Golden Oldies

I am in traffic 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 outta 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.

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


  1. Anthony - February 26, 2020 6:58 am

    Especially to Stardust stardust. Thanks

  2. Karen in SE 'Bama - February 26, 2020 10:13 am

    In 1976, on the 8-track in my first car (’56 Ford) I would listen not only Elvis, but Perry Como too. “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day”. I was probably considered a dork at 16, but I didn’t care. Good music is good. My mother played piano, so I appreciated quite a variety. Today’s youth really don’t know what they’re missing, but we can always hope that someday it will dawn on them. Maybe your insights will spur on a little investigating and widening of viewpoints. I enjoy your column every single day. Thanks for being you.

  3. Karen in SE "Bama - February 26, 2020 10:17 am

    P.S. I forgot to mention, culottes! Haven’t thought of those in years! How do you remember all these little gems?

  4. Rita - February 26, 2020 10:38 am

    I got sent home from school, in 1968, for wearing culottes!😬😂

  5. George DeLoach - February 26, 2020 10:40 am

    I have the opportunity to play good music every weekday morning on WIYD 104.9FM in Palatka, Florida where we love good music and we love Sean Dietrich. I’ll dedicate one to you on my radio show this morning my friend

  6. GaryD - February 26, 2020 11:19 am

    “Old music, it never gets old”. Exactly !

  7. Elizabeth - February 26, 2020 11:22 am

    Rita, my mom got sent home from college for wearing culottes. Teacher loved her “skirt” until Mom told her it was culottes.

  8. Melissa Jackson - February 26, 2020 11:45 am

    Many years ago as a student at Auburn, I worked the evening and overnight shift at an AM station. I had fans in the old folks home who overnighted via the airways with me. I was unqualified to serenade them. I’m grateful now to know the sounds of Les Baxter, Les Paul, Django Reinhardt, Bacharach, and Mancini. Real records on real turntables and lots of mistakes in the booth. Thanks for bringing it all back — like a 21st century digital Paul Harvey. Can’t wait to meet you at Newnan Lit Fest!

  9. Cathi Russell - February 26, 2020 12:30 pm

    Did you know when Willie recorded Stardust, a lot of people thought it was brand new music??? My grandparents had a huge hi-fi and it played a lot of Les Baxter too. I know my dad loved Willie & I gave him “Stardust” for his truck. Thanks for the memories, they’re like heavy fog & I’m lost in them this morning!

  10. Pam H Thompson - February 26, 2020 1:41 pm

    I am with you! Love the Stardust album!

  11. Caleb Halstead - February 26, 2020 1:50 pm

    I’d like to know where you pick up that station!

  12. Marilyn - February 26, 2020 2:04 pm

    Many memories awakened with the mention of Stardust. It was one of my favorite songs to slow dance to with the man who later became my husband. The dance hall is gone and my husband has passed, but the beautiful music lives on, and so do the sweet memories. Wait a minute while I get a tissue…

  13. Shelton A. - February 26, 2020 3:12 pm

    I am hooked on the blues, rock from the 60’s and 70’s, and a little Willie Nelson myself. Motown too. Today’s country lacks heart or soul. I’m with you, give me the music of my youth.

  14. Edna Barron - February 26, 2020 3:13 pm

    Those “oldies” and some even more “old” are real music. Today’s stuff just can’t compare. Those of us who grew up with the old stuff were soooo lucky. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  15. Mary Massey - February 26, 2020 3:13 pm

    I loved reading this! The “old” music never gets old for me… evokes so many precious memories on so many levels.

  16. Karen - February 26, 2020 3:35 pm

    There is an outstanding documentary on PBS right now, on the history of country music, done by Ken Burns. It is not to be missed. The Carter Family, Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, Willie Nelson, and many others are included, dating back to the earliest roots of country music.
    I remember my grandmother listening to Nat King Cole and my mother playing Sarah Vaughn.
    I react to music in the same way you do, Sean. Music is my drug.
    Thank you for these lovely gems you give to us each day.

  17. Melodie - February 26, 2020 3:48 pm

    Your stories never get old! I’m an old (ex) musician/entertainer. ‘Back in the day,’ we played and sang Middle of the Road stuff, including all that you have written about. One had to be versatile. Those were the good old days, when music was music! I like a lot of the ‘new’ stuff, but, yes, take me back to the old days.

    ‘Heavenly shades of night are falling
    It’s twilight time
    Out of the mist your voice is calling
    ‘Tis twilight time’

  18. Linda Eason - February 26, 2020 3:55 pm

    Ah, I’m crying right now after reading this post. I lost my husband two years ago to pancreatic cancer after 44 years of marriage. I’m just getting to the point where I can listen to old songs without losing it….so I took some old cd’s into my car, and these are the songs I listen to, Stardust being one of them….and I shed a few tears because of all the memories they invoke in me….but at least
    I’m now at a point where I can listen to them. And somewhere deep inside of me, through the tears, they put a smile on my face as I remember all the good times we shared. Thank you, Sean!

  19. Kay Keel - February 26, 2020 4:21 pm

    I love those oldies and have recently found “the station I grew up with” in Dothan, WDIG 1450 AM is back on the air! They play all those oldies and more. We young ladies were allowed to wear pants to school in 5th grade (1969), but ONLY if we wore “tunic” tops that had to “reach as far as our fingertips when we held our arms at our sides”, otherwise we were sent home. Culottes were NOT allowed then, but two years later, they were basically what our gym uniforms were in 7th grade.

  20. BeBlue - February 26, 2020 4:57 pm

    Could not agree more. I didn’t realize I’d never heard Stardust despite my age and have now read the lyrics. Powerful. By Willie, Nat King Cole, Sinatra…. “Pop music” (seemingly all rap) sounds like it stole from the chants and rhythms of 3 little girls with a jump rope.

  21. Mary - February 26, 2020 5:06 pm

    Oh to find stationa like that today. Though the big bands were in before I would dance to them I was around and at 84 still love those and up to the ’60’s.

  22. Linda Moon - February 26, 2020 5:34 pm

    Back in ’62 I knew lots of little Baptist boys who looked upon semi-sultry teenage girls and maybe even some fully-sultry movie star women. I’m glad your father watched ‘quality’ TV with you, Sean, and that you eventually fell-in with some no-good musicians. Music does lots for me and my family, and I’m grateful that those younger people of mine love good music like Willie and Merle. What could be better than listening to AM Radio static or some old music to lower the stress of being stuck in traffic!!

  23. Connie Havard Ryland - February 26, 2020 6:21 pm

    I don’t listen to any music newer that 2000. And mostly I listen to the Willie Nelson channel on SiriusXM, because they play music that sounds like music. Willie, Conway, Jim Reeves, Vern Gordon. Kris and Waylon. Don Williams. EmmyLou and Dolly and Linda Ronstadt. She did an album of 40’s and 50’s big band music that you would love, if you’ve never heard it. They wrote music and lyrics back then that really meant something. And it’s timeless. Just another reason I love you-you actually know who those people are.

  24. Jan Chapman - February 26, 2020 6:56 pm

    Oh! How wonderful. I love this. You’ve out done yourself, yet again.

  25. Pat Farren - February 26, 2020 7:12 pm

    My heart sang every song.

  26. susan schooley - February 26, 2020 7:34 pm

    Gee, no Bobby Darin…sad…

  27. Tammy S. - February 26, 2020 8:15 pm

    Funny how a long drive, or even just driving across town, with old classics like these playing, can take you back in time. Almost any great memory, and even some sad ones, involve some music that when it comes on now can take me right back to that spot in time. Loved this piece Sean!!! “Chances are” I’m gonna love tomorrows piece too. 🙂

  28. Dee Wichman - February 27, 2020 12:12 am

    We have similar tastes in music. I like being able to hear actual melodies and the words clearly. Much of today’s music inspire the same pleasure. I do so enjoy your writing.

  29. Ray Wallace - February 27, 2020 10:45 pm

    I feel the same way and understand exactly !

  30. Dan Younger - February 28, 2020 1:41 am

    How about publishing your itinerary for the book tour. I have a bud who is also a BIG fan of yours and we would like to drop by to see you when you are in town.. Hope you make it to Montgomery.

    Dan Younger

  31. David - February 29, 2020 2:05 am

    You are the only person I know who remembers Grady Nut!

  32. Dianne DeVore - February 29, 2020 3:42 pm

    I miss the old songs that, as you said, sound like beautiful poetry put to music. Most of the new songs are not even worthy to be listened to, if you want to call it music at all. Thanks for the reminder of the beautiful songs from my past.

  33. aucat76 - April 2, 2020 3:25 am

    Mama was the daughter of a jazz/ blues guitarist and a gospel piano-playing mother. So it was a pretty much a given: the five of us would take music lessons, (paid for by our hard-working brickmason Daddy.) Our teacher was Catherine Todd, a chain-smoking Southern belle who was a taskmaster, dinging our hands with her slender whalebone baton (if they weren’t in the proper playing position). She intrigued us with her stunning piano, organ and accordion talent and even had a koi pond and her own kiln. Her selection of pieces for her students to learn was exquisite: the classics (of course), Autumn Leaves- (which she played to perfection), Alley Cat, the Leroy Anderson catalog and the incomparable “ Stardust”.
    I still have the sheet music. Thanks for the memory, Sean.


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