I spent the summer of 1977 playing for tips on the street, six hours a night, four nights a week, in front of Woolworth’s in Harvard Square with Rob Forbes on washboard. We’d play from about 8pm to 1am and make maybe thirty dollars, and then from 1am to 2am we’d make another thirty singing oldies for the people forced into the streets when the bars closed.
By that time we were typically the only musicians out there, since the hour from midnight to one was dead and all the others would go home. We didn’t make much money earlier because the competition was stiff — there were bluegrass bands, jugglers, acrobats, and people who played more popular music, or just played better than we did. In those days no one had an amplifier, so you could fit a lot of musicians in the Square without them overlapping and bothering each other, and it was still the golden age of young people hitchhiking around the country and busking, so there was always plenty of music.
Anyway, we figured out pretty soon that if we could amuse the well-oiled exiles from the bars we could make decent money in that post-closing hour when we had the Square to ourselves. A ragtime or blues song might persuade a few broadminded, good-time souls to stop for a moment and throw us a quarter, but the trick was to get a crowd that would stick around and throw paper money, and the way to do that was to get them involved…
The way we did that was to get them all singing “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl…” over which I’d swoop in with my most aching tenor, singing:
As I-I, walk through this world, nothing can stop, the Duke of Earl…”
Or start them singing “oooo-oo, wah-oo, oo…” over which I’d come in with:
Each time we have a quarrel, it almost breaks my heart
‘Cause I am so afraid, that we’ll have to part…
“Teenager in Love” was my big number, because I was eighteen and put real feeling into it, and it was utterly ridiculous. One memorable night a drunk was so moved that he pulled his Timex electronic watch off his wrist and threw it in the guitar case — which doesn’t sound like much now, but no one I knew had an electronic watch back then, and I wore it for years.
That’s pretty much all I have to say about this one — I don’t remember where I learned it, or whether I had the Dion and the Belmonts recording or just got it from Sha Na Na. I had no sense of Dion, he was just another name on oldies collections, and I would have been astounded if anyone had told me that in the early 1960s he’ made some blues revival tracks like “Don’t Start Me Talking” — which is not really my fault, since they didn’t get released till the 1990s, but in later years he’s been an assiduous proponent of old-style blues and if we ever meet I guess I’ll have to apologize for the fact that I still think of him as the guy who sang “Teenager in Love.”
Oh, and one last thing: if you haven’t heard Bob Marley and the Wailers’ reworking of this song, you should click through immediately, because you have a treat in store.