by Dennis Dalman
There were no signs of memory loss or grinding brains at the Sartell Senior Center recently – oh no! — not when Thom Woodward shared dozens of musical explosions from the past.
Nearly 40 elderly people stamped their feet, and many of them sang along, remembering word for word the words of old classic rock ‘n’ roll songs. Some looked impatient, like they were about to get up and start dancing The Twist or the Wild Watusi.
“Oh yeah, remember that one?” smiling spouses would say to spouses or people sitting at their tables.
One man said: ‘I was a senior in high school when it was a hit. We used to dance to it (“Bye Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers).”
The name of Woodward’s presentation, which was peppered with snippets of recorded songs, was “Rocking and Rolling Through the Greatest Years of Rock: A History and a Claim.”
Woodward, who lives in Sartell, is a lifelong music enthusiast, assistant baseball coach at St. John’s University and former director of alumni relations for SJU.
His “claim”, as he calls it, is that the years from September 1962 to June 1966 were the greatest years in rock ‘n’ roll history due to the large number of singer-songwriters and of creative groups, as well as some remarkable hits during this time. To prove his claim, Woodward used statistics drawn from extensive research.
But before launching into his claim, he described the history of music that led to the rock ‘n’ roll revolution. First, in the 1940s and early 1950s, there was African-American jump-blues and jazz, elements of gospel singing, boogie-woogie, rhythm-and-blues. These forms of music, along with elements of country music, intersected as it were, eventually leading to rock ‘n’ roll performed by black and white singers and bands.
Rock ‘n’ roll is a dose of sound and energy, driven by a backbeat (usually a snare drum), plus electric guitars and sung with attitudes of brazen nastiness and full-face rebellion, often shouted or hissed hoarsely. voices that break all the rules of “good” singing.
Many songs were – and are – steeped in suggestive words and phrases, a fact that drove some parents almost mad in rock’s early years – and even later, even now. Woodward played snippets of songs from early musical influences—mostly black—before rock ‘n’ roll was officially “born”: Louis Jordan’s “Choo-Choo Ch-Boogie,” “It’s Alright, Mom” by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (later a hit for Elvis Presley), Ruth Brown’s “Teardrops from my Eyes” and Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” (also a later Elvis hit).
Woodward noted that the great bluesman Muddy Waters, sometimes considered the grandfather of rock, once said, “The Blues had a baby and they called it Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
First rock song?
The first rock ‘n’ roll song is considered by most music scholars to be “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets. This song blared full blast on the soundtrack of a 1955 film of the same name. The Beatles remember seeing this movie, hearing this song in a cinema in Liverpool when they were young teenagers and how this song, this explosive, intoxicating and exhilarating sound, bowled them over and led to their careers.
Elvis, who combined rhythm and blues with Southern-style white rockabilly, exploded onto the international scene in 1956 with a hit rocker named “Heartbreak Hotel.” His enormous fame and controversy quickly spread and he became known as the king of rock ‘n’ roll. Soon, on radio stations and record stores, rock ‘n’ roll was ubiquitous, with masses of young people following and with music and dance shows on TV like the Dick Clark feature American bandstand.
Woodward noted that the “raw” sound of early rock ‘n’ roll alarmed so many parents that companies began marketing “safer” singers. The rough, rebellious and erotic “edge” of rock ‘n’ roll began to be replaced, commercially, by a counterculture of less abrasive teen idols such as Tommy Sands, Paul Anka and Fabian. These pretty, toned-down singers, with their sleek, shiny pompadour hairstyles, swept away many teeny-boppers, as did young singers like Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, and “girl bands” like The Shirelles.
In the early 1960s more and more musical mixing began to occur, with rock ‘n’ roll taking on elements of folk music, poetic lyrics, new instruments – all influences developed by Bob Dylan and the Beatles and by dozens of bands in Britain, the Beatles and Rolling Stones among them – a cultural phenomenon known as the “British Invasion”.
And that, Woodward said, is about when rock/pop music’s four greatest years began.
There were many styles of rock ‘n’ roll during those years: Motown, Soul, Memphis blues, Chicago blues, Folk-Rock, Surfing Rock and the Garage-Band sound which Minnesota had many of them that made, for the most part, un-hitting wonders like the wacky (some would say crazy) “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen of Minneapolis (“Well, everyone’s heard of the bird, bbb-bird, b-bird is a word…”). Some music critics still consider this song today as a sui generis deranged surreal masterpiece. Woodward noted that Minnesota garage bands, including The Trashmen, definitely made their mark in rock’s best four years. They also later influenced the punk-rock movement.
Woodward noted that during rock’s four greatest years, songs emerged that weren’t just huge hits, but were — and still are — critically acclaimed.
In 2004, rolling stone The magazine polled dozens of rock music experts for a list of the 100 Greatest Rock/Pop/Country Songs of All Time. Five songs from 1965 entered the top 30 of this song list:
Number one, the biggest, was Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” followed by the Rolling Stones’ number 2 “Satisfaction”; the number 13 “Yesterday” by the Beatles; number 24 “People Get Ready” from The Impressions; and number 29 “Help” by the Beatles.
The Beatles scored all of Billboard’s top five hits, all at once, during a remarkable one-week stretch in 1964. Other hitmakers included the Dave Clark Five, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, the Byrds and many more too numerous to mention.
rolling stone The magazine also conducted a poll of the 50 most important artists in rock history. Twelve of the top 20, including the top five, were all stars during the 1962-66 period. The top five in order were the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry. Although Woodward did not specifically mention it, the Beatles released some of their greatest albums during this four-year period, such as rubber core and Revolver; and Bob Dylan’s influence was everywhere apparent on the music scene with the power of his poetic lyrics, especially after his superb trio of influential masterpiece albums of 1964-66: bring it all home, Highway 61 revisited, blonde on blonde.
Woodward grew up in New Jersey and graduated from high school in the mid-1960s. From a young age, Woodward amassed a huge collection of records (45s and LPs), cassettes, VCRs, CDs and virtually all other types of recorded music and video performances. He also has a personal library of books, historical documents, treasured memorabilia, and rock ‘n’ roll/pop music memorabilia, which he likes to share with others.
This fact was evident after his presentation at the Sartell Senior Center when many spectators met him to compare notes, reminisce about the old days and marvel at how rock-pop tunes were part of their daily lives – and still are. .