High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Saturday, August 15, 2009

On the Record: Oh, What a Sight (and Sound) – “Big City Lights!”

The potent killer bee gets the spotlight on a 45 by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs that began its seven week chart ride on the last day of July 1965.

“Big City Lights” is one of those quintessential Shady Dell songs. Perhaps more than any other song on my list of the 200 Greatest Hits of the Dell, "Big City Lights" resonated with the Dell’s youth culture. It epitomized, as did "Peace of Mind," a Dell rat's dream to bust loose from his bland existence and make it someday. "Big City Lights" captured the spirit of freedom, independence and adventure that was integral to the Shady Dell experience.

Before the gang at the Dell got hold of it, “Big City Lights” was nothing more than an obscure song on the flip side of "Ju Ju Hand," a moderate chart hit. Before going to the Dell, I had never heard “Big City Lights,” certainly not on the radio. The song might have remained neglected, overlooked and unloved forever if it hadn't been for the Rat Pack. Those kids had radar for cool.

I have often wondered which Dell rat first played "Big City Lights" thereby giving birth to one of the Dell's all time greatest killer bees. Was he or she merely experimenting that the mood to try a new and different sound? It's quite possible that "Big City Lights" was discovered by accident. Occasionally, a Dell rat punched the wrong combination of select buttons on the jukebox and played an unintended song. Sometimes the song that played was a winner - sometimes it wasn’t. I once made the mistake of playing “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” and was escorted to the parking lot by the Dell's Welcome Wagon committee!

Regardless of who, why, or when “Big City Lights” was taken out for its first spin, the boyz in the barn proceeded to turn the song into a Shady Dell phenomenon. Falling just short of the elite top 10 on the Dell’s Greatest Hits, “Big City Lights” goes into the history books as one of the Dell's most cherished classics!

“Big City Lights” was a surprising departure from the string of novelty–styled recordings that Sam the Sham released during the 60s. “Big City Lights” seemed to have been written with the Shady Dell in mind. The song serves as a metaphor, articulating the magnetic attraction the Dell exerted on so many for so long. Every evening the Dell seemed to be calling out to the faithful – summoning us – admonishing us to leave our cares and our ordinary lives behind and cross over into another dimension where all things are possible.

Like a mythological siren luring ships and sailors onto the rocks, the Dell lured us with her music onto that Violet hillside. She dazzled us with her twinkling lights. She enticed us with the promise of fun, excitement and adventure. Kids from all over York and York County heeded the call and made a nightly pilgrimage to this magical musical mecca, drawn to the Dell like moths to a flame. Once the Dell cast its spell you were addicted to the rush.

Of all the Dell songs that I am introducing on Shady Dell Music & Memories, "Big City Lights" is the purest example of the killer bee phenomenon. Dell dancers totally ignored the A side, the derivative “Ju Ju Hand,” a weak knock-off of “Wooly Bully,” and spun “Big City Lights” into solid Dell gold!

Have a Shady day!

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