Wednesday, 1 October 2014

From the Wind Up to the Beatles

Just as I have no musical talent neither of my parents played an instrument or sang. They came from working-class backgrounds and grew up in the years just before and beyond the Second World War. There would have been no money for luxuries such as music. [Though my Dad's parents had a piano but it was seldom played]. I don't remember either of them singing much. But they did listen to music. They married in 1949 and must, I think, have got a machine to play 78rpm singles early in their married life. It was a wind-up machine with a fearfully heavy arm that was placed onto the fragile disc. The needles got blunt pretty quickly and had to be replaced after a few plays. There was no volume control. If it was too loud - and it seemed pretty loud - a bit of cloth, probably a duster, was jammed into the space where the sound came from.

Mum and Dad had a pile of 78s. Mostly bought in the early 1950s I guess. I was born in 1953 and money would have been tight from then on. Also we had a TV pretty early (the result of a pools win according to family legend) and that was the focus of home entertainment. The 78s were mostly of popular songs by well-known American singers of the day: Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day. As children we became aware of this pile of treasure about 10 years later I think. Jimmy Boyd's recording of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and his duet with Frankie Laine, Tell Me A Story, got plenty of plays.

Sometime around 1966 or 1967 so far as I can work out Dad bought Mum a new portable record player. It would play at 45rpm and 33rpm and had an automatic mechanism for playing singles and LPs. The first record played on it was the soundtrack of South Pacific. It took us a while to build up any sort of a record collection between us and so we became word perfect on I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair and Bali Hai. The love ballads such as This Nearly Was Mine required a depth and richness of voice that none of us had (and probably it would have been embarrassing trying to sing songs like that).

Once the family had a modern record player, however, it opened up the possibilities for all of us to inflict our choices on the rest of the family. Not that any of us had - at first - extreme tastes (or at least they don't seem all that extreme now). I doubt if Dad cared much for Pictures Of Matchstick Men (an early bit of Status Quo psychedelia) and neither he nor Mum were very enthusiastic about buying me Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as a birthday present (my first LP!) I think the drug associations worried them more than the music - it isn't an album I've listened to in over thirty years I would think but When I'm 64 (not far off now) and She's Leaving Home wouldn't have upset anyone much. Though the Lennon stuff was not, I concede, so listenable. So far as I can recall though there were two main reasons for wanting this Beatles' LP (and I bought nothing else by the Fab Four): everyone had it and you would look odd not having it - and that mattered to 14-year-olds; it wasn't just about the music - it was all the other stuff that went with it - the cover artwork, the cut-out inserts (which sadly I've lost over the years) and the fact that people talked about the music as well as listened to it. This intellectual aspect of music listening became important to me pretty much from the beginning of my music collecting.

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