Now they die and it doesn’t even make news, it’s barely a ripple on the radar screen, Bobby Freeman passed on January 23rd and it didn’t appear in the “New York Times” until yesterday, and the L.A. “Times” not at all. Is this the new normal, where progenitors of rock, part of our DNA, leave the planet and it’s de rigueur, barely worth a shrug?
Bobby Freeman was a very big deal. He wrote “Do You Want To Dance.”
A number five hit for him in 1958.
A number two for Cliff Richard and the Shadows in 1962.
A number seventeen for Bette Midler back in ’72, it was the opening cut on “The Divine Miss M,” it was slowed-down, it was her signature song, the one that broke her wide open.
And a number twelve hit as “Do You Wanna Dance?” as the opening cut in a sped-up surfer version on the Beach Boys’ 1965 album, “Today!”
I owned that record. It’s the one with the original version of “Help Me Rhonda,” titled “Help Me Ronda,” the hit version came on the follow-up, “Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)” one of my favorite records ever, it accompanied me to Camp Laurelwood that summer.
That’s how big music was. I had to bring my record player and records.
This was long before Walkmen. Long before streaming. Long before music was portable. Back when you left the house and sang the songs to yourself, and when you got home you dropped the needle to experience that elixir that made your life complete.
Some people brought guitars and amps. But it really wasn’t that kind of camp, all artsy and fartsy. It was mainly about baseball and swimming and trampoline and…
Actually, I had a lead in “Oklahoma” the year before, but I dropped out to play ball. I lived to play baseball. When I wanted to be Mickey Mantle instead of John Lennon. But the British Invasion came along and the world was turned upside down. Music was the internet of its day, the AOL, the iPhone, all wrapped into one. It’s all anybody talked about and we played the records so much they turned grey. And when I went to the first social that August…
Camp is where I had my first girlfriends, away from the prying eyes of my parents and classmates. At Camp Laurelwood I could be my real self, unburdened of all the baggage I normally carried around. Most attendees were from New Haven, I was from Fairfield, I was new blood, and when I went the year before…
Betsy Kimball took a liking to me. I’m not sure how it happened, but she definitely initiated it. But I dove right in and I’m not sure I’ve been that comfortable with a girl since. But the following summer Betsy went to Laurelwood in July and I went in August and I only had eyes for…
Jill Philipson. But she was going steady with Jimmy Calechman. But when I dropped the needle on “Do You Wanna Dance?”…
That’s what no one ever talks about, how music empowers you, makes you do stuff you normally wouldn’t.
A social was a dance. Maybe twenty or thirty people. You’d play records and dance and talk and maybe sparks flew, or maybe they didn’t.
So at this first social of 1965, I brought my Beach Boys album and dropped the needle on “Do You Wanna Dance?” and walked straight up to Jill Philipson and asked her if she wanted to dance, and she said yes, and that was all they wrote, she was my girlfriend now, Jimmy Calechman was in the rearview mirror.
It happened just that fast. I can credit the Beach Boys for that. But Bobby Freeman wrote the song, which we all knew, even though it was a hit not long after we were born, because certain records…we all knew, we just did.
And we went to Mystic Seaport and we sat next to each other on the bus and I put my arm around her because everybody else was doing so and I felt uncomfortable but I was figuring it out as I went along. When you learned by experience, before the internet became a how-to manual, a cornucopia of sex.
And when we got home we wrote letters and when I went to visit the Drazen twins they implored me to call her and I did but she was hesitant, reluctant, and then I knew the rumors were true, she was back together with Jimmy.
Hmm… It’s not that I did not care, but I did not want to hear, I wanted to continue indefinitely in my fantasy, it felt so good.
As did hearing Bobby Freeman’s “C’mon and Swim.” This was the era of dance crazes. And the swim was an easy one, especially if you’d spent time at summer camp, you just made like you’d jumped into the pool…you did all the strokes, it was just that easy, even easier than the twist, which it replaced.
And “C’mon and Swim” was cowritten by legendary deejay Tom Donahue and Sylvester Stewart, otherwise known as Sly Stone, who produced it too.
You see Bobby Freeman is a part of rock history.
And also a part of my personal history.
Because music and my life are intertwined.
And now my heroes, the makers of these records, are dropping like flies, and I don’t know what to do about it.
So I’m telling you.