go rockin’ robin ’cause we’re really gonna rock tonight

Estimated reading time is 5 minutes.

FOR MOST OF US, the period in our lives when we are most passionate about music is our teenage years. Somewhere around 13 or 14 years old, we start both intense for love and equally intense hate affairs with the pop music of the day. For me, this period was 1964-1969: to this day, most of my greatest loves come from this “era.” Most of the records and artists that I have loathed also originated during this time.

For the most part, those records that I loved then, I love now—which I take as a sign of my good taste then and now. Even better, though, is that I outgrew my hates, and many (most?) of the records and artists that I hated then I like now. Some have become faves so dear it’s difficult to believe I ever harbored anything but love for them.

This includes records like “96 Tears” and “Mony Mony” and groups like the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons. (I tended to run screaming from falsetto voices and, if I remember accurately, my screaming was often pitched higher than Brian’s or Frankie’s vocals.)

By 1964, ’50s rock & roll hits were considered “golden oldies” and while I had deep and long-lasting loves for music and artists from this era, I had not hates that I remember. Hell’s Belles, I always loved a few records by Frankie Avalon (“Venus” is a damn near perfect pop record) and even teenaged Elvis wannabes (“Turn Me Loose”).

 

Elvis HoundDog PS

The initial picture sleeves promoted “Hound Dog” above “Don’t Be Cruel” as the A-side of Elvis’s third single of 1956. But the “Don’t Be Cruel” quickly overtook the intended hit side and RCA Victor reissued the sleeve with “Don’t Be Cruel” above “Hound Dog.” Both are very difficult to find in anything resembling NM condition and if you do, it’s probably a counterfeit!

Those oldies but goodies

But there were ’50s records that I never connected with emotionally or intellectually and so I summarily dismissed them and rarely looked back. I don’t think anyone would fault me for saying that the “intellectual” content of the lyrics of many of those golden oldies was effectively non-existent.

And while a few would connect with me (“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog” still bowls me over), I generally considered songs about dancing birds with guys tweeting in the background to be background music that could be tolerated for its period novelty factor.

Fortunately, I have apparently been as wrong about dismissing some of those ’50s hits as I was about hating those ’60s hits. And one of them was Bobby Day’s “Rock-in Robin,” the record with the guys making the silly bird sounds in the background.

I didn’t choose to revisit this hit from 1958: it popped up on YouTube while I was writing and for some reason, despite sixty years of casual familiarity with it, I “heard” it for the first time!

What a great rock & roll record!

 

BobbyDay photo close up 800

This is a publicity photo of Bobby Day, who was certainly handsome enough to have considered Hollywood had the recording business not panned out.

We’re really gonna rock tonight

Bobby Day was the stage name for Robert James Byrd. “Rock-in Robin” was written by Leon René under the pseudonym “J. Thomas” (Jimmy or Jesse Thomas). René also wrote “Little Bitty Pretty One” and “Over and Over” with Byrd.

Day recorded it using members of his former group, the Hollywood Flames. Session musicians included Barney Kessel on guitar, Earl Palmer on drums, and sax player Plas Johnson playing the piccolo that mocks a bird’s call.

Below find the lyrics as transcribed by me:

 

BobbyDay RockinRobin 45 Class maroon dull 1 600

He rocks in the tree top all the day long,
hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and a-singing’ his song.
All the little birds on Jaybird Street
love to hear the robin goin’ “Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!”

Rockin’ robin.
Rock, rock, rockin’ robin. 
Blow, rockin’ robin
’cause we’re really gonna rock tonight!

Every little swallow, every chickadee,
every little bird in the tall oak tree,
the wise old owl, the big black crow
flap-a their wings singin’ “Go, bird! Go!”

Rockin’ robin.
Rock, rock, rockin’ robin. 
Blow, rockin’ robin
’cause we’re really gonna rock tonight!

A pretty little raven at the bird bandstand
taught him how to do the bop and it was grand.
They started goin’ steady and, bless my soul,
he out-bopped the buzzard and the oriole!

He rocks in the tree top all the day long,
hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and a-singing’ his song.
All the little birds on Jaybird Street
love to hear the robin goin’ “Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!”

Rockin’ robin.
Rock, rock, rockin’ robin. 
Blow, rockin’ robin
’cause we’re really gonna rock tonight!

Well the pretty little raven at the bird bandstand
taught him how to do the bop and it was grand.
They started goin’ steady and, bless my soul,
he out-bopped the buzzard and the oriole!

He rocks in the tree top all the day long,
hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and a-singing’ his song.
All the little birds on Jaybird Street
love to hear the robin goin’ “Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!”

Rockin’ robin.
Rock, rock, rockin’ robin. 
Blow, rockin’ robin
’cause we’re really gonna rock tonight!

“Rock-in Robin” peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 but only reached #4 on the Cash Box Top 100. The B-side was “Over And Over” and on the R&B surveys, “Rock-in Robin” / “Over and Over” was a double-sided hit that reached #1.

 

BobbyDay RockinRobin LP Class 600

Day’s record was so popular that tiny Class Record loosened their purse strings and paid for an album. Unlike the single, it did not find a big audience and is a rather rare record today.

This dance is gonna be a drag

Both sides of Day’s single had a lengthy career in the Top 40: in 1965, the Dave Clark Five had their last #1 record in the US with their version of “Over and Over.”

In 1972, Michael Jackson’s recording of “Rockin’ Robin” went to #1 on Cash Box but pooped out at #2 on Billboard.

In 1986, “Bobby Day’s “Rock-in Robin” was featured in the movie Stand by Me.

René and Day also wrote “Little Bitty Pretty One,” which was a hit for Thurston Harris in 1957, Clyde McPhatter in 1962, and the Jackson Five in 1972.

My favorite version is former Lovin’ Spoonful member Zal Yanovsky’s delightfully stoned reading from his solo album, 1968’s Alive and Well in Argentina.

 

Bird Robin Beijinger 1000

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of the page is of a red and brown feathered European robin who was first spotted at the Beijing Zoo in China on January 9, 2019. This is only the third known European robin to land in Beijing, the previous sighting was in 2014 While this robin is of European descent, the Chinese associate it with England and have dubbed this particular bird a “Brexit refugee.”

Postscript

Like those ’60s records that I can’t understand now how I ever hated them then, I’m baffled that I missed Bobby Day’s great singing all these years. Of course, this probably means I’ve been missing other records from the ’50s equally great and that I have more new discoveries about past mistakes still to come in the future . . .

 


 

Leave a Comment