“It was like the Warhol-designed Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album cover had a baby with an ABC After School Special”
I often miss my analog life. Recently I purchased on eBay a carrying case for a stack of old 45 r.p.m records I’ve collected since the 1970s. I would have been satisfied to find a box with an abstract psychedelic pattern, but was thrilled to find this case with its oh-so-1970s denim motif, replete with fake stitching and a closure that’s looks like a belt buckle. It was like the Warhol-designed Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album cover had a baby with an ABC After School Special; in other words, it was love at first sight. When the box arrived I found a big surprise inside: a card with complete annotation of the original owner’s collection of 45s. These cards for listing contents came with record cases dating back to the 1930s, so boxes of this sort with these cards would have been considered old fashioned even in the 1970s.
When I began studying the card I was fascinated. The usual mid-1970s pop chart suspects were there—The Partridge Family, Cher, The Carpenters, John Denver and Bread—but there were also surprises. What really intrigued me was that that I knew most but not all of the songs, so I decided to do some research. When it comes to pop music history before the millennium, I prefer to know everything.
After the jump, the mystery of the denim box is unpacked and spun for you.
“The Denim Box” has enough clues to begin to solve the mystery of it’s age and who the collector might have been. Judging by the handwriting, I think the original owner of the denim box was a girl between 10 and 13. She was actively engaged with the box from 1972-1974. She probably had older siblings which accounts for some of the older songs in the collection, like Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” and Tom Jones’s “She’s a Lady.” The box also contains a great song by The Cyrkle, “Turn Down Day,” a Top-20 hit from 1966. Though they were best known for their million seller “Red Rubber Ball,” I actually prefer the Pennsylvania-based band’s “Turn Down Day.” Check out the amazing harmony, perhaps influenced by the fact that they opened 14 dates on the Beatles 1966 tour.
The newest record in the box is, by a happy coincidence, also generally regarded as one of the worst pop songs ever. Truthfully, it deserves its own Stargayzing “Bad Songs I Love” feature. “(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka with Odia Coates, released in June 1974, is inarguably one of the most wretched songs to ever go to number one on the pop chart. (Parenthetically speaking, I must mention that I also love songs that have unnecessary parenthetical titles.) By any name, “(You’re) Having My Baby” is stunning in its odd noxious confidence in itself, existing as an odd relic of the 1970s and also, somehow, outside of trivial matters like time. I should mention before I completely expose the glorious rotting stench of this song, that Paul Anka is a great songwriter (Sinatra’s “My Way” and the Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” theme, to mention just two of his great musical contributions), but this song, this “(You’re) Having My Baby” song, is most assuredly not one of the great ones. It is certainly not “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” or even “The Times of Your Life,” that schmaltzy but amazing Kodak jingle he wrote that became a hit. No, no, no, “(You’re) Having My Baby is, instead, one of the most sexist, sperm-centric, and all-around bizarre pop songs ever. Sample lyrics: “You’re a woman in love and I love what’s going through you”; “the seed inside ya baby do you feel it growing?”; and, my favorite, “you could have swept it from your life but you didn’t do it.” It’s all so Roe v. Wade for the Easy Listening set.
As I mentioned, there were a few surprises for me on in the Denim Box. There were a few classic soul song in the box, namely Joe Simon’s “Power of Love” and Paul Humphrey and the Cool Aid Chemists’ “Cool Aid,” and instrumental that went Top-30 Pop and Top-15 R&B. Humphrey, a Detroit native, was a session drummer who played on Motown hits including Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”
Some other highlights from the Denim Box—all worth familiarizing yourself with or listening to again if you already have made their acquaintance—include Joan Baez’ exquisite cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (#3, 1971), and Bobby Bloom’s joyful “Montego Bay” (an international Top-10 hit from 1970). Interesting note on “Montego Bay”: the single version generally cuts out Bloom’s a cappella coda of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” ostensibly to avoid paying royalties. The album version, presented here, retains the clever Oklahoma! reference:
“The Denim Box” was not completely without its more progressive elements. To wit, “Popcorn,” from 1972, by Hot Butter, one of the first electronic records ever and notable for its prominent use of the Moog synthesizer. The song was an international hit and frothy as it is, is still considered an important moment in the development of electronic pop.
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