Brooklyn Boro

Dream along with me

September 27, 2021 William A. Gralnick
Head shot of writer William Gralnick
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I know a little bit about a lot of things. I am a sponge for factoids. That probably comes from my college years when I was a tourist guide and tips depended on coming up with fresh, interesting pieces of information about the District of Columbia and its monuments. Mostly I write about things I know about; every-so-often I don’t. Sometimes I write about things that just make me feel good. This is one of those times.

Every day, for blocks of times, a week, a month, I get in the car and shower myself with the music of my teens. I’m addicted to Sirius XM’s ’50’s on 5 and ’60’s on 6. I often do what I hated the only friend I had who had a car–switch channels. I don’t like the music of the ’60’s when the ’60’s were turning into the ’70’s. I don’t like some of the silly ’50’s music like, ” Does your chewing gum stick to your bedpost at night.” I can do without the Chipmunks and without space aliens tunes.

I became curious about what I did like and why. I’ll share it. I like music of groups. The girl groups like the Shirelles or the Supremes. I like the Platters, the Four Tops. The Rays, the Fleetwoods, The Platters, and the Drifters are a few more. While it was mostly transition music, I loved the Kingston Trio. The Black groups, Barry Gordy’s stable of groups, came out of the church. Most of the singers began singing in church. The music had a strong beat and lots of 7th chords which get the blood running. Neil Diamond, white and Jewish, had the uncanny ability to reproduce these sounds. The music was also soulful. Earth Angel, Soldier Boy tugged the heartstrings. One could hear the singers’ own heartbreaks of youth echoing through the radio or phonograph’s speakers.

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But what of those Italian street corner groups? Dion DiMucci who lives a mile from me in Boca Raton, Florida, and Jay and the Americans who I believe are into their fourth Jay because their songs have retained such popularity. Groups like the Rays, The Spaniels, the Fleetwoods, the Tokens they all had that “something.” I just learned from Neil Sedaka that the Tokens were originally The Linc-tones and that it was he who played the bells in “Church Bells May Ring.” The Linc-tones were a Brooklyn group of four who came out of Abraham Lincoln High School.

And, of course, Just to name three, there were single singers who had it. Here are some who did not. Freddie Freeman, Fats Domino Billy Joel. Here are two who did: Connie Francis and Jackie Wilson. But it was the harmony of the groups I loved. If I had to reach into the hat of my other love, country and western music, the Statler Brothers had it marvelously.

So, I pondered, what is it about this music that still speaks to me? Two things come to mind. One is the harmony. There is something about harmony that is soothing, that makes something memorable to me, that causes a tune to stay in my head for hours. It plain makes me feel good.

The other is the memories. This music has an uncanny ability to transport. Listening to certain songs, my thoughts can be so specific that I can find myself back in time at a particular dance with a particular person, in a particular place. Sometimes they produce a tableau of a period in time. It could be the neighborhood. It could be the house I lived in. Maybe it was my high school or certainly summer camp. What about you? Let me know.

To me, the music is timeless. To me the music is Brooklyn even though only some of it originated there, but there is where it shaped me. 

I tell my kids and Goddaughter, most of their music won’t do that for them. It’s too raucous. The words run together. The sound outplays the words and when they have children the words won’t be the ones they want their kids to hear. That’s why rock n roll is here to stay.

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