Lakewood, A Half-Century Ago... Let's DANCE!... 1962-2012 A Time To Mourn And A Time To Dance...Ecclesiastes 3:4
In the '50's and early '60's, a great deal of popular music involved audience participation in the form of dancing... and dance, we did. Music and dancing have been intertwined going back to the Middle Ages and probably before that, but long before the time when people began to sit like robots in cavernous amphitheaters, screaming like banshees at grown men in women's clothing and hairstyles- playing out-of-tune guitars through refrigerator-sized amplification, we actually danced in our high school gyms and church basements. We listened to harmonized bands in matching outfits, having infectious rhythms and beautiful music that we could, and did, dance to.
At least sometimes it was beautiful....
By 1962, much of the hip-shaking, guitar-slinging fast Rock and Roll of the 1950's had gone away. Smooth, polished male and female vocalists with heavily orchestrated arrangements dominated the airways. Elvis had been sent off to the Army, and had returned back home to do movies. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) had all perished on the same small plane near Clear Lake, Iowa in 1959. Those entertainers had been exciting acts. With their passing, and with Elvis being in the Army, there was little left that could keep kids on the edge of their seats. Even the parents were finally beginning to accept the new "slow song" version of Rock and Roll. Some of the songs even reflected reactions to tragedy and loss. Songs like "Teen Angel", sung by Mark Dinning, "El Paso", sung by Marty Robbins, "Running Bear", sung by Johnny Preston and "Tell Laura I love Her", sung by Ricky Valence joined other songs about tragic or unfortunate situations. It seemed, by 1962, that the rock world was filled with memories and mourning.
And then, along came "The Twist". Although the name "twist" had first been used in the 19th century by a banjo player named Joel Sweeney with his "VineShaquille (Grape Vine) Twist", "The Twist" dance took America by storm in 1962. A song by that name, written in 1958 by Hank Ballard, was first covered in 1960 by Chubby Checker. It was a hit in 1960, and again, in 1962. It seemed as if everyone wanted to "do the Twist". For us kids, it was sometimes absolutely disgusting to see our chaperoning teachers at Harding out on the floor dancing the "Twist" at our school dances.
Other cool songs and dances also appeared, of course. You had "The Loco-Motion", (Little Eva)"The Peppermint Twist", (Joey Dee and the Starliters), "Mashed Potato Time", (Dee Dee Sharp), and of course, the "Monster Mash". (Bobby "Boris" Pickett and his Crypt Kickers) During that same time period, you had "The Madison", "The Hully Gully", "The Jerk", "The Watusi", and "The Pony"....and...who could forget "C'mon Let's Swim".(Bobby Freeman) Go ahead, hold your nose and pretend to go underwater while waving your hand above your head. I know you want to do it. I won't look. I promise... and of course, "Limbo Rock" came out in 1962. The great Chubby Checker's version of that song was actually a "crossover" hit on R&B charts, as well as on the Billboard and Cashbox charts. I understand, by the way, that the best "Limbo" crossing record (leaning back while passing under a stick) was a little under 9 inches, but I digress here.
It was a glorious time to be a drummer, because all of these dances had specific drum beats to go with them, and the coolest drum solo of all back then was recorded by the Surfaris in 1962 (released in 1963) and that was "Wipeout". If you could play that one, you were the hero of every girl in sight!
Surf music was coming on strong in the early 1960's. By 1962, "Surfers" even constituted a sub-group of kids at school, the boys being noted for their hopsack jeans, combed-forward hair, and penny-loafer shows, complete with pennies. The girls had bright colored dresses and blouses with floral prints, wide headbands, and surf-related jewelery.
Of course at school, contact and non-contact dancing were differentiated big-time. The powers-that-be looked far and wide across the dance floor whenever a slow dance came along. They were quick to pull apart young couples who danced a little TOO closely. There was always a social pecking order too at the school dances. Young, hopeful, but relatively dowdy girls hung out along the walls (remember the term "wallflower?") hoping for the chance to dance with the perfect young man...waiting to be asked... and of course- that (almost) never happened...The immature guys hung out in the corners, giggling at whoever was brave enough to actually go out there and dance, while secretly resenting the fact that they were not the ones actually out there doing the dancing. The leather-clad "Racks" (Lakewood's pseudo-toughs) seemed to have perpetual bladder issues, because they were always being chased out of the smoke-filled restrooms, or they were hanging out around the school building, or maybe making out under the bleachers until the cops came and drove them away.
Here in Cleveland, a late night show was in the final planning stages for WJW TV. In early 1963, a voice-over announcer named Ernie Anderson would soon introduce old horror movies while dressed as a character called Ghoulardi. Cue up the Rivingtons' "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow", say "Turn blue, purple knif!", and you'll get the idea. If not, you'd just have to have been around at the time to understand. If you're from PARMA, you'll really understand. (Bet you still have those white sox too!)
Later on in the 1960's, what passed for dancing just became strange. You had kids sitting in a circle on the floor with someone standing up in the middle, crossing their arms and falling backwards- only the circle would not let them fall. The "fallers" were pushed back up to the vertical, only to fall, and fall again. That was supposed to be fun, but let's face it...the longer the '60's went on, the less fun they were.
Other times had their strange dances too, I suppose. Look at pictures of the 1700's "Minuet" with all those tights and powdered wigs, or of the 1900's "Tango" ...Look at the old "barn dance" Wild West movies, or pictures of those 1920's flappers doing "The Charleston", or "The Jitterbug" of the 1930's...It seems that every era has had its own time to dance.
But in 1962 Lakewood? That was at least OUR time to dance.
By the way, the amazing Chubby Checker reportedly still performs a very active schedule. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Checker has not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...yet. Perhaps in this 50th year of Twist success, he could be considered for induction.