Stranger on shore sleepwalks through wonderland by night

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It's fair to say that the period between Elvis Presley's arrival at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, in 1958 and the day the Beatles touched down at Idlewild in 1964 was the zenith of instrumental pop. This is not Big Band or Western Swing from the '30s and '40s, nor is it classical.

Some of my favorite wordless tunes come from that era, and Charles G. Hill has an entry that speaks of two of the most evocative songs of that period and the mental images they evoke: Mr. Acker Bilk's "Stranger on the Shore" and Bert Kaempfert's "Wonderland by Night". Charles links to blogger MaryB, who explains why the former is the "saddest song of all" for her. The latter song conjures this scene for Charles:

It's a Friday night, somewhere between ten and midnight, and a convertible is crossing the bridge into downtown; reflections of the streetlights play on the pavement, on the hood, on us. Her little black dress has a row of sequins, and as we pass under the lights, they glow ever so slightly, but it's nothing compared to the glow on her face as she smiles. "Now, you know we have to be back by...." She lets the sentence trail off.

(Read the whole thing to know how it ends.)

Charles mentioned in the comments that he's done three compilation CDs of instrumentals. They're on his non-distributed Wendex label. You can't buy them, but you can see the playlists: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, and Vol. 3. He notes that the "median year seems to be 1962." It's a great collection (although for my Dave "Baby" Cortez song, I'd substitute "Rinky Dink" for "The Happy Organ").

For me, the late '50s, early '60s instrumentals -- including songs like "Sleepwalk" and the "Route 66 Theme" -- evoke pre-interstate travel on two-lane U. S. Highways. Although the songs were all released before I learned to talk, they still got airplay on the kind of Middle-of-the-Road (MOR) stations my family listened to. (E.g., KRMG, back when they played music.) These instrumental pop hits provided the soundtrack to our travels.

And there's something about Santo (or was it Johnny?) Farina's sultry steel guitar in "Sleepwalk" that just says beachfront Florida motel.

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3 Comments

W. Author Profile Page said:

That's a mighty fine compilation.

Here's a few more I would add:

"Buckaroo," Buck Owens and the Buckaroos
"Soul Finger," The Bar-Kays
"Hip Hug-Her," Booker T and the MGs
"Frankenstein," Edgar Winter Group
"Quite a Party," The Fireballs
"Space Invader," The Pretenders
"Three Sisters," INXS

And last, for good old-fashioned guitar-shedding fun, "Eruption" by Van Halen.

sbtulsa said:

"Mr. Acker Bilk's "Stranger on the Shore"

As a pre teen in Ohio in 1963, I loved the instrumentals by the "Ventures", a four man pop instrumental group. On the back of their 33's were adds for other releases, one of which was Mr. Acker Bilk. I remember wondering who in the world that was since the artwork with it had a rather cartoonish looking man waving his hand in greeting to whomever viewed the back of the cover. Now I realize I missed some more good music.

The Route 66 theme still mkaes me nostalgic. not so much for my childhood as for the time when a driving vacation was actually an adventure, not a second choice when not being able afford plane fare. I also would love to be able to take quality train trips.

CGHill said:

Not only did these tunes get played on MOR stations, they got substantial rotation on Top 40 outlets, which at the time played the most popular singles around, more or less independent of genre. (No one would dare do that today.)

"Rinky Dink" will almost certainly turn up on a future Songs Without Words.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 8, 2007 11:15 PM.

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