I’m A Pepper

2012-11-04 – Many years ago when I was a freshman in college, I played in a band. I played the five-string banjo and wore an orange floppy-knit beret. We had two violins and a trumpet, maracas and an electric guitar. And we had a lot of kazoos. We only knew one song: Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. We were cheered when we played it at a dorm party and, when the inevitable encore was called for, we played it again. We only played one more concert after that, for which we learned a number of other songs: three or four hello songs and three or four goodbye songs.

Along the way we made a 45. For those of you too young to remember 45s, let me explain. A 45 is roughly equivalent to an iTune, but you couldn’t download it. (Downloading would have seemed like science fiction at the time.) The tune was recorded on a usually-black vinyl disc and played on a phonograph, which was a machine that decoded 45s and other “records” using a mechanical turntable to spin the disc and a stylus (also called a needle) that tracked a thin spiral groove on the disc that contained a series of almost-microscopic bumps. The bumps imparted vibrations to the stylus that were turned into electrical oscillations, which is something I’m sure you are familiar with. In this primitive way, our song could be played back many times until the record was “scratched.” Scratches introduced unwanted sounds – clicks and pops – and bad scratches would cause the stylus to bounce out of the groove interrupting the continuity of the music. At this point the 45 could be used as a Frisbee.

Forty fives were also called “singles” to contrast them with 33s, which were also called LPs or long-playing records. LPs generally contained many songs, maybe a dozen, and were succeeded by CDs. Both may be called albums, for this reason. Unlike a CD, however, an LP had two sides. When you finished listening to one side, you flipped the record over and listened to other side. The decoding machine was set up to spin records either at 45 rpm or 33 rpm so you could listen to both types. Some old phonographs had a third setting for 78s. Seventy eights spun so fast you couldn’t get much music on them, though the higher speed made for slightly higher audio quality.

Forty-fives were like LPs in that they had two sides. They really shouldn’t have been called “singles.” They should have been called “doubles.” But most record companies thought it was unlikely to have two songs on a 45 that were both hits. In fact, if they had two songs they thought would be hits, they put them on two 45s so they could sell twice as many records. They usually put a junk song on the second side, which was called the B-side.

When my college band went to make a 45, then, we needed a second song. (This is before we learned the hello and goodbye songs.) We had decided to call the band The Pepperbande because Sgt. Pepper was, at the time, our only song. For the B-side, we wrote new lyrics to the Mickey Mouse Club song to extol the virtues of Dr. Pepper. Where the original song spelled out M-I-C-(see you real soon)-K-E-Y (why? because we like you) M-O-U-S-E, we spelled P-E-P-(after you drink it)-P-E-R-(it are a good drink)-B-A-N-D-E. This was done in support of a protest effort to get Dr. Pepper sold in the dorm.

At the time, kids on other college campuses were burning down their R-O-T-C buildings in protest against the War in Vietnam.

Wouldn’t you want to be a pepper, too?

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