Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Songs of the Summer

Rolling Stones in concert, Houtrusthallen The Hague (NL), 15 April 1967, Ben Merk (ANEFO), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Do you remember where you were the first time you heard the Beatles sing “A Hard Day’s Night”? Was there a song you associated with your first love? Was there a song you loved to crank up to full volume on a hot summer evening cruising around in your car? Were you like me and always had you radio set to WHOT?

I took a walk down memory lane with the help of Billboard’s Summer Songs 1958-2020: The Top 10 Tunes of Each Summer“. I looked back at the decade of 1963-1972, the last year being when I graduated from high school. I listened to some of those songs on a transistor with an earphone jack. Others I listened to cranked up on my stereo (“turn that awful music down!”). Some were the songs blaring from loudspeakers on midways at Idora Park or the Canfield Fair or the dances we went to. Here are some of the ones I remembered:

1963: “Blowing in the Wind” by Peter, Paul, and Mary. This was the last summer of John F. Kennedy’s “Camelot” and this reflected the idealism he inspired. We played my brother’s LP recording of their songs over and over. I still tear up when I watch one of our videos and they sing this song. And there was Mary’s voice and that long blonde hair!

1964: “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals. Was it Eric Burdon’s low growl as he sang “There is a house in New Orleans…” or the subject matter–a house of ill-repute? We all thought of ourselves as “bad boys” when we heard him sing it.

1965: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” The Rolling Stones. Speaking of bad boys. It spoke what a lot of us testosterone- drunk boys were feeling.

1966: “Summer in the City” The Lovin’ Spoonful. John Sebastian sang about getting dirty and gritty in the city but how “at night it’s a different world./Go out and find a girl.” We knew dirty and gritty in Youngstown and I was starting to wake up to the idea of going out and finding a girl as an awkward junior high student. Here’s a video of Sebastian singing the song.

1967: This was the summer of The Doors’ “Light my Fire” and Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco.” I remember waking up to deliver Sunday papers with “San Francisco” running through my head. Just don’t light my fire with flowers in my hair! It was always cool when they’d play the long version of “Light My Fire” on the radio. Nothing like it.

1968: OK, this is true confessions time. Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love with You” was the number one song and it was the theme of my crush on a girl in my neighborhood. She never knew! Heard the song recently and was struck with what a truly awful singer Alpert was. I think it was the only time he tried singing. It’s funny how there were the sweet love songs and then the bad boy songs. It was also the summer of Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.”

1969: Not sure there was a standout that year, but “One” by Three Dog Night was a song I could identify with. I listened to a lot of Three Dog Night around that time.

1970: It wasn’t top 10 that summer but it spoke to the grief so many of us felt from the killings at nearby Kent State. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Ohio’ captured the grief and anguish so many of us felt. I can’t help but think of a young girl from Boardman who died that day who is memorialized in the words, “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know.” That girl was 400 feet away and walking to class. Here’s a live acoustic recording I had not seen before of Neil Young singing the song in 1971.

1971: It seemed that the songs got gentler after Kent State. My memory of this year was James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend.” It was stuck in my head enough that when I had to give the valedictory address for my high school class in 1972, it was the basis of my talk.

1972: The song from this year’s list with the most staying power was “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, but for me, the Hollies last gasp, “Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)” was the song I remember.

I’ll stop there. It’s pretty apparent that girls were a big thing on my mind at that time. In the fall of 1972, I went to Youngstown State. On the second day, I met a girl from the Southside who I started dating a few weeks later. Forty-nine years later she is sitting across the room as I write. I consider myself fortunate and blessed. Life didn’t turn out like the songs–rather far different and better.

What are some of the songs you remember from the summers of your youth and of what do they remind you?

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

17 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Songs of the Summer

  1. Wonderful article, Bob. I sure remember how all important music and those transistor radios were back in the day. Seems every blanket at the city pools (Bort’s for us) was equipped with a radio tuned to WHOT all summer long.

  2. “Satisfaction” & “I Got You Babe” were my first 45’s purchased at the Uptown GC Murphy’s where I walked each week to pick up my free copy of WHOT’s Top 40 list. The sheet had pics of the DJs; Boots Bell was the best! Thanks for the memories, the 60’s were the best.

  3. Cheers, Bob! Great article.

    The picture you open up with – 15 April 1967. Those were the days of ‘Happy Together’ by The Turtles, ‘Jimmy Mack’ by Martha & The Vandellas, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ – The Beatles, ‘Bernadette’ – The Four Tops… Strawberry Fields… “Let’s go, psychedelia!” : P

    My mom had Beatles’ records, but ‘Strawberry Fields’ got released as a single, and (as was The Beatles’ habit, it was not on the next album – which made a bit of an impact – ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band).

    Not sure where I first heard any of those songs, but it could have been from other kids’ radios as I walked to Harding Elementary School, right there by Rayen High School on Youngstown’s north side.

    1963 – 1972, Wow, what a decade! Musically, societally… Sorry if I already posted part of this – I clicked on something, somewhere, and closed the webpage tab; had to reopen it and then I wasn’t sure if I’d hit “Post Comment” or not.

    Best,

    Doug

  4. How true how a certain song can trigger the memory about a girl, a friend, and event. The words and the music take me to an age of innocence, as you said “Camelot”. Thanks Bob.

  5. Nice read. The old Japanese AM transistor by the pillow listening to Gene Pitney singing The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and 24 Hours From Tulsa, around 1963. I started playing guitar that year and was ready when the Beatles invaded us. Our hair grew out overnight, and the music stores were cleaned out of amps and guitars. Good years for music, and a better decade for American technology. The assination of Kennedy snacthed away the innocense of the 1950s and showed us the face of brutality. The murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King mixed with Vietnam drove us into the streets. Then Manson showed us that the gentle hippies weren’t all that gentle. The Beatles, Byrds, Spoonful, Beach Boys, Raiders, Buffalo Springfield, all great artist that made that decade of music one that will never be replicated.

      • Phil, I played guitar in a couple of groups around town during those same years. Wasn’t that fun? Lots of venues to play, appreciative audiences dancing to the music and lots of talented musicians in the area, too. I remember a very young, extremely talented Phil Kaeggy. And, of course, Dick Belley and Ting Markulin of the Human Beinz. By ‘69, I was still playing while attending YSU full time, working in a clothing store downtown part time and dating the girl with whom I just celebrated 50 years of marriage. I figured there was a better future for me in the latter three than the first one, so it was time to quit. Brian Adams once said in a song, “Those were the best days of my life”. I’ve had a lot of “best days” since then, but that sure was a boatload of fun.

      • Bob, yes those were fun years, but they don’t go on forever unless you are the Rolling Stones or a few more. We should be happy to have been a part of that decade. My wife used to come here my band in the 60s, and as you, here we are today in our 70s. I did continue to play rock from 2000 until 2019, but have now hung the ole Epiphone on the wall and given my amps to my grandson, who plays also.

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