You Kids Get Off My Lawn

One of my regular Internet stops the last few months has been the Daily Mirror, a feature at the Los Angeles Times‘ website that republishes old stories from LA papers dating back 50 or 100 years. A piece that appeared on January 10, 1960, by the Times’ radio columnist, Don Page, is worth quoting at length. After an illness-enforced day spent listening to every station in town, Page wrote:

My suspicions about the diminution of rock ‘n’ roll were confirmed. Only a few stations still play the stuff. . . . I truly believe that if it were not for rock ‘n’ roll, radio would not have slipped as much as it has in recent times.

There are signs (if my mail is any indication) that the teenager is getting smart and realizing that there are other things in life besides rock ‘n’ roll and hot rods. If this is true, then radio is in for a swingin’ era in the ’60s. The accent will be on good music, top sports and expanded news coverage.

As far as music goes, I am reminded of David Rose’s remark that “the 60s will produce the same kind of great popular music as the 30s.” About the past decade Rose said, “If Jerome Kern had written ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ during the last five years, it probably would never have been published.” . . .

Curiously, the first big record hit of 1960 will concern rock ‘n’ roll, if my ears still ring true. Stan Freberg, one of the world’s great satirists, has a can’t-misser in his new “Payola Roll Blues,” a huge slap at rock ‘n’ roll. . . . I only wish Stan had come along about five years sooner with this classic.

David Rose’s remark about “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was demonstrably wrong at the time—a version by the Platters had been a Number-One single in Los Angeles for three weeks exactly one year before the column appeared. And as for Stan Freberg’s “can’t-misser,” it missed, and badly. On the same station (KFWB) that had charted the Platters Number One, “The Old Payola Roll Blues” lasted just two weeks in February 1960, reaching Number 18. Across the country, many stations wouldn’t touch it at all; its subject matter was too sensitive at the height of the payola scandals, and few stations were willing to needlessly antagonize the record labels on which they depended. It spent a single week on the Hot 100 at Number 99 (on the chart dated the day I was born).

From 50 years in the future, it’s not fair to blame a prognosticator for being so wrong, but Page missed not only the boat but the water and maybe the whole damn ocean. It may have sounded in early 1960 like rock ‘n’ roll was diminished, but that was only temporary. Page turned out to be right about something, though: The 1960s did indeed produce a volume of popular music as great as that of the 1930s—but it was rock artists who made it. That’s clearly not what he meant.

Recommended Reading: The Long Players are a band based in Nashville that plays entire albums by other people, everything from Let It Bleed to My Aim Is True. And speaking of long players, Corinne Bailey Rae is finally out with her second album. It’s been three years since her debut, which I really liked; the delay was occasioned in part by the death of her husband, which I didn’t know. Also worth a look today: Kinky Paprika fools around at ARSA, Clicks and Pops listens to Bread, and Red Kelly of the “B” Side remembers Willie Mitchell.