Babysitter Music, n., term first used by Thomas M. Neely (Am, b Grand Rapids MI, 1952 – ) and describing a musical genre consisting of songs which tell a sappy story, often employed by teenaged girls to entertain their charge(s) while babysitting. The genre has its roots in the east side of Cleveland, OH, and the girl songs of the early 1960s. It is widely-reported that many young boys fell in love with their babysitters while listening to Babysitter Music, at least until Sky King’s niece Penny next appeared in all her black-and-white glory on television.
If Koko Taylor is the Queen of the Blues, Sherry and Lynn Stanton are the Princesses of Babysitter Music. They were just teenagers, after all, much too young to be queens of anything.
In addition to being a great title for a crime novel – I call it, you can’t use it – Babysitter Music is an important but overlooked musical genre first identified by my brother, Tom. The genre has its roots on the east side of Cleveland, specifically the once all-white and now well-integrated suburb of South Euclid during the pre-British Invasion early 1960s.
At the time, and as is so often the case, the Stanton girls had no idea they were founding a genre, no idea of the social significance of their actions. They were just trying to keep the three Neely children entertained while earning 50 cents an hour for babysitting. The Stanton girls – sometimes Sherry and sometimes Lynn, hereafter referred to as Sherry Lynn with the understanding that it could have been either girl – always brought a plastic, wind-up record player and the newest 45 rpm records to babysitting gigs at the Neelys’ house. If you don’t know what 45 rpm records are – or were – you’re probably too young to enjoy this story and might as well stop here.
The first recorded instance of Babysitter Music being used as defined above went like this: 10-year-old Tom Neely and 7-year-old Joe Neely were snuggled in as close as they dared to the beauteous Sherry Lynn on the living room couch. Sherry Lynn was 14 or 15 years old. Five-year-old Amy Neely was playing with her dolls, oblivious to the strange and new attraction stirring in her brothers’ collective psyche. There was something in the air, as Phil Collins would say. Sherry Lynn wound up her record player and told the boys the story of what they were about to hear in all its scratched, single-speaker glory.
“OK, now in this song there’s a girl who’s in love with a boy named Johnny, and she has a party. Of course she’s hoping to dance with Johnny because she loves him, but Johnny dances with a mean girl named Judy and even kisses her. I mean, can you imagine how upset the girl was? She didn’t even want to invite Judy to the party in the first place; everybody hates Judy.”
“How do you know everybody hates Judy?”
“I just know, and besides, Judy’s got a real mean smile. Well, Johnny left the party with stupid Judy and then they both came back a little while later. Guess what? Now Judy’s wearing Johnny’s ring!”
“What does that mean?”
“It means Johnny and Judy are going steady, of course. OK, so the girl having the party sees this and she just starts bawling! Her tears started falling like raindrops.”
“Did that make Johnny feel bad?”
“Not so’s you’d notice. A few nights later there’s another party and sure enough, Johnny and Judy are kissing again. So Lesley – that’s the girl who’s singing, the one who was in love with Johnny in the first place – she starts dancing with some other guy and then she kisses him, just to make Johnny jealous.”
“Why did she want to make Johnny jealous?”
“Just listen, OK? Johnny jumps up and he hits the other guy, which showed that he really didn’t love Judy in the first place, he loved the girl singing the song.”
“Is that how boys show they love a girl, by punching someone?”
“Sometimes, yes, but a better way is to carry her books home from school or hold her hand at the movies.”
“Don’t their hands get sweaty?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t matter if they like each other. Now pipe down and let me finish explaining this song so we can listen to the record. So now Lesley and Johnny are going steady; that’s how it should have been from the beginning.”
“What about Judy?”
“Judy got what she deserved. She’s crying her eyes out but nobody cares because she stole Lesley’s boyfriend in the first place. That’s why the song is called ‘Judy’s Turn to Cry’; get it? OK, let’s listen to the record. After this there’s a good one about a girl who thinks the lifeguard at the beach where she swims is real cute and she’s got a crush on him but she can’t talk to him.”
“Why can’t she talk to him?”
“Just wait. We’re doing this one first.”
‘Cause now it’s Judy’s turn to cry,
Judy’s turn to cry,
Judy’s turn to cry,
‘Cause Johnny’s come back,
GREAT BABYSITTER MUSIC OF THE 1960s, additions to the list are hereby solicited:
- Judy’s Turn to Cry, Leslie Gore
- Johnny Angel, Shelley Fabares
- Soldier Boy, The Shirelles
- Blue, Navy Blue by Diane Renay
- Please Don’t Talk to the Lifeguard, Diane Ray
- Remember, The Shangri-Las
- Leader of the Pack, The Shangri-Las
- Dead Man’s Curve, Jan and Dean
- I’m Not Worth It, Bocky and the Visions (Cleveland only)
- My Boyfriend’s Back, The Angels