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Thursday, 16 January 2014

Those High School Dances 1962-1964

Was it that long ago?

If the 1960s ever come up in a conversation these days most people tend to think about the Beatles and the British invasion, long hair, bell bottom pants, the war in Viet Nam, peace marches and student protests, LSD and pot, the assassinations of JFK, his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King. Other than the JFK assassination most of this stuff happened after 1965. The Beatles may have turned up in North America in February of 1964 and their music may have been different than what we were used to but their songs were not about social commentary at the time and lyrically not much different than what the US music industry was pumping out.
If you were a baby boomer born a few years after the Second World War you found yourself in your last 2 years of high school somewhere between 1961 and 1965. It was in those last 2 years that many of us went to Friday night high school dances. By 1961 most parents had loosened up a bit compared to the ultra-conservative 1950s when many they often looked at rock and roll as some kind of twisted evil foisted upon their sons and daughters. Times were slowly changing and some parents even got into doing the twist.
As baby boomers we had grown up with rock and roll, sort of. For every song like Yakety Yak or Runaway there seemed to be an equal amount of The Lazy Hazy Days of Summer and Moon River on the Hit Parade. There were only certain parts of the day when we could find rock and roll on the radio, after school, and in the evenings.
Before we ever went to our first high school dance many of us had checked out Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on after school TV. None of us thought that we were being manipulated back then. I recently watched a clip on YouTube that was about Dick Clark’s “rate a record” segment. A guy and a gal got to rate 2 new songs from 35% to 98% as to how much they liked the tunes. Saying something “sucked” was just not polite back then I guess. The first song was forgettable but got high marks by both raters. The 2nd song was by Frankie Lane and was about a cowboy called Rango. It might as well have been “Rawhide”. The kids couldn’t dance to it. Still one of the raters thought it might be a hit. After this bit the studio audience hit the dance floor again and this time the tune was Mame played by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. “You coaxed the blues right out of the horn….Mame.” Yuck! Good old Dick was selling us out. This wasn’t rock and roll.
American Bandstand
Elvis finished his hitch in the US army and was making one crappy movie after another. The new Elvis didn’t have side burns anymore, the greasy hair was gone, and swinging his pelvis around was a thing of the past.
If we went to the movies we could see clean cut Frankie Avalon and large chested Annette Funnicello in beach movies with harmless biker type guys or the almost 40 year old virgin Doris Day being chased after by Rock Hudson.
Frankie & Annette
You might say we were living in a sexless world when it came to entertainment. But what did we know? As teenagers we weren’t in control. If you were a guy about the closest you could get to sex was slow dancing and feeling a couple of bumps through a sweater pressed against your chest. Sexual activity was fairly limited in high school back then. The pill was still a few years away. One of the benefits of going steady for a guy is that just maybe you might get proficient at unhooking a bra but that was about the limit.
So there we were, inching our way past Mr. Puberty and getting an interest in the opposite sex. We were like ripened fruit. Some of us were in all boy classes that made girls our age seem only more distant. Going to a high school dance was like a ritual of arriving at some sort of maturity. Not totally being an adult but on the path. We kind of had to figure it all out for ourselves. There were no elders we could count on to tell us what was expected of us. Dancing was something foreign to most boys unless we had a sister who taught us some moves. If we had any kind of plan at all when we first went to our first dances it might be trying to look cool with the always available option of needling one another.
The gym in the school was where the dances usually happened. It was fairly dark in there with most of the light coming from the hallway. It took a second or two to adjust our eyes. Once in a while we would spot some guy or gal from our high school that we didn’t expect to see at a dance. This was a whole new deal. Most of us stuck fairly close to our friends.
I went to 2 high schools in Montreal when I was growing up, West Hill High and Westmount High. High school back then meant grades 8 through 11. After my first year at West Hill I was informed at the beginning of the following year that I was persona non grata (not welcomed) and that I would have to find another school that would take me. It is kind of a long story but I ended up in The Boys Home of Montreal (Weredale House) where I attended Westmount High for 2 years. I then returned to West hill for 1-1/2 years before dropping out altogether. The following are some remembrances of those high school dances long ago.
Westmount High
I went to 2-3 Friday night dances at Westmount High when I was 15. I think the school held them about once a month. As Weredale boys we were allowed to go home on the weekends on Saturday mornings so getting out of the institution for part of a Friday night was kind of a bonus. Many of the Weredale boys had 2 fears, the first being what would we do if some gal asked us to dance (we didn’t have a clue about dancing) and the second being what if some babe asked us where we lived. Explaining that we had come from dysfunctional families and weren’t really juvenile delinquents could be a mouthful.
Of the 3 dances I went to I think I danced with a girl once and she did the asking. The rest of my time was spent on the sidelines with classmates and other Weredale boys watching couples on the dance floor.
The style at the time for boys was tight continental pants (cuffless) with white socks. The pant bottoms were a couple of inches from the tops of our shoes. Michael Jackson later recreated this look. The girls wore flowing dresses that were a few inches below the knees. Sometimes the girls also wore sweaters with little buttons down the front.
There was one dance at Westmount High that I remember in particular. All of sudden the dance floor seemed to part and everyone gathered around to watch a twist contest. The twist as a dance was having a second go around. A few years earlier Chubby Checker had introduced it and he was back for an encore with “Lets Twist Again”.
One of the participants was a guy named Norman Walker who had recently left Weredale and gone off to work. The other guy’s name I think was Michael De Tomasso and I think he was also at Weredale at one time. Both guys were dressed in tight suits, the shiny kind, and both wore polished pointy Italian shoes. No detail as to their appearance had been ignored including their meticulously coiffed hair with just the right amount of Brylcreem or Vitalis.
Chubby Checker
The twist contest looked like a man-o a man-o kind of deal right out of West Side Story. Instead of one foot coming off the ground an inch or two these guys were twisting that one leg well above chest level. The crowd was enthralled. It was hard to pick a winner. And then….it was over as quickly as it had started. The guys wiped their foreheads off with handkerchiefs and let the crowd try to figure out what had just happened.
Some of the Weredale guys must have thought that it was a win for our team. A team we sometimes didn’t want to be identified with. Everyone in our class knew who the Weredale boys were. On this one night, for a few brief moments, we were represented by two guys who were….too cool for school.

The Hampstead Hops

Back in the 60s Hampstead was an upper middle class area that bordered on the district of N.D.G. which was middle class. N.D.G. is where I grew up. Some distance away from where I lived was Hampstead School. Although it was a primary school for some reason it had Friday night dances. It might have been because Hampstead didn’t have a high school of its own.
Because it wasn’t actually a high school it seemed to draw teenagers from various backgrounds including Catholics and Protestants who went to different high schools. I know that the dances were chaperoned but I can only vaguely remember a few parents at the dance ticket table.
On some Friday nights there was a live band up on the stage. They usually played for about a half an hour. My guess is most of the bands didn’t have a big repertoire of songs that they knew. The rest of the evening the music came from a record player hidden behind the stage curtains. I don’t remember any disk jockeys.
I have to say I was always impressed with the confidence some young guy my age could have to stand in front of a band and sing to an audience. Where did they learn how to do that and where did the other guys learn how to play guitars? One night the singer was a guy who had grown up a few blocks away from me. I think his name was Tommy Angel. Another singer I remember was a guy in a slick suit with a cane with a silver handle. There is only one tune that was sung that I can sort of remember…..”I like, I Iike the way you walk, I like, I like the way you talk….”
The gym and stage at Hampstead School
I was about 16 at the time. Some of the girls had discovered make-up including eye shadow and whatever that pinkish stuff was that they put on their faces. Beehive hairdos or a facsimile there-of were common. As at most high school kind of dances the girls were crowded in one side of the room and the boys on the opposite side. Some of us boys were too scared to ask a girl to dance. Getting shot down could travel around the gossip mill pretty quickly. Some of us had our first dance as the result of the Sadie Hawkin’s dance which was announced on the PA system. A Sadie Hawkin’s dance was where girls could ask a boy to dance without looking too forward.
It could get a bit uncomfortable if some girl tried to teach us some dance steps. We guys could see the eyeballs on us from the sidelines even in the darkened room. The waltz seemed the easiest of the dances and often it wasn’t the boys who were doing the leading. After a while the boys kind of got the hang of things a bit and with our new found talent our confidence grew. We got to a point where we could do the asking.
There wasn’t any marijuana around back then but some guys might have a beer or two before turning up at the dance. Good old Mr. Courage. Once in a while there would be a fight out on the grass near the parking lot. One Friday night a guy named Morely, who I had gone to grade school and high school with, wanted to fight me. I think he had had a few beers. I tried to avoid his request a few times but found myself kind of in a spot. I wasn’t sure about my chances. Physically I thought he was stronger than me. Luck was on my side and I ended up punching him around for a few minutes before he gave up.
There didn’t seem to be any question about girls liking guys who could dance and had some smooth moves. Although kids were doing the monkey and the twist the jitterbug was still the dance to do to most of the faster music. Some guys were smoother at the jitterbug than others. I remember a dude named John Curtis who had the jitterbug down pat. That twirl thing when you look the other way or when you stick your hands out waiting for the gal to grasp on to them.
Mostly I hung around with a group at West Hill and they would all turn up at the Hampstead Hop. I would also see other kids from West hill at the dances, some of them from my class. For a while the group expanded to include some girls that lived in Hampstead and went to private schools like The Study and Miss Edgar’s and Miss Cramps. I went out with a girl from Hampstead for a month or so.. One night she invited me to a dance at the MAAA (The Montreal Amateur Athletic Association) in downtown Montreal. It was an old money kind of deal in that members of the MAAA were pretty well all wealthy. I remember we did the bunny hop from the ballroom into another large room and back. It was kind of surreal to me considering I had been living in The Boys Home of Montreal the year before.
I had a friend who met a Catholic girl at one of the Hampstead Hops. They sort of started to go out with one another before she had to tell him that she couldn’t see him anymore because he wasn’t Catholic. One night I met my own Catholic girl. She knocked my socks off. She lived with her mother and I think her dad had passed away. We went on a date to the movies one night and we had a great time but for some reason I never followed it up.
I don’t know if it just me but for some reason when I was younger and in my teens and early twenties something used to come over me when the fall weather appeared. There was some kind of adrenaline thing going on. My heart seemed to beat faster and there was some kind of anticipation. In some ways I thought I was in a trance and living partly in a fantasy.
I remember walking a gal named Debbie home one Friday night. It must have been about 20 blocks. She wasn’t my girlfriend but had asked me to walk with her as a favour as she didn’t want to walk in the dark by herself. We talked about a lot of things. What we wanted to do with our lives, her unhappy home life. I kind of felt like a young Jimmy Stewart. We seemed to pass the lamp posts in slow motion. Just two people sharing our thoughts unaware of where our lives would lead us.
The last song played at the Hampstead Hops or any of the other high school dances I went to for that matter was always a slow dance. If you weren’t dancing to the last dance chances were you weren’t walking anyone home. Often the last song at the Hampstead hops was something like Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou or the Beach Boy’s In My Room.
The Beach Boys
Roy Orbison
In November of 1963 JFK was killed and it was like the air was let out of a balloon for a while. In February of 64 the Beatles turned up on the Ed Sullivan Show. We didn’t know it at the time but changes would be coming rapidly in the next few years. We were kind of witnesses to the last of an era of innocence.
 The Campus Club
Sometime around 1963 there was a teen club just off of Decarie Boulevard in Montreal called the Campus Club. A local radio disk jockey, I think his name was Bob Gillis, was one of the partners in the venture. My guess is like Dick Clark, Bob thought there were ways to make a buck off of teenagers. I think I went there twice and both times the place was packed. The building was pretty modern for the times and had a wall made of large rocks. I don’t remember any live music happening there. It seems to me that the admission was fairly steep and they charged a lot for a coke. You don’t get rich selling cokes and the Campus Club wasn’t around for long. A few years later the building became a mob owned joint called The White Elephant Pub.
Montreal West Town Hall
I only went to one dance at the Montreal West Town Hall and I didn’t stay long. The reason that that dance sticks in my mind is that I ran into a guy who was in my class in grade 4 or 5. His name was Wayne Simmonds (Simmons). In grade 5 he seemed bigger than most of the other kids. He also had a bit of a cruel streak. One day when he was sitting behind me he was scraping his shoe back and forth on the floor. I asked him what he was doing and he asked me to pick up a piece of metal off of the floor. Unbeknownst to me Wayne had been making the metal turn hot by pushing it back and forth with his shoe. I burned my hand when I tried to pick it up and he thought it was very funny.
As Wayne got older he developed a reputation as I guy who liked to scrap. He was certainly out of my league. A few weeks after seeing him at the Montreal West dance I learned that he had died in a car accident in a stolen Jaguar XKE. It struck me at the time that his short life was like some songs that were popular at the time, Dead Man’s Curve or Tell Laura I love Her.  Wayne died too fast and too soon.
Victoria Hall
Victoria Hall
A few guys I knew and I went to one dance at Victoria Hall in Westmount. When I was a kid my grandfather took me to a number of children’s plays and musicals that he directed at the same venue. The night of the dance there were only about 2 dozen people on attendance and we bailed after an hour or so. For some reason I can remember the song Sugar Shack being played.

West Hill High
I probably went to about ½ a dozen dances at West Hill High. I don’t recall those dances ever having bands. I do remember that some of the teachers were chaperones. The last dance I went to at West Hill was after I had quit school. I had an interesting chat with one of my former teachers. He didn’t give me a hard time for quitting school and wished me luck. I was going to need all the luck I could get in the next few years.
The gym at West Hill High
Those high school dances were only a part of our lives for a few brief years. What “sweet” years they were.
To remember the times you have to remember the music.
If you are around my age here is a bit of a refresher.


Mash Potato Time – Dee Dee Sharp
The Loco-motion – Little Eva
Baby Its You – The Shirelles
Soldier Boy – The Shirelles
I Know – Barbara George
You Beat Me To The Punch – Mary Wells

The Wah Watusi – The Orlons
Duke Of Earl –Gene Chandler
Once Upon A Time – The Lettermen
Town Without Pity – Gene Pitney
What’d Your Name? – Don & Juan

Sherry - The Four Seasons

Bobby's Girl - Marcie Blane

Sherry –The Four Seasons

Twist And Shout - The Isley Brothers

You Belong To Me - The Duprees

Sealed With A Kiss - Bryan Hyland

Let's Dance - Chris Montez

Don't Hang Up -The Orlons

Up On The Roof - The Drifters


The Peppermint Twist - Joey Dee & the Starliters
Hey Baby – Bruce Channel
Dream Baby – Roy Orbison
All Alone Am I – Brenda Lee
Palisades Park – Freddy Cannon
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do – Neil Sedaka

Twistin The Night Away – Sam Cooke


Sugar Shack – Jimmy Gilmore and the Fireballs
The End Of The World – Skeeter Davis
I Will Follow Him – Peggy March
Blue On Blue – Bobby Vinton
Deep Purple – Nino Temp & April Stevens
Be My Baby – The Ronnettes
You Can’t Sit Down – The Dovells                                   


I f You Wanna Be Happy – Jimmy Soul
Popsicles, Icicles – The Murmaids
Louie, Louie – The Kingsmen
Talk To Me –Sunny & the Moonglows
Just One Look – Doris Troy
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes – Bobby Vee


 In Dreams – Roy Orbison
Surf City – Jan & Dean
Denise – Randy and the Rainbows
Wipe Out – The Safaris
Easier Said Than Done – The Essex
Surfin U.S.A. –The Beachboys

Hello Stranger – Barbara Lewis

 Hey Paula – Paul & Paula

Two Faces Have I – Lou Christie

Sally Go Round The Roses – The Jaynetts

Then He Kissed Me – The Crystals

Its Mt Party – Lesley Gore

I’m Leaving It Up To You – Dale & Grace

Sukiyaki – Kyu Sakamoto

My Boyfriend’s Back – The Angels

Rhythm Of The Rain – The Cascades

Ruby Baby – Dion

Blue On Blue – Bobby Vinton



I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

Oh Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison

My Guy – Mary Wells

Do Wah Diddy Diddy – Manfred Mann

Look Homeward Angel - The Monarchs

 Dancing In The Street – Martha and the Vandellas

Under The Boardwalk – The Drifters

Chapel Of Love – The Dixie Cups

Suspicion – Terry Stafford

Glad All Over – The Dave Clark Five

Dawn Go Away – The Four Seasons

                                                          Bread And Butter – The Newbeats

Baby Love – The Supremes

My Boy Lollipop – Millie Small

Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying – Jerry and the Pacemakers

Do you Want To Know A Secret – The Beatles

Because – The Dave Clark Five
For You – Ricky Nelson

Leader Of The Pack – The Shangrilas

Surfin Bird – The Trashmen

What Kind Of Fool – The Tams

You Really Got Me – The Kinks

Needles And Pins – The Searchers

Walk Don’t Run 64 – The Ventures

She Loves You – The Beatles

Last Kiss – J. Frank Wilson

House Of The Rising Sun – The Animals

I Get Around – The Beachboys

She’s Not There – The Zombies

I Saw Her Standing There – The Beatles

Going Out Of My Head – Little Anthony and the Imperials








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