Fun With Records

60’s vintage portable record player

I had a close relationship with our phonograph records when I was a kid. Playing them on the portable player (it had a beautiful red plaid pattern on the outside) made me feel very grown up. It meant my parents and older brothers trusted me to listen to their records without damaging them. And as far as I know, I held up my end of the bargain.

There was a lot of fun to be had with records. Sure, you could listen to them at their intended speed. But things really rocked when you played them at different speeds.

We had no shortage of records at my house. I had a few kid records that had been handed down, Pinocchio and the like. My older brother had some 45’s. Mom had some 78’s from the 40’s. And we also had a few 33 1/3 albums.

I developed an appreciation for some music at an early age thanks to those old disks. It was really pretty eclectic. For instance, mom had an Ink Spots album that I loved because the cover had fake spots of ink superimposed over photos of the group. It was funky stuff, and I have a copy of the Best of the Ink Spots (in digital format) to this very day.

My older brother loved 60’s rock and roll, and thanks to his records, so did I. In fact, I fell in love with an old blues song circa 1967 that caused my parents much distress. It was House of the Rising Sun, by the Animals. Dad wasn’t crazy about his seven-year-old kid belting out a tune about a New Orleans bordello. BTW, that is still one of my favorite tunes.

I also recall Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter (Herman’s Hermits), I’m Telling You Now (Freddie and the Dreamers) and one of the more obscure Beatles tunes, Do You Want to Know a Secret.

45 record

I REALLY listened to those records. I mean both sides. A seven-year-old kid has no concept of an A and B side. I loved the flip sides, and remember many of them. For instance, Thank You Girl was the reverse of the Beatles 45.

But the fun really started when you got a few friends together in a room and played a 45 at 78. We all danced as fast as we could! Then we might play a 78 at 33 1/3. We would drag ourselves around the room in slow motion to the molasses-like songs.

Sometimes we couldn’t find any of those 45 inserts. But you could still carefully place a 45 in the exact center of the platter. But it was more fun to offset it deliberately. It made some pretty weird effects on the music.

My kids grew up listening to CD’s. Our grandkids probably know music as something you copy to and from flash drives and iPods. But we Boomers recall when you could have lots of fun with records. Or, you could just listen to them. Either way, both activities were pretty cool.

45 Inserts

45 insert

You never had enough of them. The antithesis of coat hangers (which reproduce on their own), they would vaporize soon after purchase, and you didn’t have enough to stack all of your 45’s on your changer.

Also known as adapters, inserts, or spiders, they were essentials pieces of hardware to have long before we started packing literally days of music on our hips in packages smaller than a carton of cigarettes. Portable record players had to have them to work.

Many home stereo systems had built-in adapters of various types. The one we had featured a disk that could be pulled up and rotated slightly to lock in place. that allowed for single play. You still needed inserts for multiple play. Other changers had a rectangular piece that fit over the spindle and allowed the 45’s to be dropped one at a time, allowing multiple play. But for portables, you needed these devices, period.

If you want to have fun, offer one of the classic Jasco yellow inserts pictured here to your teenager and ask them to identify it. Only the ones who are most savvy of vintage equipment will be able to do so. When we were teenagers, we knew what they were for, and that they disappeared as fast as we could buy them.

I love waxing nostalgic, but I really don’t miss those 45’s that much. My digital music is now backed up four ways. Nothing short of a nuclear catastrophe could cause me to lose it all. Those 45’s would quickly become covered with scratches that produced clicks and pops that accompanied our favorite tunes. In fact, sometimes a skip would become so much a part of a song that it just didn’t sound quite right when we heard it on the radio, free of the blip.

But seeing one of those yellow inserts immediately takes me back about forty years.

The Beatles Are Bigger than WHO?

John Lennon in 1966

An adoring horde can be a very fickle thing.

Witness the crowds at press time clamoring for the Philadelphia Phillies to win the World Series. They’re cheering loudly now, but Philly fans are notorious for turning on their beloved team very quickly when mistakes are made.

Or witness Jesus of Nazareth, who was welcomed by a Jerusalem crowd shouting praise and lining his path with palm leaves, only to have the same group screaming for his head a few days later.

And look at the example of John Lennon, who was a member of the most popular musical group in history, who made a statement about that very popularity that turned public opinion against him and the rest of the Fab Four very quickly.

Elvis never had such issues. Colonel Parker would only allow him to make statements like “yes, sir” and “no, maam” at interviews. But John Lennon was very plain-spoken, so it was inevitable that he would say something that the rest of the world wouldn’t like. And the original publication of the interview wasn’t the spark that set of the blaze of public opinion against Lennon, it was an otherwise obscure fan magazine that grabbed the statement out of context.

September 1966 DATEbook

The interview where Lennon made his remarks was with Maureen Cleave of the London Evening Standard. Cleave was a friend of Lennon’s, and so was granted the elusive right to speak with him.

The article was published on March 4, 1966. It went over quietly. The context of the entire piece made it clear that Lennon’s statement was not about dissing Jesus, it was in fact an ironic comment on how popular he and his Liverpool buddies had become, much to his amazement.

Enter a disposable fan mag called DATEbook.

On July 29 of that year, this obscure rag hawked an article on its front page called “The Ten Adults You Dig/Hate The Most.” In the article was this snippet from the Cleave interview:

“Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

The sensationalist magazine sold about a million copies. Angry hordes began organizing Beatle album burnings.

Beatles record burning rally

The whole thing had a very Klannish air about it, and, in fact, the KKK joined in, In South Carolina, for example, at one particular rally, the Klan nailed a Beatles record to a large cross and set it on fire. Other Klan spokesmen were quoted as saying that not only were the Beatles blasphemous, but that they were not really ‘white’ either.

Horrified, Cleave publicly stated that the interview should be read in its entirety, but the cat was out of the bag. Manager Brian Epstein also tried in vain to calm things down by speaking out. With a looming US tour in jeopardy, it would be up to Lennon himself to try and squelch the fires of controversy.

In Chicago on August 11, 1966, Lennon held a press conference and publicly apologized for the remark. He didn’t disguise his bewilderment and disappointment that a statement taken out of context could cause such a stink, but apologize he did, much against his wishes.

When the apology hit the airwaves and the print media, the burnings were called off.

But even now, some 42 years after the incident, there are still those who harbor animosity towards the always-outspoken Lennon for a statement that truly did take on a life of its own.