Revisit “The Golden Oldies” at Proctors this Sunday
Tony Bennett once told me the secret to success on the pop music charts is good songs.
The Golden Oldies Spectacular, set for Proctors on Sunday, Nov. 12, is loaded with great songs all from the Gilded Age of top 40 radio more than 60 years ago: “See You in September” by The Happenings, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, “Lover’s Concerto” by Barbara Harris and the Toys, “Little Star” by Vito Picone & the Elegants, and Jay and The Americans’ “Cara Mia” as performed by Vinnie Medugno.
Every one of the more than 2,000 fans who will pack Proctors on Sunday has memories that flood their minds like an intimate private video when they hear their songs reprised on stage “in living color.” They will sing along with the artist for some of them, each transported to a “simpler time.”
But what of the artists who perform these songs? What are their memories? I spoke to Bob Miranda of The Happenings, who turned “See You in September” into an international number-one hit in 1966, and to Vinnie Medugno, who wasn’t even born when Jay and The Americans went gold with “Cara Mia” in 1965, and yet he owns the number as surely as if he’d written it in his rec room at a time when WPTR locally debuted the week’s top 10 songs on Friday afternoon.
“When we’re doing ‘See You in September,’ I see the memories on the faces of the people,” said Miranda, the only original member of The Happenings. “I feel almost like a tool that created something. I’m blessed. I feel honored to do it. It takes me back, as well as the audience. It takes them back.”
“I don’t know that I feel 20 years old, but it certainly takes me back to the times I heard it on the radio the first time—the first time we sang it. And hopefully, that transfers to the audience. I never get tired of it,” the 82-year-old added.
So, what makes a song live that long?
“I think the people who originally bought the record and loved the song. It brings back great memories for them, but for a song to last 60 years, it’s got to be lyrically and melodically picked up by a new generation. So, ‘See You in September’ is the kind of song that people can relate to in their own situation, even though it’s an old song.
“It’s an honor [to perform]. It truly is. It says something about the song. It says something about the way we present it. I try to make it as original as the record. I think we do a pretty good job with that.”
I’ve seen Bob Miranda and The Happenings do just that several times and The Happenings are transformative.
Opening the show is Vinnie Medugno, who wears many hats: WABC weekend radio host, DJ at entertainment events, dance music performer and songwriter (one was a hit on the Billboard Underground Dance Music charts), and teacher at Port Richmond High School. Medugno performed on T.J. Lubinsky’s PBS show “Doo Wop, Pop and Soul Generations.” He will reprise songs by Gene Pitney and Jay and The Americans at the show.
“Music heals,” says the 37-year-old singer. “I was raised on good music, and I learned at a young age my dad’s love for it. I’m thankful to my parents for the stuff they grew up on. My brothers and I have such an eclectic taste in music, and that’s what inspires my work, the performance.”
“I think it takes certain adults to impact your life; I had a teacher who was instrumental in what I do. She basically pulled me out of the school band and put me on stage, and it’s funny. Now, the two of us actually teach together in the high school I’m in,” Medugno said.
He never actually met Gene Pitney, but Pitney lives on through Medugno’s version of “Town without Pity.”
“Gene Pitney had a very unique voice, and my mother told me for years I should do Gene Pitney music. I never really thought about doing it, and then Cousin’ Brucie and T.J. Lubinsky (PBS show “Doo Wop, Pop and Soul Generations) asked me to do it, and that’s what made it happen.
Medugno’s parents are actively involved in his singing songs of their generation.
“‘A Town without Pity’ took me to a very important place. I never realized it was such an important song to my mother, and it was her connection to her father who had passed away at a young age, and one of the things that kept us connected to her father was his music collection. He raised my mother and all her siblings on it. So, when I sing that song and we hear that song, it just connects to better times when her father was here, and how she grew up listening to it sends you back to a certain place in time that was a good vibe for my family,” Medugno said.
Miranda and Medugno understand the powerful effect they have on their audience because they share with their fans a love for this music and the memories it has as the soundtracks of all our lives.
“My dad comes to hear all my performances, all my shows,” Medugno said. “My mother, too. My father will be with me in Schenectady. My mother will be doing the Sunday dinner thing with the rest of the family. My father is very instrumental with me [in] my career, travels with me, sells my merch. It isn’t a typical father-and-son support thing. I wasn’t an athlete. We definitely bonded over music. So, that was my thing. He likes to sing, but he never did anything with it. In fact, since his son grew up to do it, he’s very happy with it.”
It’s also given his parents a chance to meet some of the musicians they grew up listening to.
“It’s very cool to see my father and Tony Orlando be friends. Very often Bobby Rydell invites my mother and things of that nature. Frankie Avalon is friendly with my father,” Medugno said. “People respect me for what I do. That’s . . . why I’m able to share those moments with my parents knowing that one day they won’t be here. So, at least I won’t have regrets when I look back.”
His faith also plays a role in his success on stage.
“I’m a big God guy. Stuff doesn’t matter if you don’t love God to ground you,” Medugno said. “Everything I have and am able to do is because of my faith and my upbringing. If I never set foot on stage ever again at least I did things in my life that God led me to make other people happy. I’m doing what God wants me to do because if he didn’t want me to do it, I wouldn’t be doing it anymore.”
The seven-act Golden Oldies Spectacular is slated for 3 p.m. Sunday. The Happenings headline. Also appearing are Jay Siegel’s Tokens, The Bronx Wanderers founded in 2006 by Vinny Adindfi (“Yo Vinny”), Barbara Harris and the Toys (“Lover’s Concerto,”), New Jersey’s Kid Kyle who first gained prominence at age 8 with his performance on in Los Angeles on “American Idol Junior,” and Vito Picone & the Elegants (“Little Star”).
Tickets are on sale at the Proctors box office, by phone at 518-346-6204, or on the web at proctors.org.