Categorized | Features

’60s chart toppers songs still going strong


By Brian Goslow

“Here’s a song from 1963 and here it goes …”

It only takes a few moments of hearing Delores “La La” Brooks break into Da Doo Ron Ron, a song that solidified her voice as one of the memorable sounds of the 1960s, to realize she’s lost little of her ability in the half-century since. With Brooks as the lead vocalist, Da Doo Ron Ron and Then He Kissed Me were top-10 hits for the girl group, The Crystals, in 1963.

Brooks, 66, is one of a number of performers who had huge hits in the ’60s and regularly visited homes throughout the United States through performances on the Ed Sullivan Show, Hullabaloo, Shindig and the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and still appears throughout the country on a regular basis. Unlike those days when one TV appearance could send a recording soaring up the charts, many of these stars of yesterday now keep in touch with fans through Facebook, answering their questions and promoting new music and shows through their websites.

On stage at the Brooklyn Bowl in early November, Brooks, backed by current-day high-energy rockers Reigning Sound, held nothing back, hitting all her trademark high notes and jumping into the crowd to dance as she sang. She claims to have no special secrets to staying young.

“I’ve never been good at rehearsing or warming up,” she said, when asked how she’s preserved her voice. “I just say a prayer and hope that it comes out right. It’s like throwing the dice. Most of the time I can hit the jackpot, but sometimes, I don’t.”

The Brooklyn appearance wasn’t part of a nostalgia show. She was performing to promote the release of a new album of recordings, All of Nothing (Norton Records), that has all the energy and feel of her days working with infamous “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector.

“Billy Miller from Norton Records is a die-hard music fan,” Brooks said. “He had done his homework on the Phil Spector sound, so he was fully aware of the type of songs that would showcase the ’60s style of music with my voice. He knew the kind of music I liked and assembled the material and musicians which would showcase my sound.”

Brooks said she loves being able to surprise audiences with new songs such as A Boy Like You, Love Is Amazing, You Gave Me Love and Mind Made Up, a “fun song” for which she wrote the lyrics.

“It was great to be back in the studio again,” Brooks said. “The greatest thing was to be able to sing live without all of the computers they use today. The inspiration comes from the material. You have to get material that will suit who you are in order to recapture your muse and to return to singing in the style of voice that people remember.”

What makes the new album remarkable is how much it feels as if Brooks had recorded it in the mid-’60s. As one of a talented group of women — including Ronnie Spector and Darlene Love — who Spector would rotate to fit his next project, sometimes putting a vocalist from one group on the recording of another to suit his own purposes, many music historians have failed to give Brooks her proper due.

“As an artist who recorded with Phil, I do feel that he took most of the credit,” Brooks said. “I personally know and feel that if it weren’t for the artists and our unique voices, Phil would not have had as much success as he did. One hand washes the other. He needed our voices to help make his sound. The saddest part is that Phil believes that it all belonged to him.”

When Brooks performs Da Doo Ron Ron and Then He Kissed Me, she realizes most of the people in the audience, especially those who grew up listening to them, felt those songs were theirs.

“Every moment when I sing those songs are special moments and every reaction that the audience gives me is overwhelming,” Brooks said. “I don’t take anything for granted. I’m humbled and honored that I still have the fans. When I see them singing along with me, it’s a plus; it makes me know that they haven’t forgotten me.”

Perhaps more than any other generation, the “youth” of the 1960s felt the musicians, their songs and the “scenes” built around them belonged to them. Richard Fox, 60, of Worcester, spent his teenage years going to concerts, meeting the likes of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, before joining the rock ’n’ roll circuit as a stagehand.

“Our music was wrapped up in a social and political upheaval,” said Fox, more recently a DJ, cancer survivor and published poet. “We were a generation unafraid to experiment with art, music and our minds. We sought change at the base levels of how society should operate.”

Fox said he often wonders why “our” music has such longevity, much of it sounding every bit as powerful today as when it was first recorded. “It still touches me, not just for the memories but for its grace, intensity and vision,” he said. “It’s my generation, my history, my youthful heroes.”

Few captured the pulse of the ’60s in a single song as Janis Ian did with her 1967 hit, Society’s Child. While it told the story of a young mixed-race couple, almost anyone could relate to the “not our kind” lyrics. She similarly captured the soul of a generation in 1975, singing of having learned the truth At Seventeen that “love was meant for beauty queens and high school girls with clear-skinned smiles,” again, touching on a universal subject.

Ian, now 62, is in the midst of a career resurgence, having won a Grammy Award last year for the audio book version of her autobiography, Society’s Child, just released her first children’s book, The Tiny Mouse and yes, still performing.

Being a solo performer, she’s always spent a lot of time on stage talking to her audiences, whether about her songs, her thoughts on life and what was going on in the world or most recently, supporting the Pearl Foundation, Ian’s non-profit program named in honor of her mom, which raises funds for students returning to school after being out at least five years.

She said she’s never lost faith in the ability of a song to affect the world through its words, in many instances, striving to get her listeners to consider how the words and actions of one individual can affect another, good or bad.

“I believe people are essentially good and if given the opportunity, will rise to the occasion,” Ian said during a recent interview. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t bad people out there, or mad dogs — apologies to my canine friends — but by and large, people have good hearts and want to do good. We see that every day with the Pearl Foundation.”

When she started out, her audiences hung on her every word; many have stayed with her throughout her career. “They expect me to be funny now, which they didn’t expect when I was oh-so-seriously young,” she explained. “They expect the hits, and I do them.

“But they also expect some introspection, some commentary on where we are now. I try to keep that as universal as possible, since I’ve started getting so many younger people — thank you Tina Fey (who named a character “Janis Ian” in her movie Mean Girls and sang a drunken version of At Seventeen on 30 Rock) and Celine Dion (who covered At Seventeen on her most recent album) — but I still crack jokes about getting older.”

Ian takes preparing for shows more seriously than she did when she started out, which she said is a contradiction in terms, because the show she presents today is much less serious than earlier in her career. “The basics are the same — load in, sound check, dinner, worry, plan set, worry more, do show. But I’ve added a nap when possible before dinner, a meet-and-greet and signing after each show — and a lot more worry.”

In addition to a United Kingdom tour in March, Ian plans to play a limited number of United States concerts in 2014 — “more to keep my hand in than anything else,” she said, and is working at blocking out time “to turn back into a writer.”

However, as ultimate multi-tasker, that might be easier said than done. “I’ve just accepted a series of master (theater) classes at the Stella Adler School in New York City, and a narrating project come spring that may require an album. But I really want to write a children’s record and get it recorded and released. And a few short stories. And articles. And books.”

Fox, who also lists political campaigner on his resume, appreciates Ian continuing to make and perform thoughtful music. “I met her once, love her songs and enjoy her comments on Facebook,” he said. “She’s true to herself and her art.”

While he had a great time at last summer’s “Happy Together” tour stop in Worcester featuring the Turtles, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night, Gary Puckett, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders and Gary Lewis, Fox felt the show should have paid more attention to the social issues of the period. “The concert had a light show full of peace signs, but never showed The Vietnam War, race riots or protesters in the street. The music was grand but I felt a real disconnect from the era.”

One Response to “’60s chart toppers songs still going strong”

  1. Bill Lebeau says:

    Nice Article Brian!


Leave a Reply


Join Now for the 50 Plus Newsletter