26 April 2007

610, 690, 1000, 1080, 1400, 1550 ... 1970!

How often do you have those times when you get "into" a song, to the point where it runs through your head half the time, you think about it in the shower, you pull it up on the MP3 player a little more often than usual?

Sometimes I think my life is just made of those times. Like a couple of radio stations I remember back in the day, which pulled a certain section of their "gold" (oldies) library and rotated only those titles, and the next week shelved those and put another batch into the control room. I have visions of beat-up old AP teletype boxes with the gold titles arranged within reach of the jock. Those long boxes of continuous paper for the old clack-clack-clack teletype machines were perfectly tall and wide enough to hold 45-RPM singles when their supply of paper was exhausted.

But I digress.

Lately I've had two (2) songs in the teletype paper box of my mind's control room. And they're both from the same time period, 1970. Thinking further about that year brings to mind some other truly marvelous hit singles. 1970 was a magical year for music all around. And it was the year when I really came of age musically. Most people don't become active consumers of music, i.e. buying singles, albums, etc., until well into grade school, if not middle school; however I was paying close attention to what came out of the radio at a very young age. My earliest musical memories came in 1969 - "Aquarius" by The Fifth Dimension, and the wonderful "Venus" by Shocking Blue are two of the first songs I remember hearing.

However, 1970 was the benchmark year. I was just old enough to recall The Beatles' last two singles on the radio: "Let It Be" and "Long and Winding Road." 1970 was the year I 'came of age.' I turned five, and started kindergarten that fall, as a member of the "first Sesame Street class." We were supposedly the guinea pigs of how effective that new ETV show was on kids entering school for the first time.

1970 was a good year. And Huntsville, Alabama circa 1970 was an awesome place to listen to the radio. Two native top-40 stations: WAAY 1550 and WVOV 1000 "Big 10" .... WVOV was my favorite of the two. It was, perhaps, the best-engineered station in Alabama. The audio was fantastic, and even my five-year-old self noticed how different it sounded.

But wait, there was more. From our paradise of nearby Madison, one could get a plethora of top-40: WKAC 1080/Athens ... WMSL 1400/Decatur ... and the two Birmingham rockers made their presence known in Madison County, Alabama, as well: WVOK "The Mighty 690" and some other station at 610 on the dial. The call letters escape me. ;-)

Six -- count 'em -- SIX succulent radio stations playing the hit songs of the day. I was most partial to WVOV and WSGN. World-class radio in a place like Alabama. Who'd have thunk?

But what about the songs??!!, I can hear you asking. Get to the point. Stop that annoying DJ chatter, shut your cakehole and play some friggin' records!!!

Yeah, 1970 was a bountiful year for music. Here are 10 larger-than-life pop hits which formed the first real 'soundtrack' for little five-year-old Talmadge Gleck. I remember them all, and the moods they each created.

FM doesn't do them justice, and I'm afraid stereo diminishes their mythical qualities. These puppies were best consumed on AM radio:

LOVE OR LET ME BE LONELY / Friends of Distinction
These are the aforementioned two songs I've been "into." The opening keyboard sounds of "Ride" are like foreplay to a 3-1/2 minute orgasm. It was a textbook "one hit wonder"; whatever happened to Blues Image, anyway?

And every time I hear the soulful gradeur of "Love or Let Me Be Lonely", my mind goes back to an idyllic time, whether in Gran Lera's car going to Shoney's Big Boy Drive-In, across from The Mall, or riding with Mom over to Sears in Heart of Huntsville Mall, to visit Dad at work.

TIGHTER, TIGHTER / Alive and Kicking
The trumpet climax in the song's hook catapults me to a trip down University Drive as it looked in 1970 ... complete with Roy Rogers Roast Beef, the 72 Drive-In, the Sheraton Motor Inn, and out toward The Monrovian Restaurant. Are we going to see Dad at work?? Going up to Monte Sano?? Or where would we be eating tonight??

O-O-H CHILD / The Five Stairsteps
The Five Stairsteps, incidentally, were the Jackson Five before The Jackson Five were The Jackson Five. Both were sets of five brothers guided by their fathers. Stairsteps came from Chicago, where of course we know nearby Gary, Indiana produced Tito, Randy, etc., etc., Michael, LaToya and that other rat, Ben. "O-o-h Child" speaks for itself. It's magic. It's fantastic musicianship. It's the very essence of s-o-u-l.

VEHICLE / Ides of March
This one I associate more with trips down to Birmingham to see my other grandparents. The interstates weren't yet open in the 'Ham, so all north-south traffic had to fight 20th Street and 21st Street through downtown. Crossing either street's viaducts over the railroad tracks bisecting the city center, and their respective views, is the "music video" which accompanies this Blood, Sweat, & Tears Ides of March hit. Frankly, I'm surprised BS&T didn't sue for outright plagiarism! (Ides lead singer Jim Peterik would later go on to be part of Survivor. This group was his vehicle to stardom and a striped cat's optic nerves).

SPIRIT IN THE SKY / Norman Greenbaum
Maybe the first "contemporary Christian" song ever recorded. For related reasons, I suppose, this song brings to mind sweet Sundays in the little railroad town of Madison, with its quirky street names: Short St., Shorter St., Pension Row and Buttermilk Alley.

Just try to resist that guitar hook. I dare ya.

DIDN'T I (BLOW YOUR MIND) / The Delfonics
There was something profoundly entrancing about soul music in 1970. Case in point. Another song I can hear on the WVOV of my mind as I drink a Double Cola with a bag of Tom's Peanuts while on a nice joyride. I look over at Gran Lera as she flashes one of her trademark big smiles, crooked teeth and all. I miss that.

My Beautiful Amy, I'm in love with you??? I think that's how "Ma Belle Amie" translates (or am I completely off? Help, anyone??). Tee Set was part of a curious mini-Dutch invasion of pop music in the 1969-70 time frame. "Venus" by Shocking Blue was another, as was "Little Green Bag" by George Baker Selection. The first time I heard this, we were in the parking lot of what was then the Huntsville Public Library. My eyes were focused on the terrace to the right of the building.

It's funny what a five-year-old mind can recall.

But not all memories from 1970 are happy ones. As Marmalade (another one-hit-wonder) was heard all over the Tennessee Valley radio dial, we were making increasingly frequent trips to nearby Decatur. Granddaddy Ray was in the hospital, dying. It seems fitting for a song of this mood to be associated with those short drives down Highway 20 through Mooresville and over the Helen Keller Memorial Bridge into Decatur.

And trips to Decatur meant going back to Madison, of course. "Reflections" focuses my mind's eye on a giant billboard which used to be a landmark on Hwy. 20 for years, for the Alabama Cattlemen's Association. It had the words "BEEF" in giant red letters, with a cutout of a big-ass slab of sirloin steak, garnished on a plate on the billboard's corner. Mmmmm, steeeeeeeak.....

Then there was the water tower at Greenbrier Road. Seeing it meant Madison was next. Home was near.

1970 meant a big loss for both my father and grandmother. Yet for me, a sheltered little boy oblivious to the bad, they were enchanting times.

The enchantment would last just one more year, before Sears offered Dad a promotion, a bump in salary, and a new location: Tupelo.

"And so dear friends, you'll just have to carry on.
The dream is over." --John Lennon

All too often I've wondered what life would've been like had we stayed in Madison and not moved to Mississippi.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "142 Meadow Drive" Gleck


Kate/Susan said...

"Ma Belle Amie" means "My best friend" or "my beautiful friend" literally. :-)

nettiemac said...

Wonderful reading!!! I truly enjoyed it (and most of the music too!)

Talmadge G. said...

Kate/Susan: THANKS! Seraphim was closer than I was; she guessed "My beautiful love."

Two out of three ain't bad. (...now where have I heard THAT line before?)

It's not a happy song, when you see the lyrics. It seems to say, "My best friend, why are you leaving me for someone else? Good for him, but you'll soon see he's not all that. Meanwhile, I'll still be waiting."


jockn70s said...

Hi Tal,
It's nice to hear all the great words about one of the best radio stations I ever worked for. WVOV, "Big 10 Radio" was, without a doubt, the best engineered station I ever worked for. This includes many stations in larger markets that Huntsville. It was a magic time for radio. I am very proud to have been a part of it.

Mark Damon