Like in Elton John's song, "I remember when rock was young."
That's why I purchased tickets to hear the music of Ray Charles performed recently at the Carroll Arts Center by The Eric Byrd Trio: Brother Ray Band.
During my teens, the singer was an icon in what was then referred to as the "soul" music genre, which included songs such as "Georgia on My Mind," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Tell Me What I Say." I even attended two of his concerts, one at Cole Field House in College Park and the other in a community hall, sponsored by a college fraternity.
After the Eric Byrd Trio concert, I began thinking about the changes in music that began for me during the mid-1950s, when Bill Haley and His Comets recorded the song, "Rock Around the Clock," filling the airwaves with music I had never heard before. Though I had a few years to go before I became a teen, I liked this new beat that caused the teenagers in my neighborhood to "jitterbug" on the city street where I lived.
A few years later, I recall watching my grandmother's 17-inch black-and-white TV when Elvis Presley debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show. Again, I had never heard that kind of music before, but I liked the rhythm, oblivious of his gyrating hips that had been censored for TV viewing. I was fixated on his sideburns.
As a full-fledged adolescent, rock 'n' roll music and dancing became synonymous when I attended the teen center in my community. It was one of the places — normally the cafeteria in an elementary school — where 13- to 18-year-olds would pay about 50 cents to dance — slow or fast, but always under the watchful eyes of adult chaperones — for a few hours to the top 40 tunes of the day.
For about three hours, every Friday and/or Saturday evening, community teen centers played the latest hits, including The Platters' "The Great Pretender," The Coasters' "Yakety Yak," Pat Boone's "Ain't That a Shame" and Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill."
It wasn't unusual for girls to fast dance together when we weren't asked by the guys who, in some cases, had no idea how to dance. Instead, they hovered on the sidelines eyeing the ones they would work up the courage to talk to or maybe even try to slow dance with.
The person in charge of playing the music stacked the 45-rpm records on a record player that automatically changed each shiny black disc. The list of artists was endless and included Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, Fabian, and a long list of performers who were either one-hit wonders or gained longevity in the music world.
With the avalanche of songs came dance crazes portrayed on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and Baltimore's own "Buddy Deane Show."
They included the Bop (consisting of several interpretations, dancing solo or with a partner), the hand jive (using arm and hand movements rather than your feet), the cha-cha (the Latin beat of one-two-cha-cha-cha), the Funky Chicken (involving elbow and neck motions meant to look like, you guessed it, a chicken) and The Stroll, which involved two parallel lines — one of boys, the other of girls — facing each other, ultimately partnering in a dance down the center. (As a matter of fact, native Baltimorean John Waters included some of those dances in his movie, "Hairspray," which was influenced by the "Buddy Deane Show.")
In 1959, I remember the tragic plane crash that killed Buddy Holly ("Peggy Sue"), The Big Bopper ("Chantilly Lace"), and Ritchie Valens ("La Bamba"). All three were very popular performers, and it was shocking to me and my friends that their lives had ended so abruptly.
As the '50s turned into the '60s, another popular dance was The Twist, in which bodies could turn left and right to the tune of the same name recorded by Chubby Checker. This was the answer for all wanna-be dancers with two left feet.
The music tide continued to change, morphing into genres such as funk, disco, techno and hip-hop, and my slight interest in some of those genres of music waned along with my beehive hairdo.
Today, I especially enjoy listening to smooth jazz and a lot of easy-listening music. But sometimes, when I hear the strains from an old '50s song at the grocery store, I can't help but Bop down the aisle as I push my grocery cart.
When no one's looking, of course.
Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com.