MALT SHOP MEMORIES

If anything, it was the late 20th century rise of the shopping mall that killed off malt
shops, at least as a place where teenagers hung out, met and practiced social skills, enacted adolescent drama, fell in love for perhaps the first time, and — most of all — played music on the jukebox. These days, of course, teenagers congregate in the malls, hanging in food courts, walking around, mingling, and doing pretty much the same social enactments, but now the music is piped in and it just isn’t the same; there isn’t that shared sense of choice. And even the jukeboxes, if you can find one, are different, too. Now they’re connected to the Net and you download your play with the whole history of pop music at your disposal, with the eras, decades, fads, phases, and styles all merging into one huge musical buffet in which the existential “now” can be any time at all. What’s lost, at least musically, is the present as a singular moment in time. But for a time in the late ’50s and early ’60s, before all those sprawling, enticing malls, there were malt shops that gave teens a place to, well, be teenagers. This four-disc set from Time Life re-creates the feel of those lost days, and it’s a wonderful time capsule, featuring classic songs like the Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Sherry,” Ben E. King’s immortal “Stand by Me,” the Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby,” Connie Francis’ oddly haunting and melancholy “Where the Boys Are,” the Righteous Brothers’ grand emotional epic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around” and “California Girls,” Little Peggy March’s forlorn and dedicated “I Will Follow Him,” and some lesser gems like the Rip Chords’ “Hey Little Cobra” and the Diamonds’ “Little Darlin’.” The only thing missing is the tactile experience of punching the buttons on one of those big old beautiful jukeboxes and that timeless moment when the needle drops and life resumes with a song both familiar and new, one that belongs to a specific place and time. All that is gone these days. It’s all times at once now in a blended cacophony of songs, but if the so-called malt shop days weren’t really simpler (life and love being constants and never really simple), they were at least a clear moment in time. Nothing stays forever. It’s pure physics that makes that impossible. But this wonderful box set preserves the illusion that yes, we can still go back, if only for the length of a song or two. That bit of time travel, folks, is a delightful kind of magic.

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