This comes out of nowhere but what the heck. Thought I’d share.
When I was 6 (1st grade), my mom subscribed to a book-a-month club for kids. Loved what came down that pipeline, and that monthly surprise of The New Book in the mail, addressed to ME! ~wow~. Great fun unwrapping the package then holing up with the book (a joy that has never left me and why I still subscribe to book clubs. Gee whiz…). That content was a compendium of short stories and abridged novellas, suitable for 6 to 10 year olds or so. Can’t recall who published it, but it clued me to the concept of
“entertaining things on a monthly subscription basis” that – to use a Southern California colloquialism of my youth – ‘might could be’ had by anyone interested.
So, by time I had achieved the mighty age of 8, and a bigger vocabulary, I could finally decipher that scintillating subscription offer of, Get XYZ for 1 penny, no obligation, cancel anytime!
In this case, the “XYZ” I jumped on was a music invitation from the Columbia Record Company, in one of their early (1964) subscription offers, before they invented such foolishness as “membership obligations” you had to fulfill as a subscriber.
So what the heck. My adult brother (25 yrs old when I was 8, sort of a James Dean could-be, motorcycle-riding leather-jacket kinda cool guy) played enough records around the house, and from that I knew a few names and tunes I liked. I was already rocking to “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”, and Annette Funnicello’s ‘Chicken Cacciatori’ song on ’45s. (Which also served as my first intro to Italian food: I insisted on knowing what chicken cacciatori was, so Mom agreed to make some for dinner. It was yummy .
I was ready to roll with the music-on-demand thing, or what passed as “on demand” in 1964.
I could read enough to decipher the recordings on offer, and have an inkling about what I’d like to listen to. Add to that my experimental curiosity, and so in 2nd grade, 8 yrs old, I sent off 1 penny to Columbia Records and received in return my free trial subscription to their record club: 8 albums, no obligation, cancel any time with no further purchase necessary. I got the records, canceled right away (huzzah for understanding fine print early on!), and wallowed in my first-ever Grown-Up Purchase of Grown-Up Music. !!!!
I don’t recall all the albums I got, but they were the first vinyl albums I ever owned and I do remember these particular ones:
- Monkey Time, by Major Lance. ‘Watusi’ was his big hit at the time; the Swim, the Mashed Potato, and The Watusi were the dance crazes of the day, and he helped fuel that frenzy. The album also included the totally rocking “Mama Didn’t Know” and “Delilah”. Ah, Joy….I listened and danced to that record for hours on end…
- Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, monophonic recording conducted by Leonard Berstein and the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. (As a data point perhaps of interest, I have never seen Swan Lake the ballet. I know it only through the music I love, that I got to know when I was 8.)
- The Firebird Suite – Tchaikovsky again
(now, why does an 8-yr-old crave brooding Russians she’s never heard of as music exemplars? beats me. We were not a classical-listening household. In 1964 my Lebanese-American Mom was playing Arabic recordings of “Port Said” and trying to get me to belly dance with her. At that time I had no exposure to classical anything. But the titles caught my fancy, and then, the music, my ear.)
And, the capstone album, the thing that rocks me to this day, Petula Clark’s wistful, wonderful “Downtown” album. I’d just seen her on The Ed Sullivan Show, in her first and most famous appearance on American TV, where she sang “Downtown” live (as she said later, arriving late from the airport, getting to the studio late but just in the nick of time, she just walked in the door and straight on stage, and did that number, “which is why I was so flushed,” she said in an interview, though who noticed that? ) That’s the song I’d heard, and was enchanted by. Happy sigh. (And early girl-crush, portending more of same in the future.)
To this day I can listen to that when I’m living in (or thinking about) a cityscape like San Francisco or Los Angeles, and it gives me chills.
Until I parted ways unintentionally with some belongings in storage, I owned all those vinyl records (plus 1200+ more beyond those seed titles) for almost all of my adult life. When I resurrect the proper Recording Studio aspect of my life, I will be reconstituting my vinyl holdings and at the very least icons like Major Lance (early Okeh Records recording star – “soon to be ‘General’ Lance”, crowed the album notes) and others will once again reign supreme in the sound hall that is Lizard Lair Central.
Meanwhile, to share the joy:
and my favorite movement of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, via the Boston Pops.
How interesting, that these tunes remain at the core of what inspire me, all these many years later…
Originally posted 2009-10-27 05:32:00.