Posts Tagged ‘West Side Story’

Jerry’s Tiny Record Collection

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

I found him in my stocking on Christmas morning in 1961, if I recall correctly. He was one of those little plastic trolls that became a major fad a couple of times in the years since, those little Scandinavian trolls that are so ugly they’re cute. I actually think the troll I found at the bottom of my Christmas stocking was one of the first on the market because he was different from the ones that came later: Jerry – and I have no idea why I called him that; it was an eight-year-old’s decision – was made of smooth shiny plastic, not with the matte finish that I’ve seen on every plastic troll since, and his eyes were colored black on the plastic surface, not made from glass beads.

Jerry came from Denmark. He even came with a passport that said so. Jerry’s passport said he was manufactured by the company founded in northern Jutland by Thomas Dam and carried the legend “Another Dam thing from Denmark.” I giggled at the faux profanity.

I imagine that I had some idea of where Denmark was when I was eight. I’m sure I knew it was one of the Scandinavian countries, as my half-Swedish heritage and things Swedish were important in our home. I probably recognized the design of the cover of Jerry’s passport: a white cross on a red field, modeled after the Danish flag just as the Swedish flag is a yellow cross on a blue field.

Anyway, I had a Danish troll. During the early times, he was pulled into the games my sister and I played. He became the very much larger brother in our family of small dolls and figures, whose adventures occupied us for hundreds of rainy and chilly days. (One of that tiny family’s favorite pastimes, I recall, was watching the fictional show Sea Urchin on a television screen drawn crudely on a small piece of wood.) And the rest of the time, when he was not cavorting with Elfy, Billy and the rest of his plastic family, Jerry sat on my desk through my childhood, my adolescence and onward.

When I went to Denmark for my junior year of college, he went with me. How could he not? It was his homeland. Most of the time there, he sat on my desks at my Danish family’s house and in my room at the youth hostel. But when I traveled, he did too, nestled inside my shaving kit. (Though I didn’t shave for most of that time, that’s what I called the little case anyway.) And for at least a moment or two at every place I stopped or stayed, from London to Moscow, from Rome to Narvik, I pulled Jerry out of the kit and let him look around.

As I write, he’s standing on the turntable cover to my left, positioned between the earpieces of my headphones, with the same impish grin and huge ears he’s always had, spreading his plastic arms wide to embrace the world, as he’s always done. (I wish I had a picture to share, but the only slide I ever took of Jerry was plagued by an eight-year-old’s photographic inexperience, and the digital camera is not available as I write. Additionally, every on-line picture I find is of later trolls with matte skin and glass eyes; I think Jerry may be the last of his kind.)

So what makes Jerry matter in this venue? Beyond the fact that he’s been my tiny companion for nearly fifty years, there’s also the fact that in the 1960s, Jerry had one hell of a record collection. Soon after I got him, I made a small house for him out of a cardboard box and set about furnishing it. A small weaving I did in school became his carpet. I found boxes that could work as cabinets, and he kept his valuables in Dad’s discarded metal canisters that had held Kodak film. And I – excuse me – jerry-rigged other things to provide him a good home.

Along the way, I found a magazine ad for one of the record clubs. Older readers will remember the ads: They were on heavy paper and showed the front covers – in graphics that were about a half-inch square – of maybe two hundred LPs. Those covers were partially die-cut so they could be punched out and glued to one’s membership application to indicate which records you wanted as your first gleanings from the record club.

And when I found one of those ads during the time I was furnishing Jerry’s home, I punched out a bunch of those little album covers and placed them in Jerry’s shoebox. He had a record collection! So what did he listen to? I don’t recall all of it, but I know there were a couple of Frank Sinatra albums, one or two records by Stan Getz, a few soundtracks – the red cover to West Side Story sticks in my mind here – and probably some other light jazz and vocal pop. This would have been around 1962, remember, when Peter, Paul & Mary and Ray Charles’ country albums would have been the edgiest things to top the charts.

So, using for the most part the list of Top Five albums from October 20, 1962, here is a six-pack of records that Jerry might have listened to in his shoebox in the autumn of that year:

“500 Miles” by Peter, Paul & Mary. This was a track on the trio’s self-titled debut album, which was No. 1 in the October 20, 1962, chart and stayed there for seven weeks. The album provided the trio with two Top 40 singles: “Lemon Tree” went to No. 35 in early June of 1962, and “If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song)” went to No. 10 that autumn.

“Desafinado” by Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd from Jazz Samba. This album wasn’t in the Top Five as of October 20, 1962, but it could not have been far away. (With a little bit more digging and a little luck, I learned that the album was at No. 9 that week.) By the time the No. 1 album changed on December 1 (with Peter, Paul & Mary yielding to Allan Sherman and his My Son, The Folksinger), the Getz/Byrd album was No. 5. It spent forty-four weeks in the Top 40 and was No. 1 for one week in March of 1963. As for “Desafinado,” the single spent ten weeks in the Top 40, beginning at the end of October 1962, and peaked at No. 15.

“You Don’t Know Me” by Ray Charles. Pulled from Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, “You Don’t Know Me” was at No. 2 for one week in September 1962 and spent three weeks atop the Adult Contemporary chart. The Modern Sounds album – the first of two such albums Charles would record – was No. 1 for fourteen weeks during the summer and autumn of 1962 and was at No. 3 in the October 20, 1962, chart I’m using. It had been the source in the spring of 1962 for “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which went to No. 1 in the Top 40 (five weeks), the R&B chart (ten weeks) and the Adult Contemporary chart (five weeks).

“Tonight” from the soundtrack to the film West Side Story. Probably the most famous song from the musical created by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, “Tonight” is most likely my favorite song from a Broadway musical or resulting film (and by extension, Jerry’s favorite as well). I don’t see any singles in the Top 40 from the film, but the soundtrack went to No. 1 in May of 1962 and was No. 1 for an incredible fifty-four non-consecutive weeks. On October 20, 1962, it was at No. 2.

“Ramblin’ Rose” by Nat King Cole. Taken from the album of the same name, “Ramblin’ Rose” spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40 and peaked at No. 2 in September of 1962. The album – at No. 5 on October 20, 1962 – spent fifty-three weeks in the Top 40 beginning in late September 1962 and peaked at No. 3.

“Ya Got Trouble” from the soundtrack to the film The Music Man. While “Ya Got Trouble” wasn’t a hit single – The Music Man threw off no Top 40 hits – it was nevertheless a brilliant performance, with Robert Preston’s savvy traveling con man creating a problem where none existed. And lots of folks heard it at home, as the soundtrack album was in the Top 40 for thirty-five weeks beginning in August 1962 and peaked at No. 2, staying there for six weeks. It was at No. 4 on the chart of October 20, 1962.

I made a reference to Klezmer music when I wrote about last week’s Saturday Single. I’ll be doing so again two days from now.