Sunday, January 27, 2013

Panasonic Sunday Morning

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.

Poster from the Broadway play

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.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in 1963

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.



Priti Lisa said...

I could read you stories all day Joe. I had a transistor radio too,but since I grew up in the 70's mine was red, white and blue, as everything was...all the clothes we wore, including my sneakers. I just made a CD with some of my favorite tunes from the 70's. Luckily I have a place to plug in a CD in my car, since I haven't got an ipod. :D
Happy Sunday my friend ♥♥

gma said...

One of my mantra tunes from back in the day "Big girls don't cry" Joe we both grew up with a similar soundtrack. Although Wolfman Jack
was spinning the tunes on my radio.
We cruised Central Ave, drank Cherry cokes,smoked funny cigs, sang Beatles tunes at the top of our lungs, and cried over VietNam.
I don't have an iPod either.
Love you.

Fallingladies said...

I am with Lisa, 70's music is what i go to, but It's funny, i didn't have red white and blue things, all my stuff had rainbows on them, my sweaters had rainbows across the shirt and down the sleeves, and i painted one on my wall in my bedroom. We visited woodstock in the mid70's for three or four years in a row, and got a rainbow from thom klicka, the Rainbow man who gave out little 2" squares handpainted with watercolor rainbows...... By the time i had a transistor radio i was listening to pat benetar.....Glad you are telling stories today!

ABC said...

AW, Joe....Memories....After "crusing the loop" and having fries and cokes...let's go to the movies and hold hands; then park and neck! OR, maybe we'll go to the "Fiesta" ballroom and lindy and slow dance with arms around each other....weren't those the days? I think we of that certain age experienced the same "all American things" so lovely to recall....Then the late 60's hit us...Veitnam (thank you!) and we came out of the bubble. Protests, stop the war, and the balance between one "supposed life" versus the realities of another. Those times they were a-changin' and to "hang in there" with your true love was amazing, since most of my close friends of the 70's have all been divorced, dispersed and recycled. I'm still ranting on FB...signing petitions for change, and dreaming that our "America" will some day be bathed in PEACE, PROSPERITY and LOVE for all beings....and we will spread THAT throughout the world...but there I go again...getting back into my bubble! Thanks for the trip down memory I must get back to creating my world for today. And for's a darn good one with sunshine, blue skies and warm temps....sending you some of it!! Love ya, buddy!

Stephanie said...

You SHOULD be writing reviews for Jersey Boys and lots of other have a gift. Music has such power to bring back the sites and sounds, tastes and smells of our past. Mine are later 60`s and early 70`s.

Thanks for the memories

SkippyMom said...

So nice to see you my friend and what wonderful memories you have awoken for all of us, even if we are ::cough:: quite a bit younger. ;) Frank Valli and the Four Seasons may not have been my generation [we were more the Go Gos and Flock of Seagulls ::cringe:: - but at least we can't claim Disco like my beloved husband's generation heehee] but is was MY music too. I loved listening to the "oldies" by the time I was in my teens and those songs and groups were 20, sometimes 30 years old. I had a similar radio, mine was purple tho' and I introduced myself to the great musical sounds of Big Band, Jazz, the 50's and 60's and later to the Beatles and the Stones. You are right about the Beatles changing the face of music, but a lot of it had to do when they came along and not with their earliest music. America needed something to feel good about after the assassinations of JFK and MLK Jr, and with the Vietnam War going on - we needed the hope the music of the Beatles provided and with them a whole tidal wave opened, the British Invasion, as you said. After they were established with their teeny bopper hits is when their true genius could shine through. They are certainly timeless. . .as our children and their children listen to them to and LIKE them. In fact Wallene has the Abbey Road poster on her bedroom wall as I sit here. Our kids are fortunate because they like all genres of music and it's nice to have that in common with them because they don't whine if I put on Mom's station in Oscarz or Dad's in the mini van. We are blessed that way.

I can only imagine the comfort music from home must have brought you and all the [very, much too] young men serving in Vietnam. It always brings an ache to my heart to know that you and others had to suffer that war and the aftermath. I know it is small consolation, but my generation knows better and you all are every bit our heros as those that fought before you and those that are fighting now. I am honored and very humbled to be able to say you are my friend and to know you. And we are all blessed that you not only survived but that you did come home.

Hugs and much love to you both xo Skippy

Fran said...

I grew up w vinyl. I remember going to a store on Saturday mornings & combing through the 45's (records) & deciding which ones to get. My Dad was working as a hotel convention manager & he used to come home with some strange odds & ends. One of his scores was boxes of vinyl records both 45's & 33's. Some we knew, but others we did not & had to play them to discover if they were songs or artists we knew or liked. We had a few squabbles over who gets what. Most of the 33's were old crooner music- but the 45's had great choices.

We went through the progression of vinyl to 8 track, to cassette tapes to CD's- now DVD's & i pods/MP3 type players.
Makes me feel old!
I still have a stack of old albums- but no turntable to play them on.
One thing I do remember is the album cover was a full on art form. I remember when CD's seemed to be the next new thing, lamenting w friends we will miss the full sized album art records used to have.
But it is wonderful to go to a specific track/song with the push of a button, unlike the guesswork of vinyl.

Jean said...

My sister had the transistor radio. And she played music any time she was home so I grew up knowing it. Then I listened to Motown - I don't know what the detroit station was now but they blasted it far enough that it was one of the clearest stations up on the Bruce Peninsula. It was.a.special time and can't be duplicated.

Kim Mailhot said...

Music really is the soundtrack of our lives in so many ways. Thanks for sharing your story, with the tunes added in !
Love and peace to you, Man !

Mel said...

Oh what a lovely colour--and what wonderful memories came flooding back. Transistor radios hidden under pillows--my kinda deal. *laughing* I don't remember if it was disallowed, or that I was just keeping comfy. I don't remember earphones--just shoving the thing under the pillow and having a listen at night time.
And those lists of top tunes--oh how we used to follow those lists for the latest and greatest.

Lovely memories this one let out of the bag. I hope that was the same for you!
Have a glorious week!

Lea said...

Stopping by and catching up on reading your last two posts. I agree with Steph, you have such a gift in your writing... your stories transport me to another time and place, truly another world. I'm just a few years behind you and was so sheltered at that time (the 60s) of what was going on in the world. I can remember sitting on the stairs listening to my parents argue about whether I was old enough to have a radio to listen to music... they cringe now when I remind them of how strict the were! But music did come into my life and opened me to feelings and an understanding of how many different realities there are in the world... even though my prius has a bluetooth technology, I have to plug my iphone in or pop in a cd if I want music beyond the radio... so many options. I like the sound of your new wheels better. Much peace and love to you and your best girl!

Mel said...

I have stolen pink sheep. :-/

*laughing* You can be a partner in crime if you like! ;-)