This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Thursday, April 03, 2014
***Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night- Billy’s Back- The Crests’ Step By Step
Peter Paul Markin comment:
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 Billy, William James Bradley, the schoolboy mad-hatter of the 1950s rock jailbreak out in our “the projects” neighborhood. Yah, 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.
Billy and I spent many, many hours mainly up in his tiny bedroom, his rock heaven bedroom, walls plastered with posters of Elvis, Bo Diddley (remind me to tell you sometime about a not so funny story of Billy finding out the hard way that Bo, Bo who claims, legitimately claims, to have put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll was black), 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 (read: “five-finger discount” at Kenny’s Record Store up in North Adamsville Center), and neatly folded piles of clothing, also gathered by that same hook or by crook (read: “five-finger discount” at Greyson’s up that same Center), 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 finding-out-about-girls –and-their-workings 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 Billy’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 Billy 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 standards his big old reel to reel monstrosity of a tape recorder, to record Billy’s covers of the then current hit songs (for those who have not read previously of Billy’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, Billy, 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 Billy I’m still pulling for you. Got it.
Billy, William James Bradley, comment:
What the hell’s going on? It is almost like I can’t even listen to my transistor radio these days without wanting to throw up. Yes, that’s right throw up. And Markin, Peter Paul Markin, my best friend over at Adamsville South Elementary a couple of years back will back me up on this if he ever comes back around the old neighborhood to breathe some real air, some fresh sea air, and get the low-down on what is good in music these days. Except I won’t have much to tell him right now. Like I said I feel like throwing up most of the time when I listen to the radio.
Nothing righteous. Nothing like Elvis when he was righteous, hungry and righteous, a few years back. Or Jerry Lee before he got into cousin-marrying trouble or Chuck Berry when he got into no-no white girl trouble. Fabian, Conway Twitty, Duane Eddy, Ricky Nelson, jesus, even Ricky Nelson, the Everly Brothers and on and on with twaddle, yes, twaddle about this and that oddball thing about teen life. And girls, girls with money to buy the records, who seem to just want dreamy stuff about sad movies, some sad-sack boyfriends, johnny, jimmy, joey angels, following guys to the end of the earth, and all that. No more be-bop-a-lula. I tell you we are in the dumps and it ain’t getting better, if anything worst.
Here is what I am up to these days, and maybe you should be too. I am starting to listen and listen hard to doo wop stuff. The stuff that came out of the street corners of New York City and other big town places where you had guys (and chicks too) singing, no instruments, or maybe some low-down, low-key piano, just doing harmonies, and doo wop background responses. Cool. Yah, I know I got in trouble, musically anyway, trying to cover righteous Bo Diddley down here in the white projects playing off “colored” music that really, really I say, drove early rock. Just ask Elvis, if he is in a truthful mood.
But this stuff, this doo wop stuff, if it gets around more, can break the pretty boys and their dreamy girl thing up. So here is what I am doing now that it is summer, school is out, it’s hot, and we haven’t got a damn thing to do, and no money to do it with if we had that damn thing to do. I have been listening to doo wop records like crazy, right now I am concentrating on the Crests and their great harmonies on Step by Step. Here is what I want to do just like we tried last summer when Markin was around more. A few guys, a few of my guys, my hanging-around-waiting-to-do-this-and-that-but-just-now-waiting-fire-guys, would get together around dusk in back of the old school around the playground area and start practicing harmonies. Markin scoffed at the idea at the time, as usual. But then, just as the sun started going down, a couple of girls would come by to listen and not “dogs” either, or “sticks.” Then a couple more, and a couple more, and there you have it.
Of course after that success Markin wanted to do it every day, all day, even in the afternoon heat, and Markin hates the heat. So I figure that we can try it again this year and maybe we can break out of the Bobby Vee mold. But see here is where I am on the hook. If you can believe this I need Markin, need him bad. Last summer when he was around more I tried to keep him in the background as his voice was starting to change. Yah, I tried to ship him and his voice to Chicago if you want to know the truth, best friend and all. But lately I have been having trouble on the call and response side of Step by Step and now that Markin has a more bassy voice I sure could use him otherwise I will never break out into my proper place in the doo wop world. Got it, Markin.
[I never got Billy’s message or it got lost or something but I did not show up to do back-ups for that mad monk. Since you have never heard of Billy James Bradley and the Teenagers or any group like that in doo wop heaven you also know Billy never made that bust-out he was always dreaming of before things went haywire for him -Markin]