When I was a boy, my mother loved listening to American crooners on our old wooden stereo console – Dean Martin was her favorite.
Though I hated his “old people” music as I kid, I listen to it frequently on satellite radio when I’m driving my truck.
Here’s why: Dino celebrated romance, “a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love,” says Dictionary.com.
And if modern music is the measure, romance is dead.
I point to Billboard Magazine’s Hot 100 list.
Last week’s No. 1 hit was “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran. His song is popular, no doubt, because of its eloquent lyrics:
I’m in love with the shape of you
We push and pull like a magnet do
Although my heart is falling too
I’m in love with your body
And last night you were in my room
And now my bedsheets smell like you…
No. 2 on the charts was “Bad and Boujee” by American hip hop group Migos. Many of the lyrics for the song are unpublishable in a family newspaper, but, with edits in parentheses, these lines will do:
(Fornicating) on your (derogatory term for a woman that sounds like witch)
She a (prostitute, prostitute, prostitute, prostitute)
Cookin’ up dope in the crockpot, (pot)…
Ah, modern romance. Things sure have changed since Dino dropped off the charts.
Whereas today’s top hits celebrate human nature at its most base, Dino’s music spoke to the heart.
Consider the lyrics to “Amore,” which means “love” in Italian:
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine
In 1964, when The Beatles’ new sound made them the most popular band on Earth, Dino knocked “Hard Day’s Night” out of the top spot on the charts. He did so with “Everybody Loves Somebody,” an old-fashioned song that still resonates with all age groups:
Everybody loves somebody sometime
Everybody falls in love somehow
Something in your kiss just told me
That sometime is now
Whereas many of today’s hit songs are vulgar and cynical, Dino’s songs celebrate the subtle dance of the spirit between a man and a woman – the magic that occurs when two complementary natures collide.
Dino’s songs celebrate mystery – the deep interest and curiosity a man holds for a woman and a woman for a man.
They celebrate optimism – the hope that one day a special person will enter your life and sweep you off your feet, a person you will love forever.
The simple, intense lyrics of his song “Sway” sum up this longing well:
Other dancers may be on the floor
Dear, but my eyes will see only you
Only you have the magic technique
When we sway I go weak
I know Dino had his peccadilloes in his personal life, but his music remains untainted. With every passing year, as coarseness seeps into our culture a little more, his songs hold more power over me. Their sweetness and respectfulness uplift me.
We need to get back to that spirit – the spirit of romance. I can’t think of a better day to do so than Valentine’s Day.
All we need to do is study the older couples who attend the annual Dean Martin Festival in Steubenville, Ohio, Dino’s hometown.
As the Dean Martin impersonator takes the stage – a fellow so convincing you think the old crooner is there in the flesh – they saunter to the front of the stage holding hands. They begin to sway with a sweetness and easiness that couples knew long ago.
When there was romance.
Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery novel, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc.