Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll 1959 Part 2’ Category

by Robert Seoane

ELVIS PRESLEY – THE EVERLY BROTHERS – THE TEEN POP IDOLS – BOBBY RYDELL – FABIAN – FRANKIE AVALON – BEACH MOVIES AND GIDGET – THE BRILL BUILDING – DON KIRSHNER – NEIL SEDAKA – PAUL ANKA – BOBBY DARIN

1959 was more than just the last year of the most prosperous decade for America. It was a year of changes that would reverberate through the rest of the Twentieth Century. In world news, a dangerous revolution was establishing itself just ninety miles from the United States on the island of Cuba. It would start to produce a wave of refugees entering the United States en masse by 1962. In the meantime, film and television offered the public an entertainment option that differed greatly from the days when the family huddled around the radio to listen to their favorite shows. Movies were bigger and brighter than ever, relying on state-of-the-art late Fifties technology called Technicolor, Vista Vision and Cinerama. All of them added up to very large screens and less black and white films, two advantages that were impossible for the television industry to compete with in 1959. Hit movies of that year include Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense classic “North By Northwest” with Cary Grant, the spectacle of William Wyler’s “Ben Hur” with Charlton Heston, and the comic brilliance of Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” (considered by AFI to be the best movie comedy of all time) with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe.



Children’s programming had been making inroads on television since the medium’s first broadcast year. In 1947, “Howdy Doody” was one of the first national TV shows broadcast daily on the NBC Network. Sales and ad men drawn by the financial potential of selling television advertising to children (who in turn will nag their mothers until she buys the damn thing) incorporated their clients’ products into the programming as a novel and sneaky way of brainwashing the children of America. “Howdy Doody” pioneered product integration and in 1959, was enjoying its last year on national television.

 

ELVIS’ SECOND YEAR IN THE ARMY

Elvis Presley was in Friedburg, Germany in 1959, going through his second and last year in the Army. That was the year he bought and moved into his three story, five-bedroom house at 14 Goethestrasse, Bad Nauheim on February 3rd, the same day Buddy Holly’s plane crashed. He had purchased the home for whenever the Army would give him time off from the barracks life. The news of Holly’s death must have spooked Elvis because he avoided small planes and opted for ground transportation that summer on his way back to Friedburg from a 15-day furlough in Paris with his pals. He rented a limousine for him and his entourage instead. It cost him $800 to take them from Paris to Friedburg, approximately $6500 in 2015 dollars. These pals that were quickly becoming his entourage hung around Elvis frequently, making themselves comfortable in his new home. From that moment on, Elvis would always have hangers-on and yes-men dogging and flattering their way into his inner circle.

Elvis was introduced to lifelong interests and vices during his time in the US Army. His Sergeant had already given him and the rest of his fellow servicemen amphetamines to maintain their stamina when going out on early morning drills and Elvis took them eagerly. He also developed a lifelong interest in weapons and handguns during his time in the Army, as well as a fascination with martial arts; he began studying karate in 1959.

Despite his best efforts at trying to be average Private Presley, his rock star celebrity status was impossible to squelch. Fans were constantly coming over from all over Europe to get a chance to meet him, and Elvis was always available and cordial. A sign hung outside his front door on 14 Goethestrasse that read “Autographs from 7:30 to 8:00PM”. He threw a major rock star-style “Over The Hump” party on the day of his first year anniversary of his induction into the Army to celebrate the fact that he only had another year to go. He spent his 15-day furlough in Paris in June 1959 and, among other dalliances, dated sex bomb movie star Brigitte Bardot. During that furlough, he and his entourage booked an entire floor at the Prince De Galles Hotel near the Champs Elysees and frequented the Lido Club and the Moulin Rouge, where they would bring back a different dancing girl nightly to their rooms. One particular evening, Elvis received a complaining phone call from the Lido house management demanding their entire chorus line be returned back to them immediately.

Elvis served in the US Army during a time of peace, so any chance of America’s reigning King of Rock ‘n’ Roll to sustain any war injuries were minimal. Still, he managed to injure his knee when he fell off a jeep while the driver was making a sharp turn on March 18, 1959. That was the worst injury he sustained during his entire tour of duty. Approximately two and a half months later, Presley was promoted to Specialist 4th Class and received a $122.30 a month salary (about $1000 in 2015, a small stipend next to the millions he was already making).

 

PRISCILLA BEAULIEU

On August 15, 1959, Army Captain Paul Beaulieu was reassigned to Wiesbaden, Germany, near Friedburg, with his three daughters and his fourteen year old step-daughter, Priscilla Ann. In order to make friends, Priscilla would frequent the Eagles Club, an eating and entertainment establishment for US servicemen and women. There, she befriended a handsome twenty-something airman named Currie Grant and his wife. On September 13, Currie asked Priscilla if she’d like to go meet Elvis Presley at a private party.

Priscilla wore a white navy sailor dress the night she met her future husband. Elvis took an immediate liking to her, but was keenly aware of her tender age. They made small talk and kidded each other. Priscilla commented how she was sorry to see that the Army had shaved off his sideburns. Elvis felt comfortable around her; Priscilla was not your typical swooning fan. She kept her cool, besides the fact that she was beautiful. Elvis decided that despite the fact she was only fourteen, he would start courting her. Priscilla gladly visited him regularly. For the following six months that Elvis would be in the Army, he and Priscilla became inseparable. Indeed, they tied the knot on May 1, 1967, approximately seven years after they first met. The courtship would last until her twenty-first birthday, but it wouldn’t be an easy courtship for Priscilla, having to look the other way countless times while her future fiancée dallied with every famous actress in Hollywood.

In the meantime, the A&R men at Capitol were still churning out Elvis product to keep him in the public eye. Besides compiling best-selling greatest hits collections, they released three singles during 1959, all to Top Ten success.

ONE NIGHT/I GOT STUNG – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis first recorded “One Night” on January 18, 1957 with different, more explicit lyrics (for the Fifties) than the eventual release. Although he liked the song, Capitol wouldn’t release the recording. Elvis then sat down to change the words and re-recorded the tune. Originally called “One Night (of Sin)”, he changed the lyrics from “one night of sin is what I’m now paying for”, to “One night with you is what I’m now praying for”. It was then released and climbed to Number Four on the Billboard Pop chart in the Winter of 1959.

Rock critic Pete Johnson pointed out that ‘One Night” is one of the few rock ‘n’ roll songs with the use of a triple negative in the lyrics: “I ain’t never did no wrong.”

Its B-Side, “I Got Stung”, was recorded the previous year in Nashville when he was given leave for a week. He used that week to record more product because Elvis was very concerned that his fans would forget him while he was away so long. He needn’t have worried. “I Got Stung” is a fast-paced catchy tune that managed to reach Number Eight on Billboard’s Pop chart.

“Holy smokes, land sakes alive, I never thought this would happen to me… I got stung… yeh…” –“I Got Stung” – Elvis Presley

(NOW AND THEN THERE’S) A FOOL SUCH AS I/I NEED YOUR LOVE TONIGHT – ELVIS PRESLEY

Elvis’ second single released in 1959 was another Double A-Side, where each song on both sides were equally good and suitable for maximum radio airplay. Originally performed and released by Hank Snow in 1953, Elvis’ version of “(Now and Then There’s) A Fool Such As I” reached Number Two in the Spring of 1959.


The song had other covers besides Presley’s. Bob Dylan played the tune during the Big Pink recording sessions in 1967. Those sessions produced the famous Basement Tapes that have been bootlegged for decades, until 2014 when the entire set of recordings were finally released in its entirety in a CD box set.

The flip-side, “I Need Your Love Tonight” also enjoyed chart success, reaching Number Four in the Billboard Pop chart, also during the spring of ’59. The Elvis juggernaut was showing no signs of a slowdown, despite the fact that its resident King was out of commission until March of 1960. The songs he had left behind for release while he was away was proving to be as popular as if he was a civilian.

A BIG HUNK O’ LOVE/MY WISH CAME TRUE – ELVIS PRESLEY

Released for the summer of 1959, this would be the last Elvis Presley single in 1959. It was a good ending because, although “My Wish Came True” stalled short of the Billboard Top Ten at Number 12, “A Big Hunk O’ Love” made it to Number One and stayed there for two weeks.


1959 was drawing to a close and Elvis was less than three months away from returning to civilian life. The Sixties would be an entirely different journey for the King, as he started to prefer making movies over recording. Although he still released albums and singles throughout that decade, even his popularity began to wane with the arrival of The Beatles. It took a national television special on NBC, broadcast in 1968, that brought the King back to his rightful throne. Music once again became the primary force of his life and as he morphed into a new Elvis for the Seventies, he began to launch world tours that at one point made him the biggest draw in Las Vegas.

THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Phil and Don took it hard when their good friend Buddy Holly died. They had toured with him in 1957 and 1958. Holly had noticed how well dressed the Brothers always were when they appeared on-stage, so he took it upon himself and his group the Crickets to always wear matching suits onstage, a wardrobe style mimicked just a few years later by the Beatles.

Phil Everly attended the funeral and sat with Holly’s parents. Don stayed at home, shocked by the tragic accident.

“I couldn’t go to the funeral. I couldn’t go anywhere. I just took to my bed.” – Don Everly

The Brothers’ recording output in 1959 was comprised of merely a few singles. Their second album, “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us”, was released in December of 1958. It was a brave departure from rock ‘n’ roll into the folk music they grew up with and loved, and as a result didn’t fare too well commercially. It didn’t even crack in Billboard’s National Top Albums chart, nor did it appear in any UK charts either. It did however, immediately follow the Kingston Trio’s folk release the summer before, and aided in heralding the introduction of the folk genre into rock ‘n’ roll.

RIP IT UP – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Their first single of 1959 was their version of Little Richard’s “Rip It Up”. The fact that it didn’t even crack the Billboard Hot 100 was a strong indication of how the young rock ‘n’ roll audience had enough of whitened version of songs when the original versions sound great anyway. The recording is good, and the Everly Brothers sing it well, but when you compare it to Little Richard’s original, it just doesn’t compete.


TAKE A MESSAGE TO MARY – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

Their second single was equally uneventful. It followed the same musical vein as their current folk-tinged album as a storytelling love song. It did manage to break the national Billboard chart all the way into the Top Twenty, climbing up to Number 16.

Despite the Brothers’ return to the chart, it looked as though they had lost their pop inspiration and was heading towards a more musically traditional path. Their next string of singles however, would change all that.

(‘TIL) I KISSED YOU – THE EVERLY BROTHERS

The Everly Brothers’ third and final single of 1959 was the charm. A sweet, simple, happy love song that makes you want to hold hands and skip down the road with the first person you meet on the street… or at least think about doing so.

“Never felt like this until I kissed ya, how did I exist until I kissed ya, never had you on my mind, now you’re there all the time, never knew what I missed til I kissed ya, uh-huh, I kissed ya, oh yeah…” – (‘Til) I Kissed You – The Everly Brothers

The song cracked the national Billboard Top Ten Pop chart and reached Number Four in the US. It also captured the Number Two position in the UK. It made it to Number Eight in the Country chart and even hit Number 22 in the R&B chart, proving the song’s universality and the ability of the Brothers’ talent to cross ethnic divides, very much like the young, white rock ‘n’ roll audience’s eager acceptance of R&B. Rock ‘n’ Roll was integrating everyone.

As the Fifties drew to a close, the Everly Brothers were poised to continue their string of hit singles, including their biggest selling song, released in 1960 and co-written by them, “Cathy’s Clown”.

Their stardom would be eclipsed like most everyone else’s with the arrival of the British Beatles onto American shores, but their impact and influence in rock and roll is deep. Their lilting melodies, crisp, tight acoustic guitars and pitch perfect vocals touched the subsequent generation of musicians and they in turn interpreted it in their own unique, personal ways, giving rise to a flood of songs written during the Sixties that would last for decades to come and sound as fresh as when they were first released. This is the legacy of the Everly Brothers.

 

THE FIRST ROCK ‘N’ ROLL TEEN POP IDOLS

Practically every generation had their teen pop idols. In the beginning of the 20th Century, they were crooners like Rudy Vallee. During the Thirties and Forties it was the classic voices, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. It’s safe to say that rock ‘n’ roll’s first teen pop idol was Elvis, although precursors of rock ‘n roll like Johnny Ray was also enjoying similar teenage adulation. But Elvis was a spark that came out of nowhere. Unlike the King’s success, the typical teen pop idol would be, for the most part, deliberately manufactured for the female teenage market. Entrepreneur Ozzie Nelson was the first to bank on the teen pop idol craze with his son Rick. It was simple to promote him because Rick was a co-star in “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet”, his father’s very popular situation comedy. The show had the audience, so all Ozzie had to do was let Rick sing on the show and the young girls would swoon. He already had the looks. In fact, by 1959, all the teen pop idols were dark haired, white young men.

It was watered down rock ‘n’ roll. Some of the songs weren’t even rock ‘n’ roll at all. Although these pop stars were mostly talented and gained much fame, the new, softer rock ‘n’ roll sound and the proliferation of doo-wop groups was effectively taking over the charts. The Establishment, as far as it was concerned, was successfully taming the savage beast.

The following group of artists comprised the teen pop idol craze of 1959 through the early to mid-Sixties.

 

BOBBY RYDELL

Another teen idol plucked from the new medium called television, a new form of communication and entertainment that was just marking its first decade in existence, was Bobby Rydell. Just like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera started out on TV (The Mickey Mouse Club) as children, Rydell also had been on a daytime show called “Paul Whiteman’s TV Teen Club”, since 1950, at the young age of eight, having won a talent contest and rewarded with being a regular cast member.

Of all the most popular teen pop idols in 1959, Robert Louis Ridarelli, otherwise known as Bobby Rydell, got the short end of the stick when it came to his legacy. Not much is known today about the music of Bobby Rydell and there’s a reason for that. The owner of Cameo-Parkway Records, the label that released all the Rydell singles and is now owned by ABCKO, refused to reissue the entire Rydell catalog for forty-five years until 2005. As a result, Bobby Rydell was almost robbed a rightful place in rock ‘n’ roll history as one of the first teen pop idols.

Having said that, his music isn’t really very memorable, except that he was a big star in the early Sixties, with 34 Top Forty hits. His other claim to fame is that one particular song of his accidentally inspired the Beatles’ “She Loves You”.

Seventeen year old Bobby Rydell’s debut single, “Kissin’ Time, was released in 1959. It just missed entering the Top Ten, reaching Number 11. If you listen closely to the opening verse, you’ll hear a strong resemblance in melody to the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA”, released just a few years later in 1962.


The glam rock group Kiss redid the song in 1974, choosing it mostly for the title’s connection to their own name more than anything else, although they had to rework the lyrics to fit their image. Kiss didn’t really even particularly like the original song. Neil Bogart, owner of Casablanca Records, the label they were signed to, made them record it and chose this particular tune in their quest of a hit single for their debut album. The group grudgingly went along. At least Kiss’ version certainly sounds a lot more palatable to listen to thanks to its hard rock edge.

Bobby Rydell subsequently made it to the Top Ten with his next single “We Got Love”. The following year in 1960, Rydell would reach the Top Ten two more times, one of those times all the way to Number One with his only chart topping hit “Wild One” a title taken from the film “The Wild One” (1953) with a young Marlon Brando. “The Wild One” was a movie immensely popular with the teen market of the day, and the movie that launched the Fifties “leather jacket and white t-shirt” look. Besides the title, Bobby Rydell’s “Wild One” has nothing to do with the movie.


His next single, “Swingin’ School”, reached Number Five on the Billboard Top Ten and inspired the Beatles to write “She Loves You”. They were attempting to write an answer song similar to “Swingin’ School” but ultimately abandoned the idea and wrote the song. They did manage however to write an answering song in 1967 that worked marvelously called “With A Little Help From MY Friends”.

“John (Lennon) and I wrote “She Loves You” together. There was a Bobby Rydell song out at the time and, as often happens, you think of one song when you write another. We’d planned an ‘answering song’ where a couple of us would sing ‘she loves you’ and the other ones would answer ‘yeah yeah.’ We decided that was a crummy idea but at least we then had the idea of a song called “She Loves You.” So we sat in the hotel bedroom for a few hours and wrote it— John and I, sitting on twin beds with guitars.”-Paul McCartney

His follow-up to “Swingin’ School” was a sure-fire hit. Rydell recorded one of the most classic Italian songs of the day with lyrics translated to English. “Volare” made it to Number Four on the Billboard Hot 100, but didn’t come close to the immense popularity of the original Italian version by Domenico Modugno.


After “Volare”, Bobby Rydell wouldn’t make it into the Top Ten again until 1964, hovering on the charts in the 20s or never going past the bottom twenty. 1964 was the year where he was able to send one more of his records into the Top Ten. “Forget Him” also made it up to Number Four.

It would be his last Top Ten though, but his career in touring was assured. From the beginning of his career until now in 2015, 72 year-old Bobby Rydell has toured continuously. His last tour was through Australia in October 2014, which should be applauded, simply because not many septuagenerians, besides Rydell and Paul McCartney, still tour. God bless ‘em.

 

FABIAN

Fabian Forte was the perfect example of a manufactured teen pop idol of the late Fifties. He didn’t audition for anything and probably didn’t even sing in the shower. He was discovered because his father had a heart attack one day.

One of his neighbors, Bob Marcucci, was co-owner of Chancellor Records with Peter DeAngelis. In 1957, they had their eyes peeled for good-looking young teenagers to turn into pop stars.

“He kept staring at me and looking at me. I had a crew cut, but this was the day of Rick Nelson and Elvis. He comes up and says to me, ‘So if you’re ever interested in the rock and roll business…’ and hands me his card. I looked at the guy like he was fucking out of his mind. I told him, ‘leave me alone. I’m worried about my dad.'” – Fabian Forte

Fabian ignored the offer, but when his father returned home, he couldn’t work because of his convalescence, so Fabian went to Marcucci and took him up on his offer.

“They gave me a pompadour and some clothes and those goddamned white bucks and out I went.” – Fabian Forte

Fabian also wasn’t fooled by the sudden stardom and knew the songs he was being given to sing were crap.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew my goal, to try to make extra money. That meant a lot to our family. I rehearsed and rehearsed, and I really felt like a fish out of water. And we made a record. And it was horrible.” – Fabian Forte

His first two singles went nowhere, but his third made it into the Billboard Top Forty at Number 33. It was called “I’m a Man” and was written by legendary songwriters Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Even Fabian liked this one, although the song was reminiscent of many rock ‘n’ roll songs that had already come before.

His career was taking off, particularly because of his good looks making young girls swoon. His next single, the mediocre “Turn Me Loose” cracked the Top Ten at Number Nine. Watching his performance of this song, anyone can see that this guy was no rock ‘n’ roll singer. Yes, he had a voice that could carry a tune, but he was tremendously stiff onstage, unlike most of his teen pop idol peers.

His next single from 1959 was his biggest hit. The equally mediocre and derivative “Tiger” inexplicably reached Number Three in Billboard’s Top Ten.

Fabian didn’t enjoy working with Marcucci. At one point, the record label owner even hit him for not sitting where he was told to at a movie opening. Fabian bought his contract out from Marcucci in 1960 for $65,000, more than half a million in 2015 dollars, calling working with him a nightmare and admitting to the press that he “felt like a puppet”.

Although he signed a new recording contract in 1963 with Dot Records, the Beatles new sound would quash any song coming out from the new “old guard” just a year later, so Fabian concentrated on making movies. Just like it happened to all the other teen pop idols, Hollywood came calling to cash in.

Fabian was a much better actor than he was a singer, but they never put him in a movie that was any good. He achieved critical respect in a TV show called “Bus Stop” in an episode called “A Lion Walks Among Us” directed from still unknown director Robert Altman, where he played a psychotic killer. The show was banned from broadcasting again due to its mature content and violence for the early Sixties, even though his performance did help Fabian’s career.

Today, Fabian still performs. One of his last gigs was with Frankie Avalon and some of his other peers played the Dick Clark Theater as “The Original Stars of Bandstand”.

 

FRANKIE AVALON

Francis Thomas Avallone was another one of the slew of clean-cut white pop stars to replace Elvis while he was away in the Army. Along with Bobby Rydell, Bobby Darin and Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon carved a niche for himself in rock ‘n’ roll history thanks to two things; his beach movies with Annette Funicello and “Venus”.

VENUS – FRANKIE AVALON

Although Frankie charted a total of 31 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 from 1958 through 1962, the only song that is really worth mentioning is “Venus”.

“Venus if you will, please send a little girl for me to thrill, a girl who wants my kisses and my arms, a girl with all the charms of you…” Venus – Frankie Avalon

Frankie Avalon was the perfect clean-cut “boy next door” with perfect hair. Since age 11, he played trumpet, thanks to his father’s insistence. As a young teenager, he was already playing in a group called Rocco & The Saints, whose member was another future teen idol, Bobby Rydell.

His career began to take off after that appearance. He released two instrumental singles showcasing his trumpet skills in 1954. They were called “Trumpet Sorrento” and “Trumpet Tarantella.” The records earned him an appearance on the Jackie Gleason Show when he was only 12 years old.

His recording career really began in 1957. He released six singles between 1957 and 1958, songs like “Teacher’s Pet” and “You Excite Me”. Three of them, “DeDe Dinah”, “Bobby Sox To Stockings” and “Ginger Bread” actually made it into Billboard’s National Top Ten. All of these songs had one thing in common. They weren’t very good. Each of them sound by-the-numbers, as if the songwriter wasn’t so much writing a rock ‘n’ roll tune as much as he was copying the sound and style of a rock ‘n’ roll tune… badly. It’s been said that even Frankie himself didn’t like the songs he was told to record, and actually held his nose during the recording of “DeDe Dinah” more as a protest than trying to obtain a different sound, resulting in a nasally vocal.


“Venus” was the sole exception. It’s a pretty song and endures as a classic Fifties Pop ballad, with remarkably good fidelity for a 1959 stereo recording. It stayed at Number One on Billboard’s Hot 100 for five weeks and broke into the R&B Top Ten at Number Ten. “Venus” cemented Frankie Avalon’s career. His pop teen idol looks caught the eyes of the average teenage girl and they soon made him a pop star, all but replacing Elvis in their hearts… at least until he got out of the Army. In the meantime, Dick Clark was happy to have Frankie on his “American Bandstand” more than once.

The success of “Venus” was enough impulse to propel his subsequent three singles into the Top Ten, with one of them, “Why”, also making it to Billboard’s Top spot.

Once the new decade of the Sixties dawned, Frankie Avalon’s musical career began to descend. He was never able to crack the Billboard Top Ten again. None of his albums entered the Billboard Top 200 Album chart. He released singles sporadically through the Sixties and Seventies. Most of them didn’t chart except for a disco remake of “Venus” in 1976 that made it to Number 43.

Also, as the Sixties began, Frankie Avalon made a career adjustment that further cemented his reputation as a legitimate star; he turned towards movies. His first few were serious, dramatic roles in important films such as John Wayne’s “The Alamo” (1960) and Irwin Allen’s “Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea” (1961) in which he sang the theme song that made a voyage to the bottom of the charts (Number 101 to be exact). But in 1963, he was paired with Annette Funicello to co-star in a movie called “Beach Party”.

The title speaks for itself, and American International Pictures churned out six other sequels over two years, making a huge profit from the teenage market. The movies were “Muscle Beach Party” (1964), “Bikini Beach” (1964), “Pajama Party” (1964), “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965), and “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine” (1965).




Only one beach movie with Annette Funicello did not also star Frankie Avalon, and that was “How To Stuff A Wild Bikini” (1965).


Although they all made money, each storyline went from bad to worse, with its nadir being “Dr. Goldfoot…” A take off on James Bond’s “Goldfinger”, Vincent Price plays Dr. Goldfoot, a mad scientist intent on making a bikini machine. Just the summation of this plot should give the reader a clue as to how bad these movies were. Actors must have had fun with them though, because cameos abounded from popular names and stars of the day such as the aforementioned Vincent Price, Don Rickles, Robert Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Morey Amsterdam, Keenan Wynn, John Ashley, Peter Lorre, the original “Bride of Frankenstein” Elsa Lanchester, silent film comic legend Buster Keaton and former child star Mickey Rooney. Comic Harvey Lembeck would reprise his role in some of those beach movies as Eric Von Zipper, the leader of a biker gang that was supposed to parody Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” (1951). Dick Dale and the Deltones were the resident rock ‘n’ roll band of the movie series, and even a young up and coming performer by the name of Little Stevie Wonder appeared.


The director of all these movies was William Asher. Asher’s career began directing all the “I Love Lucy” episodes from its first season in 1951 and all throughout the rest of the decade. When Asher began directing these movies in 1963, he was also working on producing the classic Sixties sit-com “Bewitched” that ran from 1964 to 1972. His wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, played the beautiful witch, Samantha Stevens. Asher had a simple explanation as to the formula of his beach movies.

“We take the same teenagers and put them in a slightly different experience in each picture. The plot may change but the faces stay the same… The key to these pictures is lots of flesh but no sex. It’s all good clean fun. No hearts are broken and virginity prevails.” – William Asher

Frankie Avalon made a few more movies after his series of beach movies but mostly faded into early Sixties nostalgia until he made a comeback in 1978 in the movie “Grease”. He had no role. Instead, he was a cameo in a dream sequence of one of the characters, serenading her with a song called “Beauty School Dropout”. A highlight of the film because of its underlying wit and Frankie’s ever youthful persona and charm, the song was a parody of all the Fifties love ballads Frankie Avalon was known for, and was a perfect tongue-in-cheek affirmation of his career up to that point.

He made a second minor comeback in 1987 when he teamed up one final time with Annette Funicello to make a parody on all the beach movies they did together called “Back To The Beach”. It would be the last movie Funicello would make, having to retire due to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which she lived with until her death at age 70 in 2013.

Besides cameos from retro TV stars like Tony Dow from “Leave It To Beaver” and Bob Denver with Alan Hale from “Gilligan’s Island”, “Back To The Beach” did have one other redeeming value. It paired up the musician who had been showcased in most of the beach movies, Dick Dale from Dick Dale and the Deltones, with the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. Together, they play The Chantay’s classic instrumental “Pipeline” over a montage of the film as its music video.

Frankie Avalon continued to appear in films sporadically over the remainder of the 20th Century, including a cameo appearance as himself in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” (1995) with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. Although Frankie Avalon is still active at age 74 in early 2015, his last national television appearance was on “American Idol” on April 8, 2009. Amazingly enough, he looks at least twenty years younger looking than his actual age.

(more…)