Rock and roll will never die, and neither will the 45, say its most fervent fans

WHO PUT THE BOP IN THE BOP SHE BOP?

January 24, 1993|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

I have a date tonight with Lesley Gore, Mary Wells and maybe Doris Day, though she sounds a bit scratchy. Que sera, sera. Then some of the guys will drop by, including Elvis and Ricky and Buddy. We'll make enough noise to wake the dead. I'll play their old 45 rpm records and sing with the gang, and pretty soon the woman upstairs will bang on the floor and tell me to turn that music down!!!

Thirty years ago, that woman would have been my mother. Now she's my wife.

Neither shares my love of the oldies. Pity. Life could be a dream, sweetheart.

I've got the records to prove it.

Our basement is wall-to-wall vinyl; my singles are banned from the rest of the house. The records, all from the 1950s and '60s, are heaped on tables in teetering piles, like stacks of licorice pancakes.

I'm still hungry to hear them. Rummaging through my 45s, I find tunes by Bobby Day and Doris Day; Curtis Lee and Brenda Lee; Joni James and Tommy James.

I've got hits by Johnny Otis and Otis Redding; the Everly Brothers and the Beverly Sisters; Lou Christie and the New Christy Minstrels.

I've even got records by both the Singing Dogs and the Singing Nun.

My collection numbers 1,000, yet mine is no house of wax. There are avid collectors in Maryland, mostly baby boomers, with 20,000 or more of these 7-inch records. Imagine that. Twenty-thousand records. At 2 1/2 minutes per song, one could play old rock, folk, surf and soul hits continuously for more than a month without repetition. And that's not even counting the flip sides.

Alas, such devotees of records are rare. Far more common are folks who saved a dozen 45s from their youth to play on special occasions, like New Year's Eve. Others simply outgrew their record collections and sold them at yard sales for a quarter apiece. Or stuck them in a dusty corner of the house. There are boxes of old 45s buried in basements all over Baltimore.

The rarest records are worth hundreds of dollars. But what price nostalgia? Most oldies evoke memories of a kinder, gentler era, or at least our perception of it.

I'm happy for any boomer with an armful of old records. He's got the whole world in his hands.

I cherish my 45s, and the ancient machine that still plays them: a 25-year-old stereo with mismatched speakers, an aging turntable and a sound that still knocks your bobby socks off.

Sometimes when I'm all alone, I'll put on a real rocker, crank up the volume and pretend I'm bopping on stage at the Apollo Theater in New York.

This time it's 1961, and I'm one of the Edsels.

"Rama lama lama lama ding dong, rama lama lama lama ding . . . "

The din awakens the dog, a large Labrador retriever, who decides to join the Edsels. She stands on her hind legs and puts her paws on my chest, and we shake, rattle and wag to the rest of the record. We dance often, but always to jump sides. Slow dancing with a dog would be weird.

Other family members, who don't share the dog's love of oldies, chipped in to buy me a set of headphones. Songs like "Chicken Necks" by Don & Juan were wearing thin on the rest of the household. The headphones let me play my 45s full blast. Except I tend to sing along with certain groups. Shut up? Shut up? I can't play "Blue Moon" without becoming a Marcel.

Harmonizing with the oldies is a kick. So is watching the pretty labels spin round. The Roulette label was a ribbon of colors when the Playmates released "Beep Beep" in 1958, and those colors still seem to spin faster as the song accelerates near the end.

But the best part of playing a stack of 45s is programming the music. What'll it be tonight? Soft ballads or frantic doo-wop? Instrumentals or rockabilly? Or a combo platter? You're disc jockey Alan Freed. You set the mood, the tempo, the beat. The options are endless.

Sometimes I'll hold theme nights. I'll pay homage to a certain year, a label, or a group (I could listen to the Fleetwoods forever). Once I played nine straight songs with the word "angel" in the title.

Recently it was Ladies' Night, with singles by Joanie Sommers, Jan Bradley, Dodie Stevens, Marcie Blane, Shelby Flint and Little Peggy March. What a lineup! Shuffling through the records, I feel like a baseball manager making up his roster.

Sometimes I'll giggle through a string of novelty tunes, like "The Little Space Girl," by Jesse Lee Turner, "Transfusion" by Nervous Norvus or "The Bird on My Head," by David Seville. And I'll slow down the Chipmunks to 33 1/3 to find out who's really singing (a man).

The only problem is when the stereo decides to change the lineup itself. My record player has a 4-inch plastic adapter, which fits on the spindle and drops the records onto the turntable, often two or three at a time. Which means I'll break into the opening bars of "Bristol Stomp," the song I thought was next, just as Percy Faith starts playing "A Summer Place."

It happens all the time. But I've learned to live with these quirks. If a record skips, as oldies often do, I tape a coin to the tone arm, just as kids did 30 years ago.

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