March 13, 2011

I Can Name That Song in 3 Notes

Was I ever this young?
  For a dozen years I made my living as a rock and rock DJ. It was an exciting time of my life. I even had a different name when on the radio. It also gave me a skill that is totally useless in the real world: I can name any rock hit from 1958-1980 after hearing only 2 or 3 notes.  It is great fun at parties, but irritating to my wife when I still do it in the car.

Music was part of my job, and I'm willing to bet it was an important part of your life, too. Studies show that the music you hear in your teens and early 20's becomes the music you take with you for the rest of your life. While you are likely to enjoy different styles of music as you age, those songs on the radio during high school and college became part of who you are. Music has an incredible power to trigger memories and feelings like almost nothing else.

Recently, I was looking at a list of some of the top songs of the 1960's and 70's. It occurred to me that some of the song titles were perfect representatives of how we thought and felt during that time. As the years advanced, the changes in society and culture could also be marked by the music. Just for fun I picked a handful of songs to make my point.

I Want To Hold Your Hand.  I can still remember where I was when I heard this song for the first time. I was listening to a transistor radio hidden under my pillow well past my school day bedtime when the song played. The Beatles sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. Instantly I was captivated. At age 14 radio suddenly became my constant companion.  While the music was up tempo and loud and different, the lyrics were not much different from the rest of the songs of that time. The focus was on innocence, acceptable limits of contact, and a form of chaste puppy love. Two of the biggest hit songs of the late 50's were April Love and Young Love. Their message was really no different from the one sung by the Beatles. Upheaval and rebellion were yet to come.

Ballad of the Green Berets. Staff Sargent Barry Sadler had a number one song in 1966, extolling the bravery and glory of the Green Beret soldiers. This song reflected the mood of the country: military service was an honorable way to serve the United States, and Vietnam had not yet become a political land mine. The song was used in a movie of the same name staring John Wayne. Society was only a year away from the Beatles openly singing about drugs and the rumblings of discord on college campuses.

To Sir with Love. From the movie of the same name, British artist, Lulu, sang of respect for teachers and authority. She was expressing appreciation for an adult figure who helped change her outlook on life. The one interesting subtext in the song was the message of interracial tolerance and acceptance. Though the teacher in the movie was black (Sidney Poitier), Lulu's character in the movie didn't care. While the other students were less than open about having a black man as a teacher, she simply accepted what he could teach her.  During the time this song was released (1967) racial tensions in the U.S. and the rest of the world were building toward a climatic event just one year later in Memphis.

People Got to be Free. Only a few years earlier the Rascals had sung about Good Lovin'. Now, in 1968, the mood of the country had begun to sour. The riots in Chicago were only a few months in the future. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were soon to occur. The tide had begun to turn against the Vietnam war and the government. The Beatles were experimenting with LSD, and the movie Easy Rider became an instant hit among the young, glorifying a lifestyle of easy love, drugs, travel, and no responsibilities.

Songs demanding social change became an important part of rock radio. Ohio, about the shooting at Kent State helped propel Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to stardom. Edwin Starr sang against War. Helen Reddy became a feminist icon with her hit, I am Woman. Music was angry, aggressive, and demanding changes.

Flash forward half a decade. The Vietnam war was history. The campus riots and political tensions had stopped. The gas shortage of the early 70's had faded from memory. The country's mood had changing dramatically since the late 1960's.

Music that was meant for dancing and sex took over the airwaves. The Bee Gees dominated the charts with the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever and #1 songs like You Should be Dancing and Staying Alive. Such a heavy use of falsetto hadn't been as popular since the days of Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons. Everything was about the beat. Lyrics of disco songs were either unimportant, or strongly sensual. Society had become liberated in a way that made I Want to Hold You Hand look like a song from another lifetime. Rod Stewart wanted to know if you "Think I'm Sexy."  The group Exile wanted to "Kiss You All Over."

As the 1970's end disco fades away. The 1980's begins with hard rock groups, solo super stars Madonna and Michael Jackson and country flavored artist Kenny Rogers. There is a variety to the types and styles of music that radio hadn't played since the early 1960's.

I trust the handful of songs and artists I've highlighted began prompting memories from that jukebox in your mind. What songs had special meaning to you growing up during this time? Which groups or artists dominated your LP collection? What about Elvis, Motown, Simon and Garfunkel, Three Dog Night, or The Righteous Brothers? Do you remember You're So Vain, Wild Thing, or Paint it Black?

Maybe I should start a regular feature that highlights some of the great music of this time. Would that interest you? Or, maybe I should just go back to my 8 track tape collection of the Partridge Family.

Comments, music references and memories are strongly encouraged. Please add your thoughts!


  1. Thank you for the e-book,I am getting ready to retire spring 2012.I have had all those emotions already it was very helpful.Growing up a poor Irish girl in Ireland the music of the 60 70 was all I had as a young girl, The jukebox and the "Tiny blue transistor radio"Has been with me all my life and will be there in the end. Yes it would be great to highlight some of that great music again.

  2. Anonymous,

    You are very welcome for the book. I hope it helps you in the journey to retirement next year. I already have plans for a 2nd addition with some improvements suggested by readers. It is approaching 400 requests and downloads!

    I listen to Radio Dublin on occasion to get a fix of Celtic music. There was a lot more to Irish musicians than Van Morrison in the 60's and 70's!

    I will strongly consider a regular music post. Thanks!

  3. Good afternoon, Syd.

    Your last post had a picture of your beautiful patio and pizza oven. I have a 40 year old photo of me in my "glory" days. I'll take the pizza oven.

  4. So you know I am a little older than you - but the songs that stand out for me - To Know Him is to Love Him by the teddy Bears - my dad threatened to break the 45 if I did not stop playing it - and ANYTHING by Johnny Mathias!! Late 50's and early 60's. But really, music of any type was so much a part of my teens and early 20's - and hubby and I have ALWAYS had music in our lives

  5. Did you know that Phil Spector, famous record producer and now in jail for murder, was one of the Teddy Bears? That was a #1 song in September of 1958.

    And, Johnny Mathis is absolutely the best at what he does. Songs like Gina, Chances Are, and The Twelve of Never sound as good today as they did over 50 years ago.

  6. Bob, This was a delightful read and interesting read! To be honest, I'm not a big fan of music. Loud music (anything over a whisper in my book) annoys me. Yet the research proves true as all my musical memories are indeed from my 20's and 30's. Songs from the Beattles are ones that often come to mind like Strawberry Fields Forever and All We Need Is Love.

    Thanks for the musical tour and outlining music's connections to changing history. I enjoyed it immensely.

  7. Hey Sandra,

    Believe it or not, after my stint in rock radio I became one of the leading consultants in what was then called beautiful music (or elevator music). It was the most successful adult format in the country for about 20 years. Later I transitioned back into classic rock for the last decade of my active career.

    So, I like everything from The Beatles to the Living Strings, Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra, and a bit of Jethro Tull and Queen thrown in for good measure.

    The great thing about music is its ability to transport you back in time or change your mood almost instantly.

  8. Love the picture of a younger Bob!

  9. Hi Steve,

    I try to believe my present appearance shows character and depth, not just 40 years passed by!

  10. Great post Bob!
    I remember all the songs you mentioned and I for one would love to hear more about your days as a DJ and the songs we, baby boomers, grew up loving.
    Staff Sargent Barry Sadler had some great songs on his album, which I think I still have. I remember seeing him as a guest on the Tonight Show with Jonny Carson.

    Keep up the good work Bob!

  11. I enjoyed your history through music. I'm sure you know way more than I about it since it was part of your life. For me the 50's and 60's capture the big adventures of my young life and are indelibly imprinted. Sometimes I don't even know the artist. I just know the songs. Mostly I regard the music after as trash probably meaning that it didn't really matter at the time to me. Do some more.

  12. Hey Duncan,

    I think virtually everyone of importance was on the Tonight Show at some point in their career. When Johnny retired I stopped watching late night TV.

    I am strongly considering adding a regular feature about the music of those years. Thanks for your support.

  13. Hi Ralph,

    My ability to name songs based on a few notes ends in the mid 80's. Either I was getting too old or the music no longer resonated with me. Even though I continued to program radio stations until 2001, I stuck with what I knew: soft contemporary, oldies, and classic rock. I never learned to tolerate rap, hip hop, or what is now called "old school."

    I will do more about music as soon as I figure out how to best cover the subject.

  14. Loved your post, Bob! Every time there is one of those history of Rock n Roll shows on TV I watch it too. Music was such a big part of our lives and every song you mentioned brought back memories for me.

    I remember my parents thought (my dad still does) that the Beatles were the ruination of culture as they knew it. They hated Janis Joplin too. Funny though, my mom bought several instrumental albums of Beatles music.

    I was from the West Coast so I'd add Beach Boys and Jan and Dean to the mix of groups I enjoyed.

  15. The first album I bought was Sonny and Cher's first album. Although classical music is my first love, my favorites included everything from the Doors' "Light My Fire," which incensed my parents every time they heard it, to the Association's "Cherish" and "Never My Love," and on to the then-wrenching Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling, all of which probably set patently unrealistic and romantic notions of what love would be like. I wanted a guy who would sing both "Cherish" and the first aria from Puccini's "La Boheme." My husband wasn't that guy, but I kept him anyway.

    One of my strongest song-related memories, however, is of Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco," which I think is a song that defines a generation. In the summer of 1967, my then boyfriend of a year and I were driving to another town in the bright sunshine when that song came on the radio.

    And, of course, since my husband and I both grew up in the Port Arthur area, anything by Janis Joplin was a favorite.

    A less happy song-related memory was related to the 1971 version of "(I Can't Live) Without You." My mother was dying, and my father sobbed every time it came on the radio. I still can't listen to that song.

  16. Hi Joan,

    My mother-in-law felt that Elvis and the Beatles ruined her son. My parents actually watched them on Ed Sullivan with the three boys.

    I could entire posts on different genres of music: beach & surfing, folk rock, southern rock, Motown, British Invasion...might be fun.

  17. Linda,

    You've provided some great memories from the songs you mentioned. "San Francisco (Wear some flowers in your hair)" was one of those one-hit-wonders that captured an era. The summer of love was pivotal for so many folks.

    Harry Nilsson's "Without You" was a very powerful song that obviously still moves you.

    As Bob Hope used to say, Thanks for the memories, Linda.


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