Friday, August 9, 2019
It wasn't entirely bad. I made a friend at my new place of employment, a girl my age who actually knew how to navigate the world. She had a VW ~ not a bug, but some kind of passenger vehicle ~ a Golf maybe. I think it was yellow. Not that we drove much. Alice Two had an apartment about two blocks from the State Capitol where we worked, so we'd clomp down the sidewalk at lunchtime in our platform shoes to her place and she'd heat up a can of SpaghettiOs. I convinced myself I was sophisticated. I was an eighteen-year-old rube.
I can't even begin to describe the depths of my naivete. Even though my mom and dad were not model parents, I leaned on them as much as I could and allowed them to care for my needs, which essentially consisted of food and transport. It was a confusing time of transition. My best friend since sixth grade, Alice One, and I had begun to drift apart, despite my struggle to hang on. I desperately needed to maintain the mirage of normalcy, but nobody cooperated. It was almost as if I was being elbowed into maturity.
I was still living at home and not contributing any of my paycheck towards shelter, so I bought clothes and records. I obtained a JC Penney charge card (my very first!) that had a $75.00 credit limit and I ordered items from the catalog, took them home and tried them on; then returned most of them. It was, I guess, a semblance of the "grown-up game". JC Penney, in fact, was the go-to store in town. It had clothes and shoes and a basement full of record albums. Montgomery Ward and Sears were a bit more low-rent. There was also a local discount department store called Tempo, which was definitely inexpensive and definitely shoddy. Its tissue paper clothing almost disintegrated before my eyes as I lifted it from the shelf.
I had a boyfriend I tolerated, just so I could say I had one. I wasn't sophisticated like Alice Two, who had boys practically breaking down her apartment door, but then again, she did have her own apartment and I had a bedroom in my parents' house. My boyfriend wanted to get married, so I said okay. I was eighteen, after all ~ practically an old maid ~ and this might be my only chance.
My position with the State Health Department was called Clerk Typist II. The "II" was very important to me, because I was at least better than a "I", although the cache was imaginary. I began by typing up birth certificates for walk-in customers on an IBM Selectric; then toddling back to my director's office so she could emboss her official stamp on them. Sometimes the clients would want something that was stuffed inside a dusty file drawer in the back room, so I retrieved that. I must have either been a good retriever or a typist who employed Liquid Paper sparingly, because soon I was singled out to join a new project along with Alice Two; a vast undertaking to commit to microfilm every birth, death, and marriage certificate in the state of North Dakota from the beginning of time. It certainly sounded auspicious, but it quickly became as dull as dirt.
Alice Two and I and our new supervisor were cloistered inside a smoky back office, where we employed number two pencils to trace over the faded typeset (and in some cases, handwriting) of each document bound inside powdery albums dating back to 1889. Then we took turns inside the curtained microfilm booth sliding said records under the camera eye and clicking a button, over and over and nauseatingly over. It was scintillating work for a girl still in her teens. Worse, everyone else in the department grew to hate us, because we closed the office door behind us and smoked our guts out; carcinogens wafting out from beneath the door jamb.
We did have an AM radio for consolation and it buzzed out tunes all day long. 1974 was an odd year in music. There were breathtaking songs and then there were novelties. There were also tracks that were somehow taken seriously, but were actually revolting. In fact, 1974 most likely racked up some of the worst songs ever recorded.
I'll begin with the intentional novelties:
Then the unintentional:
It was AM radio ~ they weren't playing Led Zeppelin.
Not exactly sure what this was:
Don't care ~ I like this ~ and yes, it's strange;
The radio even played songs my little sister liked:
Ringo was trying to be relevant:
Then there were the good songs:
This one goes out to my little brother:
These are for me:
And most especially this:
Things did not end well in that little smoky back office. Alice Two's and my supervisor, an old married lady around age 26, insinuated herself into our friendship, desperate to regain her lost youth. As inevitably happens among a party of three, Linda did all she could to rupture Alice's and my bond. Fortunately for me, she focused her energies on Alice, setting up hapless blind dates and couples nights out. Alice was the cool one, after all. That experiment ended abruptly the night Linda's husband came a'knockin' on Alice's apartment door. While the whole imbroglio was never mentioned (expect in a whisper to me), the oxygen became heavy soon after. Linda turned brittle toward us. The AM radio was suddenly switched off. The three of us scribbled in silence.
Alice eventually met the man she would marry and we served as bridesmaids at each other's weddings.
And we simultaneously quit our jobs, leaving bitter Linda to sort out her life and find two new rubes to intimidate.
The joys of one's first job ~ little life lessons, even if we are merely innocent bystanders. We learn about allegiances and how much we're willing to assert them. And what the stakes are either way. Earning minimum wage helps in our decision making. I chose friendship over a job I didn't even actually like.
Nevertheless, for a time in 1974 we had the radio.
Friday, August 31, 2018
And truth be told, Alice and I stopped being friends around the time we turned twenty-one. We had wildly divergent lives -- I became a new mom and she was single and singing in a band. I was searingly hurt when I called her and wanted to drive over with my newborn son to visit and she responded indifferently. I never did go. That was the last conversation she and I ever had.
Once my kids were older and my then-husband and I escaped for an occasional night out, we'd sometimes patronize the club where Alice and her band played every weekend, and we'd ease into a table next to the one where the band took their breaks, but she and I never even acknowledged one another. If I had been older and wiser, I would have made the effort to at least walk over and make superficial conversation, but I waited for her to make the first move. She never did. Hurt feelings; hurt pride; confusion -- she and I had once been as close as two humans could be, and now we were strangers.
Several years later, my son called to tell me Alice had died, and I mourned silently -- I guess mostly for the times that could never be relived. I frankly didn't know her; I'd stopped knowing her in 1974. That didn't erase the eons when her friendship had buoyed me through the hell I was living at home; the afternoons she spent in my dank bedroom teaching me how to play guitar; the giggling inside jokes we'd shared.
I never again had a best friend.
When I secured my first "real" job in 1973, I made another friend. Her name was -- Alice.
The truth was, Alice and I most likely became friends because we were thrown together, but I liked her, despite (or because of) her crazy life. I lived vicariously through her adventures. Alice had come from a small town of approximately 600 souls, but apparently very enlightened souls. She was a mid-twentieth century girl living a twenty-first century life. Alice was tall and willowy and apparently exuded a scent that attracted all manner of male persons; elderly, teen-aged, and in between; and she reveled in it. When I met Alice's mom, I was shocked to encounter a tiny immigrant lady who struggled with the English language and who steamed up a batch of Borscht soup and delivered it in a Tupperware container to her daughter's flat. I liked Alice because she tossed off testosterone-stoked attention matter-of-factly, and she was funny, self-deprecating, and guileless. Alice was confident in her identity. I, on the other hand, was still straining to figure out who I was supposed to be.
Alice and I dwelled in an office in the rear of the State Health Department, along with a hard-bitten bleached-blonde supervisor we quickly came to hate. It didn't help matters that our supervisor's husband, like every other man on the planet, magically fell under Alice's spell and showed up unannounced at her apartment door one evening. The ensuing fallout was awkward. Not for me, of course. I frolicked in the tabloid headlines. But that tiny back room became perilous, with glinting knives whooshing too close to my jugular for comfort.
Meanwhile, the desktop transistor innocently played.
Unfortunately, no live Grand Funksters to be found, but still...
This guy was unusual, but intriguing, and a helluva singer. Fortunately, this track is a bit more memorable than "The Streak":
Maria Muldaur, I don't think, ever had another hit, but this was huge in 1974, although I didn't have a camel to send to bed. I didn't even have a dog:
I tried to convince Alice, once she finally found "the one", after rabid experimentation, that she should feature this song in her wedding. She declined. I still think I'm right:
Upon first hearing this next track, I was perplexed, yet intrigued. This was an old BJ Thomas song, but BJ wouldn't have thought to do an "ooga-chalk-a" intro, I'm pretty sure. Weird songs were de rigeur in 1974. Jim Stafford was big (whatever happened to him?) with Spiders and Snakes, and especially "My Girl Bill". Paper Lace invented the "east side of Chicago". My tween-aged sister's music came into being, with "Beach Baby" and "Billy, Don't Be A Hero". My little brother was enamored by "Smokin' In The Boy's Room". Some blonde-headed geek had sunshine on his shoulder. One of the all-time worst recordings in history, "Havin' My Baby", somehow became a hit. Wings became huge.
In the meantime:
Carly and James were still married, and National Lampoon's Vacation not withstanding, everyone liked this:
The Hues Corporation, which was a poorly-conceived name for a band, had a big hit:
There was a hit that I never really appreciated until years later, by a guy who knew how to write a killer song.
My favorite songs from 1974:
But the absolute most memorable to me was this next song, which I tormented Alice with as I sang along to the radio. I suppose I thought I was being cute, and maybe my judgmental side slipped out. My crooning never failed to elicit an exasperated response.
Alice had a little walk-up apartment two blocks from the State Capitol, and every day at noon, the two of us would ride the elevator down from the eighteenth floor and click along the street in our polyester mini-dresses and high heels to enjoy a lunch of SpaghettiO's heated in an aluminum pan on her gas stove. I never once thought to volunteer the fifty-nine cents to cover the cost of our little meal. I was a rube.
My stint at the State Health Department was my first real job. It ended badly, but in the grand scheme of life, it mattered little, except for the memories it created.
Alice and I remained friends for a while. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, as I was in hers. We bore sons at roughly the same time. She and her husband eventually moved to a little town where they purchased an auto body shop. She began selling Avon products. I visited...once. Alice was fun and upbeat. I felt happy being around her. I envied her. I guess I always had.
At eighteen or nineteen, one's life experiences are seared into their brain. We have so much empty brain matter, I'm guessing, that everything -- music, little day-to-day trifles -- assume vast importance.
Thus, many decades later, I wrote a song to try to capture that time.
I'll admit, I Googled Alice, just to know what had become of her. I found her, but I wouldn't ever try to contact her, because she probably doesn't even remember me, and that would be embarrassing and humbling. Some memories should remain just that -- memories.
That hardly negates them, though.
Friday, June 8, 2012
As readers of my blog know, once I find a topic that's interesting (to me), I like to beat it to death.
So, here we go!
And let me just note that, it appears, the 1970's has the distinction of producing more one-hit wonder songs than any other decade. Kudos, nineteen seventies! I knew you were good for something!
Did you ever notice that some of the songs that get the most airplay on oldies or classic rock radio stations just happen to be the one-hit wonders? See, that's where they fool you. You think, hey, they're playing Norman Greenbaum again! He must have had a ton of hits!
Apparently, this video is supposed to look like this (and here I thought it was just a really bad transfer).
Curious about this song, I surfed over to Songfacts, and found this:
"Norman Greenbaum was kind enough to tell us about this song. He set out to write a religious rock song, and he is Jewish. Instead of using a Jewish word for God, he used "Jesus" because he thought it would be more marketable. It took months for Greenbaum to finish the music, but the lyrics came really quickly. Interesting fact we also learned about Norman: he used to run a goat farm."
Nice juxtaposition of relevant facts! It's like saying, "Paul McCartney, in addition to being the most famous living rock star of all time, also, interestingly, wears a size ten shoe."
Spirit In The Sky
The Free Movement only had one hit record as well. Being unable to find an actual performance video of their song led me to wonder whether they actually were a band. However, this "video" does show a picture of the album cover, so my suspicions were unfounded. I realize it was 1971, so in context, the name makes sense, I guess, but I still find it rather unfortunate.
Honestly, the only reason I remember this song is because country singer Cal Smith had a hit with a cover version.
I've Found Someone Of My Own
Speaking of unfortunate band names, Climax had a 1972 hit with this next song, which happened to be the theme of my junior year high school prom. Oh, I didn't go....I saw it in the yearbook, though (look, I wasn't exactly an active participant in high school activities).
Precious and few are the moments we two can share
Quiet and blue, like the sky, I'm hung over you (how about just "hung over"?)
And if I can't find my way back home (obviously because I am hung over)
It just wouldn't be fair
Precious and few are the moments we two can share
This is apparently the last surviving remnant of Climax's live performance of the song, and thus the quality is atrocious. One would think the videographer was hung over.
Precious and Few
This next one makes me laugh. Because it's by a group that was slapped with the name, "Hillside Singers". Know why they were called the Hillside Singers? How old are you? Because it was a Coca-Cola commercial, and they were all standing on a hillside! In fact, the only rendition of this song I could find was the actual Coca-Cola commercial.
Coca-Cola started a heretofore unexplored trend; that of turning a TV commercial into a hit song. They did it with Dottie West as well, with "Country Sunshine".
Now, I drink tons of Diet Coke, but I think I'll go with, "I'm a Pepper, You're a Pepper" instead.
I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing
If you don't remember the 1972 version of this next song, you may remember the 1985 Motley Crue cover. Regardless, you will remember it.
The main reason I remember this song so well is that my little brother loved it. He was 11. Here is Brownsville Station:
Smokin' In The Boys' Room
Before we go further down memory lane, let me just interject, B.W. Stevenson and Clint Holmes ~ sorry, guys! Apparently, you don't exist on video! But, alas, we remember your songs!
But moving on, and speaking of band names, I think it's good to call yourselves something that really denotes your standing in the musical community. For example, First Class. Sounds like a group that would really be rocking the charts, right? Well, no. They had but one hit, but we do remember it.
And, frankly, maybe it's just me, but the only part of the song I remember is:
Beach baby, beach baby, give me your hand
I have absolutely no recollection of any of the rest of it, but let's learn together, shall we?
You know, some songs, for various reasons, just stick with you. Let me tell you why George McCrae's song sticks with me.
I woke up one summer Saturday morning; my husband (at the time) was at work. I had left the AM radio on throughout the night. I was all alone. I heard sirens. Yes, the tornado sirens were sounding. We lived in a trailer. You know what they say about the worst places to be in a tornado? Yes, that's right. We owned one car, which was currently with my husband, at work. I frantically dialed my sister, who lived a couple of miles away. She, too, was carless that morning. She said she would call me a cab to take me to her house, which had a basement. So, as I waited and grew more agitated by the second, this song was playing on the radio.
Rock Your Baby
Before I send my camel to bed, I thought I would like to hear Maria Muldaur's hit song:
Midnight At The Oasis
Picking on 1970's band names has become a fun part (for me) of this whole undertaking tonight. Here is a helpful hint, nineteen seventies up-and-comers (again, you have to climb inside that time machine to hear it); just put any two words together! A good tip is to make two columns; then try various combinations of Column A and Column B, until you come up with just the right cool-sounding name. It's really pretty simple.
Now, Paper Lace, while pretty! Sounds a bit twee. At least for a male rock group. All Valentine'ish. Perhaps you should go back to the east side of Chicago and rethink your name choice.
The Night Chicago Died
There is a grainy, skippy live performance of this next song, but it just doesn't convey the awesomeness that is Blue Swede.
We all remember B.J. Thomas, right? Great singer. "Raindrops Keep Fallin'....", etc. He had a really nice poppy record called, "Hooked on a Feelin'". Unfortunately, now, I can no longer hear the B.J. Thomas version without inserting my own, "ooga-chawka ooga-chawka's", thanks to Blue Swede.
And what is a Blue Swede, actually? A Swedish guy who got stranded out on the iceberg?
Hooked On A Feelin'
"Ace" is a nice, masculine name. "Hey, Ace!" "How ya doin', Ace?" "How long has it been, Ace?" "Hey, you ain't quite as dumb as you seem, Ace!"
Yes, Ace, with its homage to the piano/organ stylings of Steely Dan, had an unforgettable (even if we try) hit, that goes a little something like this:
Spain, heretofore only known for its catastrophic financial situation, did also produce a one-hit wonder band. A band whose name, in English, translates to "youth". Again, not to quibble, but really? This is the best you could come up with, even in Spanish? Youth? You know, Paper Lace in Spanish is "Encajes de papel". I'm not saying that sounds any more masculine than Paper Lace. I just thought I would throw that out there.
Sure, Mocedades doesn't exactly roll off the tongue (or the brain, if something can roll off one's brain), but you, trust me, will remember them when you hear this song. "Eres tu", meaning, (from my two years of high school Spanish, twenty thousand years ago) "it's you". That's all you need to know, really. Just make up your own words to sing along.
Eres tu reminded me of this next song, which, inexplicably, is not listed on the One Hit Wonders site, but it was absolutely a one-hit wonder for Barry DeVorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr. (Again, not to quibble, but that's the worst band name ever.)
You can call it by its original title if you want. We all know, however, that it is actually the theme from the Young & the Restless. Ahhh, Jack Abbott. Ashley Abbott. Victor Newman. Kate Chancellor. Yes, I remember them well. I haven't seen that show in about 20 years, but I loved it.
Around that same time, Minnie Riperton also had a hit. Not to speak ill of the hits, but this is a song that would drive my dog nuts. I, personally, am not able to hear the high notes, but Josie can. I think it's all fine and dandy to show off one's extensive vocal range, but not to the point of driving the listener insane. Forget the theme from Sesame Street. I think they should play this song for the Gitmo detainees. They'd be begging for Sesame Street, truly.
Believe it or not, I have only begun to scratch the surface of one-hit wonder hits from the decade that was the seventies.
I realize, however, that this post is getting long, so I will save more hits for next time.
I leave you, and me, to wash out our ears with something a bit more pleasing. I can't find any decent performance videos of this song, but I love it; always have, so we'll settle for this:
Elvin Bishop ~ Fooled Around and Fell In Love
Can't believe this guy only had one hit record.
There is more to come, folks!
The First Episode of One-Hit Wonders