Full-Time Child

This week’s reissue (a fancy way of saying “retread” or “rerun”) of an old post about medleys makes me think it might be worthwhile to repeat a few other posts this summer, some revised a bit and some as they were. This one appeared on June 6, 2008, but it’s appropriate for Memorial Day weekend.

During the years of full-time childhood, last days of school are as magical in their way as Christmas mornings. Both dangle delicious promises. The specifics vary depending on who we are, but in my world, anything could happen, during my annual visit to my grandparents for a week, or during our cousin’s visit to our farm, and when we’d return the visit to him. Our family would always go on an overnight trip; when we were very little, we weren’t told where we were going until we were on the way. We’d spend five days at the county fair. On more mundane mornings, my brother and I would take off for the back of beyond after breakfast with no rules other than “don’t get hurt” and “be back for lunch.” Every day seemed positively pregnant with possibilities.

But full-time childhood ends. The summer I turned 12, I was no longer permitted to laze around all day; I had to start doing farm work or other tasks around home to earn my allowance. The visits and the vacations went on; so did the adventures my brother and I shared. But the sense that somebody else had a claim on my time—even if it was just my parents—made summer feel different. The season still had plenty of room for possibility, but it never felt quite so rich again.

So come back with me now to the first week in June 1972 for the songs of the last days of school and the first days of summer. Many of them come echoing back to me from my seat on a tractor, driving some farm implement against my will. There was no radio on the tractor, but the songs played in my head anyhow, because that’s the way it was. (And still is.) . . .

“Oh Girl”/Chi-Lites. An incomparable soul record that doesn’t get nearly the praise it deserves as one of the most gorgeous emotional expressions in all of American popular culture. I mean it.

“Nice to Be With You”/Gallery. Another 70s essential and a perfect sound for summer days. I used to know a woman who said her mother was in Gallery, although I think it was after their hitmaking days were over.

“I Need You”/America. Although it’s loaded with cliches—“like a flower needs the rain” and “like a winter needs the spring”—“I Need You” also contains a marvelous description of what being in love is like: “And every day I’d laugh the hours away/Just knowing you were thinking of me.” I wouldn’t have known it in 1972, of course, but damn—that’s precisely it.

“Too Late to Turn Back Now”/Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose. From the first second of one of the great intros of all time, this settles into a sweet summertime groove that’s still an absolute thrill every time I hear it. Although Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose was a trio on its first hit, “Treat Her Like a Lady,” on this record (new as school got out in ’72), they’re a quartet. A second sister, Billie Jo, joined the group but didn’t get billed.

“I Saw the Light”/Todd Rundgren. Good on Rundgren for his long and varied career, but to me, he’s never surpassed his first hit single under his own name. It’s June sky and the smell of new-mown hay and riding home from baseball practice wondering why I was such a bad player and driving that damned tractor and the way the fireflies flickered over the farm fields as night fell and the surprises that could happen to a kid in the summertime, distilled to two minutes and 59 seconds of AM radio glory.

It was 40 years ago, but there are times when it seems to have happened only a moment ago.

3 responses

  1. I’m pretty sure that playing those records on college radio at the time was tons more fun than doing your chores, even with the aromatic scent of freshly-spewed bus fumes replacing the essence d’hay. Well, most of those records, anyway; my music director predecessor kept the airwaves Gallery-free until “Big City Miss Ruth Ann” came along. As I look at the group shots on both front and back of the ‘Nice To Be With You’ album – which contains all three of their hits – I’d say that your acquaintance’s mom would have to have been one of the only two of the six masculine-looking group members who weren’t sporting facial hair. Then again, it *was* the ’70s.

    We had the blue vinyl Rundgren promo 45, too. It was always fun to segue that with the gold-vinyl “Roundabout” and “Western Union” promo 45s and have listeners try to guess the thematic connection. Still waiting for the winning caller…

  2. Gene Kauffman | Reply

    Beautifully written. Also one of my favorite songs.

  3. Agree with you about Todd — but he sure did come close a few times!

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