A tipsy Tom Ewell staggers into his apartment, pulls an album from its jacket, plops it on a turntable, positions the needle, and punches the on button.

After a short guitar intro, Julie London begins to sing Cry Me a River. In his stupor, Ewell sees ghostly images of London singing to him.

It was 1956, I was seven years old, and my brother and I had sneaked into a drive-in theater by climbing over the back wall. The movie was The Girl Can’t Help It. But I wasn’t interested in Tom Ewell’s hallucinations or Julie London’s sultry singing or Jayne Mansfield’s form-fitting dresses. Nor was I interested in the musical cameos by some of the biggest rock and roll stars of the day.

My focus was on the playground that sat at the foot of the giant screen. It had swings and a slide and a large sandbox. That’s where I headed, while my brother, six years older and already quite the juvenile delinquent, went to find friends to hang out with.

A side note to this experience is that Cry Me a River is the only popular song I know of that uses the word plebeian. “Remember, I remember, all that you said. You told me love was too plebeian. Told me you were through with me, and now you say you love me . . . .”

Continuing the side note, Cry Me a River was written for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in the 1955 movie, Pete Kelly’s Blues, but was dropped from the script. And there it was, a song without a singer. It was offered to Peggy King, but Columbia Records objected – wait for it – to the word plebeian in the lyric.

And so Julie London recorded it. After she sang it as a musical cameo in The Girl Can’t Help It, the song became a best-seller.

The movie was silly and not well received by critics. Teenagers, however, loved it because of the music. There were performances by Little Richard, Johnny Olenn, Eddie Cochran, the Platters, Gene Vincent, and other rock stars of that era.

A year after I sneaked into that drive-in, The Girl Can’t Help It reached Liverpool, England. I had been more interested in the swing set than the movie, but a 16-year-old English lad named John was enthralled by the film’s music. Up to that point, he had heard rock and roll, but had never seen performances by the American rock and roll stars he worshiped. Watching them in the movie inspired John to follow his dream of becoming a successful rock-and-roller himself.

Around that same time, John met a guy named Paul, who demonstrated his musical chops by performing Twenty Flight Rock the way Eddie Cochran had in The Girl Can’t Help It. John, impressed, invited Paul to join his group, the Quarrymen.

The group went through a number of personnel changes. In 1960, it also changed its name from the Quarrymen to the Beatles. And the rest, indeed, is history.

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