This is a story that begins in the Chestnut Prison.
The Chestnut Prison was my existence at 606 Chestnut Street in Abington, Massachusetts, where I spent the summer and fall of 1978 living with my father and stepmother, in an effort to get away from the toxic and poisonous home life of my mother and stepfather. Essentially, I swapped receiving physical abuse with receiving mental abuse. Pick your poison, I guess.
Now back in 1978, I did have a small record collection – about a few dozen 45’s that were claimed from garage sales and shopping trips. And I had played those songs to death on my little GE Wildcat 4-speed drop changer phonograph, using it as an emotional respite from the pain of being told I was worthless, hopeless and useless. You know, when your father tells you – on more than one occasion – that if abortion was legal in 1963, I wouldn’t have been his problem and would have been dispatched immediately … yeah.
Well, one day, I stacked six or seven records on the dropchanger, and let them fall, one by one, on the turntable. Only this time, I accidentally put the records on the phonograph in such a way that the B-sides were played, not the A-sides. And in that, I experienced a new set of songs – some were throwaways, some were pretty incredible. I’ll spare you the throwaways, here were the incredible songs. Now mind you, this is me with a bunch of garage sale 45’s, so don’t be expecting much in the way of British new wave and Australian pub rock.
SERGIO MENDES AND BRASIL ’66 – So Many Stars (B-side to “The Fool On The Hill”)
This is how I discovered that Sergio Mendes could create more than just bossa-nova Beatles covers. Holy cow this is awesome.
LOU REED – Perfect Day (B-side to “Walk on the Wild Side”)
First off, the 45 I had of “Walk on the Wild Side” was missing the lyric about giving head. Thanks, RCA. But wow, the ballad on the B-side – with its minor chords and Lou Reed just talking about the little things in a relationship … simply made me melt.
PAUL McCARTNEY AND WINGS – Nineteen Eighty Five (B-side to “Band on the Run”)
Maybe I didn’t understand the symbolism of the song in 1978, and I wasn’t sure why there was a snippet of “Band on the Run” at the end of the record, but hey, I still enjoyed this track.
THE CARPENTERS – I Kept On Loving You (B-side to “Close To You”)
Wait a second – Richard Carpenter sings? He sings lead?
SIMON AND GARFUNKEL – We Got a Groovy Thing Goin’ (B-side to “The Sounds of Silence”)
This sounds like it was a throwaway song from their old doo-wop “Tom and Jerry” days, but man, does it rock out for 1965. And this was on the B-side of “Sounds of Silence”? No freakin’ way.
DAVE MASON – Mystic Traveler (B-side to “We Just Disagree”)
This whole orchestral suite was tucked in the back of Dave Mason’s hit “We Just Disagree.” Unbelievable. All five minutes of this song were crammed into the 45 with barely a runout groove to spare.
MEAT LOAF – “Bat” Overture (B-side to “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”
Now here’s the thing, I only heard Meat Loaf from his hits on the radio, so I did not know the full concept of the song “Bat out of Hell.” But what I did know was that there was a two-minute overture of some sort. Which meant that when I eventually got the Bat out of Hell album, the “overture” made more sense.
BOSTON – Let Me Take You Home Tonight (B-side to More Than A Feeling)
I get it. You put your song’s weakest album on the B-side of a 45. But calling this Boston’s weakest song on an eight-song LP masterpiece is like saying that Joe DiMaggio is the eighth greatest New York Yankee.
In November of 1978, I finally escaped the Chestnut Prison. It wasn’t easy, and 40+ years later, I still bear the emotional scars of those months. They won’t ever go away. In fact, for a few moments, writing this blog post brought some of those dreadful memories back to the forefront.
But at least the music still kept me balanced through all the trying times. So I’ll take that.