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THE RECORD PROFESSOR PART 13
On Medicare--and the Billboard Charts
Who says rock music belongs to the young? How about the young at heart?
The big news is Tony Bennett, who now becomes the oldest person in music history to have a number one album, "Duets II." Tony reached that incredible milestone at 85 years and 2 months old. At a time when many of his peers are dead, or in a nursing home, Tony is still making waves in the music industry and taking new generations along for the ride.
But despite what the marketers and the advertising agencies tell us, rock music has always welcomed singers well over 60. The worship of the youth culture has dominated rock and roll ever since it began, of course, but the industry has never really discriminated--not when it came to race, and certainly not when it comes to age.
Here are some great examples of artists who defied the geezer stereotype:
Walter Brennan The three-time Oscar winner, known for his role as Grandpa in the "Real McCoys" television show, recorded a song called "Old Rivers" at the age of 67 back in 1962. Actually, the hit was supposed to be the other side of the record, "The Epic Ride of John Glenn," about the first American to orbit the earth only a few weeks earlier. But disc jockeys liked the other song, about an old black farmer that befriended a kid as the child grew up and left home. "Old Rivers" hit the top five on the Billboard charts.
Louis Armstrong The jazz great hit the top 10 twice, even number one: "Hello Dolly" in 1964--knocking the Beatles off the chart after they had spent months at the top with one hit after another--and "What a Wonderful World" in February of 1968, when Satchmo was 66 years old.
George Burns The show business icon recorded what was supposed to be a novelty song to support one of his movies (Burns was hot in Hollywood after his series of "Oh, God!" movies with John Denver), "I Wish I Was 18 Again." But the 45 rpm record, complete with picture sleeve, was no joke, hitting the Top Forty in March of 1980 when Burns was just exactly a year younger than Tony Bennett is today: 84 years and 2 months old.
Bob Dylan You wouldn't necessarily think that one of rock's icons, and a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was ever old, but Dylan celebrated his 67th birthday when his album, "Together Through Life" hit number one on the Billboard albums chart in December of 2009.
Cher The guy who told her back in the early sixties that she couldn't sing has to eat crow once more--he's probably choking on it by now. Cher became the oldest woman (age 52) to have a number one song on the charts when "Believe" hit the top in 1999. She has scored number one hits in each of the last seven decades.
Andy Williams His Christmas classic, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," was re-released and made the charts again--right after Andy turned 80 in Branson, Missouri.
Sen. Everett Dirksen The only U. S. Senator ever to make the rock charts, this Republican leader from Illinois, and a moderate GOP member when that designation really meant something, spoke a recording in 1964 about America's founding fathers. Called "Gallant Men," it actually hit number 29 on Billboard's Hot 100. Dirksen was 68 at the time.
Which all goes to show that having an AARP membership does not preclude you from having a hit record.