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Playlist of my life: 1974

June 4th, 2011

Yesterday I mentioned my tiny orange record player. I loved that record player with a passion rivaled only by my love for my dog Fritzi. It played 45s, and had a lid that you could latch shut with a sliver clasp. It had a little handle next to the latch, and it was a deep burnt-orange color.

The best thing about my record player was that it could read me stories. I had a million books that came with a 45 slipped in a pocket in the back. I knew how to set up the record player by myself and would play records and “read” my books for hours on end.

My favorite book-on-record was this version of Peter and the Wolf by Peter Pan Records. Peter Pan Records apparently featured heavily in my childhood. My favorite childhood Christmas album was also released by them. I have not been able to figure out who the performers are — probably the same uncredited Peter Pan Collective cast members that recorded the Christmas album I have.

I have incredibly vivid memories of playing that record, and flipping through that book, over and over again. I remember what the book looked like, the feel of it in my hands, the little drawings in the inside back cover, the exact shade of blue on the cover, the smell of the cover, and the sound of the bell telling me when to turn the pages. And I loved the music. I would sing and dance with the music, all the while trying to keep pace with the page turns.

In the summer of 1974, someone (sadly, neither my parents nor I remember who) took me to see a live performance of Peter and the Wolf, with an orchestra, puppets and a narrator. The performance was outdoors. I remember sitting on the grass. I am almost certain that it was part of the annual Peter Britt Children’s Festival, which I remember going to often as a kid, but that’s just an assumption.

I was absolutely stunned to realize that the music I loved so much didn’t just live in my book and my record player, but that people made it! And other people knew about it! And other kids liked it! I had no idea that this music — my music — belonged to other people too. I don’t remember very much of the performance, except that the wolf scared me. What I remember most vividly is the feeling of absolute stunned awe that the notion of an unmediated live music performance inspired in me. It was so wonderful.

So I pick the Peter Pan Records version of Peter and the Wolf to represent 1974 in the playlist of my life. Now, if only I could get my hands on a digital version of that record.

Do you have a favorite song or music-related memory from 1974? Share it in the comments!

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June 3rd, 2011

I just realized that comments aren’t being displayed, even when I’ve approved them. I’m looking into the problem and will post an update when it is fixed. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

UPDATE: The comments problem has been fixed.

Playlist of my life: 1973

June 3rd, 2011

Yesterday, I told you that I like songs that tell a certain kind of story. The song I picked for 1973 also tells that kind of story.

This was a hard year for me to pick a song for. Nothing especially stands out for me when I think “1973″ and nothing on the billboard charts reminded me of a story. So I picked a song that has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember singing anything: Big Bad John, by Jimmy Dean.

Although my family didn’t listen to music much, I did have a tiny orange record player that played 45s. I used it to play those records that read books to you (”bong” turn the page now) and some old 45s that belonged to my mother. I also had a very basic cassette tape player (the kind that looked like this) and a set of tapes with “Children’s Favorite Songs” on it. Big Bad John was on one of those tapes, and I played that particular tape over and over and over again, always singing along with “Big Bad John” at the top of my lungs.

Big Bad John was written by Jimmy Dean and Roy Acuff as a straight-up country song, but I’ve always thought of it as a kids song since it was on those tapes. In retrospect, that’s horrifying, since the story the song tells is a blood-curdling one of a mine accident and the accident’s hero, with whiffs of sex and murder added as an afterthought.

I have always loved this song, and still sing along with it quite loudly when I can. Initially, I think it was the big, explosive consonants in the song that I loved to blast out, and a little later I think I was taken by the song’s central act of sacrifice and heroism. When I was older, I was disappointed to learn that there were sequels to the song where John lives. That’s just not right, and is far too sugary an ending for this story and my tastes. I prefer to ignore the sequels.

I’m taking a liberty by picking this song for 1973. I’m sure that I wasn’t working the tape player by myself when I was 2, and we may not have even had those tapes then. But since the song was released 10 years before I was born, and since I’ve picked more relevant songs for the rest of the 1970s, this seemed a good place to put Big Bad John. Besides, this is the very first song I have a specific memory of singing — surely it deserves a low number on my list.

Do you have a favorite song or music-related memory from 1973? Share it in the comments!

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Playlist of my life: 1972

June 2nd, 2011

Ah 1972.  What a great year that was.  Or so I assume, but truly I have no idea.  I was one.  What did I know? I suppose the most I can say with honesty is that I survived it.

Other than a few music boxes and perhaps one of those musical pull toys, I suspect that I did not listen to a whole lot of music.  I did not grow up in a musical family.  We only listened to music in the house on special occasions, like Christmas, and we only sang in church.  The “favorite music” page in my baby book is blank.

This gives me great license to fill in the early 70s, the years before I have actual memories of music, with songs that capture that era for me.  In this I have been strongly influenced by movie soundtracks and oldies radio.  Looking over the Billboard Top 100 for 1972, there are a number of songs that stand out as place-setting songs — they tell you that the movie you are watching is set in the 70s, or that the radio station is doing an “all 70s” weekend.  American Pie.  I Can See Clearly Now.  I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.  Anything by the Carpenters.

The song I’ve picked for 1972 is You Don’t Mess Around with Jim by Jim Croce. I picked it for three reasons. First, it’s a great song to sing. I remember singing it in the car with my friend F on the way to the pool one summer (the car was an awesome brownish-gold Cadillac convertible with giant fins that belonged to F’s mom). Second, I am extremely fond of songs that tell stories, especially if they have a bit of bleakness to them. That same summer, I talked at length with F about how poignant it is when Slim shoots Jim and found it impossible to convey the depth of my feeling to her. Third, Croce’s mustache should be a national monument. My Dad had a voluminous 1970s mustache when I was a little girl, and his mustache could only dream of one day growing up and holding Jim Croce’s mustache’s coat. Jim Croce’s mustache, his down-to-earth looks, his un-ironic work shirts, his stage presence, and his accidental music career, all come from a time before MTV, when music could come blasting out of the radio and there was no Internet full of publicity photos and myspace pages and constant exposure mediating it for me (just record companies, DJs, middle-men and concert promoters).

For me, as a little girl, this song came out of nowhere and explained something to me about the world — about how context, setting and experience matter, and about how a person’s circumstances might shape their behavior regardless of her or his own character, personality, attitudes and skills. That’s what I was trying to explain to F.

Do you have a favorite song or music-related memory from 1972? Share it in the comments!

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Playlist of my life: 1971

June 1st, 2011

As a squalling bundle of joy with a big head, what other song could I possibly choose for my entrance into the world than Joy to the World, by Three Dog Night.  As befitting a newborn, I was certain I was a joy to the world.   Or at least, I am assured that I behaved as if I was certain.   I can’t testify to my own true feelings, since as a newb I had a limited view of things.

Joy to the World was released as a single in February 1971, and was a huge hit for Three Dog Night.  As a kid, I can remember singing this song to my dog, a golden retriever named Fritzi.  I’d point at her and sing “Fritzi-girl was good dog (ba domm bomp) was a good dog of mine” while shaking my hips.  I have no idea what I did with that lyric about wine, or even if I got that far in the song, although obviously Fritzi and I weren’t big drinkers at the time.  I’m sure this was much later than my first year of life, although I’ve been told I was precocious, especially when it came to singing loudly and showing off.

Joy to the World also captures something trippy, knowing, exuberant and innocent, which seems appropriate for a  newborn entering the world right at the turning point between the hippies and Watergate.

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