BOBBY VEE IS DEADI didn’t know he was a Minnesotan, born in Moorhead. According to Chris Riemenschneider’s obituary in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Robert Thomas Velline and his band “were recruited to fill in for Buddy Holly at the Moorhead stop of the Winter Dance Party tour the night after Holly died in a plane crash outside Clear Lake, Iowa.” Vee (1943–2016) knew Dylan, and his songs were recorded by the early Beatles.
In my childhood home on Rochester’s Park Avenue—so unlike the Park Avenue of the City—there were lots of records. My father still had 78s, and long-playing 33s were proliferating. But dearer to me was a stack of 45-rpm records. They belonged to my much-older brothers, but I was allowed to play them. I had favorites. Bobby Darin’s 1958 “Splish Splash” was in the top five:
Splish, splash, I was takin’ a bath
Long about a Saturday night, yeah
A rub dub, just relaxin’ in the tub
Thinkin’ everythin’ was alright
I was born in 1958, which makes me barely a Boomer. In 1962, when Bobby Vee brought out “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” another favorite, I was four.
‘Cause the night has a thousand eyes
And a thousand eyes can’t help but see if you are true to me
So remember when you tell those little white lies
That the night has a thousand eyes
The rainbow on the Liberty label must have caught my eye, because I liked a number of Liberty hits. Gene McDaniels, who died in 2011, sang “Tower of Strength” and another one of my favorites, “Chip, Chip.” Now that Dylan has his Nobel, the way is clear for Burt Bacharach, who with Bob Hilliard wrote “Tower of Strength,” to receive his due.
If I were a tower of strength, I’d walk away
I’d look in your eyes and here’s what I’d say
“I don’t want you, I don’t need you, I don’t love you any more”
And I’d walk out that door. . . .
You can see why these rhythmic, up-tempo tunes would appeal to a four-year-old. The images are strong and clear: a starry night; a bubble bath; a tower of… whaa? But there is disquieting stuff as well: little white lies; walking out the door; I don’t love you anymore. Don’t think those slipped by the little guy as he was a-splishin’ and a-splashin’ through the musical, but often chaotic family scene. The thousand eyes seemed to wink at an incantation my mother would often repeat in hushed tones: “The walls have ears!”
Little ones have ears, too, mommy. Those ephemeral songs spinning on the platter, pulsing with desire or crying with heartbreak, have staying power… whether we admit it or not.