I remember perusing the small record collection my parents had in the early 60s just before the Beatles arrived and changed everything. In the living room was our massive (to my young eyes) mahogany stained Magnavox stereo console. A record changer and radio with two speakers on either side along with storage for about 50 LPs, but I didn’t know anyone who had even half that many record albums. I rarely put on an album myself but loooked over the covers on occasion and then played the few kiddie discs I had on a very small plastic record player that was in my room. I recall Alley Oop and the Purple People Eater were the couple of novelty records purchased for me by my mother and I would spin those over and over on my own. The very first stereo LP I got and played continually on the Magnavox, was a Disney album hosted and sung by Professor Ludwig Von Drake. I wore that one out.
Even though this huge piece of furniture commanded attention in the center of our house, my folks weren’t ones that had music playing all the time. Maybe after my father came home from work and poured a highball, he would put on the Dean Martin record or a Montavani collection. My mother was partial to the movie soundtracks and the Jewish comedians and their comedy records. She played them on the weekend or when her friends came over. The first time that I remember really paying attention to any of their music, was when my mother brought home My Son the Folksinger by Allan Sherman and later My Son the Nut (more about that later).
But other than these easy listening classics, there were no rock and roll or rhythm and blues records in the house at the time. No Elvis, No Buddy Holly. No Sam Cooke or even Ray Charles. It just wasn’t their music, wasn’t in their world. I guess they were just not exposed to it. The music they played was mostly for background (excepting the comedy records). So here are five albums I remember from those early years. Five albums from my parents collection that I would come to love many years later.
Of the five albums here, Persuasive Percussion stands out for many reasons. Enoch Light was a band leader, producer and arranger who was an audio techno-freak in the truest sense of the phrase. He released a series of albums on his own Command Records in the late 50s and early 60s that were known as ping-pong records because of their wide stereo separation of sounds. The jazzy covers of standards panned from left to right with the clean, crisp, sharp sounds of snare drums, bongos, and bells rotating right in front of your ears. These high quality, hi-fidelity stereo records found fans who had recently got their first stereo record players and wanted to take advantage of their sonic capabilities and show them off to their friends. They became sort of home stereo test records. The cover packages were also elaborate for the time with glossy gate-fold sleeves and modern cover art by artist Josef Albers. Perfect bachelor pad and lounge music that would become popular again in the mid 1990s with the hipsters. This album tought me what stereo was all about!
I Left My Heat in San Francisco was probably that one record that everyone who lived in the Bay Area of a certain age owned in the early 1960s. As a kid, it seemed to me like a schmaltzy piece of pop that was from another era and hearing it over and over throughout the years at City celebrations, Giants Baseball Games and family gatherings it seems to get long in the tooth. But after a good couple of decades away from the song and Tony Bennett’s remarkable rediscovering by the MTV generation in the 1980s and 90s, I too discovered a new appreciation for both him and this wonderful classic. Seeing him sing it in person with that amazing voice, still commands every bit of your attention.
Every Sunday night I’d go out to dinner with my parents and some of their friends to this Italian Restaurant what was along side a golf course. Usually my dad and his friends were just getting through with 18 holes and my mother, grandmother and I would meet him and the other families and we’d have our heavy Italian meal. Every week this accordion player would serenade the diners with a repertoire of Italian pop classics. Volare, Oh Marie, Arrivederci Roma, That’s Amore and so on. He would mimic that theatrical Dean Martin vocal style and sing a special song directed to one person (usually a woman) or get everyone to join in on the choruses. Anyway I know all of these songs because of the Dean Martin albums we had at home. One was full of these Italian songs but for some reason I liked this other one better because of just one song: Memories Are Made of This. A great song that I loved even at a very young age. Dino was my favorite of the Rat Pack when I was a kid. I didn’t appreciate the talent of Frank Sinatra until so many years later.
I had no idea who Henry Mancini was, but even as a kid I certainly knew a lot of his music. The themes from Peter Gunn and the Pink Panther. The Baby Elephant Walk from Hatari and countless other scores for films I’d see in the theater. I was too young to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s when it first came out, but my parents had the soundtrack and I heard it played a lot. Moon River was everywhere on the radio and television and especially the Andy Williams version which because William’s theme song. I really hated that version.
So like many kids of my generation, I was first exposed to music through the tastes of my parents. Music that I rarely appreciated at the time. That is until Allan Sherman showed up on the scene. He was a television comedy writer who released his first album of song parodies in 1962. The album, My Son the Folk Singer, was the fastest selling album up to that time. My mother loved the Jewish leaning lyrics that replaced the original words from mostly public domain songs and melodies. Sherman was everywhere on the radio and television. Even the Goyim came along for the ride. But it was his My Son the Nut that really crossed over and gave way to the 1963 top ten single Camp Granada. That’s one song I certainly played to death and even bought the Milton Bradley Board Game of the same name. Early the next year, I saw the Beatles perform for the first time on the Ed Sullivan show. All of a sudden music was different. It seemed to matter more than ever and my record collection started to grow and I didn’t listen to my parents albums again for almost 20 years.