THE BORDER 005
curated by Todd Berryman
Never underestimate the amazing power of imprinting music onto youth, whether by intent or by accident. I’ve been blessed to have times in my life where, out of sheer circumstance, influential musical stuff has dropped right into my lap. My love of phonograph records – and later, tape – was pretty much understood by family and friends, even in my young and dewy-eyed days.
Take age 5. That was the year of two boxes of records landing in my lap. Those records, in many ways, helped shape a certain eclecticism in my musical taste that has extrapolated nicely into the present.
The backstory: in spring 1975, one of my mom’s pals, attempting a decluttering (or whatever the 1975 term is for that idea, anyway), gifted me a few boxes of vintage 45s. Most were 60s singles, although a few stragglers from the 50s could be found. It was a cross-section of stuff from the folk revival, some Motown, a few rock songs, pop vocal stars – a little bit of everything. There were easily a couple hundred records; she kept maybe a relative handful of things from the early 70s, and the rest she handed over to me. Now, bear in mind that this wasn’t a box full of things you could hear on the radio every single day, and some would probably qualify as “novelty” hits (NOT comedy) by bands that could sustain one or two songs built around a particular gimmick or sonic value (closer to the modern era, think of something like a Proclaimers song, and you’ve got the idea of the contents of this box; it’s not bad material by any stretch, but you really don’t want more than a couple of songs at a time). I had a couple of months going through the box, prioritizing, picking out the faves and moving them to the front, learning musical codes, what moved me, what didn’t.
Later on in the year, we were visiting relatives in the Connersville, Indiana area, my mom’s family. One great-aunt had a huge stash of vintage 78 rpm records (mostly big bands, with the occasional Eddy Arnold thing thrown in there), another had a boatload of 8-tracks (primarily country…a lot of Marty Robbins and Jim Reeves stuff). At the end of this summer night, the great aunt with the 78 rpm fixation bestowed unto me – AT AGE 5, understand – a box of maybe 50 different albums that had been stashed in the attic, sometime around 1971 or so. I’m still not completely in the know as to why I received them, but I think it had something to do with one of my cousins having a religious experience and no longer feeling comfortable listening to that “demon rock music”…although it should be noted that there was a fair helping of jazz and vocal music hiding out in the box as well.
Days after this gift, we made a move to Michigan, as my dad was in the air force, and it was time to make the next jump. Making my way slowly through the stacks in this second box of vinyl, I discovered some gems. I also discovered that the last few albums had not benefitted from the storage in my great-aunt’s attic, which apparently had a leak. The covers for the last half-dozen albums or so were fused to the vinyl, with four years of water damage and mold taking their toll. Only one of those could be salvaged, but it’s an album, sans cover, that I still enjoy to this day: Otis Redding’s Love Man, his third posthumous release from 1969.
Now, I should note here, for anyone wondering about my precocious fiddling with music, and how I could possibly know precisely WHAT I was looking at in these boxes: my family said that I had taught myself to read by the age of 3. For me, it was pattern recognition. Once I saw the name “Elvis Presley” on a record label, for example, I would recognize that letter sequence in the future. Extrapolate that across several recordings by multiple artists, and a few book-and-record sets as well, and eventually the info stuck.
These above anecdotes illustrate the fascination I’ve held ever since with garage sales, thrift stores and with the occasional box of vinyl dropping into my lap in the years since. I may end up going through a few dozen albums or single and only turn up one or two of interest, but the search has never been less than rewarding. For every Mantovani or Lawrence Welk recording you’ve got to sift through, and there are MANY, you’ll eventually turn up a Byrds single, or a Beatles EP, or some rare jazz 45 from Cannonball Adderley. And that makes it ALL worthwhile.
The stories also illustrate why I’ve always had a certain eclecticism in my taste, and when you see the songs linked below, I hope you’ll see the formative twinges that lead to now, and why I always believe that if you find something your kid, or grandkid, or niece or nephew loves – music, art, sports, WHATEVER – that you’ll nurture it as much as you can. These things I’m sharing with you today have given me a singular pleasure that I don’t find elsewhere, but if I hadn’t had that support and generosity, who knows how this story might have played out?
Today’s architectural wonder is an isolated image I found online. I love the look of it, as it reminds me a bit of the house owned by the main character in the film Madadayo. I don’t know ANYTHING about it…sorry.
STACK ONE: THE CARDBOARD BOX IN THE ATTIC.
The first album I found in the box from my great aunt’s house was one of the best, and most legitimate, concert albums of all-time, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen. When I first listened to it, in September 1975, it was hard for me to lock into. Joe Cocker’s voice is, when you’re five years old, an acquired taste. And that’s putting it MILDLY. But there was something very shapely about the backing band, which years later I would figure out consisted of some astonishing musicians, from all over the map: the rhythm section from Derek and the Dominoes, for starters, and horns that would work with the Rolling Stones, and backing vocalists like Rita Coolidge, and bandleading by Leon Russell. Eventually, I grew to love that album, but when I first heard it, curiosity was the driver.
We’ll kick off the stack with something from that album.
The next two albums in the box were by Dionne Warwick. In fact, quite a few of her recordings were scattered throughout that box. This one is probably my favorite.
My first exposure to The Band that was not based on radio play (such as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”) was finding a copy of their third album Stage Fright in the box, and being captivated by the cover art, definitely not your typical face-of-the-artist-smiling-in-closeup photo. It took me years to figure out the precise dynamic of The Band, but I’d never heard a vocalist like Levon Helm, and it was like coming home, hearing him open the album with “Strawberry Wine” while Richard Manuel took the drum chair to let Levon play guitar. I was too young and out of the loop to know about their instrument switching, or the magic of their arrangements, or about Big Pink – I just knew that I loved the whole album.
Jackie Wilson was represented in the box by one of his later albums. This song was the opener.
Probably the greatest treasure to be found in the box was a selection of pretty great 60s southern soul. The Best of Sam and Dave was an early favorite, thanks to their uptempo songs. It took me a while to appreciate them at the ballad level, so I found myself skipping around on the album: songs like “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and “I Take What I Want” seemed to be mostly positioned on the odd tracks, while the ballads were the even ones, at least on Side One. Again, a few years later, hearing “Soothe Me” playing during the movie The Blues Brothers was like coming home. And another favorite album cover: EVERYONE wishes that they could rock like that on a stage, you know?
I knew Aretha Franklin’s music, thanks to my mom having a copy of Lady Soul from 1968. “Chain of Fools” was an early rave for me. THIS box had a copy of her other studio album from that year, Aretha Now, and I fell hard for “Think” on first hearing. I was…a little LESS impressed hearing the remake done during The Blues Brothers, however. The original was, and still is, the winner for me. (Aretha’s also on the piano here.)
And now, to that Otis Redding album. Otis was another taste that was tricky for me, but I found myself returning to the Love Man album, in spite of the bad shape it was in, thanks to being fused to its cover. (To borrow from another writer from Stereo Review in the mid-1980s, it sounded like it had been recorded on a rifle range during a hailstorm.) The title track was the first one to hook in, then the rest of the album followed. It’s downstairs, on the turntable as of this writing, awaiting the next time I go into the basement to fold laundry. It’s a good motivator. 🙂
STACK TWO: AND A STACK OF BOXES IN THE LIVING ROOM.
With all the 45s in the boxes from my mom’s friend, and the astonishing breadth of pop history they cover, it’s hard to pick just one stack of songs to play from them. I could have probably built the entire show from that box alone, but it wouldn’t necessarily give you as much of the story.
Tradition had it with the old vinyl jukeboxes of yore that the first single in the box, top left was the operator’s favorite (usually numbered 100/200 or the like, representing the A and B sides of a 45). This single imprinted on me hard when I was five, and it still holds up now…if I had an old Wurlitzer, this would be my pick.
“Jungle Fever” is the b-side to the Tornadoes’ “Telstar” single from 1962.
The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “My Gal” is another all-time favorite 45 for me, and I’ve found it more rockin’ than the A side, which was “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” in the original issue (in the Back-to-Back hits 45s era for reissues, “My Gal” vanished in favor of “Do You Believe in Magic” – a good song, of course, but not the pairing I remember, or prefer). I quite likely drove my poor dad crazy with this song in spring 1976, playing it OVER AND OVER AND OVER for probably a month.
The first time I heard “Just One Look” was on an Anne Murray album, Love Song, in 1974. A good version of the song, but has nothing on the original. Doris Troy went on to record for Apple Records in the early seventies at the behest of George Harrison, and made an appearance on The Dark Side of the Moon.
More about Doris Troy here:
The New Christy Minstrels’ “Miss Katy Cruel” was another b-side that I preferred to the a-side, in this case “Today” was the plug side of the single. (It was done for the soundtrack to a film called Advance to the Rear.) This folk group was also the launch pad for both Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes.
Another folk single, that even if you don’t recognize the title, you probably know it from its use in a commercial. “Walk Right In” by the Rooftop Singers was one of those incredibly hummable songs that probably would’ve qualified as an earworm in the 60s. My focal point always seems to be that big acoustic guitar that drives the riff, sonically a kindred spirit to the way Leo Kottke’s guitar sounds sometimes.
Johnny Mathis was represented by a couple of 45s, so I have a bit of a soft spot for his stuff.
And finally, one that I like to hear when the cold weather is bringing me down, to remind me that warmer times are never far away. Break out the soda, pretzels and beer.
As always, enjoy, explore and KEEP YOUR EARSPACE OPEN!