling like watching Laura with Billie just then I headed home.
The next morning, a Sunday morning, if I recall, Billie came over to the house and was fuming/hangdog as we talked, talked obviously about the sock hop doings. Fuming because I had switched up on him. How? Well, apparently, Laura, sweet fetching Laura, spent more than the allotted time talking about me, rather than about Billie’s virtues and he had used the dance, the Jerry Lee Lewis manic rock number that he had found out the band was going to play to make me look silly (his word, although mine when I heard it was more of an expletive). Hangdog because he felt bad now that he had done his best friend wrong, wrong over a girl although, in Billie fashion, he tried to step back and argue that maybe he did me a favor getting me out on the dance floor. See, though what he didn’t know (and don’t tell him either, if you know his whereabouts) is that I had been taking lessons from his slightly older sister, Carol, on how to dance this latest faster dance stuff.
So that is the end of the story, or almost the end. A few days later Laura knocked at our apartment door in the afternoon after school. My mother answered the door and invited her in, although she, my mother that is, said Laura was coming in no matter what from the look on her face. She was fuming, although as it turns out good fuming, because she said she had been smiling at me like crazy when we were dancing to give me the “hint” to ask her for the last dance, the last close to her dance. Sorry, Laura. And then she blurted out her command, “You and I are going to the next sock hop together and you had better not say no.” Well, when a woman (girl, are you happy) "insists” on something, almost anything like that, and on top of that had that kind remark about that school report, and that shape, what is a boy, a boy of the twelve and thirteen year old universe to do but say yes. So at the next dance I won’t be dancing with Billie “discard” Theresa, Donna, or Karen although they are okay but with fetching Laura. So there Billie, we are even. And if anybody asks you, like they asked me once-Elvis or Jerry Lee? Jerry Lee, long live the king.
Billie, William James Bradley comment:
I am fuming, fuming six ways to Sunday if that is possible, fuming until the cows come home if there are any cows around, and if they have wandered I am still fuming. Why? I just called up Laura, Laura that I took to the school dance last week, to ask her if she wanted to go to the church sock hop scheduled for this weekend, Saturday night. Now it wouldn’t be as good as the last school one with a live band, and all, but even with just records and just ten thousand poor as church mice chaperones doing their chaperone thing to get grace or something, for real, we could still have a good time.
And do you know what she said. “I’ve got a date.” What, no way, no possible way, when everybody knows that she is my “personal property.” “Who is the guy, who is the guy, who is the guy who would dare cross the king of the rock night? This world is not big enough for the two of us, give me his name,” I said as I readied my arrows. “It’s Peter Paul, and before you get all crazy I asked him,” she darted back the sound of her voice pleased, pleased as punch the way she said it. “Double what?” I shouted over the phone so everyone within a twenty square mile area could hear, if they wanted to. And she came back, all sweet reason just like every girl, every stick or shapely girl, women even “I like you, I definitely like you, you’re funny, and you’re a good dancer, and you sure know a lot about rock ‘n’ roll, but you seem too bossy, and you take that "king of the rock" thing that Peter Paul keeps telling everybody about way too seriously. If Peter Paul hadn’t spent what seems like half his life building you up as, what did he call it, oh ya, “king of the be-bop night” you might be a better boy to be with. But the big thing, and here is where it all comes down on you, I found out, found out from Karen, that you tried to make a clown out of poor Peter Paul when you let him dance with me and you knew, or thought you knew, that he couldn’t dance for beans.” After she let that set in my head, uneasily in my head for a minute, she continued “So, yes, I went right over to his house and told him, no, what did he say I said, ‘insisted’ that we were going to the next dance together.” But get this, get this dagger thing aimed right at my heart. She finishes off with “And he makes me smile with his silly bookish ways, and you don’t okay. Next dance I’ll go with you, your highness, maybe.” And then she hung up. Ouch!
Two-timing that is all that it is. I can see that now. No, not Laura, you know how girls are, twelve and thirteen year old girls, with their hard to figure giggles, their starting to get shapes, and their monthlies (my sisters, Carol and Donna, told me all about it, sorry, tough luck girls). No, Peter Paul, Markin, that s.o.b., two-timed his best friend that’s all it can be. Probably went to the Thomas Crane Public Library branch that is attached to the school and read up everything that was on the shelves about two-timing, the history of two-timing, boys two-timings girls, girls two-timing boys, everything on the subject back to Pharaoh Egypt times. Just to two-time Billie, William James Bradley, known far and wide, despite what Laura said, as the king of the be-bop rock night. And Markin, no more Peter Paul nice guy now, didn’t have diddley to do with that. Period
But how did he switch up on me? I don’t get that. First, I know, I know from Karen, I know from Donna (not my sister Donna, Donna O’Toole, Cool Donna O’Toole, or was until I ditched her, or what did Markin call it, “discarded her”), I know from Theresa, and I know now, because I just asked her before she went out the door, from my sister Carol, that Markin never said word one to Laura before I introduced them the other night. Although now that I think about it I am still ticked off at Carol for not telling me about helping Markin learn to dance, rock dance, not that silly cowboy, barn dance, square dance thing that he calls rock dancing. I also know from Carol that Markin did not know much about jumping Jerry Lee Lewis. He was just hoping to get maybe an Elvis One Night With You, Good Rockin’ Today, Jailhouse Rock chance. Or a Chuck Berry Sweet Little Sixteen, or a Bo Diddley Who Do You Love? chance with Theresa, Karen or Donna (O’Toole). No way he believed, and I am going to go over right now and ask him about it, that he was going to step up to Laura’s league. Hell, it couldn’t have been that silly report, that silly report that he kept hammering me about as he leaned each new thing, Jesus Christ, Greek democracy, what are you kidding.
At his house I confront him. “Okay Markin what gives, what, how, why, where, when did you figure out how to break my time with Laura? And don’t play innocent and definitely, I warn you, start talking about that report, that silly Greek geek report.”
Of course I do not believe Peter Paul’s story, is who me story, no way. No way in hell, excuse my language, is a nice shape like that Laura, a nice shape in all the right places, or trying to be in all the right places, and smart, real smart going to go off the deep-end for a, let’s face it, ragamuffin boy like Markin. Christ, even he said it, a guy with a clowny outfit, a shirt, a shirt, a white stripped shirt for Christ sake, if you can believe that, a Bargie special, or straight of the back-rack at Woolworth’s, black chino pants with cuffs, jesus, cuffs and those square, too square Thom McAn brown shoes that I haven’t worn since about first communion is going to put the whammy on a babe like Laura.
Against me, against the king of the rock night in these parts, with my smart-looking wide lapel two-tone sports jacket just like Eddie Cochran, my black pants (ya, black pants, the black is okay it is the chinos, and, and the cuffs that have to go) nicely-pressed (ya, ma-pressed), my Elvis-style hair-do with just the right length sideburns and my foxy, spit-shined Florheim suede shoes (no, not blue suede, that’s squarey square now).
Ya, it was some drugstore medicine whammy he put on her at the dance that night. No question, although I haven’t quite figured out how he did it, because everybody knows, or I know anyhow that Peter Paul and science don’t mix. Don’t mix since he tried that rocket ship caper last year, trying personally to beat the commies at their own game after Sputnik jumped the night sky, when he tried to send some balsa wood rocket into space when he punctured a CO2 cartridge with a nail and a hammier and almost got us all killed. Or when, after that, he started to mix some chemicals in his cellar to go about it another way with some three-stage rocket concoction and almost blew the whole place up. I’ll tell you about that sometime but right now I wish, I wish, well I wish. See, Peter Paul is really about things like Abigail Adams, or her son John Quincy, or about literary guys, like this guy Fitzgerald who wrote about rich kids with names like Basil something and Josephine this or that and their hi-jinks ages ago that he has been yakking about lately. Ya, reading about rich kids, rich, rich guys having fun with rich girls like that is going get us out of the projects, and like reading that stuff is going make him rich, or even get him a pass out of this dungeon project.
Hey, wait a minute, no, no, it is not about science, it’s not about some silly book report, and it’s not about Peter Paul suddenly being a lady’s man. Why didn’t I think of it before? It’s about this new rocker- Jerry Lee Lewis and his be-bop thing, be-bop piano thing. Ya that's it. They say he is going to replace the king, and for all you squares, cubes, and fourth dimension guys and frills, that means Elvis. And if you don’t know that name you must have been up in space with the dogs, monkeys, or robots or whoever is riding those rockets.
Okay, okay I can take a joke. The spell is not Markin, it’s Jerry Lee. Hell, a momentary thing, maybe a few weeks while the king is resting up and waiting to go into the service, or something. No way someone who jumps up and down on a piano, and is kind of a wild man ever going to be, in his wildest dreams, better than Elvis. No way, no comparison, forget it. Name song names, okay. Heartbreak Hotel, That’s When You’re Heartbreak Begins, Jailhouse Rock, Good Rockin’ Tonight, Hound Dog, One Night (that alone says it all). Come on now, I listed enough. And Jerry Lee, High School Confidential. Ya, it’s good, its be-bop but this guy is strictly a one-hit Johnnie. Ya, okay I’ll let Peter Paul have his moment of glory, and maybe a kiss or two, if he’s not scared like usual, but Laura will be back with me at the next dance. Who knows, if I cut in at this Saturday's dance that's coming up, to spare her having to dance with Peter Paul and his black chino cuffed pants all night, maybe this dance. Then Peter Paul can go back and try his luck on those stick girls that are more his speed anyway. Ya, Elvis and Billie. Long live the kings!