Imagine that you are a young person of high-school age growing up in rural Wisconsin during the late 1940s. Your social life consists largely of piling with your friends into somebody’s 1930s-vintage roadster and heading to a game or a dance. Dance bands would not be playing rock ‘n’ roll yet; neither would they be playing the nascent R&B form, not in the lily-white regions of the upper Midwest. They wouldn’t be jazz bands, either—the swing era was over and bebop was not music for dancing. In the upper Midwest, the top dance bands would play mostly old-time music: lots of polkas and waltzes, with a few mazurkas and schottisches thrown in for the dancers who really knew their stuff. The stars who filled the halls included Frankie Yankovic and the Yanks, Whoopee John, Lawrence Duchow’s Red Raven Orchestra, Louie Bashell and His Silk Umbrella Orchestra, and others forgotten now. When I began plundering my father’s record collection over 40 years ago, they were among the artists I found there.
I am told that as a toddler, I referred to old-time music as “cow polkas,” and there was a good reason for that. Our hometown radio station played old-time music in the early morning (on a show called “Chore Time”) and in the early evening, so we would often hear it blasting on Dad’s barn radio. Mom liked it too, and if the TV was on after supper, it usually went off at 6:00 so she could hear the old-time show. Once I discovered my own music on WLS, old-time music seemed pretty square. But I was still absorbing a lot of it by osmosis, and 40 years ago this fall, one song in particular would have been impossible to escape: “The Rangers Waltz” by the Mom and Dads.
The Mom and Dads were not strictly an old-time group—they were a dance band from Washington state: Doris Crow, Quentin Ratliff, Leslie Welch, and Harold Hendren. They prided themselves on being able to play any sort of dance music, from swing to old time and maybe even a little denatured rock ‘n’ roll by the time that became a thing. But in 1971, they had an honest-to-god pop radio hit.
Allmusic.com says that “The Rangers Waltz” was their very first recording. I suppose it could have been, although given their deep roots in the Northwest, I am guessing they had been playing it for a long time before they committed it to vinyl. The story goes that a radio station in Montana was the first to play it, and the group became popular in Canada as a result. In the States, “The Rangers Waltz” spent five weeks on Billboard‘s Bubbling Under chart, reaching #101 on January 1, 1972. Much of the airplay it got in America came on country stations, although it didn’t crack the country top 40.
The most amazing chapter in the Mom and Dads’ story would happen a few thousand miles from Washington state, however. “The Rangers Waltz” was released in Australia in 1972, and it was a monster. It clocked in among the top singles of the year down there and became, according to a 1974 article in Billboard, the largest-selling single in the history of the Australian music biz up to that point. It was so big that the Mom and Dads were booked on a tour of Oz, although they were reportedly reluctant to go, for a couple of reasons. They had no interest in what a record-label executive called “the glamor places,” and Doris Crow was 69 years old at the time.
The Mom and Dads recorded a lot of albums over the years, until Leslie Welch died in 1983. And somewhere in the house I grew up in, on a shelf or in a box, tucked away and long forgotten, is a copy of the album containing “The Rangers Waltz,” a song my mother adored 40 years ago and could not get enough of. Here it is. The video will give you a headache, so just click, listen, and remember a time when this sort of thing was also pop music.