Every now and then, I’m nudged down memory lane by a headline or two, such as the one I read recently in The Sun entitled, “Remembering the Lafayettes."
The article was about a ‘60s rock and roll band from Towson that gained notice playing at various local sock hops. Ultimately, they cut a record for RCA that sold 150,000 copies, landing them on the Billboard Hot 100 list. They soon escalated to No. 4 on the Top 40 at WCAO-AM, Baltimore’s top rock station which no teen worth his or her 45 rpm records would be ignoring.
It brought to mind those glory days when my friends and I traveled to various venues following the Van Dykes — another popular local band — also mentioned in the article.
Their music inspired us to put on our dancing shoes, “bopping,” “sliding,” “ponying,” and slow dancing our way around what were called “teen centers.” Designated for adolescents only, an admission price of about 25 cents, and sometimes a membership card, allowed us to meet with others — usually in school gymnasiums — where we could dance every Friday and Saturday night.
The music was mostly provided by a stack of big hit records, dutifully attended by an adult. On special occasions, local bands and radio DJs provided the music.
The meeting place was strictly chaperoned with no “dirty dancing” (dancing suggestively) and no dancing duos who snuggled up too close during a slow ballad. It was a place to socialize and to meet the opposite sex. Girls congregated in the restroom to discuss the cute guy who was a good dancer or to cry about a heartbreak. Guys scoped out possible dance partners whom some never had the courage to ask.
Still, girls could partner with girls and we enjoyed many of the new dances that included the Twist, Hully Gully, Stroll, Mashed Potatoes, Pony, Watusi, and so many more.
Yes, I was there (a mere babe) when rock was young and Bill Haley and the Comets burst onto a new music genre with their hit, “Rock Around the Clock.” Although I wasn’t in my teens yet, I remember seeing others “jitterbugging” on the city sidewalks where I lived to the tune being played on their portable radios.
Not long after, rock and roll evolved and included a long line of singers such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Big Bopper, Ray Charles, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, and James Brown — the latter singer having created havoc between my mother and me whenever I turned up the volume. (She lacked appreciation for my kind of music, preferring the swing era instead.)
Along with the grit of rock came the softer ballads sung by heart throbs such as Johnny Mathis (“Chances Are”), Paul Anka (“Diana”) and Pat Boone (“Love Letters in the Sand”). A heartbreaker was the song, “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” sung by George Hamilton IV. (When your young female life is filled with trauma, how can you not identify with a song about a poor teen who had a quarrel with his girlfriend and all he had for atonement was a rose and a candy bar he found in his pocket?)
They just don’t write songs the way they used to.
During rock and roll’s heyday, I rarely missed TV’s “American Bandstand,” the Philadelphia dance show hosted by Dick Clark that provided Top 40 music to boogying teens. “The Buddy Dean Show” was Baltimore’s equivalent, playing top tunes and showcasing rhythmic footwork of young visitors to the show, including members of The Committee, a chosen group of adolescents who auditioned to be on the show regularly. The members acquired their own following among viewers, just like celebrities.
In addition to all the dancing, singers of the current hit songs paid regular visits to the show, much to the excitement all the young audience.
These programs were broadcast 2 ½ hours a day, six days a week. My friends and I watched faithfully and learned many of the new dances. As a matter of fact, my husband Paul and I were among a church youth group who appeared on the show. Paul, who was a little older and a little more mature, was not excited about appearing on TV but I talked him into it, much to his chagrin.
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Many years later, John Waters’ 1988 film, “Hairspray,” depicted a local Baltimore TV dance program that closely resembled The Buddy Dean Show.
Wikipedia mentioned that one of the Buddy Dean productions happened to be filmed in Westminster at a local farm. Participants dressed in “country” style and danced to country music as well as pop.
Today, my box of collected 45 rpm records is stashed somewhere among my son’s own record collectibles. I told him my entire youth is contained in that box with records such as Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” and George Hamilton IV’s “A Rose and a Baby Ruth.” (Of course.)
As a matter of fact, I could probably recall where I was and what I was doing with each of those hits, and I hope that someday someone will want to listen to them before they melt into oblivion.
“American Bandstand” ran from 1952 to 1989; “The Buddy Dean Show" had a run from 1957 to 1964.
To reiterate the old song by Danny & the Juniors, “I don’t care what people say, rock and roll is here to stay.”
Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears on the third Sunday of the month. Reach her at email@example.com.