JEFFERSONVILLE — Before “Star Wars” took us to a galaxy far, far away and before Marvel opened us up to a universe where even the lives of super heroes don’t always turn out the way they want, famed American filmmaker George Lucas had his first hit movie in 1973 with a tribute to the early 1960’s youth culture called “American Graffiti.” With a cast of future stars that included Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Cindy Williams, Mackenzie Phillips and Harrison Ford, the movie followed the lives, loves and craziness of a group of friends preparing for the uncertainty of life after high school. The movie took place on a summer’s night in Modesto, California, in 1962.
Where were you in ‘62?
I was moving from Terre Haute, Indiana, to the west side of Indianapolis. My father worked for Public Service of Indiana, which today is Duke Energy. When he worked Southern Indiana, he usually checked into the location on Eastern Boulevard in Clarksville. Public Service’s main headquarters was in Plainfield, Indiana, and although he traveled the state, each week he had to be in Plainfield. It simply made more sense to live near there.
Looking back, I realize it is never easy to move and change locations. Even as a boy entering second grade, I was leaving friends and familiar places and routines behind and exploring a world that held places I had never been and was filled with people I didn’t know. In Terre Haute, we walked two blocks to school. We walked home for lunch and returned for afternoon studies. At the new house, a big yellow bus would drive us almost 10 miles to the school. Chaos and turmoil seemed to sit next to me in the classroom and on the bus.
One of the constants during that time of upheaval was music. In Terre Haute, we only had one television in the house and, at the time, only one radio. The radio was housed in a stereo cabinet that also had a record player. The radio only picked up one station in Terre Haute, WBOW. “Serving the beautiful big city of the Wabash Valley,” the jingle crooned. The station had a top 40 play list, but probably also had local sports and agriculture updates.
In the year 1962, there was just as much chaos and turmoil in rock music as there was in my life. On the top 100 list at the close of the year, the No. 1 spot was held by Mr. Acker Bilk — yes, that is the way he was always addressed — with a song called “Stranger on the Shore.” Mr. Acker Bilk was a clarinetist. The second spot was held by Ray Charles with “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” The rest of the top 100 included the diverse spectrums of Elvis Presley and Lawrence Welk.
Moving to Indianapolis, I tried to find a station that played similar music. The city had at least a dozen AM stations, but I settled on the Good Guys at Lucky Thirteen, music from WIFE 1310 on the dial. WIFE was the ratings leader in Indianapolis during the mid- and late-’60s, playing top 40 hits. The radio station’s billboard on the south side of town told us that the disc jockeys had been “spending night and day with your wife. Catch us at Lucky 13.”
Music has a way of connecting us with times in our past. Research tells us that music helps us bridge the gaps between our right brain and our left brain — our intellect with our creativity. Even writing these paragraphs transports me to a home on 21st street in Terre Haute and Medallion Drive in Indianapolis.
A lot would happen in the two years that would follow 1962. A couple of years earlier, a British rock band formed in Liverpool. Led by songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the Beatles built a reputation playing clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg. The group went through a revolving door of drummers, including Pete Best, before asking a kid named Ringo Star to join them in 1962.
Their first hit “Love Me Do” in late 1962 sparked an intense fan base and a frenzy that became known as “Beatlemania.” By 1964, the Beatles were international stars, leading what became known as the “British Invasion.” Music would literally never be the same. Later that year, they would release a motion-picture called A Hard Day’s Night.
The Beatles are still the best-selling band in history. Sales estimates top 800 million records worldwide. They had more No. 1 hits, more No. 1 albums, and sold more singles on the British charts than any other group.
The band received seven Grammy Awards, an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and a host of other awards too numerous to mention. After the group’s breakup in 1970, all four members went on to enjoy success as solo artists. Lennon was shot and killed in December 1980 and Harrison died of lung cancer in November 2001. McCartney and Starr still remain musically active.
On Sunday, Feb. 9, 1964, over 73 million Americans gathered in front of their television sets to tune in the most popular variety show on the tube. For weeks, the country had been warned that the British were coming. Radios played their music. The American press picked up the story. Sullivan would tell the viewers that for 48 hours, the theater had been jammed with newspaper reporters and photographers and people wanting tickets.
The classic entertainer and variety show host, who was so much not rock and roll, would then quietly say, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles. Let’s bring them on.”
And over 50 years later, Jeffersonville, Indiana, is still bringing them on.
— Tom May is a freelance writer and educator, and a columnist for the News and Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com.