Idle Worship

New book celebrates fave raves who had the choppers but not the chops

Given our now fixed image of the press as ruthless invaders of privacy who hounded Princess Di into a premature grave, it hardly seems possible that once upon a time journalists and photographers actually worked in tandem to keep a celebrity's Satyricon private life out of their pages. And no publication wielded the squeaky-clean magic wand with as much humor and good taste as 16 magazine. And with good reason--to shatter the private longings of prepubescent girls was bad for business. The teen-dream mag had no paid advertisers from its inception in 1959 up until the mid-'70s. All 16 cared about selling was FAN FAN FAN-tasy!

In its peak year, 1967, 16 claimed one million copies sold at newsstands, a figure it managed to schmendrake into "The Top Favorite of Over Seven Million Readers" because of "pass-along readership"! 16 still publishes today with considerably less "pass-along readership" and the likes of Hanson emblazoned on its front cover. Mention 16 to someone age 32, and it's the magazine's pre-1975 look she remembers most--those cheery disembodied heads of pop stars plunked down on innocuous cartoon bodies.

Even bad-boy stars like Alice Cooper, Mick Jagger and (shudder, shudder) Dark Shadows' resident vampire Jonathan Frid were depicted happily riding a runaway toboggan with a polar bear or presiding over a picnic blanket near an oversize zebra. Fans of those halcyon days can now relive them twofold; Boulevard Books has just published a fascinating paperback by former 16 editors Randi Reisfeld and Danny Fields titled Who's Your Fave Rave? while Rhino Records has released a like-named CD companion with (count 'em) 16 teen-idol treasures. Spiffy!

In keeping with the myth-preserving tone of the original magazine, Who's Your Fave Rave? includes no up-to-date pix of yesterday's heroes now sporting receding hairlines or dissipated post-12-Step glances. True, there's an unpublished photo of David Cassidy giving the finger twice and the Hudson Brothers peeing into a fountain, but otherwise all the stars are seen as you remember them, even as they reveal their groupie-groping days on the road.

In the pre-Rolling Stone magazine years, 16 was the only viable rock press out there. Every musical act was given "favorite color" consideration and coverage, but after 1967 teen idolatry became a stigma. Yet we don't think of the Byrds, the Doors and the Rolling Stones as teen idols, only as the smiling idiots whose music was the kitsch of death. Is that fair? Join us now, as we count down 10 of the worst teen-torturers of song ever to elicit screams from adolescent girls and gut-wrenching groans from just about everyone else:

10. Frankie Avalon
(years of 16 popularity: 1959-63)
(years of 16 popularity: 1959-62)

Why do we equate teen idols with artists of no fixed musical ability? The same reason we equate Frankie Avalon and Fabian in the same breath--these idols were "manufactured" by the same manager, Bob Marcucci, on whom the film The Idolmaker was loosely based. How telling that these two cheap knockoffs of the King were quickly separated from single-digit numbers on the charts once Private Elvis Aron Presley returned to civilian life. Avalon sang his first hit "DeDe Dinah" pinch-holding his nose, a technique many listeners would emulate while suffering through his entire recorded output. Fabian was even less musically accomplished, if that's possible, growling hits like "Tiger" and "Turn Me Loose" with all the finesse of a schoolyard bully shaking you down for your milk money. Without these two, "payola" would've never become a word in the dictionary.

9. Paul Peterson
(years of 16 popularity:

Essentially the first TV star turned teen idol turned recording star to follow in Ricky Nelson's wake. But even Ricky, with a cool do-nothing patriarch like Ozzie, would never have warbled the saccharine "My Dad" with a straight face like PP did. And Carl Betz wasn't even his darned dad! Damn suckup!

8. Patty Duke
(years of 16 popularity:

Here's another twist--an Oscar-winning movie star (The Miracle Worker) turned TV star turned teen-idol clone of Lesley Gore. Too bad there wasn't a Miracle Worker present in the studio. On a session outtake from Duke's Legendary Masters Series CD, the producer clearly instructs Patty "if it's wrong, let's make it LOUD wrong." Even double-tracked, the Identical Cousin sounds as meek as Lisa Simpson on her lone Top 10 hit "Don't Just Stand There," with a spoken bridge ("If it's a game I don't want to play it!/And if it's goodbye/Why don't you just SAY IT?") that showcases the same histrionics she'd deploy in the '80s when portraying herself in her made-for-TV biopic.

7. Dino, Desi and Billy
(years of 16 popularity: 1965-70)
Dino, Desi and Billy were rock's first supergroup, but only because their parents were SUPER! Desi was Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's little drummer boy, Dino was Dean Martin's spawn and Billy's folks were . . . uhhh, not famous. With all we know about the hell that sons of celebrity parents endure, why then couldn't any of these boys manage even a meager scream on their cover version of "Hang On Sloopy" or muster any real anger on "Get Off My Cloud"? Despite the tough, fuzz-bass overtures of the group's next anthem "The Rebel Kind," Dino's whining sounds not like a punk intent on pissing off his short-haired elders but rather a kid being reprimanded to take out the trash while Shindig was on TV. The hate that catapulted this group to stardom is seismic. Rock's greatest foe, Frank Sinatra, "auditioned" the boys in Dean's living room, presumably with a well-stocked wet bar close by. After hearing a mere three songs, Sinatra signs the kids to his label Reprise. That the Chairman of the Board and his pals believed that kids couldn't tell the difference between real rock 'n' roll and the rancid racket their rich and pampered offspring was making in the garage speaks volumes about the generation gap.

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