The second article in this series is here.
Songs are like keys that unlock the doors to our memories and instantly transport us to a specific time. Anytime I hear “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” I am transported back to a wood-paneled basement, sitting in the dark, experiencing my first kiss– terrified the girl’s parents were going to burst into the room at anytime-scary and exciting all at the same time.
My earliest memories of music emanated from my fathers reel-to-reel tape player…anything from the Motown catalogue or artists like Joe Cocker, Etta James, Leadbelly, and Howling Wolf. My mother was a massive Elvis Presley fan, and she tried to pass this on to me by making me her date of choice when a new movie was released at the local cinema. The day he died was as sad a day in our house as one in which a family member had passed. Compared to most of my friends’ homes, ours was alive with popular music, and served as the foundation for my future passion.
As I grew older I started to explore all genres of music. There was no internet, and song placements had not been invented yet, so we came across new music the old-fashioned way: through our friends, their older siblings, the record store clerk and the radio. I can recall sitting by the radio for hours at night waiting for them to play my favourite song, just so I could record it on my cassette player and listen to it again and again. Music is so immediate today. If I want to hear The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” I open a browser and type the song title– and bam!–instant gratification. Perhaps that is why music does not have the same value to the current generation. It is not as scarce as it was (at the risk of sounding like my grandfather) in the good ole days.
While I was primarily a fan of rock music, I did not discriminate. If I liked it, I liked it.
I can recall ten albums that shaped my life. I present them to you:
1. A Night At The Opera – Queen (1975)
Although the most well known song from this record is Bohemian Rhapsody, it doesn’t appear until the second-last song of side two (yes, side two). In the days of vinyl, we all listened to the record from Side 1 Track 1 and in the way the band sequenced the tracks. Seems weird in today’s single-driven culture.
I was initially captivated by the very first song, ‘Death On Two Legs.” The creepy guitar opening, driving piano, clean guitar riffs and soaring vocals…by the time Freddie Mercury has sung “and now you can kiss my ass goodbye,” I was a fan– and after discovering my father borrowing my copy I knew I was onto something. Probably my most beloved Queen song is not from this record, but would not have been possible if not for the acceptance of Bohemian Rhapsody. “Somebody To Love” (from the followup album “A Day At The Races”) stood out for two reasons: First and foremost, lyrical content – who hasn’t struggled with the concept of wanting to be loved? The performance of this track nails that emotion beautifully. Having seen it played live in 1978 (Freddie just killed it), for some reason my memory is that he played the piano wearing purple mittens and howling the lyrics in that magical voice he possessed…insane.
As a band can you imagine your video being viewed over 16 million times on Youtube? Now imagine how many views Queen might have for this track if YouTube existed in the late 70’s. It’s mind blowing. Check out the video.
2. Hotel California – The Eagles (1976)
I almost wore the grooves out of my original copy and had to buy a second one. I still have a copy of an original pressing. I can’t fit it into words, but there was something about this album that just spoke to me, and obviously to the rest of the world as it has sold 16x Platinum since its release. In hindsight, this is a record for the ages, but none of this was known to me at the time. I was just a 13 year-old kid sitting in his bedroom, lost in the imagery painted by the lyrical content. The obvious tracks that stand out and are perhaps the best known are Hotel California and New Kid In Town. Yet my personal favourite was Wasted Time. The sparse arrangement and melancholy vocal performance of Don Henley just mesmerized me; even though the song dealt with things that were well beyond my years, I could feel the importance of the message.
“So you can get on with your search, baby,
and I can get on with mine
And maybe someday we will find,
that it wasn’t really wasted time”
I bought the import version on the recommendation of a staff member at Records on Wheels. That is how it happened back in the day: you either found out about records from your friends or that trusted cooler older dude behind the counter of the record store. I am not some old guy pining for the good old days, I just wish that today’s generation could have the same experience.
I took this piece of expensive plastic home, and put it on the turntable. From that opening dirty guitar riff of the title track, followed by the throaty Bon Scott’s vocal, I was hooked.
It was like I had discovered some sort of secret rock and roll elixir. AC/DC was it for me, and although Brian Johnson has done a great job over the years, Bon Scott was the shit and still the portion of their catalogue I love best.
4. Bat Out Of Hell – Meatloaf (1977)
This record was so categorically different from anything I had ever heard. I bought it for the album art like so many records of that time, and soon discovered what was to become a timeless classic. The raw sexuality in the lyrics were certainly titillating for a 14 year old boy more prone to 45 minute showers than 45 minute records. In my mind, Paradise By The Dashboard Light is one of those instantly-recognizable tracks that elicits a sing-a-long. The best part for me was that Meat Loaf was one ugly bastard and he got his shot to be a star–chalk that up as a win for the underdog.
PUNK! Crazy ground breaking, I don’t give a shit attitude. It was prime music for young teenagers to be listening to. Youth is a time for exploration of one’s self, and punk music was a fantastic way to scream a big “F You” to your parents. I can’t think of any music that my kids have brought into the house that is as offensive as early punk music was to my parents.