29 April 2007

Idyll's swansong: 1971

I might be on to something here. My "top 10" list of memorable songs from 1970 has led, naturally, to compiling such a list from the following year. I didn't know it as of yet, but 1971 would be a notable year also for reasons less pleasant than it being just another carefree romp-through-the-calendar for little Talmadge Gleck, age 6. I didn't see the curve in the road ahead, and what the next turn would bring me.

But for now, let's enjoy 1971 and everything she brought with her on "Big 10" WVOV and "1550, Way Radio" (WAAY) in Huntsville, et pluribus amplitudus modulatibus topfourtyus al:

It might not have been Michael Jackson's shining moment (I cast my vote toward "Just look over your shoulder, honey!!! OOOOOOH!!!!!!!!" from "I'll Be There"), however the song brings to mind the sandpile I had in the backyard of our house on 142 Meadow Drive. Dad had recently put up a chainlink fence for the yard (it's still there, too!).

I don't think you even have to guess for very long just what I built in sandpiles ... just ask if you're curious how I made the road signs. ;-)

One of the earliest memories I have in my life is of my grandfather, Big John, taking me to Kmart every time we made visits to Birmingham. This was at the dawn of big-box discount retailing ... Sam Walton had begun something he called "Wal-Mart", but it was far from expanding outside of his home base of Arkansas. Discount stores in my neck of the woods included Kmart, Gaylord's, Woolco, Kress, G. C. Murphy, and W. T. Grant. Imagine that -- half a dozen options in most given places for discount shopping. Half a dozen.

Kmart to my eyes trumped any present-day Supercenter. They were that magnificent to my kindergarten-scholar self. And the toy section ... [swoon] ....

In any event, Huntsville lacked a Kmart. And I wondered out loud more than once just what was keeping our nearby city from getting one. (You know, kinda like I bitch and moan today about there not being a freakin' IHOP up where we live....) And in the Summer of '71, I could wonder no more. Kmart was coming to town. A big store was being built on South Memorial Parkway.

So what does this have to do with The Doors, you ask? Well, you know I begged, pestered, pleaded, cajoled and otherwise gently suggested Mom to take me there when it opened up. One of the first places I ended up was -- surprise, surprise! -- in the record department.

A track off the current Doors album, L.A. Woman, was playing. It was "Riders on the Storm." I stood there, positively entranced. What I also didn't know was, another song which I'd heard from the radio was also on that same LP: "Love Her Madly." LHM is one of those brings-back-the-carefree-times kind of songs. But "Riders" grabbed me. Despite having been burned to a crisp on "classic rock" stations, I still love the song. Especially the end.

The visual image I had of the song makes me grin even today: I remember seeing the name "RYDER" on a truck. So, the mental image this 6-year-old conjured up was of a couple of those rental trucks driving down the interstate in a pouring rain.

For much of 1971, Dad was moved to what was called a "satellite store" which Sears operated in the south part of Huntsville, in a strip called Haysland Square. Visiting Dad at work meant a trip south on Memorial Parkway, complete with its busy commerce, neon signs, and joyous roadside sprawl, clutter and mesmerizing wonder.

One lasting memory I have is hearing "Story" playing on WVOV as we're going south on the parkway. I have to say it again: songs like these sounded better on AM. Especially hearing it on a station like WVOV. You had to have been there. AM radios today aren't very well made. The tuners sound like crap. AM stations aren't as well-maintained as they used to be (can you say "catch 22"?). Trust me when I say AM has far higher fidelity and a fuller sound than it seems with today's tuners.

And bass - when properly engineered, processed and equalized - shines on AM. Not FM.

Case in point:

The opening bass notes you have to hear on a well-preserved aircheck recording of an AM station in order to appreciate. Bass and brass at their finest. This Canadian band did not get the respect they should've down here ... a couple of other Lighthouse follow-ups are nearly as good: "Pretty Lady" and especially the trippy "Sunny Days."

OFM gives me warm thoughts of starting first grade. I was home-schooled when it wasn't cool -- a woman ran a small school out of a converted garage. Dyer was her name, I recall. She even had a playground in her backyard. Most of my kindergarten classmates were here, too. The house was a block away from ours, so I walked to and from school.

One more song with a great bass line. Latter-day Motown soul at its heaviest. When the song was a hit single and being played on WVOV, WAAY, et al, the mental snapshot I call up is yet another joyride with Gran Lera. Neither of us paid the lyrics any attention, it seemed, but she smiled real big when that line came up.

IT DON'T COME EASY / Ringo Starr
Our vacations were spent in Sarasota, staying at the marvelous '50s-era Coquina on the Beach motel. It's still there, too. A two-diamond AAA dinosaur proudly clinging to its historical roots on Lido Beach. The trip was always accompanied by Gran Lera and my other grandparents in Birmingham. This was a family affair, and I have nothing but wonderful memories from these trips.

1971 was especially notable because we made a detour: to visit Silver Springs ... home of the glass bottom boats. I picked up a brochure while there, and I still have it too. At the time it was owned by ABC - yes, the network - and there's a big ABC logo in the corner, complete with late '60s era red/blue/green letters.

And on this trip I heard Ringo's latest smash several times. And today, I think of Sarasota '71 when it comes up. More fun times.

BLUE MONEY / Van Morrison
"Domino" was memorable in itself, however its (lesser-charting) follow-up is what got seared onto my brain in 1971. It peaked in the 20s on Billboard, but who cares?? It was catchy as hell, with all those "doo-doos" ... and the short trumpet notes, too.

Long before my peers were discovering music, I was already beginning a long and fruitful musical love for Van the Man. I'd even buy an album of him covering old country tunes.

Never mind, I already did.

Another song calling to mind the busy Memorial Parkway ... hot time, Summer in the city!
I loved the beginning of it ... but for me I lived for the middle bridge, and its wall-of-sound percussion crescendo. It has to be heard on the original MOTOWN 45 ... not the longer version one tends to hear most nowadays. And, one more time with feeling: AM = yay! FM = boo!

And I again close with a dark memory. Not a bad one so much as, just ... dark. After my grandfather died in 1970, newly-widowed Gran Lera was faced with a large house, a large EMPTY house. She made the (I'm sure painful) decision to sell it and move to something smaller. Gran Lera was still working for NASA in Huntsville, and otherwise had a fulfilling life in Madison. I remember the moving van (it was a Mayflower) emptying my beloved grandmother's house and Dad's childhood home. We called it "The Big House" (its 'official' name today is Pride Bashore, and it sits at the end of Martin Street).

Gran Lera was moving to a smaller house on Morningside Drive. This song seemed to be going through my head at the time she was moving. I still felt her love and the many weekends I spent with her were still wonderful. But something seemed missing.

But "missing" was only the beginning. For Dad, who'd maxed out in his climb with Sears in Huntsville, got his sought-after promotion from Division Manager to Merchandise Manager. Elsewhere.

On December 19, 1971 - fittingly enough, it was Gran Lera's 52nd birthday - we left Madison as a moving van (Red Ball, not Mayflower) followed us to Tupelo, Mississippi.

Unfortunately, the moving van forgot to load something: my happy childhood.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "From a PAMS Life to Pepper" Gleck

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