The other day in the car I heard a segment from a series that NPR’s All Things Considered is running throughout the summer: “Remembering Mom and Dad’s Record Collection.” It got me thinking about the melodies of my childhood that still play through my memories. The soundtrack of my childhood is an eclectic mix of all sorts of things. But there are a few songs that really stand out, things I listen to and instantly think of my mother, but more often my father.
My dad’s music tastes were more pronounced. He didn’t sing us traditional lullabies. Instead we his often humorous yet, sweet strains of The Beatles, Jim Croce, and Billy Joel, among many others.. I am the oldest child, so I often had the enjoyment of watching my dad sing those same songs to each of my siblings, as babies, nestled into the crook of his leg, being sung “Jerimiah was a bullfrog…” Rocking out in the corner recliner, my dad’s take on Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” soothed each one of us into contentment.
Often the songs that he sang most frequently merged together, that even now it seems hard to sing one without another. I guess how that’s how I got started singing them to my own children. Last year we took our seven and three year old to a sixties’ style laser show set to Pink Floyd. As the lights dimmed and tracks from The Dark Side of the Moon piped in, I instantly thought of my dad. Memories of riding in my dad’s car as he played his cassette tapes, or thumbing through his old records stashed in a wooden crate under his nightstand, and all of the snatches of old songs he would sing to me and my siblings. I began to sink comfortably into a playlist from my past. I began singing all of my dad’s standards to my own kids.
They soaked up the “Piano Man,” “Benny and the Jets.” My son began requesting “Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” so bedtime and they both join in when I start into “Hey Jude.” Whenever I break out into the vintage, the kids clamor to listen. They’ve become a rapt audience; hungry for this piece of grandpa and the sounds that filled my ears at their age. I grew up knowing who all these musicians were, not because my dad was a musician, he wasn’t. He didn’t sing outside of our house. Dad solemnly swore his first and only church solo was Rod Steward’s “If You Want My Body,” suggesting it as a possibility for musical number evasion should I want to keep my vocal talents unrequested as well. My dad loves music like he loves a good joke. The music was often the conduit for his wit, evidenced by his frequent rendition of “More Platitudes Give Me,” to the more common hymn, especial to Sundays.
I was shocked when I realized my husband didn’t know all this old music too. He couldn’t belt a single Elton John song, or burst into strains of Queen at will. He didn’t grow up giggling as his dad deliberately messed up the words to “Raspberry Beret” for the upteenth time. It was then I started to recognize my dad’s gift. The music he gave me. Those tuneful memories are sweet ones; funny clips of my dad I am passing on to my children. A less than holy legacy, but my family history none the less. They’re some of the memories of my dad I love best: watching him happily holding the smallest child propped on his knee, looking into their eyes, smiling, singing, “I’m a straight shootin’ son of a gun.”
What were the songs your parents gave you? Or how did your parents’ taste in music shape your own?