Not far from our home, down where Lincoln Avenue intersects with Minnesota Highway 23, there’s a Burger King restaurant. We’re occasional customers there. While BK happens to be one of my favorite fast food places, the Texas Gal prefers others. Still, I imagine we bring home dinner from there about once a month.
And every once in a while, as I walk from my car across the parking lot to the building – I utterly hate drive-through windows – I see myself walking in the same parking lot almost fifty years ago, long before there was a Burger King on that spot. I’d be with my family, and I’d be about as pleased as a ten-year old boy could be as I headed for an evening snack at Kay’s Motel Cafe.
Like most 1960s families, we didn’t go out to eat very often. On special Sundays – Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and perhaps a few more – we might drive across town after church, heading for the Log Lodge (another place long gone), which meant steaks for Mom and Dad, maybe chicken for my sister and fried shrimp for me. Dining out during the week was very rare, limited pretty much to special times during the summer months, when we might celebrate Mom and Dad’s anniversary or a visit from Lamberton by my Grandpa and Grandma and Aunt Tudy. (Her name was Ruth, but as a toddler, either my mom or my Aunt Margie had trouble with the name Ruthie; it came out “Tudy,” and the name stuck.)
But whenever there was an evening event for our family – a piano recital, a school play, a performance by a school choir, orchestra or band – our evenings would end with a stop for a snack. And Kay’s Motel Cafe was one of our frequent stops for those snacks. What made Kay’s a special place wasn’t the food. A fried hamburger patty served on a buttered white bun with a pickle chip on the side is pretty much the same, no matter where you go. But being the restaurant for a motel meant that Kay’s not only had food but a gift shop area as well.
There were racks of postcards and shelves of tacky souvenirs and trinkets. There were a few books and magazines. And there were display cases filled with Native American jewelry, carved stones, agates and other bits and pieces of 1960s kitsch, all of which interested my sister and me. The jewelry cases themselves were fascinating, as the long shelves were suspended on a rotating track, like a Ferris wheel: Push a button on the side, and the shelves came up out of the back of the case, passed by under the glass top and then moved slowly down the front of the case in a never-ending rotation of gems and glass and glitter. Push the other button, and the shelves reversed, coming up the front and disappearing down the back. The combined novelty of the exotic wares in the cases and of the rotating cases themselves made a stop at Kay’s an event.
And then there was the candy counter. Kay’s was the only place in St. Cloud where one could buy my favorite candy: the sour candies made by Regal Crown and imported from England. They came in rolls that were about six inches long and not quite the diameter of a quarter, with each piece of candy wrapped in wax paper. There were several flavors available, among them sour cherry, sour grape, sour lemon and my favorite, sour lime. If you were undecided or needed variety, you could get a roll of mixed candies, but that wasn’t for me. Not every visit to Kay’s ended with a roll of candy in my pocket, but when I was allowed to bring home a roll of Regal Crown, I almost always chose the sour limes.
Time takes its toll. I don’t know when Kay’s cafe closed and was torn down to make way for Burger King, but – based on separate memories – it was sometime after 1974 and before 1987. The lot where Kay’s Motel sat is now home to a self-storage place that also rents trucks. I don’t remember at all where the Log Lodge was on the other end of town, but wherever it was, something else sits there now. And it’s been years since I saw Regal Crown sour candies anywhere; chatter on a few on-line bulletin boards tells me they’ve long been unavailable.
But memory persists. I see in my mind a ten-year-old whiteray leaving Kay’s Motel Cafe with his family, clutching a roll of candy as he walks across the parking lot and gets into the back seat of the brown 1952 Ford. As his father starts the car and backs out, whiteray carefully unfolds the foiled paper on the end of the roll and eases out one wrapped candy. Just as carefully, as his father takes the car across Highway 23 and down Lincoln Avenue toward Kilian Boulevard, the young whiteray folds the foil paper back in place, then unwraps the candy and lays it on his tongue.
And forty-seven years later, I can still taste that first delicious bite of sour lime on my tongue.
I don’t know that we went to Kay’s Motel Cafe during this week in 1963. We certainly could have. And I don’t recall what – if any – type of music we would have heard there. But somewhere, sometime, during this week in 1963, I would have heard pop music, even if I didn’t pay it much attention. And if I came across any of the Top Ten from November 9, 1963, here is what I would have heard:
“Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & The Fireballs
“Deep Purple” by Nino Tempo & April Stevens
“Washington Square” by the Village Stompers
“It’s All Right” by the Impressions
“Mean Woman Blues” by Roy Orbison
“I’m Leaving It Up To You” by Dale & Grace
“Maria Elena” by Los Indios Tabajaras
“Busted” by Ray Charles
“Bossa Nova Baby” by Elvis Presley
“I Can’t Stay Mad At You” by Skeeter Davis
I recognize the first six of those and certainly recognize the last three artists if not those specific records, but I don’t have a whole lot to say about whether that’s a good Top Ten or not; this is not my era, and anything I know about almost all of those records comes from things learned after the fact. In fact, the only one of those records I think I heard often enough at the time to recognize is “Washington Square,” which I would guess I heard on WCCO. Or it could have been on one of the two local stations; I would guess that five of those Top Ten records (“Deep Purple,” “Washington Square,” “Maria Elena” and the Dale & Grace and Skeeter Davis singles) might have gotten airplay on middle-of-the-road stations as well as Top 40 stations.
The one that intrigues me today is “Maria Elena.” According to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Los Indios Tabajaras was a pair of Native American brothers from Ceara, Brazil. Born as Musiperi and Herundy Lima, the duo later called themselves, respectively, Natalicio and Antenor Lima. “Maria Elena” had been recorded as a fairly standard ballad in 1941 by Jimmy Dorsey; the Lima brothers recorded their version in 1958, and in 1963, it spent fourteen weeks in the Hot 100, peaking at No. 6. (The duo had one other record reach the Hot 100: “Always In My Heart” got to No. 82 in March of 1964.)
Heading out of the Top 40, we’ll stop at No. 42, where Richard Chamberlain sat with “Blue Guitar,” a song from the soundtrack of Twilight of Honor, a film starring Chamberlain as “a fearless trial lawyer in a drama of love, courage, and murder,” according to the film’s promotional material. Chamberlain was better known as television’s Dr. James Kildare and had a 1962 Top Ten hit with “Theme from Dr. Kildare (Three Stars Will Shine Tonight)” and reached the Top 40 with covers of “Love Me Tender” and “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” “Blue Guitar,” which was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, has an atmospheric backing, but Chamberlain’s bland vocal takes a lot of the interest out of it. The record went no higher.
Robin Ward was born in Hawaii as Jacqueline McDonnell and was raised primarily in Nebraska, according to All-Music Guide. She went on to success as a session singer under her married name of Jackie Ward, but in 1963, singing as Robin Ward, she had a Top 20 hit with a sweet girl-groupish single. Forty-seven years ago today, “Wonderful Summer” was at No. 53 and was on its way to No. 14. After its success, Ward released several other singles. Only the follow-up, “Winter’s Here,” came close to charting; it got to No. 123 in March of 1964.
In the twenty years since the 1990 film Ghost brought it back off the oldies shelf, versions of “Unchained Melody” have proliferated like weeds. But in 1963, “Unchained Melody” was already an oldie, having been written as the theme to a 1955 prison film, Unchained. Four versions of the song made the various Top 40 charts that year: Les Baxter’s version from the film went to No. 1, Al Hibbler’s cover went to No. 3, Roy Hamilton’s went to No. 5, and June Valli’s version went to No. 29. And in 1963, the Righteous Brothers’ iconic cover was still two years away. (It would go to No. 4.) But there was this: At No. 71 in the Billboard Hot 100 for November 9, 1963, we find a doo-wop version of “Unchained Melody” by Vito and The Salutations, which would peak three weeks later at No. 63. (The video below gathers the doo-wop version and a ballad version of “Unchained Melody.” From what I can tell, it was the doo-wop version that was in the Hot 100. If anyone knows differently, let me know.)
Stopping at No. 80, we find one of two Top 40 hits for the Dayton, Ohio, duo of Dean & Jean. “Tra La La La Suzy” was on its way to No. 35, and in the spring of 1964, the duo would reach No. 32 with “Hey Jean, Hey Dean.” Later in the spring of 1964, “I Wanna Be Loved” would reach No. 91. I’ve never heard any of them until this morning, and I kind of like “Tra La La La Suzy.”
Finally, forty-seven years ago today, Joan Baez made her first appearance in the Billboard Hot 100, as “We Shall Overcome” sat at No. 90. The record dropped out of the Hot 100 after that and spent five weeks in the Bubbling Under portion of the chart. Baez would reach the Hot 100 eight more times – according to AMG – and chart in the Top 40 twice, with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” reaching No. 3 in the autumn of 1971 and “Diamonds & Rust” going to No. 35 in the autumn of 1975. (The sound quality of the video could be better, but I thought it was historically significant enough to put up with some crackles.)