Guest Post by the dignified king of Toronto entertainment letters: Jim Slotek.
It makes me sound like I was an incredibly cool 10-year-old to say that my first 45 was “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones. That is, until I add that I forked over 99 cents for “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies soon after. Fact was, my nascent musical taste was a reflection of my addiction to AM top-40 radio as it existed at the time on Winnipeg’s CKRC and CFRW. Like AM radio itself, my taste was utterly indiscriminate, and occasionally cool only by accident. If I liked a song – indeed, if it became an ear-worm – I biked to down to the Transcona mall on Nairn and bought it with my paper route money. There were no liner notes, so my knowledge of what I was buying was usually next to nil. I had no idea that the guy singing in Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” was the same guy from The Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding” (Tony Burrows, a genius session musician who practically created the bubblegum era by inventing a new band for every song he recorded). And since the only lure was the rare catchiness of the tune, the majority of the artists on my 45s were never heard from again. Like John And Anne Ryder, whose one hit, “I Still Believe In Tomorrow” was a powerfully lugubrious love song, marked by melodramatic harmonies. I still know all the lyrics 45 years later, but for many years could turn up almost nothing about them on Google. Since then, the song has turned up on Youtube (I’ve learned that Marty Wilde – dad of Kim Wilde – wrote the song, but still know almost nothing about John and Anne). I was grabbed by 49th Parallel, not for the hit “Twilight Woman,” but by the ostentatiously groovy and knuckleheaded “Close The Barn Door.” It’s stuck in my head that a Yoko Ono ballad called “Remember Love” was the flipside to “Give Peace A Chance.” The song turned up a few years ago in Jerry Levitan’s Oscar-short-listed animated short “My Home Town” (written and narrated by Yoko). Screening it was akin to unearthing a repressed memory. There was no rhyme or reason to what I bought.: “The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers; “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash (with “San Quentin” on the B-Side); and “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” by Jackie DeShannon. My 45-buying years spanned from age 10 to 12. And then I discovered albums. They came with liner notes. You could spend an afternoon at a friend’s memorizing a whole album (I could still recite the entire Alice’s Restaurant massacree: “27 8×10 coloured glossy pictures with the circles and arrows explaining what each one was…” etc.). I just stopped buying 45s, and not coincidentally, began caring more about bands than about specific songs. I ceased my weekly trek to CFRW on Main St. to snag a poster-sized top-40 chart. But I still hold a sense of awe for the lightning-in-a-bottle that is a hit song. Top 40 was my gateway drug, and 45s were the crack pipe.
Winnipeger Jim Slotek is the esteemed Toronto Sun writer and spirited lead vocalist for The Screaming Headlines.
Photo: Edison Lighthouse