Joe D

Joe D

Making Your Memories is a commentary on the music of the 1950’s and early 60’s. “Joe D” is an on-air talent for Orange County based KSBR FM 88.5 and is host of “MAKING YOUR MEMORIES” Sunday nights at 10PM. He is also author of “Making Your Memories With Rock & Roll and  Doo Wop - -The Music and Artists of the 1950’s and early 60’s.” For info, visit

Just to Be With You –  Jimmy Gallagher and the Passions
Having an oldies’ radio show brought back its own memories. Digging into the archives to find that golden oldie meant that hearing the title of a song flooded the senses.

I received phone calls such as, “I have not heard that song in 50 years!” or “I remember who I was dancing with when that song played.” That meant that I got to them with that memory. To a certain extent, that is why we enjoy listening to the oldies. Our lives were simpler, entwined with innocent relationships, attention to school, and doing things as a family.

The songs listened to in the ’50s and early ’60s were embedded in the brain, as were the words. We could not sing them by ourselves, but when we heard them, we could definitely sing along, even if we were a fraction of a second behind the artists. They triggered the memory of what the next words were going to be. But many of those songs from the past have not been heard in half a century. Why are the melody and their lyrics still there? Why do we know where we were and what we were doing then, when we cannot even remember what we had for breakfast yesterday?

If artists made the top annual list, they could say they had a hit. What of the songs that did not make the cut? What of the songs everyone danced to and held each other close to—as close as the chaperone would permit? Those are the songs not heard today, even on an oldies’ radio station. Those were the songs to emulate because of their uniqueness and their ability to communicate exactly the message we wanted to hear.

They may not have been on someone’s weekly chart of hits, but it was word of mouth or an obscure radio station that brought these songs to our attention. Someone would acquire the 45rpm record and bring it to the next party and play it repeatedly until we all had every beat and word down pat.

While compiling the list of those songs that never charted on the annual top Billboard songs of the year or made it to the “Hit Parade Top Ten,” I reflected on their titles. Most of them were our thoughts, expressed or not. And, West Coast top hits were not East Coast top hits. Having friends on the East Coast who were as intense about doo-wop and the ’50s music as I, meant challenging one another with musical trivia. The problem was our trivia was not theirs.

East Coast songs had a different tone or message, but regardless, sometimes a song snuck over the Mississippi border to the other side. An example of that is “Just to Be with You” by Jimmy Gallagher and the Passions and their follow-up song, “This Is My Love.” They received minimal play on the West Coast, but everyone knew them east of the river.

We all knew “In the Still of the Night (I Remember)” by the Five Satins, and their next release, “To the Aisle,” found its way on the soundtrack of American Graffiti but not the charts. How many remember the Righteous Brothers’ first record, “Little Latin Lupe Lu?” We all remember their following songs but not that one. Jesse Belvin was Los Angeles-based, and his music did not resonate on the East Coast. His songs “Guess Who” and “Goodnight My Love” were classic party tunes and bring back a flood of memories.

Cleveland Still and the Dubs gave us “Could This Be Magic?” and followed it up with “Please Don’t Ask Me to Be Lonely.” Heard them lately? The same can be said for the Chimes’ “Once in a While,” and of course, the Aquatones’ “You,” the Classics’ “Till Then,” and the Duprees’ “I’m Yours.” Listen to the Hitmakers and “Chapel of Love,” because it is not the song you think it is by the Dixie Cups. Neither is Jivin Jean’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”; it is not Neil Sedaka’s song with the same title.

Was it eighth grade or freshman year that we heard Johnny Funches and the Dells and their heavy breathing with “Oh, What a Night?” It was so good they did it again over a decade later as a part of the Motown experience. The big hit by Jay Siegel and the Tokens was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” But their follow-up song, “He’s in Town,” is classic doo-wop.

It is said that a group called the Harptones have had the most positive influence on doo-wop music in the 1950s yet never had a Top 40 hit or a song that charted. Willie Winfield and the Harptones’ “Sunday Kind of Love” and “Life Is But a Dream” will go down as two of the classic songs of the ’50s that influenced many of the groups that had not yet performed.

What do all of these incredible songs have in common? Many things. They never charted, or if they did, it was for one or two weeks. They are remembered when they are played, and everyone still knows the words. Their titles, for the most part, make a statement; they capture our thoughts, moods, and feelings. They resonate time and again in our memories.

And, most importantly, they reflect on a simpler time, when music dominated the fabric of our lives.

How can one word bring back such memories? Sometimes it was just a first name of a person, and with other songs it was a term that described in so much detail what we felt. Connie Francis called out to “Teddy,” and proclaimed we were “Together,” while Sue Thompson saluted, “Norman.” But it was the guys who crooned and pinned for their ladies. In the majority of songs of the 50’s and early 60’s, women were revered, placed on that exalted pedestal and idolized.

Doo Wop was to have its own anthem with multiple versions of “Gloria.” This song was developed to challenge any street corner group to see if they had what it took to really sing in doo-wop style. While the Cadillacs possessed the classic version with Earl (Speedo) Carroll on lead, Vito and the Salutations and Jimmy Gallagher and the Passions would rival them.

The salute to the ladies would continue with songs about “Maria, Nadine, Ronnie, Sheila, Sandy, Lucille, Sherry, Venus, Bernadine, Diana, Leah, Tammy, Ruby, Peanuts, Patches, Alfie and Denise”. All were names that could be sung on the street corner. Unforgettable songs such as “Desiree” by the Charts and Ritchie Valens’ “Donna,” could easily be harmonized as a sing-along tribute. “Maybelline” may be a girl’s name but it was a song about a car!

Other songs would tip the scales as Elvis’ and “Trouble,” from his movie “King Creole.” The Coasters would be “Searchin,” Hal Miller and The Rays with “Silhouettes,” Lee Andrews and the Hearts, “Teardrops,” Billy Ward & the Dominoes with their version of “Stardust,” and Jackie Wilson with an operatic stronghold on “Night,” all sent messages with just one powerful word.

Instrumentals such as Miserlou, Rumble, Sleepwalk (is that really one word?), Tequila, Patricia, Telstar, Apache, Baja and Pipeline made the charts and we knew every nuance of their melody.

Perhaps the song that is still etched in our collective memories was the one hit wonder, “You” by the Aquatones. Named after the color of their shirts, they enlisted a 17-year-old opera singer, Lyn Nixon, to sing lead and produced yet another MYM.

The English language creates the opportunity to utilize one word as the most profound visual and reflective method of communication. It can become the ultimate quiz show game where a one-word song will identify the artist or group who performed their song. Ready? Set. Go!

“What in the world’s come over you…?” Jack Scott, “What in the World’s Come Over You”

The lyrics of the 1950’s and early 60’s almost always portrayed innocent love between innocent people. There was no violence, sexual power or anger. It was an age of idealism and reverence for girls, women, or in the case of lady performers, “the guy.” A segment of music in the early era of rock and roll expressed the sadness of a relationship in a manner that perhaps even helped heal after a breakup in real life.

The majority of songs of the 1950’s carried the positive message of hopeless love, losing someone to another and being hurt by our own choosing. The artists sang their song about someone they cared about, walking away or being taken from them. And, oh, how it hurt! The phrases used to describe anguish over losing someone made the song and the title that much more memorable. There were just sad songs of melancholy and loss, a physical sense that our heart was in fact breaking, or the loss of a companion that we merely held hands with or shared an innocent kiss. There was no anger, retaliation or bitterness, just ‘sad movies made us cry” because of the loss of someone.

There were “tears on our pillow” because it ‘hurt so bad.’ When ‘out of sight we were out of mind,” and it was ‘time to cry.’ The musical question was asked, “what in the world’s come over you?’ Not knowing that “it was only make believe” or that “he would break your heart.” “Since I don’t have you” it was “crying time,” or I’m a fool to care,’ was a “poor little fool” or just, “don’t pity me.”

There was always the recognition “it’s over,” or “it doesn’t matter anymore.” “Hello heartbreak, goodbye love,” and “it was all in the game,” meant that “only love can break a heart.” There was never a display of anger or sadness with any more expression than, “whose sorry now,” “I’m sorry,” “you cheated,” or “you don’t know what you got until you lose it.” The most emotion called for “I cried a tear”, there were “long lonely nights” and “teardrops,” were shed. Oh, how “breakin’ up is hard to do.” The only thing ever asked was to “take good care of my baby,” but it was also “the end of the world,” and perhaps “bye, bye love.”

The most shocking music of the early era of rock and roll came from songs that went past the point of sadness, heartbreak and breakup to something that was even more sinister. Songs pinned over lost loves or recognized the depth of how much hurt there was when songs were released that took it to another level.

Ray Peterson wanted to “Tell Laura I Love Her,” but what was in that message? Was he going off to war, dying, or taking his own life because she rebuffed him? No, he wanted to win an auto race to pay for her ring and died trying.
While not so certain about that message, it was very clear what Dickey Lee’s message in “Patches” was. There was a hurt that stayed each time he told the story of losing his beloved Patches. The visualization of him confronting her Father and receiving a response he was not expecting is still etched in the mind.

Closely aligned with Patches was Mark Dinning’s “Teen Angel.” The love of his life went back to retrieve his ring from the stalled car on the railroad tracks. Was this a movie, a television special, real life or just a record? Interestingly, Mark Dinning and Dickey Lee were close friends. Lee would also provide a stirring rendition of “Teen Angel.” Was there something in the water they drank?

There was one song that sounded ominous without a word being sung. When the E string of Jody Reynolds guitar moved up just one fret, we heard the unmistakable sounds of “Endless Sleep.” Another picture developed in our mind’s eye that “the night was black, the rain was coming down, and his baby was nowhere around.” Did the sea take her away? Why? Again, was it a movie, TV or just listening to a song of tragedy?

Speaking of tragedy…did Thomas Wayne (Perkins) really mean it when he sang, “you’ve gone from me, oh, oh, tragedy.” It was more than a breakup or heartache; it really was catapulted into the category of a “Tragedy.” Thomas Wayne used only his first and middle name because his more famous guitar playing brother, Luther, was part of the Tennessee Two that backed up Johnny Cash and he wanted to distance himself and chart out his own career. Gary Troxel and the Fleetwoods would produce a much softer version of “Tragedy” but it still hurt, no matter how softly the words were spoken.

Both Little Richard (Penniman) and Clyde McPhatter would produce a version of “Without Love” that would resonate. The message that was sent, that “I have conquered the world, but without you I am nothing, nothing at all” reached the point of desperation.

Regardless of the version listened to, the message of unrequited love dominated the charts with its sadness, tragedy and heartache.

“Let’s go surfin now, everybody’s learnin how, come on a safari with me…” The Beach Boys

Of all the various trends and fads that influence the younger generation there is only one that transcends from a sport to music. While surfing is not a new sport, it is, or was, in the dawn of 1960, a relatively new way of life. Surfing came to California by way of Hawaii. Wave riding had been a past time for two thousand years but found its way to Huntington Beach in 1914 when George Freeth would become the first surfer to catch a wave on an eight-foot piece of wood.

The Surf Craze

The surfer was different. They mastered the big waves with a custom surfboard, dressed differently and created their own language, (who could forget: ‘Ho-Dad, Skeg, Woody, Gremmie, Hotdoggen, Shootin the Pier, Walkin the Board and Goofy Footin’?) But it was the dancing and music that would create a new lifestyle that would be emulated in the words of songs and finally reach Hollywood and the film industry.

Surfing was a talent that not everyone could master. It is an elevator ride where you fall off a wave with water sliding down your board. If you try to control it, you will lose your way. If you just let it ride itself, it is an incredible feeling.

Surf Music – Dick Dale

The origin of “surf music” can be directly attributed to Dick Dale and his band, The Del-Tones. Growing up in Southern California and specifically the Newport Beach area, Dick Dale created a unique sound and style. As the “King of the Surf Guitar,” Dale set up shop on the Newport Peninsula at an old dance hall called The Rendezvous Ballroom. Since 1928 big band greats Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa and Woody Herman had all gone before him. No one packed 2500 kids in a hall to do the “Surfer’s Stomp” like Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. All on a 12,000 square foot hardwood dance floor. The Rendezvous Ballroom burned down in 1935 and was rebuilt. Coincidently, it burned again in 1966 and never reopened. The site is now home to condominiums that are directly on the sand of the Balboa Peninsula. All that is left is a commemorative plaque with a very fitting inscription, the memories linger on…

Dick Dale was unique in many ways. He played the guitar left handed without reversing the strings, and also doubled on trumpet and drums. He utilized electronic reverberation, the altering of sound to provide a type of echo effect, developing a portable device with the help of Leo Fender of “Fender Instruments” in Santa Ana/Fullerton. With a Fender Showman amplifier and ‘reverb’ he captured a sensation as if the guitar was being played wet or under water.

Instrumentals were almost non-existent. Dale would change that as well with “Let’s Go Trippin,” his first recording and what should be considered as the very first surf record. Waiting off stage by just a few months were the likes of Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys and a host of “me too” bands, including your author. It was his use of tremolo in “Miserlou” that separated Dale from all others. The song still shakes the walls and makes you stomp your feet!

He truly is the King of the Surf Guitar.

To give our readers an idea of the overall impact of Surf music, one need only look at the fact that the Beach Boys music became the musical backdrop for the Joffrey Ballet.

The music was an expression of the surfing lifestyle. It was a means of describing what it was like being a teenager and growing up in Southern California.

The Beach Boys

The South Bay of Los Angeles County comprises Palos Verdes, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Torrance and Hawthorne. It was Hawthorne High School that would spawn the Beach Boys with the Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis and Carl, along with cousin Mike Love and Al Jardine. When the brothers announced they were forming a band and going to do “surf music,” one of their classmates, Ezekiel Montenez, joked that “hey, you guys don’t even surf! I surf and you don’t. Can I join in?” Wanting to keep it a family affair, Brian declined. Ezekiel would not tell anyone, but he had just recorded a song for an obscure record company and would soon be known as Chris Montez with his hit, “Let’s Dance.” As a footnote, Dennis Wilson did surf and drowned in the process.

While the Beach Boys are still doing their 50th anniversary tour with a few new members, the sounds of “Surfin” is still with us. Their astonishing harmonies embody a happy ‘So Cal’ that engulfed an entire nation. Everyone wanted to know a “Surfer Girl,” and knew that “California Girls,” were the cutest and best looking athletic charmers. Eastern teenagers had their turf of ‘Jersey’, ‘the Bronx’ or ‘Queens,’ but So Cal had cars, girls, surfing and drive-in restaurants.

The Movies and Surfing

It would not be long before Hollywood figured out that the surfing era was fertile ground for movie making. After all, we had the perfect set in our own backyard, the ocean. The book “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas” would spawn a series of movies, and Teen Queen Sandra Dee would become the first “Gidget” that would depict the surfing craze, the music, and the loves. There would be six movies ranging from “Gidget goes Hawaiian, Gidget Goes to Rome, Gidget Grows Up, Gidget Gets Married”, and finally, “Gidget’ s Summer Reunion.” While various actresses would portray Gidget, there was really only one; Sandra Dee. Frankie Avalon would sing Annette’s praises with surf music in the background throughout “Beach Blanket Bingo.” The only challenges for teenagers was what to wear, catching the next wave, and holding on to your girlfriend/boyfriend.

Jan Berry and Dean Torrence would hook up in the studio and create somewhat of a copycat sound of the Beach Boys, but with their tacit approval. After all, they were all friends and loved So Cal. “Jan and Dean” would talk about “Surf City,” and “Ride the Wild Surf,” and Dead Man’s Curve.” The Beach Boys would counter with “Surfin USA,” and “Surfer Girl.”

Surf Instrumentals

It was the instrumentals from various So Cal regional bands that would carry the day with surf music. While obscure to the rest of the nation, The Lively Ones (Surf Rider), Eddie and the Showmen, The Sunsets (Blue Love and Latin Surfer), Astronauts (Baja), Rhythm Rockers, Surfaris, Chanteys and the Tornadoes (Bustin Surfboards) would recreate the surf craze each weekend at every teen age dancing spot from San Diego to Ventura. It was not until the movie “Pulp Fiction,” by Quinten Tarrentino in 1994 that the anthem for surf music would be resurrected in “Miserlou.” Used as the opening song, Dick Dale’s staccato style trademark accented a period movie that brought the music back, just one more time.

From Santa Ana High School, the Chanteys would counter with “Pipeline,” a surfing term used to depict hiding inside the curl of a wave. Other notable surfing songs included ”Surfer’s Stomp” by the Mar-Kets, and “Rumble,” by Link Wray and the Wraymen.

Other vocal groups came on the scene to briefly take advantage of the musical lament called surf music. The Happenings with, “New York’s a Lonely Town, (When You’re the Only Surfer Boy Around),” The Regents and the Beach Boys each had medium hits with the same song about, “Barbara Ann,” but the Regents version would get the nod for the movie soundtrack for American Graffiti. “I Live For the Sun,” by none other than the Sun Rays, with Glenn Campbell on guitar, was a one-hit wonder and even Roy Orbison, in his last album, saluted the waves with “Windsurfer.”

Surf music was to have a very small window in the scheme of the industry, but it was profound and lasting for many of the groups. Dick Dale is still performing around the country as is Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean (Jan passed away in 2004). Dean was instrumental in the City of Huntington Beach being labeled “Surf City” after the song he and Jan wrote.

To give our readers an idea of the overall impact of Surf music, one need only look at the fact that the Beach Boys music became the musical backdrop for the Joffrey Ballet.

The music was an expression of the surfing lifestyle. It was a means of describing what it was like being a teenager and growing up in Southern California.

I will admit to being a hopeless romantic! The music of the 1950’s and early 60’s told the story of pure romance. Each song emitted a feeling that was innocent, yet suggestive of raw emotion, with words that reached out and grabbed you, held you and refused to let you go. They drenched their audience in emotive words that communicated what was thought, but could not be verbalized.

This was the idyllic world that provided a crystal ball into a romantic respite that transformed the listener away to a comforting and soothing romantic world. The feeling of love that was projected by the artists was lustful but still anything but “dirty.” It was the expression of emotion, a feeling, without having to act it out completely. It was how a boy felt about a girl and how a girl felt about a boy.

The songs were not messy, they did not inflict a deep pain, but more a pining or a wanting. It was a classic commandment that advised the future would be like the present. It was like the world was making the music, just for an audience of one.

The music was pure, honest and unadulterated, disregarding age, religion, race or culture. And sometimes the words did not make sense. Vernon Green and the Medallions delivered a talking bridge in the song “The Letter,” that whispered, “the pulpitudes of love,” and talked of “sweet words of pismotality,” and, everyone knew exactly what he meant. Spellcheck has nothing on Vernon Green.

As you read the lyrics of some of the songs included, close your eyes and remember where you were, whom you were with, and how you felt at that time. The prose or poetry is better than a greeting card because it keeps being repeated every time the song is played or sung. The lyrics send the very message desired, or thought to say, but, for whatever reason, could not. Try these out on someone or just read them aloud. After all, the memories are still in the music!







The prose and poetry could go on and on with lyrics and memories but you get the idea. There is an agonizing awareness that transforms, not because they may be corny or even sophomoric, they are ours. The songs, artists and lyrics called out to the audience. One cannot repress what has been learned about ourselves listening to this music. It is in the artistry of this romantic music that causes a response in a mystical and magical way. It is a music to feel, not just listen to.

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