Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Music Made Me – Part 1

A note about logistics: the only thing that has kept me from moving forward and posting this project is a complete inability to figure out how to best link the music for your consumption. There's no one universal solution that's going to work for everyone. I could go round up the links to iTunes, Amazon, Zune, Rhapsody, and whatever else, but that's a lot of work for me and there's still no guarantee it'd meet everyone's needs. So instead I'm going to trust that if you care to listen along you'll figure out how to get the music on your own (and if possible get more than a 30 second sample). I'll be providing Zune links because that's what I use, and if you’ve got the app and a Zune Pass this should be a smooth experience. If you do the leg work for another service and want to share in the comments, please feel free to.

Okay, with that out of the way we can get started.

Well, almost.  I feel like these the first years demand a little more explanation. Towards the beginning of this timeline the entries will lean more towards memory than music. Like many, my young music tastes were undeveloped and mostly at the mercy of what people around me were listening to. But I'm going to focus on a lot of these early songs because young memories are somewhat of a novelty to me.

I have a terrible memory in general. But there are things that I remember better than others. I forget the details of movies, but I easily remember the intricacies of video games. Clearly there are some things that my brain stores better than others. As I go through this playlist exercise I'm realizing that music is one of the things that I remember well. As I walk back through my musical history I find myself remembering details I hadn't thought about in a long time. Maybe if I can put together my playlist it will help me remember my life better?

It should be made clear that this isn't a list of favorites. This is a list of impactful music, some of which I can't listen to now like I did back then. In a way those are the most interesting pieces - because clearly they represent an older version of me that isn't compatible with the me of today. That means I've changed, and that's probably good. I have a feeling that this exercise will get less interesting yet easier to listen to as we progress forward in time. We'll see.

But look, here I am layering on more disclaimers and we’re not even to the depths of adolescence. Enough stalling, let's talk about some music!
Blueberry Hill - Fats Domino

We begin at the stretches of memory. This is a song that I recognize instantly, but couldn't place unaided. From what I've gathered it's highly likely that the photo you see here could be from a family jam session to this song. Air guitar be damned; real aspiring musicians use a broom. Never mind the fact that the song barely has any guitar in it at all...

Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry

Like many of my generation, it was Marty McFly that introduced me to this song. I have a memory of asking my dad to request it on the radio and eagerly waiting for it to come on. And when it did... dance party.

Much later in life, by which I mean last year, I had the opportunity to play "Power of Love" for Rock Band 3 with some friends and it produced a similar moment of pure glee. That’s some impressive lasting impact for a 25 year span.  Oh nostalgia…

Make Me Smile - Chicago

My dad loved his "Chicago Silver" record, aka Chicago II. My mom didn't so much like it, so in general I think he had to enjoy it in private, but I still managed to get a whiff from time to time.

I like Chicago, but I don't think I realized how well they align with some of my future musical trajectories until I went back to pick a song for this list. This is an album that's meant to be listened as an album, where one song blends into the next, and I'm the sort of the person that wants to sit down and listen to a planned musical journey. I've long been mourning the atrophy of this standard as a la carte track purchasing has become the norm.  It's also the case that Chicago is often less lyrical and more instrumental. They sing a bit, and then they jam. As someone with a terrible head for lyrics, this has always fit well with me.  And then of course there are the horns. I'm such a sucker for a horn section.  Take a good song, tactically add some horns, and it becomes a great song.

I picked "Make Me Smile" because it filled that nostalgic criteria. I've probably heard "25 or 6 to 4" more over the years, but "Smile" leaps out to me with that older, deeper connection. It's the more human song to me. I'm also particularly fond of "Saturday in the Park" but it's not on this album, so it doesn't fit the criteria.

Barbara Ann - The Beach Boys

I'd be remiss if I omitted the Beach Boys from the list of early influences. My dad played blues, jazz, and stuff like Chicago; my mom played the Beach Boys.

When I hear the Beach Boys I think of family road trips. I have this fuzzy memory of us getting a series of cassette tapes they were selling at a gas station chain. It was probably the equivalent of the modern day "Now That's What I Call Music 13". But it made stopping to fill up the tank fun because we could get a new tape with new music. I find it hard to imagine my mom not owning her own copy, but those tapes are what I think of.

I had a devil of a time picking a Beach Boys song for this list. I know at that age I enjoyed the fun poppy lyrics. But now, well, not so much. So I went with a song that I remember having that car singing vibe.

Still Around - Robert Cray

On weekends we'd occasionally have a family drive for breakfast or other activities. I'm not sure how long my dad had this album in the car's cassette player, but it left a lasting impression on me. He's always had a deep love for blues, which is something I happily adopted.

This song in particular seemed to stick out in my memory. In my head it had more of a storytelling angle, like it was some spooky mystery or something. It's not, it's a break up song of sorts, but that was way beyond me. Other songs like "Nothing But a Woman" are more up beat, but "Still Around" crawled its way deeper into some memory pocket as I wondered why the singer could be so upset that this other person was still around.  These are the things that would haunt me on the way to swim lessons.


  1. Music is funny, a bit like odors, because both have strong emotional connections. More so than visual events. Some of the music Gary played had strong negative connotations at the time. But, from experience, I've learned that those same tunes (some of them anyway) can develop positive emotions. For example, one of my college roommates played Jimi Hendrix every night and I hated it. Now, when I hear those same songs, I feel nostalgic for those dorm room days. That said, I don't think I'll ever be a Radiators fan, no matter how much Gary likes them.

  2. The family "Jam Sessions" took place in front of the Horsehead woodstove. The music came from my late 50's collection of 45's which I still have (and shoud catalogue). All the famliy was involved and the broom and fireplace tools were all fair game to be make believe instruments. The woodstove was the gathering spot for cooking, sleeping etc. when there was no power.

    Chicaco II (Silver) was another vinyl LP I nearly wore out. About 1964 I burchased a JB Lansing speaker system for about $400 (big time $ then). They had the best horn tweeters I've ever heard as well as good base. When we lived on Vashon Island I put them in about a 6' x 6' room, bought Chicago Silver, then went in the room and closed the door so your mom wouldn't yell at me: not the best venue but it worked. You are absolutely correct; Chicago II is best played end to end to feel the flow of their work.