Poor Boy

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Mike McCarthy
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Poor Boy

Postby Mike McCarthy » Fri May 01, 2015 7:35 pm

[Writers must write. Kindly bear with me ...]

My parents had a fairly decent Grundig packaged system mono hi-fi purchased in the late 50s. However, I wasn't allowed to use it if either of them was home, which was most of the time because my mother had stopped working after my father began earning the decent money that made the Grudig affordable for us. Therefore I rarely got to play the very few records I could afford. Therefore my main source of pop music was the cheap AM radio in my bedroom.

I was and am fine with AM sound quality. As I write this I have on $10 supermarket headphones connected to my Lenovo laptop, one of the four computers I own. (My wife owns a fifth computer, and her company has provided her with a loaner sixth for her to use in her part time hospice nurse work.) This site ...
http://www.audiocheck.net/soundtests_headphones.php
shows that the frequency response of my headphones is roughly 35 hz to about 8.5 khz. Why doesn't this bother me? For the same reason that black and white photography and movies don't bother me.

[Stay with me. I'm actually headed someplace ...]

Color is nice but it's only about 15% of the visual information in a color photo, even though it's 75% of the data, and I'm speaking here as a former serious amateur and semi-pro photographer. The lack of color rarely breaks a good image, and the presence of color can never rescue a bad one.

Photography is about the eye of the photographer, not the equipment. Similarly, for me music is about the recording content, not the playback equipment. My natural auditory focus is on rhythm, harmony, melody, song structure, arrangement and orchestration, in approximately that order. For me high fidelity audio, and stereo, are nice to have but unless they're essential for listening to a given piece, I really don't care.

What do I mean by essential for listening to a given piece? Well, in Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour" ...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGVGFfj7POA
once you get past the intro there is a faint triangle part hitting every eight beats on the and of one. On my Lenovo rig I hear that part as simply a faint click, and if I didn't already know the triangle is in the mix I probably wouldn't hear it at all. It's ear candy, not the music, and it has nothing to do with the way I personally enjoy the piece.

Still, ear candy is important to many people. That's why producers work hard to season their pieces with it. To someone who enjoys listening to music on a high quality living room sound system, being able to spot and appreciate things like the triangle part may contribute enormously to listening pleasure, entirely justifying the cost and footprint of the equipment.

[Don't touch that dial ...]

Don't I like high quality audio? You bet. My initial exposure to seriously high sound quality was when I attended an Alan Freed revue at the Brooklyn Paramount in the fall of 57 when I was thirteen. I was blown away by the live sounds of all the instruments, but especially by that of a Fender Bassman.

That theater was managed by the uncle of my summer camp friend Jesse Kligman. Not only did we get into these shows for free for three years running, we got to go backstage too. The ticket takers, the ushers and the people guarding the stage door to the alley outside all knew us so we could come and go as we pleased. Once in Jesse and I often split up. My usual practice was to watch a show once from the balcony and a second time from the wings of stage left, which was where the performers entered. Then I would hang out near hall that led to the dressing rooms to chat with performers and to get autographs.

[How many times do I have to tell you? Pull your hand back from that dial. Do it now]

One of the 1958 revues featured the Royal Teens with their huge hit "Short Shorts". This video ...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OOTr04YTwE
a kinescope outtake from American Bandstand, I do believe, shows the group arrayed and dressed the same way they were at the Paramount that day. The girl is wearing a shiny metallic silver blouse, the first such garment that I had ever seen. There was a broad spotlight on the group overall but a tight spotlight on the girl. The shimmer of the brightly lit blouse as she danced stunned me.

I remember thinking to myself "I don't play sax or drums but I certainly could play the guitar part, and probably the piano part too. I like the record but they're not gods. That could be me up there and maybe someday it will be."

[We're close, folks, I promise.]

A few months later I heard the Royal Teens on radio again, this time with a new piece whose name I did not know because it came and went quickly and I only heard it once, maybe twice. That was fine, I liked it and therefore the tape recorder in my brain captured it essentially note for note. I didn't hear it again but I didn't need to -- I could call it up and play it back any time I wanted to.

I was puzzled by the piece, however. It had two saxes, not one, and the piano sounded as if it had been electrified somehow. Other than that it was the same instrumental lineup -- drums, piano, tick-tack guitar (it wasn't called that back then) and sax(es). There was no bass in either song, which interested me.

After I discovered YouTube five years ago I decided to track down this recording, but I was unable to. I played every Royal Teens number I could find -- nothing. I read every Royal Teens discography I could find -- nothing. I even consulted my new friends at
http://www.oldies.about.com
i.e. the people who were able to tell me who played the 12-string on Paul Ankas "Lonely Boy". Once again, nothing. I tried to describe the piece to them but nobody had any idea what I was talking about.

About a year later I heard part of the piece used in the sound track music for some movie, the name of which I did not catch. There was no mistaking it, it was exactly as I recalled. Now I was really frustrated, absolutely determined to identify it it. I somehow stumbled across a list of 500 instrumentals produced between, I believe, 1955 and 1965. Trouble was, the list was organized by airplay ranking, not by year.

I started laboriously working my way through the list. No entries on the first page said anything about the Royal Teens, but I did YouTube searches on each of them anyway, and I played the opening bar or two whenever I got a search hit. It was exhaustive old fashioned police work that was almost certain to pay off provided I took no shortcuts.

About two hundred entries later I turned a page of the list ... And there it was, "Poor Boy"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fb3KORDdXA
by the Royaltones. Not the Royal Teens, the Royaltones.

There. Wasn't the wait worthwhile?

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