For those of us who cut our musical teeth in the ’70s, the radio was most often our single source of music. At home, the Philips transistor would be lovingly wiped clean and given the pride of place. Every evening, Mom and Dad depended on Vijay Daniels, Varun Haldar or Latika Ratnam to announce the news on AIR, while we kids waited impatiently for Force’s Request or Saturday Date at a quarter to 10 or 10 o’clock.
Crowding round the set, we would predict the next number and try to catch the lyrics of the songs. The Mumbai rains didn’t help and often we despaired at the static just when our favourite song played. Despite the bad audio quality, we even recorded some songs on cassettes and replayed them endlessly. Those precious cassettes accompanied us from city to city and house to house. And so we found that certain groups like ABBA, the Carpenters and Cliff Richards had a huge following. The era of rock and roll was still phasing itself out and a Beatles’, an Elvis or a Connie Francis was not uncommon as were country and western singers.
One band that had a select but fiercely dedicated following was a Dutch group with German musicians and Polish singers. With a rather juvenile name of ‘Pussycat’, they shot to popularity with a song ‘Mississippi’ that won the Eurovision award but didn’t retain or regain the No 1 position. And yet, the gap-toothed, blonde Tonny Kowalczyk’s husky, accented voice — not quite a Lulu (remember ‘To Sir, with love’?) and not really the Annifrid of ABBA — endured and endeared. Whether she sang to Georgie or Joe, about Mexicali lane or Amsterdam, her voice literally called you to listen to her.
When I arrived in Bangalore, I found the local music aficionados were not impressed with Tonny Kowalczyk. Any enquiry was met with a vague ‘Oh yeah…’ — aficionados cannot profess ignorance — or even a surprised “You really listen to that music?” One tiny store on Brigade Road had just one cassette with some of the popular numbers recorded on one side. By the time I returned to claim the cassette, it had been sold. And so until a few years ago, I had only the good old recorded cassette. It was now in Bangalore, carefully transported by parents who carried their offspring’s belongings for the old memories, long after they had flown the nest.
A few days ago, thanks to the internet, I listened to the old favourites on YouTube. Deciding that it was high time that I possessed those tracks, I searched and downloaded all the numbers. Perhaps I can now put away our ‘Broken souvenir’ with a ‘Smile’!