I first met Eric Duhatschek backstage after a performance of One Yellow Rabbit’s “Five Hole” in Calgary. I relished the opportunity to pick his brain about hockey– all he’s seen, and all he’s written about as star columnist in the Globe and, before that, the Herald– but it wasn’t long before we became absorbed talking about music instead. Eric mentioned that Selina Martin, one of the Five Hole Band’s singers, reminded him of Rachel Sweet, almost immediately establishing his credibility as someone whose knowledge of pop extended beyond the front racks (Sweet was a relatively obscure New Wave form the UK in the mid-80s). From this 45 essay, it’s clear that Eric– the first, and only member of the Hockey Hall of Fame to have contributed here– could have just as easily established himself writing music, not sports. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of more; somewhere, somehow.
My musical awakening occurred in the summer of 1965 when I was nine years old. I received my first six-transistor radio and became absolutely transfixed by the music they were playing on 1050 Chum, Toronto’s local rock radio station. It was the era of Jungle Jay Nelson and Brian Skinner. Chum published a weekly top-50 chart and I’d pick one up the minute they rolled off the presses down at Johnny’s cigar store on Queen Street. My goal was to know the lyrics of every song by heart by the time next week’s edition came out. Yes, I was that crazed. I would (and still do) argue that 1965 was the greatest year in the history of rock and roll – because four of the most critically acclaimed songs of all time came out that year: “Yesterday” (the B side of “Act Naturally”), “Satisfaction,” “Like A Rolling Stone” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”
If you were listening to the radio on Labor Day of 1965, here’s what you could hear (according to Chum Chart No. 443). “Help” by The Beatles was No. 2. “Like A Rolling Stone” by Dylan was No. 3. “Satisfaction” was No. 5. “California Girls” was No. 6. “Only Sixteen” (the Terry Black cover) was No. 8. The Supremes were at No. 9, Barry McGuire at 11, Freddy Cannon at 14, The Four Tops at 15, Gene Pitney at 18. “You Were On My Mind” by We Five (and written by some newcomer named Sylvia Fricker), a great song, was trending in the opposite direction, No. 25, down nine places. The Yardbirds were on the charts that week. The Turtles. The Dave Clark 5. Gary Lewis & The Playboys. The Animals. James Brown. Roy Orbison. Marvin Gaye’s “Pretty Little Baby.” David Clayton-Thomas’s “Out Of The Sunshine.” Murray Wilson had been kicked out as the Beach Boys’ manager by then. His attempt to prove to Brian, Dennis and Carl that he was the true genius in the family, his creation The Sunrays, were at 44, with “I Live For the Sun.” And right there, at No. 43, cracking the charts for the first time was the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic,” the first single I ever bought. It cost 66 cents. I bought it at Johnny’s – they sold singles right beside the comic book rack, where 12 cents got you an early Spiderman. I can’t tell you exactly how many more singles, LPs, 8 Tracks, cassettes, CDs, boxed sets, digital downloads I bought over the years in assembling a massive musical collection – probably enough to retire on – but you always remember your first, whether it’s music or the other thing. Nor can I explain why it matters so much that your first musical purchase doesn’t embarrass you 50 years later. (My girlfriend recently admitted her first single was by The Captain & Tennille, but hurriedly assured me that “Ballroom Blitz” by the Sweet was second. That was close!).
Years later, I’ve often wondered what precisely moved me to buy “Do You Believe in Magic” at that moment in my life. I was allowed to play it over and over again, on repeat, on my parents’ Telefunken turntable, instead of having to wait for your favorite DJ to play it on the radio (and forget the request line, you could never get through!) I’m listening to it again right now: “Do you believe in magic, in a young girl’s heart, how the music can free her, whenever it starts … and it’s magic, if the music is groovy, it makes you feel happy like an old-time movie … I’ll tell you about the magic and it’ll free your soul, but it’s like trying to tell a stranger about a rock ‘n roll.” That might have been it right there, that last stanza, how the music can free your soul. It touches you on a visceral level and may blow right past someone else, with a different set of values and emerging interests. It’s a song about music, dancing, girls, young love – all the feelings starting to bubble to the surface as adolescence approaches. I was a pretty happy kid, with parents who tolerated my musical interests – no small thing in those days. Lots of my friends had parents who thought the music playing on the radio (and all those freaky long hairs who sang that music) were a bad influence on their impressionable babies.
“Do You Believe in Magic” resonated with me because it was a happy song and there were lots of happy songs playing on the radio back then, songs where you could discern the lyrics as soon as you heard them. Songs that made you smile. Songs that made you think. Songs that made you yearn. Mostly, they were songs that provided insights into how you were feeling, a road map in some ways for navigating the swinging 60s, with so many confluent musical styles happily co-existing with each other. The British invasion was in full swing. The American musicians were answering back. Motown was big. So were protest songs. And in the midst of all that, Dean Martin could be sandwiched between Little Anthony & and the Imperials and the DC5 on the charts. When John Sebastien sang about how the music “starts with a smile, you can’t wipe off your face, no matter how hard you try” – that was really it for me. He made me believe in the “magic” of a young girl’s soul. He made me believe in the “magic” of the rock and roll. He made me believe in the “magic” that can set you free. Over the years, once people learn I have an interest in music, people invariably asks, ‘what’s your favorite song?’ – as if that’s a question you can parry just like that, with a pat or pre-packaged response. Usually, I say, it depends on the day, the time, the season, how I’m feeling at any given moment. I listen to Saturday songs on Saturday mornings. I listen to Night songs on Saturday night. There is a part of me that thinks your favorite song is the one you’ve listened to most frequently in your lifetime. So for me, that’s probably the other great Lovin’ Spoonful single “Summer In The City” because “Summer In The City” is the No. 1 track on my Ultimately Summer collection, the playlist that I click on most often on my Ipod Classic. Or it might be “Ride The Wild Surf” by Jan & Dean. Or “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits. Or “Looking For The Summer” by Chris Rea. Or “This Summer by Squeeze.” Or “The Other Side Of Summer” by Elvis Costello. But in truth, the answer probably lies somewhere in that box of 45s, most of which I still have in my basement, after all these years. I wore out my 45s because I played them all the time. Although I probably haven’t played it in years, I can sing every word to “The Dedication Song” by Freddie Cannon – or “Cornflakes and Ice Cream” by the Lords of London – or “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen (OK, I was a kid, everyone’s entitled to a musical mulligan).
Later came “Daniel” and “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John, purchased at Simpson’s at the Cedarbrae Mall. Later still, after I started covering the NHL, I’d visit the flagship Tower Records store in downtown New York to buy 45s. In the early 1980s, if you got there soon after a single had been released, it came in a picture sleeve, like a mini-album cover, brilliant little tiny works of art, some of them issued in colored vinyl. Once in a while, I’d buy a record just because I liked the sleeve (try and unearth Trio’s “Boom Boom” as an illustration).
About a month ago (and I blame this squarely on Bidini and this blog), I fished all my 45s out the basement and went through them, one by one. Some I couldn’t even remember. Some were inherited from my old roommate, the late James Muretich, who was the music critic at the Sun and the Herald for years. On impulse, I did something I’d promised myself for years. I selected eight singles with attractive picture sleeves (45s by Kate Bush, Debbie Harry, Josie Cotton, Nancy Sinatra, Martha Davis, The Bangles, Madonna and Carly Simon) and brought them to Michael’s. I wanted them framed so I could see them every day instead of just once in a blue moon. I probably spent 15 bucks total to buy the records. It cost me $695 to frame them. I’m thinking of sending Bidini the bill.