It Only Hurts When They Sing

Given our now fixed image of members of the press as ruthless invaders of privacy who pursued Princess Diana to a grisly end, it hardly seems possible that once upon a time journalists and photographers actually worked in tandem to keep a celebrity's private life out of print. And no publication wielded the squeaky-clean magic wand with as much humor and good taste as 16 magazine. With good reason: Quashing the fervent longings of prepubescent girls was bad for business. The teen-dream mag had no paid advertisers from its inception in 1959 up until the mid-Seventies. All 16 cared about selling was fan-fan-fan-tasy!

In its peak year, 1967, 16 claimed one million copies sold at newsstands, a figure it managed to schmendrake into "The Top Favorite of Over Seven Million Readers" because of "pass-along" readership. It's still published today, with considerably less pass-along readership and with the likes of Hanson emblazoned on its cover. Mention 16 to someone age 32 and it's the magazine's pre-1975 look she remembers most -- those cheery disembodied heads of pop stars plunked down on innocuous cartoon bodies.

Even bad-boy stars like Alice Cooper, Mick Jagger, and (shudder, shudder) Dark Shadows's resident vampire Jonathan Frid were depicted happily riding a runaway toboggan with a polar bear or presiding over a picnic blanket near an oversize zebra. Fans of those halcyon days can now relive them twofold. Boulevard Books has just published a fascinating paperback by former 16 editors Randi Reisfeld and Danny Fields titled Who's Your Fave Rave? while Rhino Records has released a CD companion under the same title, with (count 'em) sixteen teen-idol treasures. Spiffy!

In keeping with the myth-preserving tone of the original magazine, Who's Your Fave Rave? includes no up-to-date pix of yesterday's heroes now sporting receding hairlines or dissipated, post-twelve-step glazes. True, there's an unpublished photo of David Cassidy giving the finger and the Hudson Brothers peeing into a fountain, but otherwise you see all the stars as you remember them, even while they reveal their groupie-groping days on the road.

To commemorate the release of these invaluable cultural documents, join us now as we count down ten of the worst torturers of song ever to elicit screams from adolescent girls and gut-wrenching groans from just about everyone else:

10. Frankie Avalon (years of 16 popularity: 1959-63); Fabian (years of 16 popularity: 1959-62) Why do we equate teen idols with artists of no discernible musical ability? Probably because of guys like Frankie Avalon and Fabian, idols "manufactured" by the same manager, Bob Marcucci (on whom the film The Idolmaker was loosely based). These two cheap knockoffs of the King were quickly separated from single-digit chart slots once Private Presley returned to civilian life. Avalon sang his first hit "DeDe Dinah" pinch-holding his nose, a posture many listeners would emulate while suffering through his entire recorded output. Fabian was even less musically accomplished, if that's possible, growling hits like "Tiger" and "Turn Me Loose" with all the finesse of a schoolyard bully shaking you down for your milk money. Without these two, payola would've never become a word.

9. Paul Peterson (years of 16 popularity: 1962-65) Essentially the first TV star turned teen idol turned recording star to follow in Ricky Nelson's wake. But even Ricky, with a cool do-nothing patriarch like Ozzie, would never have warbled the saccharine "My Dad" with a straight face like P.P. did. And Carl Betz wasn't even his dad! Darn suckup!

8. Patty Duke (years of 16 popularity: 1964-65) Here's another twist -- an Oscar-winning movie star (The Miracle Worker) turned TV star turned teen-idol clone of Lesley Gore. Too bad there wasn't a miracle worker present in the studio. On a session outtake from Duke's Legendary Masters Series CD, the producer clearly instructs Patty: "If it's wrong, let's make it LOUD wrong." Even double-tracked, the identical cousin sounds Lisa Simpson-meek on her lone Top 10 hit "Don't Just Stand There." Her spoken bridge ("If it's a game I don't want to play it!/And if it's goodbye/Why don't you just SAY IT?") showcases the same histrionics she'd deploy in the Eighties while portraying herself in her made-for-TV biopic.

7. Dino, Desi and Billy (years of 16 popularity: 1965-70) Dino, Desi and Billy were rock's first supergroup, but only because their parents were SUPER! Desi was Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's little drummer boy, Dino was Dean Martin's spawn and Billy's folks were ... uhhh, not famous. With all we know about the hell that sons of celebrity parents endure, why then couldn't any of these boys manage even a meager scream on their cover version of "Hang On Sloopy" or muster any real anger on "Get Off My Cloud"? Despite the tough fuzz-bass overtures of the group's anthem "The Rebel Kind," Dino's whining sounds not like a punk intent on pissing off his short-haired elders but rather like a kid being exhorted to take out the trash while Shindig is on the tube. The hate that catapulted this group to stardom is seismic. Rock's greatest foe, Frank Sinatra, "auditioned" the boys in Dean's living room, presumably with a well-stocked wet bar close by. After hearing a mere three songs, Sinatra signed the kids to his label, Reprise. That the Chairman of the Board and his pals believed kids couldn't tell the difference between real rock and this rancid racket speaks volumes about the generation gap.

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