#73 They Said It Really Loud, They Said It on the Air
A couple of weeks ago, I wandered into a new wine shop in the neighborhood. It was peak gentrified Brooklyn: decorated with stuff that’s meant to look thrift-ish but is actually factory-fresh and way too clean. Palo santo wafted through the air and the wines were displayed like the clothing in those shops in Soho that don’t carry my size — just a few bottles, artfully arranged, their scarcity signaling the inflated prices. Big band music played from a turntable behind the register. I thought I recognized the tune: A Sleeping Bee. The manager had the album covered displayed: Oscar Peterson and Nelson Riddle.
The whole vibe made me remember that, like most children of the 60s and 70s, I had a record collection. It started early, with kids' songs from Sesame Street, the Smurfs, and Free to Be, You and Me. My music tastes grew as I cycled through my siblings albums— inhaling Jethro Tull, the Doobie Brothers, Bruce Springsteen, the Jackson 5, Olivia Newton-John, the Spinners, and Fleetwood Mac. My Dad had every conceivable Broadway cast recording. My mother was really into Enrique Iglesias.
I added to the collection, using babysitting money or getting LPs as gifts,* up until high school when the world converted to cassette tapes and eventually CDs. But I kept my albums, transferring them from bookshelves to boxes, shuttling them from Pennsylvania to NYC. I didn’t even own a turntable by then, but I figured I would get one eventually.
Then one day in a fit of meaningless productivity, I gave all my albums to the thrift shop down the street. They’d just been collecting dust and I was moving to a nicer, but smaller apartment where storage space was limited.
And anyway, I’d always thought of my record collection as pretty seriously uncool. I’m not the kind of music nerd who knows who produced what and why that matters. My life never changed because I discovered Coltrane and I never fell in love in a dingy record store. But hearing that Oscar Peterson/Nelson Riddle album in the wine shop brought me right back to that feeling of sitting on the living room floor, flipping through the albums and poring over liner notes. I must have had at least 50-75 records. Here are the ones I remember most.
Rick Springfield/Working Class Dog (1981)
The first album that I bought with my own money. I went to the Sam Goody store in the Rosemont shopping center and forked over grungy bills out of my velcro wallet, while the teenager behind the counter dropped the album into a flat, brown bag. Jessie’s Girl was all over Top 40 radio but I really loved I’ve Done Everything for You. Rick Springfield was also on my tv every day as Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital, so I felt closer to him than any other rock star before or since. I had a huge poster of him on my bedroom wall; he was dressed in head-to-toe black, smoldering at the camera, and holding an electric guitar. I kissed him goodnight every night until high school.
Ca. 1983, we spent weeks figuring out these outfits. I was particularly proud of the Duran Duran-inspired fedora. Not pictured: the white Jazz shoes we saved up to buy because we saw the Boys wearing them in Tiger Beat.
Duran Duran/Rio (1982)
This is the album that knocked Rick Springfield out of rotation. After wearing the grooves down on Hungry Like the Wolf and Save a Prayer, my friends and I quickly discovered their previous new wave albums. Every weekend, we’d traipse up to the local video store and rent the VHS collection of all their music videos to date, including a scandalous R-rated version of Girls on Film that we could only watch once our friend’s mom went to bed. These boys dominated every conversation and were the subject of notebook doodles and pages of earnest, G-rated fanfiction wherein the fates conspire to place a perky American teenager in the same suburban shopping mall as her favorite British rock star** and they become best friends!
This video is so hilariously weird, how could I forget that the girls basically murder most of the men? The R-rated one is linked above and it's chock full of goodies: pillow fights, whipped cream, and lots of girl/girl acton. Clearly the video clerks were not checking IDs.
The Monkees (1966)***
I watched these lovable goofballs on tv every day after school and had no idea that the show had been canceled more than 2 years before I was born. I loved their harmonies, shaggy haircuts, and colorful, matching outfits. I was thrilled when Davy Jones showed up on my other favorite after-school program, The Brady Bunch (canceled before I started Kindergarten).
Awesome lip-syncing. I'm pretty sure the guy in the hat was my favorite.
Free to Be, You and Me (1972)
I have no idea how we got this album, maybe Aunt Joan? It’s a treasure trove of super star appearances -- spearheaded by Marlo Thomas† (who I loved in tv’s That Girl -- another show canceled when I was in diapers) -- featuring Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Carol Channing, and Harry Belafonte to name a few. I played it over and over as a child, rediscovered it as a broke Gen Xer, and am not surprised to learn that I can still sing along, word-for-word decades later.
This is in the same vein as the old Schoolhouse Rock videos, which I credit for my ability to sing the Preamble to the Constitution and knowing the difference between adverbs and adjectives.
And I did have a Nelson Riddle album in there — What’s New? — one of his collaborations with Linda Ronstadt, whose voice was a perennial favorite in our house. The album cover was Linda, sitting on the floor wearing a big puffy ball gown and gazing up at the camera with her giant eyes.
Honorable Mentions — The Doobie Brothers: on a homemade tape I found in my brother’s college stuff. Squeeze: Singles - 45s and Under which was also a homemade tape that was going around high school with no label. I don’t think I figured out who the band was until I went away to college. That’s also when I learned I’d been belting out “Caught Me in Bed” instead of “Coffee in Bed.”
I made a Spotify playlist that includes even more of my favorites. You can find it HERE.
What should I add to it??
*Remember the days when you’d hold up an obviously wrapped LP and say: “Is it a pony?”
**I have to admit that it would be many years before I knew that there was another “Roger Taylor” in the world and that he is the one that everyone is referring to when they talk about drummers who shaped rock and roll.
***Oddly, The Beatles were not on my radar, which is to say, they were just always there. I never felt the need to “discover” them. Until I was 30 and discovered them.
†How is anyone surprised that I’m a big old liberal??