ROCK-N-ROLL erupted in the 1950s and the movement spawned some pretty ridiculous song lyrics. And, I loved it.
Yes, my generation brought that “corrupting” influence into prominence. We confused preachers and other critics of teenagers by dancing to rock-n-roll in a way that didn’t call for “close-hugging” and the “evil thoughts” it might bring to juvenile minds. Instead, we were shaking, rattling, rolling and gyrating joyfully around the dance floor.
When boys of my generation began to learn how to dance, it was to the two-step and, ich!, the waltz. You’ve probably never seen anything more awkward than a 1950s teen boy trying to steer a girl around the dance floor to one of those “slow” dance numbers.
First, you had to maintain a “decent” hold on your dance partner so that it didn’t look like you had other than music and dancing on your mind.
OF COURSE, one of the dance steps that rock-n-roll put in the spotlight was the Bop. Now, there’s a distinction between the Bop as done in small towns and the Dirty Bop that you could see in a larger town where everyone in the city didn’t know you and your mama and daddy.
Bopping didn’t involve (necessarily) holding onto your dance partner. You just gyrated your hips (not as much as Elvis, that was taboo) and stayed within some proximity of your partner. Those big city kids made it look like, er, uh, well, Elvis or sex. Same thing, in those days.
Anonymity erases shame. Or, at least eases it.
PROBABLY thankfully, the bop didn’t last long but rock-n-roll brought a quicker-step jitterbug (or Frisco, if you’re a generation older than I). So, I learned to Frisco in a dance class after school. Then I called it what I wanted — jitterbugging — and have enjoyed it for several generations. I did briefly try whatever that stuff was in the 60s. Some called it the “push,” others the “whip,” but that faded away as well and now if there’s a lively number LifeMate and I roll out the jitterbug, at least a senior-citizen-safe version. And, country-western bands play a version of that beat so their minions can jitterbug.
But, I digress. We started talking about lyrics. I suppose one of my points is that if you’re listening to music with a lively beat and you want to jitterbug, lyrics don’t mean nearly as much as the tempo and the very precise match to that Frisco step. Plus, some of those livelier quick-beat tunes defied enunciation, pronunciation and, thus, understanding. Just rock-n-roll and enjoy.
When dancing to ‘I-say-mok-em-boo-la-ay’, I’m not dancing to lyrics...it’s the music, the beat, strictly.
There’s a lot of “la-la-ing” in rock-n-roll, at least the early versions, plus an “ay-ay-ay-ay” here and there, as in the 1950s hit, Little Darlin, by the Diamonds. Fifties kids just loved to dance to the beat so lyrics didn’t matter quite as much. That one not only had a lot of ay-ays but quite a bit of koobah-koobahs as well. It was a very quick step jitterbug. It as a challenge to keep your feet untangled and your sense of rhythm.
SOME ARTISTS and songwriters met the constant challenge of new music and lyrics by incorporating popular TV characters.
The Drifters, another 50s group, did a song — “Gonna Find Her” — that included references to famous fictional detectives. There was mention of Sgt. (Joe) Friday, the lead character in that decade’s hit TV series, Dragnet. Jack Webb played Friday (I told all the girls he was my cousin). The song also touted Boston Blackie and Bulldog Drummond.
There is, always has been and always will be great music with great lyrics. But, if you want to dance a lively step, the Frisco/Jitterbug is hard to beat. Then, lyrics become secondary.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.