Friday, May 13, 2011

My life in music, part one

I'm from Jersey.  I grew up in a nice suburban house with a nutty Italian nuclear family.  I was never big into music till I was about 11.  In 1972, I lost my beloved grandfather, and I guess part of me was looking for some comfort. I was a huge nerd, and not in a good way. I was fat, with crooked teeth, and glasses; so, just your normal suburban kid who didn't get out much.

Thinking back to before that time, though, I'm sure I was aware of the Beatles, whose music took over so much of the 1960s.  I'm also pretty sure I was aware of the (Young) Rascals as a kid, who were a New York group that pretty much (for me, anyway) started the whole concept of "blue-eyed soul."  (Not sure there were many actual blue eyes in a group led by a pair of Italian brothers, but what do I know?)  My two favorite songs of theirs (if you don't count "Good Lovin' ") would have to be "How Can I Be Sure?" and "Groovin' ".

I definitely remember "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond; I used to stand in the hump in the middle of the back seat of my mom's car and dance to it, in fact.  This activity was, of course, only performed when the car was parked, and stopped the day I hit my head on the inside car roof.  And I know I was a huge Monkees fan (still am--don't judge me), because I watched their show religiously on Saturday mornings.  I don't think I even knew it was on at night (same with the Batman TV show).

But back to my main topic.

I think it may have been on a vacation (in Florida?) sometime during 1973 when I started hearing a record by Elton John: "Daniel."  It was amazing; I'd never heard anything like it. (My first two musical obsessions were Donny Osmond and David Cassidy, in that order, so you can see I'd lived a pretty sheltered life till then.)  But there was something about that record that attracted me, and so in short order, I bought Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Piano Player: my first LP.  I don't know where I got it from, but I strongly suspect it came from the Two Guys department store in Bricktown.

I also remember my first 45: "Superfly", by Curtis Mayfield.  What this little white girl was doing with the theme song from one of the biggest blaxploitation flicks of all time, I'll never know.  At the time, I simply liked it, and it seemed natural to buy it if I liked it and had the cash.  The why of the situation never entered my mind.  My love of those two records (very much worn, but still in my collection) grew and blossomed, and I became a stark raving music fan who apparently spoke a different language than everyone else around me.

Back in those days, it seemed like every store had a record department: the Two Guys; the home improvement store where I bought "Superfly"; Bambergers (later Macy's) department store at the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown; even the locally-owned drugstore.  I remember seeing the first Led Zep LP for sale there.  I know now that's what it was, due to the iconic cover featuring the Hindenburg explosion.

I had a strict rule for playing my LPs: front to back, both sides, no exceptions.  One of my cousins would simply stand or sit at his record player and play songs randomly by picking up the needle and moving it wherever he wanted it next (a lot of work, for those of you who've never known the joy of a vinyl album).  Or he'd just play one or two songs and move on to something else.  It drove me crazy.  This behavior was neither allowed nor tolerated on my own turntable.  My feeling was (and still mostly is) that an LP has a story to tell, even if it's not what came to be called a concept album.  It's still sequenced (or should be) in a particular order, and breaking up that sequence was a definite no.  Playing an LP out of order would've been like reading a novel backwards: it would cause the continuity to be disturbed, and the sense of it all to be lost.

This was a time when radio stations actually broke new music by playing it, a radical idea in these troubled times.  In fact, unless you had some really cool friends or older siblings, or lived in or near a big market (like NYC), radio was pretty much the only game in town when it came to finding new music. You heard it, you liked it, you bought it.  Simple.  We listened to AM radio, WABC and WNBC, with Dan Ingram, Cousin Brucie, Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy, even Don Imus.  (The delights of flagship album rock station WNEW were a few years away on my personal horizon, but I'd get there eventually.)

I had my own way of discovering new sounds: I'd play the B-sides of my 45s.  As pathetic as that might have been, due to my limited record budget, I found some really cool stuff.  Elton John, in particular, seemed to specialize in featuring non-album B-sides, meaning that when I flipped one of his 45s over, I was getting a treat that less adventurous souls would never enjoy.  It was amazing to find that Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were actually a double A-side single, and not just pressed that way to make money for the record company.

And though we loved WABC and WNBC, truly, the playlists were pretty limited.  From 7th grade onwards, I attended a school in the district where my dad taught, which was 30 miles from home.  So this required a daily commute, during which we'd usually listen to WABC.  I recall my dad remarking that they played the same songs every day.  I'm sure they did, but I didn't care.  Just hearing those songs, being allowed to hear them on our journeys, was enough.  This was no small feat when our carpool partner normally had his radio tuned to a news station every day (pretty sure that it was 1010-WINS, a far cry from its halcyon rock'n'roll days with Alan Freed) I know the first time I heard it, I kept waiting for the news to be over so the songs would start up again--but they never did.  I was out of my element for sure.


  1. Well feel sorry for me because Ron only listens to talk radio. If that's not bad enough - whenever we go anywhere I drive. And the man still is in control of the radio. Often I've considered pulling to the side and pushing him out. Of course he wouldn't understand why. LOL

    I still just might do it one day.

  2. Pretty cool! It reminds me of when I wrote about my love affair with music; however, yours is far more detailed. Ah, rock radio, b-sides, vinyl & record stores. Kids nowadays just don't get this stuff & they never will. They have no concept how important a cool record store was to musical enrichment and development. I think you may have given me a blog idea! :)