Some thirty-odd years ago I went to a party at a friend’s house. As Robert answered the door there was someone a few feet behind him. Knowing that outside of himself I would be the only person at the party who would recognize the name, Robert whispered to me “That’s Sandy Nelson.”
While his heyday was a bit early for me, I certainly knew who Sandy Nelson was. He had a number of hits in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s, starting with Teen Beat in 1959.
I am not much of a social butterfly at parties. I am the kind of person who will find a like-minded individual and spend my time talking to him. Sandy Nelson was the same kind of person. We made some small talk and went into the kitchen and sat down.
Nelson asked me if I played any musical instruments. I told him that I made noise on the guitar. He had lost part of a leg in a motorcycle accident so he could not really drum anymore. He still wanted to make music so he was teaching himself the piano. One thing that confused him, though, was why the layout of the bass clef and the treble clef were different. I explained to him that they were originally laid out as one giant score with an added line in between for Middle C (which I since found out may not be exactly true). I pointed out that the top line of the bass clef was an A note. Above that was a space for a B note, then a ledger line for Middle C, a space for a D note, and the bottom line of the treble clef was an E note. One almost picked up where the other left off.
“A Guitarist who can read music. I’m impressed.”
“I’m not very good at either.”
“That’s OK. That’s still very good.”
We talked for a quite a while. He talked about the music industry in the late ’50’s. “If you had a kit (a drum set) and a car, you were a session musician.”
After we went out into the living room, Robert brought out a stack of Sandy’s albums. The liner notes on one of them said how he “drummed to his own beat.”
“That means I couldn’t drum my way out of a paper bag.”
I had a very enjoyable evening. Sandy was a nice guy. He did not talk down to me at all, nor did I act like a star-struck fan. We were just two people at a party with similar interests. I never talked to him again.
I just found out that Sandy Nelson passed away last Valentine’s Day. Rest in peace, Mr. Teen Beat.
Except when we were in Germany, I remember always having a piano in the house when I grew up. Recently I found the original receipt for the family Wurlitzer piano from 1957 — the year after I was born. I imagine that my mother always wanted a piano, and my father was able to fulfill that wish some eight years after they were married. I took piano lessons the summer I turned 13 but I cannot say I remember my mother ever playing the keyboard although we did have a collection of music books.
While my father used to sing, especially along with Richard Kiley on the Broadway Cast album of Man of La Mancha and later with albums of Irish music, he was, to the best of my knowledge, not a musician of any kind who played an instrument.
…except for one piece.
I have fond memories of my father standing at the piano and playing an upbeat tune. I remember this from time to time over many years. I had no idea of what it was he played. I asked one of my brothers about it. He suggested maybe it was Chopsticks. I know Chopsticks, and that was not it.
I thought I would never know what the tune was considering I remember it from sixty years ago.
Fabricio André Bernard Di Paolo is a Brazilian musician on YouTube known professionally as Lord Vinheteiro. His videos cover a wide variety of topics from songs you have heard but don’t know the name of, the difference between a cheap and expensive piano, and many more. His videos show a dry sense of humor.
Lord Vinheteiro’s appears to be a stern head master. He clearly is very good musician. One of the hallmarks of his videos is that he usually scowls directly at the camera which is usually to the side of him. There have been several comments that a piece is especially difficult if Vinheteiro has to look at the keyboard as he plays.
Several days ago, Lord Vinheteiro posted a video showing the progression of a piano player from one second to ten years. For him, maybe, but not anyone I know. The best I could do after two months of hard work was a rousing rendition of Tommy’s New Drum March.
At the 35 second mark, Vinheteiro said “One day playing piano.” What came next was a shortened version of the tune I remembered my father playing all those years ago. The tune is known around the world by a number of different names. According to Wikipedia, it is known in Japan asI Stepped on the Cat and in Spain as The Chocolatier. In other countries it is know as the Flea, Pig, Dog, Cat or Donkey March, the Cat’s or Fool’s Polka, or by several other names. In the United Kingdom it is know as Chopsticks — but not what we know by that name in the United States.
The song is said to be an easy tune to play although you could not prove it by me. My father played a boisterous, almost boogie woogie rendition. I would love to hear him play it again.
A few days ago I was listening to the ’60’s channel on Sirius/XM. They played She’s a Lady by Tom Jones. I remember the first time I heard the song in 1971 (go figure). Usually if I remember the first time I heard a song it is because I associate it with something. In the case of that recording by Mr. Jones, it is because Bob Foster, the announcer on KFRC, said it was the world premier of the song.
Even though I was 15, I wondered at the time why the world premier of a record by someone from the UK would have its world premier on a radio station in San Francisco. New York I could understand. Maybe Los Angeles. But San Francisco? But if Bob Foster said it, it must be true!
Ten years later I lived on the Central Coast of California. Our cable service gave us TV stations from both Los Angeles and San Francisco. One night I was watching an LA station and they ran a promo about a movie they were going to show in a week — the “World Television Premier” of the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That’s right, the world television premier.
Two weeks later — a week after the “World Television Premier” on the L.A. station, I was watching a San Francisco station. They had a promo for something they were going to be showing in a week — the “World Television Premier” of the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. While they might not like to think so, I always thought that Los Angeles and San Francisco were on the same planet.
That got me to thinking — what is the fastest a recording made it on the air after being recorded? I don’t mean something that was done live on TV and recorded for the purpose of being released as a single such as All You Need Is Love by the Beatles.
Nor did I consider Elton John’s reworking of Candle In The Wind for Princess Dianna in this regard, as releasing it as a single was also a fait accompli.
Instead, I considered a case where a song was recorded in the normal course of events. What was the fastest a record made it from the studio to the radio in the shortest amount of time? The record for the shortest time it took a record (sounds redundant, doesn’t it?) to make it on the radio has to be from 1961 for one Pat Boone.
Boone went in to the studio to record a song. After he was finished, he had a few errands to run. As he drove he listened to the radio. The producers of the recording must have thought they had something great on their hands. The made a quick copy of it and rushed it over to a local radio station. Before Boone even made it home, the song — Moody River — was already on the air.
Talk about quick!
Just as a side note, in 1978 I was the first person at the station I worked at to play Stuff Like That by Quincy Jones. That wasn’t because I was some important person tasked with breaking hits; I just happened to be the person who was on the air when the record was brought into the control room.
I was the youngest of three boys. My brothers and I were always pretty close. My oldest brother Larry and I seemed to have the most in common in terms of music. I remember many of the songs that he liked over the years,
I remember him liking a Brenda Lee song that was a hit unto itself and was also the flip side of I’m Sorry. It was a song that I found many years later, much to my surprise, was written by Jerry Reed: That’s All You Gotta Do. The reason I was surprised was because once I heard that factoid, it was so obvious that I felt I should have known it. Larry played that record so many times that I am surprised we did not hear I’m Sorry playing backwards along with that song.
Larry never wasted an opportunity to ride buses. He never realized it, but one of his dreams when he was young was to be a Greyhound bus driver. In early 1963 there was a song that I loved so much that my mother sent Larry out to buy the record for me — Puff, the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary. Whether he had to or not, Larry spent just about the entire day taking buses all over Staten Island to find it.
Later that year Larry bought a record for himself. I was with him one day when he played it when my Mother walked in. I don’t know why but she got really mad at him for his purchase: The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget by the Raindrops. To this day I still have no idea what got her so mad.
When we moved to Germany in 1964 we did not have television so music was one of our biggest forms of entertainment. We bought records like we never had before. One of the first Larry bought was Remember (Walking In The Sand) by the Shangri-las.
Maybe the reason my brothers and I were so close is because we moved around a lot and saw a number of different things, such as our trip to Berlin in 1965.
After we returned to the United States, we drove across country in June 1966. My father always had the radio on in the car and one of the songs we heard was Little Girl by the Syndicate of Sound. Larry liked it but was not sure of the name. He bought the record before we had any way to play it, not sure if it was the right one. He saw in the TV listings that the group was going to be on American Bandstand. Larry never really watched the show, but he made sure he did that week.
Another song Larry liked in 1966 was Hey Joe. He did not know who it was by, but he saw it on an album so he bought it. When I saw the album cover, I was totally bewildered. I had never seen anything like it before. It was a bit much for my ten-year-old brain to comprehend.
That was not the version he wanted. He was looking at the version by the Leaves which he found on KJR 16 All American Hits.
Years went by. College, marriages, life goes on. The three of us would have a chance to get together from time to time.
On January 1, 2002, the three of us got together in Leavenworth, Washington. Besides being New Years Day, it was also Larry’s fifty-second birthday. Larry and Steve had their wives and the five of us had a great time.
My birthday was on a Saturday that year. To help me celebrate it, my son was going to spend the weekend with me. At about 2:30 in the morning, my son came in to tell me that my Father was on the phone.
“Your brother, Larry, is dead.” I know why he phrased it that way. My mother had been fighting cancer for over twenty years. As “mother” and “brother” sounded very similar, my father wanted to be sure I understood exactly what he was saying.
It has been twenty years since I last saw Larry. It took me years to come to grips with his passing, but I still am not used to it.
If a driver of a standard automobile were to see a NASCAR race car, he could tell it was an automobile. However, he would notice many things that were different on it than what he had at home. A similar comparison could be made with turntables. Someone with a good home turntable would know what a broadcast turntable did. He might even be able to figure out how to operate it, but he would recognize that a broadcast turntable was a different animal from a home turntable.
The following video shows what an old broadcast turntable looks like. Before you play the video, look at the picture. The turntable has a 45 on it. Looking closely, you can see that the 45 is in a recessed area of the platter. That recess also includes a large spindle for 45’s in the center. The raised outer area of the platter is where an album would rest. Above the recessed 45 spindle is the standard spindle for albums.
The platters were very heavy and were driven by a rubber roller that transferred power from a high-torque motor. That motor allowed the turntable to come up to speed in about one-quarter of a turn at 33, one-third of a turn at 45. The shaft from the motor had three levels on it to provide the three different speeds. The speed control lever also had one or more neutral positions available that allowed the platter to be turned by hand.
Unlike the way the person who made the video would cue a record, I would put the turntable in to neutral. That allowed me to quickly cue up a 45 — literally in less than five seconds once the 45 was on the platter.
I somehow managed to find myself in the Honor Society in the spring of the seventh grade. As a treat, the group took a cruise on Washington State’s Puget Sound. It was a lovely spring evening. Everyone packed their own dinner, usually the same sort of thing they would have packed for a lunch at school. A radio played, tuned to Seattle’s big Top 40 station, KJR. In a coincidence that still seems to be appropriate, I heard Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells for the first time that night on the cruise.
Later in the evening four people I knew, fellow seventh graders, were sitting at a table on the lower deck. Karen and Allan sat on one side, Roxanne and Everett sat on the other. The pairings seemed odd to me. Roxanne was cute — enough, but Karen probably was causing the plastic upholstery to blister. I guess Allan was OK, but Everett was tall and the kind of guy the girls would swoon over — he went on to become a doctor.
As I observed the two couples, cuddling up about as much as seventh graders could get away with in May, 1969, I could not help but notice that Karen was paying attention to Everett and Everett was paying attention to Karen. What was going on might, in terms of international diplomacy, be referred to as political manoeuvring. Roxanne and Allan were merely the tools being used by Everett and Karen.
Last November I wrote about the recording Sukiyaki by Kyu Sakimoto. The post told the story of how Rich Osborn, of radio station KORD in Pasco, Washington, played the song from a Japanese album from 1961. That led to the song being released in the United States and becoming a hit. Mr. Osborn’s daughter, Mary, left a comment. In it, she said:
Dad always had extraordinary taste in music and one thing all of his kids remember with delight is walking into the house and seeing dad sitting in front of the hi-fi, listening intently. “Come here and listen to this!” he’d say…he has such admiration for the art and he helped us to admire it too.
Comment by Mary Osborn-Dixon
Mary’s comment reminded me how music brings people together. That does not mean that people of one generation will necessarily like everything of another generation, but there can be plenty of common ground.
My son told me of an experience he had while listening to Led Zeppelin with friends. His friends were amazed by one of Jimmy Page’s guitar licks. My son told them that it was a pentatonic scale — knowledge he knew from spending time plunking guitars with me. I think we both felt a sense of bonding that incident brought to us.
Another time I was playing a CD of rock songs from the ’70’s. While my son facetiously called the CD Cowbell Classics, he enjoyed it as much as I did.
My father used to listen to some diverse kinds of music. He was especially fond of Irish tunes from such artists as The Dubliners and songs such as Whiskey In The Jar.
When my son was in high school he was listening to some contemporary music and I heard a song that sounded familiar.
My son has an appreciation for such traditional music that he got from his Grandfather. A few months ago he sent a video message. In it, he sang Rule, Britannia! in a marvellous tenor voice and dedicated it to my London-born wife, Fay.
My wife is a big fan of singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. Sometimes Fay is surprised by the fact that she knows the lyrics to the classic songs. She thinks she must have inherited an appreciation of that music from her mother.
It isn’t just those singers that Fay shared with her mother. There was a rock and roll group that released their first Extended Play record (a seven inch record with about four songs) in January, 1964. No, it wasn’t by those relatively clean cut lads from Liverpool, but rather by a collection of ruffians from London called the Rolling Stones. It wasn’t just “older” music being shared with a younger person, it was “younger music” being shared with an older person.
After my Mother passed away in February, 2007, my Father had a rough time of things. Amongst other mishaps, he fell and broke his arm in a restaurant parking lot. My Brother and I thought it might be best if my Father moved up to Washington State to live with my Brother. My Father agreed to that on a trial basis.
My Brother drove his one of his cars down to California, picked up my Father and drove back up to Washington in his car. It was arranged for a friend of my Sister-in-law to live in my parent’s house.
The trial lasted three months. My Father decided that he wanted to go back home. That is the area he knew. That is where his friends were. That is where his activities were. As I was available, it was decided that I would drive my Father back to California.
I flew down to Seattle from Vancouver and took the train over to Eastern Washington. I took some video on my way to Eastern Washington using a digital camera with a video mode. The image quality was not very good and it had no audio but it did give me a souvenir of the trip.
I arrived late at night. My Father and I started on the long drive the next morning. As I recall, I did all the driving. We took longer than my brother would have taken, but he usually had FAA clearance for the trip when he drove.
The car had XM Radio in it (this was before the merger with Sirius). My Father graciously let me listen to the 60’s on Six. I would fill him in on all kinds of trivia about the music we heard. Somewhere in the middle of Oregon he asked if I would mind if he put on the Classic Country station that he liked to listen to. I said, “Fine.” It was his car, after all.
As we listened to the classic country music, I found myself filling him in on almost as much trivia about this old country music as I had about my music from the ’60’s. He seemed to take as much satisfaction in that as did I. He was thirty years older than I, but we still found a connection in the music.
I hoped to get lots of old family stories and information on that trip but that did not happen. In retrospect, the connection I had with my father through the music means more to me now than learning about family history would have.
The town where I went to high school had a radio station. The station had a German program on Sundays. Having lived in Germany for two years and having taken German in school, sometimes I would tune in to the program.
One Sunday I was working on some homework while the German program was on in the background. I wasn’t paying attention. The host played a record about an astronaut. As I worked on my homework I followed the story about the preparation for the space flight. Then came the countdown.
Now I can count in German until die Kühe come home, but the countdown in the song about the astronaut slapped me across the eardrums. While I subconsciously followed the song before, I was now aware that it was in German. I didn’t understand anything in the rest of the song. I can’t seem to understand a foreign language if I am aware it is a foreign language.
With that said, I do have an ear for what might be “passable” German.
Elvis recorded a song called Wooden Heart which has some German lyrics. While he is not singing perfect German, I think he is at least passable. He might come across to a German as saying “Wie gehts, y’all,” but he sounds as if he could possibly have a basic conversation in German.
Joe Dowell also had a version of the song
It strikes me that, prior to this song, the only German words Mr. Dowell had ever heard were kindergarten and gesundheit. His German is cringe-worthy. He obviously was singing the words phonetically having no idea what they meant.
He later recorded the song in stereo. Oddly enough, this version does not have the German verse. I don’t know if there is a connection, but it seems that his German was so bad in his first recording that they decided to leave it out all together in the second.
There are a couple of songs with a German word that make me wince. Listening to them makes you think they are singing about the title character of a 1953 movie starring Alan Ladd.
One of them was done by several artists in the 1930’s and ’40’s, including the Andrews Sisters
In the early 1960’s, Wayne Newton had a hit with another record that totally messes up the pronunciation of the word schoen.
It would be one thing if the singers just mispronounced the word, but it it not really their fault. The rhyme schemes are predicated on the incorrect pronunciation. They rhyme shoen with explain and pain.
In German, the word is written schön, with an umlaut (the two dots) over the o. What does an umlaut do? Simply put, they add a slight e sound to the vowel which is why they are often replaced in English by an e (schoen vs. schön). That makes the umlaut over the u in Mötley Crüe redundant, and changes the pronunciation from Motley to Mootly.
Officer Toody gives us a demonstrates.
How is schön pronounced? Take the word shoe and add an n.
Fifty years ago we would watch the ABC Evening News with Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith. At the end of each newscast, one of the two would would have a commentary. For some reason, Reasoner mentioned in several of his commentaries that he did not like the song Lonely Days by the Bee Gees. It’s not just that he didn’t like the song, he thought it was the most pathetic piece of dreck that had ever been put on record.
One night he told his viewers that his 17 year old neighbor had been mowing his lawn and listening to the radio. The song came on and the neighbor clearly enjoyed it. Reasoner thought that he would expose the youth to what good music really sounded like. The newscaster called the boy over. Figuring that anything in his collection just had to be better than that trash the neighbor was listening to, Reasoner picked out a record at random and put it on his turntable.
I have not been able to find the record on YouTube or even any mention of it on the internet, but, as I recall, Reasoner said it went something along the lines of “I go nut nut nutty in the coconut tree over you.”
The kid from next door just looked at Reasoner with a blank expression. Reasoner took the tonearm off the record and took the record off of the turntable as the neighbor quietly left and went back to mowing his lawn.
While it is not one of my favorite songs, I do enjoy hearing Lonely Days from time to time. That is the thing with music. What one person may love, another person may hate. In fact, a song you may love today you may hate tomorrow and vice-versa.
Years ago I worked for a company that would have a booth at the yearly convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. While I worked for that company, they changed gears from showing just the wooden racks and tape cartridges that they sold to putting on fairly sophisticated displays of the equipment that they carried. In 1987 I engineered an operational radio station with a control room, a production room, and a working FM exciter (transmitter) with a receiver that allowed people to compare two different audio processing systems.
With that sort of setup we, of course, had to play music. We had a rule for the music we played: we did not play music that we liked. The reason for that was when something came on that we liked, we would make an effort to listen to it. Since we were a captive audience, we knew that we would grow to hate the music that we used to love. We did not play music that we hated, either. We played music that we didn’t care about one way or another. That made it easy to tune out without it grating on us. We could just ignore it.
Sometimes a person’s taste changes. In late 1962 there was a song that would make my brothers and me cringe whenever it came on. It seemed really sappy: Hey Paula by Paul and Paula.
The song grew on me as years went by. While I certainly would not go out of my way to listen to it, I certainly don’t mind hearing it from time to time.
There was another song that my brothers and I despised, The Birds and the Bees by Jewel Akens from 1965. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.
Maybe if I live to be 100 I will start to like this song.
I know some many people like those songs. That is fine. I know there are songs that I like that other people hate. In 1972 I bought the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. When I brought it home, my mother must have wanted to show interest in the music I liked so she asked me to play it. I said no. She asked me several times so I finally relented.
I lived in Germany, arriving in March, 1964 and leaving in June, 1966. My father would travel around Europe and often would use his own car. Before one such trip he took the car to the nearby Heidelberg Post Exchange (PX) for routine maintenance such as having the oil changed. They drained the oil. They changed the oil filter. They forgot to put new oil in. Needles to say, the engine did not take too kindly to that. The PX garage in Heidelberg did not have the facilities to change the engine so the car was taken to Stuttgart.
We lived near the city of Heidelberg. Our radio entertainment came from AFN Frankfurt which had a relay station near Heidelberg. The programming on AFN had to satisfy a number of different interests especially since there was no Armed Forces television in the area yet. There were other AFN stations in Germany. When it came to music, it seemed that different AFN stations would pick their own music. Friends brought us to Stuttgart to pick up our car after the engine had been replaced. When we were in the Stuttgart area we listened to AFN Stuttgart. They played Doo Wah Diddy by Manfred Mann. That was the only time I heard the song when it was a hit.
The reason I mention that is because I did not hear of Gerry and the Pacemakers until 1968 or 1969 even though they had seven top 40 hits on the U.S. charts released from May, 1964 through September, 1966 with five of them reaching the top 20. Maybe Stuttgart played those, too — but I don’t remember hearing them on Frankfurt.
In October, 1964, the group appeared in the film The T.A.M.I. Show. While I had heard of the film for years, I did not see it until about ten years ago. I was not expecting much, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The film opens with Chuck Berry doing a couple of his songs. As Berry performs Maybelline, Gerry and his crew enter the stage. When Berry is done, the Pacemakers pick up with their own version. They play a couple songs then Berry plays a song. They go back and forth.
I never would have thought that going back and forth between Chuck Berry and Gerry and the Pacemakers would have worked, but it does. Is their music profound? No. While Marsden and company may not have made the same impact on music as did Berry, you cannot help but notice that they are having an absolutely great time. Their smiles are infectious. Gerry is often waving or pointing at the audience, obviously enjoying the crowd’s reaction and presence. What really wins me over is the big smile on bass player Les Chadwick’s face and the fact that, even though he is not heard and does not have a microphone, he often sings along. A good time was had by all.
Gerry Marsden was no slouch as a musician, either. Someone I follow on YouTube is an English musician named Fil from Wings of Pegasus. He analyses videos of live performances. He did the following video of Gerry and the Pacemakers in a Swedish TV performance from 1963. Fil spends 25 minutes talking about a two-minute performance. If you enjoy learning about music and performance this video is great and you may find it interesting.
While the girls in the audience are not screaming at the top of their lungs, if you look closely you can see that many of them are singing along. People who are not enjoying themselves do not do that.
Maybe much of the popular music of the 1960’s it short on profundity, but it is not short of fun. To me, music is emotion, be it is the moving beauty of a great classical piece or the magic of rock and roll that makes you dance and sing along. Gerry Marsden certainly represented the enjoyment that can come from people who are enjoying themselves.
Gerry Marsden passed away on January 3, 2021. Rest in peace, Mr. Marsden.