Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Billy Joe Royal -- "Cherry Hill Park" (1969)

All the girls, they criticized her
But all the guys just idolized her
'Cause Mary Hill was such a thrill after dark
In Cherry Hill Park

I meant to mention in my previous entry that Billy Joe Royal was the opening act when Paul Revere and the Raiders came to play in Joplin, Missouri, in 1967.  So consider this entry a brief "P.S." to that one.

A short anecdote before we get down to business today.  Read the first two lines from "Cherry Hill Park" that are quoted above.  I remember a real-life situation where exactly the same thing happened.  

When I was in 5th or 6th-grade at good old Irving School, a new girl moved to town -- let's call her "Deborah Lynn Blank" (not her real name).  She was very cute -- a lot of my friends and I came down with instant crushes on her, and this resulted in a certain amount of resentment on the part of the incumbent girls in our class.  As I recall, Deborah Lynn got the cold shoulder from all the other girls and was not invited to join in the daily jump-rope games during recess.  (Some of the guilty girls will no doubt read this post -- you know who you are!) 

Deborah Lynn's father was a manager for a retail-store chain that moved its managers to new stores regularly, so her family left Joplin after a few years.  Hopefully she learned from her Joplin experience and avoided being shunned by the girls at her next school.

Flash forward seven or eight years.  I'm in Dallas, visiting my Rice roommate for the weekend.  We're at a Pizza Hut one night and he sees this very attractive girl he had gone to high school with.  I don't catch her name, but I do pick up the fact that she is a cheerleader at Southern Methodist University.  (Back in the day, SMU girls had a reputation for being very hot, and cheerleaders were always at or near the top in terms of desirability -- so this girl was no slouch.)

The next day, my roommate is telling his mother that we had run into Deborah Lynn Blank  the night before.  I hear the name and the light bulb suddenly goes on over my head.  We go over to her house -- her family lived just a block or so away from my roommate -- and her mother is there.  She remembers me from Joplin, and even pulls out some old class pictures from Irving days to show my friend.  Later that fall, SMU came to Houston to play Rice in football, and my roommate and I went on the field after the game to say hello to Deborah Lynn.

I should find out if Hillcrest High School in Dallas is having its 40th reunion this summer, and see if I can get in touch with Deborah Lynn and find out what she is up to.

(Sorry -- that anecdote sort of got away from me, didn't it.  Back to Billy Joe Royal.)  
Billy Joe Royal -- he was a Georgia boy, bred and buttered (as the saying goes) -- was no Paul Revere and the Raiders, but he wasn't exactly chopped liver.  His first and most famous single, "Down in the Boondocks," was a top 10 hit in 1965.  "Cherry Hill Park" was another big hit when he released it in 1969.

In between those two hits, he released about 10 singles, none of which did very well.  The few singles he released after "Cherry Hill Park" flopped as well, but he was very successful when he eventually switched to country-western music -- he had ten top-20 country songs in the late 1980's.  

One of the singles he released after "Boondocks" and before "Cherry Hill Park" was "Hush," which made it only to #52 on the Billboard chart.  The same song was a big hit for Deep Purple just a year later.  Billy Joe's version of "Hush" wasn't bad, but it pales in comparison to Deep Purple's -- here are both so you can judge for yourself.

Here's the Billy Joe Royal version:

Here's Deep Purple's version:

"Boondocks" and "Hush" were both written for Billy Joe by friend and fellow Georgian Joe South, who also penned "Walk a Mile in My Shoes," "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," and "Games People Play":

'Cause you've given up your sanity
For your pride and your vanity
Turns you sad on humanity
And you don't give a da da da da da da da da da da da da

(Do you want a foolproof way to know whether you are old or not?  If you remember a time when you couldn't play song that said "damn" on the radio, you are old.)

I think it was shortly before this song was released that a friend of mine became acquainted with and later visited a girl from a similarly-sized but distant Missouri city who was named Mary Hill.  (Actually, I think she spelled her name "Mari.")  And wonder of wonders, there was a "lovers' lane" area in a park in that city known as "Cherry Hill."  Quite a coincidence, n'est-ce pas?

I don't think the relationship went much beyond the one visit -- of course, I could be wrong.  And I doubt that the real Mary/Mari Hill had much in common with the fictional one, who was a very bad girl (at least in the Ludacris sense: "My chick bad, badder than yours/My chick do stuff that yo' chick wish she could").  But I don't know that for sure either.  In any event, it's none of my business, and it's certainly none of your business either. 

Here's a video of Billy Joe Royal singing "Cherry Hill Park" on television -- the quality isn't great, but you have GOT to check out his mustache (quote unquote):

Last but not least, here's a brief clip of Billy Joe singing this song at the Dick Clark "American Bandstand" Theatre in Branson in 2008:

Paul Revere and the Raiders performed for several years at the Dick Clark venue, although they later moved to the Andy Williams "Moon River" Theatre.  Perhaps both acts will share the stage again -- as they did 43 years ago, when so many of us saw them perform at Memorial Hall, in Joplin -- and musical history will be made once again!!!

Here's a link to iTunes if you want to buy this song:

Here's a link to Amazon:

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