“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.