Photo: Courtesy of Tom Locke
“Moments in Time” Captures Rock n’ Roll Trivia and the Music of the 50s, 60s and 70s
Vancouver music historian Tom Locke transfers his encyclopedic knowledge from the airwaves to the page / BY Kim Hughes / February 10th, 2023
Tom Locke is the kind of guy you hope to sit beside on a long-haul flight. The 72-year-old Vancouver-based music historian is upbeat and approachable, and filled to the brim with fascinating trivia about rock and roll from the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Love of music from that formative era propelled Locke to create a radio series called Moments in Time, where snappy scripted origin stories about hits and notable misses from the past are read and then capped with a spin of the song in question.
In August 2000, Locke’s segments — which he’d been brainstorming since 1986 — began running on Treasure Island Oldies, a globally broadcast radio program hosted by his friend and long-time music exec Michael Godin, the onetime vice-president of artist and repertoire with A&M Records Canada. They met through a mutual friend after Godin moved to the west coast in the mid-80s.
The Moments in Time segments — described by Locke as “curated walks down memory lane” — air weekly to this day, and they form the foundation of Locke’s book, Moments in Time: Stories About Artists and Songs of the 50s, 60s, and 70s For Fans of Music … From a Music Fan.
Each of the 120 stories in the book, which are transcripts of the radio segments, come with a QR code that readers can scan with their mobile devices and hear the song they’ve just read about, recreating the radio experience. It’s a ball for fans of the era, with brief, factoid-rich, easily digestible tales gathered under self-explanatory headings such as “Country Crossovers,” “From Across the Pond,” and “From R&B to You and Me.”
Great tales abound. Take the story of “I Love Rock ‘n Roll,” a monster hit for Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. As Locke tells it, Jett’s fledging all-female rock band, the Runaways, were on tour in 1976 when they saw a group called The Arrows performing the song on British TV. Jett was the only one who wanted to record it, which she did a few years later, to massive acclaim, after she left the Runaways.
Then there’s the story of how “Mony Mony,” by Tommy James and the Shondells, was almost called “Sloopy.” James had been struggling with a title for the song until the day he stepped outside for a break and saw the Mutual of New York building, with its initials, MONY, illuminated in red, at the top. It stuck.
Locke spoke to Zoomer about Moments in Time and why fans of the period should seek it out.
KIM HUGHES: How many of the segments you created over the years are presented in the book?
TOM LOCKE: That was the toughest part. I’ve done over a thousand of these. I still write them every week, so the hard part was whittling it down and deciding on the chapters. Could I write another book? Sure. There are lots of stories still out there to tell.
KH: The stories aren’t organized chronologically, but gathered in topical baskets. Tell me about that process?
TL: The history and evolution of rock and roll has many facets. If you look at it as a pond filled by tributaries, the chapters are those tributaries. [There were] the early days … then came the influence of females, then street corner harmony, folk music, [and music from] across the pond, with the English getting into the fray. It’s not organized chronologically, because all these things were happening simultaneously.
KH: Was using QR codes for these songs a tricky proposition given your target demographic?
TL: I got lucky, timing-wise. People who grew up with songs from the 50s, 60s and 70s maybe aren’t so tech-savvy, but during COVID, people were getting introduced to QR codes as part of their vaccination process. On top of that, restaurants started using them instead of paper menus. The older generation was forced to use them. It was a perfect fit. Plus, I wanted something unique for my book, as well as something of real value.
KH: These segments were intended for radio. It feels like the QR codes help to bridge the two mediums.
TL: Yes. And the other beautiful thing is, we all recollect music differently, depending on where you were when you first heard it. It’s like theatre of the mind. Having a written piece and a sonic piece really enhances the experience.
KH: Have any specific stories drawn outsized feedback or response?
TL: A few folks have said some stories gave them goosebumps, like the story about The Drifters and how they came to record “Save the Last Dance for Me.” I was in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, six years before I wrote the book, and I was directed to look at this one piece, an invitation to a wedding. On the card was scrawled the lyrics to this song that became a big hit in 1959. They were scrawled by a guy named Jerome Felder, who wrote as Doc Pomus. He had to walk with crutches [Felder had polio as a child] and this was written at his wedding as he watched his wife dance with all these other guests. He came up the idea of saving the last dance for him. That really got me and a lot of other people. It’s a great story.
KH: I really like your book a lot, but I was disappointed to see a chapter titled “Girls with the Biggest Hits” since it’s obvious you think the women spotlighted are/were genuine achievers.
TL: Fair question, given the times. I guess I was hoping just to bring attention to the chapter, because there were some women in rock and roll that were phenomenal talents. Plus, they had tremendous courage and opened doors for other people. Hopefully, the respect I feel for these women comes through.
KH: It’s amazing new segments are still running today.
TL: I’ve been doing this for 23 years this August, and I still do my weekly Moment in Time. The segments air on Treasure Island Oldies on Sunday nights, then I send my most recent story out to my newsletter subscribers the next day. This work really puts a smile on my face, and hopefully will for others as well. I was getting grouchy during COVID when we were trapped. But it gave me time to write the book. Reflecting back on the music I heard growing up really cheered me. And with all the stories I have, Moments in Time 2.0 is definitely a possibility.