Doug Boilesen  

Memories of the Phonograph

The "Our Song" Phenomenon - A Phonograph Recollection (1)


By Doug Boilesen

I grew-up in a suburb of 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 our 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 played cards and played board games.



We also played the phonograph...alot.

The Keister rec room could have accurately been called "the social center of the dateless" since most activities were pretty much a guy thing. But we had fun and one of my distinct memories is the sound of 45 rpm records playing on the RCA Victor record player that sat in the corner of the rec 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, it was an Italian version of Downtown and for some reason playing that record seemed to irritate Dave. Which is obviously why Doug liked to play it.

Doug's bedroom was in the basement and in his room he had built what you would have to call a monster sound system. The speakers were Voice of the Theatre 15 inch cones inside two huge grilled speaker cabinets. A large control panel he had made dominated the room with its size and switches and lights.


The Control Panel, circa 1966


We used to kid Doug about that control panel because it seemed like most of the buttons and lights didn't do anything. I don't remember the sound being as great as its size but it had power and he could crank it up, much to the displeasure of his parents. As I recall 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 that he played on his Harman Kardon component stereo system (the purchase of which is a story in itself). I remember his albums were stored on the top of the upright piano in the basement and there was quite a selection (The Association, Beatles, Beach Boys, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, etc.)




Reading Look magazine and listening to Kim's Harmon Kardon with Dave Clark Headphones, circa 1966.


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).

But if I was to name one song that I connect with those record playing days and nights it has to be the 45rpm Red River Rock by Johnny and the Hurricanes.



It's a record that we played over and over, which is one way to account for how deeply it's still embedded in my memory.

Remembering a song, however, doesn't have to be based on the number of times you hear it. I think everyone has associations with certain songs and why a particular song is remembered can have many reasons.

For couples a song can be given special status and be called an Our Song. This designation usually has romantic connotations but all songs can trigger memories of a particular time or place.


Click here to see the full 1945 Crosley radio-phonograph advertisement, and other "Our Song" examples


I can't count how many times we played Red River Rock on that RCA record player but hearing it will always take me back to the 1960's and the Keister basement. I don't associate Red River Rock with any special moment or the fact that anyone in our group actually thought Red River Rock was a great record.

I'm also certain that none of us would ever think of it as an "Our Song". We were a group of teen-age boys in the 1960's and Red River Rock was really just one of the records we played.

But it is a song that has connections and triggers memories.

Therefore, I call Red River Rock one of my "Time Travel Songs", i.e., it's a song that has a special status in my memory banks that can take me back in time.

I'm sure most people have more than one of these 'tunes' in their head.

Think about yours:

What are the songs that take you to another time or place?

Do you have an "Our Song"?

In the end my "Our Song Phenomenon" story was written for two reasons:

First, I think it's interesting that certain songs have this 'sticky' quality that can take us back in time or place even if we only hear a few bars of the song.

And second, I wrote this "phonograph recollection" because I enjoy all popular culture connections to the phonograph, celebrate the phonograph and its legacy, and look for any excuse to repeat my phonographia truisms (to the point of sounding like a broken record).

So let's repeat that 'record' one more time:

The Phonograph is an invention that began a 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!

Its magic is alive.

It's a revolution still turning.


Celebrating the Phonograph, ©1990 Black Rock - Portraits on the Playa


(1) A Phonograph Recollection, named with a tip of the hat to Mari Sandoz's The Christmas of the Phonographs Records - A Recollection

(2) Original Valentino's pizza restaurant, Lincoln, NE 1957 (courtesy of Valentino's). Val's pizza didn't have delivery service so before any of us could drive there was a significant dependency of an adult picking it up on the other side of town.

Ordering was also a challenge. It was common on a Friday or Saturday that we would start dialing around 4:00 pm to put in an order and we might get busy signals for an hour or more. There was a phone in the Keister basement (rotary phone) so this meant dialing, getting a busy signal and then redialing until we could get through. There was no auto redial on telephones. And at Val's there was no putting us "on hold" option. We actually would take turns doing the dialing until we got through.

Even when we got our order placed it might not be ready for several hours. In retelling this pizza ordering process story I'm sure it sounds like an exaggeration, but it is a true slice from the past. Although I do believe, as Siegfried Giedion wrote, "The backward look transforms its object...History cannot be touched without changing it.




Click here to listen to exerpt (4.8 MB) from Red River Rock, Johnny and the Hurricanes


Click here to listen to exerpt (5.4 MB) from I'm a Man, The Yardbirds


Click here to listen to exerpt (5.5 MB) from Downtown, Petula Clark


Click here to listen to Italian version of Downtown, Ciao, Ciao


Click here to watch the definitive example of someone incorporating memories with their record albums. In the movie High Fidelity, Rob (played by John Cusask, a record store owner) decides to reorganize his record albums. How does he do it?: "Chronological? No...Not alphabetical? Nope...What?...Autobiographical" - Note: Scene rated R for language


The Our Song Phenomenon


The Place in a Song Phenomenon


Other DB Stories - TBU in DB_Stories