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Helium Soul:

My Childhood Awakening to the Radio

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The year was 1972, and I was entering the second grade. 

A pivotal year for me. Up until then, my older sister Marybeth had walked with me to school.

But this year, she was moving on to junior high and for the first time, I would be making the daunting trek to and from school by myself.

Yes, kids did this back then.

I remember more about that school year than previous ones.

I had my favorite teacher to date, Mrs. Levy, who was a rabid Blackhawks fan.

She taught us an easy way to draw a star, by overlapping two inverse triangles, forming a Star of David.

I remember a kid named Frankie, the class alpha male, who controlled the classroom clay. I remember the names of the boys that were my friends. And Linda, a blonde classmate I hung out with at recess, and whom Marybeth teased me about liking.

I remember taking part in a mock presidential election, with kids chanting “Nixon, Nixon, he’s our man, McGovern belongs in a garbage can!”

I remember the excitement of going to Bozo’s Circus with my entire class. I wore a tie for the occasion.

You dressed up for Bozo. It was a big deal.

And you knew you would be seen on TV during the Grand March at the end.

I remember finding four pennies at the entrance of the school library and using the money to buy candy at the 7-Eleven on the way home from school. 

I remember the crossing guard who was at the train tracks every school day, making sure I made it across safely.

Always with a kind, reassuring word, reminding me that I was not alone on my journey.

I remember the last day of school. We were brought to the third grade classroom to get a feel for what school would be like the next year.

But not for me. As we would be moving to a new town over the summer and I would not be returning.

It was around 1972 that my awareness of the music that was playing on the radio began to increase.

It was a great time for a childhood awakening.

Stylistically, Top 40 radio was all over the map.

As diverse as imaginable, and lyrically, all sorts of interesting topics were being explored.

So many of the songs captivated my young mind:

  • songs about roller skates and a key
  • a dead skunk
  • popcorn
  • a rat (my older siblings told me)
  • a nameless horse,
  • a mama who didn’t dance and a daddy who didn’t rock and roll
  • Papa the rolling stone,
  • a man selling ice cream in the park…

…and on the negative side, the annoying boy who had a nickel and could not stop yammering about it.

The My Name Is Michael, I’ve Got A Nickel’ kid, 2023 edition. Some things never change.

To a kid with a vivid imagination, all these things began to pop out and burn indelibly into my brain:

The repetitive title line of Lee Michaels’ “Do You Know What I Mean”

And that melodious lead guitar line on Badfinger’s “Day After Day”

I was intrigued by the idea that Carly Simon had clouds in her coffee, as I heard “You’re So Vain” blasting in the cafeteria at school. And I had no idea who Miss American Pie was or what a levee was, and why it was dry. I actually had no clue what anything in the song meant. But I grew up knowing every word of that chorus as if I had always known it. 

Marybeth may have had something to do with that one, as I have a vague recollection of her singing it around the house.

Of the varied sounds of the era, there’s one that takes me right back to the early 70s:

It’s what I would call the musical equivalent of comfort food:

The sound of a smooth falsetto effortlessly floating above the music.

In what would seem to be an impossibly high range for the male voice. 

It was one of the hallmarks of soul music at the time. If you were in a male soul group, having at least one guy-adult or a pre-pubescent boy who could hit the stratospheres seemed to be a prerequisite. 

My two older sisters were down for it.

Particularly when it came to the Jackson 5, and Patty’s Al Green love.

But not everyone in our household was on board… 

I seem to recall on one occasion my father, making a frustrated comment that he couldn’t tell if the singer was a man or a woman. 

I’m not 100% sure what song was playing at the time.

But I want to say it was “I’m Stone In Love With You” by The Stylistics.

As I aged into adulthood, I found myself drawn to this distinct sound that imprinted on me at a young age.

And more often than not, high-pitched soulful male vocals would just hit me in that sweet spot. 

A couple of years ago, I did a deep dive along this theme. I began putting together a playlist of songs that scratched the itch when needed. I included songs I had known for some time, along with unfamiliar ones unearthed in my search. 

The result is a mélange of celestial vocals, lush, heavily orchestrated ballads, up-tempo bangers, funk, soul, disco. The well-known and the obscure, stretching from the mid-60s to the late 70s.

So take a step back in time with me to the days where the music – and the singers themselves – soared to those heavenly heights.

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rollerboogie

Music is what brought me here, but I do have other interests. I like ill-advised, low budget movies that shouldn't even be close to good, but are great, and cats too.

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Phylum of Alexandria
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July 6, 2023 8:47 am

That lush Soul sound really is sublime. I love how the sitar is incorporated in the Delfonics and Stylistics cuts. And yes, that honeyed falsetto is the star of the show.

mt58
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July 6, 2023 10:40 am

” I love how the sitar is incorporated…”

Phylum is deftly foreshadowing an upcoming article…

LinkCrawford
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LinkCrawford
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July 6, 2023 11:20 am
Reply to  mt58

Nice!

Phylum of Alexandria
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July 6, 2023 12:54 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

It’s so deft it was unintentional! Which is pretty impressive, I must say.

LinkCrawford
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July 6, 2023 11:51 am

I am 5 years younger than you, Rollerboogie, starting 2nd grade in 1977. I enjoyed your recap of your 2nd grade memories as much as I enjoyed the music nostalgia.
.
The AM radio station on our kitchen counter transistor (1070 WIBC) played plenty of this helium soul. Not usually the funkier stuff (I don’t remember hearing “Superfly” or “Keep on Truckin'”, though I may have), but certainly the ballads. They really have a lot of sentimental value for me, too.

lovethisconcept
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July 6, 2023 12:36 pm

Can’t wait to dig into this list. So much of my Spotify is rollerboogie lists, and I’m eternally grateful.

One of my favorite mondegreen stories is about “clouds in my coffee”. I was in middle school when this was released, and I remember one of my friends singing confidently about “grounds in my coffee”. When someone told what the real lyric was he thought it was the dumbest thing he had ever heard. So, naturally, he went around the rest of the day singing about “lightning in my iced tea”, “thunder in my Kool-Aid”, “raindrops in my OJ”, etc. Still not sure that some of them weren’t an improvement on the original.

mt58
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mt58
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July 6, 2023 2:12 pm

Pop quiz for everyone (and you all likely know the answer:)

What’s the peripheral Beatles connection to “You’re So Vain?”

lovethisconcept
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July 6, 2023 2:25 pm
Reply to  mt58

I know, I know! Starts with K.

Last edited 11 months ago by lovethisconcept
mt58
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mt58
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July 6, 2023 2:33 pm

 😅 

(I’m picturing you wildly waving your hand in the air like a middle schooler…)

lovethisconcept
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July 7, 2023 1:38 am
Reply to  mt58

That would be the correct image.

lovethisconcept
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July 7, 2023 1:38 am
Reply to  rollerboogie

So close.

Phylum of Alexandria
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July 6, 2023 4:46 pm
Reply to  mt58

Koko Kono!

cappiethedog
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July 7, 2023 1:31 pm

Kore!

If I wanted to translate “This Corrosion” into Japanese, which form would you use to add to fushoku?

Phylum of Alexandria
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July 7, 2023 1:47 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

この腐食。。。

Phylum of Alexandria
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July 7, 2023 2:35 pm
Reply to  rollerboogie

It reads “kono fushoku,” which is what I think is how you’d render “This Corrosion”

cappiethedog
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July 6, 2023 1:58 pm

“…couldn’t tell if the singer was a man or a woman.”

Mike Milosh is a different story altogether.

Rhye’s Woman was the music industry’s equivalent of The Crying Game. The cover art for Rhye’s album features a nude woman. The image signifies the voice, which I would describe as post-androgynous. And then, for some people, like me, they are shocked to learn that the modern-day Sade is male.

Through his own personal conduct, Milosh really screwed up his chance to be one of the all-time-greats. Woman was deserving of all it’s accolades.

JJ Live At Leeds
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July 6, 2023 3:33 pm

Lovely stuff. The memories of school are so well drawn and then the segue into the musical portion is perfect. I too had no idea what a levee was and whether the fact that it was dry was a good or bad thing.

I can go either way with falsetto but when it’s good, as you demonstrate with Al Green and Curtis Mayfield it is utterly sublime.

DanceFever
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July 6, 2023 9:55 pm

Nice piece but no Bloodstone “Natural High”?

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