For the first installment of this series — Vent #487, summer of '06 — I defined the mission as identifying "Records That Actually Defined Some Aspect of My Existence." There followed a second installment (Vent #685, summer of '10), and in the absence of any compelling stories to tell otherwise, I'm going back into the Stacks O' Wax for another round.

The Applejacks, "Mexican Hat Rock" (Cameo, 1958)
Once I'd finished fifth grade, I got shanghaied into one of those Summer Youth Programs that's supposed to keep us so busy it would never occur to us to do something that would land us in juvie. And one weekend they had us dancing, sort of, given the loose definitions of dance that prevailed in those days. For some reason, this five-year-old instrumental was prominent in the playlist; I managed to shut it out of my mind for the next forty years, until I stumbled across a copy and all the memories, all the klutziness, returned with a vengeance. I'm thinking Cameo/Parkway had kicked in a box of records as a charitable donation, since the other song I remember from that, um, incident was Chubby Checker's neo-folkie "Hooka Tooka," from 1963.

Nella Dodds, "Finders Keepers Losers Weepers" (Wand, 1965)
Nineteen sixty-five was the year I started buying my own tunes, and I quickly arrived at the conclusion that if I paid seventy-nine (or worse, ninety-eight) cents for each and every record I wanted, I would quickly go broke, so I looked at alternative means of padding out the collection. The cutout bins became a home away from home: some jobber bought up tons of overstocks and bagged them at three for a buck, usually putting one I actually recognized on the outside of the package. But the unexpected motherlode proved to be Chicago mail-order house Spiegel, which sold some low-end phonographs, and alongside them packs of miscellaneous singles. I remember getting two copies of this Nella Dodds tune. I gave one away, and eventually broke the other; I, of course, had no idea that they eventually would be in great demand in Northern Soul circles. (I've written about this song elsewhere, though I didn't go into the personal angle.)

The Lovin' Spoonful, "Summer in the City" (Kama Sutra, 1966)
It took me a long time to decipher all the words, but that wasn't the appeal, and neither was the fact that "Summer" rocked decidedly harder than previous Spoonful singles. The secret here was in those two instrumental breaks. The first was cluttered up with sound effects, but the second, though otherwise mostly identical, made me catch my breath: it's down to a single organ note for a moment, then Artie Schroeck's Pianet comes back in with two iterations of that insanely-catchy riff, and finally the rest of the band returns with what seemed at the time to be the loudest drum fill of all fime. Overly-compressed oldies stations — which these days is pretty much all of them — screw up the dynamics every time.

Bee Gees, "To Love Somebody" (Atco, 1967)
She was not The Older Woman; two of those three words applied in the most literal sense, but "The" implies something that wasn't there. I did, however, wonder where she'd met my dad, and I had no idea why they thought it would be a good idea for me to look after her living quarters while she was out of town for a day — and before you ask: no, he wasn't. On the other hand, I had no small enthusiasm for the project, having heard that she had a really nice hi-fi. Her tastes ran toward standards and jazz, while I was your basic Top 40 kid; this is the one song I brought over for the evening that she didn't seem to mind.

ABBA, "Waterloo" (Atlantic, 1974)
This little pop-rock throwaway was significant mostly for where I was when I first heard it: on top of a rock, ten thousand miles from anywhere I knew, old enough to drink and occasionally lonely enough to want to. In that context, a quartet of Swedes who spoke little English yet who'd obviously learned the language of Phil Spector gave me a little something more to hold on to until I got the orders that would send me home.

Donna Summer, "Winter Melody" (Casablanca, 1976)
Of all the disco records ever, this was probably the least disco: slow enough that no one bothered to count the BPM, though the rhythm pattern is still recognizable. Still, I had no idea what I was getting into: I'd bought the single because hey, it was Donna Summer, and I was still reeling from the seventeen-minute orgasm that was "Love to Love You Baby." Nominally, "Spring Affair," a more conventional-sounding number, was the A-side, but "Winter Melody," sad break-up tune that it was, got all my attention. The official position of hard-line rocknroll types seemed to be that people did this crappy dance stuff because they didn't know any better; this was the exact point where I decided otherwise. And Donna, three years later, brought out the hard-rocking "Hot Stuff," about sixteen times tougher than the Stones song of the same name, and I knew I was right.

The Vent

  25 December 2011

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