Dad didn’t have an iPod, of course. But he did have a relationship with music.
When married to my Mom, there was a large wooden cabinet with french legs in the living room that was actually a large monaural speaker. On top was an amplifier which took a while to turn on (see “tubes“). It was connected to the speaker and a record player that had a deep and penetrating plastic-type smell that can only be described as “late 1950s turntable.”
Back in the early 1960s, there was no such thing as a “stereo,” of course, but there were high fidelity home sound systems, or “hi-fi” for short. So Dad had one. And what did he listen to? Well, I went plunging around on YouTube and found four tracks from Dad’s presumptive iPod — if he had one — with which to serenade you!
The first track is one that Dad really liked back in 1961. As I remember it, this track was played fairly often in the Olcott household at 1050 Fifth Avenue. Dad would come home from work and drop the needle on this record. And the song roared out of that large wooden speaker. Then he would dance in a hokey style to this gem. Are you ready? Oh yes, it’s hard to forget this one:
I was three years old at the time and I will never forget how terrible that song was (and still is.)
But there is of course no arguing taste. “Standin’ on a Corner” by the Four Lads was a huge hit, peaking at number 3 on the Billboard charts in 1956. It is a prime example of the “show tune” genre that dominated popular music in the 1940s and 1950s. This particular track was featured in the hit Broadway musical of the time “The Most Happy Fella.” Personally, I find it trite and puerile to the extreme, just impossible for me to suffer it through to the end. Nevermind that it was quite probably already passé in 1961.
At the time, I noticed that younger people were listening to trendier stuff, like Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” released in 1960. Older people (my Dad) seemed to like the Four Lads. Anyway, it was a very joyful and blessed thing that the music scene was about to explode. Big time.
But wait! If you think that was bad, I have a second track for you. Did I mention that Dad liked show tunes? Well, a strong argument can be made that the indisputable king and queen of the genre were none other than the star duo of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. Dad loved these two — really, really loved them. Listen for yourself:
Haven’t heard that one in a while, right? Well, there’s a very good reason why not.
One of Dad’s Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald records actually survived to later wives.
For example, Gloria and I poked at it with our sharp sticks. Now we were only 9 years apart by age and if there was a generational divide anywhere in the house, it split solidly between Dad for the “older” people and Gloria and I on the “younger” side. In fact, Gloria had cool records, like Led Zeppelin II, the first Santana album, and Janis Joplin Live with Big Brother and the Holding Company (which I inherited from her and still listen to in the car).
I remember Dad putting on the Nelson Eddy record and seeing him stroll around show-tune style, singing as if he was the embodiment of the leading baritone himself. Gloria and I would run around inserting sandpaper in our ears, making retching noises, and laughing.
In any event, Nelson Eddy’s and Jeanette MacDonald’s music may not have aged that well according to modern styles and vogues. But like the Four Lads, they had their day in the early part of the last century and they were truly the “it” couple. They attracted not only the theater crowd, but opera purists and bobby-soxers as well. Nelson himself was the highest paid singer at the time, rendering the other show tune talent as “Ringoes.” Maybe that was unfair to Ringo who didn’t do that badly as a solo act (and is still performing).
Me? As I listen to this track and see the pictures of Nelson in his Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform as he (“Sergeant Bruce”) rescues his damsel, I wonder if Dad thought of himself as the Officer and my Mom, a real Canadian girl, as the babe. It’s a cute thought but it doesn’t help me make it to the end of this track “Indian Love Call” which is considered their signature song. Unfortunately, Gloria and I, we just couldn’t abide it.
Now wife no. 5 Rosemary could actually groove on it. She was a thespian, talented in singing, dancing, and well versed in these types of numbers. I remember her strutting around in the Weehawken house in a one piece theatrical dance suit, tights, top hat, tails, and cane, singing and dancing with the best of them.
Rosemary giving an impromptu performance in Shinnecock Hills.
The final vote is therefore one wife in favor of Eddy/MacDonald, the others against (I have never heard my Mom mention “Nelson Eddy” E V E R). And I feel honor bound to cast votes on behalf of wives one and three. Sorry Dad, if I vote with the ladies on this one.
The next three tracks on this virtual iPod are altogether different!
In 1971 this was a hit on the radio:
It’s a goofy track to be sure, sung completely tongue in cheek. But it gives a good glimpse into my Dad’s humorous side. I remember him listening intently in the car to this, and in the final stanza, Jerry Reed calls out “Judge, who’s gonna pay my welfare?!” The response fell on my Dad sitting next to me, “who’s gonna pay my welfare?!” he chanted in perfect mimicry! “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot!” deserves a place on his iPod!
In college during the 1976/77 school year, I was a disc jockey for college radio station WRCT-FM in Pittsburgh and had a late-night radio program called “Midnight Mania”. A couple of degenerate music buffs would join me in the studio and we would have a blast spinning the tunes for the late night audience. One night my pal Biron pulled one record from the library and insisted I play it no questions asked. Now he had impeccable taste in music, and I tossed it on the platter sound unheard. It was called “You’ll Never Find another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls. It was a hauntingly beautiful composition and arrangement, highlighted by Lou’s soaring vocals. It became a Midnight Mania favorite.
Fast forward to 1992, one day I had copied this gem from my record collection onto a cassette tape and played it while Dad was in the car. He flipped and went wild for it. He insisted that I make him a cassette with just that one song on it! Which I did. And he would play that song over and over. Play, rewind, repeat. He never got tired of it. I never did either.
Here’s the timeless studio version.
The next and last track would catch Dad by surprise and I imagine he would protest against it by saying this was not one of his favorite tracks. But I associate it with him just the same.
In the early 1980s, Dad liked to do his drives between Shinnecock Hills, NY and Weehawken, NJ early in the morning to avoid traffic. So early one morning, around 4 AM, we left Shinnecock Hills with him driving and me sprawled in the back seat snoozing. Or trying to. It was hard to sleep, as Dad was fickle with the radio. He would change the station all the time, as if he didn’t like anything. (Maybe there is something analogous in the way he jumped around the dial to the way he dealt with life.) But then suddenly, he found a station that played this final entry in today’s post. And he stuck with it through to the end. In the back, I saw the sky through my closed eyelids; it was transcendent.
Stanley Kubrick was a genius for choosing the Blue Danube as the musical score for Man’s ascent into space. And thanks to Dad, this has become my favorite classical piece.
And the monaural speaker with french legs? It survived all the way to 2012 as an odd piece of furniture in the Shinnecock Hills house until the house was sold as estate property. The Four Lads could have been its Swan Song.
Copyright © 2015 by James B. Olcott