The White Tornado

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(Pictured: the group Alabama hangs out in 1980.)

On August 1, 1981, MTV launched, on a single cable system in New Jersey. It would take a while before MTV gained sufficient critical mass to change music history. Out in the pop world of 1981, the beat went on. Here’s a live-blog of the American Top 40 show that aired around the country that weekend.

Casey starts the show by noting that there are eight new songs in this week. New, yes. Different? I wonder.

40. “You’re My Girl”/Franke and the Knockouts. Franke and the Knockouts’ first hit, “Sweetheart,” remains great. “You’re My Girl” is a song you’ve already heard a million times before you’ve heard it once, and you’ll never need to hear it again.

39. “Really Want to Know You”/Gary Wright. In which Gary Wright sounds postively exhausted.

38. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”/Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. This has never done much for me, but at least it’s got some personality.

37. “Don’t Want to Wait Anymore”/Tubes. The band hired super-producer David Foster, and he gave them this generic love ballad that could hardly be by the same band that made “White Punks on Dope” and “Don’t Touch Me There.”

36. “Love on a Two-Way Street”/Stacy Lattisaw. Before playing “Love on a Two-Way Street,” Casey answers a question about songs that stayed the longest in the Top 40 by giving the answer—and then repeating the answer in case we didn’t catch it 10 seconds before. Then, he says, “Debuting this week is that 14-year-old girl Stacy Lattisaw, with her second Top 40 hit on the pop chart called ‘Love on a Two-Way Street.’ Stacy Lattisaw.” FOR GOD’S SAKE MAN YOU JUST TOLD US HER NAME WHY DO YOU HAVE TO SAY IT AGAIN

35. “Feels So Right”/Alabama. Late in 1980, Alabama scored their first two #1 country hits, and sometime that winter, the county fair in my little Wisconsin hometown was able to book them for the grandstand in July. By the time they played, they’d had two more #1s and “Feels So Right” was crossing over to pop. It was the fourth in a streak of 21 consecutive #1 country hits that would last until 1987.

34. “Don’t Give It Up”/Robbie Patton. A “turntable hit” is a song that gets played a lot on the radio without generating many sales. The phrase is obsolete but the concept remains today, especially in country music—radio stations give heavy airplay to certain records that I am convinced no listener actually likes. I also feel that way about the blindingly white “Don’t Give It Up.” It’s hard to imagine that anybody raced out to the record store to buy it, but radio stations liked how it sounded.

LDD: “While You See a Chance”/Steve Winwood. In which Mary, a woman from the Chicago suburbs, makes friends with a train conductor named Bobby, who consoles her with advice after her dream of moving to California falls through: “Life’s not gonna give you anything. You have to make things happen.” Shortly after that, Bobby fell off the train and was squashed against the third rail.

Well, no, I made that last bit up, but if I hadn’t admitted it, would you have doubted me?

33. “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”/Jim Steinman
32. “Double Dutch Bus”/Frankie Smith
“Double Dutch Bus” is rarely mentioned when we discuss the earliest rap records to get traction on the pop charts, and I don’t know if it belongs. But if it’s OK with you, I’d prefer we never speak of it again. Or Jim Steinman either.

EXTRA: “Winchester Cathedral”/New Vaudeville Band. Part of Casey’s series reviewing the #1 songs of the 60s, this is the 154th, from December 1966.

31. “Fire and Ice”/Pat Benatar. I am no Pat Benatar fan, and this isn’t especially good on its own, but it sounds great compared to the rest of this show so far.

30. “Who’s Crying Now”/Journey
29. “A Woman Needs Love”/Ray Parker Jr.
28. “Cool Love”/Pablo Cruise
27. “The Breakup Song”/Greg Kihn Band
Journey and Greg Kihn are the best of this show so far, but even a man with the soul-music cred of Ray Parker Jr. can’t escape the white tornado that is 1981. “Cool Love” doesn’t move me in any direction.

26. “Modern Girl”/Sheena Easton
25. “Medley”/Stars on 45
I’m about ready to tap out here. “Modern Girl” is dreadful. Compared to that, “Medley” is “Stairway to Heaven.”

24. “Don’t Let Him Go”/REO Speedwagon
23. “In the Air Tonight”/Phil Collins
22. “Urgent”/Foreigner
EXTRA: “Good Vibrations”/Beach Boys
Finally, some signs of life. But we’re two hours down and still only up to #22.

Do I want to live-blog the rest of this? Not really. Do you want me to? Well, OK then. Tune in again next time.

Got It and Gone

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(Pictured: soul singer Margie Joseph in 1973.)

Instead of following up an American Top 40 post by looking at the Billboard Bottom 60, let’s look instead at the Cash Box Looking Ahead chart for the week of July 17, 1971, which is like Billboard‘s Bubbling Under chart.

1. “Crazy Love”/Helen Reddy. “Crazy Love,” Reddy’s followup to “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” is Van Morrison’s song.

2. “And When She Smiles”/The Wildweeds. The Carpenters sang this song as early as 1971 as “And When He Smiles,” but the version by the Wildweeds, a band from Connecticut, is the original.

8. “Make It With You”/Ralfi Pagan. Pagan’s falsetto version of “Make It With You,” which had been a #1 hit by Bread a year before, maybe ain’t for everybody, but it got Pagan onto Soul Train and boosted his career as one of the top Latin artists of the early 70s. In 1978, he was murdered under mysterious circumstances while touring in Colombia. The crime was never solved.

9. “That Other Woman Got My Man and Gone”/Margie Joseph.  If “That Other Woman Got My Man and Gone” puts you in mind of Johnnie Taylor’s “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone,” that was probably the idea.

16. “Leave My Man (Woman) Alone”/Raelettes. In which Ray Charles’ backup singers gender-switch one of his songs. “Leave My Man (Woman) Alone” is advice you’d be wise to take.

17. “Breezin'”/Gabor Szabo and Bobby Womack. Although “Breezin'” was more famously recorded in 1976 by George Benson, this “Breezin'” is the OG.

20. “Good Enough to Be Your Wife”/Jeannie C. Riley. If Carly Simon’s contemporaneous “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” is about the ambivalence many young women felt about being expected to fit into society’s expectations about marriage and domesticity circa 1971, “Good Enough to Be Your Wife” expresses a dissenting view. Jeannie C’s man says marriage doesn’t fit his way of life, but she says (paraphrasing), you want the milk, honey, you best buy the cow.

21. “Near You”/Boz Scaggs. Boz was already on his way to stardom in the San Francisco Bay area by 1971. “Near You” would fit right in with his stuff from the late 70s and early 80s, a period that Boz now refers to as “the Hollywood years.”

22. “Candy Apple Red”/R. Dean Taylor. After throwing shots with the police in a doomed attempt to escape a murder charge in “Indiana Wants Me,” R. Dean Taylor commits suicide over a lost love in “Candy Apple Red.” In a church. His last words are, “Someone please pray for me on Sunday,” and the record goes to the fade with a bit of the Lord’s Prayer. What the hell, R. Dean?

23. “Hymn 43″/Jethro Tull. “Hymm 43” seems like such a weird choice for a single. It’s hard to imagine on it AM radio alongside the likes of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and “Draggin’ the Line.”

25. “I Want to Take You Higher”/Kool and the Gang. As long as the original exists, you don’t really need this version of “I Want to Take You Higher,” but it’s fine.

26. “Where Evil Grows”/Poppy Family
27. “K-Jee”/Nite-Liters
28. “Do You Know What I Mean”/Lee Michaels
30. “Where You Lead”/Barbra Streisand
A handful of singles on this week’s Looking Ahead charts would scrape onto various Top 40s and bigtime radio stations. “Do You Know What I Mean” would end up the biggest. “Where Evil Grows” deserved to be bigger. I have for many years fanboy’d over “Where You Lead.” And “K-Jee” is straight-up disco, years before the word came into widespread use.

29. “Call Me Up in Dreamland”/Van Morrison. After the success of “Domino” and “Blue Money” from His Band and the Street Choir, “Call Me Up in Dreamland” was a stiff. It’s got a great chorus, but the verses are lacking and Morrison’s tenor sax is kind of old-timey.

Sometimes I worry A) that I should do better at keeping up with current music trends strictly because playing that music on the radio is my job now and B) that I am missing out on new stuff that’s good and worthwhile. But I remember that there are hundreds and hundreds of good, worthwhile, and/or interesting records from the preceding 130 years or so that I haven’t heard yet. Then I stop worrying and listen to them instead.

Programming Note: A while back, a reader asked a question I am happy to answer. But my answer is going to be a Sidepiece post, for reasons I will enumerate there. It will go out over the weekend. If you’re not a subscriber yet, the Sidepiece is free and worth the price. Find out about it and sign up here. 

Stop, Look, and Listen

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(Pictured: Carly Simon says hello from the summer of 1971.)

I wrote about the American Top 40 show from June 5, 1971, last month. Now here we are again, six weeks later in that summer (the July 17 show), with more to say about other songs from the ever-more-distant past.

40. “Liar”/Three Dog Night
8. “Draggin’ the Line”/Tommy James
One night in the summer of 1971, my cousin and I decided to camp in his back yard. We were not sleeping rough; we were in a tent 15 feet from the back door of his house, which was located on a fairly busy street in the small town where he lived. I didn’t like it, tossing and turning and wishing that morning would come. Thank goodness I had my little transistor radio, the one I’d gotten for my birthday in February, with the Packers logo and the little earphone, so WLS kept me company through the long night. These two songs bring that experience back.

39. “Stop, Look, and Listen”/Stylistics
37. “If Not for You”/Olivia Newton-John
The first week in the Top 40 for two acts who would spend a lot of time there in years to come.

33. “Rings”/Cymarron
25. “Get It On”/Chase
24. “Double Barrel”/Dave and Ansil Collins
21. “Signs”/Five Man Electrical Band
15. “Funky Nassau”/Beginning of the End
11. “She’s Not Just Another Woman”/8th Day
Some of these you know, some you might not. (Honk if you remember the Magnificent W-O-O-O. Honk twice if you could live for days in the last verse and fade-out of “Rings.”) They have been a part of me for half a century now, and each of them leaves me with a feeling of awe and wonder at the passage of so much time.

32. “You’ve Got a Friend”/Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway
29. “Love the One You’re With”/Isley Brothers
3. “You’ve Got a Friend”/James Taylor
We were approaching peak “You’ve Got a Friend” in this week. I once predicted that James Taylor’s version would still resonate 100 years after its release, and we’re halfway there. I’ve written before about the Flack/Hathaway and Isleys covers, but I don’t think I’ve said how much I like them. The Isleys’ “Love the One You’re With” just might outdo the Stephen Stills version.

31. “Brown Sugar”/Rolling Stones
30. “Wild Horses”/Rolling Stones
Radio stations probably shouldn’t play “Brown Sugar” anymore, in the era of BLM and #MeToo. That’s fine. But I have adored every lascivious second of it for 50 damn years, so if you come for my personal copy, you’ll have to pry it out of my sticky fingers.

EXTRA: “Maybe Tomorrow”/Jackson Five
EXTRA: “Harbor Lights”/The Platters
“Maybe Tomorrow,” which would chart at the end of July, was a modern-day extra offered to affiliates by Premiere Radio Networks to fill unsold time. The original cue sheet shows “Misty” by Johnny Mathis as an extra, but it’s scratched out and replaced with a handwritten “Harbor Lights.”

20. “Want Ads”/Honey Cone
16. “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again”/Fortunes
10. “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be”/Carly Simon
6. “Mr. Big Stuff”/Jean Knight
4. “Don’t Pull Your Love”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
If you were going to teach a class on songwriting and record production, you could build whole lessons around these. Some are rich in clever, figurative language (“experience in love preferred but will accept a young trainee,” “misty morning eyes I’m trying to disguise the way I feel”), and Carly Simon presents text enough for a whole seminar on the sexual politics of 1971 (“you say we’ll soar like two birds through the clouds but soon you’ll cage me on your shelf”). All have memorable melodies, and the productions stand up to repeated listening—50 years’ worth.

EXTRA: “I Feel the Earth Move”/Carole King
1. “It’s Too Late”/Carole King
The original cue sheet shows that Casey planned to play a cut from Tapestry in the last hour of the show, but it doesn’t specify which one. Since the show was being recorded in real time in 1971, I wonder if they decided on “I Feel the Earth Move” based on the timing of the show as it got close to the end. Introducing “It’s Too Late,” Casey says that it’s only the third time since 1955 that a song by a female artist has spent five or more weeks at #1 on the Billboard chart. Carole joins Gogi Grant (“The Wayward Wind”) and Lulu (“To Sir With Love”). But King was the first to write her song and to play on it, which is a different, and more significant, milestone. (Ralph Schuckett, who played the electric piano that entwines so  seductively with the sax and guitar on “It’s Too Late,” died last April at the age of 73.)

Try to Remember

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(Pictured: Melissa Manchester in the 70s.)

In the previous post, we started on the American Top 40 show from July 12, 1975. Here’s some stuff about the rest of it.

23. “Only Women”/Alice Cooper
20. “Rhinestone Cowboy”/Glen Campbell
There are two acts Casey talks about where his personal feelings are nearly always audible: the Captain and Tennille, whom he obviously admires a great deal, and Alice Cooper, whose weirdness he can barely fathom. Introducing “Only Women,” he tells a long, chuckle-dusted story about Alice’s recent Bicentennial party, which climaxed with Cooper jumping out of a cake. The grand tone with which he introduces “Rhinestone Cowboy” makes me think it was his favorite record of the moment.

22. “Jive Talkin'”/Bee Gees. Casey says that disco must be a big thing if the Bee Gees are doing it. (“Listen to ’em swing,” he says.) My man, you have no idea.

18. “I’m Not Lisa”/Jessi Colter. Which Casey introduces with a story about how young Jessi, growing up in Arizona, once accidentally swallowed a baby hummingbird.

15. “Midnight Blue”/Melissa Manchester. Your mileage may vary, but to me, “Midnight Blue” is the best thing on the show by quite a lot.

13. “The Way We Were”/Gladys Knight and the Pips. Full title is “Try to Remember/The Way We Were,” incorporating what would have been an extremely familiar song in 1975, from the musical The Fantasticks. Gladys’ monologue that opens the song, about the way we revere the past, is a little cringey now, but contains one undeniable line: “As bad as we think they are, these will become the good old days for our children.” True dat.

Casey says that a couple of weeks ago, he told us that the only instance of a band and a member of that same band having hits in the Top 10 at the same time was when the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” were on the chart together in 1970. But the AT40 staff missed a second one, he says. In 1967, the Four Seasons’ “C’mon Marianne” was in the Top 10 in the same week as Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” That’s some good trivia, but surely it’s happened since. Would somebody with a better work ethic like to research that?

6. “Please Mr. Please”/Olivia Newton-John. In Sean Ross’ Lost Factor series, he calculates the year-end chart performance of certain songs versus the amount of airplay they get now. He recently named Olivia Newton-John as his favorite Lost Factor artist. She’s not played very much despite nearly 15 years of strong singles on Top 40 radio, falling mainly in two white-hot stretches, pre- and post-Grease. Between 1973 and 1977, she had two #1s on the Hot 100, but eight out of ten charting singles made #1 on Billboard‘s AC chart. In the same period, she hit the Billboard country chart 11 times, with seven Top 10s.

4. “Wildfire”/Michael Murphey. We have noted a couple of times how Casey would refer to adult female artists as “girls.” On this show, a male artist finally gets treated the same way. Casey cals Michael Murphey, who had just turned 30, a “Dallas boy.”

2. “The Hustle”/Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony. I wonder why “The Hustle” is never mentioned among the great summer hits of all time. Not that it has anything do with summer specifically, but its light-n-bright sound is all sunny days and good times and happy people hanging out together.

1. “Love Will Keep Us Together”/Captain and Tennille. As this record spends its fourth week at the top, Casey mentions that it has been over two years since any hit lasted four weeks at #1, not since Paul McCartney’s “My Love” in the summer of 1973. (It would be April 1976 before Johnnie Taylor did it again, with “Disco Lady.”) Although several #1s in 1974 and 1975 ran for three weeks at the top, each of those years saw 35 different songs hit #1 on the Hot 100. For one song to last four weeks in that volatile environment means it was a monster. If it lacks the raw numbers to make it one of the top hits of the decade, its impact at the time is certainly enough to rank it with them.

As July 1975 rolled on and the summer deepened, the next big thing on my agenda was the county fair. It would be the last time I participated in 4H at the fair and the year I got to stay overnight in the cattle barn. I talked about it in the podcast episode I linked to in my previous post. If you’d prefer to read about my 4H and fair experience instead, click here.

In My Room

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(Pictured: Janis Ian in the 70s.)

Although I got off the farm just as fast as I could, it is a wonderful place to be from. When I walk the place in memory, it is frequently summertime. The light had a different quality depending on the time of day: clear and bright in the morning, relentlessly radiating on the hottest afternoons, soft and mellow as the evening sun sank behind the barn. Summer had its particular smells too, from the clean, organic scents of turned earth and fresh-cut hay to the still organic but less pleasant bouquet of cow manure. (I am more than 40 years gone from the farm but I can still instantly identify the different manure smells: cow is not pig is not chicken.)

In the summer of 1975, I have had my own room for two or three years, upstairs, on the south side of the house, with a balcony outside–but it has a tin floor painted black and it takes very little sun to make it griddle-hot, so I quite literally never go out there. I have a table and a typewriter (having just taken a typing class the previous spring, the single most useful course I ever took in any discipline; I have never needed algebra and 90 percent of the classes I took in college, but I type every damn day). The cheap little stereo I bought the previous spring sits on a dresser with the speakers on the floor. And as I listened recently to the American Top 40 show from July 12, 1975, I found myself back in that room, on a summer evening. I can’t remember if I would have heard this particular show, but I surely heard the songs, on stations from Chicago by day and Madison or Freeport by night.

39. “Just a Little Bit of You”/Michael Jackson. There’s nothing special about “Just a Little Bit of You,” except for its early disco sound and the fact that it captures Michael’s voice changing from the one that sang on all those #1 hits with the Jackson Five to the one that would sing on all those #1 hits later on.

38. “At Seventeen”/Janis Ian. Pop music is full of songs by and about losers and outcasts, but “At Seventeen” feels particularly truthful (if a bit self-consciously literary). The brown-eyed girl in hand-me-downs says of the beautiful people, “Pity please the ones who serve / They only get what they deserve.” But we’ve all known people, or have been people, whose oh-hell-no dismissals were actually sour grapes, or which barely concealed a desperate wish to be part of the in-group. And “Those of us who knew the pain of valentines that never came / And those whose names were never called when choosing sides for basketball” is a painfully accurate description of the out-group, and how they/we saw them/ourselves.

36. “Fight the Power”/Isley Brothers. In which the lyrical “bullshit” gets blanked. On later shows, Casey’s producers would edit in a “woo!” from elsewhere in the song.

32. “Disco Queen “/Hot Chocolate
30. “Cut the Cake”/Average White Band
Sweet mama the “Disco Queen” groove is ferocious, and never more than right at the end, when it’s just four-on-the-floor drums and horns going to the fade. “Cut the Cake” gets down pretty good, too.

31. “(It’s All Down To) Goodnight Vienna”/Ringo Starr. I don’t remember hearing “Goodnight Vienna” on the radio, and it wasn’t around long. The Goodnight Vienna album had a memorable TV commercial narrated by John Lennon, but I don’t know where it ran or for how long.

26. “Every Time You Touch Me (I Get High)”/Charlie Rich. Although “Every Time You Touch Me” would get to #19 pop and go to #3 country in this summer, its autumnal vibe belongs on the radio in September and October.

25. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”/Elton John. In the same week “Philadelphia Freedom” drops off the show, Elton’s new single, from the week’s #1 album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, makes the highest debut. At over six minutes, it was always going to present a challenge for AT40. Elton never authorized an official edit, although many radio stations made their own. The edit heard on this show (whether from 1975 or modern times, I don’t know) is pretty rough.

I never expect these AT40 summaries to require two posts when I start them, but insert shrug emoji here. Next part coming soon.

Take Me Home

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(Pictured: Freda Payne sings on Top of the Pops in 1970.)

After recapping an AT40 show, we usually explore the next 60 positions on the chart in search of records that are notable, interesting, historic, or weird. For this edition of the feature, I’m tempted to simply reproduce the entire Bottom 60 from June 5, 1971, and say, “See?”

47. “Don’t Pull Your Love”/Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds
58. “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again”/Fortunes
62. “Take Me Home Country Roads”/John Denver and Fat City
64. “Mr. Big Stuff”/Jean Knight
77. “Sooner or Later”/Grass Roots
80. “You’ve Got a Friend”/James Taylor
88. “Signs”/Five Man Electrical Band
See? All of these would eventually make the Top 10, and they stand 50 years later as the distilled essence of that AM-radio summer.

48. “High Time We Went”-“Black Eyed Blues”/Joe Cocker. I have dug “High Time We Went” forever, but until this morning I had no idea what the precise lyrics are.

49. “13 Questions”/Seatrain. This California band of constantly shifting membership contained, at one point or another, veterans of the Blues Project, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and Earth Opera. “13 Questions” is on their second album, titled Seatrain after their debut had been called Sea Train, and was produced by George Martin.

59. “Melting Pot”/Booker T and the MGs. This is the last week on the Hot 100 for the last hit single by Booker T and the MGs.

60. “Tarkio Road”/Brewer and Shipley
76. “Get It On”/Chase
84. “Never Ending Song of Love”/Delaney and Bonnie
I did not list these under “See?” because they feel like they’re a cut below that level for most people, although to me they’re as indelibly stamped.

66. “Bring the Boys Home”/Freda Payne. Although white singers did plenty of famous antiwar songs, the ones by Black performers, especially by 1970 or so, carry extra weight, considering that Black and poor communities were most heavily affected by the Vietnam-era draft. “Bring the Boys Home” is one of the strongest antiwar sentiments ever to make it big on AM radio.

72. “Hot Love”/T. Rex. I bought nothing but 45s from 1971 until the end of 1973, but why I bought what I bought is a mystery to me now. “Hot Love,” for example: WLS charted it for only three weeks and it peaked at #24, but I heard it enough and dug it enough to lay down my 95 cents. Later, I’d buy “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” too.

78. “Done Too Soon”-“I Am I Said”/Neil Diamond. Radio stations that turned over “I Am I Said” in favor of “Done Too Soon” got a “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-style list of prominent names, concluding with a slow verse that’s kinda moving:

And each one there had one thing to share
They had sweated beneath the same sun
Looked up in wonder at the same moon
And wept when it was all done
For bein’ done too soon

87. “Walk Away”/James Gang. In its day, on the singles chart, “Walk Away” would peak at #51. A decade later, it would be in the classic-rock radio canon.

89. “If Not for You”/Olivia Newton-John. The first hit of her career, in its second week on the chart.

91. “I Don’t Want to Do Wrong”/Gladys Knight and the Pips. With several arrangers and producers getting credit on the If I Were Your Woman album, it’s not easy to tell who’s responsible for the great sound of “I Don’t Want to Do Wrong,” but master arranger David Van De Pitte and underrated producer Clay McMurray are among those credited, so they’re a safe bet.

92. “Love Means (You Never Have to Say You’re Sorry)”/Sounds of Sunshine. Inspired by Jenny’s famous line from the movie Love Story but not otherwise related to the film, “Love Means” went to #5 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart, spent a single week (July 31, 1971) on the Hot 100, and was two weeks on the WLS chart. The Sounds of Sunshine, three closely harmonizing California brothers, were frequently mistaken for the Lettermen, who recorded their own version of “Love Means” in 1972 because of course they did.

95. “I’ve Found Someone of My Own”/Free Movement. This record was the longest-charting Hot 100 hit of 1971, 26 weeks—five of which came in May and June before it dropped out for a couple of weeks. It came back in July and eventually made it to #5.

96. “Mandrill”/Mandrill. Homework assignment for the readership: other songs that have the same name as the band that recorded them.

Fifty years ago this month, the fifth grade was over and summer had come—a summer that would sound different to me than any one before.