Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Music For A Summer's Day

It's the July 4th weekend.   Summer began on June 21, but it really kicks in, well, now.  Picnics, ball games, the beach.   Doing the Twist on a surf board like the dorks in the picture above.   There is no better memory jogger than music.   Let's face it.   A radio was usually our companion at all our summer haunts. I will bring you back to some of those sounds that bring me back to summers past whenever I hear them now.  And, you will want to turn up your speakers on this entry.  Today's piece might take you a while to get through, but it will be worth it.

Band of Gold by Freda Payne:  A huge summer hit when puberty had hit.   Freda might have been a one-hit-wonder, but her song went up the charts faster than the Mount Vernon, New York humidity.   Now, around this time, my best childhood buddy Leo and I were doing our regular visitations to the live studio audience of the Tonight Show.   Imagine our surprise when it turned out Freda Payne was the guest that summer.   We felt like such elitists.   Here's a song we just heard on the radio and, oh, there she is in front of us.

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah by Allan Sherman:  Another one of those novelty songs that kids would run around singing.  We all knew the lyrics about this infamous Camp Granada.  The only trouble is that I don't think any of my friends "up the block" really knew what sleepaway camp was.  None of us rarely left the three block radius for entire summers.  I know I was always bemused by the pronunciation in this song.  Muddah?  Faddah?  Why do people talk like this?  My mom's answer was more confusing.

"The singer is Jewish." 

So Jewish people all talk funny?

"You ask too many questions."


I Get Around by the Beach Boys:  I have a very distinct memory of this tune about that faraway planet called California.  It was playing in the car when we were going to a barbecue at the Pelham home of Mrs. Ian, one of my school teachers.  I remember we all heard horror stories about what she was like as a teacher.  Mean, demanding, borderline psychotic.  Truth be told, she was terrific and even threw us this party when the school year ended.  I recall everybody running around her huge yard while I sat in a corner with my ear glued to the All-Star Game on the radio.

The Girl from Ipanema by Astrud Gilberto:  Tall and tan and young and lovely.  Both my parents loved this tune which was heard always on WNEW-AM and the car radio.  Naturally, my mother went out and bought the 45 rpm.  She would play this while she vacuumed the living room, swaying to the beat and the drone of the Hoover. 

Mom, just where is Ipanema?

"We're not going there."

Strangers in the Night by Frank Sinatra:  A huge hit one summer and this played on the radio virtually once an hour.  Doobie, doobie, doo.  This was a great career renaissance for Sinatra, much to the disdain of my grandmother who hated him.

"Skinny greaseball."


Magnet and Steel by Walter Egan:  Played incessantly on the radio during one of my first visits to California.   I recall it playing as I drove around the Hollywood Hills for the first time.   I could live here, I thought.   I should own that mansion over there, I thought.   You need to get a real job, my dad's voice played in my head.
I'm Henry VIII, I Am by Herman's Hermits:  Another kiddie favorite that we all sung in between punchball games.  With goofy lyrics.

I'm Henery the Eighth, I am,
Henery the Eighth I am, I am!
I got married to the widow next door,
She'd been married seven times before.
And every one was an Henery
She wouldn't have a Willie or a Sam
I'm her eighth old man named Henery
Henery the Eighth, I am!

This was a perfect tune for the denizens of South 15th Avenue.  It allowed us to be silly and we still got a history lesson from it.  Although none of us knew who the hell Henry VIII really was.

The Work Song by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass:  The emergence of Herb Alpert and company was the single impetus that moved my parents to go out and buy a stereo record player.  We had all his LPs and it was simply a breakthrough for my mother not to have to put those cookies in the holes of those 45 rpm records.  As for me, one of his albums particularly intrigued me.  Well, not exactly for the music.
Hmmm.  What was this album cover all about?  I wonder.

Meanwhile, "The Work Song" was hot one summer and I remember that, whenever I heard it, I immediately started to get hyper.  If this tune was playing, I ran faster and faster.

This Guy's In Love with You by Herb Alpert:  Another big summer hit by Herb, but this time, he's singing.  Badly.  I could sing along and actually sound better than the original.
MacArthur Park by Richard Harris:  A hot hit the very same summer as Herb's aforementioned croaking.  This was obviously the year for horrible crooning.  I recall sitting next to the kitchen fan with a book and listening to this on my transistor radio earpiece.  What was with those funky lyrics?  MacArthur Park is melting in the dark?  A cake left out in the rain?  Huh?

Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel:  It took me weeks before I figured out this wasn't a baseball song about Joe DiMaggio.  When I realized that this was from a movie, I was dying to see "The Graduate."  Good luck getting parental approval for this.

"It looks dirty."

I finally got to see it in college and I have watched this gem probably two dozen times since.

If This is It by Huey Lewis and the News:  Well, this is an ideal summer song.   It's a great tune and the video is set at the beach.  Slam dunk.  It's also a perfect driving song with the car windows rolled down.   Maybe because your air conditioner wasn't working.
In The Year 2525 by Zager and Evans:  No single summer song reminds me more of my amazing 1969 New York Mets than this one which was blazing hot on the radio the very same week my team got blazing hot against the Chicago Cubs.  A big comeback win on a Tuesday afternoon and Tom Seaver's almost perfect game the very next night.  My favorite baseball team was actually getting good.  And, here I thought I would have to wait till the year 2525 for that to happen.

A Walk in the Black Forest by Horst Jankowski:  Summer car trips with the parents found a completely different soundtrack playing on the car radio.  Dad was in control.  Out went Mom's favorite radio stations.  In our family Buick sedan, the tunes we heard all came from WNEW-AM.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole.

This particular record, however, still resonates with me to this day.  I can vividly recall the very first time I heard it.  Dad was driving us to a Met game.  The car windows were rolled down so a fresh breeze negated the humidity of the evening.  My excitement level was naturally at a high.  Suddenly, looming up in the distance over the Van Wyck Expressway, I saw my beloved Shea Stadium.

And, from the radio, these haunting sounds...

LA Is My Lady by Frank Sinatra:  This song and video was very, very hot when I had just come back from a trip to Los Angeles.   I wanted to go back.   I did...eventually.

Up, Up and Away by the Fifth Dimension:  You knew it would happen sooner or later.  A summer song memory tied to a girl.  Yep, this is the one.  It was playing on the bus when my church confirmation class was going to Rye Playland for the day.  I've written about this before.  The young lady I was really stuck on.  I'd spend the day figuring out how the amusement park lines worked so she and I would wind up in the same car or bucket ride.  Of course, I had forgotten my sandwich.  And she offered me half of hers.  I was sky high.  Like one of the balloons in this song.  To this day when I hear this song, I think of the Dragon Coaster, a bologna sandwich, and a girl named Elise.

Theme from A Summer Place by Percy Faith:  And then there's the ultimate summer song.   With "summer" in the title.  Of course, I have vivid memories of the movie it came from.  At the Elmsford Drive-In.  This was a favorite summer haunt of my parents.   I always knew that a trip there was in our immediate future if I saw my dad down in the driveway washing the windshield.   And another tell-tale sign?   My pajamas were out already on my bed at 5PM.   

Yep, we were going to the drive-in.

And I remember one excursion very well.

The first picture was over. The hot dogs had jumped into their buns. The popcorn had been doused with butter. And I had been popped into the summer edition of my pajamas. Lightweight and the pants were really short. Beddy bye for yours truly. The second feature was getting ready to start.   It was always a movie that had already been out several years before.   Hollywood's earliest version of a rerun.   And the command bellowed from my mom in the front seat.

"Now go to sleep!"

The vinyl upholstery barely had time to make the crease in my face. I stirred.

"Go to sleep!"

I'm trying. It's hot back here. And the pre-show hot dog was doing its own back flips in my stomach. 

Moments later, I heard some lush music. My head bobbed up again.


Mom's words were stern. I guessed that, if I didn't, the next warning would come from the male parental unit.

I tried to close my eyes, but the beautiful sounds of the soundtrack was complimented by the crashing of ocean waves. What the heck were they watching?

And then, I started to hear the dialogue. And my young mind could make no immediate connections.

"That would make it easier for you to sleep with his harlot of a mother."


"Have you been bad, Johnny?"

This didn't sound like the bad I was when I broke the top off Grandma's candy dish.

"It seems Molly is pregnant!"

Huh? Like she ate the same seed that God put on my mother's dinner plate that resulted in me. Or something like that.

I knew one thing for sure. They weren't watching "Pollyanna" with Hayley Mills.

I never did get to doze that night. But, I did my best job of pretending to sleep. 

As the headlights came on and the sound of tires kicking up the Elmsford Drive-In gravel enveloped me, I raised my head ever so slightly to see what was on the theater marquee. What had so captivated my parents' attention? And what movie's dialogue was so damn confusing to me?


Happy Fourth of July weekend, everybody.  Go out and make some summer musical memories of your own.

Dinner last night:  Reuben panini at the Arclight Cafe.

1 comment:

Puck said...

What a trip down a musical memory lane. People forget how popular acts like the Tijuana Brass were 50 years ago.