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 whiling away the hours, sitting on the hoods of cars, doing nothing. I mean, come on!)
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 took it to the House Of Oldies on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, where its snatching from my dirty little, pre-teen mitts resembled an opening sequence from "Kung Fu."
"Ah yes, Grasshopper. One shouldn't worry themselves with Bob Dylan promos. Here, take this new 45 by Gilbert O'Sullivan instead, and....GIMME THAT!"
I knew what I had was special. I just didn't know how special, and House Of Oldies 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 Zimmy 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 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.
Now...like then...I was also impressed and a bit shaken...in a good way...by the music, specifically the song itself, and its layers of harmony. Yeah...it'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."