A NOSTALGIC JOHN McNAMEE TELLS HOW A CLASSIC SONG STRUCK A FAMILIAR CHORD
It was one of those wet Sunday afternoons and a few of us old hands were sitting around in the surf club hall.
As old hands do, we were having a general whinge about the state of some of the equipment left by the younger mob.
My fellow septuagenarian Kenny had his guitar with him and was idly plucking out a few random chords.
“You’ll know this one Macca,” he said. “It’s one of the real oldies.”
“Yeah well thanks Kenny, I know I’m ancient but I don’t know all the golden oldies mate,” I replied.
But as his fingers moved across the strings and the chords started getting into a melodic rhythm, I began to get a strange series of memories.
I couldn’t pin it down but then Kenny began to croon gently.
“ONE NIGHT I WAS LATE
CAME HOME FROM A DATE
KICKED OFF MY SHOES AT THE DOOR…..
His voice hypnotised me….and the flashbacks began to take shape.
“THERE IN THE NIGHT WAS A WONDERFUL SIGHT
MUM WAS DANCING WITH DAD
TO MY RECORD MACHINE…”
That was it…suddenly in my mind I was transported back to the lounge room of my childhood home.
We still didn’t have wall-to-wall carpet back in the early 50s and I recalled how mum and dad would roll back the Westminster rug and jig around the room while my big sister played the piano or there was a family favourite song being played on the big walnut encased radio.
‘BUT AS THEY DANCED ONLY ONE THING WAS WRONG
THEY WERE TRYING TO WALTZ TO A ROCK AND ROLL SONG…”
“Do you remember it now,” Kenny asked and plucked a few more notes.
And then all the wonderful memories came flooding black.
Back in the glorious 1950s, we used to have impromptu musical evenings usually on Sunday evenings after mum had been slaving over the hot woodstove oven all day cooking the lamb roast.
Later, and as a treat, we’d be allowed to go to the shop and buy a block of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut and a packet of salted peanuts, which we’d all share.
After dad had twirled mum around the floor a few times and big sister played the latest piece of Bach or Beethoven which she was learning, and my little sis and I would snigger behind our hands when she made a mistake in the difficult passages, dad would turn the wireless dial to the Sunday Night Theatre.
It was usually a play of varying dramatic interest with lots of gruff male voices and shrill female voices intermixing over a heavy layer of crescendo style musical interludes.
We’d be rapt whatever it was and apart from anything else the plays would run well over our normal bedtimes so we were able to stay up late for a change even though there was school in the morning.
Kenny’s voice interrupted my reverie once again as the lyrics of this beautiful old number began to unfold…
‘ONE TWO AND THEN ROCK
ONE TWO AND THEN ROLL
THEY DID THE ROCK AND ROLL WALTZ”
What wonderful songs they had in those days!
This particular one, the Rock and Roll Waltz, was a typical one-hit wonder for a lovely lady with the voice of an angel called Kay Starr back in 1954. It was written by Shorty Allen and Roy Alfred and recorded on that famous His Master’s Voice label so familiar when we were growing up.
We were lucky in those later 40s and early 50s years because we could sing along with the old numbers made popular in our parents’ day.
We had heaps of old vinyl records which we used to play on our grandparents’ large cabinet gramophone. The stylus needle was so big you could have sewn a potato sack with it.
Often the winding mechanism on the side of the box wouldn’t work so we had to use our fingers to push the record around the turntable and marvel at the crackling sounds of the eerily melodious voices coming out.
There was Dame Nellie Melba, Richard Tauber, Sydney McEwan, Mario Lanza, Bing Crosby, Ruby Murray, Vera Lynn … so many classics we never tired of hearing them.
Then came the country and western dance and rhythm and blues tunes, The Tennessee Waltz, I was Dancing With Tears in My Eyes, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Unforgettable…
Often at a convivial gathering, my old mate and fellow retired scribe, Frank Crook and I would do a stunning duet to a particular golden oldie called You’re Just In Love (I Wonder Why) made famous by the silken tonsils of Perry Como.
Another popular favourite that used to get a run after a long night was, I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (I wonder Who’s Teaching Her How) originally sung by the gravelly Ray Charles…. And such great tunes as I Get No Kick From Champagne, and the tear-jerking Johnny Ray’s Cry…..
The list just goes on and on….but there was a big storm sweeping in over the music horizon and suddenly the songs and music that our parents passed on to us started being overtaken by a new phenomenon.
We were no longer interested in the gentle modulated tunes or the heart-rending lyrics of the satiny-smooth crooners…. rock and roll was born.
It was started by a slick guitar-strumming dude with an oiled down cowlick in the centre of his forehead…. Bill Haley and his Comets burst onto the scene with the seminal Rock Around The Clock and suddenly, in1955, the world had changed.
The old gramophones gave way to funky art deco record players on legs and songs started coming out on 45rpm “singles.” Living room carpets around the country became littered with the small black discs and we never looked back.
A couple of years after Bill Haley’s comet burst on the scene, a hip-swinging Elvis Presley shimmied down a prison pole belting out the powerful anthem Jailhouse Rock.
Here in Australia, we had our own King.. Johnny O’Keefe, ably supported by the gangling, twitching figure of Pee Wee Wilson and his Delltones “do..do..do..do..wah.. dahing” in the background.
Our parents reluctantly packed up their sheet music and quickly outdated 78s and although they allowed us to spend our pocket money on the latest Elvis hit, they drew the line at buying us the blue suede shoes!
On Saturday nights, they’d let us tune our magical new TV set with its wobbly black lines and snowy screen rolls to the ABC’s Six O’Clock Rock with JOK and his enchanting smile.
Kenny’s strumming was breaking into my musical nostalgia again so I said….”play it again Kenny” and we all joined in….
“One Two and then rock
One Two and then roll
They did the rock and roll waltz
One two and then rock
One two and then roll,
We Love the rock and roll waltz.”