Why did this music resonate with the teenagers that were a product of the 50’s? The music was theirs. DJ’s of the day would play the songs over and over, yet the audience never tired of listening. There were times when one record would be played over and over to break it down and listen to what the words meant. It was untouched idealism.
Going steady meant a pledge to see or date only that one person, exclusively. Guys and girls went “steady” even if they never kissed or were forbidden by their parents to date. It meant a letterman’s sweater, class ring, nightly phone calls or an angora mirror warmer exchange. And, for many, that was sufficient.
Until Art Laboe came on the scene.
Art Laboe was a Los Angeles DJ who sincerely loved the new breed of music. He wanted his audience to love it and created a way to make that happen through the magic of radio and the art form of dedications. He found a way of broadcasting from a Hollywood Drive-in diner, Scrivener’s, in the late afternoon, right after school. He arranged the rather primitive technology to take phone calls and actually put the call on the air, play a song that was asked for, and dedicate it to a special “someone”. How exciting was that? When the audience heard their name and dedication, “this song goes out to Patty, from Marty,” or “this is dedicated…to the one I love…” it cemented a relationship that was destined to last forever. And it did!
In his 90’s today and living in Salt Lake City, Utah, Art Laboe has been the voice of oldies but goodies since the 1950’s. He is as iconic as the Los Angeles Dodgers and earthquakes, continuing to schedule Valentine’s Day concerts each year. Even great-grandmothers attend and continue to dedicate songs. Recently replaced in Los Angeles radio by the more modernistic hip-hop music, he can be heard in cities from Fresno to San Diego and Bakersfield to Las Vegas on the world-wide web. He is still a part of the fabric of the 1950’s and early 60’s music and the culture of serenading loved ones (Los Angeles Times, 2014).
Another Los Angeles DJ, Hunter Hancock (“old HH”), played nothing but Doo Wop and Rhythm & Blues late into the night on radio station KGFJ. Well, perhaps until 10PM. He took dedications and used his secretary, Margie and her very sexy voice to dedicate songs that came from girls in the audience. She would use her voice to melt the guys into thinking that it was her you were in love with. The special part of Margie was that she was married to Tony Williams, lead singer of the Platters and would announce where he was performing. Does it get any better?
Let the record reflect, (pun intended), this age of innocence was real. No one meant harm and neither did the artists who wrote and/or performed the music. Somehow, someone, somewhere decided that some of the music was vulgar, risqué or just down right “dirty”. The audience never thought so, but if “they,” the people who banned songs from the airways, would not play them on the radio, teenagers would just buy the recording and play it at home, away from parents or at parties.
There were only a few songs that fit that bill, but those that come to mind include Party Doll – Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids, I’m a Man – Bo Diddley and Brown-eyed Handsome Man by Chuck Berry.
Compared to what is heard on the airwaves today…well, just listen today to these songs, smile and still say…t’was a simpler time.