10,000 Broken Hearts
Detroit Free Press
by William S. Welt
August 12, 1973
There are perhaps 10,000 prepubescent girls jammed into the cavernous Coba Arena. Instead of the sweet smell of marijuana, the usual odor rising from a crowd of young people waiting for a rock concert to begin, the air is thick with Ambush perfume and Clearasil. Flashes of brilliance spark from young mouths as the house lights bounce off braces. The fans range in age from about 8 to 14. There can't be more than five drivers licenses in the place.
Then five slender males bounce onto the stage and the audience seems seized by some hellish blood fever. Faces twist into masks of agony. Young bodies writhe and rattle in the seats. Tears stream. Fingers claw cheeks and yank ironed hair. And screams, most of all; screams, so loud they are nearly deafening. It is a shrill, chilling primal sound---10,000 leopards.
This is Osmondmania, a form of abnormal behavior caused by the physical presence of five brothers from Utah who sing. They are the Osmonds-Alan, 24; Wayne 21; Merrill, 20; Jay, 18; and Donny, 15.
The Osmonds are the leading perpetrators of rock music designed for the younger brothers and sisters of kids old enough to drive themselves to concerts.
Call it what you want-cradle rock, Clearasil rock, subteen rock, prepubescent rock or prenatal rock-it is a formidable force in the music business today, and it has made the Osmonds (as well as the Jackson Five) very rich young men.
So many flash cubes are exploding in Cobo Hall, the effect is stroboscopic. The Instamatics fire off continuously throughout the Osmonds' two-hour set, and somehow the screams build, rather than decrease, in intensity.
The five brothers are dressed in white silk cowboy suits, decorated with fringe and glitter. Their hair is long, but remains about the shoulder. Their music is hard-driving electric rock with teeny-bop lyrics, songs like "Just Like a Yo-Yo," "Don't Know Which Road to Follow" and "One Way Ticket to Anywhere." The beat is Led Zeppelin or the Grateful Dead, but the poetry is that of an early Ricky Nelson: The adult world is screwy but we got each other...bop-sha-bop.
Donny, with a soft black shag hairdo, causes the biggest stir wherever the Osmonds perform. Donny (5 feet 7 inches, 119 pounds; hobbies-electronics and football) has probably already broken more hearts than Elvis and Paul McCartney combined.
Just look at Sharon Huntley, a 15 year old from Detroit. She and two girlfriends have snuck into vacant, front row seats. Sharon is holding a poster of Donny over her head, jumping up and down, sobbing, screaming and shouting, "DonnyohDonnyohDonnyohDonny..."
Donny himself is leaning over the stage near Sharon, crooning a solo number, "Puppy Love," one of his hit singles that was gold (more than $1 million in sales) in the US. and silver (more than 250,000 records sold) in England.
"And we'll show them, It's not a Puppy Luh-uh-ve..."
The little girls go into near-total seizure whenever Donny does a solo ballad like "Puppy Love," "Young Love," or Johnny Mathis' "Twelfth of Never." Why?
"Because I think Donny's the ideal guy for any girl," Sharon says, a few days after The Osmonds' August 10th Detroit concert. Her voice is still raspy.
He's so nice and polite. He's open and gentle, and he's got the sexiest look; he's just so CUTE! I hope that wherever I may be, I'll always long to see Donny."
On Friday afternoon, five hours before the concert, the Osmonds' manager and promotion people threw a press reception in a banquet room at the Sheraton-Cadillac across from their suites at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge.
There was orange-juice and ginger ale punch, pastry and meatballs. The boys obligingly posed for pictures with newsmen's children, signed autographs and chatted. They were all polite and unpretentious.
The Osmonds are Mormons and don't smoke or drink. They still consider themselves residents of Utah, the home of that religion, although they spend most of their time at their house near Los Angeles. It is said they give 10 percent of all they earn-the sect's standard tithe-to the Mormon Tabernacle.
"Where are we performing next?" says Wayne. "Gee, I really don't know. I just go where I'm told. We love to go to our ranch in Utah and ride horses," he says. "And we have our own recording studio there so it's really great." There's no cracking their nice guy image, perhaps because it's really them.
The five brothers began singing together for the entertainment of their immediate family, learning "The Old Oaken Bucket," barbershop-style first.
Legend has it they were visiting Disneyland with their mother when a talent scout for that park noticed them, thinking they were cute because they were dressed alike. He asked them if they had an act and one of the boys said they could sing.
However it happened, the Osmonds were hired to perform at Disneyland 11 years ago. They were spotted there by Andy Williams' father and that lead to appearances on the Williams TV show throughout the 1960s, other jobs, and eventually, to fame and fortune.
They studied dancing and music, each taking up several instruments. Now their act is a polished, highly energetic package of music and choreography that not only captures the hearts of young girls, but also pleases parents as well. (The Osmonds sold out shows at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, delighted adults in Europe and Japan and broke a box office record at the Canadian National Exposition in Toronto.)
The Osmonds' discography is startling to someone over 16 who has smugly taken little note of their career: more than 15 million records sold last year. A total of 16 million sellers at last count. Eleven gold albums and singles in a single year (1971), beating marks held by the Beatles (9) and Elvis (8). And then there are the posters, T-shirts, portraits and even the "Osmond Brothers Mother's Cook Book," $5 a copy.
In Cobo Hall, Star Security men and women (the females were brought in especially to control the Osmonds' crowd) are accepting gifts for the boys from adoring fans. Cakes. Posters. Hats. Money for Osmond charities. Shirts. Jewelry. Pillows embroidered with messages like, "We love the Osmonds!" It happens everywhere they go.
On stage, the boys (it seems impossible to call them men, even though only Donny has not yet reached majority) are hot into their biggest production number, "We All Fall Down."
Strobe lights are flashing and the Osmonds are jerking through frenzied karate moves, leaping, shouting, punching and kicking at the air and each other (though the blows never land.)
What a spectacle. Cute, and tough too! It's almost too much for the Osmondmaniacs. Sharon Huntley seems to have passed out; she is slumped back into her seat, but she revives for the finale--Donny setting his jaw as three brothers hold up half-inch white pine boards.
They are all singing as Donny drives first a frail white fist, then an elbow through the boards, splitting them neatly in half. It takes him three kicks to get the third board, but he does it and the six broken halves are thrown to the crowd.
Then it is time for their '50s number. Slipping on black lame motorcycle jackets and black Harley-Davidson caps, they do oldies like "Get a Job," "Jailhouse Rock" and "Let's Go To the Hop." Ten-year-old brother Jimmy joins them. It's an excellent performance, complete with syncopated movements, hard-rock posturing and an accurate reproduction of the rock and roll sound.
There are also excerpts from their latest album, "The Plan," which was produced by Alan and written by Alan, Wayne and Merrill. In the album, says Alan, "We deal with our concepts about life-where did I come from, where am I going."
"That's something we really believe in," Alan tells the audience when the "Plan" medley is finished. "But there's something else we really believe in," he adds, introducing the next song. "AND THAT'S HAVING A GOOD TIME!" It's OK to ponder the infinite universe, but not for too long at one sitting.
When it's over, the little girls bowl over the ushers and rush the stage, but too late: The Osmonds have gone. They've learned they can't do encores because the fans would mob them.
Outside, the girls mill about on the sidewalk, reluctant to leave and end the experience. They discuss the ebb and flow of their ecstasies, saying things like, "Yeah, but remember when Donny sang..."
Many of the more sensitive fans have been completely overcome and are literally unable to speak coherently. They sit on the curbs, trembling and weeping uncontrollably. OhDonnyohDonnyohDonnyohDonny.
Their only consolation, they say, is that Mormon Donny will not be allowed to have a real date until he's 16 on December 9th.
"Then he can pick one of us if he wants," says Sharon Huntley.
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