Just hold still and listen to me for a moment now…
I came to America and I got a record in the mail.
But hold on, because it wasn’t the one you can see pictured. This was in Alabama in July of 1997, when another record came from my buddy Alex who was living in Tennessee at the time, and just like that record you can see up there this wasn’t your typical single record either.
Because this record was affixed to the front of a postcard.
Let’s think about that concept for a second. It’s one that we covered in my fourth post on this blog about the Monty Python flexi-disc, you may recall. The record that Alex mailed came from the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, which at that time was in various locations before it closed its doors permanently six years ago in 2009.
Nothing lasts forever it seems.
But my postcard record did, and this is what it looks like;
The postcard measures five-and-a-half inches by three-and-a-half inches, and has a colour photo of Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger on the front; then ‘a permanent resident’ (as the card says on its back) of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans museum, thus;
(I’ve deleted Alex’s text as it was kinda personal and he wouldn’t like that.)
My postcard of an embalmed horse has a small clear plastic record attached to its front, as you can see via my hopefully high-res scan. It plays at thirty-three-and-a-third RPM, LP speed, and features a one-minute-and-twenty seconds version of the cowboy classic Happy Trails, performed by The Slowpokes, and later still by Van Halen as I recall, but that’s another story. This exact version of the song would typically be the last song played at the end of every session of my faux radio show Radio Cheezwiz, as talked about in my previous post.
Ah, for the glory days of Cheezwiz…
But consider this, if you will for a second. A typical everyday appliance like a camera, or a compact disc player, a computer or a microwave, does all of its work on the inside; closed up from you, and their working parts are not seen in action by the user.
But a record player is working right there out front for you to see.
You take hold of that thin stem tone-arm thing with the cartridge and needle on the end and you move it towards the revolving turntable, placing it on the surface of the record. Out will then come a song, or whatever it is that is on that record.
I don’t think I’ll ever not be fascinated by the method of how that works. Truth is I don’t know precisely the exact science of how it does work and I don’t really want to know. I’ve seen microscopic imagery of a record groove and it looks like a mountain valley range in the desert, and I love that.
A good friend of mine who reads this blog was fascinated by the spirals that you can see on the surface of some records, and if you’re clever enough (which my pal is) to read the spiral you can associate it with the exact point where the beat hits, and may even be able to tell what speed or beat the music is playing at just by looking at it! That’s just crazy to me.
Also incredible to me is that this Happy Trails postcard record of mine isn’t protected from the outside world by anything in its transit. Think of what machinery it must have gone through in order to arrive in my mailbox; postal machine scans, tiny overheating vans, sweaty mailman’s hands, journeys over lands, and yet it still plays grand, as it did not ten minutes ago when I put it on my record player in order to time its playing length for you.
But a word of warning if you’re curious to hear it for yourself, and there are copies of this very postcard record for sale on Ebay.
This record has a smaller centre of impact (ie. where the needle touches down at the start of the song) than what you may find on most standard issue 7″ records; ergo if you try to put the needle to this record your player may immediately initiate its reject function and automatically pull back before it can even start. It plays well on my Numark portable and also on my posh Technics turntable so I’m sorted, but y’all’s might be different.
But I digress, and besides, a story from New Orleans in Louisiana is awaiting the telling.
Underground Sounds was a small record store located on Magazine Street in the Garden District of New Orleans that I would visit on my many trips to the city between 1993 and 2003 when I lived in Mobile, Alabama. I’ve visited hundreds of record shops/stores in various countries in my life but Underground Sounds was genuinely fantastic, and one of the very best, as it had some of the strangest and most unusual records I’d ever seen for sale in there.
I just did a Google search and found a website that listed an address and telephone number for the store. I dialled the number and it started to ring. It’s at that point that you get the feeling of being somewhat unprepared for what you’re going to say, because you hadn’t expected it to ring in the first place.
The line picks up with a single hello and I ask the voice if this is Underground Sounds.
“Good heavens me, no” comes the reply. “I’ve lived in this apartment since 2001 and was given this number.” I’m so sorry, I say to the clearly older guy on the other end.
“Oh, it’s no problem”, he says. “I get calls about it from time to time. It must have been a really good store.” You have no idea, I tell him as we chat for a couple of minutes longer and he tells me to call around radio stations in the area, as maybe they’d have more of an idea.
Thank you very much, kind unknown man. You were a true gentleman.
It’s my impression from fading memory that Underground Sounds was stocked almost exclusively from someone’s private collection because the records I found in that store I hadn’t seen anywhere else and they were just too good. I bought a whole bunch of decently priced and somewhat obscure 7″ singles from there, and Mother May I’s Meet You There was one of those.
I recalled seeing the band on MTV 120 Minutes one night and admiring the song’s infectious guitar riff, being something of a lover of twisting guitar arpeggio riffs as I am, and so filed their name away for future use.
The song came home with me eventually for a mere fifty cents and on a playable postcard record too. It was just too good to be true. That it also has the original record store sticker attached to the front – which I would typically remove if it was a paper sleeve – is a boon to the tale also, as there is nothing at all existent on the internet about this once fine independent record store. I fear it may not be alone in that respect.
There will be more choice moments from those Underground Sounds journeys as this blog progresses.
And so what then of Mother May I? What do they look like? Like this I suppose, from the back of the card;
And what do they sound like? The quote from the now defunct Bikini magazine sets you about straight on that one.
I bought their Splitsville CD – in those times I could only get it on CD – featuring Meet You There, and it also has a good song on it called Painted On, about getting a tattoo; putting it up there with the likes of wonderful tattoo songs such as Jennifer She Said by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, another great tune from that limited subject matter.
I wrote a fan letter to the band back then because I am that kind of a fun guy and I got a handwritten reply from someone called Damon from New Jersey who was thrilled to write one of his favourite rude Brit culture references to me. The chosen phrase was ‘shite’. It thrilled him to say that. He seemed like a nice man. I wonder which one he is.
My girlfriend Amanda just told me that the band is named after a school playground game popular in the USA. (There may have been a similar game in my school yard days in England, but fading memory can’t recall the name of it.)
It’s with this in mind – and also in need of a title for the blog post – that I inadvertently created a game of my own from this band’s name and their song title. Amanda and I sometimes travel great distances in her car and entertain ourselves with invented music games to pass the long and often dark miles of interstate.
Using the name of this band and the name of their song put together I was able to create a new sentence from the two, mother may I meet you there. So that’s how you play the new game, by creating a sentence from a band name and a song, ie. The Jam and In the City then becomes the jam in the city.
Artist names are not allowed (like Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash) because that would be too easy. If you get a good one write it in the comments field.
It’s a lot trickier than you might think.