As a fan of 50s/early 60s doo wop, rhythm and blues, and rock-n-roll, I write tributes to the artists, make opinionated lists, and compose essays on the often neglected spiritual aspects of the classic hits.



Page last updated 09-15-2008.
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The What Four



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Quiz #1

Answers to Pop Quiz #1

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Roy Orbison's golden, powerful voice with the incredible range (just try singing "Crying" once.  Can't do it, can you?) got him noticed during the age of rock-and-roll, even though he hardly looked the part of a teen idol.  Usually wearing sunglasses (because of weak eyes and a sensitivity to light) and dressing in dark clothes, with an unexceptional face and physique, he wasn't the kind of person who would get noticed in a crowd.  But, oh, when he sang...!

Roy wasn't really a rocker, although he could belt out a driving song with the best of them ("Pretty Woman").  He was more of a pop balladeer, using music to tell stories ("It's Over," "Running Scared," "Pretty Paper.")  And rather than singing about school, cars, catching the eye of a girl at the prom, or what it would be like to grow up, Orbison sang songs that expressed adult longings and emotions ("Only The Lonely," "In Dreams," "Love Hurts," "Blue Bayou.")  Though the kids liked him, the parents did as well, and some of his records were equally at home on the teen Top 40, adult contemporary, and, even, country and western record stations.

In later life, Orbison was "re-discovered" and became part of The Traveling Wilburys, along with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and others.  In fact, the Dylan album that was released shortly after Roy's death was entitled "Oh, Mercy," as Bob's tribute to Orbison, because, Dylan explained, that was the roughest expression he had ever heard Roy use when things were going wrong.

I loved the way Roy's songs could get your feet tapping, yet tug at your heartstrings, and have a mythical quality all at the same time.  And I don't know about you, but I'll take all the mercy I can get.



Whose musical career started as a sit-com gimmick, but expanded to include recording deals, live concerts, and world-wide recognition?

If you answered, "The Monkees," you get partial credit, but the answer our judges were looking for was, "Ricky (or Rick as he later preferred) Nelson." On an episode of "The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet," Ricky took to playing guitar and singing. It was an attempt to keep the interest of the teenage audience who were turning to that new music, Rock-And-Roll. 

And it worked beyond anyone's wildest expectations. For one thing, the kid was good, and for another, he took his music very seriously, always practicing, experimenting, and striving to improve.


Ricky could belt out the hard-driving rockers like "Believe What You Say," "It's Late," and "Stood Up." (I know this is supposed to be a sad song, but he sounds like he's having the time of his life to me.)  But his voice also had a wistful quality to it that could express devotion, longing, dreaming, and even regret in such hits as "Never Be Anyone Else But You," "Lonesome Town," "Travelin' Man," and "Poor Little Fool."

In late years, Rick abandoned the oldies because of his artistic soul's need to try something new. But shortly before his tragic death, he returned to the hits of his youth using effectively haunting arrangements which made the songs fun, but gave a hint of sadness over an innocence long gone. He performed some of them on "Saturday Night Live" and was SENSATIONAL!!

I was planning to attend what turned out to be one of his last live appearances but something came up at the last minute. I know I'll get over it some day. But not any time soon.


Pop (Music) Quiz #1

Theme: Girls!  Girls!  Girls!

1. What's the title of the song sung by a girl that uses an orchestra of kazoos on an instrumental break?

2. What character did Leslie Gore play on "Batman?"

3. Who was the song, "Oh, Carol," written about?

4. Who is Little Eva's famous sister?

5. Who is the lead singer for The Ronettes?

6. What cast member of "The Donna Reed Show" had a hit record with "Johnny Angel?"

7. Name two other sitcoms that the answer to number 6 was regularly featured in.

8. Who was "Little Miss Dynamite?"

9. Who warned an evil would-be suitor, "My Boyfriend's Back?"

10. What was "The Leader Of The Pack's" first name?


Answers to Pop (Music) Quiz #1

1. "California Nights"

2. Pussy Cat

3. Carol King

4. Carol King

5. Ronnie (Veronica) Spector

6. Shelley Fabares

7. "One Day At A Time,"  "Coach"

8. Brenda Lee

9. The Angels

10. Jimmy



List #1: My Top Ten Instrumentals Of The Golden-Oldie Era

(Not in any order)

  • Walk, Don't Run - The Ventures
  • Green Onions - Booker T. and The M.G.s
  • Wipe Out - The Surfaris
  • The Peter Gunn Theme - Henry Mancini
  • Tequila - The Champs
  • Wild Weekend - The Rockin' Rebels
  • "Rebel-'Rouser" - Duane Eddie & His "Twangy" Guitar
  • Chicken Hop - The Roosters
  • Out of Limits - The Marketts
  • Yakety Sax - Boots Randolph




"Loud, Fast, And Out Of Control: The Wild Side Of 50's Rock"

(Rhino Records, Boxed 4 CD Set)

A review, and a reflection on why a pastor loves "The Devil's Music"

As the title of the collection suggests, the songs included are not doo wop, nor slow dancing, park out by the lake tunes.  These are drum on whatever hard surface is nearby, stomp your feet, rip the seats out of the auditorium and storm the stage, "in-your-face" youth, put on your black leather jacket, dance yourself into a frenzy songs.  Included are well known hits by legendary masters (ex. "Tutti-Fruitti" by Little Richard; "La Bamba" by Ritchie Valens), obscure numbers by barely remembered artists (ex. "Fujiyama Mama" by Wanda Jackson; "Crazy Country Hop" by Johnny Otis), and novelty songs (ex. "My Boy Elvis" by Janis Martin; "Flyin' Saucers Rock & Roll" by Billy Riley & His Little Green Men) that all have one thing in common - they rock!  

While not every track is a favorite of mine and I probably could have lived a totally fulfilling life without ever once hearing "Duck Tail" by Joe Clay, I still highly recommend this boxed set.  Pop one of the CD's into your computer when you're starting to fall asleep at work and see what happens.

Included is a booklet which tells the sometimes poignant, sometimes vulgar, sometimes humorous, sometimes shocking, but always fascinating stories behind the songs.  It also has thought provoking essays about the music and the times which I enjoyed, although I did find them to be a little self-congratulatory, as though Baby Boomers were the first generation to discover sex and youthful rebellion, when, in fact, many swing and big band records were just as daring for their era as anything Alan Freed played.

On the disks are a few sound bites from churches, radio stations and entire towns that took self-righteous stands against the (then) "new music".  Heard today, they sound just as foolish as Jerry Falwell's attack on the Teletubbies.  

Consider that a recent issue of Christianity Today trumpets the fact that guitars and drums have "beat" the organ in the "battle" over what's played in most churches. 

A packaged Vacation Bible School program the churches in our town used had many songs for the children which borrowed heavily from the rhythms, dynamics, and chord progressions of golden-oldie rock-n-roll.  If it's true that whether or not a song has "a beat" determines, as Larry Norman would say, "which side of the Pearly Gates we're really on," then the Christian Church has literally gone to hell.

Why must the Church which, in the Bible, is said to be God's new creation, singers of God's new song, recipients of God's new name, proof that God makes all things new, shake its fists at whatever new thing appears on the scene?  Why can't we see it as something God might someday use?  

An example of this paranoia is the letter that I received urging me to come to a conference on the Y2K "crisis."  The letter said that on January 1, 2000, America was going to be thrown into a state of anarchy because of God's judgment on us for relying on computers rather than "trusting Him."  (Does that mean that God will spell-check my articles for me, do the math necessary for me to balance my checkbook, file and store my important documents, and give me the plot summaries for the current Star Trek episodes?  Cool!)  Then, to register for the conference, I was told to e-mail its organizers!  The irony of all this was apparently lost on the writer of the letter.

Listening to early rock reminds me not to be too hasty in judging some of today's music.  Just because I may find a certain Christian music group's songs and/or style to be bizarre, doesn't mean that the downfall of Western Civilization is at hand.  It might just be that God is reaching kids through it.

As the booklet points out, some of the reaction against rock-n-roll was veiled (and not so veiled) racism.  Suddenly, kids of all races didn't care what color skin a performer had.  All that mattered was, "can he or she rock?"  Blacks and whites went to the same concerts, started talking the same language, began imitating one another.  And some saw this as a very dangerous trend indeed.  

In certain respects, the teenage subculture became what the Christian Church is called by God to be - colorblind.  It shouldn't matter to us what race or background or economic status a person has.  What matters is whether the person knows The Rock.

Another reason I love classic rock is that it's feel good, exuberant, get the lifeblood pumping in your veins, laugh in the face of death, I am somebody, I'm going to make something of myself someday 'cause I've got potential, good time, have a party music.  Doesn't the Bible tell us to "rejoice in the Lord always," to "clap your hands," to "shout to God with a voice of triumph?"  Doesn't it tell us the story of David dancing before the Lord?  Don't we Christians have a lot to be happy about?  Hasn't God made us into somebodies through Jesus Christ and don't we have eternal potential?  Why then do we get the idea that God wants us to half-heartedly mumble the words to a hymn with grim expressions on our faces when we meet to worship together?

Finally, many of the old rock songs glory in the awakening of teenage sexuality.  While it's not always expressed in those songs in ways that are consistent with Biblical morality, there's nothing wrong with recognizing that God gave us a great gift when he made us male and female.  Let's face it, if sex isn't worth singing about, what on earth is??!!  There's even a book of the Bible, The Song Of Songs, a.k.a. The Song Of Solomon, which talks about the sheer joy and power of: romantic attraction; being in love; sex between husband and wife.  And there is not much difference in spirit, or even words, between "My Girl Is Red Hot" and many of the passages in that portion of scripture.



Sha Na Na: Rockin' Christmas

  A fun holiday disc that features covers of Christmas oldies, as well as original material written in a '50s, early '60s style.  The best of the covers is Jocko's rendition of "Blue Christmas."  The novelty song, "Santa's On A Diet," the rocking "I Want To Rock 'N Roll for Christmas," and the blues number that will have you thumping its rhythm on the arm of your chair as you listen, "I Got The Blues For Christmas," are the strongest original offerings. 

An arrangement of "Jingle Bells" that's part Doo Wop and part Beach Boys deserves to get some airplay.

 Though some numbers are forgettable fluff, they are entertaining enough as the disc plays through.  There aren't any religious songs and that's probably as it should be.  The song "Top Forty" aside, who really wants to hear Sha Na Na do religious music?  

All December holidays are covered here to make the album appealing to a wide audience.  

A strength of the album is the accompaniment, the guitar riffs, and the instrument breaks.  They are totally cool and true to the spirit of rock-and-roll's golden age.  

I recommend it.  Order from Pat's Gold.



I was one of the founding members of the infamous rock revival band, The What Four, which was popular on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College and played some dates around the Rochester, New York area, circa 1973-1978.

We rock-n-rolled at the 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2003 Homecomings and had a blast!   It was great to see all who came! 

Current members are Don "Tony 'Loverboy' Parella" Mohr,  Tom "Tommy Fierro" Applin, Doug "Johnny Angel" Magee, and What Four Founding Father, me, Steve "The Budman" Bierly.  
(But you never know when a former member might show up and join us for a song or two!)  

We're accompanied by the oldies band, "The Decades," featuring:
 Aaron "Stretch" Mohr on the keyboard, "Axe" Horan on guitar, "Slick Jack Smith" on guitar, "The Stash" on bass, "Stix" on the drums, and "Mac Daddy Stud" on the sax.  

Whenever we have anew show in the works, you'll read about it here first!



Essay #1:
How SHA NA NA Proves The Bible Is True

A 1970s nostalgia craze is sweeping across America among college students and twenty-somethings. They are playing disco music and wearing leisure suits and mood rings. I find that very ironic as I was a college student in the 1970s and back then, we were all into 1950s nostalgia. We greased back our hair, put on black leather jackets, watched "Happy Days" and "American Graffiti," and cruised to golden-oldies radio.

Why is it that so many people are never content to live in the here-and-now? Why do we often find ourselves longing to live in some sort of idealized "golden age," a time when life was simple, more innocent, more exciting, more fun than it is now?  Why do we have the urge to dress up in styles of long ago, whether it be in poodle skirts or jackets with "smiley face" buttons on them? Why the desire to be someone cooler, more hip, more in control than we really are?

If our world and the life upon it just evolved by chance and accident, then why should we ever want to go back to any era? What exists now is the product of a long line of chemical reactions, survival of the fittest, and the growth of the human species' intellectual and social skills. Humankind has supposedly learned from its mistakes and science and technology have allowed our standards of living to take quantum leaps forward. Why then shouldn't we be happy with where we're at now, or at least want to keep surging forward? Why this desire to go back?

Well, the Bible tells us that there was a golden age long, long ago where man and woman lived in a world where life was exciting. They had perfect communion with God and were able to name and explore the wonders of the earth without being burdened by the problems - war, crime, disease, death - that we face today. And even when the Bible paints a picture of mankind's glorious future in Revelation 21 and 22, it uses imagery and concepts from Genesis 1 and 2. It's as though it is God's plan to advance up to the point where we're able to go back to the past.

And it's certainly God's plan to dress me up to become more and more like someone more cooler, more hip, and more in control than I am - Jesus Christ Himself. The Bible says that believers are destined to become conformed to his image.

I believe that at some level, we instinctively know these things to be true. And we prove it every time we comb our D.A.'s or put "Rock Around The Clock" on the turntable.

Essay #2: 
Why A Pastor Loves "The Devil's Music" is located in Review Section of this page.

Also, the Elvis book review contains essay material.





Ricky Nelson: Idol For A Generation" by Joel Selvin (Contemporary Books, 1990)

A fast-moving, easy-reading, account of the life of a rock-n-roll pioneer.  (And if you don't believe Ricky was that, read the book.  You'll be convinced.)  Author Joel Selvin, a newspaper columnist and professor of rock music history at San Francisco University, has done his research and often lets those who knew Rick tell the story in their own words.  And it's a story of contradictions and ironies.  Rick was the nice guy everyone liked, but he couldn't make a go of his marriage and wasn't much of a father.  Everything he attempted came easily to him except the one thing he really wanted - to be a respected songwriter.  He could spend hours fooling around and jamming with musicians who shared what may have been his one true love, rock-n-roll, and lived to perform, but was undisciplined when it came to recording sessions and showing up on time for concert dates.  Rick resented the strong control that his father Ozzie exerted on his career, but without Ozzie, Rick wouldn't have had a career, and after Ozzie died, Rick felt lost and allowed other strong personalities to dominate him. He was on the verge of comebacks with great material several times but studio execs, out-of-touch producers, and poor timing ruined them.  He always viewed himself as the young, invulnerable superstar even when he was playing "steak and lobster houses" in Buffalo, and using drugs and groupies which ruined his concentration, and riding in a plane that many warned him was unsafe.

It's a story that's filled with the names of rock greats, and interesting tidbits and trivia, such as the fact that "Poor Little Fool" was written by a young woman who was going to have a date with one of the Everly Brothers until she found out he was married.  Upset, she walked around town with Paul Anka and then jotted down the lyrics.  The book also tells the real tale behind the song, "Garden Party," which isn't quite the same as the legend.

It's a story written by one who is both a fan and a critic, and so, Selvin is unafraid to lavish praise where praise is due or point out weaknesses that he sees in the star or hears in his work.


Rating: PG-13/R for language, sexual situations, and drug use (though Selvin is more restrained that some rock writers are).


Elvis by Albert Goldman

This book is rock biography as literary work of art.  Goldman's prose is so engaging that it dares you to try and put the book down.  I confess that I usually skim over long descriptive passages in non-fiction books and novels, but I couldn't skim over Mr. Goldman's.  Much more than just a "this is what happened next" biography, though the author's research and command of the facts is impressive, this volume references everything from ancient myths, to world history, to socio-economic studies, to pop culture, while mixing in musical critiques and plausible psychological speculation, to become the ultimate Elvis story.

The keys to understanding Elvis and the Presley phenomenon, according to Goldman, are as follows:

   1. When Elvis is referred to as "The King," it's not just hype or a nickname.  It's a fact.  The American public, fulfilling some sort of inner, unspoken need to have its own royalty, coronated Elvis.  And like a king, Elvis had his confidants and courtesans.  There were proper etiquette and protocols for approaching and interacting with him.  Anyone broaching courtly etiquette would be swiftly banished.  Authorities and the public were willing to bend and break laws and their sense of morality for Elvis so that he, basically, could do whatever he wanted.  Elvis eventually became a figurehead.  It no longer mattered whether or not he actually was good at anything, just that he showed up.  After his death, as is the case with many monarchs both ancient and modern, images of Elvis when he was young and able, rather than in a confused, weakened state, became popular.

   2. Elvis was a hillbilly who made good.  Essentially, the story of the Presleys is "The Beverly Hillbillies" for real.  This explains Elvis' strange personal hygiene habits, his decorating Graceland in "Five And Dime" style, his seeing signs and portents everywhere, his seeking meaning for his dreams, his superstitious beliefs including the conviction that his still-born twin brother's soul had entered his body, his love of trucks, cars, and firearms (and perhaps his tendency to shoot guns off inside), and maybe even his schizophrenia when it came to drugs.  He despised junkies while at the same time taking large amounts of legal and illegal drugs.  But that was just his "medication," in the same way that Granny didn't consider herself a moonshiner.  She was just making her "rheumatiz medicine" or "Spring tonic."  In fact, Elvis comes across as a more intelligent, more talented Jethro Bodine, flitting from one idea to another:

"You mean I can get girls, girls, girls, and food, food, food!?!?!! Hot dog!!"

"I'm a gonna be a big rock singer!"

"Hey, Uncle Jed, I'm what you call a matinee ideal!"

"I'll show you how to be a cowboy, Elly, you dumb girl!"

"I gots me a badge which says I'm an officer of the law.  Now I can bust perpetrators and such.  And soon I'll be a Drug Enforcement Agent, enforcin' all them drugs!"

"I don't thinks about money anymore, Miss Jane.  See I'm livin' on your basic higher plain, talkin' to spirits, healin', and levitatin', and stuff, and some day you all is gonna hail me as The Cosmic Messiah when I fulfills my callin' and commences to Messiahing."

3. There were two Elvis Presleys - Elvis The Good and Elvis The Bad.  Elvis The Good was extremely polite and outrageously generous.  He claimed he could only really fall in love with a virgin and believed strongly in marriage (for others, not for himself).  He was patriotic (like any good hillbilly) and resented dirty foreigners (like the Beatles) coming over and polluting the minds of the youth.  Elvis The Bad had a violent, irrational temper, loved to take innocents and "righteous" people and corrupt them, threatened his best friends with loaded guns, engaged in weird sexual practices with as many women as possible, cheated on his wife and girlfriends repeatedly without a second though, forced those around him to participate in dangerous sports and games that he invented, and was one of the most self-centered and obsessed individuals that ever walked the face of the earth.

   4. The key to Elvis' musical success, aside from his sex appeal, was that he instinctively knew how to take elements from the music he had been exposed to - country, Gospel quartet, black R & B, and even Jewish canting (!) - and use them in songs where they wouldn't initially seem to fit, thereby transforming the songs into something else entirely.  An example would be Elvis' phrasing and enunciation on "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You."  As Goldman points out, it's straight out of Southern Gospel.  Elvis also knew that rock music has an element of parody in it, with men and women "singing funny" and attempting to invest trite lyrics and subjects with way too much meaning through the use of voice, style, and emotions.  In fact, Elvis' first hit, "That's All Right, Mama," was the result of he and the band fooling around, mocking out the material between takes, until the engineer said, "Wait a minute! That was good!"  Elvis was also a natural performer, knocking himself out at every show and knowing what to do on each song to send the crowd into a frenzy.  Musically and as an entertainer, Elvis was at his best when he trusted his instincts and was allowed to be himself.  However, that didn't happen nearly often enough due to manager Colonel Tom Parker.  But, ironically, Elvis would have faded quickly from the scene if it weren't for Parker and would have probably gone back to driving a truck and playing small clubs and fairgrounds in Tennessee.

   5. Colonel Tom Parker was an old carnival hustler, who delighted in conning the marks and rubes (including his client!) and taking as much money and fringe benefits for himself as he possibly could.  He saw to it that Elvis' live performances were always garishly promoted with way over-the-top publicity, like a carnival or a circus.  Think of Elvis' outfits.  Didn't they look look as if they came from a three-ring circus or a carnival sideshow?  And the Colonel followed the old carny adage, "Always promise more than you deliver, but let them think they've experienced something great."  A person coming to a Presley show hoping to see Elvis would first have to sit through disappointing warm-up act after warm-up act.  AFTER INTERMISSION, during which the Colonel would sell Elvis souvenirs, of course, the King would finally appear.  And after basically promising each female fan to love her forever and symbolically making love to the crowd, only a handful of women received a cheap scarf with a few drops of sweat on it.

   6. Elvis was a spoiled momma's boy and remained so all his life.  He couldn't stand to be alone for an instant, not even when he was sleeping.  And like many momma's boys, he resented the control that authority figures held over him, while at the same time being totally lost without it.

   7. Elvis The Man must be separated from Elvis The Myth.  And many myths have been repeated so often, even in books and magazines, that in people's minds they are facts.  For example, instead of being an original teenaged rebel, inventing his unique look, Elvis actually copied it from a Tony Curtis movie.  And Elvis wasn't thrilled to join the Army and serve his country.  Tom Parker orchestrated his induction as part of a plan to create more demand for  Elvis.  Elvis absolutely hated the army and the fact that he had to go into it. 

   The book contains interesting show biz trivia, such as the fact that Tom Jones became famous by essentially aping Elvis and that Elvis, in order to learn how to successfully play Las Vegas, in turn, studied and imitated Tom Jones.  We learn that one of Elvis' men, Red West, worked on "The Wild, Wild, West," beginning a friendship with Robert Conrad that led to a part as the feisty mechanic in "Baa, Baa Black Sheep."  Also that Linda Thompson (whose looks, personality, and intelligence seem to have REALLY impressed Goldman) went on to become one of the "Hee Haw Honeys."

Highly Recommended!

Rating: R for language, sex, drugs, and violence.



The SHA NA NA Web Page

A site about the grandfather (and still the best) of all rock revival groups.

Paul's Golden Oldies

Sights, sounds, and info.

Oldies Unlimited

More sights, sounds, and info.





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This page was created using Corel Word Perfect Suite 8 and Netscape Navigator Composer. All characters and images are legal properties of their respective companies and are used here without permission for entertainment, review, and informational purposes only. All other material is copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 by Steve R. Bierly.