My birthday isn’t too far away. I’ll be turning 64 in May. I was 15 in 1964 and had my drivers license the day after my 16th birthday in ’65. The only reason I didn’t get it on my birthday is because it was a Sunday, Mother’s Day in fact, May 10th, 1965.
Some time in that era, I remember my dad bringing home this miniature piece of furniture. It looked just like the large wide stereo console we had in our gaudy Italian living room that we called the parlor. That thing had to be seven across and sat along the wall opposite the dimpled plastic covered gold brocade sofa. It played records, all speeds, and had an AM and FM stereo radio and a space to store record albums.
|This is a stock photo of the Panasonic table top transistor radio that Dad brought home.|
The miniature piece looked like that, but sat neatly on the chrome legged formica topped kitchen table. It was only about four inches wide and less than a couple of inches high. The lid lifted up, like the lid on the life-size one we had in the living room. Across the edge of the lid was one word, Panasonic. Under the lid was an AM and FM radio. The knobs for station selection and volume were on the front and the small replica didn’t need to be plugged in to play. It was battery powered and its small size was attributed to some new fangled things called transistors.
There are a few things that I can recall that may have changed my life. One was the Beatles Abbey Road album. That was probably because I was in the Army stationed in Vietnam in 1969 when it was distributed. Someone had one of these boxy cassette players and we listened to that album non stop for days until the tape broke from over use.
There was a line in one of the songs, “Golden Slumbers”, the first line. It was “Once there was a way, to get back homeward”. Being deployed as a nineteen year old drafted soldier in Vietnam, we constantly wondered if we would ever get back home again. All of us thought the song was about our lives being so far from home.
As I look back, I honestly think The Beatles changed the course of history or at least changed the musical world from their debut on the Ed Sullivan show forward.
Another thing that had a lot to do with growing up, and that meant change, was the aforementioned transistor radio. Not long after my dad brought that Panasonic into the house, I had one of my very own. It was the size of a deck of cards and played AM radio. A wire was attached and had a single ear piece to listen privately. All the hits of the day. The top 40. The ones they played on American Bandstand.
No, this isn’t a post about Dick Clark, but how can we not bring his name up in an article about 1960’s music without mentioning him, especially in the advent of his passing?
Chicago, where I grew up, had AM radio stations that catered to the masses. My Mother-In-Law listened to Wally Phillips before Jack Brickhouse took over and was the radio voice of the Cubs on WGN radio. This was one of the stations the “old” people listened to that played swing and old standards by Benny Goodman when the ball game wasn’t on.
But the wave that changed the music scene forever were the stations that played the pop, Motown and rock and roll music of the day. WLS, WCFL and sometimes a program on WIND gave these hits airtime.
Barny Pipp, Art Roberts, Larry Lujack, Clark Weber, Gene Taylor, and who could forget the comical short they played featuring The Chicken Man? These disc jockeys hosted the radio programs and played the WLS Silver Dollar Survey. They actually played the 45 RPM “Discs”. Vinyl. Records.
|The Solver Dollar Survey that reported how our favorite songs were doing.|
The transistor radio was held in a shirt pocket by day and under my pillow at night. I rarely went to sleep without the radio playing deep into the night. I waited to hear my favorite songs, or songs that were the top hits, like the Motown sound or anything broadcast by The Four Seasons and the magic voice of Frankie Valli.
|One like this went everywhere with me.|
Hence, the impetus for this piece. The Broadway production of The Jersey Boys. It’s been out for a few years, but I’ve missed getting to the theater to see it until now. I went while in Chicago on a weekend sojourn and finally got to hear and witness the music I grew up with on that transistor radio up close and personal.
If someone were to mention the Four Seasons, I’d know who they were talking about. Unless you lived under a rock in the 1960’s 70’s and beyond, you’ve probably heard of them or one of their many number one pop hits. But I never realized how many hits they produced.
The story about how they started and where they went both musically and in each member’s life journey is portrayed in this musical. I enjoyed it so much. Each rendition of the hit songs sounded like the original versions that came out of those radios. They hit every note, mimicked every sound and guitar lick and brought tears to my eyes from the evoked memories of my own life, growing up in the 1960’s.
I won’t totally review the stage production here, but I will add This Link about it. I recall the idea that this music, along with all the top pop and rock and roll music from that era, has a lot to do with shaping the lives of my generation just as the iPod does for the current generation.
The British joined in and actually had what was called an invasion when so many British song groups recorded and were on the disc jockey’s playlists here in America. The Beatles and Rolling Stones, The Who, Herman’s Hermits, The Monkees, The Hollies and on and on.
Then Motown, the sound out of Detroit, featuring the top Black artists of the day, added to this profile as well. Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin. All this, mixed and blended on the radio with Neil Sedaka, Sonny and Cher, The Righteous Brothers and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, there were many sounds and lyrics that shaped our lives.
I listened to this music performed in that classic downtown Chicago theater and cried several times as I remembered where I was or what I was doing, who I loved and how I wished I was singing the song to the one I had a crush on. Of course, that crush thing changed often, as the hormones of a 16 year old will tend to do.
My first kiss. Driving the white 1963 Ford convertible with my arm around the gal I was dating that particular Saturday night. Cruising the loop. The 8-track or WLS blaring out the sounds of the day. Driving through the parking lot of Skip’s Drive In and making the circle over and over and over again.
|Skips Drive In, photo courtesy of Nick Solovey, in later years, just before it was torn down. From the era of car hops, hot rods, cheap gas and fuzzy dice|
Making our cars sound like what we thought to be cool by removing air cleaners and taking off the mufflers. Washing and waxing, polishing and getting things to be ‘just right’ in our eyes to impress the girls. Success measured by a kiss goodnight after sharing our Saturday night cruising with a basket of French fries smothered with ketchup and a couple of Cokes.
I just bought another car, a pickup truck actually. It’s yellow, the color of a school bus. It’s an older truck, but not that old, 1999. I’ve already started to make it mine. It has an AM/FM radio, but an outdated cassette tape player and no place to plug in an iPod. Listen to me. Plug in. What a dummy. Everything is wireless nowadays.
I still listen to the music turned up loud though. Nothing like the sound of a screamin’ guitar solo blaring full blast with the wind rushing through the open windows. This one still has a bench seat, so my gal can snuggle up close. I bought a spinner on Ebay and will install it when it warms up a bit.
What great memories. I want to sit and share them with old friends, and be reminded of more. Thanks for letting me share here today.