Way back in Vent #487, I put out a list of pop tunes that in some way contributed to my personal development. The rationalization for such a project: "Each and every one of these tracks made a substantial impression on the impressionable me, sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Life, and therefore rock and roll, can be like that sometimes."

As regular readers know, I'm not above reusing a premise. More to the point, the idea has actually been on my mind of late, and therefore I'm not going to have to strain (any more than usual) for relevance. Herewith, therefore, more Records That Actually Defined Some Aspect of My Existence.

The 4 Seasons, "Dawn (Go Away)" and "Rag Doll" (Philips, 1964)
In the Seasons' chronology, these records landed almost right next to each other: only "Ronnie" and a couple of issues from Vee-Jay, their former label, came in between. And perhaps not so surprisingly, they're about the same thing: class differences and how they relate to romance. In "Dawn," our hero must abandon his pursuit of his ladylove because she's several castes above him; in "Rag Doll," he swears he will not give up his girl from the Wrong Side of the Tracks. I was barely into double digits, agewise, when these came out, and on the square-pegs-to-round-hole scale, I was some sort of trapezoid: I didn't feel like I fit into anything, anywhere. And I didn't know anything about girls, but I did know that some of them were too good for me, and that I wouldn't know what to do with one that wasn't. (Not much has changed in forty-six years, now that I think about it.) Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" (Columbia, 1983), well-crafted Seasons pastiche that it was, operated on the assumption that Dawn really didn't think that guy was no good for her; it's probably why I didn't buy it despite its surfeit of tunefulness.

Lesley Gore, "That's the Way Boys Are" (Mercury, 1964)
I first heard this on a bicycle. (I roped a portable radio to the handlebars.) The sound, to this day, brings me back to that afternoon of blue skies and comparatively flat streets. The lyrics, however, baffled me: this guy's basically an asshat, and yet she takes him back because, well, it says right there on the label, dummy. As a girl-group single, this was one of the best ever; as a follow-up to "You Don't Own Me," of all things, it was fairly inexplicable. The idea was implanted, though: you can still like a song while having severe qualms about the words. This explains more about John Lennon's "Imagine" (Apple, 1971) than you might think.

Stevie Wonder, "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" (Tamla, 1966)
The first few records I bought, starting with the Stones' "Satisfaction," were acquired from relatively nonthreatening vendors: department stores, Walgreen's, the Base Exchange. In '66, though, I actually managed to win a 45 by calling the major Top 40 station in town and saying something I can't possibly remember. Minor stations just handed me a single from the library, which may or may not have been noteworthy, although this is how I got hold of the San Remo Golden Strings' "Hungry for Love" (Ric-Tic, 1965). But this was the Mighty TMA, and rather than trudge over to the Dock Street Theater, where their studios were located, I had only to wait a couple of days for them to mail me a postcard, which could be exchanged for a 45 of my choice from Kukie Dave's Carolina Instrument Service, which had two locations, one of which was not so far from me. I opted for the store near the Navy Yard, and plunged into the world of rhythm and blues, a place I'd heard about — they played this on the radio now and then, after all — but had never actually visited firsthand. Kukie Dave's was about as far from those sanitized vendors as I could imagine: oh, the place was hygienic enough, but it was dark and vaguely musky — the term "funky" really hadn't soaked into my consciousness yet — and its effect on twelve-year-old me was predictable enough: stirring, yet scary. A Morgan Freemanesque character behind the counter gave me a look that I read simply as "We don't get many white boys in here." Then again, the Mighty TMA surely wouldn't stir me wrong. I picked out the Stevie track, mostly because it was Number One, and vowed never to act like that in a record store again.

Whistling Jack Smith, "I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman" (Deram, 1968)
Which shows you how much my vows were worth in those days. I was sufficiently embarrassed by the title of this little excursion into whimsy that when I arrived at the front desk at tony Fox Music House, a place as far removed from Kukie Dave's as seemed humanly possible — they sold grand pianos, fercrissake — I actually asked for this single by catalog number. In retrospect, I was probably better off dealing with Morgan Freeman, but for some reason he didn't stock a lot of Britpop.

The Grass Roots, "I'd Wait a Million Years" (Dunhill, 1969)
By playing this record on the residence-hall Victrola, College Boy here guaranteed his complete and utter isolation from the rest of the residents, all of whom were two to seven years older and, by their own reckoning and perhaps also mine, far more sophisticated. It was a great relief to me to find, a few doors down, a closeted Dionne Warwick fan. Several months later, his big Sony open-reel machine at hand, we snuck into the Music Department late at night and recorded a neo-psychedelic fantasy for pipe organ and twelve-string guitar, with yours truly playing the part of Roger the Engineer.

The Vent

#685
  18 July 2010

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