Whenever springtime rolls around, it annually evokes fond memories of youthful days eagerly counting down to the end of the school year. The anticipation of long, lazy summer days, extended car rides, and family vacations was always palpable. That was the era of AM radio hits which often turned into road trip sing-alongs which served as a much needed reprieve from being cooped up for hours on end in the car. I’m referring to a time when portable electronics were almost non-existent and the only access to music was the standard AM radio that came factory installed in the family owned American automobile. Back then, most everyone subsisted on the familiar sounds of the most popular Top 40 radio hits of the day.
It also reminds me how I’d get excited about going to the grocery store when I was a kid. Yes, the grocery store, because back in those days they used to put records on the backs of cereal boxes. Nothing made me happier than picking out a brand of cereal I’d pretend to like just so I could get a new record by The Archies, The Monkees, or The Jackson 5.
This was the very beginning of my record buying addiction that has lasted since my adolescence and continued throughout my adult life. I can still recall being mesmerized as I’d watch the record player needle play over the faces of Betty, Veronica, Archie, Reggie, Jughead, and Hot Dog as I memorized every word of “Sugar Sugar” and “Jingle Jangle.”
Back then, AM radio ruled the airwaves with infectious bubblegum earworms and Casey Kasem’s weekly American Top 40 countdown. Prime time television also provided a moderate source of musical entertainment in those days with series such as The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Midnight Special, Donny & Marie, and The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show. On Saturdays, I’d tune into American Bandstand, Solid Gold, the Grand Ole Opry Live, and Dolly, which starred Dolly Parton whom I became enamored with during my early boyhood days while watching The Porter Wagoner Show with my dad. He was initially upset Dolly Parton had replaced Norma Jean, but I was immediately won over and became a lifelong follower of Dolly’s illustrious career. This fact is something I still bring to my father’s attention and remind him of every chance I get.
As I grew older, I eventually began collecting vinyl records. During my early teenage years, I readily eschewed all things I thought of as “kid stuff” and began collecting my favorite radio hits on 7-inch 45 rpm. To this day I still associate many of my favorite artists with their associated record company labels. Hearing Elvis Presley or Dolly Parton vividly recalls spending hours watching Nipper spin ‘round and ‘round, as well as the multi-colored butterfly perched upon the big E on the labels of my Carly Simon and Queen records. Just as I perpetually see the rainbow label spinning in my mind’s eye whenever I listen to Elton John, or the spectral colors and palm trees of Casablanca while listening to KISS or Donna Summer.
Slowly I began to shift from 45s to LPs and the timing couldn’t have been better as my commencement of responsibility and commitment arrived in the guise of the Columbia House record club. Remember the ad in the newspaper or TV Guide boasting of getting 12 record albums for a penny? Many people consider them to have been the bane of their existence and the epitome of money scams, but if you were savvy enough, you could beat them at their own game. Anyway, they served their purpose and suited my needs just fine. This was long before I could drive, so being able to shop from home and have records delivered to my door was a real life saver. I can still remember the thrill of receiving a box full of LPs in the mail. Not only did I get a big, fat, pile of albums, but I didn’t even have to leave my house. I can’t count how many times I joined and re-joined that club, making sure to carefully fulfill my minimum commitment so I could cancel my membership, only to re-join and receive another stack of wax. This cycle continued for years, slowly building into an impressive music library, most of which I still have to this day.
One thought on “Days of AM Gold”
Fantastic post! Wow, the memories that came flooding back with your descriptions of shared experiences, though I dare say you had some better toys that I did. The magic of those times can’t be truly understood unless you lived them, but your descriptions give a vivid portrayal for those who didn’t. Great job. Oh, to only have a time machine and go back to those days, if only for an hour or a weekend. What joy! Your article was the next best thing.