Denise – Denis

In my earlier post, The Mysteries Five, I speculated about the possible influence of a song on the choice of name for the popular cartoon character Scooby Doo.  I was recently contacted by one of the contributors to a part of the Scooby Doo page on Wikipedia (see update and comment to the original post for details).  An interesting piece of information to come out of our communication was the fact that a well known writer on many animation series, including Scooby Doo, Mark Evanier, has also expressed an opinion that a song may have inspired the name Scooby Doo.

In an item on his own news website, POVONLINE – NEWS from ME, on June 10th 2002, he suggested that the song Denise by Randy and the Rainbows (1963), which has a repeated phrase, “scooby doo”, rather than the more common doobee-doo, may have been the inspiration for the name of the well known and much loved cartoon character!  I think that the idea has good reason to be taken seriously, as Denise is from six years before The Archies song I suggested.  Also Mark Evanier is an experienced and knowledgeable writer, with a great deal of insider insight of the the animation world.  His website has a wealth of background information on a whole range of people and events that he had direct contact with – for more details see his about m.e.

Randy-and-the-RainbowsAnyway, before I become distracted with the wonderful and fascinating details on Mark Evanier’s website, back to the song he mentioned, Denise, by Randy and the Rainbows.  I looked it up on YouTube and found several copies.  It is a traditional doo-wop song and it was one of the last big hits of the doo-wop era, which died soon after the arrival of The Beatles in America, when music tastes changed dramatically.  For a few more details of the song and Randy and the Rainbows see the post on Joe Troiano’s blog which has a great collection of almost forgotten music information, including a recent interview with Randy Safuto from the related JoeT’s Soda Shop radio show on Oldiesplus.net

Amazingly some of the original Randy and the Rainbows are still singing – here are two websites dedicated to keeping their fans updated of their news:  http://www.randyandtherainbows.com/index.html  and http://www.randyandtherainbowssafuto.com/

I used to listen to a lot of songs from this era from the mid- 1970s until the early 1980s, when radio shows dedicated to playing songs like this became popular on the BBC and local commercial stations too.  For many years I also collected original singles from that era too.  I enjoyed listening to much of the music from that generation just before my own, from simpler times and more innocent days.

Listening to the original version of Denise I immediate recognised the tune and lyrics, but the first time I had heard that song it was in an adapted and updated form.  The version I heard in 1978, when it was released as a single in the UK, had the title Denis (pronounced Denee), and the singer was a woman.  Debbie Harry, the lead singer of the pop/punk band Blondie, burst onto the UK pop scene with her unique raunchy, slightly aggressive style, that soon become very popular.

This version of the song, with her improvised lyrics in pidgin-French were excitingly different at the time.   Blondie performing this on Top of the Pops certainly got a lot of attention, and the even more raunchy video wasn’t shown on UK TV screens until much later.  They were prevented from having a blockbuster no.1 record with their first European single, by the equally sensational Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush and then the massively popular Matchstalkmen and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs by Brian & Michael.

Denis topped out at no.2 in the charts for four weeks, before falling back down, but it had successfully launched Blondie onto the UK music scene, where they enjoyed much success in the following years.  The contrast between the two versions of essentially the same song is a great example of how much music and attitudes changed between 1963 and 1977, when the two songs were recorded, and yet I enjoy both versions, which I suppose says something about the quality of the original songwriting by Neil Levenson, as well as my eclectic taste in music.

Televisions in the 1960s

Here is a little reminder of what televisions looked like around the mid-1960s.  For those who like me are old enough to remember those wood boxed televisions I hope this is a nostalgic treat, and helps to recall the few hours a week that we used to spend watching TV back then.  For younger readers I hope you enjoy discovering how much technology has moved on in the last 40 or so years.  TV shows of all kinds are now available on all sorts of devices, from flat thin LED TVs to portable devices like smartphones and laptops – life hasn’t always been that exciting or overwhelming!

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EKCO T434. 19″. Introduced  c.1963/4.  Photo found at 405 TV – Gallery 1

The photo of an EKCO 19 inch Black & White TV is of a very similar TV to one I watched around 1967.  I seem to recall my Dad bringing a TV home one evening, probably by getting a lift with a friend from work.  He set it up on top of a old cupboard or sideboard in the living room.  It wasn’t the instant switch on and watch I was expecting.  There was the small matter of tuning the TV to a station and catching the signal first.

In 1967 there were only 3 TV channels in the UK – BBC1, BBC2 and ITV – all only broadcast in black & white, with a gradual introduction of colour transmissions, region by region, from 1969 with a whole new network of transmitters being built into the early 70s.  Many TV sets, like the one pictured, had a dial that turned to find the channel.  Pre-set channel buttons were available on some models, but I mostly recall dial tuning on TVs that I saw.  Finding a station, even if the picture was snowy and faint was an achievement that could take many minutes, sometimes longer if the TV aerial wasn’t positioned correctly to begin with.

Like many homes of that era there was no TV aerial installed on the building, so an indoor antenna had to be used.  That was a very hit and miss game, with a lot of time spent holding the antenna and moving it up and down and around in every possible direction, like some sort of strange incantation of the TV picture in ritual dance, attempting to catch the signal.  The picture below shows a few examples of antenna similar to ones my Dad used.

50s rabbit ear antenna

A few ‘rabbits ear’ TV antenna from the USA in the 1950s, that were still commonplace in the 60s and very similar to those available in the UK.  Photo from the Vintage Television Antenna page of GodarUSA.

Once the signal of a station had been found, and the antenna contorted and positioned in just the right place, we would settle down to enjoy a favourite show, like Pinky & Perky or Tarzan.  However, the show was often interrupted by the need to correct the signal, either with the TV dial or by repositioning the antenna.  Interference from atmospheric disturbance and other electrical devices was common. Even moving around in the room, like dancing and singing along with a song tended to disturb the signal and spoil the show.  Changing channels was likely to mean starting the whole performance over again!

TV sets in the 1960s also had another painfully frustrating problem – valves!  The picture could suddenly be lost, with just the sound of the show continuing to come from the set, when the valve ‘blew’.  With the sort of set we had, a blown valve was a fairly common event, possibly due to another fault with the electrics in the back of the box, or poor quality replacement valves.  For an idea of what the inside of the TV looked like with the back off see the photo below.  All TV’s had a sticker on the cardboard back cover, warning that removing the screws and opening the back risked the danger of electrocution!  That wasn’t an empty threat just to deter DIY repairs, there really was a danger of a severe or even fatal electric shock – not that such warnings stopped my Dad, although he was wary of electrics and kept us kids well away from the TV when it was opened up.

MURPHY V849U 19

An example of the inside the back of a TV from the 1960s.  For the technology buffs this is an MURPHY V849U 19″, but most TVs from that era looked fairly similar to this.  Photo from 405 TV – Gallery 4.

typical valveAn example of a typical replacement valve common for the efficient working of various parts of the circuits in the back of all TVs in the 1950 and 60s.  Photo from The National Valve MuseumValves and their habits.

Although I can remember watching TV several times a week back in the mid-1960s, I can also recall disappointments of blown valves when favourite shows were due on.  We didn’t always have a TV until as late as 1980, as we simply couldn’t afford to buy a new one and second-hand TVs were not all that reliable.  We had a few fairly long lasting TVs in the 1970s, but there were also gaps of many months in my regular TV viewing too.  Now, with an overwhelming array of channels and ways to watch it, I find myself enjoying reading blogs and watching home made videos on YouTube, instead of viewing regular TV.  I do make an exception for Doctor Who, a show from 1963, that has been enjoying a popular revival in the last few years – I still enjoy watching it, as it is broadcast, on a standard TV.  See the video in the previous post for a sample of what Doctor Who is about!

London in the 1960s

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London in the 1960s, life was bustling, people swinging, dancing to the hip sounds of the day. Wearing iconic fashion, driving classic cars, watching Technicolor films, listening to fab pop.

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At the time of course it was just normal life. Perhaps there was a new sense of freedom, and a new excitement for the future, but there were also cold war fears of nuclear annihilation, the assassination of JFK, the Vietnam War and the Biafran famine, part of another war.
For most, life was not much different to the two or three decades before. Many lived in small apartments, sharing bathrooms, exchanging the sounds of daily life. For most people, dressed in unremarkable clothes, with no car, riding buses or the Tube, life was just routine. They worked hard, for not much pay, they married, had children and tried to have a happy life.

A short film from the 1960s, with a quirky narrator, commenting on the fashions and lifestyle of the time.