bob who? Bobby Rydell. Pronounced: Raidel. He passed away this week at the age of 79. It brought The New York Times and The Guardian to extensive obituaries, but the Dutch media failed to do so.
Not incomprehensible, because Rydell has always been more popular in the English-speaking countries – including Australia. Moreover, the average age of Dutch journalists and program makers is more likely to be around forty than eighty; you can hardly blame them that such a name means nothing to them.
But many a ‘member’ of the baby boom generation will – if still alive! – a light has flashed. Oh, Bobby Rydell, was he still alive? Anyone who loved pop music in his younger days will immediately have burst into ‘Wild One’, the song with which Rydell was equally famous in 1959: Oh wild one I’m – a gonna tame you down (tame you down) / Ah, wild one I’ll get you yet (yeah, yeah), you bet (yeah, yeah)† That was poetry that you wanted to be receptive to at the age of 13.
‘Wild One’ was energetic, boisterous, sensual. Life was suddenly completely open to you: away with your parents’ Mieke Telkamps and Peter Alexanders, somewhere on the horizon of the provincial town where you grew up, a more exciting life dawned. you bet! The title of that song did not just come out of the blue: Marlon Brando already had in the film in 1953 The Wild One played an iconic role as the rebellious leader of a biker gang, also setting an example for Elvis Presley.
Bobby Rydell (stage name for Robert Ridarelli) would not remain a real rock singer, he developed into a crooner who had great success with songs like ‘Volare’ and ‘Sway’. He could sing superbly, unlike his two friends from the same neighborhood in Philadelphia and also of Italian descent: Frankie Avalon and Fabian. The music industry eagerly attacked them: beautiful, loosely moving guys who could attract a young, largely female audience.
They formed a sort of transitional generation in pop music around 1960: between the rawer work of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1950s and the qualitative impulse in the 1960s from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan; pop music had become a recognized, full-fledged art.
Nevertheless, excellent performers such as Rydell have also contributed to this. The Beatles must have realized that they were indebted to such predecessors. When Rydell was touring England with singer Helen Shapiro in 1963, they climbed into his artist bus to get acquainted. Rydell had hardly heard of them, he thought it was strange that a band named themselves after beetles (beetles† Paul McCartney later wrote that the 1963 Beatles hit “She Loves You” was inspired by a Rydell song; he didn’t mention it by name, but would have meant ‘Swingin’ School’.
It must have been bitter for Rydell and his friends to be wiped out by bands like The Beatles. There remained an artist’s existence that lived on the nostalgia of an aging generation. Rydell turned to alcohol, overcame his addiction, had a kidney and liver transplant and heart surgery before dying of pneumonia ten years later.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of April 8, 2022