The "Our Song" Phenomenon - A Phonograph Recollection (1)
By Doug Boilesen
I grew-up in a 1950's neighborhood in Lincoln, Nebraska called Eastridge.
Our house had a basement with a recreation room (more commonly called the rec room). We had shuffleboard "triangles" inlaid into the tiled basement floor and it provided occasional entertainment. But the real fun was up the street at the Keister's.
There were three Keister boys and their ages were within five years of each other so it was easy for me to knock on their door and find someone to play with. It was the 1960's and you would play with friends, not hang out with friends.
Over the years we ate alot of Valentino's pizza (2) in the Keister rec room while we played pool and cards and board games.
We also played the phonograph...alot.
The Keister rec room could have been accurately called "the social center of the dateless" since most activities were a guy thing. But we had fun with one of my distinct memories being the sound of 45 RPM records playing on the RCA Victor record player that sat in the corner of the room.
Dave was the oldest Keister brother and he loved Doris Day and Petula Clark. I can still hear him playing his 45 RPM of Downtown.
Doug was the middle son and he also had a 45 RPM record of Downtown. However, his was an Italian version of Downtown and playing that record always seemed to irritate Dave...which is obviously why Doug liked to play it.
Doug's bedroom was in the basement where he had built what you would have to call a monster sound system. He called it "The Machine." The speakers were Voice of the Theatre,15 inch cones inside two huge speaker cabinets. Doug had made a large control panel with switches and meters and lights and the whole thing dominated the room.
The Control Panel, circa 1966
We use to kid Doug about that control panel because it seemed like most of the buttons and lights didn't do anything. I also don't remember the sound being as great as its size but he could crank it up, much to the displeasure of his parents. The Yardbirds' I'm a Man was always turned all the way up by Doug at the end of the song.
I can still hear Mrs. Keister yelling down the staircase "Turn down that music!"
Kim was closest to my age and he had a quite a few 33 1/3 LPs (e.g., The Association, Beatles, Beach Boys, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, etc.) and he played them on his Harman Kardon component stereo system (the purchase of which is documented in Kim's FOTP Memory of the Phonograph).
All in all there was a variety of music heard in that basement: "de gustibus non est disputandum" as the Romans would say (there's no accounting for taste). (3)
But if I was to name one song that I connect with those record playing days it has to be the 45 RPM Red River Rock by Johnny and the Hurricanes.
It's a record that was played over and over, which may be one way to explain how it's still embedded in my memory.
"You been playing that SAME record ALL DAY!" Harvey, October 1970
"You kids musta played that noisy record a million times!!" Kathy, August 1961
That embedded sticking of a tune, often called an "earworm," however doesn't have to be based on the number of times you hear a song. Connections we make with certain songs can have many sources.
"Some one fed him a phonograph record and now the tune keeps running through his head."
Cartoon by T. S. Sullivant, Life magazine 1924
Greeting Card, ©Hallmark, c.2000
For couples a song can be given special status, an Our Song. This designation usually has romantic connotations but anyone, like Archie's pal Jughead, can have a song that triggers memories and can be called a "My Song."
The World of Jughead, 1963
Even with a loss of memory music can still be remembered. Dr. Oliver Sacks writes in his book Musicophilia, that “musical perception, musical sensibility, musical emotion and musical memory can survive long after other forms of memory have disappeared...Familiar music acts as a sort of Proustian mnemonic, eliciting emotions and associations that had been long forgotten, giving the patient access once again to mood and memories, thoughts and worlds that had seemingly been completely lost.”
We were a group of teen-age boys in the 1960's and Red River Rock was just one of the records we played but hearing it decades later still takes me back to the Keister basement.
I don't call Red River Rock a My Song or an Our Song but instead think of it as one of my "Time Travel Songs".
I'm sure most people have more than one of these songs.
I wrote The Our Song Phenomenon - A Phonograph Recollection for two reasons.
First, I think it's interesting that certain songs take us to a time and/or place even if we only hear a few bars of the song.
And second, I enjoy all popular culture connections with the phonograph, celebrate the phonograph and its legacy, love listening to music and as a Phonographian look for any excuse to repeat, like a broken record, my phonographia truisms.
So here they are again:
The Phonograph is an invention that began a social and popular culture revolution of sound.
The Phonograph created for each of us the "Best seat in the house. Forever"©
On December 6, take a moment and wish Edison's Phonograph a Happy Birthday!
It's a revolution still turning.
Trumpeting the Revolution ©1990 Black Rock - Portraits on the Playa by Douglas Keister
Listen to exerpt from Red River Rock, Johnny and the Hurricanes
Listen to exerpt from I'm a Man, The Yardbirds
Listen to exerpt from Downtown, Petula Clark
Listen to Italian version of Downtown, Ciao, Ciao
Watch the definitive example of someone incorporating memories with their record albums as Rob, played by John Cusack in the movie High Fidelity, decides to reorganize his record albums. How does he do it?:
(Note this scene is rated R for language).
See the full 1945 Crosley radio-phonograph advertisement "This is Our Tune...Remember?"(above) and other "Our Song" examples in popular culture.
Click here for other stories related to Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska in the 1950's and 60's.