John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

The Legacy of Bobby Vee

The late singer did pure pop, but it was good enough for fans like Bob Dylan.

By - Nov 1st, 2016 02:35 pm
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Bobby Vee

Bobby Vee

Bobby Vee changed his last name from Velline to Vee, a show biz move suggested by Elston Gunn, (sometimes Gunnn). Elston was born with the name Robert Zimmerman, and later settled on his more well known moniker, Bob Dylan. An unlikely pair you might say, but there is much that is unlikely about Bobby Vee, who left the world last week at age 73.

He was 15 years old when he and his band, The Shadows, were asked to fill in at show in Moorhead, Minnesota. The main attractions had been Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper, but they had just died in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. With knees knocking backstage, Vee managed to pull it off and soon was making hits of his own. You can hear a little Buddy in his voice, a fine and supple pop instrument that Dylan called “as musical as a silver bell.”

Dylan, er Elston, left his road gig with Vee along with the beat-up piano he had to play, and headed to New York. Every stop on that odyssey has been pretty well documented, but few know Dylan remained friendly with his old boss and even sang a tribute to him at a concert a couple years back. By then Bobby Vee was suffering from Alzheimer’s, the disease that finally took him away.

In the post-Buddy Holly era, rock music was commandeered by a bunch of dad types. They made it safer and sorrier for the sake of public decency. The declawed former beast threatening America’s youth was now a harmless kitten. But a few vital artists snuck past the guards and the vastly underrated girl groups blossomed to make it more than tolerable.

Vee straddled both sides. He was smooth and pop-ish, but never insulting, unless you consider “Come Back When You Grow Up.” That ultra catchy song was written by a woman, Martha Sharp, in a time before gender studies, and would not fly today. The again, it wasn’t as egregious as Paul Anka’s “You’re Having My Baby.”

Vee had many hits, and a lot of high quality ones at that. That includes one I learned just a couple weeks ago, “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” It’s both cranked-out hack work and kind of brilliant. There’s no doubting either its corniness or its supreme craftsmanship. Part of that polish is the ease with which the young singer glides through its three contrasting sections. I happen to know that Vee liked to cut live in the studio with all the musicians there. Here it would mean a large string section. He never cared for the modern piecemeal approach to recording. I was given this tidbit by his nephew, who lives in the Twin Cities. Nothing is made that way now except movie soundtracks and classical music.

The lyrics are kind of creepy in a  David Lynch way. I’m sure he would have considered this song for one of his movies, if only because a cheerful, upbeat stalker would probably fascinate him.

They say that you’re a runaround lover
Though you say it isn’t so
But if you put me down for another
I’ll know, believe me, I’ll know

‘Cause the night has a thousand eyes
And a thousand eyes can’t help but see if you are true to me
So remember when you tell those little white lies
That the night has a thousand eyes

You say that you’re at home when you phone me
And how much you really care
Though you keep telling me that you’re lonely
I’ll know if someone is there

‘Cause the night has a thousand eyes
And a thousand eyes can’t help but see if you are true to me
So remember when you tell those little white lies
That the night has a thousand eyes

One of these days you’re gonna be cryin’
’cause your game I’m gonna play
And you’ll find out without really tryin’
Each time that my kisses stray

‘Cause the night has a thousand eyes
And a thousand eyes will see me too
And no matter what I do
I could never disguise all my little white lies
’cause the night has a thousand eyes
So remember when you tell those little white lies
That the night has a thousand eyes

© Dorothy Wayne, Benjamin Weismann and Marilyn Garrett

Bobby Vee seemed slightly reluctant, somehow a little above his pop idol status. He was a teen heart throb barely out of his teens, but he wasn’t snarling, he was darling. Parents approved and he even made the Easy Listening charts. Ben Weissmann, one of the writers on this song, wrote more songs for Elvis Presley than anybody, 57 altogether. Of course these songs were from his Hollywood period… so were talking quantity, not quality.

But this song is good. It has three very distinct and well written sections — a verse with a two-part chorus that surprises. You wouldn’t predict a minor key chorus after such a bubbly major key verse. The stomping, offbeat third section functions so well as it releases you back to the next verse. It’s not high art, but it is slick and exciting. In 1962, a lot of great songs got lumped in with the lightweight and embarrassing teen music of the time and stored along with it in the dusty archives. Of course it’s dated and corny, but try forgetting this song and you’ll see why Bob Dylan, his polar opposite, remained a fan and a friend. Bobby Vee carried the torch from Buddy Holly and passed it on to the Beatles. He was a place holder, but not such a bad one, and he made that dry stretch a little better. He’ll be missed.

4 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: The Legacy of Bobby Vee”

  1. Jacqueline Rice says:

    Great article! I loved reading about Bobby Vee’s music as well as details about his career and life and especially your fascinating critique of “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” I was a Bobby Vee fan from the start–there was always music in our house and my mom worked as an admin asst. at WOKY in the 60s (during Bob Barry’s tenure) so I knew just about every group/song that was played on AM radio. “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” was one of my favorites. (Perhaps I was a music connoisseur before the age of 10 ;o)

    Bobby Vee’s music brought me a lot of pleasure and I want to thank you for choosing to highlight him and his music in this series.

  2. Dick Beverly says:

    1960: I was very much in to Buddy Holly. Wore a hole in Holly’s albums and In Style With the Crickets. 1962::enter the LP Bobby Vee Meets the Crickets – a bunch of great covers with Jerry Naylor on that black Fender Strat. It moved me to stop listening and start playing. The music still sounds fresh to me today. Thanks Bobby, thanks Jerry, Joe and J.I., and thanks John for your great articles!

  3. Thomas says:

    Amen to the first 2 positive responses to “Legacy of Bobby Vee.” Thanks, John, for your designation of Bobby Vee as a “place holder” between Buddy Holly and the Beatles. That designation makes perfect sense to me now – remarkable in that it did not occur to me until I read what you wrote.

    A frequently recurring memory from my youth makes more sense to me now, too. I have often remembered riding on a school bus around 1960 when someone on that bus was playing a transistor radio. The riders in the back of the bus stopped talking as they listened to Bobby Vee’s TAKE GOOD CARE OF MY BABY from that radio. An unusual silence continued after the end of the song. That silence was broken when someone said “That’s good” or “That’s a good song … ” Everybody in the back of that bus agreed.

    The connection between Bobby V and Bob D is fascinating. An interview of V by Terri Gross on her “Fresh Air” program noted that connection. That interview is in the National Public Radio archives.

    Thanks again to John, Jacqueline, Dick …

  4. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    I remember hearing this song long ago – and it’s melody – and once you’ve heard the melody, of course you can’t read the lyrics without remembering it. However, the idea of being watched is interesting, as if the song’s protagonist is able to reach out with a thousand eyes into the night (and this also reminds me of what my mother would tell me in grade school – that she had a “magic mirror” and could see everything I did when I wasn’t at home! Terrifying!). And as an addendum, thank goodness Bob Dylan finally accepted his Pulitzer – because he did poetize American music (and much more so than folk had done), and, being a poet, that’s why I immediately liked his work (and as you can see, he even poeticized his name!).

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