MUSIC OF YESTERYEAR
I was born in May, 1954 and I was informed that the top 1 at the billboard then was the song “Wanted” by Perry Como. I listened to the song on Youtube—wonders of technology really—but it gave me no recollection at all. We had no radio then most probably. My mother could have listened to the spill over music from across our house where a radio repair shop had its appliances always turned on. My mother loves music, she probably was thinking of a symphony while she was laboring on me, I don’t know. In 1955, Billy Hales and the Comets was number one in the billboard with their “Rock around the Clock”, followed by “Only You” by the Platters, “Love is a many splendored things” by the Aces and “Unchained Melody” by Abb Hibler. These were songs that achieved classic status that even at present, it is still hummed. As a matter of fact, a lot of them became theme songs in unforgettable films later.
My generation was lulled into sleep on these melodies.
The roaring 50s
In 1956, Elvis Presley was the iconic singer. His “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t be Cruel” were occupying the first and second rank in the billboard, followed by the Platters’ “My Prayer” and Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera.” I think at the age of two, I could perceive things around me. I could remember how mother would lullaby me and my sister to sleep by singing “Que Sera Sera.” My uncle Greg, my caretaker, from a distance was already my idea of how Elvis looked like at the time. My father was always out and virtually a denizen of his office. He was like the sound of the base guitar, one can easily ignore but without it, the sound is flat.
In 1957, Elvis was on top again with his “All Shook Up”, followed by Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” and Debbie Reynolds “Tammy.” I am very familiar with these melodies because our household was vibrating with these tunes. Even today, I could sing the songs complete with their lyrics.
1958 was Everly Brothers’ period. Their “All I have to do is dream” and “Bird Dog” were on the top chart along with with Elvis’ “Don’t” and Dean Martin’s “Return to me.” It was the song “Volare” by Domenico Domugno however that took the number one post. Once these songs are played today, I could smell the familiar fumes, the cigarette smoke of my Uncle Greg. He was always there at my side whenever mother was in the marketplace. Some kind of nasal recall.
1959 was school year for me. I was 5 and enrolled in the Kindergarten. Our lessons were conducted through music and true enough; it was easier for the memory to absorb anything once given a tune and constantly sang. The Chipmunk’s song was always in the air. While these were altered voices to make it appear as if it was the vocals of rabbits, the novelty of it all lent its special flavor and acceptance. Could be that listeners wanted to hear other voices other than Elvis, Perry Como and the Platters; although their songs were just a slide away.
The flower peopled 60s
In 1960, I was the youngest in Grade 1 and the song “Bikini”, the itsy, bitsy yellow polka dot bikini thing by Brian Hyland and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” were the craze. But of course the top song that year was Frankie Avalon’s “Why.” I could still experience goosebumps whenever this “Why” is sung. Check it out in Youtube and confirm. It was actually in formal schooling that I got a full appreciation of what music is all about.
From 1961 to 1966 were all primary and intermediate years and it was during this period that boy bands came into light. The sound bytes of Mat Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and their ballad got buried quickly. The combo came into town with a bang. There was the fabulous four, The Beatles, then the Monkees, the Turtles, the Beach Boys, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Happenings, Four Seasons, Dave Clark 5 and their songs virtually carried our spirits into another level of inspiration. We were all entertained not only with the best melodies but equally as well, the best lyrics one could think of. Suddenly our subject on poetry lost its luster. My generation was mesmerized with the songs “My Girl,” “Eleanor Rigby”, “Yesterday” by Beatles, “Don’t Worry Baby”, “Surfing”, “Papaom-mawmaw” by Beach Boys, “Diamond Ring”, “See you in September” and “Thousand Eyes” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys.
We could sing by heart the following: Wooly Bully, I can’t help myself (Sugar, sugar), I can’t get no (Satisfaction), Downtown, Help!, My Girl, Crying in the Chapel, Help me, Rhonda, This Diamond Ring, Hang on Sloopy, whoaaa the whole cabudle!
And a lot more! Truly the songs of the 60s were the most nostalgic and emotion laden. There was too much creativity in everything.
Onwards from 1967 to 1970, the metallic sounds and almost Mozart like sounds would grab the air lanes. Chicago, The Who, Cascades, Spiral Staircase, Santana, Ventures, Shadows were all there, and more, to regale us with their wizardly in base guitar, rhythm, drums, percussion and wind instrument. The most skillful musicians took over and the most literate composers bonded with them. This has become the symbolic sound of a new generation professing peace amidst a world engulfed in war and turmoil. Music virtually protected mankind from the deafening noise of bombs and explosives. Suddenly, the war mongers had been confronted by hippies and the people stared at each other, and for a while, the world was rendered without a pulse.
The rebellious 70s
The 1970s in the Philippines was, for the most part, shielded from foreign influence to include music. Before the decade opened, it was the sound of Fifth Dimension, Lettermen, Chicago, Carpenters, Santana…but it faded as a consequence of militant fear. It was the beginning of protests and demonstration. Finally, government ruled by fist, through martial law and music became, either rebellious or capricious. Filipino composers and singers took over. The OPM or Original Pilipino Music was born. Florante, Juan de la Cruz band, Apo Hiking Society, Rico Puno, Coritha, Sampaguita, VST and company, Boyfriends, Cinderella were all prominent in the air and they virtually accompanied a sober generation in search of social direction. While Martial Law made them strong and a bit disciplined, the excesses of those who implemented it created a monster called agitation among the youths. Some went abroad as in flight, others retreated to personal scholarship, a few went underground and others due to frustration got hook on opiate and got buried on the ground.
The liberated 80s
The 80’s was refreshingly different. There was the Commodores, the Village People, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Paul Mcartney, Kenny Rogers, Madonna on the foreign side and there was Side A Band, Rivermaya, Ogie Alcacid, Jose Marie Chan, Sharon Cuneta, Nora Aunor among the top chart singers. Their combination of sounds made the Filipino more sophisticated and stylish. This was also the birth of singing talents. Local sounds have higher octave than their foreign counterparts hence their vocal superiority when competing here and abroad.
The emotional 90s
The 90s and year of 2000s were mostly rehash of past sounds, a return to nostalgia. This time around the local talents, the Regine Velasco, Jose Marie Chan, the River Maya bands, Eraserheads, but their promotion could not be pushed to the limits because of media payola concerns. Radio stations were not prone to play the songs unless paid for. That weakened the local music talent and corruption had been made a compelling issue to be addressed in the entertainment business. Aside from the fact that foreign and local talents, those who have made their mark, were already ageing, there were a few talents following through. Hence, people were just contented replaying retro music and retrofitting the melody into newer versions. Irregularities had permeated the fiber of music industry and left a sad mark.
The practical Y2ks
In 2015, after I retired from government service, the song “Happy” by Pharell Williams was a charm. I thought that I would never appreciate from my vantage point songs that pervade the air. Up to now, I still could not grasp the songs of Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, One Direction, among others. A Bruno Mar’s “Uptown Girl” was a rehash and I came to respect his upbeat and better version. From there on, music, the old ones at that preoccupy my personal airwaves at home. Not that I am “racist” as far as selecting music is concerned but unlike before, music today is feeble and fast. Before I could mentally familiarize myself with the melody, another has taken place already.
The Latino and blues music of yesteryears is still my preference. At any given time, they are memory-friendly.