Phillies' star rotation is musical inspiration

Posted: February 24, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - When Ruben Amaro Jr. turned into David Copperfield and pulled a giant rabbit named Cliff Lee out of a cocked hat, most of Philadelphia slept.

If you were awake just after midnight on that cold mid-December night, you spent the next couple of hours in euphoric glee, pinching yourself with the fingers on whichever hand was not feverishly surfing various baseball sites to confirm the blockbuster dropped out of the Phillies' website.

Joe Terry is an early riser. And when he flicked on the WIP (610-AM) morning show, he noticed Angelo Cataldi's voice was an octave higher, giddy as a man on laughing gas.

"Can this really be happening?" Terry asked himself, a question hundreds of thousands of Phillies fans also were asking as details of Lee's 5-year, $120 million deal unfolded.

Then the pragmatist went to work. Let the fans celebrate. What did this mean to a lyricist and rock 'n' roll icon of more than 6 decades of experience?

The wheels turned furiously, dragged by a procession of augmented thirds and flatted fifths. Already, the first words of what would become a chorus were tumbling into his head, like numbers on a combination lock.

He found a pen and grabbed the pad bookies and songwriters always keep handy.

"We've got . . . " he scrawled . . .

We've got?

"We've got four aces . . . "

Yep, and that's what the Phillies had, all right.

Four of the damnedest arms ever assembled on one pitching staff.

It was summer 1957 when Joe Terry and three other South Philly teenagers were talked into changing the name of their doo-wop band.

South Philly was to doo-wop and early rock what Paris was to grand opera.

Dick Clark, who had this raging local TV hit called "American Bandstand," thought the kids had great promise. But he wanted Danny Rapp, Joe Terry, Frank Maffei and David White to change their name from The Juvenaires to Danny and the Juniors.

White, who wrote most of the group's original lyrics, had worked on a high-energy tribute to the different dances performed on a typical "American Bandstand" show. But Dick Clark disliked the title: "Do the Bop."

"Dick told us it was a dance that wasn't going to survive," Terry said yesterday from his home in Williamstown, N.J. "He suggested we rename it 'At the Hop,' which would cover all the dances being done at the time."

The 1957 Phillies had spurted into a tie for first place on July 15. A rare Connie Mack Stadium sellout saw rookie righthander Jack Sanford raise his record to 12-2 with a 6-2 victory over Vinegar Bend Mizell and the Cardinals.

The euphoria didn't last. Just as their loyal and musical fans, Danny and the Juniors, were about to become an international rock sensation, the Phillies collapsed. As "At the Hop" was loaded into the Top 40 radio launching pad, the Phillies were carted off the baseball stage with a 77-77 record.

In December, "At the Hop" began a 7-week run at No. 1 atop the charts. In a recent "Billboard Magazine" ranking of every rock hit to reach No. 1 in more than a half-century, "At The Hop" came in at No. 23.

In the iconic coming-of-age film, "American Graffiti," "At the Hop" was selected to lead the prom scenes.

"We were contacted by the production to perform our own song," Terry said. "We wanted to do it. But we were in production with another film and just couldn't work it out."

"Hop" was covered by Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids.

Four years before "American Graffiti's" Academy Award nominated 1973 release, "At the Hop" was performed before one of the largest live audiences in music history: A little concert in upstate New York that became known as Woodstock. Sha Na Na performed a frenetic, up-tempo, version of David White's doo-wop anthem while clad in gold lame jumpsuits.

White, who also wrote the lyrics for the chart-topping 1958 megahit "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay," moved on to a successful career as a music producer and lyricist. Front man Danny Rapp was found dead in a Las Vegas hotel room on April 5, 1983, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

I was a little skeptical when I clicked on the link to Joe Terry's salute to the Phillies. On an Internet radio show Terry and Maffei do, they played "Baseball's Four Aces" recently, then followed it with the original recording of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" as performed by Edward Meeker in 1908. In the 103 years since then, there have been few baseball songs - or sports songs for that matter - worth the earache.

I expected to hear poorly rhymed cliches stuffed into a stilted melody. But I think Terry and his aging group of golden-oldies survivors have cranked out something that will be easy for Phillies fans to embrace, particularly the Harry Kalas nod where Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay dispatch hitters with signature pitches in an economy of words: "Hamels throws - changeup - strike 3."

I have read some age-related negatives by a history- and geriatric-challenged blogger - not about the song but the seniority of the performers.

Funny . . . The song performed before every sporting event in America - usually sung badly off key - was written by another Key, Francis Scott, 299 years ago.

And that 1908 baseball ditty, so popular in the seventh inning, isn't exactly George Gershwin or even George Harrison.

For what it's worth, a quick poll of Phillies folks over 35 revealed that Ruben Amaro Jr., Charlie Manuel and Pat Gillick all have heard of Danny and the Juniors and their signature song.

Ruben: "I missed the original, but liked it in 'American Graffiti.' "

Charlie: "I was a fan of Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly. But I liked these guys, too. I listened to 'em."

Pat: "I was an Elvis guy, but liked 'At the Hop.' "

Joe Terry told me he wrote the final stanza that salutes bullpen, power, speed, coaching and management so the Phillies would know he was respectful of their entire game.

Danny and the Juniors are ready to rock you whether your dance thing is the Pony, the Rave or the Phlailing Phanatic.

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