Golden Oldies

I am in traffic, riding through Birmingham, listening to an oldies AM radio station. Extreme oldies. The music coming through my speakers takes me to an antique world of hi-fis, beehive hairdos, and weird congealed salads.

The radio DJ says, “…And that was a song from Benny Goodman, now let’s hear one from the Les Baxter Orchestra…”

I remember my granny listening to Les Baxter albums. One such album was called “The Primitive and the Passionate,” ala 1962. On the cover was a photo of a woman who could’ve passed for Sophia Loren, dancing in a sultry way, beckoning to all who looked upon her. Even little Baptist boys.

I remember the record playing on a turntable. It was lush and tranquilizing. When you hear music like that, you are immediately transported to an earlier time, sitting on a plastic-covered sofa, watching someone’s dad—usually named Gary, Frank, or Dennis—use a cocktail shaker to make a Manhattan.

I remember another Les Baxter record. “Space Escapade” (1958). On the cover was Les Baxter dressed in a spaceman suit with spacegirls falling all over him. Keep in mind, Les Baxter looked a lot like your grandfather’s dentist.

But the record was great. An hour’s worth of exotic orchestral music that sounds exactly like being trapped in a department store with your mother while she’s trying on dresses.

“Attention shoppers,” the department store intercom says. “Special on aisle twelve, make your own julienne fries with the new Fry-O-Matic! Fourteen ninety-nine with rebate. Also, ask your sales associate about our sale on boy’s athletic supporters.”

The radio station is now playing selections from the country music vein. Conway Twitty. Hank Snow. Followed by Buck Owens, singing “Together Again.” I turn it up.

If I close my eyes, I’m sitting in front of a Zenith console TV with my father. On the screen: Roy Clark and Buck Owens are surrounded by their “Hee Haw” gals in cutoff denim shorts. And childhood is grand. Roy is picking banjo. The Reverend Grady Nut is telling jokes about Baptists.

Next, the radio spins some Willie Nelson. I turn my stereo as loud as it will go. The tune is “Stardust.”

Geez, Louise. I used to have this album. I almost wore it out. Willie’s rendition of “Stardust” is mournful, just the way the song was meant to be. The lyrics go:

“And now the purple dusk of twilight time,
“Steals across the meadows of my heart…”

This isn’t simply music. It’s American poetry written by Hoagy Carmichael, who penned a thousand flawless tunes like “Georgia on My Mind.” Willie sings this song in a relaxed way—maybe a little too relaxed, if you catch my drift.

And it makes me remember a time during childhood when I thought life was going to be easy, like all children do. Before I learned that nothing is easy, not even julienne fries.

Back when “Little House on the Prairie” was still on the air. When “Love Boat” was still considered racy because sometimes the actresses wore culottes, and according to the fundamentalists who raised me, culottes were a one-way ticket to Hell.

Nat Cole comes on next. And I’m officially an emotional basket case. Nat sings “The Very Thought of You.” Hot water builds behind my eyes. But it doesn’t drip. Not yet. Not until the next song, which is:

Jimmy Durante’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.” His raggedy voice comes through the speakers with the quintessential hoarse tone of an old man.

“I’ll find you in the morning sun,
“And when the night is new,
“I’ll be looking at the moon,
“But I’ll be seeing you.”

Niagara Falls.

Music does this to me. In my earliest years I played guitar and accordion. I was godawful. But on my ninth birthday my father gave me a piano. I practiced like a maniac and after years of struggling, I finally managed to get worse.

As a kid, I fell in with no-good musicians who were older than I was. I’ve done a lot of playing throughout my life. My first beer joint gig was before I was old enough to shave. I worked menial jobs by day and raced across town to play music each evening.

I learned to sing Hoagy Carmichael, Merle Haggard, Ray Charles, Buck Owens, and Willie. And I came to appreciate songs that meant something to me.

I turn off the radio. I wipe my eyes.

Beside me is a vehicle of teenagers. They’re listening to music so loud that it sounds like a nuclear explosion—only less interesting. They are gyrating inside the cab like rabid squirrels in heat.

The light turns green. Our mass of vehicles surges forward. The light turns red.

Now I am beside a young man in a Chevy truck. He is listening to loud modern country pop music with his windows down. A song with lyrics that go—these are actual lyrics:

“She’s got it goin’ on like Donkey Kong,
“And (WHOO-WEE!) shut my mouth,
“Slap your grandma, there oughta be a law…
“How’d she get them britches on…?”

The guy glances at me before revving his engine for effect. His motor rumbles louder than a Central Asian land war, vibrating my windshield. He speeds away and I am left alone in a purple cloud of exhaust.

I’ll bet the kid has never heard of Les Baxter. Let alone julienne fries. Or culottes. And I hope he doesn’t lay a finger on Grandma.

I turn on the radio on again and listen for more Willie. Because even though it’s old music, to me it never gets old.


  1. Charaleen Wright - February 9, 2021 7:16 am


  2. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - February 9, 2021 7:52 am

    I am older (far older) than you, Sean and I remember most of the music you mentioned. My parents were children of the depression and Dad was in the Marine Corps during WWII and Korea. So, when I was young I heard a lot of Benny Goodman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glen Miller, Etc. I grew to enjoy the music very much, though I preferred Rock and Roll. For my parents “Stardust” was their “song”, but it was a rendition by the Harry James Orchestra with Frank Sinatra singing. I have always loved that song.

  3. Ann - February 9, 2021 11:05 am

    Ahhhhh…understanding the words…sweet memories of a slower time ( except to teens)…. those songs are still beautiful and are comforting in these fast paced times…thanks for the memories 🎼🎼🎹

  4. Julie - Go Tigers!! 🧡🐅🐯🖤 - February 9, 2021 11:41 am

    As a kid growing up in the 50’s, I remember most of what you wrote. But some of it comes from the 40’s, and that part is more my parent’s era. I became a teenager in the 60’s, and I can’t help commenting on CULOTTES!! In high school, our cheerleading captain had to BEG the Miss Dean of Girls to allow them as part of the uniform! She was a very prim and proper “old maid”, and didn’t want anything risqué or vulgar on the 🏈field or 🏀court. She finally relented, and history was made! We paved the way for future squads of slacks and Bermuda shorts!!

  5. Joey - February 9, 2021 12:22 pm

    Yeah, music does that to me, too.

  6. Susan - February 9, 2021 12:36 pm

    Reading the first paragraph I’m taken back to 7th grade music class, learning about different types of music with Mrs. Titus. The name that has always stuck with me is Bix Biderbecke. That was good music

  7. KAY JENKINS - February 9, 2021 1:21 pm

    I’m with you there, Sean. My “current” stack for the kitchen music includes Rod Stewart’s American Songbook (volumes 1 and 2). “I’ll be loving you, always.” Never been much of a Rod Stewart fan, but I love this music.

  8. Marilyn - February 9, 2021 1:22 pm

    The music back then was so beautiful. It’s what we heard when we went dancing, and what I grew up listening to. All the songs and bands you mentioned are familiar to me and “Stardust” was one that called my boyfriend (later husband) and me to the dance floor. I am reminiscing… Thanks for the memories, Sean. Going down memory lane was very enjoyable this cold, winter morning.

  9. Xan - February 9, 2021 1:45 pm

    In 1967, I was a freshman at the University of Alabama. I was stuck with a Ccalculus class that didn’t get out until 5 PM! I can remember walking across the quad in the fall one late afternoon. I was kicking up leaves and Denny chimes started playing Stardust. I can remember like it was yesterday. Love this column…I was singing every tune you mentioned as I read it today. Thank you Sean. I am glad you’re an old soul. <3

  10. Johnnie Blackburn - February 9, 2021 1:46 pm

    As I’m reading your column, I’m watching a recap of the life of Mary Wilson on the Today show. Mary of course sang her heart out with the Supremes. Motown also definitely left its mark on the music of our parents and thankfully, living in a college town we still revere the “oldies”. My kids grew up listening to a great collection of the music you mentioned and some great Motown music on vinyl. I’m proud to say they knew all the words to those songs and still choose to listen to this wonderful slice of history today. And, my three year old grandson loves “Wild Thing” and “Wooly Bully” wayyyyyy too much!!!

  11. Kate - February 9, 2021 2:04 pm

    Sean, so you are an artist, musician, writer … and so much more. How you write like you do is always amazing. I started reading you several months ago and enjoyed your articles/stories. Now I am simply amazed at how you somehow always write in such a unique and meaningful way. You are funny, witty, heartwarming, caring, sincere, loving….and the list goes on, and you seem to write about everything wonderful that EVERYONE remembers or is touch by. Thank you.(And I found your commercials … loved seeing you and Jamie)

  12. Judy - February 9, 2021 2:04 pm

    The name of the Amish fellow’s business in Sarasota is Pinecraft Barbeque
    I need your email address to send the information

    • JonDragonfly - February 9, 2021 2:32 pm

      Judy: Go to the very top of the page and click “CONTACT”.

  13. Phil (Brown Marlin) - February 9, 2021 2:12 pm

    You are so right, my friend! They just don’t write, play, or sing them like they used to. To me, it’s not even music anymore. Somewhere back in those years was “the day the music died.”

  14. JonDragonfly - February 9, 2021 2:29 pm

    As soon as you said Les Baxter you had me. I swept back to 1957 and so I opened a tab to You Tube and finished reading your column listening to “Lisboa Antigua” and “April in Portugal”. Music hath charms….

  15. Connie - February 9, 2021 2:38 pm

    You’re speaking to my heart today. I listen almost exclusively to old country music. The Willie Nelson channel on SiriusXM. It’s awesome. Sometimes I get in a mood for some older rock but I rarely listen to anything recorded after 1980, except Chris Stapleton, who brings back what music is supposed to sound like. I sing to the radio, and I cry to music like I cry to a good book. Music touches our souls and carries us away to another time and place.

  16. Gordon - February 9, 2021 2:57 pm

    Oh yes! The music of the past never gets old for me either.

  17. Dean - February 9, 2021 3:27 pm

    Not much good music today. I love the old music country and rock and roll. Elvis will always be my favorite

  18. Gloria Knight - February 9, 2021 3:28 pm

    There’s no sweet music these days. When I was a teen my Papa would give me a $1 bill every Saturday before we went to town. There I’d go to the only place that sold 45’s and spend my dollar. Loved those late 50’s songs. I would watch the Hit Parade on Saturday night with my dad and could sing all the top hits.Those were the days, my friend……

  19. Jane - February 9, 2021 3:55 pm

    Love those songs too. But what gets my motor revved up is Johnnie Mathis. When I hear Chances Are, I’m back at my boarding school’s Spring Dance and a cadet from a nearby military academy is holding the proper distance(no smoochy dancing for us.) and smiling down at me with a goofy boy grin. That young teenage me thinks she is the most beautiful girl in the world. And Johnnie is singing just for me.

  20. Keloth Anne - February 9, 2021 4:05 pm

    Music makes the world brighter for sure🎶♥️🎶
    Thanks for another wonderful start to this rainy morning !!!!

  21. Nedra Tucker - February 9, 2021 4:12 pm

    I don’t know about you but listening to the old music of my past can elicit certain fragrances and will send me back completely in time. It is such a warm cozy experience. My life had been so good.

  22. elizabethroosje - February 9, 2021 4:35 pm

    I love those songs too; my Dad always plays them on his radio in his truck (a nice suburban, used of course)… I think one I remember is “Rain drops dropping on my head” and Willie’s You are Always on my Mind… so I am glad you did not write worse contemporary lyrics than you did (and that one was terrible! Geesh!) So I live in a pretty urban place in NJ just outside NYC and the lyrics I hear are plain scary awful. I shudder. Inside our home we listen to a lot of classical and choral music. But I love my Dad’s music that I hear on the radio… it does something for me… something special that does not seem to be captured today in music, sadly. I am glad you still cherish these older beautiful songs!

  23. Sal - February 9, 2021 5:07 pm

    Enjoyable reflections !!!! Can hear the oldies you mentioned

  24. Jack Gidens - February 9, 2021 5:11 pm

    I met and heard Hoagy in London June 1955 while having dinner at a nice private club. They rolled out a piano and asked him to “…give us a tune Hoagy” He gave us about 6 tunes including my requests for Buttermilk Sky and Hong Kong Blues. What a great memory of a great songsmith.

  25. Susie, as well - February 9, 2021 6:26 pm

    Never heard anything by Willie I didn’t love. Also, I don’t believe anybody mentioned the drawing you did of Willie, so I will. I love it as well!

  26. eliz - February 9, 2021 7:25 pm

    Wow, love the column and reading all the comments. You sure do have a way! BTW, my Mom got suspended from Memphis State for wearing culottes on campus back in the early 60’s.

  27. Helen De Prima - February 9, 2021 7:59 pm

    In high school, I played violin and then viola in a string ensemble. We played at ladies’ luncheons and hen parties and nursing homes, romantic old standards from Rogers and Hammerstein and the WWII era. Our sheet music included the lyrics; I can still remember all the words to songs like The White Cliffs of Dover and I’ll Be Seeing You, Some Enchanted Evening and Dancing On The Ceiling.

  28. Patricia Gibson - February 9, 2021 9:47 pm

    Music speaks to my soul and sometimes during all the craziness in the world, I reset by stepping back in time. I think it is kinda sad that young people won’t get the chance to experience those days❤️

  29. Linda Moon - February 10, 2021 1:47 am

    I rode through Birmingham today. Then I spent the rest of the day on the Pinhoti Trail near Weogufka, Alabama.
    The Pinhoti is a Southern Appalachian Mountains trail. Two of my favorite guys hiked with me….one, a young gingerhead and the other, a young-at-heart former gingerhead. One’s a serious pianist. The other one’s a not-so-serious guitar picker who plays good Carter Family oldies. Trails and music do “that” for my family, Sean. We know and love whatever the “that/this” is, too!

  30. Ann Hunter - February 10, 2021 10:35 pm

    You are such an awesome writer. My husband was a writer ( back in the day ) and ran with the likes of Lewis Grizzard. Now those were the days my friend. We even lived in Alabama and Atlanta for several years.


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