"Go on, go ask her ..... she likes you."
-- anonymous (at least one of my peers in the Millard Lefler Junior High cafeteria on 8th Grade Dance night)
1961 was the year! Rock and roll music became a big part of my life -- it was given a soundtrack and most of my memories from that time on are connected to the popular music of the time. Maybe this is why I have so many "favorites" from 1961. "My CD" from 1961 should actually be a two disc set. And while "Runaway" is identified as my "Best Song" for 1961, it just as easily could have been "Runaround Sue" by Dion, "Crying" by Roy Orbison, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" by The Shirelles, "Some Kind of Wonderful" by The Drifters, "A Little Bit of Soap" by The Jarmels .... I could go on. But the point is that it was in 1961 that I really tuned in.

It began with the radio -- listening at night to KLMS, 1480 (AM of course) in Lincoln, Nebraska -- the station that played all the hits. It was "top forty" programming -- KLMS actually had the "nifty fifty" -- their weekly ranking of the popularity of songs in our town. And they had the "flashbacks" -- I was not only aware of the current hits, but was starting to be exposed to more of the great earlier sounds as the radio was now on as much as the television. And there were contests -- one I remember was called the "Jukebox." When they announced it, they would call for the last digit of your phone number. The first one with that digit to call in would get to guess which of the top ten songs would be selected when they "spun the wheel." We collected phone numbers so we could call (giving somebody else's name) no matter which number they announced . This was before they did anything like taking the fifth caller or whatever -- it was always the first to get through. The result was jammed phone lines that became like one big party line -- sort of our early version of chat rooms. It was exciting and exotic to get anonymously hooked up with others from other schools -- especially girls.

But mostly I remember listening to the songs. I only had a small record player and had a small collection of 45's that winter and spring -- so mostly I listened to the radio. One song I remember in particular was "There's a Moon Out Tonight" by The Capris. Some time that spring there was our annual school dance -- the 8th Grade Dance. It was a big night for me because rumor had it that "she liked me." So the plan was that I would ask her to dance. I remember hearing "There's a Moon Out Tonight" on the radio as I got ready for that dance. And with considerable encouragement and insistance from some friends, I did ask Connie to dance. And we became a couple. We were soon "going together." As I would one day tease my young teen daughters (they would refer to it as "going out") where exactly do you go? There weren't really any dates, but there was walking her to class and occasionally walking her home -- she lived in the opposite direction from school, so that was a big deal. But there were "couples" parties -- and I started to be invited because we were a "couple." I even hosted my own party that spring, at my old house where my sister was living. (She wasn't too happy as the house got T.P.'d by a group of uninvited girls.) At the parties, there was music and dancing -- mostly slow dancing. "Some Kind of Wonderful" by The Drifters, "Emotions" by Brenda Lee, "Daddy's Home" by Shep & The Limelights had to have been some of the favorites.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1961 I had my own apartment -- my cousin had left and I had the upstairs of my grandmother's house totally to myself. I listened to the radio and played some of my 45's on my small portable player. One song released that spring especially caught my ear -- "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King. I didn't own the 45, but remember turning up the radio whenever it played. And I remember discovering "Spanish Harlem" -- an earlier release by King that must have been played as a "flashback." I always considered "Stand By Me" a favorite, but it skyrocketed up my "all-time" list in 1986 when the movie by the same name was released. The coming of age tale (based on a Stephen King story, "The Body") about four boys going off to see the dead body of a boy killed by a train, captures the feel of growing up -- especially in the late 1950's. And the soundtrack is full of great Elvis Era songs. It's one of my favorite movies.

It was also in 1961 that I became an ardent movie-goer. Probably my favorite from the year is the Disney movie, "The Parent Trap" about two twins who were separated when their parents divorced and don't know about each other until they meet at summer camp as teenagers. I remember me and my friends laughing hysterically when we saw it at the movie theater. It still holds up today, has been remade twice, and there was a sequel with Haley Mills playing the adult twins ("Parent Trap II"). But it does have one "lame" segment -- Haley Mills singing "Let's Get Together." Movies of the era just didn't seem to be able to capture rock and roll. With one exception that really wasn't rock and roll, but had a rock and roll attitude -- "West Side Story." The movie was released in late 1961, and I can't remember how it happened that I went to see it -- it might have been in early 1962. But I do remember that it was "cool" -- even the dancing. Getting a 14 year old boy to go to a broadway musical movie couldn't have been easy, but this one was about gangs and had knife fights and stuff, so I probably went expecting more of that and less dancing. But, again, the dancing was cool. And there were cool lyrics: "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dyin' day." And there was Natalie Wood!

On television, there was "Perry Mason," "The Bob Cummings Show," and "Bonanza." My parents really liked "Sing Along With Mitch" but I opted out of that one. And there was American Bandstand. By the fall of 1961 we had moved back to our own house and the recreation room at the back of the house became my bedroom (my grandmother moved with us and got the other bedroom). This was fine with me -- it was almost like my "apartment" and was closer to my friends. And I had a television in that room. I remember watching American Bandstand and becoming increasingly interested in the difference between the songs Bandstand played and rated and the ones I heard on KLMS. I liked hearing the hits even before they broke in Lincoln. One particular memory was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." I remember hearing it for the first time on Bandstand and being immediately enthralled.

And there were poker games with the guys in that back room. And the radio was the constant background with songs like Dion's "Runaround Sue," Bobby Edward's "You're the Reason," and Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack." And I was in ninth grade and the "going with" became even more significant with weekly dance parties. "The Way You Look Tonight" by The Lettermen, "Moon River" (probably the Jerry Butler version), "There's No Other" by The Crystals would have been popular choices. And when Christmas of 1961 rolled around, my music interest got another boost when my gift was a "portable" stereo record player. It was mostly made of corrugated cardboard and I'm sure the sound wasn't the greatest, but it was stereo! It was like a suitcase -- the speakers could be unclasped on both sides and spread out. It played stereo albums (I didn't have any). But it also played 45's with an "adaptor" that let you stack the records -- I could make my own "play list." I was hooked -- 1962 would be the birth of my collection of music.
"The Parent Trap" was a hilarious movie -- but they could have left the song out. "West Side Story" was cool right from the opening credits with the pan of New York City, the overture and the snapping fingers. It also provided Ferante & Teicher with a hit record, "Tonight." To play 45's on the turntable you needed an adaptor for the spindle. The "A" version allowed you to "stack" the 45's so they would automatically play. The "B" version had to be snapped into the middle hole of the 45.
I have a lot of favorite records from 1961 -- "Some Kind of Wonderful" was one; by one of my favorite groups, The Drifters.
I remember Elvis's "Surrender" being one of the possibilities when you played "Jukebox." I hoped it woudn't come up, because you won the record and I didn't really like it much.
Whenever I hear "There's a Moon Out Tonight" by The Capris, it brings back memories of first dances and first loves.
With the four young boys and the great soundtrack, "Stand By Me" takes you back to growing up at that time -- singing the theme to "Have Gun Will Travel" and asking the eternal questions: "Alright, alright. Mickey's a mouse. Donald's a duck. Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy?"
The dancing in "West Side Story" made the movie cool.
Natalie Wood as Maria in "West Side Story."
The "Rate A Record" segment of Bandstand was especially interesting to me as I began comparing the Bandstand list to the Nifty Fifty of KLMS.
With the gift of a stereo record player at Christmas, my record collection would begin in earnest. (no .... this is not the model I had -- but it was similar). The speaker cords were long so you could put them on opposite sides of the room.
In 1962 I would begin buying some albums -- "A Song For Young Love" by the Lettermen would be one of the first.