When I was a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s I was a voracious reader—reading everything from the latest Archie and Superman Comics and MAD Magazines to history books and biographies at the Oglesby Public Library. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I was a bookworm or anything (and what kid would ever make that claim anyway?), but I did like to spend a lot of time in the library.
I also spent a lot time reading magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. I was really into some of the cool stuff that was being invented or imagined for the future like small one-person helicopters, cars that could be turned into small airplanes, and personal jet-packs that would have us all scooting across the sky by the end of the century.
And just in case you’re laughing and finding this amusing, I remember these cars back in the 60s that were also boats. That’s right. I once saw this guy drive his car into the Illinois River and the car became a boat. Actually, I saw a number of guys drive their cars into the Illinois River, but I think they might have been drunk or something.
However, what I really liked about these two magazines were the cool advertisements in the back which advertised everything from Army surplus tanks, government land in New Mexico, chemicals, laboratory equipment, camping supplies, telescopes, rockets, and magic supplies. Yeah, just about everything imaginable.
But what caught my eye, at least back in the summer of 1971 when I wanted to form a rock and roll band was an advertisement for aspiring songwriters to have their lyrics made into a song. After my plans had fallen through to buy a set of drums with my earnings from corn detasseling because I had only lasted one day on the job, when I finally got paid for that one day’s work I had just enough money to buy some beads from the 9th Circle Stonehenge Head Shop and a tambourine from the Sears catalog.
Although tambourine players were not in demand too much and there was no way I was going to buy a drum set, it was the best I could do for the time being. I just dreaded, if I were to play a tambourine in the band, what people might think or say.
“So, tell me Jeffrey what instrument do you play in the band?”
“I play the tambourine.”
“Ohhh, the tambourine. How original.”
See what I mean?
On the other hand, if I could write a song and it got published that was just as good as being in a band and I sure as heck wouldn’t have to worry about someone getting on me about being a tambourine player.
I am not quite certain why a science and mechanics magazine would be looking for songwriters, but that’s where I came across an advertisement for one promising me royalties and publishing rights. All I had to do was send them my lyrics and they would make my song a hit. Like I said, it was the next best thing to being in a band guess. I mean if I were to write a song that would become a hit, perhaps with royalties I made from the song, I could buy those drums.
Besides, I loved to write. The summer before I had sent a letter to Archie Comics and it won First Prize. My first publishing credit and I got paid 5.00—a five-dollar check from the Chase Manhattan Bank. Maybe this was the way to go after all.
So, I sat down and wrote my first song. Taking some of the superlatives and vernacular of the times, I made sure to use as many “groovy’s” as I could and lightly seasoned with one or two “far outs” and of course, one “out-of-sight.” I listened to some of those Bubble Gum classics by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express, The Archies as well as Tommy James and the Shondells and The Lemon Pipers with a bit of the Beach Boys thrown in for good measure.
And part of the inspiration had come from Glenda the daughter of one of my mom’s friends who I noticed filled out a bikini very nicely when we went swimming together in the Illinois River that summer as well as the girl I saw in a bikini top when I was corn detasseling.
Combine all those elements together and that’s when I came up with the lyrics for, “A Groovy Chick in a Bikini.” I still remember that all-important, catchy chorus that I knew, as soon as I wrote it, would make it a hit:
“She’s a groovy chick in a bikini
walking down the beach
she’s a groovy chick in a bikini
walking down the beach.”
Well, something like that, but I knew it was going to be hot. A groovy chick in a bikini? Can’t get any hotter than that, right? Remember, I was 13 at the time.
So, I sent it off to the address listed in the ad and waited. And waited. And waited some more. July rolled into August and still no reply from the company if I am not mistaken was located in either Connecticut or New York.
Another week passed and then another and still no word from the company. With just one week left of my summer vacation, I finally got a reply from the company.
I nervously ripped open the very official looking envelope and read the enclosed letter that went something like:
Dear Mr. Jeffrey Miller (you could see where my name in a different style of font had been typed in). We are pleased to inform you that your lyrics for Groovy Chick in a Bikini (again, a different font had been used and I could see that there had been a typo but it hadn’t been fully erased) have been carefully reviewed by our songwriters and we believe this can become a hit single. We get hundreds of lyrics daily from songwriters all over the country, but the lyrics you submitted are some of the best we have received. Please look over the materials enclosed with this letter and we look forward to hearing from you soon.
Somebody please pinch me. This has got to be a dream.
The lyrics you submitted.
The best we have received.
Oh, this was too good to true.
I just had to call Glenda and tell her that the lyrics I kind of wrote about her was going to be made into a song.
I reached for the phone just about the time my heart skipped a few beats and nearly stopped as I started to read the enclosed information. They wanted money. Not much, just two hundred dollars but for a 13-year-old with a five-dollar-a-week allowance, two hundred dollars was like two hundred thousand dollars. For the low, low price of only two hundred dollars my song, “A Groovy Chick in a Bikini” would be set to music and some 45’s made. For an additional hundred dollars I could have 50 more 45’s pressed. Even if I could save up my allowance, and figure in Christmas, Easter, and Birthday money, it would take me a year to be able to afford those kinds of prices.
And then I realized in all my excitement I had phoned Glenda and she was the other end waiting for me to speak as I gazed at the information about my song.
“Hello, who is?” Glenda asked. “Hello?”
“Hello Glenda, it’s me Jeffrey.”
“Jeff. Jeffrey. Marlene’s son.”
“Oh, that Jeffrey. Hey, how are you doing?”
“Ah, okay. Yeah, I am okay.”
“That’s nice. What do you want?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all,” I stammered, quickly regaining what little composure I had to regain. “I’ll call you back. Bye.”
Yeah, that went very well.
It might have all ended there in total defeat and ego-bruising fashion for me had it not been for an episode of Green Acres I saw a couple of nights later. In this particular episode, Mr. Douglas’ farmhand Eb, also wanted to be a famous songwriter and he had sent some lyrics off to a publishing company and he had gotten the same kind of letter I had gotten telling him that his lyrics would also make a hit record and all he had to do was send some money and his song would be recorded.
That’s when a new word entered my vernacular: scam.
I felt better after I saw that episode but I never wrote any more song lyrics again. “A Groovy Chick in a Bikini” was my first and only songwriting attempt. And as for my dream of being in a band, well that had already come to a sudden end after I got hauled off to the police station with my brother and my Mom. But that’s another story.
I often wondered what became of those scam artists hiding out in those advertisements in the back of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science promising a bright future as a songwriter or if “you can draw this turtle, you too can be a successful artist? I wonder if today, they are now the ones sending me email telling me that I have been bequeathed all this money and all I have to do is send them my bank information?