During the early second half of the last century, to be precise during the 1960s, when I was in the prime of my youth it was Jim Reeves who fascinated me most as a singer with his booming manly voice, his meaningful songs of love and longing, separation and devotion going to the depths of my heart.
I was not alone in this fascination as many of my college friends found in ‘Gentleman Jim’ a singer they loved most. One of them who had good turntables and even an imposing stereo music room, sort of a self-designed sound studio from which emanated pristine musical notes, had an envied collection of Jim’s vinyl records, while others were satisfied with their lowly assemblage of audio cassettes of his songs.
His voice, described as rich baritone, could keep us riveted to his songs even when even-toned, that is almost totally lacking in any surprise highs and lows in pitch. With minimal background score, compared to the cacophony of present day compositions, it was always his voice that mattered. And it went straight to the listener’s heart.
I do not know how many times I had heard, and liked, his signature song, ‘He will have to go.’
Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let's pretend that we're together, all alone
I'll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he'll have to go.’
This always remained on top of my favourite Jim Reeves songs but it was decades later that I read about the story behind the song, which was about a man speaking to a woman on the phone, the talk suggesting that there was another man around at the other end of the line.
The 1959 song was written by a husband and wife team of lyricists, Joe Allison and Audrey Allison. Joe got the idea of the song from one of his own calls to his wife when, because of some background noise, he asked her to ‘put her lips closer to the phone’ so that he could hear well. While developing this into a song they put another man at the other end, to give it an intriguing touch of triangular love.
All of Jim Reeves’ songs were not even-toned. His second song that was recorded, and the first to hit the number one chart, Mexican Joe (1953), was a rumbustious roller coaster ride of a Mexican lad ‘without any money and without any worry’ but who had ‘more fun than anybody's had.' He leads ‘all the women around on a string /When they go out they get a million thrills,/ But the lovely senoritas wind up with the bills.’
The same happy note was there in Bimbo, a ‘little boy big enough to walk’ who's got ‘a million friends.’ ‘And every time he passes by, they all invite him in,/ He'll clap his hands and sing and dance, and talk his baby talk.’ The beat of the song’s refrain would impress anyone:
Bimbo, Bimbo, where ya gonna go-e-o
Bimbo, Bimbo, whatcha gonna do-e-o
Bimbo, Bimbo, does your mommy know
That you're goin' down the road to see a little girleo.
The vintage Jim Reeves fare for me included such greats as I Love You Because, Where Does a Broken Heart Go?, It Hurts So Much To see You Go, I Heard A Heartbreak Last Night and Am I That Easy to Forget?.
Among his famous devotional songs the one that I liked most was Hold My Hand Precious Lord. And what a fantastic fare he had in Christmas carols, including such evergreen hits like Jingle Bells and White Christmas!
Though we had completed our graduation, some of us were in our college on a day in mid 1964 when we heard that Jim Reeves was killed in a plane crash. We later read in an English daily that Jim himself was piloting the two-seater plane, which was caught in a hurricane and crashed near his hometown of Nashville.
It was after his death that one of his greatest hits came out: Distant Drums. It became number one in the United Kingdom, overtaking the Beatles who were making their strong presence felt during that time. Distant Drums in a way insinuated on death or separation. Though the song was ostensibly about a soldier telling his lady love to marry him before he was called back to service, the lyrics had some ominous undertones:
I hear the sound of distant drums
Far away, far away,
And if they call for me to come
Then I must go and you must stay
So Mary, marry me, let's not wait,
Let's share all the time we can before it's too late,
Love me now, for now is all the time there may be.
It was during the four decades from the 1950s to the 1980s that some of the songs that I liked most in the genre of country music came out. Music and songs have the capacity to elevate our moods or influence our thoughts and feelings both positively and negatively. And I liked those songs that instilled hope for life and hope for the future. One of the best songs in this category, I consider, was Rhinestone Cowboy, the 1975 classic by Glen Campbell, about the dream of a down and out actor, with just a ‘subway token and a dollar tucked inside shoe’ of making it big in the entertainment world some day in future. He knows that it is not easy going and he has to pay a heavy price for it. But he is determined to make a success of it. He doesn’t really mind the rain, ‘a smile can hide all the pain,’ and when going in a train on a long way he will be dreaming of the things he will do:
I've been walkin' these streets so long
Singin' the same old song
I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway,
Where hustle's the name of the game
And nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain.
There's been a load of compromisin'
On the road to my horizon
But I'm gonna be where the lights are shinin' on me
Like a Rhinestone cowboy
Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo,
Like a Rhinestone cowboy
Getting cards and letters from people I don't even know
And offers comin' over the phone….
The same positive feeling was generated when listening to one of the sweetest songs ever, On Top of the World by Karen Carpenter, a song that tells of the happiness of the singer in having the object of her love near her.
Such a feelin’s coming over me
There is wonder in most everything I see
Not a cloud in the sky, got sun in my eyes,
And I won’t be surprised if it is a dream.
Everything I want the world to be
Is coming true especially for me,
And the reason is clear, it is because you are here
You are the nearest thing to Heaven that I’ve seen.
Even when young I was old fashioned in my liking of music and songs. I could never understand, or appreciate, or enjoy such genres like Rock, Rhythm and Blues, Reggae or EDM. I had no liking at all for such popular bands like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and I had an incurable allergy towards Michael Jackson. What I enjoyed always was a simple song simply sung. Like Banana Boat Song by Harry Belafonte, Bachelor Boy by India born Cliff Richard or the many songs by the popular bands ABBA and BoneyM. Simple songs of love, of dreams, of goodwill, even of infidelity or sly relationships.
A good example of the last mentioned was an immensely popular song of the 1960s, Summer Wine, by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. It was about an encounter between a man in silver spurs and a woman who promised him her special summer wine and some good time: ‘Strawberries cherries and an angel's kiss in spring/My summer wine is really made from all these things. Take off your silver spurs and help me pass the time.’
But the man was a loser in the bargain as when he woke up he found that the woman was gone, so too were his silver spurs, a dollar and a dime.
‘She took my silver spurs a dollar and a dime
And left me cravin' for more summer wine.’
One of the most popular singers of the 1960s I liked was Brian Hyland who gave such evergreen hits as Sealed with a Kiss and the rollicking song about a girl wearing the bikini for the first time, Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka- Dot Bikini.
Sealed with a Kiss was a very good specimen of love song. During summer time when they parted the man tells his lady love: Darling I promise you this/ I'll send you all my love every day in a letter/ Sealed with a kiss..
The second song described a beach scene in which a girl wearing a bikini for the first time was so embarrassed to come out of the locker. And what kind of bikini was she wearing? : It was an itsy bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka- dot bikini. Ultimately she did manage to reach the water, covering herself with a blanket.
From the locker to the blanket,
From the blanket to the shore,
From the shore to the water
Guess there isn't any more.
The song was featured by Aparna Sen in a fun filled scene in her award winning film 36, Chowringhee Lane. The film shows Jennifer Kendal, playing Anglo Indian spinster Violet Stoneham, and Debashree Roy, playing Nandita, dancing to the tune of the song, with Dhritiman Chatterjee , the latter’s boyfriend, looking on.
One of the most popular films made by Hollywood was The Sound of Music (1965), a musical featuring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer that thrilled audiences the world over with a glorious array of songs. One of them was about the small, insignificant things, like ‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens’ that mean a lot in elevating one’s mood.
‘When the dog bites,/ When the bee stings,/When I'm feeling sad,/ I simply remember my favourite things/ And then I don't feel so bad.’
The same, I think, is the case with pleasing, memorable songs of the distant past. When they waft into our memory during our sessions of sweet silent thought, we are sure to feel that we are, as Karen Carpenter said, On Top of the World.