Music : Requiem for a ‘Dreamer’

With the recent passing of Freddie Garrity, one burning question remains: Freddie who?

Yes, the dream is still over ... but even before the passing of rock’s original dork, the media would rather have pretended that Freddiemania never happened.

Freddie Garrity: rock ‘n’ roll’s original dork.

Sadly, the rock press has paid virtually no attention to the recent demise of Freddie Garrity, glossing over the importance of Freddie & the Dreamers in the British Invasion pantheon and that of Freddiemania as rock’s first truly disposable pop-music phenomenon. Yet no band has ever utilized its 15 minutes of fame as exhaustively as did Freddie Garrity — a former milkman from Manchester, England — and his charges. Nothing, not even the worst receding hairlines this side of Sy Sperling, stopped these mirthful morons. By mid-1965, even as the brief vestiges of their notoriety ticked away, one couldn’t help but be awed as the Freddie Organization worked overtime to shovel Freddie (the man and the insipid dance named for him) down our throats. There’s enough memorabilia collecting dust in warehouses to prove that “Freddiemania” really did exist, I’m Telling You Now.

No doubt, the Freddie Organization watched the rapid rise of the Beatles in 1963 and arrived at the same conclusion that Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham did: Sooner or later, everyone would be looking for a pop group that was the complete antithesis of this overexposed Fab Four. Lacking Oldham’s Orwellian vision, they believed that group to be Freddie and the Dreamers, a merry band of idiots that had been kicking around since 1961.

Whereas the Beatles were clever, handsome heartthrobs, Freddie and the Dreamers were ugly, balding thugs who looked as if they were peeled off of a Dick Tracy comic strip with Silly Putty. Freddie’s press agent had his work cut out for him trying to make the Dreamers not sound like every little girl’s nightmare. The sleeve notes for the band’s first U.S. Mercury album described bassist Pete Birrell as a “young Eddie Mayerhoff, with big eyes and a jutting chin,” while failing to mention guitarist Roy Crewsdon’s Nixonian hairdo and what appears to be an artificial right eye. Theirs were hardly the kind of pop-star faces that manufacturers wanted to put on pillowcases. Worst of the bunch was Freddie, whose geeky, knock-kneed-with-horn-rimmed-glasses look anticipated Elvis Costello by a good 12 years.

The only way for the boys to outdo the Fab Four was to devise their own zany gimmicks. Freddie and the Dreamers made their motion-picture debut a full year before the Beatles with the 1963 film What a Crazy World. Meant to be a showcase for British pop star Joe Brown, the film is stolen out from under him when the Dreamers pull their trousers down to expose heart-encrusted boxers and sing “Short Shorts.” London britches falling down, indeed.

No gimmick was as endearing as the group’s homespun dance “the Freddie,” devised in 1965 to break the group in America. A full year after every Liverpool group and its uncle had scooped up at least three U.S. chart hits, the States indeed seemed ready for Freddie. The quintet’s two-year-old British hit “I’m Telling You Now” finally reached number one stateside. This couldn’t have come at a better time, since Britain was concurrently ready to drop Freddie and the Dreamers like a lead teabag. Perhaps the Motherland anticipated the irreparable damage the Freddie dance might wreak on swinging London tourism. A dance craze that seemed to issue from the Ministry of Silly Walks, the Freddie took Chubby Checker’s post-Brit Invasion comeback down with it as the world decided en masse that it was not yet ready for the sight of a rotund black man doing a dance with all the offensive precision of a Nazi goosestep.

In the spring of ‘65, Herman’s Hermits, a rival Manchester group, posed the most serious challenge to Freddie’s reign as The British Pop Star Parents Like More Than Kids Do. They topped the U.S. charts with a maudlin skiffle ballad entitled “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter.” Almost immediately, Yanks took Herman (future VH1 host Peter Noone) to their bosoms like a sick puppy. Freddie & Herman even faced off on an historic Hullabaloo episode. Freddiemania arguably peaked when Noone gamely joined in and did the Freddie, but you can see him making a mental note not to sign off on any “Do the Herman” proposals sitting on his desk.

While Herman’s Hermits never got their own Donruss Trading cards (as did Freddie), they did score a second number one with “I’m Henry the VIIIth I am” and a string of hits that lasted slightly longer than a slow and painful death. The Hermits went on to have a tedious film career, yet somehow narrowly missed approximating that special brand of box-office poison that was Freddie and the Dreamers. Even nostalgia hasn’t improved this wobbly body of work. In her ’80s book Rock Films, Linda J. Sandahl writes of their first celluloid zero, Cuckoo Patrol: “This film may be all right for very small children with no discrimination, but I wouldn’t count on it.” Ditto for Seaside Swingers and Universal Picture’s 1966 exploitation film Out of Sight, which could describe Freddie and the Dreamers’ microscopic billing below the Knickerbockers, the Turtles, Gary Lewis, and even the Astronauts. Its ridiculous plot revolved around a secret organization (F.L.U.S.H.) whose sole purpose was to wipe out rock groups. F.L.U.S.H. needn’t have lifted a finger to finish off Freddie and the Dreamers. The record-buying public had already seen to that. In droves.

After a final U.S. album — the downtrodden Fun Lovin’ — the band retreated into the British cabaret club circuit and children’s TV shows. Any chance the band had of getting a place in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame was dashed when Rolling Stone’s 1980 History of Rock and Roll declared: “Freddie and the Dreamers represented a triumph of rock as cretinous swill” while omitting the fact that Freddie was making manta-ray noises way before Yoko Ono and the B52s. Or that naming a dance after oneself gave James Brown, heretofore a proponent of The Mashed Potato and The Alligator, something to think about. Or that maybe we need more lovable cretinous swill in the Hall. Freddie’s in Dreamland for good now, but someday, when rock has recycled itself up its own ass too many times, maybe some nerd rocker or fascist youth out there will grab this pile of Freddie vinyl and memorabilia, try out the arms-flailing dance steps, and the world will finally be ready to do the Freddie. I’m Telling You Not.