Rock and roll replaced ballads on popular radio stations when I was in my teen years, but my parents were never ones to complain about “the stuff kids listen to these days.’’
When I was 11 and 12, the popular songs were by Rosemary Clooney and Johnny Ray, Patti Page and Frankie Lane and those crazy guys and gals who did the singing as the top tunes were counted town on Your Hit Parade every week. By the time I was 14, Elvis had burst onto the scene. So had Bill Haley and His Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Talk about a change in music.
Some of my friends had parents who would make a face like they’d just swallowed a rotten egg whenever Elvis or Jerry Lee hit the radio or the Ed Sullivan show. They’d shake their heads, roll their eyes and mutter, “You call that music?’’ When they did that, their kids would turn up the volume and set to dancing a boogie all around the kitchen. That brought more complaints from the parents, which brought even more extreme “catch the groove, daddy-o’’ from the kids.
My folks were different. My dad loved a good Irish tenor, swing music from the big-band days and any show tunes from musicals such as “Carousel’’ and “Oklahoma.’’ He didn’t mind the rock and roll. It wasn’t his music, but he could see I was digging it, and he liked the idea that I appreciated music — any kind of music.
My mom, well, she thought Elvis was the hippest cat in the country. She liked most music and she was especially taken with ragtime. A self-taught piano player, her idols were Liberace and Jo Ann Castle from the Lawrence Welk show. Castle did some great ragtime stuff, so naturally when Jerry Lee Lewis hit the scene, my mom took to his music with gusto. She got a kick out of the way he jumped around, kicked the piano bench and played the keys with the heel of his shoe. There wasn’t much chance my mom was going to criticize my love of rock and roll.
I thought of that on Sunday morning as I watched a new show and saw a list of what the program said were the top five popular songs for the summer of 2019. I didn’t recognize a single one of the song titles, and only one of the artists was a name I’d heard before. Except for the song on the list, I couldn’t name a song by that artist, so I’m not sure why I even recognized his name.
I felt, not for the first time, like I’d been left behind when the world shifted in some significant way. As I read the song titles, it occurred to me that if I were to hear the actual music the title represented, I’d probably be inclined to say something negative about “the stuff kids listen to these days.’’ I doubt I’ll have the chance to find out, because I’d have to listen to a pop radio or download something totally unfamiliar to me or otherwise be in the same location as some source that was playing the song. Even then, with the way my hearing has faded over the years, I probably wouldn’t hear enough of the tune or words to recognize that a song was being played.
It wasn’t always that way. Time was, back in the rock and roll days, I could hear a song once and immediately know the melody and the lyrics. Maybe it’s a young person’s thing. It wasn’t as if we heard songs all day long. I think the only time the pickup radio was switched on during a work week was when the World Series had afternoon games. On Saturday nights, in the family car headed for a date in town, I’d tune to KOMA and catch up.
If I were young, I’m pretty sure I’d know each of those top five summer songs. Even if I didn’t, I hope I’d keep my dislike to myself around young people who do know them. At least they’re liking music.