THREE 1960’s BOBBYS
BOBBY VEE – TAKE GOOD CARE OF MY BABY (1961)
BOBBY VINTON – MR. LONELY (1964)
BOBBY HEBB – SUNNY (1966)
The songs by today’s respective Bobbys are in chronological order.
BOBBY VEE (1943-2016)
I was in fourth grade, it was fall, and I had actually PURCHASED “Take Good Care of My Baby” at the Music Box, the after-school-within-walking-distance record shop that everyone went to. If you’re of a certain age—say, in your sixties or so right now—you may remember that the cost of a 45 back in the day was not really all that cheap, maybe close to a dollar. That meant serious business for a ten- year old. That is how much I liked the song.
It is interesting to think about music we liked when we were very young because, generally, we are responding to something very primal—or at least something unknown to ourselves at the time—when we really like something. I’m referring of course to musical appreciation. For embryonic musicians, the attraction to music—whatever it is—is at once very basic and very mysterious, whether it’s Mozart or Bobby Vee, when we’re young.
So, I would have to say now, in musical retrospect, that it was a concoction of flexible rhythm, an attractive melody, and great harmonic movement—sometimes straying into minor key territory ever so briefly—that hooked me. I would listen to it each day when I got home from school on the record player in the corner of the dining room. I still cannot just listen to it once.
BOBBY VINTON (b. 1935)
Probably the person, among these three Bobbys, with the biggest career in pop music. He had a string of hit songs, starting with “Roses are Red (My Love).” His biggest hits occurred prior to the British invasion, and although he still had successful releases, like “My Melody of Love” later in 1974, America was listening to him by then in a nostalgic mood for a bygone musical era—his romantic songs were no longer in style.
My favorite Bobby Vinton song is from 1964. Vinton had served in the army in the late 1950’s, and he wrote “Mr. Lonely” to express his feelings of loneliness during that time.
It’s interesting that Epic Records, for whom Vinton recorded, never had much faith in him—and constantly underestimated the degree of approval he had with the public. He became their best-selling recording artist of the 1960’s. It was at his insistence—since, by 1964, he had some clout—that Epic released “Mr. Lonely.” Released in December of ’64, it was his last number one hit.
Vinton’s sliding vocal excursions into falsetto range, melded together with melancholy lyrics, are a potent combination. Record-buyers felt they could identify with what seemed like actual crying near “Mr. Lonely”s conclusion. It still sounds like that to me. Of the over 11,000 comments following this YouTube clip, you can see that many of them are from people for whom this song was a cathartic outlet for their own loneliness…
BOBBY HEBB (1938-2010)
One of the most ubiquitous songs of the summer of 1966—for me, a (literally) sun-drenched summer between eighth and ninth grades—was Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny.” It says a lot for this song that it was Hebb’s single success. But what a success it was. He had been asked to open for the Beatles in their 1966 tour, and at that time “Sunny” was bigger on the charts than any Beatles song!
Hebb had an interesting, if somewhat depressing, life. He was born poor in Nashville to blind parents, both of whom were musicians. He had a song-and-dance routine with his brother Harold while they were growing up, and was a stand-in musician from time to time at the Grand Ole Opry. He was 25 years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The very next day, his brother was killed in a knife fight outside a Nashville club.
The devastation he felt at these two events was deep and long-lasting. The story goes that, in order to keep these torturous feelings at bay, Hebb wrote “Sunny.”
Hebb stayed in the music industry off and on for the rest of his life, but never again achieved the kind of success he enjoyed with “Sunny.” Its upbeat lyrics and continual half-step-up modulations make it a happy song in a minor key.