Originally posted June 29, 2009:
I was seven or eight years old when I had my first great adventure on the campus of St. Cloud State College (as it was titled then). If I were eight at the time, then it took place in mid-summer of 1961, and from this long distance, that’s close enough for our purposes.
I wrote a little earlier this summer about attending summer classes at the Campus Lab School at St. Cloud State, spending mornings there so the college’s education students had someone to teach as they pursued their college degrees. If I recall correctly, on most days, my dad would be waiting when I left the school, and I’d ride home with him in his beloved ’52 Ford. Then came the day of the all-college picnic.
Think about this for a moment, as this is – at least for me – a quintessential 1960s event: A summertime picnic on the lawn, open to all students, all faculty and staff members, and all of their family members. The college was, of course, a much smaller place than is today’s sprawling institution, and then, summertime enrollment is always less than during other quarters. But still, a college-wide picnic! Barbecued chicken and beans and cole slaw for how many? Maybe five hundred people? It was a tradition that wouldn’t last much longer, as I don’t recall such picnics taking place during the summers I was a student on campus.
It was a different era, of course, one of freshman beanies and letter sweaters, with the young men mostly wearing dress slacks or khakis and the young women almost always wearing dresses, kind of like Faber College in Animal House (without the fascists or the slobs). I recall during one of those annual picnics looking across the street at a battered wooden building. It housed the campus bookstore and a student hangout called the Chatterbox. I asked a family friend, one of my dad’s student workers, what it was like inside, and he said it was crowded and noisy. He said they sold burgers and fries and coffee and malts. It was an honest-to-god malt shop! Except for the coffee, it sounded pretty good to a preteen whiteray, and I asked him if he’d take me in there someday. He shook his head no. A few years later the Chatterbox was gone, razed to make way for the new student center.
Anyway, on the day of the all-college picnic in 1961, I was supposed to meet my mom outside the Campus Lab School and we’d walk the three or so blocks or so to the picnic. I went out the door where I usually found Dad in his car. No Mom. I waited a few minutes, wondering what to do. And when she hadn’t shown up in ten minutes, I set out across campus, heading for Dad’s office. I wasn’t at all sure of the campus’ geography, but I knew Dad’s office was in the basement of the library, and if I could find the library, then I was in good shape.
So every once in a while, I asked a passing student where the library was. The college men chuckled at me, and one asked if I were going to do research for a term paper. The college women told each other I was cute, and a couple of them wanted to know if I wanted them to take me to the library. No, I said, I could find it myself, as long as I had good directions. And I did find it. And I found the stairs down to Dad’s office. The door was locked and the dark basement corridor was a little spooky.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but sitting in a dark basement corridor was kind of scary, and it wasn’t getting me any chicken. I clambered up the stairs, and went to the picnic. And that’s where I found my folks, who were of course, quite worried. (Though perhaps not as worried as parents in similar circumstances might be today; although a good portion of today’s horrors also existed back then, they were not placed nearly so firmly on our minds’ center stage then as they are today.) My mom told me she’d waited at the front door of the lab school for a fair amount of time; I told her dad had been picking me up at the side door.
And after a few minutes more of discussion, we got in line and filled our plates.
A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, June 26, 1961)
“Quarter to Three” by Gary U.S. Bonds, Legrand 1008 (No. 1)
“Every Beat of My Heart” by the Pips, Vee-Jay 386 (No. 8)
“Peanut Butter” by the Marathons, Arvee 5027 (No. 23)
“Let’s Twist Again” by Chubby Checker, Parkway 824 (No. 62)
“Theme from ‘Goodbye Again’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 319 (No. 85)
“Rainin’ In My Heart” by Slim Harpo, Excello 2194 (No. 99)
A couple of these are pretty well known: “Quarter to Three” and “Let’s Twist Again” are staples on any self-respecting oldies radio station, and they deserve to be so (although Checker’s original “The Twist” is a better single than “Let’s Twist Again”). Both of them, at the right moments, can get you out on the dance floor, and thus, they remain among the best that not only 1961 had to offer, but the entire era post-Holly and pre-Beatles. “Quarter to Three” spent two weeks at No. 1, and “Let’s Twist Again” peaked at No. 8 later in the summer.
Speaking of that era of American pop, the one that began with the plane crash in Iowa and ended with the Beatles playing on Ed Sullivan’s show: I’ve seen that era written off entirely. Now, it’s true there was a lot of bad pop and faux R&B being played on radio and racked in the stores – Fabian, anyone? – but there was still more good music than a lot of post-Sixties critics have recalled over the years. Some of the other records on that week’s Hot 100, stuff that I could have shared, were: “Tossin’ and Turnin’” by Bobby Lewis, “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, “Hello Walls” by Faron Young, “Cupid” by San Cooke, “I Like It Like That (Part 1)” by Chris Kenner and “Mama Said” by the Shirelles. And that’s just a quick glance.
Now, there’s no doubt that pop music slumped a little in those years, but my point is that it wasn’t quite the desert that some writers have claimed it to be.
There’s a riddle surrounding “Every Beat of My Heart.” It’s listed twice on the Hot 100 for this week: Vee-Jay has a release credited only to the Pips (before Gladys Knight got top billing) at No. 8, and it’s also listed at No. 60 as a release on Fury Records, credited to Gladys Knight and the Pips. From everything I know, I have the Vee-Jay release here, but if anyone out there knows any better, let me know, please. According to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, the Vee-Jay version peaked at No. 6, while the Fury version failed to make the Top 40.
Regarding “Peanut Butter,” writer Dave Marsh notes the strange tale: The Olympics and their producers, Fred Smith and Cliff Goldsmith, sold the single to Argo, a subsidiary of Chicago’s Chess Records. But as the group was still under contract to Los Angeles-based Arvee, the record was credited to the Marathons, a not-too-subtle change from the Olympics. And the song had a strong resemblance to the Olympics’ 1960 hit, “(Baby) Hully Gully.” So, without too much ado, the record wound up on the Arvee label anyway, and went to No. 20. Now, the tale is told quite a bit differently by Joel Whitburn in The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Whitburn says that with the Olympics on tour, Arvee brought in the Vibrations to record “Peanut Butter.” But the Vibrations were under contract to Chess/Checker, which stopped the Arvee release and then had the Vibrations record a version of the song for Argo, the Chess subsidiary. At which point, Arvee brought in another group – evidently neither the Olympics nor the Vibrations – to record “Peanut Butter” yet again. That third release, I guess, is what is offered here. And none of that matters when the lead singer calls out “Scarf now!”
The Ferrante & Teicher record was in its third week in the Hot 100 this week. It would linger in the lower levels one more week before falling off the chart. And in August, the piano duo would have their first Top 40 hit with the “Theme from The Apartment,” which would peak at No. 10.
“Rainin’ In My Heart” would eventually rise from the depths of the Hot 100 to become one of two Top 40 hits by Slim Harpo, whose real name was James Moore. “Rainin’ In My Heart” would rise to No. 34, and five years later, his “Baby Scratch My Back” would go to No. 16. Those were Harpo’s only Top 40 hits, but he may be better known for two songs covered by the Rolling Stones: “I’m A King Bee,” which was on the album The Rolling Stones in 1964 (and was covered by many others as well, including Muddy Waters), and “Shake Your Hips,” which wound up on 1972’s Exile on Main Street. (Oddly, the Exile on Main Street jacket listed the song as “Hip Shake,” but the label on the record had the correct title.)