I saw that Mary Wilson had passed away this morning. Another one gone. According to the Righteous Brothers,
“If you believe in forever, then life is just a one-night stand, if there’s a rock and roll heaven,
well you know they’ve got a hell of a band.”
To many of my teen idols are leaving me.
Mary Wilson’s death took me along a pig trail that led to a rabbit hole. A teenage boy with his new transistor radio, a Christmas present during his fourteenth year. It opened up a universe I could only dream about.
A Deep South, land locked surfer boy who swam like a rock listening to The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, dreaming of Surfer Girls, Surfing Safaris and Sidewalk Surfing in far off California, until one fateful night his tuner pulled in distant Chicago and WLS. A window to a different world had just opened.
I listened to the local radio station in the daylight hours. Big Ways radio, an AM station that went off of the air as nightfall fell. At night I had to search and one cold winter’s night hit radio gold.
There was a smorgasbord of sounds. The Beach Boys made me wonder, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older?” There were huge doses of British invaders. I really did want to “Hold Her Hand.” The little blond girl who would make my life equal parts heaven and hell for the next four years. There were soulful sounds too and they took a teenager’s heart and made it swell or “crushed it flat”.
WLS was as close to Motown as I would get. I never could pull in anything from Detroit, but there were plenty of soulful sounds emanating magically from distant Chicago or sometimes Fort Wayne, Indiana’s WOWO. Jerry Butler, “Make it Easy on Yourself” or with Betty Everett, “Let it Be Me.” God, I had it bad for that little blond girl.
The Impressions, The Miracles, The Temptations and The Four Tops joined the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean…and The Beatles and Stones. They were joined that same year by a different group, The Supremes. A ‘girl group’ who helped turn the British invasion with the song “Where Did Our Love Go?” It would vault to the Billboard’s number one single and be followed by four more number one singles and a Grammy nomination.
I first saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show. A white boy living in the Jim Crow South, sprinting home from the Sunday Methodist Youth Fellowship gathering to watch three Black girls from Detroit. Somehow, music unites us all.
Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard appeared 15 times with Ed Sullivan from December 1964 through May 1967. I remember, as if yesterday, their medley with The Temptations in 1967.
They were elegant and glamourous. Shimmering gowns or mini-dresses in black and white, exotic and for a teenage boy, erotic. With the big-eyed, big voiced, slender girl fronting, Florence and Mary were almost an afterthought, but they could sing and all looked good doing it. They look even better now that I can see them in color.
My musical choices have changed over the years but there is still huge doses of Motown, Soul and Rhythm and Blues on my playlist. I still want to get up and move a little bit when I hear Diana Ross’ version of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” I might even wonder a bit, “What happened to that little blond-haired girl that kept me twisted in a knot?”
Rest in peace Mary. Thanks for helping to open a new world and a new way of thinking. You are missed. Thanks for the pig trail and the warm memories that it conjured…even the little blond girl.
Further ramblings may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1PwFnOZx8KriCNpkLfMuyJj-qRRkXkpBuD1uDcQGZ7-3JbrKLAdlH7ZHs