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Four feet of music

It was slightly over four feet tall, that stack of 78 rpm records, leaning slightly south, in the middle of the kitchen floor. Dad had finally given in and bought an electric phonograph for us to use in making the tapes of music to be played over the loudspeaker at the miniature golf course on summer nights.
But it was February and we were just getting started on the project. We had a tape recorder, the kind that played those big reels of music and had to be wound back to the beginning after each playing; we had the kitchen radio tuned to our favorite disc jockey program and all those big, black records that Dad had ordered from a company that sold used jukebox records. The records didn’t come in pasteboard jackets, or even paper sleeves, just stacked in boxes. They were fairly heavy and easily scratched, chipped, or broken; before the advent of light-weight, vinyl records.
The first year, we’d recorded the day’s popular music off the radio, learning to second-guess the disc-jockey and sometimes omitting the first seconds of the record when he was likely to throw in some comment about the song or the performer, and sensing when to cut off at the end before he started talking again. Until then, I hadn’t realized how often disc jockeys talk over the records they play. I began to feel they might be doing it on purpose, somehow aware that we were trying to tape the music.
Phonograph records weren’t very expensive in those days; my sisters and I had quite a few popular favorites already, but we had always had to play them on the old windup Victrola mother and dad had since the 1930s. Recording from that big old console was difficult and the heavy needle arm was hard on the records.
We still had no way to hook up the record player and the tape recorder and had to use the microphone that went with the recorder. This required a bit of experimenting to keep the volume consistent and a certain amount of split-second timing to make the transition from one record to the next.
We needed at least six hours of recorded music, without too many repeats to play on any typical evening, and as the tapes held two hours each, that meant that we had to record three complete tapes of the kind of music Dad would approve. And that was a problem.
Dad had definite ideas about what people wanted to hear playing in the background as they enjoyed their games of miniature golf. Dad didn’t necessarily appreciate the latest popular songs. “Your Hit Parade” not withstanding, he thought that if you couldn’t easily whistle a tune, then it was somehow lacking. He didn’t care for silly lyrics either. “Come on-a’ my house. My house-a come on.” didn’t make sense to him and neither did too many repetitions of “Goodnight, Irene.”
“For goodness sake!” he’d bellow, “Just kiss her and get on home!” And, Dad got fed up with romantic ballads after the first few bars; “Harbor Lights” wasn’t nearly as popular with him as “The Beer Barrel Polka.”
We also had to consider our neighbors and the fact that they had to listen to our loudspeakers night after night all summer long. Even though the speakers were aimed and adjusted so that the music was concentrated on the golf course, there were bound to be sounds that snuck across the street and into bedroom windows opened to summer breezes in the evening.
There was one family in particular that was subjected to most of the negative things connected with the golf course. Their house was located on the corner adjacent to the highway, right across the street from the gates to the golf course. Not only did they have to put up with the music and the floodlights, but all the extra traffic and headlights of the cars arriving and leaving.
I don’t know what Dad paid for all those phonograph records, but I know there were a lot of them that we didn’t record for the golf course. He liked some female singers, Kate Smith, Jo Stafford, The Andrews Sisters; but really preferred the male crooners like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Sopranos who habitually hit high-C were out, he called it “screeching.” He liked polkas and Strauss waltzes, but there weren’t many of those on the records.
The records were mostly things that had been on the top-10 lists during the previous 10 or 15 years. Some that had been played many times were too scratchy to record and Mother found ways to make use of the rejects. We made many of them into decorative “fruit bowls” by heating them in hot water until they could be gently bent into ruffled bowl shapes and spray painted with bright colors or gold or copper metallic paint. Too bad we didn’t save them, collectors today would probably be ecstatic to come across them in an antique shop.