On Elvis, Tentative Steps, Ampersands & Wings

Posted: November 30, 2014 in 1970s, 1977, 1978, Elvis Presley, Memories, Music, Paul McCartney, Wings
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Venus_Mars

On August 16, 1977, a little more than a month after my 12th birthday, I survived the SooperDooperLooper at Hershey Park. Most of my memories of the day itself long ago faded to black, but what I do recall: the ride home. My father was at the wheel, my mother beside him in the front passenger seat and my older brother beside me in the back. It was there, somewhere on the Pennsylvania turnpike, that we learned of Elvis Presley’s death via my father’s favorite radio station, Philadelphia’s WWDB, 96.5 FM. It was all-talk and, to my young ears, always all-boring. This night, however, the host played Elvis songs and took calls from listeners, many of whom were quite upset.

Mind you, up until that point, for me Elvis was just a name occasionally tossed out on one of my favorite TV shows, Happy Days. I had no clue as to who he was or what he represented – but learned fast. A week later, I scrawled in my rarely used desk diary, “I might order an Elvis Presley record. He was the king of rock ’n roll!” (Then – as now – I had a knack for stating the obvious.) As it turned out, however, while shopping for school supplies not long thereafter, my mom saved me a few bucks and bought me Elvis’ Golden Records.

Other records followed. I picked up a few cut-rate/Pickwick compilations of Elvis’ movie music over the next few months for no other reason than they were priced right. And I enjoyed both halves of the Donny & Marie ampersand enough to sell some of my treasured comic books, which I’d painstakingly collected over the preceding few years, in order to afford The Osmonds’ Greatest Hits. Marie’s rendition of “Paper Roses” was sublime, I thought.

I also bought the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me based on the theme song and because of my ignorance. I didn’t know the difference between LPs and singles.

That Christmas, though it may have been the Christmas before, my brother and I both received Radio Shack/Realistic compact stereos – a turntable and radio in one. An inexpensive model, to be sure, but far from cheap. There was always something magical about lowering the needle to the vinyl.

Tentative steps – that best describes those initial forays into popular music. I’ve written about it before – here and here – and will undoubtedly do so again, but, really, all one needs to know for now is this: I had no clue as to what I was doing. I listened to Mike St. Johns’ “Saturday Night Oldies” show on WPEN-AM. Bought a few Jan & Dean singles. And spent most of my time focused on schoolwork, football, pro wrestling and comic books.

A TV commercial, of all things, upended that order of things. Paul McCartney and Wings released London Town on March 31st of 1978, and Capitol Records put together a spot advertising it – possibly this one:

The snippet of “With a Little Luck” therein took hold of my 12-year-old brain and before long I had the 45, then the album, then another Wings LP, and then another, and then someone – my father or mother, more than likely – told me about his previous band. You know, the Beatles. As I remember it, I listened to nothing but McCartney, Wings and the Beatles for the next few years. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. Soon I was enjoying Grease, Olivia Newton-John, WIFI-92 and such 45s as Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” and Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Venus and Mars was one of the “another” Wings LPs mentioned above, bought over the summer with cash I received for my 13th birthday, if my memory is correct. I loved it from the get-go. The one-two punch of “Venus and Mars” and “Rock Show” set the stage for what followed on the LP, which was laid out somewhat like a concert. The songs included such catchy bon mots as the comic-book romp “Magneto and Titanium Man,” guitar-heavy “Letting Go,” bluesy “Call Me Back Again” and poppy “Listen to What the Man Said.”

Earlier this month, I received the deluxe edition of the remastered Venus and Mars – part of the Paul McCartney Archive Collection series. In addition to the original album, it comes with a CD of bonus material (including “Junior’s Farm” and “My Carnival”); a DVD of assorted video clips and live footage; a coffee table-sized book that delves deep into the recording of the album; and downloads of the high-resolution audio (96kHz/24 bit). Sonically speaking, there’s no comparison to the original 1987 CD release. That sounded distant and flat; this sounds like you’re in the control room.

What strikes me now: It’s not as good as my 13-year-old self thought (small surprise there), yet remains thoroughly enjoyable. I still love the songs I mentioned above, plus a few (“Love in Song,” “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People”) that I used to find boring, and sing along with most of them while driving in my car. For me, they’re high-octane nostalgia fodder, conjuring the days of bell-bottom jeans, loud shirts, long hair and little worries beyond the weather.

Comments
  1. […] We picked up McCartney tickets this week – decent first-level seats at an exorbitant price. Which got me to thinking of the songs I hope he does when we see him. This is one (originally from Venus & Mars.) […]

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  2. […] remember, when it arrived in the mail way back when, being excited that Paul McCartney was on the cover, as I was a major McCartney fan. I still […]

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  3. […] to the Hatboro Music Shop; and left with the movie soundtrack, not the single, because – as I wrote a while back – I didn’t grasp the difference between LPs and 45s. I was a fast learner, however, and by […]

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  4. […] I also bought 45s and the occasional LP, and liked just about every act I heard, though none more so than Paul McCartney & Wings, whose “With a Little Luck” the year before kickstarted my music obsessiveness – as I wrote about here. […]

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  5. […] soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, along with a handful of singles by Jan & Dean. The untimely death of the king of rock ’n’ roll, Elvis Presley, in August ’77 kickstarted something, but most of my time was spent on other […]

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  6. […] 2015 – The Staves – If I Was 2014 – First Aid Kit – Stay Gold 2013 – Susanna Hoffs & Matthew Sweet – Under the Covers Vol. III 2012 – Susanna Hoffs – Someday (1); Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2) 2011 – Juliana Hatfield – There’s Always Another Girl 2010 – Tift Merritt – See You on the Moon (1); Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2) 2009 – Diane Birch – Bible Belt 2008 – Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away 2007 – Maria McKee – Late December 2006 – The Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way 2005 – Juliana Hatfield – Made in China 2004 – Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo 2003 – Maria McKee – High Dive 2002 – Neil Young – Are You Passionate? 2001 – Natalie Merchant – Motherland 2000 – Juliana Hatfield – Beautiful Creature 1999 – Natalie Merchant – Live in Concert 1998 – Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road 1997 – Steve Earle – El Corazon 1996 – Neil Young – Broken Arrow; Maria McKee – Life Is Sweet (tie) 1995 – Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily 1994 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Sleeps with Angels 1993 – Maria McKee – You Gotta Sin to Get Saved 1992 – 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden 1991 – Mary Black – Babes in the Wood 1990 – Rosanne Cash – Interiors 1989 – Neil Young – Freedom 1988 – Steve Earle – Copperhead Road 1987 – 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe 1986 – Paul Simon – Graceland; Bangles – Different Light (2) 1985 – Lone Justice – self-titled debut; Long Ryders – State of Our Union (2) 1984 – The Go-Go’s – Talk Show; Prince – Purple Rain (2) 1983 – Neil Young – Trans 1982 – Paul McCartney – Tug of War 1981 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – re*ac*tor (1) / Go-Go’s – Beauty & the Beat (2) 1980 – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind 1979 – Wings – Back to the Egg 1978 – Wings – London Town […]

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  7. HERC says:

    The year that Elvis died, some kid brought the issue of the National Enquirer with Pic of the King laying in his coffin to school. Like every other magazine or comic or toy or anything not strictly school oriented, it was confiscated and held til year’s end by our home room teacher.

    On last half-day of school, after we had provided free labor by cleaning our desks, lockers and cubbies, she began to return our long lost treasures. I remember that year, I “lost” an issue of What If? (Marvel comic) the day after I got it, so I was glad to get it back but the reality of attending a school with other Air Force dependents was you never finished the year with who you started with and so there was a lot of unclaimed stuff she gave to whoever wanted it and if more than one person wanted it, we had to do multiplication flash cards with first correct answer declared winner.

    Anyway, that issue of the Enquirer was one such unclaimed item; the kid ending up moving like a month before school got out in May 1978. I raised my hand for it but so did a girl. So we went head to head – for twelve rounds – before I finally answered before her – only to give the issue to her as we both walked home.

    Fifth grade, man.

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  8. […] In any event: Circus magazine. It’s not a music magazine I read with regularity and, at this stage of my life, I wasn’t reading any, period. I was 11 /12, attending a public middle school (6th & 7th grades; there was a second middle school for 8th & 9th) that banned denim jeans, and was gung-ho for pro ‘rassling. On TV, in addition to the WWWF on weekends and Sunday football, I watched The Six Million Dollar Man, The Captain & Tennille, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, The Bionic Woman, Welcome Back, Kotter and Donny & Marie. I watched tons of reruns, too, including The Brady Bunch, The Monkees and The Partridge Family. (The addition of the second addiction/obsession, i.e. music, came later that year.) […]

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  9. […] I was 11 years old this autumn; music was not an all-consuming passion, though I enjoyed it. (See here for a timeline of that.) That said, in 1976, there were three strains of music: AM, FM and disco. […]

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  10. […] 1980: I was 15, a high-school sophomore and unabashed music freak. My all-time favorite act was Paul McCartney & Wings, though the Beatles were a pretty close second. I owned several of their LPs, including their red […]

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  11. […] Paul McCartney & Wings – London Town […]

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  12. […] 2016 – Rumer – This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook 2015 – The Staves – If I Was 2014 – First Aid Kit – Stay Gold 2013 – Susanna Hoffs & Matthew Sweet – Under the Covers Vol. III 2012 – Susanna Hoffs – Someday (1); Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2) 2011 – Juliana Hatfield – There’s Always Another Girl 2010 – Tift Merritt – See You on the Moon (1); Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2) 2009 – Diane Birch – Bible Belt 2008 – Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away 2007 – Maria McKee – Late December 2006 – The Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way 2005 – Juliana Hatfield – Made in China 2004 – Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo 2003 – Maria McKee – High Dive 2002 – Neil Young – Are You Passionate? 2001 – Natalie Merchant – Motherland 2000 – Juliana Hatfield – Beautiful Creature 1999 – Natalie Merchant – Live in Concert 1998 – Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road 1997 – Steve Earle – El Corazon 1996 – Neil Young – Broken Arrow; Maria McKee – Life Is Sweet (tie) 1995 – Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily 1994 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Sleeps with Angels 1993 – Maria McKee – You Gotta Sin to Get Saved 1992 – 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden 1991 – Mary Black – Babes in the Wood 1990 – Rosanne Cash – Interiors 1989 – Neil Young – Freedom 1988 – Steve Earle – Copperhead Road 1987 – 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe 1986 – Paul Simon – Graceland; Bangles – Different Light (2) 1985 – Lone Justice – self-titled debut; Long Ryders – State of Our Union (2) 1984 – The Go-Go’s – Talk Show; Prince – Purple Rain (2) 1983 – Neil Young – Trans 1982 – Paul McCartney – Tug of War 1981 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – re*ac*tor (1) / Go-Go’s – Beauty & the Beat (2) 1980 – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind 1979 – Wings – Back to the Egg 1978 – Wings – London Town […]

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  13. […] the previous year. (I’m actually surprised that I forgot about this LP when writing about my first tentative steps into music fandom, but so it […]

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  14. […] was 12 years old. And soon enough my attention would be diverted elsewhere – but I never forgot about their music, which I found funny, sly and just plain good. A year […]

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  15. […] on Pickwick, that is. I picked up the 2-LP Double Dynamite for $3.99 at a Montgomery Ward in late ’77. (Of course, one look at the song list explains the low […]

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  16. […] of $5.99-7.99 (plus tax), which was the average price of an LP when I began buying them in the late 1970s, a fan had to plunk down almost twice that ($9.99-11.99) – unless it was an Elvis Presley […]

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  17. […] I’ve written before, my journey into music fandom began in earnest on a spring day in 1978 when, a few months shy of […]

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  18. […] 2017 – Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life (1); Juliana Hatfield – Pussycat (2) 2016 – Rumer – This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook 2015 – The Staves – If I Was 2014 – First Aid Kit – Stay Gold 2013 – Susanna Hoffs & Matthew Sweet – Under the Covers Vol. III 2012 – Susanna Hoffs – Someday (1); Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill (2) 2011 – Juliana Hatfield – There’s Always Another Girl 2010 – Tift Merritt – See You on the Moon (1); Rumer – Seasons of My Soul (2) 2009 – Diane Birch – Bible Belt 2008 – Juliana Hatfield – How to Walk Away 2007 – Maria McKee – Late December 2006 – The Dixie Chicks – Taking the Long Way 2005 – Juliana Hatfield – Made in China 2004 – Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo 2003 – Maria McKee – High Dive 2002 – Neil Young – Are You Passionate? 2001 – Natalie Merchant – Motherland 2000 – Juliana Hatfield – Beautiful Creature 1999 – Natalie Merchant – Live in Concert 1998 – Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road 1997 – Steve Earle – El Corazon 1996 – Neil Young – Broken Arrow; Maria McKee – Life Is Sweet (tie) 1995 – Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily 1994 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Sleeps with Angels 1993 – Maria McKee – You Gotta Sin to Get Saved 1992 – 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden 1991 – Mary Black – Babes in the Wood 1990 – Rosanne Cash – Interiors 1989 – Neil Young – Freedom 1988 – Steve Earle – Copperhead Road 1987 – 10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe 1986 – Paul Simon – Graceland; Bangles – Different Light (2) 1985 – Lone Justice – self-titled debut; Long Ryders – State of Our Union (2) 1984 – The Go-Go’s – Talk Show; Prince – Purple Rain (2) 1983 – Neil Young – Trans 1982 – Paul McCartney – Tug of War 1981 – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – re*ac*tor (1) / Go-Go’s – Beauty & the Beat (2) 1980 – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind 1979 – Wings – Back to the Egg 1978 – Wings – London Town […]

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  19. […] Honor Roll, which I’d done in all the previous marking periods at Loller. The second concern, as I charted here: A little thing called rock ’n’ roll. I’d just caught the bug, though my idea of “rock […]

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  20. […] gradually infiltrating my world. The previous week, I picked up the Monkees’ Greatest Hits; and, by year’s end, I’d also own The Osmonds’ Greatest Hits, the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, and a few […]

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  21. […] the 1978 UK DJ promo 45. I know some folks hear the song as lightweight, but I hear it as great: A commercial for the London Town album that featured the song that spurred me to begin investigating new music, […]

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