Although I wasn’t aware of it—nor did I fully appreciate it—reaching puberty in the early 1970’s allowed me experiences past generations couldn’t and future generations would only read about or see in movies. Every generation thinks their era has the best music—those who grew up during the eighties have to be kidding—and so, I too feel the same. But it wasn’t just the music; it was the overall experience that came along with it. Too young to participate in the “summer of love,” hippies, and Woodstock—I was only ten years old when Sgt. Peppers came out—the music of the late 60’s was still popular and the main groups still recording, and although long since broken up, The Beatles were my favorite.
An oft visited spot in the small town of Carthage, Missouri, was Ken’s Record Shop. The store always had an album playing upon entering—something new and cutting edge—and the albums were arranged in alphabetical order and lined both walls with colorful posters of your favorite group staring down at you as you browsed. My friend John Norris was privileged enough to work there—he must have won the lottery or something, because my job was two doors down at three o’clock in the morning rolling newspapers next to a smelly J.B.—and I and my friends spent many an afternoon in the tiny store, flipping through album after album, group after group, dreaming about having enough money to buy our next favorite record. Of course, in order to buy an album, you first had to have a record player.
If you listened to the “experts”—meaning some kid you knew with enough money to buy the best—you had to have a Technics, direct drive turn table, with “quartz direct drive accuracy” in order to experience the ultimate in musical satisfaction. I wasn’t one of those who could afford the best, so my, or should I say my sisters turntable—I would eventually buy my own—was the plain old “Chevy” priced, belt driven version. I understood the argument; with direct drive you wouldn’t experience the slippage which might occur on a belt driven model, but since I wasn’t going to stand on the unit, slippage wasn’t one of my concerns and to my knowledge I got the most out of Lime in the Coconut on my model.
Listening to the album wasn’t just about the music. The album jacket, and in many cases additional booklets and art on the inside, was crucial to the overall experience. While the record played, I would lie on the floor with album cover in hand and look at pictures of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, read lyrics to the songs, and dream about being a rock star. Sometimes there were actual photographs of the stars, and other times really cool artist’s renditions. Whatever it was, the album jackets added to the music.
Another unique part of the music experience in those days was the trend of hanging posters all around your room—if you’re parents let you get away with it—and of course I had to have mine. I bought two Beatle’s posters, both purchased at Ken’s. One was a gold and black velvet version of the group, and the other was a colorful, black light rendition; this being my favorite. The color was fantastic, but in order to experience the full effect, you needed a black light. I, in my ignorance, wasn’t aware that a “black light” wasn’t black, but instead purple, and you had to buy a special machine with a special fluorescent bulb. After perusing a number of local stores, I came home with the poor man’s version; a purple light bulb. Once I had the bulb, I then asked Mom if I could re-paint my room. I chose a deep, dark blue—which I can’t believe she allowed; although since it was me painting the room I guess she didn’t care—and with heavy rib cord drapes; my room transformed into a dark cave; even in the middle of the day. Replacing the normal 60 watt bulb in the overhead lamp with my black light bulb made the psychedelic effect almost perfect; even though it wasn’t the true black light experience, I made the best of it. I wanted beads for my door, but Dad put his foot down.
Albums are making a comeback. Apparently the sound of a needle on vinyl is a more rewarding way to listen to rock and roll than the high-definition, no distractions version that comes with today’s CD’s. I agree. There isn’t anything like the experience; although since I can’t take a phonograph in my car, the I-pod and CD players are preferable while driving down the road. 8-track players? I’ll save that topic for another day.