My song today is, ‘Knock on Wood’. This was a 1966 hit song that was written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, and was originally performed by Floyd. The song has become covered by later artists, most notably, Amii Stewart, in 1979, when it reached the Number 1 spot in the US chart. David Bowie also released a live performance of the song as a UK single in 1974.
Stewart's disco version was the most successful on weekly music charts. This recording peaked at Number 28 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ chart and spent one week at Number 1 on the ‘Soul Singles Chart’. It reached the Top 10 twice in the UK, first in 1979 (peaking at Number 6) and again in a remixed version in 1985 (peaking at Number 7). The version earned a Gold certification on March 22, 1979, and then a Platinum certification on August 1 the same year from RIAA when the single sold over a million units. It would go on to become one of the anthems for the gay community.
Floyd and Cropper wrote the song in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Cropper later stated in interviews that there was a lightning storm the night that he and Eddie wrote the song, hence the lyrics 'It's like thunder, lightning, The way you love me is frightening'. Floyd's version earned a Gold certification from the ‘Recording Industry Association of America’ (RIAA) on July 17, 1995.
This song reminds me of a young man who used to work at the same textile firm as I did. He once told his workmates during a meal break one day that when he was courting the young woman he eventually married, that he and his girlfriend had to conduct their relationship in secret because of parental objection to the relationship. Being the era it was, they eventually eloped and married in the village of Gretna Green, Scotland.
It was the time of the emergence of the Teddy Boy cult. Ever since Victorian times, England had grown accustomed to seeing their young men as being smaller versions of their fathers in terms of image. This was the time when father and son adopted an almost identical dress sense. The hair of all males would be cut short. In fact, children born into the poorest of families, and whose parents could not afford to send their boys to the barber’s shop, would cut the hair of their male children themselves. We often joked about mothers placing a ‘pudding bowl’ over their son’s head and just trimming around the bowl rim as though they were trimming extra pastry off the rim of a pie dish! In fact, come to think of it, I am sure that the term, ‘mop of hair’ came from the use of the pudding bowl shape. As for girls from poor families, their hair was often crudely shorn to make it easier to wash lice out.
During the early 1950s, the young witnessed the rise of the American film star James Byron Dean. Dean, who became a cultural icon of his age. Dean represented teenage disillusionment and social estrangement of the times between the emerging generation gap, as expressed in the title of his most celebrated film, ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, in which he starred as troubled teenager Jim Stark. This film was made in the year of his death (1955) and was an American drama about emotionally confused, suburban, middle-class teenagers. Even his early death by a car crash at the age of 24 years, immortalised his screen and personal image as one. Then with the rise of the American Hell’s Angels motorbike chapters, we witnessed the gangs of Teddy Boys, rock and roll music, and the throttle sound of motorbikes, all rolled into one massive symbol of youthful rebellion. The Teddy Boys sported long greasy hair and Presley-type sideburns, and many parents literally believed their gyrating music to represent profanity. Parental adults who had been reared during the war years witnessed their smartly groomed sons discard their traditional dress, and instead, transform their image radically.
Out went all pretence to be younger versions of their fathers for all sons in the land, and in came the distinctive dress dense of the Mods and their scooters who may have changed their dress sense to that of their fathers, but who still retained the clean-cut look. Then there were the Teddy Boys in their long Edwardian style coats with wide collars, string ties, and drainpipe trousers. This rebellious group walked the pavements three abreast with a blue-suede-shoes swagger that was reminiscent of a tough cowboy from the wild west entering a barroom for a shoot-out. The Teddy Boys would fight the Mods at every opportunity, and when they weren’t fighting them on the dance floor, the streets, or on the sands of Bournemouth Beach, they would bop and gyrate their hips and loins to the frenetic beat of their rock and roll music. This image of their demented young led the adults in society (who had been born at a much earlier era) to think their children were in danger of becoming demented devil’s disciples.
The parents of my friend’s girlfriend were in this ‘strict’ category and were much harsher with their only child than most parents of the time. They refused to allow their daughter to wear dresses above the knee, despite it being the years of the fashionable mini skirt, and she could not wear lipstick, even though she was 17 years old. She used to apply the lipstick after she left the house and wipe it off before she returned home at the end of the evening. Like many other young women with strict parents, she would also take a shorter-length dress and different shoes in a bag when she left the house for the evening in more sedate attire, which she would change into soon after, and change back out of, before she arrived home at the end of the evening. The parents of my workmate’s girlfriend wanted her to train to become a secretary, but when she took a job in a shoe shop in town instead and started staying out later than they considered reasonable for young women to be out at night, they soon realised that she had become more interested in young men, and so they started to restrict her freedom even more than they had done previously.
One night, she had seemingly missed her 10:00 pm deadline for getting back home. She was dating a Teddy Boy on the quiet and rather than get her into trouble with her father, he took her home on his motorbike. She arrived home around 10:15 pm and her father was waiting to give her ‘what for’ when he saw her from the house window alight from the back of her boyfriend’s motorbike. Her boyfriend had decided to drop her outside the house that night as she was very fearful about being late home. Until that night, neither parent knew that their daughter had a boyfriend and thought that she had gone out with a girlfriend to the pictures. When her father saw her kiss this ‘long-haired lout’ who was sporting a leather jacket and riding around on one of those ‘infernal loud motor-bike death-contraptions’, he went wild. He ran outside with a poker in his hand and started to aim it at the young man on the motorbike, who narrowly missed being hit on the back as he hurriedly raced off into the night.
His daughter was grounded from going out for weeks after, and she was strictly forbidden of ever setting eyes on ‘that greasy, long-haired lout again, or going on the pillion seat of anyone’s motorbike!’ She naturally ignored her father’s wishes and continued courting her Teddy Boy boyfriend.
Within the year, and when she was just 18 years old the couple eloped to Gretna Green to marry. Parental consent to marry (outside Gretna Green) was needed in England at the time, even by an 18-year-old woman; and it was not until 1961 when the ‘Marriage Act’ in England reduced the age from 21 to 18 years to marry, without parental consent.
My workmate told me that on the occasions that he wanted to change his dating arrangements with his girlfriend during his secret courtship of her (when she was living with her parents), he would leave her a message in the coal bunker of her next-door neighbour, as there were no house phones in those days outside the homes of the wealthy, the aristocrats or the dwellings of important officials. As for mobile phones or computers (as we know them) neither had not been invented. After he had placed his note inside the neighbour’s coal bunker, in order to let his girlfriend know that he had left her a note, he would signal her in her bed. The way he did this was to knock on a tin can at precisely 11:00 pm when he knew that all the house would be in bed. Each night, his girl would never go to sleep before 11:15 pm and would listen out for the distinctive tin-can sound. If there was no tin-can rapping sound heard by her between 11:00 pm and 11:10 pm, and she would go off to sleep. If she heard the tin can sound, however, she would ensure that she was up the next morning before either her parents or the neighbours had risen for the day, to redeem her boyfriend’s love letter.
Now, most of you young readers might be thinking, “Why not send each other a letter in the post?” Well, let me tell you that such things were not done then! Had they been, one’s parents would have read the letter contents before their child and confiscated it. The bottom line then was, (however mature a young man or young woman was) if they lived at home, they fell in line with the household rules laid down by their parents. The most common parental reply to any young man or woman who rebelled and complained at such restrictive freedom was, “If you don’t like it, you can go live elsewhere, but while ever you are under my roof, you’ll do as I tell you! “
When I think back now, it is with little surprise that all young women of my age wanted to live in their own home as soon as they could, and therefore valued the thought of being married and more in control as being one and the same. Unfortunately, marriage in 1960 meant that most young women merely exchanged the person who controlled their lives from their father to their husband! This was one aspect of parental modelling that the new male generation did not wish to discard within the marriage relationship.
While the young couple’s secret code was knocking on a tin can instead of a wooden object, hearing today’s song always reminds me of the eloping couple who went to Gretna Green to marry.
Love and peace Bill xxx