White Men Can't Rap

But they talked your ear off about war, morality and patriotism in the '60s. Is Young America again ready for More Talk, Less Music?

Apparently, rock stars weren't dying at a fast enough rate for Dee, who went on to recite Army recruiting propaganda like "There's a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere," in the hope that some of you kids might enlist and fight those Godless Russkies. But it doesn't help that Dee keeps talking about a captured American pilot rotting away in a Kremlin prison. And that they keep playing "Taps" in the background.

"Ol' Rivers" (1962) -- Walter Brennan

In 1962, people still respected the elderly enough to send a 68-year-old character actor into the Top 5, rambling on about another hardworking coot. Ol' Rivers was an uncomplaining rancher who finally finds a bit of shade -- too bad it's six feet underground. And it wouldn't be a weepie if some grumpy old scenery chewer like Brennan didn't get all choked up at the end."

Senator Everett Dirksen: A wrinkly teen idol who got the word "gallant" on Top 40 radio.
Senator Everett Dirksen: A wrinkly teen idol who got the word "gallant" on Top 40 radio.
Johnny Sea: Will you accept his challenge to sing "America the Beautiful" at a party?
Johnny Sea: Will you accept his challenge to sing "America the Beautiful" at a party?

Ten Commandments of Love" (1963) -- James McArthur

The Moonglows' oldie is remade and reconfigured to fit then-Disney actor and future Hawaii Five-0 gofer Dan-O, who clearly relishes the opportunity to give the orders for a change. "When you love, love with all your heart 'til your life's through," he harangues with the same tone of voice people use to say, "What did you go do a fool thing like that for?" And although it violates the all-white policy of this article, do note that "The Ten Commandments" will be transformed for Top 100 consumption yet again in 1967 by male chauvinist reggae artist Prince Buster, who advises his "woe-man" not to annoy him with hearsay, go through his pockets at night, to obey his whims and fancies seven days a week and twice on Sunday and most of all not to commit adultery "for dee world will not hold me guilty if I commit murdah."

"Ringo" (1964) -- Lorne Greene

RCA's revenge for the British Invasion crowding Elvis Presley out of the Top 5? Get Pa from Bonanza to record a Western spoken-word record, which went to No. 1 by virtue of its being named after a Beatle. Ponderosa Pop still hasn't made a comeback.

"History Repeats Itself" b/w "Sniper's Hill" (1966) -- Buddy Stracher

The B-side, a weeping recitation of some GI's last letter to his wife and unborn son, would convince no one the war in Vietnam was being won ("They got us pinned down here so we can't move, and already they've killed or wounded several of my buddies. And honey, it's hell to be so helpless, unable to go to a buddy crying for help."). Luckily, people found solace in the cheerfully morbid A-side. To a banjo picking "America the Beautiful," Stracher draws all the coincidental parallels between presidents Lincoln and Kennedy.

"Lincoln was elected in 1860, Kennedy was elected in 1960, 100 years apart. Both were shot from behind in the head. Their successors, both named Johnson, were Southern Democrats with seats in the Senate. Andrew Johnson was born in 1808, Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908, 100 years apart." And even the number of letters in both presidents' names and their assassins match up. But Stracher's argument that history really does repeat itself falls apart when you consider that 100 years before Kennedy bagged Marilyn Monroe, Judith Exner and Angie Dickinson, Lincoln had to make do with Raymond Burr look-alike Mrs. Lincoln!

"Day for Decision" (1966) -- Johnny Sea

Barry McGuire's chart-topping protest song "Eve of Destruction" provoked widespread reaction. A group called the Spokesmen recorded a moralistic answer disc, "Dawn of Correction," while Sergeant Barry Sadler offered up the patriotic "Ballad of the Green Berets" for everyone who disagreed with McGuire's anti-war, anti-space-program vitriol. But most important, it got Fantastic Johnny Sea thinking. Against the most ominous music ever signed off a spoken-word record, with the exception of the Shangri-Las, Sea runs down the bill of damaged goods passing itself off as America:

"This is the age of the American cynic, the year of the unbeliever, the day of doubt. We've killed all the sacred cows and destroyed all the images and there's nothing left to respect. Old fashioned love of God, country and family is passé."

Sea puts forth a challenge to sing "America the Beautiful" at a party (the liner notes even suggest a barbecue) and see what happens. Of course, after depressing us for nearly four minutes, he fires up the aforementioned "America the Beautiful" and by golly if he doesn't recite along! Once all the flag-waving and shooting's over, Johnny checks back with us:

"Now if you feel a little pride welling up inside you, if you feel a little mist in your eye, then thank God for you, Mister, you're still an American!"

A belated answer record came by way of another Warner Bros. recording artist, Steve Martin, who lampooned the severity of spoken-word records like this one with "What I Believe": "I believe in putting a woman on a pedestal -- so I can look up her dress."

"Gallant Men" (1967) -- Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen

Long before the Singing Senators, there was the spoken-word variety. CBS correspondent Charles Osgood penned this pro-militant ditty, which the Illinois senator recites in monotonous spurts. Paul Harvey dreams of such interminable pauses.

"There have been men . . . brave, gallant men . . . that died . . . so others can be free." Lord help the senators who had to endure one of his filibusters without a military drum beat and a men's glee club behind it. After this became a Top 20 hit, the word "gallant" fell out of modern usage except when preceded by the word "Goofus."

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