The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


June 20, 2014

1964 was a big year for prospects and possibilities

It seemed the best of times to some; to others, perhaps the worst of times, to paraphrase Charles Dickens. It was 1964, the year of prospects and possibilities, of visions and revisions, of hope and optimism. But it also was a time of parting and farewell, of longing and aching, of broken hearts and broken dreams. It was the year I graduated from high school.

“You students haven’t exactly painted a rosy picture of yourselves,” a minister called upon to make a few opening remarks at our graduation ceremony chided from the gymnasium platform. “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Those are the only words I recall from the early June event long ago. How odd, I thought. What had we graduates done to suffer the wrath of the Almighty?  

I felt guilty as sin, though the only personal iniquity I could plead guilty to was having written my name in my senior literature book, or perhaps playing my transistor radio with an earpiece in English class, or holding hands with my sweetheart under the school stairwell.

I was vindicated a few weeks later, however, when the same minister of the Gospel ran off with one of the deacon’s wives. Apparently there was more than prayer meeting going on in the church’ basement on Wednesday nights. I decided the pastor hadn’t painted such a rosy portrait of himself, either.

Still, it was a marvelous time to be young and alive: It was the year of the British invasion in music. It was the year of the Mustang. It was the year of innocence and hope.

Social ills that would plague our nation for generations to come hadn’t even made the scene. It was a time of harmony and goodwill. School shootings and violence in the workplace were decades away in a seemingly unimaginable universe. Student offenses were mild in comparison.

I remember the principal getting on the school intercom and threatening to suspend any students who showed up with what he called a “bed bug” haircut, referring to the long locks of the Beatles, who had taken the nation by storm, posting five hits in the Top Ten simultaneously with their perfect pitch and sweet harmony.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the first of their songs that I picked up from a Chicago station on my convertible’s radio. Then the group’s “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “She Loves You,” and “Love Me Do,” and “When I Saw Her Standing There” all followed suit.

Later that summer teens went wild over the Beatles” movie titled “A Hard Day’s Night” and soundtrack album.

If you listen to the “golden oldies” of local radio stations, you will hear other pop sounds of 1964, including “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, “Mr. Lonely” by Bobby Vinton, “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las, and “Oh, Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison.

Popular films of the year included the memorable “Goldfinger” starring Sean Connery; the comical “The Pink Panther” starring Peter Sellers and David Niven; and the funny “Shot in the Dark” also starring Peter Sellers.

New prime-time TV programs of 1964 included “The Addams Family,” “Bewitched,” “Flipper,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Gomer Pyle,” and “The Munsters.”

In new car designs, the brainchild of Lee Iacocca, the Ford Mustang attracted media attention at a World’s Fair unveiling in April. Americans subsequently bought a record 1 million in the first 12 months.

Kids loved the Barbie doll and G.I. Joe. Kellogg introduced Pop Tarts.

Drive-in theaters morphed into “passion pits” of the suburbs. Cheeseburgers and fries and milkshakes were the preferred menu items of teens throughout the country.

Some social critics maintain that 1964 signaled the last of America’s innocence because the latter years of the decade were marked by protests and political turmoil in what has become known as the turbulent ’60s.  

It was a stage of our lives when we thought our teen romances would last eternally. But we never dreamed that time was our greatest foe. The coming years shaped our lives and changed our world forever.

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Top o’ the Morning!

— Blankenship is a

freelance columnist for The Register-Herald.


Editor’s note: Rita Lang Kleinfelder’s “When We Were Young: A Baby Boomer Yearbook” contributed facts and other information for this column.

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