Sweet and innocent
November 9, 2005
For the past couple of days, I’ve had the song “Wonderful World” stuck in my mind. That’s the song that begins, “Don’t know much about history …” (You probably thought that was the title, didn’t you? I certainly did.)Anyway, you know how it is when a song gets stuck in your mind – around and around it goes, over and over. And somewhere along the line, I actually stopped to think about the lyrics – specifically, the lines that go, “I don’t claim to be an ‘A’ student/But I’m trying to be/For maybe by being an ‘A’ student, baby/I can win your love for me.”Wow.Think about a world in which someone says, “Maybe by being an ‘A’ student, baby, I can win your love for me.”Sure, the song does begin with some boasting about how ignorant the singer is: “Don’t know much about history/Don’t know much biology/Don’t know much about a science book/Don’t know much about the French I took … Don’t know much about geography/Don’t know much trigonometry/Don’t know much about algebra/Don’t know what a slide rule is for.”But still, can you imagine anyone today singing (much less rapping) “Maybe by being an ‘A’ student, baby, I can win your love …” Hell no.And that reminded me of another song from the same era, “Wake Up, Little Susie.”That’s the one where the singer and his girlfriend fall asleep at a movie and don’t wake up until 4 a.m. – and, boy, are they in trouble.As the singer bewails their fate, he frets, “What are we gonna tell your mamma?/What are we gonna tell your pa?/What are we gonna tell our friends when they say ‘ooh la la’?”Ooh la la?Stop for a moment and imagine a couple staying out late in this day and age and then worrying about their friends saying “Ooh la la.”Well, the boy singing “Wake Up” is certainly worried. He goes on to lament, “Our goose is cooked/Our reputation is shot.”Ooh la la!The Everly Brothers’ recording “Little Susie” was a big hit in 1957. Sam Cooke’s recording of “Wonderful World” was a hit in 1960. And all I’m saying is – golly gee, those were more innocent times, weren’t they?Strangely, the innocence of that era, for me, is even apparent in the lyrics to another hit song of 1957, “Good Golly Miss Molly.”This one isn’t the least bit innocent. It goes, “Good golly, Miss Molly, sure like to ball,” and it was recorded by Little Richard the same year the Everly Brothers were worried about their friends going “Ooh la la.”The innocence here is that, in that year of “ooh la la,” you could sing openly about how Miss Molly “sure like to ball” – because the people who should have been outraged didn’t even know what that meant.”‘Sure like to ball’? What does that mean, Fred?” “I don’t know, Ethel. Maybe it means ‘play ball.’ Like she’s a baseball player. Or maybe it’s going to the ball – like Cinderella.”Ooh la la!And just to underline the point, “Wake Up, Little Susie” was actually banned in Boston in 1957 – barred from being played on the radio – because the lyrics were “too suggestive.” Really. But “Good Golly Miss Molly” was never banned anywhere. Because, I guess, the lyrics were too obscure.No, life itself wasn’t really all that innocent back then.Sam Cooke – the one who sang about winning a girl’s love by being an “A” student – was shot to death just a few years later after breaking down the door of a motel office, almost stark naked, and chasing after a hooker who had stolen his money and his clothes.But still, it’s nice to remember a world – a rock ‘n’ roll world – where you might win the girl by being an “A” student. A world where reputations could be shot by staying out late. A world where no one knew what it meant to “ball.”It was sweet.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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