I have a very patient wife and two tolerant children–particularly if I am allowed to pick the music.
Prior to the patient folks at home, I had a very patient set of roommates in college. The stone-age version of a playlist was a 200 lb “Peaches” crate of LPs that I would transport every year–in and out of our van, up and down three flights of stairs at the dorm, all so that people could flip through my records and say, “Oh, my. You’ve got this” Probably holding up either an obscure soundtrack or noticing that my alphabetical listing had Adam Ant a bit too close to AC/DC.
There’s a playlist on my phone and iPod named, appropriately, “Kevin,”–almost a “pay-it-forward” apology to any random person who might find my phone and flip through my choices. Kale Davidoff wrote in this blog (link)about the random-purposeful string of songs that seem to happen when one hits “shuffle.”
Diagnosing My Family History…
My musical genealogy has been shuffled together from two parents who were born in the early 1940s. They were children during the big musicals on Broadway and in movies (Oklahoma, The Music Man, West Side Story), they ran home from high school to see Dick Clark’s American Bandstand herald the beginning of Rock n’ Roll on television along with Ed Sullivan and Elvis. My mother even saw Sam Cook perform in her church’s basement at a sock hop before he made it big. Buddy Holly’s death in a plane crash with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper really was “bad news on the doorstep” as chronicled in “American Pie.”
They were young parents during the British Invasion and Motown’s heyday, right here in Detroit. The folk music of Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez spoke directly to them as Vietnam was an everyday part of their lives with the dinnertime news. (My father was rescued from service since he was married a year before the draft began.)
I started paying attention to their albums at a very early age. I remember at 4 years hearing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” coming through the basement ceiling while playing with our neighbor Kelly Lannigan at our house in Detroit.
Low-Tech: Rise of the Machines
When cassette recording became an option, not through a stereo but through a microphone that my father would set near the speaker, I was exposed early to the magic of a playlist. We all had to be quiet while my dad would sift through his records and play select tracks from select albums until he had to flip the tape over to continue. Those 1973 tape-mixes became treasures. I even did the same thing with radio stations in 1979 when I finally had my own stereo.
Being too cheap to buy my own records, I’d have my tape deck set at Play-Record-Pause while I listened to WRIF and would release the Pause button right when the DJ finally stopped chatting. Once I got good at that skill, I learned to have the levels down low and dramatically increase them as the DJ was winding down, so the music would creep in like you might hear in a professional recording studio–or at least that’s what I told myself.
Those radio tapes became time-capsules of my high school years and when my car was broken into on a trip to New York, the thief grabbed my tape case and stole a greater part of my youth. (I often think of that thief and his puzzled expression if he bothered to listen to any of them, wondering who in the world would put “I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight” from Camelot after the Doobie Brothers’ Black Water and before Bob Welch’s Sentimental Lady.)
While scanning a hundred snapshots this morning that I had begun scanning a year ago when the NFL playoffs were on, I clicked on iTunes and selected my deeper-cut playlist I’ve called, “Annoying Sing-Alongs”–not because the songs are annoying (to me anyway) it’s just annoying that I can’t help at least tapping my foot. Alright, I do end up singing them…
Here are the top ones that cause my wife to quickly apologize to guests and send my kids to either their room or their headphones. (I am proud to report, however, that my son did sing “These Boots Are Made for Walking” at a karaoke event.)
10. “Lazy Day” by Spanky and Our Gang
The video’s got some great footage from the Haight-Ashbury days. This song evokes the flower-child side of the 1960s. “What a day for picking daisies. People smiling everywhere that we go. What a day to be together and what a sky of blue…” Pretty Utopian optimistic stuff for the sixties. I remember the war going on when I first started paying attention to things–and the relief when it ended.
9. “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family
Another kickback to my childhood when I watched The Partridge Family TV series. I didn’t even know that Shirley Jones had a career before she was driving the technicolor bus. This great bit of lip-synching in front of a doze extras in the park is pretty funny. But the song still gets me in a good mood.
8. “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” by Cher
I was a big fan of The Sonny and Cher Show and always respected Cher’s acting chops (even as Laverne in the laundromat), her comic timing and her deep voice. She’s a great survivor and this song sums it up survival pretty well. I always sing along to this one, with great care to see if anyone’s looking.
7. “Up Up and Away” by the Fifth Dimension
I remember sitting in front of my grandparents hi-fi in their living room. They had this album playing and I remember looking at the album cover…
You couldn’t get more groovy than that.
Well, actually, I suppose you can…
6. “Good Morning Starshine” (from Hair) by Oliver James
This live performance is an abridged version that takes out the very important plot-driving words…
Gliddy gloop gloopy
Nibby nobby nooby
La la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba
Nooby abba dabba
Le le lo lo
dooby ooby walla
dooby abba dabba
Oh well, as we move through the mod-squad of songs from my childhood, we have to also visit a very important television show that got me through the cancellation of Underdog…
5. “Mah Nah Nah Nah” from Sesame Street, Season 1 (1969)
Originally a song from an Italian about Sweden, the song was featured in The Benny Hill Show and Red Skelton and later the Muppet Show. But I think I’ll always thank this song for introducing zaniness to my mourning of the passing of Sweet Polly Purebread.
4. “Snowbird” by Anne Murray
This is the one I have to double-check to make sure the windows are rolled-up at a stoplight. I have no idea why I like it so much, but it always puts me in a good mood. My mom has always been a big fan of Anne Murray so maybe that’s part of it. Some musicologist may be able to break down the quick beat, the soaring strings, or Murray’s calm voice. All I know is that it’s too short and I often hit “play” again.
3. “I Dig Rock & Roll Music” by Peter, Paul and Mary
My family had Peter, Paul and Mary playing in our house, on our family trips and now in all of the homes of my parents’ grandkids. The loss of Mary Travers in 2009 was a true death to my mother’s generation. But this song has a double-memory. I loved its peppy harmony, tribute to other 1960s bands and their cool overlapping styles. But the late Mr. Barry Bruce, my outstanding government teacher, also used it as an example of the counter-culture of 1968, when AM would refuse to play hippie songs: “The radio won’t play it, unless I lay it between the lines.” (I can still see his old phonograph on a chair in the front of the classroom.)
2. “Copacabana” by Barry Manilow
As much as I laughed about Barry Manilow when I was in high school (probably because of blocking evidenced in recordings like this one), I cannot escape singing along with this one. It’s also a great way to get a ton of people on the dance floor at a slow wedding (along with “September” by Earth Wind and Fire).
1. “Downtown” by Petula Clark
I was a year-old when this song premiered. It was a song my mom sang to me to help me to get to sleep, along with Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “500 miles.” Apparently I sang along during the chorus…”Dah don!” Its great mix of jazz, soaring orchestration and backup singers still sends a shiver up my spine. It was also brave enough to rhyme “bossa nova” with “before the night is over.” You can imagine the teasing, however, that this album cover produced in my dorm when I was 20.
And that’s only the top ten. You weren’t forced to hear me discuss…
- Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen”
- Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby”
- Tom Jones’s “It’s Not Unusual”
- C.W. McCall’s “Convoy”
- Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again”
- Juice Newton’s “Love’s Been a Little Bit Hard On Me”
- Gene Pitney’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”
- Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally”
I’ll return to my playlist and photo-scanning now…
“So maybe I’ll see you there. We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares”