You Don’t Make Sense

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.

What a night to hear this for the first time.

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.

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Music: A bridge between generations

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
Rich Osborn Photo:

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.

Having a sip with the Dubliners

When my son was in high school he was listening to some contemporary music and I heard a song that sounded familiar.

…and another with Metalica.

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.

Liked by young and not so young alike. Photo: Decca Records

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.
Old technology video of a special trip Video: Personal collection

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.

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Sollen wir auf Deutch singen?

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.

The King might give Germans a chuckle.

Joe Dowell also had a version of the song

This has Germans either scratching their heads or rolling on the floor laughing,

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.

This version is missing something.

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

The person who made the video misspelled schoen.

In the early 1960’s, Wayne Newton had a hit with another record that totally messes up the pronunciation of the word schoen.

Save me.

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.

An example from one of New York’s finest.

How is schön pronounced? Take the word shoe and add an n.

It does not sound like

Don’t come back! Photo: Paramount Pictures

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Different Beats for Different Feets

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.

Not on Harry Reasoner’s hit parade.

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.

Me in Dallas, 1987

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.

Enough to make a 6 year old cry.

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.

Oh, Please.

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.

Not on my mother’s hit parade. Photo: CapricornRecords.COM.AU

“You wasted your money on that?”

I knew I should have held my ground.

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Don’t let the music catch you crying

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.

Our 1961 Pontiac Tempest, presumably with oil in the crankcase

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.

Played in Stuttgart but not in Frankfurt

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.

Best part of the movie.

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.

What makes a performance tick.

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.

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For The Old Times

In late 1977 I was attending California State University, Sacramento. I was a Communications major and was involved in the university radio station, KERS. The station started in 1970 and was a “full power” station, not a 10 watt wonder as many high schools and colleges had. In 1977, its effective radiated power was 5400 watts with the antenna on the roof of the theater building on campus. The studios were in the same building.

KERS was in the process of becoming a higher power public radio station affiliated with NPR, National Public Radio. To that end, the university hired a professional manager. Gone was the free form music programming of mainly rock music. In it’s place was soul music during the day, a two hour news/public affairs block, and jazz at night. I usually ran the news/public affairs block and often did a jazz show although not on a regular basis. I was pretty much the voice of the station, doing most of the promotional announcements.

I spent many hours on one of these at KERS Photo: Universal Audio/

I don’t know who suggested it, but for New Year’s eve the station manager allowed us to do an oldies program starting at 8 PM. My friend Bill Hudson (I forgot what air name he used) would do the first two hours. Bill was ten years older than I was and was a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. He did from the early days of rock and roll through 1962.

I came on at 10 PM, going year by year playing a number of songs from each year from 1963 to 1968 to take me up to midnight. I played some big hits and some obscure stuff. The manager told me I could go as long as I wanted as long as I ended on the top of an hour. Of course I was going to go as long as I could. That meant that I was going to usher in the new year on the air. I stayed on until 4 AM.

As I was planning on going after midnight, I had to do something to usher in 1978. What would be more appropriate than the staple of New Years, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians playing Auld Lang Syne. I went out and bought an album just so I could play that tune. Lombardo first played the song on the radio for the New Year of 1930. His New Year’s broadcast ran for many years.

I bought an album just for this.

I used the Guy Lombardo album one more time a few years later for a commercial at a radio station where I worked. I “accidentally” forgot to bring the album home again.

The words of the song were said to have come from a poem by Robert Burns of Scotland written in 1788. Burns, however, said the poem came from “from an old man’s singing.” The words are about two old friend talking about their long friendship and the good times they have had over the years. Today, we use the first two verses to celebrate the new year.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you'll buy your pint cup!
and surely Ill buy mine!
And we'll take a cup o kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But weve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And theres a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o thine!
And well take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne? 

The poem was used with several tunes, finally being paired with the tune we know know today in 1799. Interestingly, the melody fits Asian styles of music.

The melody is used in Japan as a school graduation song as a way of saying goodbye.

A Japanese graduation song.

It has been used, off and on, as a national anthem known in both North and South Korea.

Korea hoping for unity.

However you know the song, may you have a joyous New Year.

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Music of Christmas Past

There is something about Christmas that brings me back to Christmases long past and memories of loved ones long gone.

For years my mother would use tempera paint and do a Christmas-themed picture in a large front window of wherever we lived at the time. Her inspiration would come from either a Christmas card that she liked or even from the cover she liked from an album of Christmas music. I have long thought of doing the same thing but I don’t have enough confidence in my artwork to even try.

A sample of my mother’s Christmas artwork from 1961, Staten Island, New York.

Every year my mother would bring out her Christmas albums. One of the albums she played was by the Robert Shaw Chorale. I was always moved by the gospel sounding Mary Had a Baby. I looked forward to hearing it every year.

Our copy had a different cover, but this is one of two Robert Shaw Chorale Christmas records that we had.

This is the other Robert Shaw Chorale album but with the same type of label as the above record. I found the labels to be works of art.

Robert Shaw Choral Christmas label.

Another album my family had was the somewhat bizarre ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians and Glee Club. The title cut was the one I remember most.

Fred Waring blending styles in 1955.

As years went by my mother would start listening to Christmas music on the radio. In the early 1970’s, San Francisco had two commercial classical music radio stations on the FM dial, KDFC and KKHI, with the latter being my mother’s preferred station. Every year on Christmas Day KKHI would play an eclectic selection of Christmas music. The only thing about the music was that it had to reflect the meaning of the day and be heartfelt. I don’t recall any “We’re expected to record some Christmas music so here it is” stuff. They may have played some secular music, but I doubt they would have played Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The music had to reflect the feeling of the day as I recall. While it might be an exaggeration, it seemed that if Led Zeppelin had recorded a Christmas song, KKHI would have played it on December 25.

One of my all-time favorite Christmas songs was Nat King Cole’s version of the 1945 Robert Wells/ Mel Torme’s composition, The Christmas Song.

Nat King Cole’s original 1946 recording.

For years I only knew Cole’s 1961 stereo rerecording of the song. In the mid 1980’s, my friend Mad Man Moskowitz played his old 78 of the song. To me it is the definitive recording. I don’t think anyone else should even try.

Whether your memories of Christmases past be happy or bittersweet, may this Christmas be a good one and bring a smile to your face in future years.

Merry Christmas.

Music of Christmas Past Read More »

There is still music being made

Back in the 1980’s, the company I worked for had a warehouse for the products we sold. The people working in the warehouse listened to the music of the time. One day the warehouse manager, who was about a year younger than I, said, “I swore I’d never say this, but that’s not music.”

You can go back at almost any point last century and find that the music of young people was considered garbage by older generations.

In 1980 I had an Oldies Hour on my daily late-night shift. Sometimes the chief engineer would stop by. Ken was forty years older than I and we were pretty good friends. I would love it when he would tell me stories about working in radio in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. Among other things during his career, Ken had emceed big band radio broadcasts over the Mutual Radio Network.

One time he stopped by and I was playing Topsy, Part II, a 1958 hit by Cab Calloway’s former drummer, Cozy Cole. Ken liked that. He would have been in his early 40’s when it was a hit.

Big Band holdout from 1958.

Another time he came in and I was playing Lies, a 1966 hit by the Knickerbockers. To say that Ken was not a fan was an understatement. He would have been about 50 when that came out.

I still don’t know why he has a sax. (Yes, there is a video there.)

The reason I mention Ken’s age when those records come out is because the late 1990’s, when I was in my early 40’s, was the last time I enjoyed most of the new music on the radio. By 2006, when I was 50, there was little new music that interested me – just like Ken when he was 50.

It seems hard to find young people playing instruments and making “music” anymore, but there are some.

A while back I was surfing YouTube and saw a suggestion of a new version of the Hollies’ song Bus Stop by the MonaLisa Twins.

My introduction to the Twins.

Mona and Lisa Wagner are twin sister who were born in Austria, which explains their accents. They currently live in the Liverpool area. They have gotten attention from famous people such as John Sebastian.

The Twins getting well deserved attention.

They are clearly talented, but many of their videos seem to over-emphasize that many of their recordings are studio productions with multi-tracking and over dubbing. I know “everyone does it,” but I would like to hear music that is being made, not music that is being manufactured.

But did they sweep the floor afterwards?

That being said, they do write original material and can rock out with other musicians in live shows. They have appeared at numerous venues including the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool where they performed this original song, One More Time.

Where is Brian Epstein when you need him?

Another great group of young people making music comes from the Philippines. The REO brothers consists of the Otic brothers Reno, Ronjoseph, Raymart, Ralph, and Roy Mark. They started playing music with improvised instruments to help out the family finances. They were heard jamming with some friends and things went up from there. The name REO brothers come from their first initial (“R” for all of them), “E” from their mother’s maiden name (Evasco), and “O” from their last name (Otic).

Their videos look like they are recording in their basement. However, the acoustics are good and they are playing the music live as it is being recorded. They might make minimal use of multi-tracking to add another instrument, but most of what they do is performed as the video is being recorded. One of the reasons they have become successful is because they play their live shows with a polish usually found in more experienced musicians.

The first time they came to my attention was when YouTube suggested this video to me, again with the song Bus Stop.

Young people seem to like Bus Stop.

They like to play the Beatles, from early songs such as I Saw Her Standing There and Boys

Rocking out to the early Beatles.

…to later songs such as While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

The more mature sound of the later Beatles.

The brothers have played a relief concert at Madison Square Gardens with several other performers such as Jennifer Hudson and Plain White T’s. They also were the first performers from the Philippines to play at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

I am thrilled to hear young musicians playing music that is not dependent on sampling and computers.

There is still music being made Read More »

Memories Made With Music

Music has a way of etching itself into your memory even if you don’t consciously remember it. My father always had the radio on when he drove. Before he went to Korea in 1960 he would listen to KSFO in San Francisco. They played what was then called “Middle of the Road” music. Frank Sinatra would have been the type of artist they played. In the late 1950’s I’m sure they played Big Band music to a certain extent – not really the swing stuff, but the more melodic tunes from the late war, early post-war era.

In 1984 I bought an album of Harry James’ Greatest Hits. I knew some of the songs on that album but not all. One tune stood out to me. I did not know it, but I knew it. It was Man With a Horn.

Seeing what time it is.

As that song played it was almost as if I was three years old again. It brought back a memory of riding in the car high on a hill overlooking a bit of a valley in or near San Francisco/Daly City. There was a billboard, I think for Dial Soap, with a working clock at the upper left-hand corner.

In 1985 I attended the National Association of Broadcasters convention In Las Vegas. A company that provided music services was giving out sample CD’s and I picked up one. On it was a recording from 1955 – Band of Gold by Don Cherry. Again, it blew off dust from the recesses of my memory.

I know that song from somewhere.

Another song that takes me back is Old Cape Cod by Patti Page even though I have known this record for years. I seem to remember hearing this in an old military building on the Presidio of San Francisco.

Images of formal dining with ladies in chiffon dresses.

KSFO also had what has to be the most beautiful jingle I have ever heard. It still brings me back to the San Francisco of my childhood.

San Francisco on my mind.

That is the long version — there was also a shorter version. That jingle made such an impression on me that I remember where I was when I last heard it on the air in March, 1972.

There are also songs that bring me back to a specific incident.

My Grandfather lived in Washington DC until I was 15. When we lived in New York we would visit him from time to time. It was not unusual for my Grandfather to give us a dollar to buy something in the stores on H Street North East. One time, I bought a friction-motor toy of a 1960 Chevy station wagon. My oldest brother bought a record: Rinky Dink by Dave “Baby” Cortez. As my brother played the record, I pretended that it was playing on the radio in my toy car.

Cranking up the radio in a toy car.

My oldest brother liked ships and other things nautical. The July 7, 1965 issue of Life Magazine had an article about yachting on the Riviera. Being interested in such things, he bought a copy. The lady in a bikini on the cover probably did not hurt, either.

Music to swim by. Photo: Life Magazine

While he was looking at that we listened to the first record by the Four Tops that I remember: I Can’t Help Myself.

Motown Soul while yachting around.

That is the power of music. It brings you back to an earlier time. It is the closest thing we will ever have to a time machine.

Memories Made With Music Read More »

A Song of the World

I think I have always been aware of the radio. My father always listened in the car. I remember hearing a baseball game with the Detroit Tigers while I was on a canal boat on the C&O Canal in Washington DC in 1963. About that time I remember being on a bus in Washington and hearing a radio from the back that was playing one of my all-time favorite songs.

That song was the only Japanese song to reach number 1 in the United States. I did my best to hear the tune over the noise of the crowded bus.

Some background:
It is well known that teenagers in the United Kingdom in the early sixties liked American music. Besides the R&B records of the 1950’s, there was another American music craze among English youth in the early 1960’s: Dixieland Jazz. This put the lines from Dire Straights’ Sultans of Swing into perspective (“They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playing band. It ain’t what they call rock and roll”). The Sultans were not playing some obscure music from half a century before; they were an oldies band playing a style that was popular almost two decades before and the crowd of young boys in the corner really didn’t care.

Richard Lester, the American movie director who directed the Beatles’ films Hard Days Night and Help, took his first step into the English youth/music genre in 1962 with a film called It’s Trad, Dad about a teenage boy and girl trying to get support for a concert featuring Dixieland music.

One of the bands featured in the film was Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen. Ball is known as a one-hit wonder in the United States for the 1962 hit Midnight in Moscow. In January, 1963, he had an instrumental top 10 hit in the UK with a Japanese song, Ue o Muite Arukō. Inasmuch as Ball recorded the song as an instrumental and the UK audience would not understand or be able to pronounce ue o muite arukō, the record company thought they would give it a Japanese name they thought people could pronounce: Suki Yaki.

About that time, Rich Osborn, a disc jockey at radio station KORD in Pasco, Washington, was given a copy of a 1961 Toshiba album by a young singer named Kyu Sakamoto. Osborn played the original version of Ue o Muite Arukō. It was very popular with his listeners. Word of the song’s popularity grew. Pat O’Day started playing it on KJR, Seattle. O’Day told his friend, Canadian disk jockey Red Robinson, about the record and it became popular in Canada.

An early music video

Capital Records licensed the recording and released it as a single, keeping the name given by the UK label to the Ball record.

About thirty years ago, a DJ on a Seattle oldies station told the history of the record and mentioned how Osborn was credited with making the Japanese record a hit in the west. In the mid 1980’s I worked with a Rich Osborn at a station in Seattle. I called the oldies DJ and asked if the Rich Osborn I knew and the Rich Osborn at KORD in Pasco in 1963 could have been the same person. The DJ did not know.

I tried for many years to find an answer to that question but could not find any new information. A few years ago I tried again and found someone on Facebook who mentioned his friend Rich Osborn who was now retired. I messaged the person and asked. Yes, the Rich Osborn I knew and the Rich Osborn who was at KORD were the same person. While I had nothing to do with making the record a hit, I did feel a sentimental connection.

Kyu Sakamoto Photo:

On August 12, 1985, Sakamoto was flying from Tokyo to Osaka on Japan Airlines Flight 123. Shortly after takeoff, the 747 suffered severe decompression because of poorly repaired damage that failed. Despite the best efforts of the crew, the plane crashed into the terrain around Mount Takamagahara. Everyone, including Kyu-san, knew what was sure to happen. He used his last moments to write a love note to his wife.

A lovely final act from one, whom all accounts, was a lovely person.

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