I’m always amazed every year how unexpected seasonal albums suddenly pop up from seemingly nowhere as each turn of the calendar gets closer to December, but even as dismal and unsettling as 2020 has been, a short list of new Christmas albums somehow managed to appear and command my seasonal attention: Tori Amos’ Christmastide EP, It’s Christmas All Over from the Goo Goo Dolls, A Holly Dolly Christmas by Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood’s My Gift. [Click here to read my thoughts on each]
My third and final chapter of Memories of Old and AM Gold focuses on musical television shows, transistor radios, and mail order record clubs…
Often reflecting back upon the days when AM radio ruled the airwaves with infectious bubblegum earworms and Casey Kasem’s weekly American Top 40 countdown, I remember prime time television also provided a moderate source of musical entertainment with series such as The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Donny & Marie, and The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show. Additionally, late night programming provided the rock-oriented Midnight Special and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert for the hard-core music enthusiasts who were dedicated to stay up past midnight.
I remember eagerly waking up on Saturdays, bleary-eyed after my late-night concert viewing sessions, eager to seek out selected musical programming. I’d tune into American Bandstand, Solid Gold, the Grand Ole Opry Live, and Dolly, which starred Dolly Parton. [Read Full Feature] or [Read Part One] and [Read Part Two]
Whenever summer rolls around, it annually evokes fond memories of youthful days I’d eagerly spend counting down until the school year would finally end. 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.
Summertime also reminds me of how excited I’d get about routine trips to the grocery store when I was a kid. Yes, the grocery store, because back in those days, they used to print records right on the backs of cereal boxes, similar to flexi discs often found in music publications or instructional books. 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. I can still recall being mesmerized and oddly entertained as I’d watch the phonograph stylus play over the faces of Betty, Veronica, Archie, Reggie, Jughead, and Hot Dog as I carefully memorized every word of “Everything’s Archie” and “Nursery Rhyme.” [Read Full Feature]
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.
With an extensive discography that spans six decades, Dolly Parton at age 68 could have easily rested upon her laurels, but instead she chose to deliver her most beguiling work in years with her 42nd studio album, Blue Smoke. While her skills as a musician and multi-instrumentalist may often get overlooked, Parton’s acumen as a Grammy-winning songwriter is firmly intact and amply displayed throughout Blue Smoke’s 12 exquisite tracks.
On her latest set, Parton not only dares to take on Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands on Me,” making it her own by transforming it into a gospel-tinged anthem, but delivers an infectious version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” and teams up with friends Kenny Rogers (“You Can’t Make Old Friends”) and Willie Nelson (“From Here to the Moon and Back”) with extraordinary results. Parton even manages to successfully pull off the tongue in cheek “Lover du Jour,” which would be utterly laughable performed by anyone else. Also featured is Parton’s heartwarming ditty and latest single “Home” (“Where the warm wind’s blowing and the river’s flowing/Where I can lay down my heavy load and know that I am always welcome”), which is akin to her 1984 hit “Tennessee Homesick Blues,” and easily feels apt cozying up alongside the rest of Parton’s best work.
With its inclusion of all of Parton’s musical trademarks, from the bluegrass timbre of the opening title track to the uplifting closer “Try,” Blue Smoke easily hits its mark of making us look within ourselves while laughing through our tears. Dolly Parton’s timeless voice and prolific contribution to music will continue to speak volumes long after she’s finished sharing her talents.
Summer is upon us and along with it comes a swarm of noteworthy new releases. Therefore, I’ve compiled a short list of how to get the most musical bang (and bonus tracks) for your bucks.
Sarah McLachlan: Shine On
The deluxe version includes the bonus tracks “What’s It Gonna Take” and “Little B,” which are available exclusively on CD with Target’s version, as well as Amazon and iTunes’ digital deluxe editions.
Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke
The queen of country returns with her 42nd studio album and Walmart is offering a limited edition with the four bonus tracks “Get Up Get On Get Out,” “Olive Branch,” “Early Morning Breeze” and “Angels in the Midst.”
Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines
The high priestess of baroque pop returns with her first proper studio album since 2009’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Described as a true return to form in the vein of Boys for Pele, Amos’ 14th studio album will be released on 180 gram vinyl LP, as well as a deluxe casebook edition, which includes a DVD of behind the scenes footage and the bonus track “Forest of Glass.” The iTunes version also includes the bonus track “White Telephone to God,” and Amazon’s digital version includes the additional bonus track “Dixie.”
The Black Keys: Turn Blue
The highly anticipated follow-up to the alluring indie rockers’ El Camino was co-produced by Danger Mouse and has been described as moody and emotional, but highly melodic. The 11-track set includes the title track and “Fever,” which are available now on iTunes.
Coldplay: Ghost Stories
Coldplay returns with their experimental project, which is reported to precede another full-length set to be released in 2015. Target has scored an exclusive of the band’s sixth studio album, which includes the bonus tracks “All Your Friends,” “Ghost Story,” and “O (Part 2/Reprise).”
Mariah Carey: Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse
The emancipated diva returns with her first and fiercest studio album since 2009, which includes the hits “Beautiful,” “The Art of Letting Go,” and her stunning version of George Michael’s “One More Try.”