Archive for the ‘Hatboro’ Category

Once upon a long ago, a month lasted forever. Now? In a wink – or is it a blink? – of a young girl’s eye, they pass me by. Sure, specific events from the distant past seem like they happened just yesterday, but much more has faded into the haze that hangs over the river of time. Life flows a little faster with each new day; and the mist thickens behind.

Certain things, however, have stuck with me. For instance, about once a week in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, I walked or rode my bike to the Hatboro Music Shop, a small independent store that stocked the latest 45s and LPs as well as a healthy smattering of older releases. If anything wasn’t in stock, it could be ordered – so long as it was still in print, of course. I often stopped in to browse and, sometimes, picked out albums based on the cover art alone. (I often regretted those purchases.) Other days, however, I was on a mission – I knew what I wanted.

Back then, as I’ve written before, being a music fan required work. Now? You can condense my lifetime’s pursuit into a minute’s transaction – or however long as it takes to join Apple Music or Spotify. And learning about one’s favorite artists is as simple as following them on social media. I checked into Twitter this morning, for instance, and discovered that Diane Birch shared a recently minted song via SoundCloud. Which leads me to today’s Top 5…

1) Diane Birch – “Ordinary Angels w/Glowstick Halos.” A deceptively simple tune that, to my ears, bears the influence of her recent cover of Paul McCartney’s “Waterfalls.” It’s stark, haunting and beautiful.

2) Rickie Lee Jones – “Feet on the Ground.” So, in November 2013, I pledged in support of a new Rickie Lee project on Received an autographed poster, which I’ve yet to frame, and…time passed. Occasional updates on Facebook reminded me of it, but it seemed like one of those forever-on-the-horizon things, never to be realized. Then came the notice a week or so ago that the completed album, The Other Side of Desire, was available for download. One listen and I was hooked. As a whole, it possesses a vibe that radiates instant familiarity; it’s as if the album, and “Feet on the Ground” especially, have been a part of my life forever. (And, no, I do not have temporal dysplasia.)

3) Neil Young & the Promise of the Real – “Big Box.” Neil’s latest release, The Monsanto Years, is much better than it ought to be. Essentially an album-long diatribe against Monsanto, GMOs, the corporatization of America, Citizens United, politicians and apathy, it’s the kind of screed one might read on left-leaning websites. And, yet, it works. It’s rough and ragged, rocks hard, and his outrage at the changing American landscape is palpable throughout. A sample lyric from “Big Box”: “Too big to fail/too rich for jail.”

4) Carly Simon – “Anticipation.” I saw The Spy Who Loved Me at the Hatboro Theater in the fall of 1977, when I was 12. I fell in love with the theme song and set out to buy it on what was one of my first trips 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 the next summer was picking up 45s left and right. Well – not quite, but often enough. One of my first: Carly’s “You’re So Vain.” In time, I stepped up and purchased her Best Of. “Anticipation” quickly became my favorite song of hers; and remains so. Sometimes we look ahead to the detriment of the present. “These are the good old days,” indeed.

5) Stephen Stills – “Nothing to Do but Today.” We’re seeing Stills next week. Can’t wait. This has always been one of my favorites of his songs, from his underrated second solo album. Bluesy, guitar-centric and damn good.


Thirty-five years ago the Village Mall became my second home.

At the time, it was an indoor shopping experience. A Woolco – where my parents bought me Elvis’ Golden Hits not long after the King died in 1977 – anchored the end that’s now a go-kart race course and, in addition to the ever-present Acme, it was home to an Eric movie theater, a bookstore, music shop, pizza place and the pet store where my family adopted a fine feline we named Riley. (True story: we were once awakened at 3 a.m. by a police officer who lived up the street from us. He’d staked out his home to see who – or what – was digging up his flower bed. Turned out it was that darn cat! And he couldn’t wait until morning to alert us to that fact.)

Now, I think it’s safe to say that summer break is a glorious time to be a kid; and that stretch of 1978, when I turned 13, certainly was for me. As I’ve written before (and likely will again), it was when the music bug bit me big time. Little by little, I sold the collection of comic books I’d painstakingly amassed over the previous few years back to the same comic-book store in Hatboro where I’d bought them, then rode my bike to Joe Celano’s music shop and flipped through the racks in search of vinyl gold. The sounds I initially sought, by and large, were from the bubbly sonic stew of rhythms and rhymes that I first heard simmering in the saucy Top 40 brew served by WIFI-92. And that summer it all played out in a phrase: “ Grease is the word….

Grease: My memory tells me that I saw it a dozen times within a month, all at the Eric, sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own, but that number may well be a stretch. The reason for the obsession: Olivia Newton-John. Like many young men of the era, I became smitten with her even before she donned the tight leather pants for the film’s end. I picked up the single of “You’re the One That I Want” at K-Mart one weekend with my parents, and eventually traded a friend for the double-LP soundtrack. (And, after listening to it once sans moving pictures, never listened to it again until buying the CD decades later and remembering why – it’s mostly Sha Na Na filler.)

Anyway, I’d love to transition to something profound and make that movie a magical coming-of-age metaphor, but I’m afraid I have to settle for something more mundane. I was but 12, about to turn 13. I had no worries larger than my allowance, which comic books to sell, which 45s or LPs to buy, and whether Superstar Billy Graham would win back the WWWF championship from bland Bobby Backlund.

That’s not to say all was rosy, mind you. As awful as the economy has been since 2008, the inflation and unemployment rates throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s bear witness to the fact that being an adult with adult responsibilities was tough back then. But whenever I watch Grease, as I did this morning for what must have been the 50th time, I do so through the eyes and ears of that young kid whose life was insulated from larger concerns. No, it’s not a great movie, and may not even be good, but to me it represents all that is good, and for reasons that never appear on screen.

Did you know that my hometown of Hatboro, Pa.,  was serviced by two phone companies in 1908? Bell Telephone oversaw everything east of York Road while the Keystone Telephone and Telegraph handled everything to the west. And interoperability between the services was non-existent – for folks with Bell to call folks with Keystone they needed a Keystone phone (and vice versa). As a result, many businesses kept phones from both companies on the premises.

That’s one of many neat factoids I discovered in the Images of America book Hatboro, a terrific stroll down history lane that I received for Christmas.

The times have changed, and are ever-changing: This week my niece Paige turns 18. If my math is right, that means she was born in 1995, the same year that ordinary folks began logging onto the Internet en masse. Prior to that, proprietary services like AOLCompuServe and Prodigy existed and, similar to 1908 Hatboro, to send an e-mail to a pal meant that he or she needed to be on the same service. There could be limits on top of that, too. In 1991, for example, Prodigy began charging users 25 cents an e-mail after 30 missives a month.

Granted, my history of the Internet is nowhere near complete – see this Wikipedia entry for something more thorough. But the growth and use of the ‘Net was the first thing I thought of when contemplating how day-to-day life has changed since Paige’s birth. This past week I was felled by a virulent flu, for instance, but was still able to go to work – as I’ve done on other occasions, I telecommuted into the office. For me, that means sitting at my computer in my den beside a window that overlooks a squirrel-populated tree. On Friday I noticed two squirrels grooming each other – something I’d never seen before. Curious if it was a new phenomenon, I performed a quick Internet search that led to a rather voluminous page on all things gray squirrel. The little critters do indeed groom one another, it turns out, especially during winter. In mere minutes I confirmed something that 18 years ago would have entailed a library trip.

Here’s another change: when I left for Happy Valley in 1985 to complete my college education, I brought along a small boombox and maybe 10 percent of my music collection – a few dozen pre-recorded and homemade cassettes. The cream of the crop, if you will, of a collection that I painstakingly curated through trips to the Hatboro Music Shop, Memory Lane Records in Horsham and Third Street Jazz in Philadelphia. Contrast that to today, when I’d be able to cart all of the 4,441 albums that make up my and Diane’s current collection on an external hard drive (I encoded everything we had a few years back, and now routinely rip everything we buy) – or simply rely on Spotify. Anyone can amass an instantly incredible and deep music collection, these days, without leaving one’s home or spending much money. (As Irv Homer used to say, it boggles the mind.)

Cell phones were around in 1995, of course. Mulder on The X-Files had one. But all they were good for were making and receiving calls. How quaint, huh? Now, they’re used for everything but calls – texting came into vogue in the late ‘90s, and the advent of 3G a few years later made surfing the ‘net while on the go commonplace. Hand-in-hand with that: Facebook. I access it more often than not on my desktop computer, but now our friends and family know about our weekend getaways to B&N, concerts and dinners out due to the “check-in” feature.

Many of the Donna Summer obituaries that I read last week dubbed her the “queen of disco,” but that’s far too narrow in scope. In truth, during the second half of the 1970s – as this Billboard article shows – she was the queen of the Top 40. Yet, odd as this may sound, the first thoughts that flashed through my mind when I learned that she had passed weren’t of her music, but of WIFI-92, playing ball in the street and the Hatboro Theater.

In the late 1970s, my friend Don and I played on the street in front of his house or in his driveway, where he had a basketball net above the garage. I’m not sure now how we met or why we parted, just that our life paths diverged not long after we started high school. For those few years, though, we’d meet after school or on a summer’s day, break out the baseball mitts, Nerf football or basketball and have a blast with his brother and other friends from the neighborhood – and often, like thousands of other kids in the Delaware Valley, with a radio tuned to WIFI-92 blaring in the background.

For those too young or old to remember, at the time WIFI-92 was the region’s lone Top 40 station – a sonic melting pot that didn’t care if a song was rock, pop, country, soul or disco, just that it was a Top 40 hit. And while I can’t say for sure, it’s likely where I first heard Donna Summer. In the space of a year (11/78 to 11/79) she scored four No. 1 hits – “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and, with Barbra Streisand, “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” but I’m actually waxing nostalgic for the lead-up to that stretch, when she hit the Top 10 with “Last Dance” from the Thank God Its Friday soundtrack.

That was the summer of 1978, of course, when Grease was the word, the place and the motion; Thank God It’s Friday, on the other hand, was just plain bad. I say that from firsthand experience: I saw it that year with Don, his mother and possibly his brother at the Hatboro Theater. Yet I still walked home with a smile on my face. When Donna Summer commandeered the stage and let loose with “Last Dance,” hey, what wasn’t to like?

In time, along with many teens of that era, I embraced the notion that “disco sucks,” and tuned away from WIFI to WMMR and WYSP. In retrospect, while the anti-disco backlash was understandable, the palpable anger that underscored much of it was, at best, misdirected. Like all musical genres and fads, there was the good, bad and mediocre; that record companies and radio stations pushed too much of it was simply par for the course. When have they not hijacked a bandwagon and crashed it in a ditch?

In any event, a few years back I picked up a disco box set and a Donna Summer best-of. Now, I’ll never be mistaken for the greatest dancer (though my cat might disagree), never before bought a pure disco record and only heard what was played on WIFI-92, in the movies or on TV, and large chunks of that was while doing other things. So I was surprised by how many songs from the box set I knew by heart. Music has a way of etching itself into the brain like little else, of course, and imprinting along with it the faces and places that surround us, but… “ Knock on Wood”?! The first half of the Donna Summer best-of was more of the same, but at a higher octane: memories of friends and days (and nights) spent having fun in the summertime, of concerns no larger than what time to wake up the next day.

No, the songs weren’t deep, but how much of pop music is? At the end of the day, some days, it’s enough to say – as the kids on American Bandstand said – “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.” (Or, in my case, tap my foot.)