This column was published January 22, 2022 in the Manhattan Mercury.
I trace it to Build Me Up Buttercup.
My older sister had just crossed the threshold into teenagerdom and with that exalted status came a portable record player and a handful of 45 RPM records, Buttercup among them. We would listen to records together and though, at 11, I was too young to catch on, a new world was opening up.
Baby, baby, try to find (hey, hey hey) a little time and I’ll make you happy (hey, hey, hey).
That record player was to be the gateway to a lifetime of enjoyment of the arrangement of sounds in measured time through melody, harmony and rhythm. The Foundations led me to the one place where I could get more – Top 40 radio. KLEO and KWBB in Wichita, 1480 and 1410 on your AM dial, respectively. I can still hear the up-tempo, female vocal jingle.
“Kay-double-you-bee-bee, fourteen (wait a beat) one-oh.”
Initially, I hijacked my parents’ kitchen counter radio, so old the frequency markings had faded. I commandeered Mom’s nail polish to mark 1410 and 1480 on the tuner. Soon, a series of transistor radios followed, often with earpieces, tuning out the world as Tommy James and his Shondells reverberated crimson and clover to my youthful core.
The folks had a standalone Zenith console “hi-fi,” designed to blend in as furniture with the shag and rest of the mid-century modern. Lift the lid to reveal a turntable where you would stack records that would drop automatically and storage space for vinyl LPs. A cross-generational album juxtaposition. Peggy Lee and Jethro Tull.
Is that all there is, Aqualung my friend?
Then came my own cars with cassette tape decks and speakers imbedded in the rear dash. The lane ahead was clear, allowing for new musical expansion.
Leaving home, the folks’ hi-fi gave way to “the stereo,” the catchall term for one’s home sound system, regardless of its setup or quality. No longer furniture, though the dual, standalone speakers would often double as end tables, perched adjacent to a beanbag chair and/or a potted philodendron suspended from the ceiling by a macramé plant hanger.
My best friend at the time was fluent in all the things that mattered – cars, girls, beer, and music, and knowledge was shared in all four venues that enhanced my quality of life. My mainstream rock n’ roll tastes evolved as Chicago and the Doobie Brothers were joined by The Alan Parsons Project and Steely Dan.
“Aja’s so much more than ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,’” he once told me, as we pumped up the volume and let the art wash over us.
Here at the dude ranch above the sea. Or the bachelor pad above the swimming pool.
About that time, another breakthrough. It came 34 seconds into Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ The Love I Lost, when Earl Young struck the bass drum on every beat of the four-beats-to-the-bar time signature. Four-on-the-floor syncopation would become the rhythm of the disco generation.
It dawns on me that I quit keeping up with popular music about the time Britney Spears debuted. By then I had amassed 30 years’ worth of musical experience and with a few specific exceptions, nothing since has measured up to my coming of age memories. Hit me baby one more time? Nah.
Nothing personal, Brit.
Today, it’s satellite radio in the car and a digital setup at home. State-of-the-art, smarter-than-me Sonos speakers strategically placed throughout the house and a portable one that I can take out to the deck.
No reason the neighbors shouldn’t enjoy Yvonne Elliman’s If I Can’t Have You as much as I do.
The Foundations were right. When I find the time, it makes me happy.
Playlists inspired by the chronology of Mike Matson’s most recent book, Courtesy Boy: A True Story of Addiction.
Clare McClaren's creative strategy, art direction and design.