Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Firestone

My family had one of those big wooden “console stereos” from the sixties with the sliding top that held the Perry Como and Andy Williams records on one side and had a turntable on the other.  It lived in the fancy, “just for company” living room under the picture window.  It weighed a ton, but we moved it down to the end of the wall every year so that our Christmas tree could be centered in front of the window and be seen by the neighbors, sparkling hazily from behind the window sheers.  It got a little beat up in the process, but at least it was conveniently located so that we could change out the Christmas carols as we drank our non-alcoholic egg nog and admired our tinsel-laden tree.

But there was another record player that we weren’t allowed to touch.  It was a 1953 Firestone Portable Radio and Record Player, and it was my mother’s first major purchase, paid for with her small paycheck from her first job, the summer after high school.  And here it is…

 Front view, closed. photo(3)

Front view, open.

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Side view, closed.

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Side view, open.

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This blast from the past would be brought out when my mother was feeling nostalgic, and we would have a ball listening to her records from the fifties.  The record you see on the turntable is Elvis’s “Mystery Train” on the Sun label that I told you about here.  Thus I was introduced to rock ‘n roll in a fun way as a tiny tot – it was a special time when the Firestone would come out.  I’ve always had a particularly warm and fuzzy love for the music of the fifties, as you know if you recall the doo wop post, and I guess this may be why, now that I think of it. It’s a shame that the music of that era is not played much anymore – not even on the oldies station.

Mama, The Fifties Girl.

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Here’s another record Mama bought in 1954, which we still have – LaVern Baker’s “Tweedlee Dee”.   Definitely one of the “anthems of my childhood”.  Tweedlee tweedlee tweedlee dee, I’m as happy as can be…

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The Vinyl Gleaner

When I was a kid, everybody knew that I would delightedly accept any unwanted records that they had been given at birthday parties and so forth, and I had sixteen cousins that all lived nearby, so most of my own birthday and Christmas presents from this crew consisted of re-gifted scratched and/or not-so-great records.  For example, there was the time my cousin Melinda wanted a Bobby Sherman record, and Aunt Nell got confused when she was in the record store, asked for a record by “a rock ‘n roll singer named Bobby”, and bought a Bobby Bloom album instead.  In case you don’t remember, Bobby Bloom had a one-hit wonder with “Montego Bay”, which is a great song, and was probably better than the whole Bobby Sherman catalog combined, but Melinda didn’t see it this way, so I naturally got the Bobby Bloom record and I still know all the words to “Montego Bay” to this day.

Another good example is the time my Uncle Earl, who worked for the telephone company, gave my cousin Frank a stack of 45s that he had been given by an AM radio station when he worked on their phones.  Frank picked out what he thought was all the good ones and gave me the “dregs”, among which I found the fantastic “Band of Gold” and “This Magic Moment”.  I played all of these songs almost with the same obsessiveness that I applied to the “Mother of Pearl” YouTube video last year.

But unquestionably, my biggest score was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.  Another cousin had received this monumental double-album as a present from what must have been an extraordinarily cool boyfriend, but she thought it was weird and didn’t like it very much, so she passed it along to her little cousin, whom she also thought was weird and probably didn’t like very much. Perfect solution.  Because I absolutely loved, and still love, this album.  In fact, I hold this album in such high esteem that an expressed appreciation for it is part of my top-secret litmus test for admission to my “inner circle”, not that I actually have a circle, but you know what I mean.

Although I had my blue Panasonic FM radio at this time of my GYBR re-gifting, I was still getting my sea legs musically and trying to figure out what bands did what songs and such, so I was still pretty clueless.  Though I knew a few of the more popular songs from the radio, I didn’t know when I got the album what a creative masterpiece it was, or how the songs would take me on a journey, sort of like reading a really good book.  The songs are so widely varied in tone and style, each one telling a story, and many using strong pop-culture images.  The richly illustrated and detailed cover supported the songs visually and helped me, at the tender age of eleven, to understand what the heck each one was really about.

Our friend, music guru, and Australia’s most awesome album cover aficionado, Bruce from Vinyl Connection, still has his original copy of the album from the year it came out (1973), and he has very kindly shared the photos that are posted below.  Honestly, I think of all the album covers that I have held in my hands and studied, entranced, as I listened to the music within, this one is at the top of the heap.  Many thanks to Bruce for sharing these great photos with us. So here we go, the original album cover for the great Goodbye Yellow Brick Road...

Front Cover

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Full shot of the tri-fold interior.

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Panel One.

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Panel Two.

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Panel Three.

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Back cover.

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I could write a really long post in which I describe each song in great detail, but wouldn’t you rather hear it from Bernie and Elton?  Because here is a great article from Rolling Stone in which they do just that.  And on March 24, a super-deluxe, 40th anniversary edition of GYBR is coming out, with all kinds of extra goodies!  So just trust me when I say – there’s not a dud on the whole album.  It is a shining, glorious masterpiece, causing me to continue going to see Elton when he tours, even though he has a Vegas lounge act aura now, because I haven’t forgotten the yellow brick road he led me down, not to mention the tumbleweeds with which I still connect.  Long live Elton and Bernie – masters of the popular song.

Rather than linking a whole bunch of GYBR songs, I decided to pick just one.  This song is one of Elton’s most beautiful, and though it’s not really “overlooked”, I don’t think it’s gotten quite the attention that it deserves.  Plus looking back over the years, I have to agree that harmony has been pretty good company.

And for extra credit, here’s Bobby Bloom, with “Montego Bay”.  Now excuse me while I dance joyfully around my living room…

Freda Payne, “Band of Gold”…still dancing…

Now Jay and the Americans with “This Magic Moment”, a remake of the marvelous song by Ben E. King. Just listen to that guitar at the beginning. Tearing your heart asunder and knocking your pride aside with a few simple notes…

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You Say You Want A (Comfort Strap, Underwire) Revolution

Once upon a time, when the world was young, I spent several months studying in Europe, as one of a group of around fifty students from Mississippi, Arkansas, Colorado, and New York.  When we met for our first “mixer” in New York prior to our flight, each group fit their regional stereotype to a tee.  We southerners were almost aggressively friendly, like we were all in some kind of congeniality contest.  We sounded like this: “Hey, y’all!  Where’re y’all frum? I’m frum Missuhsippi/Arkansaw!”.  The two southern groups connected almost immediately, though our accents were slightly different, with the Arkansas contingent having more of a mountainy twang, and the Mississippi contingent having more of a “Gone With the Windish” sound.  But we looked alike – conservatively dressed, girls with perfect hair and make-up, etc., and we acted alike, with our non-stop attempts at humor and conviviality.

The New Yorkers were cool and a little intimidating, sort of worldly-wise and jaded.  But after a couple days of touring with us, they didn’t seem to notice anymore that they were hanging out with a bunch of obnoxious southerners and we were all best buds.

The biggest divide was between the southerners and the Coloradans.  The Colorado contingent was the only all female group, and they were all beautiful – tall, mostly blond, and healthy looking, but with unshaven legs and no bras. The unshavenness and bralessness was mind blowing to us southern girls of that pre-historic era. I had never seen a woman walk around in public with no bra and hairy legs.  And despite our strident friendliness, they just stayed in their own little group and stared at us.  Like in horror or something.

We made it to London, where we spent about a third of the term, and hooked up with our British professor, Matthew, who stayed with us as we continued on throughout Europe. Strangely, or not really I guess, customs in England largely reflected my own conservative middle-class southern culture, with the exception of not having to say “Hey” to everyone you passed on the sidewalk.  After a couple days of watching the entire southern contingent do this, Matthew told us to cut it out.  Thank goodness.  What a relief to not have to do that anymore.  But I had gone from one well-mannered, proper culture with clear social parameters to another, except that this one had a lot more general coolness.

So it was really in France that my internal switch flipped.  One day while touring in Paris, we happened upon a group of women, just regular, every day looking women, bathing topless in a fountain. The southern belles expressed their shock and disapproval, and I think I feigned shock and disapproval right along with them, but inwardly, something clicked in my brain.  Something that was vaguely about freedom and the lack of shame and repression.  So when we got back to the hotel, I threw all my bras in the trash bin. Not “buried them in my suitcase” – threw them in the trash.  When I went down for dinner, in all my newfound freedom and braless glory, the southern belles looked at me with shock and disapproval.  I walked straight to the Coloradans and stood beside them.

By the time we got to the restaurant, things were almost back to normal, and I sat with my own group as usual, but the Colorado girls kept looking at me.  I had thrown them a curve ball and they had to mull it over.  The next morning, when we all met in the lobby, most of the other southern girls, with the exception of a few of the future spinster cousin variety, were braless as well.  Things started to change. By the time we reached the final stop on our trip in Athens, we were all bonded.  On our final night, the leader of the Coloradans – the tallest, blondest, hairiest, and most gorgeous one – apologized with tears in her eyes for their behavior at the beginning of the term.  She said that they had wrongly assumed that we were all backwards, racist idiots since we were from the south, and that she was so ashamed for having been prejudiced against us, because she had been wrong, and we were all nice people.  The southern girls all cried and said they were sorry for having been judgmental about their hairiness and lack of brassieres.

Back in Jackson, my parents met me at the airport.  I strategically carried my purse over my chest, and resumed my normal wearing of foundation garments, for the most part, when I got home.  I lost most of my film somewhere in Austria, and the few pictures that I do have are hidden away – I can only show a couple of them publically because of the underwire revolution, but it was worth it.  ¡Viva La Revolución!

Better free your mind. You know it’s gonna be all right.

We live for just these twenty years; do we have to die for the fifty more?  We were all just young Americans.

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