Like many children in my age group, my first exposure to recorded music was through one of the many mass-produced, simple record players that were designed for the entertainment of children (often referred to as “kiddie record players”). The first one entered my life around the age of three.
The music that I played on this colorful machine was children’s fare that was selected by my parents (most likely from a Sears or JC Penny store). The earliest record that I remember spinning is “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” which was an old folk song, about the fantasies of a hobo, written by Harry McClintock and first put to record way back in 1928. Over the decades, the song has been adapted and recorded numerous times as an evergreen selection for Children’s records.
At that impressionable young age, I believed that all song lyrics were true-life stories being recounted by the singer in the form of a song. I can remember riding along in the car and listening close to the little speaker so that I could catch all of the stories coming out. The radio signal would always drop out for a few seconds as we passed underneath a bridge.
I was probably considered too young to select a station on the car radio. That decision was always up to the adults. I was happy to listen to whatever was being broadcast. The stations that I usually heard were WQXI (“Quixie in Dixie”) and WSB. Those stations were at 790 and 750 on the A.M. dial.
Some of the earliest songs that I remember hearing were “Downtown,” “Winchester Cathedral,” “Down in The Boondocks,” “Georgy Girl,” “Windy” and “Stop in The Name of Love.”
The radio was not the only vehicle used to deliver pop music to my young ears. A huge amount of it came through the television set. On Saturday mornings, I actually did have control of the station setting on the television (Well at least by default, because the adults were usually still asleep). It would not have mattered anyway because the kid’s shows were on most every channel.
At this time there was a lot of TV programming and a lot of music being created specifically for my age group, and on Saturday morning television, the two came together perfectly. I tuned in to “The Beatles,” “The Archie Show,” “The Banana Splits,” “Groovie Goolies” and “The Bugaloos.” All of these shows featured at least two pop songs in an episode, and “The Beatles” even featured a “sing-a-long” segment where us preschoolers learned the lyrics to The Beatles’ songs before we even learned “Fun With Dick And Jane.”
“The Beatles” cartoon also introduced me to my future fave recording artist of all-time, their left-handed bass player who in a few years, would be collecting most of my allowance money as young teen.
After my parents separated, I mostly lived with my father and for my fifth birthday, he gave me a music player called a Playtape 1200. It was a portable battery-operated tape player that played cartridges similar to, but smaller than the more well-known 8-Track tape cartridges. These players were marketed towards children and young teens.
The Playtape cartridges had two programs, and on the average, held between 10 – 24 minutes of music. The majority of the tapes contained about four songs, so they were more like an E.P. than a full-length album. The wide range of titles available covered Children’s Music, Jazz, Rock, Easy Listening, and Show Tunes.
My father must have noted my fondness for “The Beatles” cartoon, because the two cartridges he gave me with the player were the Beatles’ “Something New” and “Meet the Beatles.” I toted that player and those tapes everywhere (it was compact, lightweight, and had a vinyl carrying case that allowed access to the controls) and I would play it until the batteries ran down.
When I reached school age, I wanted to sit in the seat directly behind the bus driver so that I could hear all of the tunes coming from his transistor radio that he bought on board with him. I remember being unsettled by Johnny Cash’s rather graphic fight with his knife-wielding, ear-cutting father in his hit rendition of the song “A Boy Named Sue” and then wondering what Mrs. Robinson had to hide in her pantry with her cupcakes.
For my eighth birthday, my grandmother presented me with a new record player, an RCA portable that had a record changer built in. This was much fancier than my old pre-school player, which by then was long gone.
She also bought me two long-playing albums to go with it. “The Little Engine That Could” and more importantly, my very first current pop album, “Sound Magazine” by The Partridge Family. I played The Partridge record constantly and every note of it is forged in my consciousness to this day.
A couple of years later, a gift from my mother would add a new album to my small library and introduce me to some of the early Hit-Parade nuggets of Rock and Roll. I learned all of the instructions on how to do the “Peppermint Twist” but was left wondering what a “Ya-Ya” was, and how one could sit in it.
When I graduated elementary school, our class had a graduation ceremony. As a gift from my stepfather’s parents, I received an AM/FM portable radio. I liked to go to sleep with it playing at the head of my bed at night. I really enjoyed having my very own radio and how I could choose any station of my fancy, at any time I wanted. I began to listen to the different formats from easy listening to country, but eventually one format gained all of my attention and that was Top 40.
The station that became my fave was called Z-93. I listened to it quite a bit -probably even when I should have been completing my homework. That summer I heard so many fascinating songs: “Sara Smile,” “Silly Love Songs,” “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker,” “Moonlight Feels Right,” “The Boys Are Back in Town,” “Kiss and Say Goodbye.” Each one seemed like a mini movie.
The program that caught my attention the most was a syndicated Sunday morning program called “American Top 40,” which was hosted by Casey Kasem. I found it fascinating that these songs had rankings in popularity that would change from week to week, and I loved to tune in to see where my favorites were at, and also to hear new ones that were not in z-93’s rotation yet. Only problem was that the later part of Casey’s show was aired the same time I had to be at church service. During the sermons, there were often a few whispered “Dad can I have the car key? I want to go get my jacket” excuses. I was really heading to the church of Casey in the house of Chevrolet to sing the hymn currently at #25, “I’m Your Boogie Man.”
My father generally liked to shop at K-mart, Richway, JC Penny and Sears, and I loved to go along, especially if I had allowance money saved up to buy something like a model plane. One day we had gone over to Sears at Cumberland Mall. My Father was off shopping, and I was busy in the toy department purchasing an airliner model kit that I had been saving up for. After I had been rung up by the cashier, I headed out to meet my father. As I passed by the Sears music department, I heard a familiar song that I knew from Z-93 playing. I decided to take a detour to check it out. My vinyl adventure had begun…