Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vinton evokes junior high days

Bobby Vinton's show at the Chip-in Island Resort & Casino on June 20 brought back memories from my junior high school years.


I wasn't planning to go to the Bobby Vinton show at the Chip-In Island Resort & Casino on June 20, until I took a look at his string of top singles.

The biggest songs on Vinton's "hit list" neatly coincided with my years in junior high school.

If the pop singer was going to mastermind a trip through my middle school years, who was I to deny him?

Actually, Vinton was big even before I reached the 7th grade. His No. 1 smash, "Roses Are Red (My Love)," had already been a radio staple for a year by the time the summer of 1963 rolled around.

Those months were busy ones for me. I got my first job, selling subscriptions to the Sunday Green Bay Press-Gazette. I was among the crew of boys hired by the newspaper when it planned to expand circulation into the Upper Peninsula. We would deliver the thick weekend edition to potential customers, then return to those homes on Monday to ask for subscriptions. For each household to sign-up we'd get $1.

I made a few pitiful dollars which I was able to spend during a week at the Red Buck district Boy Scout camp near Wetmore. Upon my return to civilization, I started delivering papers for the Escanaba Daily Press.

Bobby Vinton kept active, too. In early summer he struck gold again with "Blue on Blue" and followed with another chart-topper in the fall called "Blue Velvet."

My summer didn't end as well. I fell out of a tree near the Escanaba Country Club and broke my left arm. Let's just say that during the first few weeks at Escanaba Junior High School, I wasn't very good in gym class.

Despite the cast, I earned my Second Class badge in Scouts and settled into the school routine, attending classes, games and dances.

Vinton mania reached its height at the school when two students performed "Blue Velvet" during a school assembly.

Then, in the early afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, students were informed over the public address system that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I heard the news in Mr. Green's science class.

In the days ahead most families were huddled around their television sets watching black & white coverage of the tragedy in Dallas.

Certainly, Vinton remembers the day, just like everyone else. However, November was also the month Epic Records released his recording of "There! I've Said It Again."

A matter of weeks later, the song became Vinton's third No. 1. The tune was perched at the top of the charts for four weeks until millions of American families gathered around their television sets to watch another event, this time the appearance of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Suddenly, the British group's "I Want to Hold Your Hand" was holding down the top spot in what was to became known as the British Invasion.

Following the Beatles U. S. television debut, a conspiracy developed at our house. My grandmother helped me persuade my parents that I should be able to grow my hair long like those "mop tops" we saw on the Sullivan show.

My yearbook photo from 1963, left, captured a student with a butch haircut, slight smile and shirt buttoned to the neck. By 1964, the haircut actually required a comb, to say nothing about that open- necked shirt and toothy smile.

My locks weren't exactly shaggy, but I did have reason to own a comb. My brothers still got "butch" haircuts, at least for the time being.

While the Beatles changed the musical landscape in the U. S., they couldn't keep Vinton down. The singer from Canonsburg, Penn. returned weeks later with the Top Ten "My Heart Belongs to Only You."

The next fall, I earned the First Class rank in Scouts. In school, I was memorizing "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Lord Tennyson for Mrs. Klug's English class and studying my favorite subject, American History, for Mr. Slade. Vinton dominated the airwaves again, this time taking "Mr. Lonely" to the top spot over songs by the Beatles and Zombies.

Although "Mr. Lonely" was a smash, Vinton had actually recorded it two years earlier. It was his last No. 1, but it was far from his last hit.

During my high school years, Vinton earned a gold single with "I Love How You Love Me" in 1967.

"The Polish Prince," as he came to be known, enjoyed his biggest success of the decade with "My Melody of Love" in the fall of 1974. The song's success led to Vinton hosting his own TV variety show from 1975-78. By 1980, when he registered his final hit single, Vinton had charted 47 songs over an 18-year span.

The 73-year-old entertainer re-visited his hit-making days during his recent appearance at the Harris casino. Vinton, who toured in 1960 as leader of the backing band for Dick Clark's "Caravan of Stars," didn't cut corners. He was backed by a 12-piece orchestra and performed most of his biggest hits.

I wasn't planning to go to the Bobby Vinton show, but I'm glad I did. My wife Sue and I got to hear some great songs and I got a little trip down memory lane.

No comments: