Unforgettable Kindness Act -Celebrity Moment on a Sea Cruise
In order to set up this blog, I have to preface a few things: I discovered doo-wop music when a Philly AM radio station started playing oldies while I was in high school. They played songs that I was far too young to remember when they actually charted, but I memorized so many by occasionally listening to this station. I loved the songs with sound effects the best; as I can barely sing and hold notes, but singing nonsense syllables worked well for me and actually delighted me. Wikipedia describes doo-wop songs with this description that I love: “Harmonic singing of nonsense syllables (such as “doo-wop”) is a common characteristic of these songs.”
So think about a song like “Get a Job” Bomp de bomp etc, or a parody that hit the charts by Barry Mann (a prolific writer of early pop tunes in the Brill building) with “Who Put the Bomp” – a lot of rama-lama ding-dongs and other sounds in that one – that is doo-wop music for you. For some crazy reason, all of these type of songs really appealed to me. (I know I am weird.)
For another preface, I have written endlessly in this blog about loving Surf and Beach music, including having seen all of the beach movies of the early to mid-sixties era. One of my favorite groups, besides the Beach Boys, was the adorable duo of Jan and Dean.
Jan and Dean were not a flash in the pan, they had many major top twenty hits, including the number one hit, Surf City. In the sixties, every time they appeared on TV, I thought how cute they were and I loved the songs they sang. So count me as a major Jan and Dean fan. They were about to get a television show when Jan Berry crashed his Corvette and suffered major brain damage. They had it all – great voices, good songs, and great California surfer-boy looks. Their humor and personalities always stood out on their TV performances.
I wrote a previous blog on Jan and Dean – if they are worthy of a blog, then they meant something to me. That blog is linked here, and called “A Nostalgic Trip to Surf City.” I read a book on this duo and spoke of my meeting with Jan Berry, who is now deceased. I will discuss that again in this blog as it is relevant to my recent experience.
My just previous blog detailed how I am a kooky Fan-Girl who likes to meet celebrities I admire, and how I go on music cruises just to hear and possibly meet some musicians and performers I admire. There are many of these types like me, and specialty cruises, such as a Broadway cruise, all are in operation now to appeal to those fans who like to bump elbows with celebrities they admire.
I met Jan Berry in the mid-80’s when I was in Las Vegas and staying at the same hotel where he and Dean were appearing with an oldies concert revue featuring several groups. It was a surprise to run into Jan Berry in the hotel lobby though, and I had to go up to him and tell him I was a big fan. It was difficult to not feel bad as he obviously had a lot of damage still even though he looked drop-dead handsome. He had a paralyzed side, and he shifted his body to where this was noticeable when we took a photo together. Before the photo I told Jan a short story, which he intently listened to, such a sweet and patient man. The story is below:
In the 80’s I discovered an oldies station, and I also purchased a reference book on the Top 40 hits from the 50’s to the mid 80’s. I did this because there was no internet then, there was no way to research online, and I followed music and needed a reference to refer to with my many questions and to build my music trivia knowledge.
One day, while having a toddler and being a writer-consultant at home with my toddler, I was playing that oldies station, and I heard a song I had never heard before. I instantly fell in love with this doo-wop song and my toddler babbled along to it, which charmed me so much! I called the station and found out it was the song Baby Talk, a top-10 hit from 1959. As I was only four years old in 1959, I would not know that song, and it was never really played regularly by oldies stations as I never heard it before. It shocked me that Jan and Dean were the artists as I thought I knew everything they sang, but they had some late fifties hits according to my reference book. Who knew they had a doo-wop recording career before the Surf Sound emerged? I learned something new.
Since my toddler son loved it and sang it with me for the next days, I had a little mission at the time – to call that same oldies station and get them to play it as a request, with my tape recorder standing by to tape it so I could regularly hear it. I had success with that, and played Baby Talk constantly to my toddler’s delight. I loved the song, and have to say that it is my number one favorite doo-wop song as it has a rhythm and beat that is irresistible in my opinion, and it has more sound effects than virtually any other doo-wop record. The topper is the beautiful harmonies and California sound to the song – which has nonsense lyrics of course.
So with that said, when I met Jan in 1986, I detailed that story for him and he told me that they only sing Surf songs in their concerts and that they would not be singing my favorite Jan and Dean song in concert that weekend. But he did one better. He started singing it for me personally, “A Capella,” right there in the lobby. ” Bah bah bah bop oom dab oom dab oom wa wa wa.”
I was so surprised and delighted as you can see from this photo below.
After my daughter was born, and it was still a favorite of my toddler son, I played it for my daughter too. Baby Talk became the special pop song between the three of us going as far back as they can remember. I raised my kids on lots of music, as my father raised me, and they know a large amount of music from my era for that reason.
Baby Talk may be a silly song, but it is a precious “mommy memory” for me- plus I just adore the tune and love singing along. (I am positive that I have some home videos of me and my children singing along to it.)
I do not understand why a top ten hit from 1959 is not rotated on the oldies radio or played by the band. In fact I noticed that some bands do NOT play all of their hits (that the catalog in my brain knows all about as an actual list!) and instead will play covers of other bands’ hits. This is confusing to me. Why not play your entire catalog of top twenty or top forty hits?
On this cruise, I was determined to meet the other half of the duo of Jan and Dean now that Jan is deceased; that would be Dean Torrence. He was on the cruise with his surf band. I needed to complete my Jan and Dean meeting with both of the set, and I wanted to tell Dean what Jan did for me, brain damaged and all.
Informing my roommate, Marty, who was also always on the lookout for artists in the cafeteria, on the second day she pointed him out to me. I would have never recognized him in a million years. He is 82 years old and white haired. I last saw him in the 80’s when he still resembled a movie star. He looked like any other tall older white haired man on the ship.
I approached him, and since he was about to eat, I was brief. I showed him the photo of me with Jan, briefly told him the story of meeting him in a lobby in 1986 in Las Vegas and that I needed the other half of the duo because I was a big fan. He quickly said, “Of course,” and then asked to see the photo again to make sure he stood on the same side of me that Jan had stood all those years ago.
That was it for our first meeting but I just knew I had to converse with him. I found him the next day as he spent a lot of time in the cafeteria. I told him I had read the Surf City book, written a blog on it, and asked him if it was true that Jan had to re-learn lyrics from a tape recorder before every concert. It was true, he said, and we chatted about brain damage. I explained to him that I had a friend who was shot in the head and recovered similarly with partial paralysis and halting speech. We had a nice chat. And then I told him the Baby Talk story and how extra touched I was that Jan sang it to me when I said it was my favorite.
Dean told me that the Baby Talk song is not one they re-visit or play a lot, and he barely remembered the words. I told him with the doo-wop in it, it would appeal to the Malt Shop Memories cruisers so much because everyone was pulling out their doo-wop numbers to great fanfare. I requested that they play it, knowing full well, if the band was unprepared for it, and it was not on their set list, it was NOT going to happen.
He said he would think about it. That’s usually a NO.
Side Note: I once asked the Cowsills for a request and they explained to me that they can’t play impromptu requests as it requires a lot of rehearsals with their band. I also asked Jay Siegel (lead singer of the Tokens and the high voice in The Lion Sleeps Tonight, their biggest hit) if they would sing “A Girl Named Arlene” as Jay was co-writer and it was recorded by the Tokens. He turned me down flat, said he did not even remember the lyrics. (My husband made my life video to that song and it is a great doo-wop song.)
The evening of Dean’s first show, after about five numbers, he announced, “This one is by request” and proceeded to call it a stupid song with lyrics that do not make sense. Once he got into that negative part of the intro, he lost the audience, so he said, “OK, then maybe we won’t play it.” Led by me (with my mouth still dropped in amazement that he was maybe going to do MY request) we cheered for him to sing it. The band started to play, and sure enough it was Baby Talk in all its glory. They did an amazing and impressive version very true to the original, with Dean still maintaining his gorgeous voice including the high woo, woo, woos at the very end. He pointed to me at the front of the dancing section as I was cheering, and they received a rousing ovation from the audience who appreciated the great number.
I was stunned. I could not believe he took my request seriously, or listened to my story behind it. It was so much fun to hear it live. I taped it with my phone and played it about ten times that same night, still in disbelief. How kind of him to get that on the set list knowing how badly I wanted to hear it! Just unbelievable kindness and effort!
I found him and thanked him, and he was pleased that he had made me so happy. I do not have a lot of success attaching videos on this blog, so I will post it on Facebook, and attach a YouTube link here so you can play it if you want to hear this very unusual doo-wop Jan and Dean top ten hit. (On American Bandstand.) And I can add that their live current version was nearly note for note as good as this one lip synced on TV in 1959.
Thank you to Dean who made me feel like a queen, and thank you to every artist who makes their fans feel important, listened to, and validated. (Especially kooky, slightly obsessive, trivia expert ones like me.)
SO FREAKIN AWESOME!! Thanks for your blog Arlene NissonLassin, and thanks for sharing the video. Love everything about this!
I love Jan and Dean, but I never heard of this song! The Malt Shop Memories Cruise has been on my list of Things I Want to Do for a LONG time. My mom and I saw infomercials advertising it long before I ever knew the Flower Power Cruise existed.
My mom was born in 1956 and LOVED the 1950s even more than the 60s and 70s. Funny that my grandma was never into it even though SHE was the teen in ‘56. My mom is the one who introduced my brothers and me to 1950s, 60s and 70s music. Whether it be through exposure or genetics, it’s the music I love and prefer today. Like you, Arlene, my mom always had music playing in our house as we grew up and like you she recorded oldies songs from the radio onto cassette tapes throughout the 90s.
I definitely appreciate you playing this music for your children as they grew up and I appreciate your boy loving it as a toddler. Doo Wop music is PERFECT for children because it has a lot of silly words/sounds and a good beat. Children love it! This music and the music from the 60s and 70s will be the music I play for my children partly to keep my mom and my childhood alive, but also to expose them to GOOD music.
I don’t know if I will ever get to go on the Malt Shop Memories Cruise. My cruise days may be behind me with my baby being born next year. But I know I will introduce him and any and all future children to the GOOD music and I hope it will mean as much to them as it has to me.
I just played this song and the baby kicked. We’re off to a good start!
I’m happy that Dean was kind and did this for you. I have met many a celebrity who was extremely disappointing and it always taints the music, movies, TV shows or whatever they were apart of that I love so much.
I don’t know too much of Jan and Dean’s personal life. I remember asking Don Grady (from TV’s My Three Sons) about them once. He mentioned that Jan had passed but Dean was still alive. Sadly, Don has now passed, too. He was another great one who always took the time to treat fans with love and respect.
I don’t know if many musicians or movie/TV stars think about the influence they have on the fans. So many of them seem stuck up or stuck in their own little world of presumed self importance (you and I have met a few), but it makes a WORLD of difference when we are able to reach out to thank them and actually get a POSITIVE reaction. Like you, I don’t look at a song or a movie or a TV show as just being good or entertaining. For me, the music and the movies and TV shows help to define my life. They are ingrained in my memories and childhood and upbringing and are a part of my family and me. My grandma used to call it “hero worship,” but it has nothing to do with that. It’s a part of me. It’s a memory and a time in my life that made me incredibly happy. The people behind the music, movies and TV shows don’t always get this. The music and movies and TV shows are a time machine that transport us back to happier times with our loved ones. So, the people behind it all mean so much to me. That’s why I spend so much money on concerts and cruises if only to shake their hands or give them a hug and tell them how much meaning they have brought to my life. So, when you meet a celebrity who GETS IT, it’s always a good feeling ❤️❤️❤️
Fantastic!!! Love it!
I think it is a thrill to be able to meet an artist you admire, but some people get too nervous! However do you keep a level head?
This is a sweet story and I love your writing!
This is heartwarming! Dean sounds like a great guy and I remember how cute he was! I am listening to this song and find it so catchy!
Have to say you are an expert storyteller! I am always drawn in to your tales in your blogs. Do not know this song but I get why it was important to you! Keep on writing- we love it!
Great blog and memories, Arlene! Happy to hear you had such a great cruise! Although I knew Jan & Dean, I wasn’t familiar with the Baby Talk song. Clicked on the link you had and it still didn’t ring a bell! When Doug came home, I had him read your blog. He said to me “you didn’t know that song?!”. Doug knew all the lyrics and remembered them being on American Bandstand! In my defense, I was only 4 years old in 1959, he was 12
Loved your story. Must have been a cuise of a lifetime.