Sunday, October 9, 2011

Raised on Records

I guess it’s not surprising that my taste in music is relatively eclectic.  My formative years were spent in the heyday of vinyl and Top Forty radio.  As the fourth of nine children I usually didn’t have a lot to say about what we listened to.  There was one radio, one record player (an old monaural Zenith) and, for at least one whole year, no television. 

I remember spending hours listening to my parents’ albums as a family.  Fifty years on I can still recall a few of the artists; Jerome Kern (Big Band, I think), Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo playing the vibes, the Four Lads and The Lettermen singing beautiful pop harmonies.  My sisters and I danced the reel to the Billy Vaughn’s rendition of The Orange Blossom Special, twirling around the living room.  We sang along with Mitch Miller albums.  Mom’s show tunes also had their place, especially South Pacific and The Music Man.

Thanks to my mother I discovered the genius of Les Paul years before he became an icon to a generation of rock and roll guitarists with his signature model Gibson guitar.  “The Best of Les Paul and Mary Ford” was the album.  The cover was blue, the record was black and the songs were wonderful. One sticks with me to this day, an old standard called “The Tennessee Waltz”.

“I remember the night of the Tennessee Waltz,
When an old friend I happened to see. 
I introduced her to my darling and while they were dancing,
My friend stole my sweetheart from me.”   

How sad! Mary’s soprano is clear and sweet and Les’s playing is solid, not flashy mind you, just solid. Perfect for the song.

As my brother David, seven years my senior, started high school and got a part time job, “singles” started appearing our house. Singles were 45 RPM records (as opposed to the 33 1/3 RPMs of LPs) with one song on each side.  It had a bigger hole in it so you had to have a special plastic adapter in the middle to play it on the record player.  (To this day I have never understood why the record companies did this.  Why not just make the hole the same size as on an album?)

Obviously the rest of us were forbidden from touching David’s records and just as obviously we snuck into his room and got them every chance we had.  Thanks to that illicit conduct I was exposed to the likes of Sam Cooke, Barbara Lewis, Chubby Checker, Ferron Young and Little Richard.

I also remember a several movie soundtracks from some dark haired, hip shaking dude from Tupelo, Mississippi showing up around this time.  Must have been my older sisters were obsessed with Elvis?

I don’t remember where I got the money to buy my first album (perhaps a gift?) or how much it cost, but I do remember what it was.  The Beach Boys “All Summer Long”.  It blew me away.  Songs about cars and motorcycles I’d never own and girls I’d never date.  Harmonies to die for and blazing (at least to a 13 year old) guitar solos all pressed into two grooves on a black vinyl platter and mine to listen to whenever I wanted…well, at least whenever one of my siblings wasn’t hogging the record player.

I think I’ve still got it in a box in the basement.  Probably time to dig it out, dust it off and hope it’s not too scratched to listen to.  Somehow it just doesn’t seem right to see if I can download it from iTunes.

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