Songs from the sixties: Do you remember these weepy classics?

News-DemocratJuly 1, 2014 

Please help my musical memory. Who sang "Patches"? And what recordings did Walter Brennan, Lorne Greene, John Wayne and Sen. Everest Dirksen make famous? -- Cheryl Reichling, of Swansea

John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 may have ushered in a political Camelot, but for the music world, it was a time of tragedy. Through the early 1960s, singers and songwriters zoomed up the charts by bringing listeners down with one weepy classic after another.

Ray Peterson, for example, killed off his stock-car-racing Romeo in "Tell Laura I Love Her." A teenage girl inexplicably runs back to retrieve her ring from a car stalled on the tracks with predictable results in Mark Dinning's "Teen Angel." And who can forget the valiant Indian brave and his lovely White Dove battling the raging river in Johnny Preston's "Running Bear"?

To this list you can add "Patches," a 1962 tear-jerker sung by Royden Dickey Lipscomb -- known professionally as Dickey Lee. Telling the familiar tale of lovers from opposite sides of the tracks that ends in death, "Patches" climbed to No. 6 on the Billboard charts.

Lee, by the way, first gained fame by writing "She Thinks I Still Care," a huge smash for country legend George Jones in 1962. He later added to his own singing laurels with "I Saw Linda Yesterday" in 1963. Now 77, Lee has written more than 300 songs.

You can find all of these on a compilation CD called "The Best of Tragedy." Not recommended if you're having a bad day, this 15-track sampler also boasts such downers as "Honey," "Last Kiss," "Tom Dooley" and "The End of the World."

In fact, if you appreciate really black humor you might want to have Jimmy Cross' "I Want My Baby Back" handy as an antidote. It's a 1965 satire about a guy who loses his girl coming home from a Beatles' concert, so he winds up opening her grave and climbing into the coffin, guitar and all. (Dig it up on YouTube.)

In a similar but more heartwarming vein, three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan talked his way through "Old Rivers" in 1962 in that unmistakable backwoods style of his.

Told from the viewpoint of a young friend, Old Rivers was an elderly farmer who scratched out a living with his mule Midnight, always keeping his eyes on the ultimate prize: heaven. The song was part of an entire album by the same name, which ended with "Old Rivers' Trunk." According to the song, that trunk is purchased for $2 at a sale but the only thing of value in it is the old man's Bible.

The single "Old Rivers" climbed into the top five on several different charts. The album was a follow-up to Brennan's "Dutchman's Gold," which featured his version of "Old Shep."

As you might expect, Ponderosa patriarch Lorne Greene entered the tragedy field with his Western-themed "Ringo" in 1964. In a sort of "Androcles and the Lion" tale, a lawman saves the life of an outlaw. During a later confrontation, the bad dude then spares the lawman's life only to die immediately in a hail of bullets from other gunslingers nearby.

The country-tinged ballad, an inaccurate telling of the life of the real Johnny Ringo, went to No. 1 in both the United States and Greene's native Canada. It, too, sparked a raft of parodies, including Frank Gallop's hilarious "The Ballad of Irving," the 142nd fastest gun in the West. (Also on YouTube.)

For Wayne and Dirksen, though, it was all about the flag, motherhood and apple pie. As Richard Nixon was in the midst of dragging the country through Watergate, John Wayne came out in 1973 with "America, Why I Love Her," a Grammy-nominated effort that included "Face the Flag," "The Good Things" and "The Pledge of Allegiance." (Hear his pledge and the title track on YouTube.)

Illinois' Sen. Dirksen, who was Senate minority leader when he died Sept. 7, 1969, is remembered for saying "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking about real money." But the so-called "Wizard of Ooze" for his oratorical style also recorded four albums, including "Gallant Men," which earned Dirksen a Grammy in 1968.

The single "Gallant Men" peaked at No. 29 and made Dirksen the oldest person ever to crack the Hot 100 at that time. (Hear his resonant bass voice on YouTube.)

So thanks for indulging me in my favorite exercise: walking down music's memory lane. One final recommendation for those with money to burn: "Golden Throats Vols. 1-4." Where else can you hear Bing Crosby's "Hey Jude," Leonard Nimoy's "Proud Mary," Andy Griffith's "House of the Rising Sun" and Phyllis Diller's "I Can't Get No Satisfaction"?

And, don't forget, Lorne Greene's "Ringo" -- in French.

Today's trivia

Who is the only player to have won a season scoring title in the NCAA, the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: Noah's ark never would have made it as a Royal Caribbean luxury liner. While modern cruise ships like the Carnival Freedom have a dozen decks or more, Noah's ship had fewer than a handful: "You shall make it with lower, second and third decks," God ordered Noah in Genesis 6:16.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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