In a hallmark episode of Mad Men Don Draper said, "Nostalgia -- it's delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, 'nostalgia' literally means 'the pain from an old wound.' It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved."
Of course, for all of you out there who, unlike me, don't voraciously follow the AMC series, Don was pitching an ad for a slide projector (nostalgia, indeed) to a potential client. However, I like to think that this quote speaks of yet another rotary mechanism with equal validity, both practically and emotionally speaking, though there may be some folks who'd argue the dingus as obsolete. Well, my record player is still alive and spinning, taking me to new places as often as it swings me back, right 'round, home-bound again like a flawlessly sound-tracked time machine. I can offer no better example of this cyclical sentimental journey than the summer season I spent aboard my little hi-fi this year enjoying an endless rotation summer jams beginning with the fresh sun-soaked (and smog-stained) sounds of Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti, what with the extremely timely June 7th release of Before Today on 4AD, and, now that summer is winding down, rounding out the season with a mess of Carolina beach music 7" singles culled from the belly of the 45's bargain bin at Amoeba Music in San Francisco.
Now, if you don't know what Carolina beach music is, chances are it's called something else depending on where you're coming from, but generally it's strictly "oldies but goodies" any way you slice it, genre-wise. Carolina beach music, also known as just plain Beach music, is a regional genre which developed from various musical styles of the forties, fifties and sixties --- ranging from breezy big band swing to rough and raw rhythm and blues, doo-wop, boogie, jazz, reggae, rockabilly and old-time rock 'n' roll --- that enjoys a close association with a style of swing dance called the shag, or the Carolina shag, due to its official status as the state dance of both North and South Carolina. That said, most of the hits fitting this homey genre feature a 4/4 "blues shuffle" rhythmic structure and a moderate to fast tempo that woos shoes to shag-dancing the summer night away. Think the Dirty Dancing soundtrack meets Myrtle Beach, or, better yet, think Shag the movie (1989), brought to you by the good folks who choreographed Dirty Dancing, starring Phoebe "I cain't go around sleepin' with every boy that likes me" Cates and Bridget "Does anyone feel lah-ike dancin'?" Fonda. Check it out:
Instead of outlining the early history of Carolina Beach music and the sociopolitical context of its popularity with white youth in the pre-Civil Rights Act of 1964, Jim Crow South (where youngsters who wished to hear so-called "race music" flocked to beach clubs where popular R&B ruled the scene), I'd like to offer a personal top ten of beach music jams, which I believe speak for themselves in terms of historic significance considering its enduring shelf-life, forever reminding us that it only used to take one dime in the jukebox to fall in love and that when packing for a trip to the beach selecting the right music is just as paramount as remembering to slather on the correct SPF sunscreen or freeing last year's trapped sand from your swimsuit before putting it through another bout of wipeouts. However, whether or not you actually get off the couch to see what all the fuss is about, the music will take you there, I promise. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
"Summertime's Calling Me" - The Catalinas
"Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)" - The Swingin' Medallions
"Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)" - Benny Spellman
"Hold Back the Night" - The Trammps
"I've Been Hurt" - Bill Deal & the Rhondells
"Carolina Girls" - General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board
"39-21-46" - The Showmen
"Washed Ashore (On a Lonely Island in the Sea)" b/w "With This Ring" - The Platters
"Ms. Grace" - The Tymes
"It Will Stand" - The Showmen