Mark R. Millikin’s new book, “The Joy and Heartache of Our 1960s Music” (Saint Johann Press), takes us back to “The Great Change-Over,” when America was moving from Perry Como to Elvis Presley, from The Four Lads to The Four Tops, from Frankie Laine to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
We were moving from a music marketplace once dominated by parents, because they controlled the radio and TV and the record player, to rock ‘n’ roll, because teenagers now had transistor radios of their own and more spending power than ever before. And now, more than ever, we had our own music.
A Baltimore native, Millikin takes us back to the songs and the era. He remembers monthly dances on Ebenezer Road at Perry Hall Senior High, and radios playing up and down dormitory corridors in College Park. He remembers radio jocks like Johnny Dark and Paul “Fat Daddy” Johnson, and Kerby Scott and Maurice “HotRod” Hulbert Jr., and vanished radio stations like WCAO, WWIN and WSID.
He remembers jukeboxes at Read’s Drug Store and weekly Top 40 lists arriving at local record stores, and the Beatles when they played the place we used to call the Baltimore Civic Center, and The Temptations when they played the Club Venus.
It was long ago, wasn’t it? But in Millikin’s telling, it’s clear that it feels like yesterday to him. The music’s like a love affair with a series of ghosts whose voices are still out there somewhere in the ether.
Millikin, who grew up in Perry Hall, knows a few things about nostalgia. His previous book, “The Glory of the 1966 Orioles and Baltimore,” still holds a special place on a lot of bookshelves around here.
But the music of the ‘60s signaled more than a change of rhythm. That era was the last time a lot of families still had only one TV in the house, and the offerings were still safe and bland.
But then, in so many homes, you slipped away from the living room as you slipped into adolescence. You left behind the TV, which was watched in the light with your parents, and you went into your own room and turned on the radio, which was heard in the dark, alone, across hot, sweaty summer nights.
And there, you heard music that changed the world. Instead of bland Lawrence Welk polkas, you heard Elvis singing “Hound Dog.” Instead of Rosemary Clooney in pearls singing “Come On-a My House,” you heard Ben E. King doing “Stand by Me.”
The music on the radio was all about urges, romantic and sexual and stuff that didn’t even have a name, which the old folks back in the living room watching Lawrence Welk probably didn’t even remember. So you didn’t share the secret with them, so nobody would get embarrassed. You didn’t want to explain to them that “Sixty Minute Man” by Billy Ward and his Dominoes wasn’t about some poor guy punching a time clock.
Millikin loves the music, and he loves the era that produced it. He lives now down in Raleigh, N.C, but it’s clear a lot of his heart never left his old hometown or those years of “The Great Change-Over.”
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).