My First Record Player and Other Stories: Part One

(The following essay, first in a series, originally appeared on the the old Pure Pop website. Five entries were written and published. I had a lot of fun writing these. It was a good way to take stock of music-related events in my life.)

My First Record Player and Other Stories | Alan Haber

Part One: The Road to Washington County

Dig those wonderful sounds!

Dig those wonderful sounds!

My first record player was one of those portable models that kids always seemed to have in the sixties, easily transportable to parties; to friends’ houses for intensive, all-afternoon spinfests of the latest Gilbert O’Sullivan and Association records; to the backyard to provide the soundtrack for a hazy, lazy summer afternoon on the sunny side of the above-ground pool my father blew up all by his lonesome.

On that white and light blue portable, I plopped the best tone arm hardly any appreciable money could buy on my first couple of slabs of vinyl: Soupy Sales sez Do the Mouse* (*and Other Hits), and Napoleon XIV’s They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!, which I played incessantly and managed to memorize, word for word, note for note, in the space of what seemed to be mere hours (I really found that album funny). My first album, a Captain Kangaroo funfest my mother ordered for me, arrived on a day that I happened to be home sick from school–by the time I got the portable, the Captain was pretty scratched up, and simply unfit for playing (and besides, the Captain was kid stuff).

I was able to bond with an uncle whom I wasn’t especially fond of—he seemed to always be on me about something or other, like when my elbows were resting on the table during dinner—over our shared interest in music. I remember that he had a top-of-the-line Fisher stereo system (we’re talking the 1960’s) with huge speakers that he was always happy to show off–not coincidentally, I was always happy to oblige him.

Uncle Murray wouldn’t let his kids, or me, touch that stereo—it was his baby, that system. He was particularly stingy on volume, because he didn’t want to blow the speakers. I’m always reminded of him when I see the movie Risky Business, particularly the scene in which Joel’s father sternly points out that someone has monkeyed with the settings on his amplifier.

Anyway, I remember hearing some clarinet music being played on that stereo, and marveling at the clarity of the sound. As I remember, Uncle Murray played the clarinet and used to practice with Music Minus One records (a series of albums that came with sheet music that you used to play the one instrument that was missing from the recordings. I used one when I practiced playing the drums, but that’s another story–remind me to tell it to you sometime).

At Uncle Murray’s house, I was introduced by my cousin Linda to two albums that are still very important to me—The Beatles’ Help and Arlo Guthrie’s Washington County. Help was an easy sale, of course; it was no problem convincing my father to get me my own copy. Washington County was another kettle of fish altogether—it was hardly the kind of thing I normally listened to (I mean, folk-country-kind-of-rock? C’mon!). It wasn’t until years later when I went to college, if I remember correctly, that I was able to snag this masterpiece for my collection.

Albums were very important to me when I was growing up. So were 45s, but albums more so, because 45s only offered two songs, and albums offered 10 or more, so I often went for the album when I could (I bought singles when their b-sides weren’t on the albums). Now, I was hardly rich (if I had a dollar or two in my pocket, I was wealthy, and don’t you forget it!), but I managed to get an album now and then.

Radio was a pleasure to listen to in my youth (growing up on Long Island, I had at my disposal the greatest radio station of all time, the mighty WABC, and, you’d better believe it, the greatest DJ’s of all time, from Cousin Brucie to Dan Ingram and beyond—but that is also another story). I loved just about everything WABC played, and wanted it all in my possession. That was never going to happen—who had that kind of money?—but I managed to collect my favorite songs of the day by taping them off the radio onto a small Craig reel-to-reel tape recorder (which they used a bunch of times on TV’s Mission Impossible to play the message to fearless leader Mr. Phelps). I simply placed the microphone right in front of the radio speaker and hit the record button, which I thought was pretty cool.

I generally had to wait until birthdays and holidays to satisfy my album jones, when my parents would cherry pick from my always-rapidly-growing wish list and deliver to me a pile of vinyl worth its weight in gold. Got Santana’s first album that way; ditto, the aforementioned Gilbert O’Sullivan’s first American long-player; Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen (my favorite live album of all time); and others that escape my recollection (but give me time, I’ll come up with them).

In between gift-giving occasions, I used my allowance (when I wasn’t using it to go to the movies) to buy cut-outs (three for five dollars at the Duane Reed drugstore across from my father’s office in lower Manhattan during holidays and summer vacations, and at Woolworth and local record stores the rest of the time). By the time I went away to college, I had amassed a fairly sizable collection, housed in peach crates I spray-painted blue (yes, blue; my mother wanted them to fit in with the color scheme in my bedroom as long as I lived there).

My collection, as it is today, was like a crème-filled donut, with popular, hit records in the center surrounded by the offbeat, the retro, and the just plain weird, or so it seemed to people looking in from the outside. I remember playing Showdown at the 33-1/3 Corral with my first college roommate: my Archies and O’Sullivan records versus his Zeppelin and who-remembers-what-else (at one point, everyone on my floor had the Zep album with “Stairway to Heaven”; I hated that song, and everyone knew it, so they locked me out of my room and made me listen to that awful song as it played from every other stereo within earshot).

Needless to say, I lost that showdown.

August 29, 2004

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Reviews from the Pages of buhdge: Postcards from the Boys by Ringo Starr

(Ringo Starr’s wonderful book, Postcards from the Boys, published in 2004 by Chronicle Books, is no longer in print. It is available, however, from various marketplace sellers on Amazon.)

Ringo Starr's Postcards from the Boys

Ringo Starr’s Postcards from the Boys

Ringo Starr | Postcards from the Boys | Chronicle Books (2004)

It’s hard, these days, to get excited about a new Beatles book. I mean, really…what can possibly be said about the world’s greatest band that hasn’t already been said? Nevertheless, every so often, someone comes up with a new approach. Take, for example, Andy Babuik, whose fab 2002 tome, “Beatles Gear,” is wholly original, and Bruce Spizer, whose scholarly looks at the Fabs’ Vee-Jay, Capitol and Apple releases, and in-depth breakdown of the group’s arrival in America, are must-haves.

For another example, take Ringo Starr’s delightful slice of life, Postcards from the Boys, just published by Chronicle Books in a gorgeous, affordable hardcover edition (a limited-edition, much more expensive version was published earlier this year by the venerable Genesis Publications in England). Postcards depicts the fronts and backs of 51 postcards sent over the years to Richard Starkey, M.B.E. by John, Paul, and George. It is wholly unlike any other Beatles book ever published, in that it focuses not on the music, but on the music of life.

Each postcard is accompanied by a caption from Ringo that either directly comments on the inscription or the picture, or recounts an anecdote that was suggested by them. Take a card sent by John, the front of which shows a hairy flute player that resembles Lennon, and a woman, who looks like Yoko, nestled in a tree. “I’ll name that flute player in two notes,” writes Starr. Or take a card, sent by Paul and Linda McCartney and family, from the Caribbean, on the back of which Paul has drawn a boat sailing the seas. “Love from the Macs,” says the inscription. Ringo writes, “I like tropical islands. I love the Caribbean. I’m not excited when you have to put a big overcoat on.” Warm, funny and wonderful.

Then there is the lovely card sent to Ringo by Paul after the White Album, after Ringo had left the group because he couldn’t take the fighting. The story about Ringo coming back to find the studio dressed to the nines in flowers, flowers, flowers is legendary and cool, but the message scrawled by McCartney on the back of the card is even better: “You are the greatest drummer in the world. Really.” (The front of the card shows a guardsman at Windsor Castle, wearing a military drum around his neck.)

You won’t find any recording secrets here, and there’s no dirt to be had, no Jerry Springer moments at all. What you will find are 112 pages that provide a window into the heart of one of the world’s most famous drummers, who just happened to be in a band called the Beatles. A splendid time is guaranteed for all (and dig that holographic thingee on the cover!). This is really fab.

Alan Haber
September 19, 2004

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Reviews from the Pages of buhdge: Lewis Lapham’s book about Rishikesh, With the Beatles

(The following review of Lewis Lapham’s wonderful book on the Beatles’ journey to Rishikesh to study and meet with the Maharishi first appeared on the old buhdge website. It appears here on the Pure Pop Radio website with but a few tiny changes, and the notation that the book is no longer in print. It is, however, available as a download for the Kindle. With the Beatles is highly recommended.)

Lewis Lapham's wonderful book, With the Beatles, is available as a download for the Kindle.

Lewis Lapham’s wonderful book, With the Beatles, is available as a download for the Kindle.

Lewis Lapham | With the Beatles | Kindle version (2014)

You can hardly pass through the music section of your favorite bookstore without perusing the latest range of offerings concerning the Beatles. I know this, because I’ve seen you. You may think nobody’s watching, but we are.

And for good reason. The latest crop of Fab-centric missives is actually pretty good. Lewis Lapham’s With the Beatles is a shining example–a quick, highly entertaining read that delivers the goods as well as any book twice its physical size (approximately 5″ x 6 1/2″) and three or four times its length (147 pages, with the text starting on page 33 after a sweet selection of photos lensed during the Beatles’ stay in Rishikesh).

Ah, Rishikesh… the mecca for enlightenment within which the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi sought to raise consciousness and the light from within. The Beatles, in February 1968, whisked off to the Maharishi’s camp to practice Transcendental Meditation (TM) and commune with nature. While there, the Fabs studied with the Maharishi and wrote the songs that were to become The Beatles, or, more famously, the White Album. Past the flies, the oppressive heat, the less-than-comfy living quarters, and the less-than-appetizing food, at least the Mop Tops got an album out of their time in India.

Which is to say that the reality of the Beatles’ time in Rishikesh turned out to be less than advertised. Ringo thought he could assume the Lotus position just as well back home, a point Lapham makes in his fine book that details his coverage, for the Saturday Evening Post, of TM and the Beatles’ attraction to it.

Lapham, now editor-in-chief of Harper’s Magazine, covers his brush with the Maharishi and TM from his stateside investigation of the practice to his time in Rishikesh and his trip home. Throughout, he maintains a healthy air of skepticism about the whole enterprise, delineating, with a reporter’s keen eye (and a welcome sense of humor), observations that elevate his story above mere reportage, telling about the woman staying at the Maharishi’s camp who wanted hot water at lunch so she could pour it in some Sanka coffee, the Maharishi’s inner circle and, of course, the Beatles themselves.

About the flies, Lapham writes that Maureen Starkey “hated” them “to the point that if there was only one fly in the room she would know exactly where it was, how it got there, and why it must be destroyed.” When they talked to the Maharishi about the flies, he told them “that for people traveling in the realm of pure consciousness, flies no longer matter very much. ‘Yes,’ Ringo said, ‘but that doesn’t zap the flies, does it?'”

Ringo’s take on things was only fair, as he had gone to study with the Maharishi because it was George’s thing, and the Beatles were a group that supported each other… at least until the flies became the Starr thing.

Mike Love also made the trip to India, as did actress Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, among other notables, but the other Beach Boys stayed home. Interviewing the group prior to heading off to Rishikesh, Lapham discovered that Brian Wilson’s mother “had scheduled her own initiation for the next week; his father was considering a trip to India. ‘If my dad goes to India,’ he said, ‘I’ll know that the Maharishi has done his job.'” Murry Wilson never made the pilgrimage.

In the end, at least one of the Beatles became disillusioned with the Maharishi; there were rumors that the guru had sampled the pleasures of the flesh with Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence, prompting John Lennon to write “Sexy Sadie,” in which he hardly minced words about his feelings for the Maharishi, reducing the guru to a mere charlatan or a feeble con artist, take your pick.

Upon arriving in New Delhi, Lapham hired a taxi to take him to Rishikesh. The driver, in star struck fashion, immediately understood where the writer wanted to go. Lapham: “‘Yes, good,’ he said. ‘We go Beatles.'” With that information in hand, the writer could have chucked the trip to Rishikesh and gone home an enlightened man, leaving the flies to swarm around the inner light.

Alan Haber
April 23, 2006

 

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Two Music Geeks Returns Next Week, and There’s More!

(l to r) Alan Haber and Scott W. McKinney. They're the Two Music Geeks, alright!

(l to r) Alan Haber and Scott W. McKinney. They’re the Two Music Geeks, alright!

Attention Two Music Geeks fans: Pure Pop Radio’s newest specialty program, a big hit with listeners right out of the gate, is coming back at you next Tuesday, May 13 at 9 pm ET with a brand-new session chock full of great pop songs and equally great, if not greater, behind-the-scenes talk. We’ve got the history and facts and figures about all of the songs we’re playing, and you’re going to love it!

Alan Haber and Scott W. McKinney have their headphones in hand, ready to jump in and entertain you! Our second show is all about girls of all stripes: happy, sad, mean, underhanded and…nice, too! We’ll be spinning songs by Randy Newman, Roger Klug, Stackridge, the Beatifics, the Monkees, and Bill Lloyd, among others. And the back-and-forth? Well, that’s going to be just as musical!

Now, not only are you getting a new Two Music Geeks show next Tuesday, May 13, but you’re getting a second dose of geek on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, at 8 pm ET. We’ll be celebrating the music of some our favorite pop artists who have passed over the years, including Buddy Holly, Hurricane Smith, Phil Everly, Phil Seymour, Gerry Rafferty and the Grass Roots’ Rob Grill. We take a bow and remember some of the greatest artists that we have always loved. It’s a very special episode of Two Music Geeks. We hope you’ll be able to join us.

Scott W. McKinney: Proud Music Geek!

Scott W. McKinney: Proud Music Geek!

So set your alarm clocks for next Tuesday, May 13 at 9 pm ET for the Songs about Girls episode of Two Music Geeks, and make another setting for our special Memorial Day show on Monday night, May 26 at 8 pm ET. Special day and time!

Alan Haber: Proud Music Geek!

Alan Haber: Proud Music Geek!

See you on the radio!

 

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

I Love that Song! # 5: “Put It There” by Paul McCartney

That's what a father said to his young son...

That’s what a father said to his young son…

The best songs are well-drawn maps to your heart that trigger long suppressed memories, memories that swell to great heights as you remember that warm, beautiful glow you felt when you were eight and your father patted your head, smiled and told you not to worry about what the kid next door said because everything was going to be all right and that was enough for you, enough to last a lifetime.

The best songs–the greatest songs–and the best and greatest songwriters know how to unravel just enough of a tale to function as emitters of clues that lead to the emotions they’re wanting to convey and wake up in you. The best songs change you in sometimes mysterious ways, ways you never can see coming. The best songs solve puzzles you’ve been taking apart and putting back together in your brain for so many years–puzzles and problems stored in the little compartment in your noggin that stay there, figuratively and literally, until the time comes to solve them and move on.

Imagine that your father–the man who taught you how to throw and catch a ball; who sprinted along next to you on your street as you passed in a rickety manner from training wheels to full-fledged bicycle tires but stopped after 30 or 40 seconds and claimed victory anyway; who snapped pictures of you and your prom date in the hallway by your front door and embarrassed you in that soon-he’ll-be-grown-up-and-away-from-my-gaze kind of way; who upped your weekly allowance to $1.25 from $1.10 after you promised, with tears welling in your eyes, to be a better brother to your sister; and who went with you to the library to stand up for you to the bitter librarian who wouldn’t let you take out a book marked with an “adult content” stamp that didn’t really need one and who didn’t know you were an advanced reader but you were and your father knew it.

The best songs open a flood of memories to your consciousness and light up your brain with effusive fireworks that celebrate with glee the times in your life that were so alive. In “Put It There,” Paul McCartney looks back on times spent with his father. “I want to show you I’m your friend,” Jim Mac says. “It’s all that matters in the end.” “Put it there if it weighs a ton,” he relates, and Paul remembers “That’s what a father said to his young son.” “I don’t care if it weighs a ton,” Jim Mac notes. “As long as you and I are here, put it there.”

Everything is going to be alright. Everything is going to be alright no matter what happens, because fathers can fix anything. Anything! “The darkest night and all its mixed emotions is getting lighter,” McCartney sings, urging the listener to become part of his memory. “Put it there if it weighs a ton,” he sings, and all of a sudden you remember that day in the park when your kite flew away, and that time at the ballpark when you almost caught a ball in your official Little League glove but got beaned just a hair instead and you cried and your father put his arm around you and said “Almost! Good job!”.  You remember those winsome moments–the ones that caress you and hold you tight and give you hope.

The young son

The young son

The beautifully understated, emotive arrangement of “Put It There” starts sparingly with some acoustic picking, a shaker, some perfunctory percussion, and McCartney singing towards the upper edge of his register alongside Hamish Stuart’s bass, basic with a bit of a pack of flash as the tale unravels, some gorgeous, assured orchestration from McCartney and old salt George Martin, as the grown man remembers the way he was assured that life would treat him well, that he could traverse through course changes with confidence, even if his stomach rumbled just a bit and the road ahead looked potentially treacherous. “If there’s a fight I’d like to fix it,” Jim Mac explains. “I hate to see things go so wrong.” Go on and wear this invisible suit of armor and go forth–nothing can hurt you.

And because we know that nothing can really hurt us–not really–we go forth, the simple memories of our fathers smiling at us as we recall them passing around plates of sloppy joes at the dinner table, explaining why Uncle Joe shows up in every picture taken at family functions. These memories happily swirl around the inside of our beans as we make our way, the soundtrack of our lives playing with knee-slap percussion, a bit of acoustic guitar, and that voice that conveys any emotion it chooses.

In Paul McCartney’s “Put It There,” there is a mound of emotion, and if we listen carefully, we can take so much from it. Because that’s the magic of great songs composed with that special spark that opens up a well of memories and changes you for all time. That is the well-drawn map, the one that you follow as you pedal to new destinations on your path. That is the song, the song in your heart.

 

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Bubble Gum Orchestra’s “ELO Forever”: Exclusive North American Radio Premiere Tonight at 8 PM ET On Pure Pop Radio

Bubble Gum Orchestra's new single, "ELO Forever," is wonderful!

Bubble Gum Orchestra’s new single, “ELO Forever,” is wonderful!

Welcome to our 100th post! And have we got a very cool news item for you…

Here at Pure Pop Radio, we’re excited and proud as can be to be bringing you the exclusive North American radio premiere of Bubble Gum Orchestra’s new single, “ELO Forever.” This is the first track released from BGO’s forthcoming album, Beyond Time, due July 1. “ELO Forever” will be available to purchase tomorrow, May 6, on iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon, but for now Pure Pop Radio is the only place you can hear it in North America.

Tune in tonight at 8 pm ET to hear a set of songs from ELO and the ELO family tree, leading up to the North American premiere of “ELO Forever,” a very cool song that fans of ELO and Bubble Gum Orchestra will love and hug tightly. The song is a melodic tribute to one of the greatest bands in modern rock and pop history and a milestone in BGO’s catalog. It gets the very highest Pure Pop Radio recommendation.

Set your Jeff Lynne alarm clock for tonight at 8 pm ET, take the last train to London…and be sure your Internet radio device is tuned to Pure Pop Radio. It’s an ELO family tree extravaganza, culminating in the North American premiere of BGO’s new single, the wonderful “ELO Forever.” Enjoy!

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

 

Scott Brookman In Conversation Show Now on Our PodOMatic Podcast Page. Listen and/or Download!

When in the air, Scott Brookman flies in his Smellicopter!

When in the air, Scott Brookman flies in his Smellicopter!

Virginia popster Scott Brookman has been in the thick of it–“it” being the making-cool-music biz–since the mid-1980’s. He penned songs for the Virginia band Apes of Wrath. He discovered the wonders of the four-track Portastudio and began making cool home demos. He made his way within the confines of the home tapers movement and started sharing his music with a whole lot of listeners. Fast forward to today and you have Scott’s latest collection of quirky, melodic pop songs, the wonderfully-named Smellicopter.

Scott appeared on the April 30 edition of Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation to talk about Smellicopter, his love of pop songs sung by the great female singers, and a whole lot more. He even recorded an exclusive-to-Pure Pop Radio session consisting of an unreleased song, “If You Buy My Album” and a song from Smellicopter, “Very Anne.” Very cool.

You can now listen to and/or download this very wonderful show by clicking on this link, which will take you directly to the interview and the exclusive Spotify and YouTube direct links playlist so you can listen to the songs played along with Scott. You can also click on the “P” link below. After you listen to the Scott Brookman interview, you can sample the other shows we have posted. We think you’ll like ’em! Enjoy!

 

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Click on the image to listen to Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio through players like iTunes

Listen to Scott Brookman on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation on PodOMatic!

Listen to Scott Brookman on Pure Pop Radio: In Conversation on PodOMatic!