Updated: Sep 17
It was an RCA console stereo cabinet that ornately sat in the living room on Cheddington Road. This was where I first heard the melodic sounds of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, Jim Reeves, Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, and Tanya Tucker. I didn’t understand the words to many of the songs, like “A Boy Named Sue”, “Delta Dawn”, or Honky Tonk Blues.” Nor did I recognize the impact this music would make in my life.
I was also introduced to a different kind of music as my sister entered junior high school and The Jackson 5 and The Osmonds came onto the scene. There was something about Donny Osmond, and later David Cassidy, that inspired teenage girls to buy the LP’s and 45s and cut out the pinups in Tiger Beat magazine (some of my younger readers are going to have to Google a few of these concepts).
When Mom and Dad weren’t home we’d move the dial on the console and the hot spot in the early 70’s in Baltimore was AM 60 WCAO. After school we would listen to Johnny Dark spinning the hits of the day. Many of the songs needed no introduction, but by the time Johnny neared completion of his intro, you were so excited to listen to the three minutes of pleasure.
Then there was the 1968 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon where AM radio reigned, mainly because in that era, you were considered rich if you had a car with FM radio. I would petition to listen to “CAO”, but Dad would always be playing the latest in country music hits.
Music has played a very important part of my life and as memories begin to fade, certain songs hold such special memories that take me back to those special days of my youth. The first songs I remember enjoying were Your Song, by Elton John, Piano Man, by Billy Joel, and Take it Easy, by The Eagles. I couldn’t wait for the part when I could belt out loud, “there’s a girl, my Lord in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me.”
When I was 14 I had a little pocket money with a small paper route (again, Google it). It was then I stumbled upon an ad in TV Guide for Columbia House. Fourteen albums for a penny. Yowzah! At first I didn’t understand the logic, but I really didn’t care. You had to commit to buying nine albums at regular price over three years. I did the math, and I was still coming out ahead.
So, there I went – Chicago, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Jim Croce, The Beach Boys, James Taylor, and even Cheech and Chong Big Bamboo (remember the giant rolling paper?). My musical tastes began, and still are considered, a bit eclectic. Music was an escape for me. From what, I don’t really know, but I was able to play these LPs on the RCA console until I got my first turntable from Sears that Christmas. I would put on an album and lie on my bed and drift off into a world where quietude and fantasy could be found. I was hooked.
Junior high school dances were a fun, yet scary time for me. I was your typical awkward, overweight, fair-skinned, reddish brown-haired teenage boy. I would go to “hang out” with some of my buddies, and for a while, it was fun and exciting to listen to the band play cover versions of the hits I heard on the radio. I was more fascinated with the types of guitars and amplifiers they used and their techniques in mastering songs I was sadly attempting to play in my basement rather than dancing with girls.
However, as the night wound down, slow dances were becoming more frequent, which provided teenage boys and girls the opportunity to get close with that special someone. Songs that take me back to those days are Go All The Way, by the Raspberries, We’re an American Band, by Grand Funk Railroad, and Angie, by the Rolling Stones. When I hear these songs today it takes me right back to the dimly lit cafeteria on a Friday night at Lindale Junior High.
The week following the dance I would be in my basement with a few friends from school working on our garage band. It didn’t matter to any of us that we didn’t have a garage, the point was we were jamming. Bryan Daly, Alan Stiffler, Doug Harding, and myself would crank up the volume and work on tracks like Smoke on the Water, by Deep Purple, Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zepplin, Dream On, by Aerosmith and Can’t Get Enough, by Bad Company. We were bummed that we didn’t have a drummer, and none of us knew one that wasn’t already in a serious group.
My senior year of high school was again filled with music alongside the wonderful memories that were being made each and every day. Albums that came out that year were The Stranger, by Billy Joel, Rumours, by Fleetwood Mac, and Steely Dan released the highly successful, Aja. This is where I believe my love for jazz music began.
I played those albums over and over until the needle on my record player broke. Other songs that take me back to that treasured time were Cold as Ice, by Foreigner and Easy, by the Commodores. Disco was happening all around me, but I refused to cave. Saturday Night Fever was the hottest movie in town (besides Star Wars) and the Bee Gees were really a thing. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t Rock and Roll.
I also put an 8-track player in my car and began listening to Boz Skaggs, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Jackson Browne. My ears were filled that year with Lido Shuffle, Night Moves, Sweet Home Alabama, and of course two of my all-time favorites, Feels So Good, by Chuck Mangione and Play That Funky Music White Boy, by Wild Cherry.
The movie Grease came out in the spring of my senior year, and I happened to work at a movie theater that was showing this mega-hit of 1978. I fell in love with Olivia Newton-John! I mean, what teenage boy didn’t? As part of my eclectic tastes, I was truly fascinated by the 1950’s “sock-hop” music and Grease sucked me right into that era. I began listening to Bill Haley & His Comets, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and Dion & The Belmonts. I also learned about Buddy Holly, and came to love the iconic song American Pie, by Don McLean.
I also went through a period where I listened to tropical pop, or calypso pop, after I heard Margaritaville. Who wouldn’t love a fun-loving, beer-drinking, party-going beach bum like Jimmy Buffet. My all-time favorites by this high-spirited singer were Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw, Changes in Latitudes Changes in Attitudes, and the immortal, Cheeseburger in Paradise.
I was especially moved by the passing of Jimmy Buffet on Friday, September 1st, and in his honor, I made cheeseburgers the next day. I had mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57, medium rare with an onion slice, and French Fries. I also had a kosher pickle, and a cold bottle of Corona with a lime wedge. The only thing I really changed was I used American cheese instead of Muenster (sorry Jimmy). I also made a Margarita and raised the glass in his honor, sitting a proverbial stones-throw away from a South Florida beach on my deck.
I believe it was Dick Clark, the iconic host of American Bandstand that said, “music is the soundtrack of our lives.” I totally agree with this sentiment from the man that brought Rock and Roll into our homes on Saturday afternoons for 30 years. And in this digital age, I must say, the soundtrack of my life would win a Grammy, even if played on an RCA console stereo cabinet.
What are some of the songs that made up your soundtrack?