While the no-man’s-land of 1960 had made stars of Frankie Avalon and Bobby Vee, wipe-clean fifties faces who would inform future revivals like Grease, it had also allowed for a second, slower and less vaunted, wave of modern pop. Pop’s deceleration led to a dark, post–rock ’n’ roll sound, one which would became a fertile nursery for a pair of innovators who began experimenting in earnest, a pair who would give modern pop renewed vigor.
If rock ’n’ roll’s initial blithe cacophony (1955–58) had liberated teenagers, then the period immediately after (1958–61), like the final scene of The Graduate, saw doubt and fear and a sense of agoraphobia creeping in. These were new and very real teenage emotions, and they needed an artistic outlet, away from the increasingly adult (Darin’s “Mack the Knife,” no. 1, ’59) and plain silly (Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” no. 1, ’60) records dominating the chart. The Aquatones’ “You,” a minor American hit from the tail end of ’58, had articulated this still, small need for calm. It was a 6/8 ballad that owed little to classic rock ’n’ roll beyond its heavy backbeat. The backing track was a mush of repetitive piano, thrummed acoustic guitars, and dense, soupy bass. It sounded like the musicians were three rooms away. Over this, a keening female vocal, high and pure yet oddly emotionless, echoing in a well of loneliness, gave the record a hypnotic, womblike quality.
The single’s eerie qualities would be exaggerated further by the Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (no. 1, ’58) a few months later; the vocal was softer but still pure, soothing, almost maternal, and the lyric sat halfway between a love song and a eulogy. Again the backing track had a half-speed, sludgy drum sound, everything was soft and heavy at the same time, creating a mantra-like feel. It was remarkable, and after it hit number one in late ’58 this sound was soon replicated: Ritchie Valens’s “Donna,” Donnie Owens’s “Need You,” Rosie and the Originals’ “Angel Baby,” all great, all big hits. There was even a Hawaiian variation, Santo and Johnny’s “Sleep Walk,” which was another number one. We can safely assume that David Lynch bought these records.