The picture above is a previously unpublished photo of my aunt Rosemary with Bobby Rydell in the 1960s.
One of Bobby Rydell's trademarks was his sweaters. The covers of his albums and singles often pictured him in amazing sweaters, and he also wore some great sweaters in the musical film Bye Bye Birdie.
I wish that I had all of his sweaters. I do have a sweater like the one that he's wearing on his album All the Hits, but the colors are different.
Rydell wasn't the only teen idol who habitually sported cardigans. In the book Getting It On: The Clothing of Rock 'n' Roll, Mablen Jones wrote, "Sweaters, skirts, shirtwaist dresses, sports jackets or suits and ties were part of the [American] Bandstand dress code." American Bandstand, at least in its early years, took pains to present the respectable, acceptable face of rock and roll.
The respectable cardigan sweater set the clean-cut teen idols like Rydell apart from the greasy, black-leather-jacketed rockers who were leading America's youth into rebellion and ruin. The leather jacket aligned the rockers with truckers and bikers, but the cardigan aligned teen idols with their parents' generation of pop singers, such as Bing Crosby and Perry Como. In that sense, Rydell's sweaters were already nostalgic in the early '60s. My nostalgia for them here is nostalgia for nostalgia.
This contrast between the nice, well-groomed "boy next door" and the disgusting uncouth rocker is prominent in Bye Bye Birdie. Similarly, in the film Grease, Danny (played by John Travolta) "dons a letter sweater toward the close of the film, as Bobby Rydell might have done in Bye Bye Birdie" and "is looked on as freakish by the other leather-clad members of his gang," Michael Dunne wrote in American Film Musical Themes and Forms. The symbolism of the cardigan sweater was not lost on Danny's gang—the Thunderbirds and the Pink Ladies.
Some Grease trivia: The high school in Grease was named "Rydell High" in homage to Bobby. The sequel to Grease—Grease 2—cast another teen idol, Tab Hunter, as the biology teacher. In the original Grease, adult film actor Harry Reems was originally cast to play the part of the track coach, but the studio changed its mind before shooting began.
Today on Music Weird, we're just going to sit back and enjoy some of Bobby Rydell's great sweaters.