Monday, August 11, 2008

Hot Buttered Memories

My parents used to have a stereo in our living room. It was an all-in-one unit – a Magnavox I think - with a turntable built on top of an AM/FM receiver. The turntable had a kind of smoky brown translucent dust cover.

It was one of those turntables with a tall spindle that allowed you to stack records so you could hear them consecutively without interruption.

While one record was playing, the next-in-line kind of hovered above it. At the end of the last song, the tone-arm would automatically lift and move out of the way and the next album would plop down.

It sounds so silly today but if you purchased a double album set back then, you would notice that one record would have sides 1 and 3 on it and the second record would have sides 2 and 4. That way, if you were stacking your records on a spindle, you could hear the songs in the order that the artist intended!

You would stack it so that side 1 would drop first and then the second record would drop to play side two. When that was over you just picked up both records at once, flipped them over, put them back on the spindle and you’d be treated to sides 3 and 4 in the right order.

Laugh if you must but if you wanted to recreate the concert experience of say, Paul McCartney and the Wings, then you wanted to hear "Wings Over America" in the right order. It would feel weird to hear “Magneto and Titanium Man” before “Picasso’s Last Words”, right?

Same with Kiss Alive II, Neil Young’s Live Rust and Jethro Tull’s Intensity in Ten Cities…

My parent’s record collection sat on shelves below the stereo and I remember sifting through those albums and just…looking at them. It used to be cool to look at records…the artwork and the liner notes. Liner notes! I remember picking out records to read while eating cereal in the morning.

The double-album set for ELO’s “Out of the Blue” sticks in my mind as being particularly beautiful to my young eyes.

The front cover featured a kind of giant, multi-colored spaceship.

It was a “mother ship” of sorts with a smaller craft landing in one of the bay doors.

(That it looked like the electronic memory game Simon didn’t take away from its appeal to me at all!)

And the inside cover was even more amazing. It featured what must have been the command and control center for the mother ship. It was an expansive deck with energy orbs, all kinds of high-tech consoles and people manning various stations. It was done in the same high-contrast, high gloss style as the front cover of the album. Super cool.

But getting back to my parent’s collection, there are two albums in particular that I remember having a tremendous influence on me. The first, for obvious reasons, was Herb Alpert’s “Whipped Cream and Other Delights.”

Imagine the effect of that cover on a 13 year old boy with an active imagination…

The other one that stuck with me was Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul.” Shirtless, hairless and wearing a gold chain as big as…well, an actual chain, Hayes looked...gigantic. And he didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard.

The songs were long. “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” which was one of two songs on the album that I knew from the Glen Campbell version that I heard on the radio, clocked in at 18:42! And the first 8:34 were just talking! What? The other song I knew was “Walk On By” because I had a cassette with that song performed by The Association. Needless to say, the interpretations were quite different.

Another song on the album was “Hyperbolicsyllablecsesquedalymistic” which clocked in at a concise 9:39. That was my favorite song on the album but, you know, you don’t jump on the school bus at 13 years old and start chatting up the other kids about Isaac Hayes and your favorite song “Hyperbolicsyllablecsesquedalymistic."

Which leads me to the purpose of this post in the first place. Isaac Hayes died this weekend at his home in Memphis. He was 65.

You can read about “Shaft” and “South Park” and how he was a crazy Scientologist somewhere else. Here, you’ll just have to settle for my memories of his gigantic bald head and my parent’s dusty old stereo.

1 comment:

molly said...

you are perfect for a blog. perfect. or maybe a blog is perfect for you. perhaps.

we JUST talked about simon last night. and a record plyer has been a theme for me all week...weird.