And In This Corner . . .

Originally posted March 9, 2009

The Texas Gal and I stopped by the St. Cloud Armory for a little while Saturday afternoon and took in the craft show; there’s one in the armory every three months or so. We spent a pleasant time looking at jewelry and needlework, sampling jams and candies and checking out the paintings, some of them on old barn wood.

I hadn’t been in the armory for years, maybe since a Boy Scout event in the early 1970s. And I recalled the first time I was there: For an evening of All-Star Wrestling sometime in early 1965, I think.

It was when I was about eleven that I began watching the wrestling matches on television, shown here in St. Cloud on WTCN, the Twin Cities television station where I would have my internship in the mid-1970s. Professional wrestling in those days was very unlike today’s massive attraction. There were no gaudy costumes, no huge arenas, no huge paydays. But there were similarities: There were good guys to cheer, bad guys to boo, results were seemingly predetermined and the crowds loved it.

The prime good guy here was Vern Gagne (who, sadly, has been in the news lately), and the bad guys were The Crusher and The Bruiser, with all of them well-known in the Upper Midwest. And most Saturday evenings for a year or so, I’d park myself in the living room and watch an hour of wrestling. There were plenty of other wrestlers on the weekly show, too, guys working their way up the ladder of the American Wrestling Association, which Gagne happened to own.

And one of the regulars on the show was a wrestler with the unlikely name of Robert Goulet. I have to think it’s his birth name; I can’t imagine that anyone in the early 1960s looking for a wrestling stage name would have purposefully selected the name of Robert Goulet. I dunno. Maybe. But anyway, I saw Goulet wrestle on television a few times and I thought he was okay. He won, and he wasn’t all that flashy. (Even back then, flashy stuff didn’t impress me; I wanted to see guys go out and do their jobs and then sit down. The fact that the matches themselves were stagecraft – and I think I knew that, even then – didn’t bother me. Stagecraft was performance; flash was, well, flash.)

And one evening, the announcer on television said that Goulet would be wrestling the next week in St. Cloud. I pestered Dad for a while, and he agreed to take me. So the next Saturday evening, Dad and I went to the St. Cloud Armory and sat in folding chairs to watch some wrestling. I’m not sure how many matches we saw, but folks cheered and booed as the wrestlers did their work. I don’t recall anymore if anyone got thrown out of the ring onto the concrete. But I know Goulet was there: Somewhere in my boxes of junk is an autographed scrap of paper. “Robert ‘Bob’ Goulet” is how he signed his name, perhaps to diminish any possible confusion with that other fellow by the name of Goulet.

I don’t suppose I watched televised wrestling more than a year or so before I moved on to other interests. But it was part of my life for a brief time. So for a moment Saturday afternoon, the St. Cloud Armory wasn’t filled with tables displaying necklaces, embroidered towels and home-made candles. Instead, there was a wrestling ring surrounded by rows of folding chairs. The folks sitting in the chairs were booing. And over by the wall, behind the last row of chairs, a small boy with glasses was offering a pen and a scrap of paper to a large, sweaty man.

And here’s a little bit of what else was happening in early 1965:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 6, 1965)
“Ask The Lonely” by the Four Tops, Motown 1073 (No. 27)
“New York’s A Lonely Town” by the Trade Winds, Red Bird 020 (No. 32)
“Paper Tiger” by Sue Thompson, Hickory 1284 (No. 41)
“If I Ruled The World” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 43220 (No. 56)
“When I’m Gone” by Brenda Holloway, Tamla 54111 (No. 74)
“Land of 1000 Dances” by Cannibal & the Headhunters, Rampart 642 (No. 97)

We have here, purposely, a rather odd mix: a few good pieces of R&B, a bit of surf music, a country-pop hit and one cover of a show tune.

“Ask The Lonely” was the second Top 40 hit for the Four Tops, it only went to No. 24, but it was the prelude to the Tops’ amazing run in the charts: In May, “I Can’t Help Myself” (known colloquially as “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”) went to No. 1, the first of five Top Ten hits for the Tops in the next two years. (Included in that string is the remarkable consecutive trio of “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” a run of three singles that few groups or performers can match.) The Tops remained a frequent presence in the Top 40 chart into the early 1970s, and their last hit came in 1988 with “Indestructible,” a tune that went to No. 35 after being used by the NBC television network for its coverage of the summer Olympic Games.

“When I’m Gone” was the second of three Top 40 hits for Brenda Holloway. The first was “Every Little Bit Hurts,” which went to No. 13 in 1964. “When I’m Gone” went to No. 25. And Holloway might be best known for the song that was her last hit and went only to No. 39: Holloway wrote – along with Berry Gordy, Jr., Patrice Holloway and Frank Wilson – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” a song likely better known for the version recorded by Blood, Sweat & Tears on its second, self-titled album. (BST took the song to No. 2 in 1969.)

Cannibal & the Headhunters’ version of “Land of 1000 Dances” isn’t the best known. That would be the Wilson Pickett version that went to No. 6 in 1966. Cannibal’s version went to No. 30 a year earlier. According to writer Dave Marsh, Cannibal & the Headhunters were a Chicano quartet from East Los Angeles and learned the song after hearing it on a Rufus Thomas album; Thomas had gotten the song from the original single, written and recorded in 1963 by New Orleans musician Chris Kenner. (Kenner’s “I Like It Like That, Part 1” spent three weeks at No. 2 in 1961, but his “Land of 1000 Dances” did not make the charts.) With the live atmosphere of their recording, not to mention the odd shrieks in the background, Cannibal & the Headhunters, notes Marsh, earned a spot on the Beatles’ 1965 U.S. tour.

The Trade Winds have been in this space before. The duo of Vinnie Poncia and Pete Anders recorded a couple years later as the Innocence, and their single, “There’s Got To Be A Word” and its B-Side were the topic of a post in December. With “New York’s A Lonely Town,” Poncia and Anders – along with a group of top session players – managed to make a song about the East Coast into a (subdued) surfing anthem atop a Spector-ish background. The song edged into the Top 40, peaking at No. 32. (I’ve never been sure how to spell the group’s name. I’ve seen it as two words and as one. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits has “Trade Winds,” so I’ll go with that.)

If the presence of “Paper Tiger” and “If I Ruled The World” prove anything, it’s that nearly any kind of music could make the Top 40 in 1965. Thompson’s country-pop record – written by J.D. Loudermilk – was her fifth and last Top 40 hit, reaching No. 23. (She reached the Top Ten Twice: In 1961, “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” went to No. 5, and “Norman” went to No. 3 in 1962.) “Paper Tiger” and its like aren’t something I’d want to hear on a regular basis, but when it pops up among Sharon Jones, Bruce Springsteen and the Police, it’s kind of cool.

“If I Ruled The World,” which came from the Broadway musical Pickwick, was Bennett’s thirteenth and last Top 40 hit. It’s not a great song, but Bennett can sing most anything and make it sound good. The song went to No. 34 and was pulled from an album titled If I Ruled the World: Songs for the Jet Set, which All-Music Guide says was a concept album about travel similar in theme to Frank Sinatra’s 1957 album, Come Fly With Me.

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