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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ah, Such Beautiful Music

I am old enough to remember when TV stations had hosts who showed cartoons. I used to watch such hosts as Sandy Becker in New York in the early 1960’s and Brakeman Bill in the Seattle/Tacoma area in the latter part of the decade. A mainstay of both of their programs was old Warner Brother’s cartoons.

Brakeman Bill, 1955 Photo: Tacoma Public Library

The Warner’s cartoons were my favorites, especially the ones from the 1940’s. Those were made before the artwork was “stylized” – meaning simplified artwork so the cartoons could be made quickly and less expensively. I would not quite say “cheaply” yet: those cartoons would come in the ‘60’s after the advent of the Hanna Barbera cookie-cutter cartoons that were made for TV.

There is another thing about those cartoons that make them first rate: the music. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies originally had two purposes. The first was to plug Warner Brother’s movies. Many cartoons from the 1930’s had names that were the same as or were a play on the names of Warner feature films. The other reason was to plug the Warner music catalogue. Getting people to hear the music was important. If people enjoyed the cartoons, great but it was a secondary concern. It was purely a business decision.

To handle the music Warner’s brought in someone who had worked for Walt Disney: Carl W. Stalling. As Chuck Jones, Warner’s animator, explains in this video, Stalling had been the organ player and orchestra conductor in Kansas City.

Chuck Jones, Warner’s director

Disney was a young animator also from Kansas City who heard Stalling at work and was greatly impressed. The two began to work together. They kept in touch once Disney moved to California, . Stalling would later go out to California as well. Stalling worked for Disney for two years, then freelanced for several years. He was hired by Leon Schlesinger, Warner’s animation producer, in 1936.

Skeleton Dance from 1929, animated by Disney with Music by Stalling

Stalling had a terrific memory for music and had the entire Warner’s music catalog to work with. He also had the full Warner’s orchestra as well. I saw Leonard Maltin speak in 1980 after the release of his book Of Mice and Magic. As Maltin explained, Max Steiner would finish a session recording the music for the latest big production, then Stalling would come in and record the music for the next Looney Tunes.

Leonard Matlin’s great book from 1980 about the history of cartoons Photo:

There was no editing of the music. The timing of the film had all been worked out. Stalling would work out the musical arrangement and it would be recorded straight through.

The orchestration was magnificent. Sometimes I will watch a cartoon just to hear the music. One of my favorites is the opening of the 1941 cartoon Wabbit Twouble (released two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor). Stalling’s opening rendition of Says Who, Says You, Says Me swings. I just wish it was longer. He returns to that theme later in the cartoon, but it is more sedate the second time.

Opening of Wabbit Twouble, 1941

Stalling often would uses just a few short bars of a song. Often, the song would have some tie-in to the action on the screen. If there is food, you can bet that the music is from A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich, and You. Another song that Stalling used often was Powerhouse, a bizarre 1937 tune that you almost would have thought was an original to be used in hectic scenes. (It was also licensed for use in Ren and Stimpy cartoons in the 1990’s)

This is from 1937?

The old Warner’s cartoons are under copyright and those copyrights are closely protected so I can’t give you much in the way of samples, but if you have a chance, go watch some of the old cartoons. Maybe you are old enough or know enough about history to know what such lines as “Turn out that light” and “Is this trip really necessary?” mean.

Promise Made, Promise Kept

My father was in the U.S. Army so we moved quite a bit. From 1964 through 1966 we lived in Germany. At that time the Armed Forces Network did not have a television service, at least in our area. They had radio, but their programming had to be divided among many different types of programming to satisfy different tastes. Of course there was a base movie theater, and I probably went to the movies more in that two-year period than any other time in my life.

One form of entertainment we availed ourselves of was the large collection of records at the base library. My mother would check out many original Broadway cast albums. I can’t remember all of the things I heard from those records, but one family favorite was from a 1961 Broadway show named Carnival. However, we only checked the record out; we could not buy it. The star of Carnival was Anna Maria Alberghetti who, by the mid 1970’s, was more well known for Good Seasons Salad Dressing commercials.

Who has the croutons?

The male lead was played by Jerry Orbach, later known for playing Lennie Briscoe on TV’s Law and Order.

The Jerry Orbach story.

The original story, The Man Who Hated People, was written by Paul Gallico. It was adapted and made into the movie Lili in 1953 starring Leslie Caron. It tells of a young woman, orphaned in World War II (or was it World War I?), who finds her way to a travelling carnival. After unsuccessfully trying a couple of different jobs in the carnival, Lili ends up working with the puppet show. While she loves the puppets, she grows to hate the puppet master – a bitter former dancer who was injured during the war and could no longer dance. I won’t spoil the ending but you can probably guess how things turn out. The film also featured Mel Ferrer, Jean-Pierre Aumont, a pre-Miss Kitty Amanda Blake, and Zsa Zsa Gabor doing something other than a game show.

In 1972 my mother was thinking about that Original Cast album of Carnival. She went to a local record shop and ordered it. It took a while but it finally came in. I was a junior in high school at the time. Late one night during the Christmas break I was listening to that album.

Everyone makes promises to themselves, often fuelled by the knowledge that the opportunity to fulfill that promise will never come up. As I listened to Carnival, I promised that I would do what I could to be in the musical if I ever had the chance.

A couple of weeks later I was sitting in class. The morning announcements came on.

“Auditions for the Spring musical, Carnival, will be held on January 17.”

Oh fiddlesticks, or words to that effect. I knew I had to audition. I had promised myself. That was less than three weeks before so I could not make excuses to get out of it. I knew what I would be doing after school on the afternoon of the 17th.

I had been in a play before. In summer school between the 7th an 8th grades I took a drama class. I enjoyed that so it was not as if I were going outside of my comfort zone. However, that was just acting. There was no singing or, shudder, dancing involved. But a promise is a promise. I would have to do it.

At the audition we read lines from the play. The chorus teacher checked out our singing ability. She asked me if I would volunteer to be in the school chorus the next year. When I did not respond, she asked me if I would be willing to be drafted to be in the school chorus the next year. (While I would not have volunteered, I would have loved to have been drafted – but that never happened.) I don’t remember the dance audition but, since I did not break any bones, I must have done as well as most of the other people.

Since I was a newcomer, I did not get the lead role (the Jerry Orbach part) although I would have really liked it. That part had some of the most powerful songs in the show and I could just imagine myself belting them out on stage. Another good thing about that role is than he did not dance.

Paul (Jerry Orbach) singing to his puppets.

I ended up getting a named part, Angelo, and a line (“Hey Marco, there’s someone here to see you”). A week or two after rehearsals began, someone got an after-school job and had to drop out. Since there was no conflict with his part in the chorus and my part, I was also given his part. A couple of weeks later it was felt that one of the Roustabouts (the male dance group) was an even worse dancer than I was so I was given most of his scenes as well.

The show opens like a quiet morning then bursts out like a sunny day.

The show goes on.

It was fun being in the chorus and singing. To this day I still think in terms of the harmony I sang rather than the main melody of the song.

Lili singing with the puppets then joined by the chorus.

Carnival was the first of three plays I was in during my high school years. They were fun and I would do them all over again.

Music from Heaven

Before my parents bought their first component stereo system in 1964, I don’t recall my family having many classical LP’s. I do remember many 78 albums, though. While there may have been a handful of others, one LP set I remember – and still have – is a six-record collection The World’s Most Beautiful Music.

Once we had the stereo we started getting many stereo classical albums such as Respighi’s Fountains of Rome, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, and the soundtrack of Fantasia. My mother also bought many operas. She would threaten to play Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov if we misbehaved.

Of all the records my mother bought, probably the family favorite was Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

From the anger of Mars, Bringer of War,

to gentleness of Venus, Bringer of Peace,

 to Jupiter, Jollity,

…and everything in between, The Planets touched the human soul in many ways.

Cecil Spring-Rice was a member of the British diplomatic service. While sailing to take a post in Washington, D.C. he met a member of the U.S. civil service commission named Theodore Roosevelt. They became good friends and Spring-Rice was best man at Roosevelt’s 1886 wedding. Spring-Rice was also a poet and in 1908 wrote Urbs Dein while stationed in Stockholm. He reworked that poem in January, 1918 to reflect the British experience of World War I. The poem was now called I Vow To Thee, My Country. Rice died the next month in Canada at the age of 59.

Cecil Spring-Rice Photo:

Gustav Holst was born in 1874 to a musical family. While most of his family played piano, a nerve problem in his arm made it difficult to play the piano so Gustav took up the trombone instead. He became the music director at a girls’ school. In 1914 he began writing his most famous work, The Planets, completed in 1916 and premiering at Queen’s Hall, London in 1918.

Gustav Holst Photo: The History Press

In 1921, Holst adapted one of the themes from Jupiter and called it Thaxted. Some changes were made to accommodate the lines of the Spring-Rice poem. The musical creation, I Vow To Thee, My Country, is now a greatly loved English patriotic hymn. Instrumental versions were played at Winston Churchill’s funeral and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Vocal versions by the choir and the congregation sang it at the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. It was the favorite hymn of Princess Diana and it was sung at her funeral. The hymn is one of the traditional closing pieces of the the Proms, a yearly music festival begun in 1895 and now broadcast by the BBC.

With a name like Gustav Holst, I assumed that the composer must have been from a country such as Germany. In 2009 I visited Chichester Cathedral in England. In the cathedral was a memorial for Holst.

Holst Memorial Photo: Chichester Post

Surprisingly, Gustav Holst was born in Cheltenham and lived his entire life in England, passing away in 1934. Like Cecil Spring-Rice, Holst was 59. He was cremated and his ashes are interred at Chichester Cathedral.

Several years ago I had the pleasure of seeing the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra play The Planets in concert. The Holst composition is very popular — with good reason.

Oh! What a Night

I never was much of a dancer. Sure, I had been in the last two spring musicals at school but there is a difference between having two months of rehearsals with a choreographer telling you what to do as opposed to getting out on the dance floor without making a fool of yourself. Up to that point I had gone to two school dances; a sock hop in the seventh grade – where I didn’t dance – and a dance in the eighth grade where a friend goaded me into asking the girl I had a terrible crush on – the Principal’s daughter – to dance. Those were the only two dances I had been to.

It was late May 1974. In less than two weeks I would officially be a high school graduate. I wasn’t planning on dancing at this dance. That wasn’t why I was going. One reason I was going was because it was an oldies dance and I liked oldies. The main reason I was going, though, was that the DJ for the dance was the program director of KFRC, the big Top 40 station in San Francisco. I was hoping maybe I would have a chance to talk to him. Actual dancing was the farthest thing from my mind — I knew the best I could do was move like I had stuck my finger in an electrical outlet.

From three months after our story Photo:

I hadn’t been at the dance too long when Rita came up and asked me to dance. That was great. I knew who she was and I thought she was cute. She didn’t say but I got the impression she had seen my award-winning performance as the Mayor of Sweet Apple, Ohio in the school’s recent production of Bye Bye Birdie. We danced to a couple of songs. An elephant probably would have done a better job on the dance floor than I did. Rita asked me if I knew a particular dance. I told her no. At that point she decided that I was not as great a dancer as she had ever seen and left me to fend for myself.

Shortly after that I bumped into Sandy. We had become friends in our co-ed PE class. I don’t know who asked who, but we danced to a couple of songs. Maybe because I was with a friend I felt relaxed and was beginning to warm up. We then took a break from each other.

A song or two passed and I bumped into Karen. Karen worked in the school library the period after I did. I don’t know who asked who, but we danced to a couple of songs. We then took a break from each other.

Shortly after that, Patty came up and asked me to dance. I knew Patty to see her but she was never in any of my classes and we had never spoken. We danced to a couple of songs as I had with Sandy and Karen.

In the meantime I had introduced myself to the DJ. He had an actual broadcast console, two turntables, a reel-to-reel tape deck in case he had turntable problems, a powerful amplifier, huge speakers, and several hundred 45’s. These records were not just any records that happened to find their way into his boxes – they were specifically chosen because they were good records to dance to.

Everything he played was great. He had a version of Honky Tonk by Bill Doggett which put parts 1 and 2 together. That had a groove that would have gotten Dracula out of his coffin at noon to dance.

You gotta love this one

Not wanting to make a nuisance of myself I did not stay on stage too long. I went back out into the crowd and found Sandy again. Like before, we danced to a couple of songs then went our separate ways. By now I was having a great time. I danced with Karen again and then Patty.

That was the pattern for most of the night. Two dances with Sandy, two with Karen, two with Patty, onto the stage to talk to the DJ, rinse and repeat.

At one point I was getting a little worn out. Karen and I were going to dance to one song then take a break. I forgot what song it was but it had a medium-fast tempo. That song ended and the next one began. It had a medium, slightly faster tempo. Karen and I looked at each other and said, “We have to dance to this one. Then we’ll take a break.”

The DJ kept doing that. Each new song that came on was just a little faster than the one before. If there was too big of a jump we would have said, “No, we need to take a break.” But with just a slight increase in tempo each new record was like a siren song that we could not resist. One of the songs in that set – but not the fastest by far – was California Sun by the Rivieras.

We just couldn’t stop

Faster and faster. We kept dancing as if there was no tomorrow. I remember at one point I shook my head and sweat came flying off of my hair like I was a dog shaking off after a swim. We must have been ready to drop. This set of music must have gone on for more than twenty minutes. We were to the point where we just could not have danced to another fast song. Then the DJ slowed it way down.

Relief at last

As soon as Lenny Welch began singing Since I Fell For You, Karen and I fell into each other’s arms like we were in day three of a 1930’s dance marathon.  That was the last song before the DJ took a twenty-minute break. Karen and I went outside to cool off.

After the break the evening progressed much the same as it had before. I was having the time of my life. When the dance was over I stayed behind and helped the DJ pack up his gear and his records and carry them out to his VW van. He gave me a personal invitation to go down to KFRC for a tour. It has often been said that shy people become radio DJ’s. That was the case with me: I never took him up on the invitation and I regret it to this day.

As I drove home, my hands felt a little odd on the steering wheel. I stopped and looked: I had blisters on my palms from clapping and on my thumbs and middle fingers from snapping.

That was over forty-six years ago but just the thought of that night still puts a smile on my face.