By Tim Hayes
Back in the day, long before music got downloaded from a computer and billed to a credit card, back when a weirdly shaped chip of plastic snapped into the big hole in the middle of a 45-rpm record so that you could play it on your family’s stereo, getting your hands on – and your ears around – a favorite song took a little bit of work.
In my little hometown, that meant scraping up the dollar or so it would take to buy the record, then hoofing it to the three-block-long business district almost a mile from our front door, and stepping right into my favorite merchant – the Mt. Oliver Record Shop.
The store couldn’t have been more than 20 feet wide, but it went back pretty far, with rack after rack of records – vinyl records that you listened to with a needle riding the grooves of each song, decades before vinyl suddenly became cool again. Albums and album covers lined the walls above the racks of stereophonic merchandise. For a kid who loved listening to the radio, and “American Top 40” in particular, you couldn’t beat spending as much time as possible in the record shop.
Too bad the old guy who owned it didn’t feel the same way. He made it look like every second spent in the place caused him untold pain and aggravation. It took a while to get used to seeing an angry old guy with hair coming out of his ears, standing behind the cash register giving you dirty looks, when next to him stood the coolest of the record shop’s prized attractions – a stack of tiny brochures from “13-Q,” the city’s leading bubble-gum music station.
Those 13-Q brochures came out fresh each week, with a picture of a DJ, the Top 10 songs for the week, lyrics to one of the most popular songs, and a lot of Peter Max-type artwork. If I got a hold of one of those 13-Q brochures today, I’m sure it would look like absolute garbage, but back then? They were like gold. And the grumpy-puss running the store treated them like gold, too. He used to try and force kids to buy a record before he’d let them take a brochure, but when you summoned enough guts to call him on it, he’d let you slide, even as he narrowed his eyes and tried to make you feel like a crook in the process.
One sunny 1972 Saturday morning, I walked down to the record shop to buy a 45 that I really liked. New record and 13-Q brochure in hand, I couldn’t wait to get back home and flip it onto the record player. On the way back to my house stood the little family-owned corner neighborhood store (years before 7-Eleven or anything like that came along), where some of the older, tougher kids would hang out, playing pinball and generally getting up to no good.
One of these local hoods – let’s call him Brick – carried some extra pounds, and had a reputation for pushing younger, scrawnier kids like me around for fun. He had an Achilles’ heel, though. In the corner of his left eye, a strange greenish mark stood out. It never went away. Nobody ever told me what it was or how it got there, and I sure as hell was never going to ask.
But the goofy green mark wasn’t what got to old Brick. The thing that would set him off, vowing to pummel anyone stupid enough to do this, was starting to sing the old Sugarloaf single, “Green-Eyed Lady.” He would go absolutely berserk, sort of the like the Hulk in the comic books. What is it about the color green and anger issues?
Anyway, I had to walk past the store on my way home with my new 45, when Brick shouted, “Hey! Whatcha got there, you little jerk?” “I bought a new record.” “Oh, well let’s see it! Give it here!”
And as Brick snatched the paper bag out of my hand, he pulled out the record, paused for a second, then started laughing his head off.
“What the hell kind of stupid song is this! ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’? Haw-haw! What are you, some kinda dumbbell? That’s the dumbest name of a song I ever heard of! Haw-haw!”
Then he started tossing my freshly minted Stylistics record around like a Frisbee to the other juvenile delinquents hanging around the store, all of them laughing as I jumped and lurched, trying to intercept it without it breaking into a hundred pieces.
Then it happened.
Some brave – or was it foolish – kid came walking down the other side of the street, saw all the commotion, and began warbling, “Green-eyed lady, lovely laaa-deeee!” Brick snapped his enraged head in the offender’s direction, threw my 45 back at me, and took off, threatening to kill that kid in short order.
I tore home in the opposite direction, ran straight to the record player, and started enjoying my new purchase, the 13-Q brochure from the record shop safely ensconced in the pocket of my Sears blue jeans.
It’s probably a good thing I didn’t encounter Brick after my next venture to the record store, when I bought “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu.” I might have never gotten that one back.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes