Saturday, June 15, 2019
In the seventies, I was a singles buyer. Country albums, for the most part, didn't try too hard. In the late sixties Merle Haggard had done an album called, "Let Me Tell You About A Song", which is the first "themed" LP I can remember. That was an anomaly, however. Country albums generally consisted of one or two hits and nine filler songs. It was a cheat designed to get music lovers to plunk down four dollars and ninety-nine cents. I could never understand why artists, who had to go through the trouble of recording an album, didn't at least look for good songs. Thus, singles were king.
We didn't yet have a full-fledged music store in my town, so Woolworth's record department was my deliverance.Singles only cost a dollar, so even during my poor times, I could at least pick up one.
Gradually, however, riffling my fingers through the accordion of country singles in Woolworth's bins left me angry and frustrated. I bought a lot of crappy singles during that time, just to go home with something. Like anything a person tires of, it didn't happen overnight. Sometimes one doesn't even realize they're being played. Country label execs at some point decided that we hayseeds would buy anything, and they probably didn't like country music anyway, so it was a win-win for them.
The top artists in the late seventies were Crystal Gayle, Kenny Rogers, Dave and Sugar, Billy Crash Craddock, Johnny Lee, Sylvia, Charley Pride (who'd somehow lost his mojo), and Barbara Mandrell. Sure, there were some wonderful outliers ~ The Oak Ridge Boys, Eddie Rabbitt, Rosanne Cash, Gene Watson, The Kendalls ~ but the charts were hogged by mediocre artists' "country" tracks. I don't have anything against Kenny Rogers, per se, but except for The Gambler, he essentially bastardized country music. As for the others....
Here's a sampling:
The sensation that Crystal Gayle was posturing never escaped my brain. Her singing seemed so stylized, with the way she pronounced her words. I think, had it not been for her freakishly long hair, she would have simply been a flash in the pan, regardless of who her sister was.
As I understand it, Sylvia is actually a good songwriter; and one must do what one needs to do to advance in the music biz, but her singles were like deadly earworms.
Ahh, Dave and Sugar...to be generous, this is actually country music, but something about that guy set my teeth on edge. He was too seventies-disco-cool, with his hair and chains. It also bothered me that they replaced the good girl singer with somebody else and acted like no one would notice, simply because she didn't quite fit the image Dave wanted to evoke (seventies-disco-cool).
I generally like Barbara Mandrell, but this song is putrid. Barbara also had a network TV show where she featured her sisters (Louise and the other one, who couldn't sing), and it was tedious. Every week Barb would do her shtick of playing the one song she knew on the steel guitar and then they'd do some goofy skits and sing a song together (the non-musical sister's mic was no doubt turned off). Every freakin' week was the same.
So, yes, I finally reached my breaking point. If the country music industry didn't respect me, ta-ta! I turned to MTV and hallelujah ~ they were playing actual music! I love, loved MTV. I loved it for many years, and I missed the resurgence of actual country music (thank you, Randy Travis). Those who hung in there through the lean times didn't miss it. I did. My patience had been snapped. And I had to play catch-up, once I discovered that the walls had been battened with clubs and fiddles and steel guitars.
The seventies music honchos should be ashamed of the tatters they ripped country music into. As well as those artists who blithely tottered along.
Even thinking about it makes me shudder.
Friday, May 24, 2019
Kids are very durable. Flexible ~ sort of like Gumby. The first time a bad thing happens, they freak out, but freaking out night after night is exhausting; so intuition eventually kicks in. It's amazing what a kid can disregard while remaining keenly attuned to her surroundings. It becomes a way of life. I'm not certain that my sense of hearing is sharper than most people's, but it's damn good. It's all those years of practice. Inevitably, bad things would happen at night, because that's when a drunk manages to stumble home. Night is when the screaming brawls occur.
There was a time in my life when I could fall asleep easily. That ended around age eleven and I've been cursed with insomnia ever since. Every little floor creak, even with foam plugs shoved inside my ears, startles me. It's the "fight or flight" phenomenon. My dad was a falling-down, albeit happy drunk, while my mom was enraged, spewing sailor's epithets, her fingernails clawing his face. At ten o'clock at night, with an early morning bus to catch,
I essentially ignored the rows and tried to fall back asleep like my younger brother and sister had done quite effortlessly on the bottom bunk. Still, I had to be on guard for that moment when my mom would scream, "Call the sheriff!" and I would have to slide down from my second-story tower and stumble to the telephone and lie that my dad was assaulting my mother, when in fact, he was deliriously content on his makeshift bed on the shag carpet, and she was the one who was dangerously homicidal.
This new reality began right at the time I'd been uprooted from the only home I'd ever known and plopped down in the middle of the parched prairie with no friends and no lifelines ~ because life would be "better" here.
My pop singles soothed me for a time. If I cranked up the volume enough, I could almost drown out the screaming. Then a completely unexpected thing happened ~ I made a friend. When kids meet other kids, the primary topic of conversation (at least then) was music. "Who do you like?" "What's your favorite record?" I expected to hear The Beatles or at the very least The Monkees, but Alice said, "I like country music." Well, this was an unanticipated response. Country music? My parents owned a Ray Price album and a Buck Owens album. I also knew who Bobby Bare was. That, in a nutshell, was my encyclopedic knowledge of country.
Becoming friends with Alice was like jetting across the ocean to a foreign country for the first time. I had to forget everything I'd ever known and take a crash course in Esperanto, otherwise known as twang. I sat cross-legged on the floor of her living room while she spun records by people I'd never heard of once in my life. Granted, she had some very obscure tastes, like Carl Butler and Pearl (as they were booked) and Porter Wagoner, who wasn't at all good until he teamed up with a blonde bee-hived little girl singer.
The most revelatory artist Alice introduced me to was named Merle Haggard, who was brand-spankin' new on the scene, but definitely had a certain something I could get on board with. This Haggard guy's recordings were heavy on Telecaster, bass, and crying steel. His music reminded me a bit of my parents' Buck Owens albums, only with far superior singing and heart-searing harmonies. This was someone I could claim as my own and stamp myself a country fan. Thank God. Because I was worried I wouldn't like anybody and then I'd lose my new friend as quickly as I'd found her (or, more accurately, as she'd found me).
Adaptability is innate. Once you discover something, then you discover other somethings. The first thing I discovered without Alice's help was Waylon Jennings.
There was a new guy who was being played on the radio (I'd since switched my allegiance from KFYR to KBMR) and both Alice and I liked this song. Later we heard rumors about him that couldn't possibly be true, because he was stone country:
As for female singers, there were a few, but she was the ultimate:
Although this new gal was pretty good:
Yep, I'd become immersed. And it didn't take long. Eventually I saved up my pennies and bought that red acoustic guitar in the window at Dahmer's Music and Alice came over and taught me how to form chords. Now I could play along with my favorite Haggard and Pride songs.
I became even better at drowning out the scuffles happening outside my bedroom door. I'd found a reason to soldier on.
Country music turned into everything for me. Until it wasn't. Until it disappointed me.
But that would take a few years....
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
I continued aboard the pop music train until around 1968. If one peruses the top hits of '68, it's apparent that music took a nosedive. I'm not sure what happened. Maybe The Beatles were tired. Maybe the Summer of Love ruined everything. Maybe my life was falling apart.
I don't remember how I came into possession of my battery-operated record player, but I carried it with me throughout my early teens. It was fun at first, but the fun abruptly ended once the batteries wore down. I'd be merrily playing "Thank The Lord For The Night Time" when suddenly Neil Diamond began singing really low and slowwww. I didn't have money to constantly purchase size D batteries and trust me, they weren't alkaline. My dad picked up a so-called battery charger somewhere, which barely masked the problem. Seems those Evereadys were just as tired as The Beatles.
Still, in 1967, pop music retained a glint of joy. I continued to be a mostly singles buyer. The Turtles recorded on the White Whale label, whose '45 color was oddly blue, not white. Neil Diamond was on Bang, with its yellow label with a revolver atop shooting out the word "Bang". The Monkees' Colgems singles sported a prosaic red and white design. The Grass Roots' Dunhill singles were elegantly black. (I wonder what possessors of mp3's stare at while their song is playing.)
I had my favorites, like this one. I don't think The Turtles were ever taken seriously by the music biz people, but the execs sure liked the money that rolled in:
Lulu had one hit song, but it did land her a part in a movie, so she had a year. This really is beautiful:
I'm not sure what the deal was with Alex Chilton. Granted, he was only sixteen, but he acted like a reluctant fifth grader whose mom pushed him out on the stage. Nevertheless, this was one of my special songs from 1967:
This is the only song I ever liked by Herman's Hermits. Because they were a goofy band that essentially did novelty songs. I can't even stand to listen to Peter Noone on Sirius XM, because he's still trying to sound like he's sixteen, when in actuality he's pushing a hundred and five. However, this is a classy song:
This song is perfect for a twelve-year-old. It has that great poppy vibe, and (shucks) this performance doesn't feature Graham Nash, who went on to record some of the most boring songs in musical history about puppies and aprons and tidying up the house with his new, hipper, band, CSN or CSNY (whatever).
The Grass Roots were the first rock concert I ever attended. Of course, I was so high up in the bleachers that I could have just as well been at home peering through binoculars. Much like The Turtles, The Grass Roots got no love. I don't understand that, because they had a lengthy string of hits. (And yes, even though this video is fuzzy, I can pick out Creed from The Office.):
By 1967 I'd mostly relinquished my obsession with The Monkees. They'd been my lifeline when my family moved to a new town and I suddenly had zero friends. I wrote about it somewhere ~ oh, here.
I guess life had become a little bit better in some ways, and a hell of a lot worse in others. I never owned this '45, but my big brother did. As was my wont, I snuck into his room to play his records whenever he was away. I didn't know until recently that Carole King wrote this song. It's probably my favorite Monkees recording:
Thus ended my pop music phase. For a long while.
Next ~ immersing myself in country.