By Joe Rector
Glenn Frey is dead! Say it isn’t so! Just like too many Baby Boomer musical heroes, Frey leaves us much too early. Music might make the biggest impression in the lives of every person. Losing artists makes us pause as we remember their music and the events that made it so memorable.
Billy Joe Royal passed at the age of 73. The first song of his I remember was “Down in the Boondocks” in 1965. I was an eighth grader and found a girl who would pay attention to me, at least for a while. That song played on the radio every morning as I got ready for school, and to this day, it makes me remember the girl and the butterflies in my stomach. I also remember listening to it in Uncle Wayne’s car as he took a load of us kids to the bowling alley. “Cherry Hill Park” was another favorite of mine because I once dated a girl who lived in a subdivision with that same name. Her name was Happy Early. What a great name! I hear that song and wonder what happened to her.
Jack Ely, 71, isn’t necessarily the most popular name in the music business. However, when the song title “Louie Louie” is attached to it, automatic “Ahs” come. That is a song whose words most of us have never deciphered. Yet even today, the first 6 notes cause us oldsters to bob our heads and clear our throats to mumble along with Ely.
I had a crush on Lesley Gore when I was a kid. She was a good-looking girl who sang pop hits with catchy lyrics. “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry” were my favorites. I loved the line, “Oh what a birthday surprise, Judy’s wearing his ring.” Gore’s songs and I had something in common: both lamented being dumped by sweethearts. She died too early at the age of 68.
Percy Sledge died at the age of 74. I never knew many of his songs, but the one that made him a star was “When a Man Loves a Woman.” No sock-hop was complete without that song. It was a way for young couples to slow dance while they were wrapped in each other’s arms. No one can deny that temperatures rose and hearts pounded as that song echoed through the gym.
At the same time, no sock-hop could end until Ben E. King sang “Stand by Me.” King also belted out that song as couples parked in subdivisions like Camelot in Karns and fogged up the windows. It also became the theme song of the movie with the same name. It’s one of my favorites because a bunch of grungy little boys are at the center of the plot. King also gave us plenty of pleasure singing with the Drifters such songs as “There Goes My Baby” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.” He died at the age of 76.
Just today, the announcement that Glenn Frey of the Eagles passed at the age of 67. Space won’t allow me to list all the hits that he and the group sang. “Desperado” and “Hotel California” were two that crossed generational lines and musical tastes to become favorites. I still love the song “Come Home for Christmas.” During my freshman year in college, my so-called girlfriend wouldn’t return my phone calls during the Christmas holiday. That song played on the radio as I pined away for her. As things turned out, she never returned to TTU, and to this day, I have no idea what happened to Jackie Noble. My wife Amy and I have always been partial to “Love Will Keep Us Alive.”
Other wonderful artists have also died recently. B.B. King, Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night, Natalie Cole, and Paul Rekow, Santana’s drummer, are gone. What surprises me so much is that these folks are all in their 60s and 70s. I suppose that is ironically fitting that these legends died at the same age as the decades in which their music was so popular. Still, their passing brings realization of our own mortality. The music fades. I hope we have a little bit longer to put on albums or CDs or mp3 players to listen to those hits and remember youth and its energy.