Weekend Listening: The Coasters’ Greatest Hits by The Coasters
After singing “Young Blood” at karaoke once, a single voice broke the silence to say, “That was the creepiest song I’ve ever heard.” I don’t understand millennials.
Album: The Coasters’ Greatest Hits by The Coasters
Released: 1959 by Atco Records
Recommended if you like: upbeat, catchy, pure silly pop
Notable Tracks: “Down in Mexico,” “Charlie Brown,” “Young Blood,” and “Sweet Georgia Brown”
Magically, every summer, my two brothers and I would become morning people. Bright-eyed and smiling at 7 AM, we would lay out plans for our fort in the woods over bowls of Rice Krispies or white bread slices of cheese toast as our mama stood, shaking her head. Waking up early when you don’t have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and sleepy-eyed to brush your teeth, or scrape piles of homework into your backpack and shoulder that weight at the bus stop, never posed a problem for us. After hours of riding bikes with no shoes on, rigging up pulleys in the woods to cart Cokes and Pringles up into our treehouse, we would tumble back into the house, shove sweaty hair out of our eyes, and drop exhausted in front of the TV to ride out the worst of the heat.
Cartoons then weren’t as slick as they seem to be now. Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry weren’t voiced by SNL cast members; there were no allusions to indie bands in the dialogue to appease parents that are expected to watch now, but were fully anticipated to peace the fuck out when kids’ TV was on back then. The animated features of my childhood mostly beat the shit out of one another to the soundtrack of classical or goofy old pop from the 1950s. It’s no surprise, then, that my first introduction to The Coasters came from “Yakety Yak” playing as a disgruntled kid schlepped through chores ordered by his buffoon father.
So many of the songs from The Coasters demand laughter. Tongue-in-cheek, silly comparisons and metaphors abound through many of their tracks. “Charlie Brown,” for crying out loud, tells the story of a loveable delinquent who smokes in the auditorium and calls the English teacher Daddy-O. What kid wouldn’t love that kind of smooth disregard for school rules?
Growing up, I left The Coasters behind like I did Elvis Presley and Little Richard. Not music for kids when it first debuted, I was a jaded child of the 80’s and 90’s who wanted the grunge and fuzz of Garbage and Nirvana, not the sweetly chill rebellion found in some 50’s pop. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, when an ex-lover crooned “Down Home Girl” in my ear and called me the Southern ex-pat featured in the lyrics, that I rediscovered The Coasters.
Fun, and absolutely aware of it, the music from this group of five men taps into a playfulness that transcends age. The opening track, “Poison Ivy,” compares a femme fatale to the itchy vine, a woman who first seems like a rose but will quickly make you “jump and twitch,” calling for a “sea of Calamine lotion.” A personal favorite, “Young Blood,” describes a man so besotted at first sight with a young woman he follows her home, and even after meeting her dreaded father, he stays up all night entertaining thoughts of her instead of sleeping.
Like the aforementioned “Charlie Brown” and “Yakety Yak,” most of the hits from this band feature silly lyrics, but in that exaggeration listeners find common ground. Being in high school and knowing that bad but loveable jerk, or being so infatuated with some doe-eyed babe with a terrified father that you ache too hard for sleeping, recalls adolescent experiences shared throughout, though the details will vary.
Helpful, too, are the gorgeous harmonies, 1950s pop sound, and Southern influences of the backing instrumentals. A range of pitch is represented in the vocals, and the band takes full advantage with things like admonitions or emphasis delivered in the bass tones. These songs are absolutely lyrically driven, but unlike some bands especially from that time, the music isn’t forgotten. Lazy snare, piano keys plunked by fingers weary from heat back up the bluesy wailing and low repetition in “Sweet Georgia Brown,” all working together to conjure up a hot Southern mama with swaths of men drooling behind every twitch of her behind.
Perhaps because I grew up in the Deep South, or maybe because I delight in the absurd and silly, The Coasters sound like those childhood summers to me – unabashed, sometimes lazy, but always happy.