My 15-year-old summer was the last one in which I got to spend a week with my cousin Rob, who lived here in Madison, and have him return the visit to us on the farm. These vacations had been a regular highlight of summer since my brother and I were little, and eventually they became the kind of thing a kid looks forward to with a degree of anticipation that can never be matched by reality. (The biggest thrill would come on the spur of the moment though, when we’d all be at Grandma’s for some family gathering with all the cousins, and we’d hatch the plan while fooling around during the afternoon: “Mom, can Rob come home with us?” Now and then, Mom would get together with my aunt—her sister—and the answer would be, “Yes.” It was like hitting the kid-fun lottery.)
And so, when we were little, we flooded our sandbox canal systems with water from the garden hose, camped in the back yard, built forts in the hayloft, searched for newborn kittens, and messed around in our two-foot-deep swimming pool. As we got a bit older, Madison probably had a greater allure for me than the farm had for Rob. My aunt eventually gave us permission to go almost anywhere we wanted on the Metro bus, and so we did plenty of exploring. That last summer we came downtown one afternoon to stand in line outside the Esquire Theater and wait to see Jaws. I was already a denizen of State Street, especially the record stores. But by the next summer, I’d have my driver’s license, and was declared too old—and perhaps too dangerously mobile—for vacationing with Rob.
Likewise, 15 was the last summer I spent a week with my grandparents. Those visits hadn’t been quite the same since they moved off their own farm, out of the old house my mother had been born in, and into a new house in town—no more after-dinner rides with Grandpa in the two-person pony cart behind Duke or Dawn—but Grandma was perhaps the gentlest soul I ever knew, and time spent with her could never be misspent. My 16-year-old cousin, on whom I’d always had a crush, spent part of that last week at Grandma’s too. When we were younger, we always wondered why we never got to spend weeks with our girl cousins, but my mom always changed the subject without answering the question. When I was 15, I realized why.
One thing was no different during these vacations than it was at home—the radio was always on. Rob liked music and record stores, so we shared that interest, although by the time we were 15, he was getting into stuff I wasn’t, music yes, but drugs, too. His fascination with marijuana bored me—plus it was all talk and no action, as much as I saw. I don’t know what Grandma thought, down inside, of my music and radio obsession, or my insistence that I had to have a radio in the room where I slept, but where her grandchildren were concerned, whatever made us happy made her happy (except for the weed).
So anyway: Lots of the songs on the radio in mid-September 1975 remind me of those last vacations, which must have taken place close on each other in August, probably after my responsibilities at the county fair were done. They come from the chart at WFIL in Philadelphia dated September 15, 1975:
1. “Get Down Tonight”/KC and the Sunshine Band (holding at 1) The first 30 seconds of this capture the sound of a hot August night; the rest settles into a groove deeper than most of the disco records that would slop down the pike in its wake.
5. “Run Joey Run”/David Geddes. (up from 6) I’ve said it about Geddes before: Today, something like this could be done only with a wink to the audience, a break of the fourth wall (think Julie Brown’s “Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun”). In 1975, it could be done straight, without a hint of self-consciousness, and was thus perceived not as a wry joke, but as one of the worst singles of all time—a list it’s still on today.
8. “Right From the Shark’s Jaws”/Byron McNaughton and His All News Orchestra (down from 7) If you weren’t in Philly, this is likely not the Jaws parody record you heard on the radio all summer—that would have been “Mr. Jaws” by Dickie Goodman—but it was similar, recorded locally, consisting of snippets from hit songs knitted into a news broadcast about a shark sighting.
13. “Fight the Power”/Isley Brothers (up from 15) Where the hell did this—one of the heaviest funk records to make the Top 40 in the mid 70s—come from? Some radio stations actually played the long version, which ran in excess of five minutes. Almost all of them would have bleeped the word “bullshit,” which appears in the refrain, but it’s hard to find the expurgated version anywhere today.
20. “Born to Run”/Bruce Springsteen (up from 26) Everybody in the world knows this record now, but in the fall of 1975, it was not an especially big single. It never charted on WLS, although the album did, and they may have played it as an album cut. I heard it a few times on the stations I listened to and I liked it, but it was never all over the radio nationwide the way it is on classic-rock stations today.
“Born to Run” (alternate version)/Bruce Springsteen
(This is taken from War and Roses, the alternate Born to Run; the vocal and backing track are the same, but the mix is a bit different—more strings—and it’s sweetened by backup singers whose oohs and aahs didn’t make it into the final version. If they had, it’s arguable that “Born to Run” might not have had the same enduring power. Since War and Roses isn’t an official release, you’ll need to score it on the Internet somehow, through bootleg traders, torrents, or some other way. I got mine from Captain’s Dead, which posted it earlier this year, all thanks and praise be to them. If you want to buy some classic Springsteen, get this. Or preorder Magic, his new album. It rocks.)