A couple of summers ago, whilst saving up to go travelling, I found myself very short of cash. Outside of paying the bills, the majority of any remaining money from work and selling my stuff was locked into a bank account that was allocated for flights, accommodation, visas, injections and all sorts of travel related expenses. I had to make sacrifices and anything that was outside of the general day to day living had to be put off, this included contributing to birthdays and other celebrations around that time, like fathers day. I was very conscious however that I treated my mum to some theatre tickets for her birthday and Mother's Day and my Dad’s birthday falls on Christmas day so with all the excitement and stresses of the festive period, he sometimes gets forgotten about.
Knowing that I wasn’t going to be around for his birthday later in the year, I had to get a bit creative with gifting him something that he would enjoy.
He is a massive music fan and his vinyl collection is off the charts (sorry for the pun). I ran the simple idea of creating a playlist past a few people and they all said it was a good concept so I went with it. The task was to build a playlist on Spotify with my Dad consisting of his favourite tracks growing up, allowing him to take some time out of his busy day to reflect back on songs that shaped his youth. He would then be able to share that to his facebook friends and they can all reminise together. It’s something I knew he would enjoy doing and it was also cost effective for me!
We ended up focusing on the 60s and the songs he bought on vinyl after hearing soul music on pirate radio as a teenager. My initial thoughts were that he could fall back in love with his vinyls as I knew they were in the loft somewhere, those old dusty records stuck up in this suburban alladins cave. A super exclusive museum that nobody could get tickets to. As a child I was always intrigued by the loft and the mysterious belongings it held. Being scared of heights, I used to only climb half way up those rickety stairs to the upper echelons of the house, fearful that I would fall 7 feet to my death. Dad would usually lead the way, being the only person who could truly manipulate the hatch, stairs and light all in one smooth operation. Every single time without fail, he would curse the volume of stuff up there and how he couldn't find this or that. ‘I dont know why she keeps this stuff’ would be a regular complaint.
This still happens now.
At times, my mum would send him up there to retrieve something that she needed for that afternoons baking session or to support with tending to the garden. She wouldn’t go up there either and I actually dont think shes ever scaled those steps. She would however project manage Dad’s efforts from basecamp, he would shout down and report about his failed attempts to retrieve whatever it was she had requested and she would of course guide him knowing exactly where the thing was and in exactly which carrier bag she would have left it in, irrelevant of having never been up there.
Because of all the stuff stored in the loft (we’ll get back to this in another article) there was no desire for him to ascend the steps and sit up there in the boiling heat crate digging, so we had to approach curating this list in a less physical way. He consumes music differently now so it was easier for him to use youtube to find a song that he wanted to add to his playlist. It was time for him to think back and dig deep into his memory to the sounds of yesteryear and pull out his top 10 soul classics.
Picking the first two tracks were pretty straight forward, he highlighted those straight away but then he hit the wall. As all true music fans face when playlistsing, the dilemma of choice.
Overall, it took about 4-5 days of me bothering him but as gifts go its not something he can unwrap, wear or watch but it was an experience and an excuse to go back and use his favourite music, that he may have forgotten about, to evoke memories and stories. Who knows what it could have triggered in him and others.
As i shared this playlist, some of the comments made me realise that it wasn't just a gift for him…
‘Oh what memories, fantastic father's day gift for us all! Loved it. All of it, my kind of music’
‘Chris, what a brilliant idea this is’
If you are looking for an experience gift, maybe give this a go and see where it takes you. Anyway, i bet you want know what songs made the cut…
1. Darrell Banks ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
‘Read this,’ he said, ‘I’ve got that,’
‘What the rare London label pressing?’ I said,
‘Well, no not that one but I've got the 45'
‘Right, so how much is yours worth then Dad?’
‘About £4’ he said (its worth noting that since that day, my Dad knows the actual value of all of his records that didnt see the light of day for 20 plus years. He can now choose to keep them or sell them to people who will use them and get value from them)
Brilliant. This could have very quickly turned into a trip to Antiques Roadshow.
The track itself is great but it’s this story around it that elevates it to another level. It was released in 1966 on the Revilot label and was described as one of the finest non motown releases to come out of Detroit. In the UK it was released on the Stateside label with the London label release pulled as they did not own the rights, hence the scramble for the rare pressing.
He managed to release two albums in 1967 and 1969 before being shot and killed by an off duty police officer who was having an affair with Banks’ girlfriend.
2. Doris Troy ‘I’ll Do Anything (He Wants Me To)’
Released in February 1966 and Dad purchased this (doesn't remember how much) in H & R Cloake Record Shop in South London, littered with American imports and a bargain basement full of mono pressings and deleted albums.
Allegedly she was discovered by James Brown whilst working as an usher in the Harlem Apollo.
There's a delightful video of her from 1999 singing along to this song whilst being filmed at her house for a documentary, she was suffering from emphysema at the time and died shortly after.
3. Maxine Brown ‘Oh No Not My Baby’
Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and released in 1964. Apparently it was supposed to be performed by The Shirelles but that version was deemed unreleasable.
‘Why did you buy this one Dad?’
‘Well, just liked it didn't I.’
4. Tony Clarke ‘The Entertainer’
‘I think I bought this one in a second hand shop in Thornton Heath for 7 and 6 pence, about 35p now.’ He did have to break down the calculations for me.
Tony Clarke was known more for writing songs for Etta James but this one track was released in 1965 and again the artist is surrounded by controversy. He sometimes used pseudonyms when writing and his life was tragically ended at 31 when he was shot by his wife in self defence.
5. Billy Stewart ‘Sitting In The Park’
Billy Stewart’s biggest hit from 1965 and a favourite at the various discos that the old man used to go to. ‘All my school friends listened to this music, it wasn’t just me, we all spent loads of money on records after hearing the American artists on pirate radio.’
Whether this was a trend relating to this genre or era of artists or whether my Dad subconsciously selected artists who were tragically killed in their prime, I don't know but Billy Stewart was killed in a car accident at the age of 32 when his car plunged into a river on the way to a show.
It was at this time I rang my dad and asked him if he knew the tracks he was picking did have these stories related to them and he said that he genuinely had no idea.
‘Makes it a bit sombre now doesn’t it’ he said.
6. The Dixie Cups ‘Iko Iko’
I didn’t know this but apparently this 1965 Iko Iko track sampled a similar track by Sugar Boy and his Cane Cutters in 1953. Law suit and song writing credits dispute follows, usual music business stuff. You’ll be pleased to know there's no tragic end relating to these guys other than various lineup changes. The orginal Sugerbabes?
7. Shorty Long ‘Chantilly Lace’
Another early tragic ending coming up.
‘Chantilly Lace’ by Shortly Long when you listen to it you’d think you’d heard it a million times before, such is the structure and overall layout of the song. Well, you probably have. This is a cover version, originally done by Big Bopper and then subsequently re-done again in 1973 by Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘We used to swap or sell records after we’d been to the shops so if one of us didn't have a copy of a certain track, we’d either swap it for something else we liked or sell them.’ I asked if this was a money making scheme, he said no.
Shortly Long died aged 29 when he and a friend drowned after his boat crashed on the Detroit River.
8. Pigmeat Markham ‘Here Comes The Judge’
Did my Dad pick a track that borders on the precursors of hip hop? Well I did not expect this. He didnt get why I was listening to The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest and Biggie in my early teens, but this one makes his list!? Hypocrite!
Pigmeat Markham is described as an American soul and comedy singer and thinking back he did used to listen to a bunch of comedy shows on vinyl, it all makes sense now. Released in 1968 under the Chess label.
9. The Meters ‘Cissy Strut’
Top tune this one. Pure funk and the only instrumental to make it into the list. 1969 release on their album ‘The Meters’. The track following this one on their album is called ‘Chicken Strut’, I listened to it and yes it’s filthy funk but includes these guys making chicken noises all the way through it.
These funk masters are still going today as The Funky Meters although alongside some new members.
10. Isley Brothers ‘It's Your Thing’
Check out the garms in this video. We don’t see enough capes anymore. I asked Dad if he wore anything like this to any of the discos he went to, he initially said no and laughed but then said, ‘well…’ My mind raced to images of him pulling out some moves in orange flares and flowery shirts with a headband and an extra long silk scarf.
‘It’s Your Thing’ was released in 1969 and was in response to Berry Gordy after they left his Motown label in 1968. A nice polite F*** you from the 60s.
Turns out what experience you gift for one person can have a ripple effect that is outside of your expectations.