Friday, 6 March 2015

Teenage Dream


Teenagers, according to New Scientist magazine, are a uniquely human phenomenon, known to be ‘moody, insecure, argumentative, angst-ridden, impulsive, impressionable, reckless and rebellious.’ Sounds about right to me; true, it was a long time ago  now, but that pretty much sums me up during my teenage years.

Teenagers are a relatively new phenomenon, unknown before the 1930 and not really recognised as a demographic unit until after WW2. A teenage boy of school leaving age, growing up prior to the end of WW2, was expected to join the services or get a job; teenage girls were expected to meet a man, marry and have kids. University was reserved for the privileged. Teenagers had limited freedom, no economic power and little influence in the decisions made by the older generation.

After the end of the war everything changed. As the economies of the UK and the USA improved – and both rationing and conscription ended - parents began to have aspirations for their kids. There was a chance now that the next generation may achieve something: stay in education, have a life, enjoy their freedom and become more than just cannon fodder.

However the post-war, pre-Beatles Britain really didn’t understand teenagers, and failed abysmally to cater for them musically. After the imported excitement of Elvis, Little Richard and the bitter disappointment of Bill Haley and his Comets (a huge act to Britain’s young rock ‘n’ rollers – until the band came to this country and people actually got to see them, that is. 12 hits before their 1957 tour: not one afterwards save for reissues) all they had was safe, homegrown cabaret star Tommy Steele, the mum’s favourite Cliff Richard and a clutch of middle-aged bandleaders and instrumentalists. If it were not for Lonnie Donegan and the skiffle craze then the teenagers of 50s Britain would have had nothing. Unless they joined a gang, that was.


As the 50s turned in to the 60s very little changed. 1959’s biggest hit was Sidesaddle, a jolly, tack piano instrumental jaunt from Russ Conway. The following year the five biggest records in the country were Cathy's Clown by The Everly Brothers, Apache by The Shadows, Cliff Richard’s Please Don't Tease, Why by actor Anthony Newley and Shirley Bassey with As Long As He Needs Me. This was not music for ‘the kids’.

And nor was this.


Teen Street isn’t a totally awful record - Toni Eden has a good voice and the guitar work is exceptional - but what is awful is that this kind of vapid nonsense was being specifically manufactured to try and capture the teen market. The grey men in suits who ran the UK’s record labels clearly had not got a clue. Musically it’s pretty decent (if anodyne), but the ridiculous yelps from the backing vocalists are absurd and annoying, and the lyrics simplify a teenager’s life and ambitions down to little more than listening to a jukebox and waiting to get married.  The A-side - No-One Understands (My Johnny) - tells the age old tale of a good teenage girl in love with a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks: the same plot had been used a thousand times before and would be recycled again and again. No-One Understands was written by, and had previously been recorded by, American singer Pat O’Day.


Born in 1940 (the actress of the same name born in 1927 is not the same person, nor is the Chicago-based singer who recorded in the late 60s), Toni Eden had been a featured singer with Ted Heath and his Orchestra. She appeared extensively on TV in the 60s, including guest spots with Morecambe and Wise and Ken Dodd, and also appeared with Kenneth Williams in the review One Over the Eight (1961) and in Lionel Bart’s flop ’65 musical Twang! as Maid Marian. After three singles for Columbia, Toni Eden went on to issue one 45 on Decca (from One Over the Eight) and a brace of singles on United Artists.

Teen Street was covered the following year by Janis Martin, who was occasionally known as ‘the female Elvis’. Howard ‘Boogie’ Barnes and Cliff Adams, the co-composers of Teen Street also wrote Grown Up Dreams, the plug side to Toni Eden’s follow up single and The Waiting Game, the B-side to her third (and final) Columbia single. The pair also wrote The Lonely Man Theme (used in the iconic advert for Strand cigarettes) and would later pen both sides of a promotional single for Smiths crisps.

Cliff Adams was, of course, the founder of the Cliff Adams Singers, of Sing Something Simple fame; Howard ‘Boogie’ Barnes was an advertising copywriter. I’m not 100% certain, but I do not believe that he is the same man as Howard Ellington Riddiford Barnes, a songwriter who scored his biggest hit with I Really Don’t Want To Know, covered by (amongst others) Elvis Presley, Rosemary Clooney, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson.


Enjoy!

9 comments:

  1. Better than the Teen Street song by Hayley Mills & Maurice Chevalier.

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    Replies
    1. Blimey - that IS awful! I may just have to buy the album!

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  2. 3/9/15
    RobGems.ca Wrote:
    Being a Michigan man, why the knock against Bill Haley, particularly since he was originally from Highland Park, Michigan? Was it because he was over 30? I consider it ageist, but your guess is as good as mine. Is there some unwritten law that you have to be under 30 to have a hit with teenagers? (chuck Berry, foe a prime example was 29 when he hit with "Maybelline", though he continued to have hits past his 30th birthday. I think it was the two jail sentences that he had to serve (due to racism, no doubt on the "Mann Act" charges from 1958.).but then he was/is a sexually randy man well into his 70's and 80's. Haley was just at the right place at the right time until Elvis stole his spotlight. It was alcoholism that finally did Haley in, eventually costing him money, his first band, his first marriage, and eventually his life in 1981at age 56. I still find his recordings fresh and viable 60 years later after they were originally recorded. RIP, Bill Haley. As for this single you put up here, the less said, the better. At least Haley and his band would have spruced up the arrangements nicely.

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    1. Hi Rob,

      It wasn't meant as a knock against Bill Haley at all - I love Bill Haley and I have several original Brit 78s in my collection. It was just an observation that British teens were rather disappointed in him 'in the flesh'. He'd had a massively successful chart career before the '57 UK tour but not one hit - save for the 1974 reissue of Rock Around the Clock - after the kids got to see him live. Clearly they were expecting someone more exotic and threatening, not a heavy-set guy in a plaid tuxedo.

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  3. 3/9/15
    RobGems.ca Wrote:
    Point well taken, Darryl. Bill Haley did seem square in person as opposed to the music he performed, those zoot suit tuxedos were left over from the 1940's when he was growing up. Furthermore, Haley didn't start out in music singing Rock or R&B. He started out as a C&W singer in the late 1940's, and The original Comets were at first known as "Bill Haley & His Saddlemen". It was only when Haley sang some choice R&B like "Rock This Joint"(as early as 1951) that he switched to rock music. Of course, he was 26 at the time of the switch in music., so he was already beginning to show his age ( a curled hairline covered up with what was a receding hairline.) once Elvis came around, it was hard for Haley to return to the music charts. His last US chart hit before his 1973 return to the charts was 1959's "Skokian".It was only the re-discovery in movies like "American Graffiti" and TV shows like "Happy Days" that TV & movie producers like Garry Marshall and George Lucas (both avid Haley fans when they were kids) brought Haley back briefly to a re-discovery. This lasted until 1976 with the early death of Sax player Rudy Pompelli, who died of cancer that year. Haley and Pompelli were close pals, and his death caused Haley to become a recluse (alcoholically) for the rest of his life.

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  4. Shame that the guitar player doesn't get a credit - some very nice effects for the late 50's/early 60's.

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  5. any chance to reup the files via box as the divshare-links still don't work?

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