Friday, August 3, 2007

Heroes - Interlude: 1963


In the late 1950’s, a collegiately-styled group consisting of two acoustic guitars and a stand-up bass, calling themselves The Kingston Trio, introduced “folk music” to Top 50 AM radio with their #1 SMASH HIT, Tom Dooley. Their success, which continued through several more Top 50 hits, as well as three or four successful albums, gave rise to a rash of imitators, and kicked off the folk music craze.

Scroll down to 1963. Another trio, calling itself Peter, Paul and Mary, and significantly more authentic than the Kingston Trio--Greenwich Village-wise--recorded the classic anti-war ballad, Blowin’ in the Wind. Of course, in 1963 there was not yet any war going on that anybody knew about, so Blowin’ in the Wind didn’t really become an anti-war anthem until several years later. But in 1963 it did reach #17 on the pop charts. And it was different. Lyrically, it was almost poetry. (My more alert readers will have picked up on the Dylan Thomas segue here.) It caught my attention. I bought the 45 rpm single and noted that the composer’s name was B. Dylan.

The number one tune that year was the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ USA. Little Stevie Wonder was kicking off his career with a two-sided hit (45s had two sides, children) Fingertips, Pts. I & II, which came in at #8. The Motown Sound was majestically represented that year by Martha and the Vandellas’ hit, Heat Wave (#32). Yeah, 1963 was smokin’. Roy Orbison put out Mean Woman Blues (#45) that year. And one of my favorite tunes (as it was so clearly about me) was He’s So Fine (#7) by the Chiffons, a black girl group. 1963 was at the height of the surf music craze. The Surfaris scored with the tom-tom and guitar-driven instrumental, Wipe Out (#18). The Chantays were blasting their own instrumental offering, Pipeline (#27), and Jan & Dean came in at #28, harmonizing on Surf City. Some 1950’s hold-outs, such as Dion (Ruby Baby #40), Bobby Darin, Andy Williams, and even Eydie Gorme (#30, Blame It on the Bossa Nova), were still hanging around the Top 50. And the folkies were represented by Trini Lopez, with his Tex-Mex rendition of If I Had a Hammer, a tune that Peter, Paul and Mary had previously scored with; and by The Rooftop Singers, with Walk Right In.

That gives you the general picture. Next time around, the story of the late night radio, virtual Damascus Road revelation, that was my introduction to the transformational, mind-bending, phenomenon that was Bob Dylan.