As most people know, I wear two hats at my radio station.
I have been hosting my WDOS Morning Marathon five days a week since 1989. It has always been a mixture of music, interviews and stories. The other hat I wear is that of the host of the WSRK “Thursday Night Jukebox,” an oldies music show from 7 to 9 p.m.
This month I celebrated my 17th year on the Jukebox, and even though I only do the show one night a week, it is my favorite two hours of the entire week.
The whole concept of “oldies music” has changed over my lifetime. I didn’t listen to oldies music when I was a kid because, well, there wasn’t any. The term has come to define the rock ‘n’ roll era, say, from 1955 to 1975. So if I was tuning into oldies music when I was a kid, it would have meant listening to Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller music, now called pop or standards.
The music we now call “oldies” came from the jukeboxes of the small dives and diners across America, it came from the “stack ‘em up high” record turntables in our bedrooms, and it came blaring out of the transistor radios we carried with us. Turn to an AM station in your father’s car, put the top down and have your sweetie inch closer to you (no seat belts required), and you were in heaven, circa 1959.
The songs I play every Thursday night are literally the soundtrack of my life. Here are some of my favorites from over the past 17 years.
Joey Dee and the Starlighters were the house band at a dance club on W. 45th Street in New York. Their “Peppermint Twist” crashed through the walls of the club and swept the nation as the heir apparent to Chubby Checker’s dance sensation.
Try and sit still to Elvis’ electifying “Jailhouse Rock” from September of 1957. Impossible. It was the first of The King’s many No. 1 songs.
No other songbird of the oldies era personifies the trials and tribulations of a young heart than does Connie Francis. Like her country cousin Patsy Cline, Connie could cry out of both sides of the microphone. Plus she put a major Florida city on the map, Fort Lauderdale. Yes, college spring breaks simply did not exist until Connie pointed to “Where the Boys Are” in 1961.
Bobby Vinton was what we used to call a “floor filler.” Easy, breezy and with a restrained demeanor, Bobby Vinton was the most important support any of us young guys had as we slowly padded across the gym floor to ask that little blonde with the ponytail, braces and saddle shoes for a first slow dance. Thanks, Bobby!
When you lived in a small rural community like I did, the gritty and out-of-the-box sound of early Motown was positively infectious. I play a lot of Supremes, Temptations, Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, Four Tops, Aretha Franklin and Little Stevie Wonder on Thursday nights. And the infection still comes creeping out of the headphones whenever I hear the soulful struts of “Please Mr. Postman,” “My Girl,” “Baby Love” or anything by “Mr. Excitement,” Jackie Wilson.
I have sung with my two younger brothers on street corners, in back rooms, at parties and in the car for a half century. So perhaps the most resonant genre of Thursday night music for me is doo-wop. The tight harmonies, the cheesy tuxedos, the big Italian hair and the finger-snapping histrionics all take me back the days of singing with my brothers Bob and Jim when I was a kid. The Cascades, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Orioles, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Platters, The Moonglows and The Impalas were all great names. And don’t even get me started on the Mills Brothers, the godfathers to all doo-woppers. As you can imagine, my playlist on Thursday is “doo-wop heavy.”
What a time it was for a music lover growing up in those years. The artists are all like souvenirs of my life. Tokens of a time long gone but not forgotten: Lesley Gore, James Brown, Dusty Springfield, Bobby Darin, Annette, Bobby Rydell, Petula Clark, Brook Benton, Little Peggy March, Roy Orbison, Martha and the Vandellas, Dion and the Belmonts and so many others.
And then on Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, Ed Sullivan looked into the TV camera and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen … the Beatles!” and the world changed forever.
Like I said, the soundtrack of my life.
I’ll catch you in two ...
“Big Chuck” Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText ColorD’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find him on Facebook by searching “Big Chuck.” He invites you to contact him at email@example.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.