This item was first published in 2010. It reappears with minor editing, including an update about the 50th wedding anniversary Gwen and I enjoyed in 2019.
In happy days of the sixties, I was transitioning from the learner to the novice stage of being a teenager. But, I still knew everything there was to know, or at least the parts I thought worth knowing.
I could list every WW2 fighter ace, name the dambuster pilots of No. 617 Squadron RAF and engage my army veteran uncle for hours about the Battle of Britain. He had been a lowly tank driving private, an original member of the Kangaroo Squadron.
He wouldn’t talk a word about the ground war. That death and destruction was too real, too personal. Instead, he gloried in air to air combat that he only watched. It was warfare where men might give a respectful wave to the persons they aimed to kill.
I could instantly identify the make, model and engine option of any car on the road and recite, had anyone bothered to ask, up-to-date Vancouver Mounties baseball stats like Chuck Oertel’s batting average, Howie Goss’ Strikeout/Home Run ratio or George Bamberger’s ERA.
School was important mostly to visit friends and homework was for nerds, to be done only under duress and at the last possible moment. Getting a good laugh in class was always worth more than getting an A.
I remember triumphant participation in a high school quiz-bowl on stage during a school assembly. Afterward, a kid came up to me in the hall and said, “I. . . , I didn’t know you knew anything!“
Should I have been honoured or insulted. Still not sure.
For kids in those days, radio was king. We were pals with the swinging men at 1410: Al Jordan, Brian Lord, Frosty Forst, Dave McCormick and Jerry Landa. At CKWX, Buddy Clyde did both morning and afternoon drive times and Jim Robson was the indefatigable sports guy, calling real or imagined baseball play by play until late in the evening but still at the microphone for scores and happy talk on the early morning show.
No Vancouver radio station today can measure up to the powerhouse legends of the sixties. And, they spoke directly to us; no adults needed.
Rockabilly Queen Wanda Jackson was number one on the CFUN*Tastic 50 and number two on The Sensational Sixty at CKWX.
In the week of September 1960, when my pioneer grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I wondered how people could get to be that old. I repeated the thought to a ten year-old grandson recently at a family dinner marking 50 years since Gwen and I married.
Reminiscences are fun, but in reality, the good old days depend mostly on faulty memory.
Most pop music was utter crap, junk that today’s golden oldies lists don’t include. ‘Running Bear‘ by Johnny Preston, for example. Or, Seven Little Girls. And, who today would listen to a wave of teenage death songs. Maybe, Ray Peterson who was still singing ‘Tell Laura I Love Her‘ on the oldies circuit a few years ago. Or, Marilyn Michaels, artist responsible for the sensational Laura sequel: ‘Tell Tommy I Miss Him‘.
That kind of music is torture. Happily, one trait of human nature is to dismiss painful experiences and focus memories on happy times. We recall trepidation preceding the first kiss and grope sessions but those joyful terrors are worth remembering.
Real suffering, we put away in private places, and mostly just keep them there, to ourselves.
Indeed, Canadian society in the sixties was much different than today.
In my town, there were few visible minorities, apart from little-known people on the reserve a few miles beyond the last bus stop north of town.
There were no gay people and we had few ‘subnormals’ in our community. Handicapped or ‘retarded’ youngsters were mostly sent off to institutions, somewhere, where they could be better cared for while their families got on with life. A few lived at home but were strictly excluded from regular schools. Who knows, maybe Cerebral Palsy was contagious in those days.
Juvenile delinquents were occasional problems but they too got shipped out of town. There were dungeons for some at the Industrial School for Girls on Cassiar Street in East Vancouver. I walked past this place regularly near my childhood home, wondering how evil had been those children behind the barred windows. It housed female miscreants as young as ten and was called the House of Horror by the Vancouver Sun.
Margaret Bayne and the Vancouver Girls’ Industrial School
The City Fire Chief repeatedly condemned unsafe conditions at the 1914 jail and officials were also persuaded by a riot involving 70 pre-teen and teen girls. At the start of the sixties, it was replaced by the slightly less oppressive Willingdon School for Girls.
Misbehaving boys, including one of my neighbors, could be deemed incorrigible and jailed at Brannan Lake ‘reform school’ near Nanaimo. Again, pre-teens mixed with older inmates. Children suffered all kinds of abuses: emotional, physical and sexual. Additionally, the lawbreaking skills that apprentice criminals lacked beforehand were quickly learned from more experienced offenders.
Places like this were “not a reformatory but a deformatory.”
In truth, the good old days were good for already comfortable people, the folks well clear of society’s margins. For those who didn’t or couldn’t conform with the ordinary, life was tough.
In youth, and for years after, I never thought much about these issues. With age, I’ve lost a portion of my ignorance, at least, I hope, that willful disregard I used to avoid subjects that made me uncomfortable or allowed me to pretend I was not indifferent to others.
If you only remember classic songs of the sixties, follow the links above or listen to the ones below. See if you agree that most old pop music was crap and only the good ones live on.
Friend Gary thought this was a great song for some reason or another.
And girlfriend Gwen’s mom thought this one was nice. I hated it with a passion.
Good Morning Norman,
I don't often find fault with your comments because you speak the truth and very often on topics the MSM would never touch for fear of losing some of the all mighty advertising dollar. But this morning you surprised me with the following comment ” Most of the music was utter crap “. Gee Norman, I'm not sure but maybe your local radio station was filled with static. No, Norman, I'm not from one of those well to do families. But I remember the GOOD OLD days in Bluewater & Sarnia Ontario listening to the Big 8 ( CKLW ). The music meant something then and there is no way that most of TODAY'S music will ever compare. Today the music industry is running out of talent and that's why many artists who come out with one hit, will then re-do some of the old classics. WE had songs to sing & whistle to, we had songs with meaning ( remember My Dad ). Heck Norman even the crazy songs like the Bird ( everybody's talking about the Bird, I said the Bird, the Bird, the Bird is the word and No they're not coming to take me away aha. From Eddy Arnold, Brenda Lee, Ricky Nelson, Del Shannon and the list goes on & on. Even today Norman, people still want to rock & roll with blue suede shoes and slow dance with their favourite gal while listening to Chanson d'Amour. Go ahead Norman, it's a beautiful day to sit on the Dock of the Bay and tell your partner I Only Have Eyes For You. And if you're interrupted by the noise of today's hits, just tell then to Hit the Road Jack.
Guy in Victoria
And, where do you rank Jimmy Cross in that list of giants? How about Itsy, Bitsy Teeny Weeny, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini or They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-haa, On Top of Spaghetti, or Beep-Beep?
Ok, how about I say, “A fair bit of that music was crap.”
You both forgot The Purple People eater…. lol.
I really loved this post Norm. As a kid growing up in the wilds of PG, I have fond memories of riding beside my dad in his Ford truck, listening to all these songs on his eight track player. In my case, I'd have to toss in some old country too, Tammy Wynette – Stand by your man, Wings of a Dove – Ferlin Husky, Hello Walls, Wolverton Mountain, El Paso and North to Alaska… Sigh… just thinking about it makes me smile in a good way.
To this day, I can recall all the words to all these songs, and crack all my kids up doing so. I belt them out with pure emotion, just to see them raise their eyebrows and shake their heads!
Yes, some of it could be considered crap,but to me, it's funny crap.
Of course, you mean “the one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. It looked strange to me.My wife sings that to the little ones and they always laugh.”
OK, I have to send this, just because you didn't like the song Norman by Sue Thompson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umHj1lf_bU8, you don't have to call all the music of the era that we grew up in as “crap”. I remember you used to really enjoy Dave Brubeck and Acker Bilk, was that crap also? And by the way, not to mention Red Robinson in you list of radio personalities is “crap”. But then maybe you have different definition of the word since it is so unlike you to use a four letter almost expletive in your writing. BTW there never was a song about Gary leaving the Navy so don't try and find it.
Happy Memories, G
Recordings of Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond, Joe Morello and Eugene Wright still make my pulse rise. The album Time Out is my favorite of all time but I've got a number of Brubeck disks and more of Paul Desmond himself. Other pleasures include anything by Vince Guaraldi, Stan Getz, Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt
Hey, now I remember why I missed the pop music of the late sixties, seventies and eighties. That stuff I started listening to when my first son became a teen and started playing Eric Clapton, Brian May, Stevie Ray, Fleetwood Mac and those other timeless artists.
By the way, I left Red Robinson off the list because I was referencing one week in 1960. Robinson returned from the US Army stint and joined WX in 1961. I remember being in a place call Edgehill with Mr. Anonymous one Saturday afternoon, waiting breathlessly for Red Robinson to start the music.
As a musician, I find the discussion about “crap” music fascinating. There has always been a mountain of crap available, and since popular radio purposely appeals to the lowest common denominator – it is always readily available. However the times you refer to also (just in the “popular” genre) included, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and that's just three “white” guys off the top of my head. It would be cheating to bring up such artists as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Jackie Maclean Thelonius Monk, Grant Green, Lightning Hopkins, Jimmy Reed, T-Bone Walker, the Stax-Volt and MoTown crews…..(infinity sign). They weren't blaring out of every car radio, but they were there for those willing and wanting to seek out real music.
From Simon and Garfunkel
Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.
There’s a funny part in the Animals egotistical little telling of “The Story of Bo Diddley” where they mention the sappy love songs that characterized a portion of what was really popular at the dawn of the Sixties, but at that point i had already noticed that the leakage of blues, jazz and R&B into Top Whatever radio was what really grabbed my interest, along with some of the instrumental stuff, even though I couldn’t have told you that Floyd Cramer’s On The Rebound was hard-core country if not particularly Western. I also recall many occasions working around the family ‘estate’ and listening to my Dad tell me what drivel all this new music was. My mother’s revenge, other than buying me a Billie Holiday album for my saint’s day, was to bring home a copy of Blonde on Blonde. And I don’t know if anyone else remembers Junior Walker’s first effort to make the radio, an instrumental called “Cleo’s Back” that i caught on KDIA (Lucky 13 The Black Spot On Your Dial) from Oakland: shivers, I’ll tell you, shivers! Funny how many people have chimed in on this post. The music must mean something…
Ken Burn’s documentary on PBS about Country Music takes us down the musical and social road during those days. If you were white, middle class, male life was great. If you weren’t well it could be terrible.
If you had cancer in the “good old days” you died. Same with a lot of other diseases. Mental illness was treated like the plague. sexual abuse of children swept under the carpet and abused wives, well they just kept falling down the stairs.
However, I can remember B.C. and Vancouver being beautiful. Some of the music was great and there were lots of blue berry farms in Richmond and as a kid you could ride your bike every where you wanted.
And then came The Beatles…