Archive for January, 2018

Having forsaken football because of the incidence of head injuries, I spent most of New Year’s Day listening to oldies and watching replays of Harsky & Stutch.

(Just kidding about the latter…Dean Martin once used that line on The Johnny Carson Show and I’ve never forgotten it.)

But I did listen to the oldies, which is a great way to spend time when you’ve got some on your hands.

As frequent readers know, I often gravitate to songs from the early ’60s — songs that helped get me survive the loneliest year of my life, which was my freshman year at all-boys St. Xavier High School in Louisville.

The 1960-’61 school year was especially rough partly because, along with a bunch of my friends, I made the big jump from my neighborhood parochial school, St. Agnes, to a big school downtown, which drew students from all over town. Some of those guys were cut from rougher cloth than those of us from the relatively prosperous “East End,” and some were pretty intimidating.

Besides the increased distance from my safe and comfortable neighborhood, another factor in my unease was the building itself. It was a dingy dump that didn’t even have a gym suitable for the St. X Tigers’ basketball games.

The only place to gather outside the school was under a low, corrugated-metal “smoking shed,” which angled upward on an unenclosed side and was supported by steel posts. Because the shed was the only covered space outside, many students, including me, took up smoking. (I gave it up my senior year, 1964, after the surgeon general issued his famous report warning of smoking’s health hazards.) In the winter, we would stand under the shed after lunch — shivering and smoking and wishing for the school day to soon be over.

Every day of that year seemed like an eternity. I wasn’t involved in extracurriculars — don’t know why, just wasn’t. Didn’t play sports. Tried out for the freshman basketball team but didn’t make it. And so it was day after day after day of getting on the bus, pushing through the school day, getting on the bus and coming home.

The weekends provided a brief respite, but the onerous prospect returning to school on Monday always hung over my head. There were some parties at people’s houses, and as I said in my last “oldies” post, I got my first kiss to Roy Orbison’s “Blue Angel,” which was released in 1960, so I did experience a limited level of romantic maturation during that freshman year…Overall, though, it was bleak; the opportunities to meet and spend time with girls was very limited. I just remember a lot of cold, gray days.

But the music…The music provided escape. The radio — specifically radio station WAKY — was my lifeline. The rock ‘n roll era was dawning, and the songs were phenomenal and plentiful. They lifted me out of the doldrums of school and carried me to the summer of 1961, when things started getting better. In the fall of 1961, a new, modern St. X school building opened and — wouldn’t you know it? — it was in my old familiar “East End,” about a 10-minute drive from home. The campus is still there and has doubled or tripled in size since that first year. With the opening of the new school, the cloud cover over my life began to lift somewhat.

Now let’s get to four of the songs that relieved the pain of that freshman year in high school.


“Poetry in Motion,” 1960, by Johnny Tillotson

The writers, Paul Kaufman and Mike Anthony, said their inspiration came from looking up from their work in the afternoons and seeing a procession of young ladies leaving a nearby school. In the recording, Boots Randolph (“Yakety Sax”) is on saxophone, and Floyd Cramer (“Last Date”) is on piano. “Poetry in Motion” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

My favorite part is the soaring, ethereal voice of the female back-up singer, who comes in about the middle of the song and again at the end.

“When I see my baby
What do I see
Poetry in motion”


“You’re Sixteen,” 1960, by Johnny Burnette

This song was written by the Sherman Brothers — Robert and Richard — who, according to Wikipedia, wrote more motion-picture musical song scores than any other songwriting team in film history. Their film scores include Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “You’re Sixteen” topped out at No. 8 on the U.S. in December 1960.

“You come on like a dream, peaches and cream
Lips like strawberry wine
You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine”


“Finger Poppin’ Time,” 1960, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

Ballard, born John Henry Kendricks, was a rhythm and blues singer and songwriter and one of the first rock ‘n roll artists to emerge in the early 1950s. One of his compositions was “The Twist,” which he put on the “B”side of a 1960 single and which, several months later, Chubby Checker took to No. 1.

Ballard and his group were a favorite of Paul Shaffer, longtime leader of The World’s Most Dangerous Band, on Late Night with David Letterman.

“Hey now, hey now, hey now, hey now
It’s finger pop poppin’ time
Finger poppin’ poppin’ time
I feel so good
Whoa, and that’s a real good sign”


“Moonlight Cocktails,” 1960, The Rivieras


Relative to the preceding three, this one is obscure. But as far as a droopy-drawers, hold-your-baby-close song, it is hard to beat.

According to Wikipedia, the song was originally written as a ragtime piece in 1912 by a man named Charles “Lucky” Roberts. Originally called “Ripples of the Nile,” Roberts wrote it as a fast song, but musicians found it very difficult to play in up-tempo fashion, and it was later re-scored as a slow song with its new name.

The lyrics were written by a New York attorney named James Kimball Gannon, who became a full-time songwriter when he was about 40. Interestingly, Gannon’s most famous lyrics are for the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” recorded by Bing Crosby in 1943.

“Moonlight Cocktails” was first recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1941. It was a huge hit, topping the charts for 10 weeks.

As dreamy and transporting as it is, The Rivieras’ version failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100.

Hope you enjoy it…

“As to the number of kisses, it’s up to you
Moonlight cocktails need a few”


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