Monday, October 24, 2011

"Old Records Die Hard" (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 10)

My grandfather and my uncle had reel-to-reel tape recorders that occasionally took over our lives. While my grandfather used his mostly for recording already recorded music, my uncle was, thankfully, a bit more daring, recording not just music but New Year's Eve parties and family poker games, which years later provided record-breaking, family bellylaughs. They knew their machines inside and out.

On certain days, the tape recorders were the bane of my existence. I didn't always want to sing along with Mitch when most of my friends were outside doing the best kind of nothing. But thanks to these two men and their love of all music, I was able to listen to my very first mixtapes.

Technical note: My grandfather always used Scotch. My uncle preferred Shamrock.

These great men bought records, sometimes not knowing exactly who or what they were buying. The purchases were made simply because the records were cheap. Once in a while, they'd inadvertently stumble onto a gem, like Toots & The Maytals' "Funky Kingston" or a promotional box of Bob Dylan picture sleeves, the latter of which I was given permission to sell. I knew what I had was special. I just didn't know how special, and House Of Oldies, a record store still doing business on Bleecker Street, wasn't about to tell me. Sorry, gramps. I think I got copies of "Me & You & A Dog Named Boo" by Lobo and "Make It With You" by Bread in trade. I just didn't care about Dylan when I was 12. 

The best thing about these reel-to-reel mixtapes was that neither man cared about sequencing, or for that matter, what the A-side or B-side of the single was. In the case of my grandfather, he'd pull out a stack of 45s and just start spinning and taping whatever side was face-up. My uncle, on the other hand, knew about all music, including the raves of the day like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Herman's Hermits, and so much more. He was a musician and loved music and life. My grandfather, in his silent charm, just went with the flow, though he did have his faves; Ray Charles and The Drifters, to name two.

I was reminded of all this as I was putting away some of my own records.  I found and played the Beach Boys' single seen above and remembered that "There's No Other," the Phil Spector-produced song by The Crystals covered by the Boys on their "Party" LP, was on one of my favorite, Grandpa-programmed, reel-to-reel tapes, along with "Mr. Dieingly Sad" by The Critters, "Toy Soldier" by The Four Seasons, and "How Can I Leave Her" by The Cyrkle, the b-side of "Red Rubber Ball."

I listened to "There's No Other," or "No Other (Like My Baby)" as the b-side is listed on the cover, four times this weekend and each time I was magically transported back to someone's living room, either on Broome Street where I was born, places where family and music thrived, like Far Rockaway or Mulberry Street, or Sheepshead Bay, where it all seemed to come together. then...I was also impressed and a bit shaken, in a good the music, specifically the song itself, and its layers of harmony.'s the Beach Boys, so the harmony is expected. But no one ever mentions this tune. I'm thinking this version of "There's No Other" has enough heart to make it a more common consideration when talking all things Beach Boys.

The idea behind the Beach Boys' "Party," was to create in the studio, a record that sounded like it captured a bunch of friends, getting together to hang and sing and laugh. This was exactly what my grandfather and uncle did for a lot more than one album, and like the Beach Boys, when they got together with their friends and family, the harmony was expected.

I miss the old days, and those two men, who I credit tremendously for how I feel about music. Both of them had more patience for all kinds of sound than any two "old people" I had ever been around when I was a kid. They certainly had more patience than I have now as I become an "old person."












allen vella said...

Very Nice Sal,I love the Songs n the Hood series. This brought up a lot of memories for dad was an early audio nut..I still have the late 50's Harmon Kardon stereo amp he had, and it still works..he also had a Sony reel to reel in the mid 60's. I remember (and may still have)Sgt. Pepper, and Beach Boys tapes. It was strictly for listening though, he didn't use it to record. But later when I got my hands on it I had a lot of fun, with its sound-on-sound function, you could overdub...and later some trippin' with the headphones on!
Not familiar with that BB tune, thanks for the turn on, I will check that out..

word verification-Herbaci!

Anonymous said...

found some off my family old record going have to listen to "open the door richard (and let me in)'

Anonymous said...

good memories found my grandfather's Connie Franicis
"If My Pillow Could Talk" 45 and other Doris Day 78'S

steve simels said...

I listened to Beach Boys Party when it came out with a devotion that bordered on the religious.

And I don't remember that song at all.

This getting old shit is beginning to be annoying...

FD13NYC said...

Great story as usual Sal. I had an old Webcor reel to reel early on my Father bought me with 2 speeds. My cousin Anthony and I used to dabble in Chipmunk recording the way Ross Bagdasarian did. I also held the mike up to the TV and recorded early TV theme songs. It was much fun.

Then I graduated to a stereo cassette recorder that my Dad also bought for me at Willoughby's uptown. From then on I was on the road to making my own mix tapes, so many I can't count, and the progression when on and on over these many many years. From reel to reel, cassette to CD to mP3, It'll never end.

I remember your Grandfather's reel to reel hobby, the stacks of boxes of tapes he had. He really enjoyed himself, and liked talking music. Which Uncle are you referring to? Was it Peter? Don't remember him being a musician, but he dug a lot of good music. Anyway, the Beach Boys song is a minor classic, but we knew that a long time ago.

Sal Nunziato said...


Uncle Al!

FD13NYC said...

Oh right! Old age memory lapse, like Simels. He was a good guy and a musical pip too, I liked him. A big fan of Pep In The Cat.

A walk in the woods said...

Excellent writing Sal. A pleasure to read. (And that Beach Boys track - WHOA! Let's just say - buying it from Amazon now!)

I have my own version of this story, but to tell it in full I need to start my own blog. My version has to do with my Dad taking me and my family downtown to old Peaches records in his 360-degrees-shag-carpeted van in the 70s, blasting the Who's "Tommy" from his 8-track player. I'm not sure music listening ever got much better.

Thanks for the great piece.

A walk in the woods said...

One other point - the song you mention by The Critters -- one of life's great songs! I jsut heard it for the first time this year when a friend emailed it to me. Fab!

Dave said...

"Party" is one the Beach Boys most charming records, and the blend of the rough-hewn vocals is magical. But it's also interesting to see some of their covers, the highlights to, along with "There's No Other," include their greatest tribute to the Beatles, "Tell Me Why," a respectful and worshipful "Devoted To You," and a bizarro parody of "The Times They Are a-Changin'" that I'd imagine would tickle Dylan now, if not when recorded.

Sammy said...

loved the story sal...but seeing those scans of the scotch and shamrock tape boxes...suffice it to say that i had a moment there...

Anonymous said...

nice post

Albert said...

Well....that was splendid, I must say....Yes, Grandpa(Uncle) and Uncle(Dad) were certainly family pioneers of the stereo and not-so-stereo age, as you said, all caught on glorious quarter-inch tape....And having had a copy of Party! for ages now, like Steve, don't recall that song being on there...this calls for a re-visit...thanks....PS loved Frank's Pep in the Cat reference....faithful 'til the end...

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Albert. Happy you enjoyed it. Wish I had some of those mixes.