Whenever my grandsons, ages 7 and 4, want to listen to their children’s music, they do one of two things. At home, they use their Amazon Echo, which is paired with the family’s music libraries. They just say, “Alexa, play the “Polar Express” song,” and “she” complies. In the car, their parents stream music from their smart phones to the stereo system via Bluetooth.
“Alexa, play ‘Uptown Funk’ by the Chipmunks.”
My 6-year-old granddaughter loves to listen to “Let it Go” from Frozen while riding in the car, thanks also to Bluetooth.
So, how did we boomers get from listening to “In the Land of Lemonade and Lollipops” on our Dansette record players to Amazon Echo and Alexa, music libraries, Bluetooth, and streaming music from smart phones? Let’s step on the gas and speed travel backward through six decades or so, leaving the technical details behind for the experts to explain at your leisure.
Today, most adults stream music for their kids by signing up with streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora, which deliver music directly to your computer, stereo system, or mobile device. Soon to be obsolete but still available are MP3 players, portable digital audio players to which music can be downloaded, such as the Apple iPod Touch 6th Generation. You may be familiar with the earlier models in the iPod line—the Classic, Nano, and Shuffle, which are now discontinued.
Before that, the compact disc (CD), a digital optical disc data storage format, was extremely popular. They were released in 1982 and have had a fabulous and lucrative run. Though not extinct yet, they are certainly an endangered species. I saw on the news recently that Best Buy will cease selling CD’s in July, 2018.
The boombox, released in the American market in the mid-70’s, is an AM/FM radio and transistorized portable music player featuring one or two cassette tape recorders/players. Some were the size of a suitcase. Developed shortly after, the Sony Walkman was preferred by many because of its smaller size and ease of portability.
The cassette tape, released in 1963, is an analog magnetic tape recording format for audio recording and playback. The first cassette player designed for use in car dashes was introduced in 1968. These are a few of my kids’ cassette tapes from the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Before cassette tapes supplanted them, the eight-track tape was the rage. A magnetic tape sound-recording technology, it was popular in the United States from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. Ah, they hark back to my college days. If you’re a baby boomer, I’m sure you owned a few eight-tracks during the raucous seventies.
Okay, boomers, it’s time to put on your PF Flyers and pedal pushers or your cowboy chaps and six-shooters, and head on back to the 1950’s. All we kids had in the 1950’s for our on-demand listening pleasure was a record player. Put the vinyl record on the record player, turn it on, pick up the arm, place the needle on the edge of the record, and listen. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
I asked my husband if he had a record player when he was little, and he said, “Of course. Didn’t everybody?” And that statement is pretty accurate. I don’t recall how often my brothers listened to records, but my two sisters and I wore them out. I had the lyrics of many records memorized without effort from sheer use and still easily recall those lyrics 50+ years later.
When I decided to write about record players, I scoured all my childhood photos to see if I could find one that included my family’s record player. I was surprised to discover that there was only one. Here my sister Sandy and I are posing at Christmas. Underneath the sewing machine on the right side, is our unassuming record player. I’m pretty sure it was an RCA Victor. It appears that at least one 78 rpm record without its sleeve sat on top of the closed lid, a record care faux paus, which was one of many committed by us clueless kids.
This RCA model on the left is as close as I could find to mine on the right.
The vinyl record was most popular from the 1950s to the 1990s. Many children’s records of the 1950’s were the 7 inch/45 rpm ones, also called “singles,” which typically played one song on each side. The Record Collectors Guild gives a refresher course here on the history of vinyl records and their various record formats.
Record Label Peter Pan Records specialized in children’s music, like this “The Little White Duck,” which I remember well. Did you have this one?
YouTube video by KcBargainDeals
Here are a few of my well worn, playable 45 and 78 rpm Peter Pan records from the 1950’s, scratches and all. Many Peter Pan records were red. Look familiar?
“Little Polly Parakeet” sung by Dale Loring with the Peter Pan Orchestra and Chorus
“Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dum” sung by Laura Leslie:
“In the Land of Lemonade and Lollypops” sung by Wendy Williams and Bobby Dixon
Of course, we had Christmas records. This one was a 78 rpm. I noticed recently that “Jingle Bells” has a crack in it and that, at some point, we covered it with Scotch Tape. I’m sure that worked well.
This 6 inch Mickey Mouse record made of orange styrene is as small as they got. On this side is “Apple Song;” On the back is “Pioneer Song.” With five kids in the house, it’s anybody’s guess how these records got so damaged.
Notice that the records I’ve shown so far have a small hole in the middle. The hole was placed on a thin spindle in the middle of the turntable, and it slid down to the platter. Some of our 50’s and 60’s 45 rpm’s had a wider hole, which required an adaptor to be placed under the spindle, like the gray one below, to keep the record in place.
If your record player did not have that device, a special insert or “spider” was snapped into the record. Here is my record “The Little Red Caboose” with “spider.” This was one of my favorites. I sang this song to my babies years later as I rocked and nursed them in our rocking chair. I didn’t need any record because I remembered the words and still do. Are you familiar with this one? Listen.
On the flip side is “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.” Wow! Did some kid stick a wad of gum on it? Use it as a dinner plate? Maybe dance on it?
Here’s one of our RCA Victor Christmas records—a 45 with two songs on each side. That RCA Victor trademark has been around a long time, hasn’t it? It is in the top ten of famous brands of the twentieth century.
Did you have any Tops records? No, not Topps baseball cards, Tops records? This one included stories with vocals and orchestra. On the flip side were “A Trip in a Rocket Ship” and “Wee Willie the Whale.”
Do you remember “The Chipmunk Song?” I think we had a 78 rpm record with multiple Chipmunk Christmas songs on it. I recall how upset I was when someone—I don’t remember who—accidentally broke it. That was the end of the Chipmunks Christmas. That was the trouble with those vinyl records; they damaged easily. But I do have the single below. Listen and see if it takes you way back.
Did you have any of the red translucent records? These were more adult records though we kids listened to them at times. My mom and dad enjoyed the Irving Berlin hits.
Besides the 7-inch “singles” records, we had some 10-inch 78’s as well. This Davy Crockett record lost its label on front and back, so we wrote in the title. Listen to this “scratchy” rendition. On the flip side are “Polly Wolly Doodle” and “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.”
We also had the 78’s that narrated classic fairy tales—Cinderella and Aladdin. Each came with two records (4 sides).
Our first Christmas album was a Waldorf Music Hall one, sold exclusively at Woolworth stores from 1954 to 1959. It is a ten-inch, 33 1/2 rpm record with five songs on each side. It was always my most beloved Christmas record. We played it so often during Christmas that I unintentionally memorized the entire poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and can recite it easily to this day. According to Tony Gudell, “The original purchase price of this “New High Fidelity Recording” was $1.98!” If you would like to hear the entire album without my dreaded scratchy background noise, see Tony’s YouTube site.
This is a photo of the Waldorf cover, compliments of cbenhob. If you are interested in buying the record album—perhaps to reminisce about Christmas in the 50’s—it is for sale by cbenhob on e-bay.
In the 1960’s, we also had a 12-inch Three Stooges record titled Christmas Time With the Three Stooges, but it went the way of our dearly departed Chipmunk record. It included multiple silly songs, including my favorites at the time, “I Want a Hippopatomus for Christmas,” “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” “I Gotta Cold For Christmas,” and “Wreck the Halls With Boughs of Holly.” I can still recall Curly spouting, “Tinsel, tinsel, it’s only tinsel! What harm could one more teensy weensy piece of tinsel do?” right before the chandelier crashed down. Here’s a sample from Jim Priestly on Youtube.
Did you notice that none of my 1950’s records above have sleeves? With five kids’ hands repeatedly pawing them, the covers are long gone. But I do have some Christmas record albums from the 1960’s that still have covers. Here is my favorite of the 60’s—Firestone’s Your Christmas Favorites Volume 7, featuring Leontyne Price and the Vienna Boys Choir. It wouldn’t officially be the Christmas season in our house until the Waldorf and Firestone albums played on our record player. To hear the entire album, see TheSorrowful Flowers’ YouTube audio/video.
A few years ago, I brought 50’s and 60’s memorabilia to programs I presented in conjunction with my book The Crab Hollow Chronicles. Always looking for more memorabilia, I found these 50’s/60’s records, and they even have sleeves! If you’re a boomer, you’ve got to remember watching Romper Room. “Romper stomper, bomper, boo, tell me, tell me, tell me do. Magic Mirror, tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play? I see Eddie and Shirley. Oh, and I see Billy and Sandy.” Listen to a Do Bee song below.
My brother Bill found this 1949 Howdy Doody gem—a set of two records by RCA Victor.
I hope that at least a few of these records have brought back fond musical memories for you. They certainly have for me. If you think of a cherished record that I didn’t mention, chances are there’s a copy in all its glory on the Internet.
For you record diehards, take heart. Vinyl records are making a comeback, even among millenials. Seriously. Look it up.
Happy Trails to you!
Oh, and if you’ve run into this gramaphone in your musical journey today, you’ve gone too far backwards. Fast forward before you run into Thomas Edison.
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.