(Above: Bobby, trying to hide against a wall.)
Students of 1960s culture often forget that there were, in fact, old people alive at that time, and that they were consumers in their own right. While much of the “50 years later” type pieces spotlight teenage music preferences, there’s a lot of other stuff that gets overlooked, and in some cases entire catalogs that are bypassed.
Take, for example, Bobby Goldsboro. This is an artist who, between 1964 and 1973, put eleven songs into the Billboard Top 40. That’s not a bad track record. The problem is one of those records – the insipid “Honey” – is the one that he’s best known for, as a) it spent five weeks at #1, and b) it’s one of the sappiest bits of glurge ever created. I’ve been curious about the adult-contemporary charts as of late (warning: more research coming!), and if we look at those charts we find an additional eleven songs charting for Goldsboro during the same period. Some have simply not aged well (look at 1964’s “Me Japanese Boy I Love You” for an example), but some are just damned pleasant and catchy, and it’s not surprising that parents of teens in the 60s sought an escape from what they probably saw as the noise their kids listened to.
That brings me to this song: it first got stuck in my head a year or so ago while finishing up my dissertation. I had tracked down a video used by the sales department at Chicago’s WLS that sold the benefits of the radio station and leaned on the “not just for kids” angle that any Top 40 station had to try and overcome at any time, even today. The video featured a lot of also-ran softer songs in it, and “The Straight Life” was the song at the end. I must admit that I wasn’t immediately familiar with it, I had never thrown it into rotation at the oldies stations that I programmed, but I also saw no reason NOT to like it. Therein lies the selection process of much of adult radio: be inoffensive and predictable.
“The Straight Life” was unusual for Goldsboro in that he didn’t write it. Normally Bobby penned his own songs, but this one comes from Sonny Curtis, the former Cricket who, while missing the mark with “A Beatle I Want to Be,” hit a home run with a television theme song that everyone can sing along to with little or no prompting. The lyrics that Curtis weaves into this one are a little odd: I’ve never been brought “crackers and beer” by my wife, and I’ve never “treated the ladies to corn on the cob” (is this code for something I’m not hip to?). The message of the song is, to be honest, square: despite all of the temptation to be a swingin’ single guy, he can’t “leave the straight life behind” and instead chooses to settle down. (We know how it ends up: a few years later, they have a kid who thinks BRLFQ spells mom and dad.)
Square didn’t sell in 1968 (although “Honey” was an exception). “The Straight Life” cracked the Top 40 for two weeks, peaking at #36. On the Adult chart, though, it was a solid #6, the third of four Top Tens in a row on this chart for Goldsboro. Maybe it’s my middle-aged sensibilities talking, but this is kind of a catchy record, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d probably buy it now were I in my forties in 1968. Were I a teenager then? Of course not.
See if you develop a craving for crackers and beer (or corn on the cob, for that matter). You can hear “The Straight Life” by clicking here.