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The songs are still out there — now more than ever

Like a lot of kids of the early ’6 0s, I spent most of my time in my bedroom, hunched over my grandmother’s old Magnavox radio/record player (which I somehow convinced the rest of my family they didn’t really need out in the living room), my 45s and my LPs scattered around me while I kept a steady stream of music filling the air.Kelly

I was, essentially, a disc jockey — with no audience, other than myself.

I had a lot of 45s. I would eventually go on to own a lot of long-playing albums as well — before eventually turning to CDs in the 1980s. But there was a time when the single was king. The reason for that, in my estimation, was because what really mattered was the song.

I suspect that’s still the case, especially in this age of downloadable tunes (although I don’t really do that myself).

One can still fall head over heels for a song.

It’s happened to me many times. When I first heard “Pipeline” by the Ventures (and yes, I know it was really a Chantays song), it haunted me, and I had to find it.

I’ve been affected that way by songs by the Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, the Fleetwoods, Johnny Horton, Aaron Neville, Mahalia Jackson, Santo & Johnny, James Brown, Van Morrison — the list goes on and on.

The first 45 I ever bought was “Wheels,” an instrumental by Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra. My first long-playing record was “All Alone Am I” by Brenda Lee. Neither of those, of course, was especially cool, even for the time, but that’s the way I was. I could go just as gaga for “If I Loved You” from “Carousel” as I could for something rockin’ by Bill Black’s Combo, which was the second single I acquired.

Let’s go back to that Magnavox for a minute. It was a serious piece of musical equipment. Roughly the size and weight of your typical refrigerator, it had one gigantic speaker — probably a 12-incher, if you could see inside, which you couldn’t.

All I knew was, when I put on “Mister Tambourine Man” by the Byrds, that part right after the jangly intro where the bass note comes in — it would kick you in the chest, like an ornery mule, it was so powerful.

The Magnavox had other notable features. Just like the giant radio Bill Cosby listened to before he created the classic, 12-minute piece called “Chicken Heart,” my radio also had “286 knobs, only two of which worked, the off-on volume and the station selector. The extra knobs were if you lost one you could replace it; you didn’t have to go to the store.

The turntable pulled out from the massive cabinet and, although it would technically play a whole stack of records automatically, I couldn’t sit still for that to happen. Besides, I was often very likely to be struck by inspiration while one song was playing and would have to find the next song immediately and work it into the rotation with lightning speed.

I might have to follow “The Lonely Surfer” by Jack Nitzsche with “Shakin’ All Over” by The Guess Who. And I could not be trusted to leave Skeeter Davis’ “End of the World” out of the mix.

I don’t get the 45s out much anymore. Oh, I still have them, in a couple of boxes out in the garage. For one thing, I almost never get drunk enough to go out there and rummage around — and it was often heavy drinking that preceded one of my impromptu platter parties. Also, I prefer not to deal with the negative reaction from the other person who lives at our house.

I’m just saying, there’s some good stuff out there.

For example, I have a bunch of Northwest rock in those boxes. Not only the obvious ones, like the Kingsmen and Paul Revere and the Raiders. I’ve also got vintage Sonics, Wailers, Don and the Good Times, Mr. Lucky and the Gamblers, The Midnight Sons and (perhaps best of all) the Tikis and the Fabulons (a killer combo of R&B singers and instrumentalists that ruled the Portland battle of the bands era in the mid-’60s).

I also have an embarrassingly huge collection of silly records. Everything from “What it Was Was Football” by Andy Griffith to “Ahab the Arab” by Ray Stevens, “Speedy Gonzalez” by Pat Boone, “Son Don’t Go Near the Indians,” “Big Bad John” — well, you get the idea. Heck, I still get requests from one acquaintance for cuts from Cheech & Chong’s “Los Cochinos” album — especially “Basketball Jones” and the bit leading into it.

It was not uncommon, back in the early ’60s, for me to slide all my 45s onto a broom handle and head out to a dance, where I could be counted on, when somebody wanted a ballad for one of those slow-moving “belly dances,” to produce “The Warmth of the Sun” by the Beach Boys. Then, when the party needed a pick-me-up, I might pull out “Shake a Tail Feather” by the Live Five, a perky band from Salem.

The really interesting irony to all of this is that just about any old song I can recall I can also find on YouTube and have it blasting in my face right here in my work space.

And that includes an entire show by the Live Five recorded last fall at the Salem Armory — which is exactly where I saw them back in ’65.

Former editor of the Times newspapers and the Lake Oswego Review, Kelly is now chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.



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