Our drive back from Christmas with the kids in Calgary was a pleasant one — a rare occasion in which our timing was excellent. A weather change the following day created icy road conditions and accidents even caused a road closure or two. It wasn’t the good timing that made the drive particularly enjoyable, though. It was the music.
I had let our satellite radio subscription expire on our Prius because I found myself listening almost exclusively to the Classic Vinyl channel, which features rock music from the 60s and 70s. My iPod covers that era well. Our new Subaru has a three-month trial subscription to Sirius XM Radio, though, and I was experimenting with other stations. I tuned in, as we started the drive back, to the 70s rock channel. “Why are they playing a 50s song on the 70s channel?” I wondered.
The answer came quickly. The disc jockey was presenting a post-Christmas feature — all No. 1 hit songs from what he described as the audiotape era. He defined that era as 1956 to 1974. Cool, I thought. Those years spanned my own youth, from age two through 20, and the five-hour trip flew by as I sang along with almost every tune. From Pat Boone to Queen, Roy Orbison to the Beatles, Olivia Newton-John to Dr. John, it was a rare track that did not stir specific memories from my youth.
Like many music lovers, many of my memories are directly tied to the music of the day. I can remember the first time that Calgary’s CKXL radio station played Herman’s Hermits’ “There’s a Kind of Hush” when I was 13. I loved the song immediately and was pleased when evening disc jockey Buddy Bee said the station’s phone lines were lit up with requests to hear it again. And again. And again.
When I was in junior high school, my New Year’s Eve activity was listening to CKXL and making a list of the top 100 songs from the station’s annual countdown. One of my classmates had already promised to take the bus downtown the following week to pick up a copy of the top 100 from the station, but I wasn’t about to wait. When school was back in, the conversation in our class was about the list. How did that song finish so high? How did that song finish so low? Why was that song even on the list?
New groups and new songs serve as markers in my life. Anyone who watched the Beatles perform “Hey Jude” (in a taped session) on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour knows exactly what I mean. When I was 10, Lorne Greene, who I admired as much because we shared a name as for his role on Bonanza, released his one song that would become a hit. “Ringo” became my song and when my grandmother visited from Fernie I told her I wanted the album for my birthday. I got it.
Saturday mornings for me often meant a bus ride to the North Hill Shopping Centre. In the music store I would stand before a wall displaying 45s of current hits and agonize before making a purchase. Paul Mauriat’s “Love is Blue”. Frank and Nancy Sinatra singing “Somethin’ Stupid”, “Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band. I can still remember taking my purchases home and playing them for the first time on the portable record player I had to share with my parents and my two younger, and very square, sisters.
Our home record collection largely consisted of 78s my folks had brought from Fernie and the LPs we bought during our payday shopping excursions to Safeway. Sure, my sisters and I could listen to Jo Stafford singing “Around the Corner” endlessly, and I loved Vaughn Monroe singing “Riders in the Sky” (why wasn’t it called “Ghost Riders in the Sky”?) and anything by Wilf Carter, but those early 45s were my music. I cherished them.
Later I would become addicted to long songs, probably because “Hey Jude” clocked in at more than six minutes. Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” took up a full side of the LP, as did Rare Earth’s version of “Get Ready”. I still listen to Arlo Guthrie’s anti-war tale, “Alice’s Restaurant”.
In 1977 my sister’s boyfriend was visiting Angela and I and asked if we had heard this new guy, Meatloaf. You’ve gotta hear his album, Bat Out of Hell, he said. I bought it the same week and played it to death. A few years later we were living in Creston and my buddy Boyd Batke, who owned Creston Valley Bakery at the time, introduced me to Prince and his double album 1999. When Purple Rain came out I thought I had died and gone to heaven. When Paul Simon released Graceland I didn’t want to play anything else for months. His performance with Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the 1987 Grammy Awards might have been the best thing on television in 1980s.
As a child I often wondered which of my five senses I could live without. I had bad eyes and liked to make my nightly trip upstairs to the bathroom and back with my eyes closed, good practice in case I went blind. Hearing was the last sense I wanted to lose. Ironically, going to concerts featuring acts like Jethro Tull, Stevie Wonder and Queen probably had a long-term impact on my hearing, at least if the ringing in my ears today is any indication. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.