December 1971: DON McLEAN - "American Pie"

The only disagreement I remember my folks having was over this song. A very heated exchange took place in the kitchen when it was discovered that Mom hated the song while Dad loved it. I was puzzled as to why a mere radio tune could call up such vitriol, and made a concerted effort to pay close attention the next time I heard it so I could wisely choose which side of the debate I was on.

In retrospect, the fuss over this song was actually about a marriage rapidly unraveling. They never argued or talked about any of their issues, they simply let the problems consume them. “American Pie” was the closest they came to an actual argument prior to their separation, and this song was the only outlet they had for venting their anger.

See and hear the song.

October 1971: CHER - "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves"

Cher gave me this song for my birthday! And Sonny & Cher came to life on TV every week! I’d always known who Sonny & Cher were; I’d heard the songs on the radio, seen the pictures. But it wasn’t until they blazed on a TV screen before me that it all fell into place.

There were plenty of variety shows to choose from, but theirs was by far the most tailored to my tastes. They had animated cartoons of popular songs as interpreted by Cher (her version of “One Tin Soldier” kicks the ass of the original), fast and breezy rounds of sketches full of motion and funny costumes, great songs and then there was CHER!

To my eyes, she was glamorous without being threatening because she was funny, sarcastic, laughed a lot and enthusiastically wore the stupidest costumes. And when not dressed as Raggedy Ann or Minnie Mouse, she wore dresses that looked just like the clothes I put on my Barbie dolls. But Cher wasn’t a doll, she was a real live lady! And she would always break out in song. She was the human personification of my imaginary playmate, the perfect person, and the time I got to spend with her (and Sonny) once a week actually eclipsed The Partridge Family in television importance.

At this time, to keep me occupied during a shopping trip at J.C. Penney, Mom had me go to the record department and pick out something for myself. A casual cruise of the racks turned dead serious when the cover of Sonny & Cher Live came into view. My dramatic intake of breath could surely be heard all the way across the store.

This album (with a gatefold!) was a level above the Partridges because not only was there music, but they talked! They told jokes, bantered, griped and then sang. It was like having the variety show come to life at my command, and the sense of power was heady. Sure, it took me years to get most of the sexual content of the jokes, but when I did it cleared up a kiddie confusion.

I wanted to take my new favorite record to nursery school for Show & Tell. Now, since I played the thing repeatedly, Mom had obviously heard the entire thing, and obviously got all the jokes right off the bat. So, she knew that if I took this record to nursery school, the risqué humor would sail right over my class mates heads, but that all the teachers would have mini-heart attacks. That would lead to them questioning her decision to let me listen to this kind of stuff, and who wants to be confronted with that while picking up your kid after work?

So, she tried to convince me to bring my Alvin & The Chipmunks record instead. Yeah, I liked that album well enough, but any of my classmates could bring that. I wanted to share Cher, and threw a miniature fit over being kept from doing so.

See and hear the song.

September 1971: The STAMPEDERS - "Sweet City Woman"

Down the road a stretch was a farming man who was also involved with pony cart racing. Through him, Dad bought a secondhand metal pony cart frame, which he spray painted a bright and cheery yellow. The plywood bench seat could hold 2 adults or one adult and two kids.

On a picture perfect fall afternoon, Dad attached Sugar before the cart, and entertained bunches of us kids with authentic pony cart rides up and down Douglas Lane. “Sweet City Woman” was just the absolutely perfect song for this moment, with its old-fashioned, laid-back country banjo strumming, and a beat that perfectly matched Sugar’s happy trot on the blacktop. Every time I hear the song, I’m completely back in that moment, and always amazed at how brilliantly one song could summarize an exact season, day, locality and activity.

Hear the song.

September 1971: The PARTRIDGE FAMILY - Sound Magazine

Another Partridge Family album!!!! Sound Magazine thrilled me even more than the previous 2 albums because the songs were better and the David Cassidy pictures were cuter. The longer he grew is hair, the better he looked!

And since they were upping their game, I had to up mine. Mom and I went to see the Walt Disney Ice Capades at the Arena, and afterwards, I got to pick out a souvenir. When I saw a red-rimmed tambourine with Jimminy Cricket’s face on the front, I knew that was a useful addition to my musical arsenal (so far consisting only of a green waffle ball bat bass), as it was an actual musical instrument. The minute we got home, I raced into my bedroom, slapped Sound Magazine on the Zenith, and banged along. It took only a couple of tracks to realize that I was far better at this percussive instrument than Tracy Partridge. Far better.

The best song on the album is “Summer Days.” Mom and I adored it at the time; she didn’t mind me playing it over and over and over again. To this day, every time I play it, I get all weepy and nostalgic for the two of us at that specific moment in time. And to this day, I wish that Frank Sinatra had taken a crack at this song. Slow the tempo down to give it some air, his voice hugging those words, that melody, and it would have been magic.

The Partridge Family - Summer Days.


August 1971: ALICE COOPER, Cereal Killer

Looking back, it’s shocking to realize how much of my early record collection came off the backs of cereal boxes. How wondrous it was to have vinyl (albeit low grade) stamped onto cardboard, waiting the hasty draining of the contents in order to spin. The ceremony of using “the big scissors” to oh-so-carefully cut the 45 out of the back of the box, and then watch it flop on the turntable like a landed fish was just as important as discovering that the Scooby Doo boys & girls sang! And they sounded a lot like Josie & the Pussycats! How strange.

Along with the toy surprise inside, cereal box tops were the kiddie equivalent of Green Stamps. Super Sugar Crisp promised that they would send me an 11x17 black & white poster of David Cassidy if I sent them 4 box tops. I did, and they were good for their word. A short time later, a large manila envelope addressed to me arrived in the mail, and I ripped it open with a frenzy that only the promise of a David poster could conjure.

Sure enough, there he was; simply gorgeous. Oh, and there’s more posters. Honey bear sure gave bang for the box top buck. There were a total of 5 posters: David, Jackson 5, the Osmonds, Bobby Sherman and… what in the world is this?!?!?!?!

It was a picture of an ugly crew of long-haired dirty creeps surrounding a skinny, beak-nosed monster with warped raccoon eyes. It was so ugly that I had to look away and just sneak peaks at it. It freaked me out, bad. I was able to look at it long enough to see the poster was labeled “The Alice Cooper Band.”

I was perplexed as to how something this gross could have invaded my David Cassidy world. Then it hit me in a flash: My Parents Can Not See This! Or rather, they can’t see that I have this! I ripped the poster to shreds, and threw it in the trash can. But then I doubled-back and actually lifted up a layer of garbage to bury the shreds deep within. I had to spare us all from the horror.

5 year old me would have run in horror, but adult me knows this is fierce:
The Alice Cooper Band - "Is It My Body


June 1971: BEE GEES - "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart"

My Grandma, Hester Pauge, had been mugged while delivering Avon. She lived on Hebert Street in North St. Louis City, and while all her white neighbors had been fleeing the area in record numbers, she stayed. Her actions matched her words; she didn’t really care about the color of someone’s skin. Everyone was good to her. Except the muggers. And then it turns out this was not the first time she’d been jumped. It was actually the third time.

With that revelation, strings were pulled so Grandma could move into the Little Sisters of the Poor. Her new place of residence was certainly fun… ceramics, and snack machines and elevators, but I’d look out the window of her 7th-story room, and survey the dying neighborhoods below me, and try to spot her old house. Since I couldn’t see it from up on high, Mom drove me by her former house one last time, as the Bee Gees played on the radio.

See and hear the song.

June 1971: FORTUNES - "Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again"

Even a 5-year old mistook this for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons! But imitation is a sincere form of flattery and this was a great tune. What makes it so is the simple device of a sad scenario told against upbeat, major chords. If you don’t listen to the words, it sounds like a sunny day, and when oldies radio DJs give it a spin on a rainy day, it just doesn’t work. But again, that’s the hook: smiling through the tears. That, and it sounds just like what the Four Season’s would have been doing if they’d still been around.

May 1971: The RAIDERS - "Indian Reservation"

This song accompanied my Native American Musings while riding bareback on my pony. It was also in mind while playing Cowboys & Indians with colorful plastic figurines from Kreseges. But know that I misconstrued this song as being from the cowboy’s perspective, for both my child mind – and society as a whole – had yet to become Politically Correct, even though Mark Lindsey had.
(Overlook the mustache but) see and hear the song.

April 1971: BREAD - "If"

Because this song moved slower than frozen molasses, it gave me plenty of time to really listen to the words. For the first time, I noticed that song lyrics could be poetry, or what I thought of as poetry at a young age. 31 years later, Dolly Parton would give this song a lively bluegrass arrangement, and turn it into the heartbreaking lovely song it so tried to be in the first place. She even kept the wah-wah guitar!

Dolly's cover of "If."

November 1973: HELEN REDDY - Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress)

I had the biggest crush on a blonde hair, blue eyed boy in my 2nd grade class, Scott Van Seiver. Proximity is what made these feelings so u...