Growing up in Yankee-land (northern Ohio) in the 1950’s through the 1970’s before I joined the Marines, the closest beach was on the “North Coast” (the “North Coast” being the U.S. side of Lake Erie…its polluted state at the time near Cleveland making it unsafe to swim in). No real beach nearby meant I never heard of or danced to the music of the Tams or the Embers or Chairman of the Board. No Beach Music growing up. I don’t think I was weird. Music just wasn’t a major part of my teenage boy experiences up north anyway.
Oh, I might have tapped a toe or nodded my head to a song from time-to-time if it “had a good beat and was easy to dance to” but I didn’t even try to comprehend or interpret lyrics. And dancing? It wasn’t my thing. Even if it had been, I wouldn’t have had the courage to ask a girl to dance to music I did listen to…or any music for that matter…when I was growing up. Beach bop? Shag was the carpet in my parent’s living room. No idea. Never heard of it.
Fast forward 50 years. Because of falling in love “under the boardwalk” at the “dock of the bay” and marrying a Carolina Girl (who are “the best in the world” by the way), I have come to appreciate Beach Music and not only because of its good beat and ease of dancing to, but also because of its lyrics. Ably led by my wife, who, like many southerners, has dancing in her DNA, I’ll even stumble my way attempting to beach bop.
I guess you could say, at least from the perspective of Carolinians who grew up around real beaches listening and dancing to Beach Music, that I’ve finally and really grown up.
So it was the other day listing to a local radio program on a local radio station “Sunday on the Beach” with my Carolina Girl wife that an up-tempo version of “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” was played, sung by Ron Moody and the Centaurs. Now even at 65 years of age, I consider myself an up-tempo kind of guy. So I liked the “beachy” version of this song, especially the lyrics.
How could you not like a story set to music that it was a thin dime that cultivated love? How could anyone not like the idea that this lowly coin has the power that, “If I didn't have a dime and I didn't take the time to play the jukebox, Oh Saturday night would've been a sad and lonely night for me. And if you weren't standin' there ruby lips and golden hair beside the jukebox, Oh I'd have lost my chance to hold you while you danced with me.”
Those lyrics spoke to me so I found the original version of the song sung by Gene Pitney (lyrics by Bert Russell and Phil Medley). Recorded on the Musicor label in March and released in October 1962 according to Wikipedia, “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” was recorded on track 11 of Pitney’s album “Only love can break a heart” that included several top 10 and other charted hit singles including, “If I Didn't Have a Dime”.
According to Pandora, the features of “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” are rockabilly revival style, Latin and folk influences, call and answer vocal harmony (antiphony), and acoustic sonority.
While I have no idea what “antiphony” or “acoustic sonority” means, I do know that “If I Didn’t Have Dime”—especially Gene Pitney’s original version—has a good beat, is easy to dance to, and has great lyrics worthy of listening to. It’s first rate music.
In researching his music, several sources reported that Gene Pitney was “among a small group of early 1960s Americans who continued to produce hits and survived the British Invasion of the U.S. in 1964.” I’m sorry that I missed his music and other artists like him when I was growing up on the “North Coast”.
Even so, it turned out I did have a dime at the right time and I lucked out to find my own “boardwalk angel”—a gold mine—right here in old Caroline. And lookie me now! Being an uneducated Yankee in my youth didn’t mean I was predestined to eternal shaglessness. Not only am I enjoying the beat of Beach Music, I’m really listening to it, even studying, it. Why, I’m even attempting to dance to it! All thanks to my Carolina Girl, the best in the world.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.