Wednesday, January 18, 2012

the transistor radio Granny gave me in 1964

In 1962, almost nine years old, I arrived in New York City. Before that I'd lived in South Africa, Bechuanaland and Jamaica, West Indies because my dad was a geologist and went there to study, then to work. The only music I'd heard in 1962 were nursery rhymes, my dad's guitar playing folk songs and calypso, the national music of Jamaica at that time.

Lord Lebby & The Jamaican Calypsonians - Etheopia


New York City with its snow, firetrucks and strange people was not fun for a kid who came from the sunshine, easy going warmth of the Caribbean. I hated NYC at first.

In 1964, my grandmother gave me a small transistor radio as a present. It was a treasured possession.


That image above is taken from the wonderful site: http://www.radiophile.com/

My grandmother, who was 73 at the time in 1964, was a very conservative woman, born in Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1891, and grew up in the Victorian era. She was obsessed with good manners, being "proper", what Other People Thought, her aristocratic Scottish heritage, Burke's Peerage and The Social Register. She was anxious, critical, racist and not a warm or friendly person. But she was not the monster her daughter had become and in some small ways Granny was capable of giving a little, when it suited her and in the ways it suited her.

Since her husband had died, she worked as a volunteer at The Generosity Thrift Shop, which was near where she lived at 150 East 72nd Street. The Generosity Thrift Shop was at 1321 Second Avenue between 69th and 70th Street. It was only open from 10am to 4:15pm. Having been founded by New York socialite, Polly Whittier Iselin, this thrift shop was the beneficiary of well to do people on the Upper East Side. Even though she was fairly rich at the time, Granny often brought stuff home from the thrift shop. One of the things she brought home was a transistor radio, which she gave to me.

Granny's daughter, my ex-momster (my biological 'mother'), as I refer to her, did not allow us children to listen to music, unless she was preparing to go out on a date. In that case we could listen to Vivaldi's Four Seasons on the rarely used hi-fi stereo record player that was in a cabinet in the front hallway. She could not stand "the noise" of music, so I only got to listen to music in very small snippets. At school in the choir, singing hymns and carols. In department stores or elevators if there was muzac.

But if our father were at home we could listen to a set of records of science songs, which I still sing to this day. He loved singing and wrote a charming song, called The Cupcake Tree. My baby sister had a Babar and Celeste record, which was played over and over while my dad was there. My 10 year old classmate, Madeleine, who was leaving New York City for London, gave me some of her childhood records, Tubby the Tuba and Danny the Kaye's Ugly Duckling, Peter and the Wolf and a few other wonderful Golden Age Kiddie Record Classics. Our 9 year old brother came home from school singing Barnacle Bill the Sailor. We had a few of my older half-brother's records. One had a version of the mildly raunchy song, Get 'Em From the Peanut Man and a record of Kingston Trio songs. There was also a record of My Fair Lady.


In those days our kids' record player looked like this


One day in Washington Square Park we listened to washboard jug bands and came home with a record of one, called The Village Stompers.

We three kids, my baby sister, younger brother and I, furtively watched the small black and white television with the volume turned down very low and an ear out in case the momster was about to burst into our bedroom. We heard songs in cartoons, like Swinging on a Star, the Wizard of Oz or Ricky Nelson, but when our father was not at home, the momster permitted no music, no noise, no whispering, no giggling, no laughing, no talking, no noise that could be heard was The Rule, or Else.

That transistor radio granny gave me changed my life by giving me a way to listen to music. I used to tuck the radio under my pillow and turn it on very low. No way would Granny have allowed me to listen to any of the music on the radio. It would have been called "common" or "vulgar". But that music went deep into my mind, became part of my being.

1964 is the first year I remember listening to pop music. Murray the K and Cousin Brucie were the main disk jockeys. I also remember Rosko and Scott Muni. I knew so little about the world that I thought the bands actually played in the studio with the disc jockey. It never dawned on me that the radio station played records or had a tape machine.

These are some of the songs I heard on that radio that have remained with me happily all my life.

Of the many great things about the radio at that time was that there was an amazing mix of musical genres on one radio station. There was a lot of Motown, but there was some folk music too, British pop, soul, greaser music, doo-wop, surfer music, rock, country and other pop music, all mixed together, which doesn't happen any more on typical commercial radio stations. There were dozens and dozens of wonderful songs, here are a few that I remember today.

It was through these songs that I got a peek into the adult world, what were the topics, interests, worries of grown-ups. To this day I still get a tremendous rush of enjoyment, romance, heat and energy listening to these songs.

The Temptations My Girl


Baby Love by The Supremes


Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - Ain't No Mountain High Enough



Beach Boys - Surfin' USA 



A Summer Song Chad and Jeremy


THE SHANGRI LAS Remember Walkin' in the sand


Louie Louie - The Kingsmen


Do You Want To Know a Secret? - Beatles


These Arms of Mine - Otis Redding


I Saw Her Standing There (Live) - The Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show


The Everly Brothers - Bye Bye Love


The Kingston Trio - Where have all the flowers gone?


A World Without Love - Peter and Gordon


Roger Miller - King Of The Road


The Animals - House of the Rising Sun


Gerry and The Pacemakers - 'Ferry Cross The Mersey'


Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas - Little Children


James Bond - Goldfinger



Little Honda - The Beach Boys


Millie Small - My Boy Lollipop


The Sound of Silence - Simon and Garfunkel 


Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz: THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA


Roger Miller - Dang Me


You Really Got Me- The Kinks-1964-Really Live


The Shangri-Las - Leader Of The Pack


Petula Clark - Downtown


The Supremes - Back In My Arms Again


Gerry & The Pacemakers - Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying


Stop In the Name of Love by the Supremes


The Way You Do the Things You Do - The Temptations


I Saw Her Standing There - Beatles


 Walk Don't Run '64 - The Ventures


The Searchers - Don't Throw Your Love Away


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