The Last Link, or Crooner Bop
a condensed essay, with apologies to J. G. Ballard, and everyone
by Greg Panfile
Not Just Dion:Bruce Springsteen has correctly identified Dion as a link from Sinatra to the Beatles. This is right as far as it goes; there is the strong rhythm guitar locked into the backbeat, the prominent role of a boy-stack in the background (first the Belmonts, then the uncredited Del Vikings), a certain strut, leveraging the twelve-bar format, and a transitional vocal style that is between Rat Pack and Invasion. But there were more guys involved, to some extent just as important: Rick Nelson, Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin. And is Buddy Holly really not in this category, essentially? I mean, True Love Ways?
Teenage Idols:That was the disparaging term associated with some of these guys, though in fact they do not deserve to be so trivialized. Sure, they had those weird rooster haircuts; hmmm... any other groups or singers associated with unique coiffures? However, they also managed to make some bones as songwriters, adapted to some extent to post-Invasion life, exemplified how 'standards' could be rocked out, and most importantly... the tracks stand up. Many stand up at least as well, or better than, many Beatle tracks. The innovation of Lennon's lament in 'Help!' is nil, conceptually. Rick Nelson got there first with 'Teenage Idol.' And it was Rick appearing on Sunday nights with Harriet's support that opened up the concept that good pop music was good family television, setting up what happened one February evening in 1964.
Palette, Detail:Rockabilly guitar solos. Prominent, complex, male-sounding background stacks. Use of the minor IV chord, the minor IX chord, the major IX chord, and often all of them in the same song, with the major IV somewhere else; protracted scat vamps on the I-iv change as a coda. Two artists in the Sixties exemplify this the most. Rick Nelson in Travelin' Man, Lonesome Town, Young World, Teenage Idol, Hello Mary Lou, It's Up To You. On the Fab side, choose your own examples. Before the backing vocals of the Beatles and Beach Boys, there were the Jordanaires doing all of Rick's songs, and Elvis' for that matter. You can look it up.
Going to the Bridge:Rydell 'hits' for the last time with a recorded in England song in Girl Group style, post-Fab: Forget Him. Rick with Garden Party, rockabilly, acoustic, autobiographical. Sinatra covers one Beatle song: Something (stick around, Jack, it might show! Hilarious!). Dean Martin does Spector's Corinna, Corinna, which Lennon sings at his 30th birthday party; Dino also interrupts the Fab run with Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime, featuring a very solid Girl Group backing vocal sound. Rydell sings Volare, a Martin hit. Nelson sings Fools Rush In, another Martin hit. Dion returns with an acoustic, political 'protest' lament, Abraham Martin and John. Musically, the latter two should be Dean and Lennon rather than Lincoln and Kennedy because that's where the song sits, right between. The BBC Beatles cover several of what would seem to be 'old people's songs' in a backbeat style, but they did not do it first.
Love with A, but not The, Twist:One criticism of this period is that the songs were all about teenage love and lust, back seats and malt shops... but that doesn't hold up if you actually listen. It's Up To You is the same feeling as If I Fell, but the minor/major tricks live in Lonesome Town, which is the same feeling as I'm a Loser. Is Runaround Sue anything other than a Day Tripper? Doesn't The Wanderer need to Follow the Sun? Sure, there is ebullience in meeting Mary Lou, and why should there not be, the person has just seen a face he can't forget, and what's wrong with that, I'd like to know? The reason she should Forget Him is This Boy's sincerity. There is ambivalence here, it's not all fun and games, and it hurts at times. If the Beatles in some sense are most proud of, and their recent remix collection eponymously reflects the central role of, 'Love...' well, I suppose you can figure out the rest; these guys did it first and there is a sophistication here that goes beyond dance crazes and mere happy/sad.
At the Bottom, No Clear Line:If you merely substitute the lead vocals, many of the crooner boppers' best tracks could fly into any number of Beatle settings and cause no disturbance. Of course to do it with the eclectic BBC material is easy, but consider how many of Rick Nelson's tracks, or Rydell's, or even Bobby Darin's If I Were A Carpenter, could spring up in the middle of Rubber Soul or With the... and seem utterly appropriate. Doesn't Garden Party essentially have the same message as Lennon's God, and wasn't there a walrus at that concert, mentioned in the song? All you need is ears.