Having made the decision a few days ago to spend time writing about music, I have managed to actually write my post for A. To recap, the plan is to write a post every few weeks — probably on a Monday hence the title — about music using a letter of the alphabet as my starting point. With this model, I should be able to cover the entire alphabet during 2015.
Music has always been part of my family; it seems that no matter where I went, some member of my family had music playing. The enjoyment of music has been something that has defined my family my entire life. I grew up during a time when AM radio was the king of popular music, people listened to music on radio stations that were tinny and staticy. Unless of course you owned records, which my family did. My grandmother listened to Bing Crosby, my grandfather listened to Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra, one uncle listened to The Band, Jimmy Buffett, and The Flying Burrito Brothers; while another listened to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. The music in my own home could have been anything from James Last to Otis Redding to James Brown to Bob Marley. Music was everywhere and it was always different. And I loved it all!
The one constant was the album, the LP, the record. There are few things that both sooth the mind and create a sense of anticipation as the gentle whoomp whoomp sound after the needle settles on the vinyl and moves into the first track. Here are five albums and a track from each one that were important to in some way.
My First album — Meatloaf “Bat Out of Hell”
Up to grade 6, my access to music was through the records of my parents and a few 45’s that had belonged to my aunt when she was growing up. But that Christmas things were about to change. My parents thought about buying me the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever”, the Bee Gee filled double album that was being played on every radio station. But they didn’t. Instead they went with the other popular LP at the time — Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell”. The two could not have been more different, and I’m glad they chose the one they did.
Expanding Musical Horizons — Los Lobos “How Will The Wolf Survive?”
I had been exposed to a lot of different music growing up, but Los Lobos was like nothing I had ever heard. While they may be just another band from East LA, they changed how I saw music for the rest of my life. Sure I was already listening to things that weren’t always mainstream, but the music from this Los Lobos helped my see past the Top 40 charts, past the second British Invasion that was New Wave music. Certainly Los Lobos was experiencing unprecedented commercial success with this album, but their lasting impact on me and others is a greater indication of their musical longevity, influence, and heritage.
Ill Begotten Gains — AC/DC “Back In Black”
My acquisition of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” album represents a low point in my moral development. While not as dastardly as their classic “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, this is the one album acquired through nefarious means. In order to buy this, I stole $10 from my parents. My father found out about it after the fact, and I did pay him back, but I never forgot the feeling of disappointment for betraying his trust. That said, “Back in Black” is one of the best rock and roll albums of all times, with classic tracks like “Hell’s Bells”, “Have a Drink On Me”, and “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” there isn’t a misstep at all.
Cross-over Music Styles — Working Week “Working Nights”
While the late 1970’s ushered in Punk Rock and New Wave music as a reaction to Disco, these musical genres also started to give way to other musical influences. Moving away from his former band The Jam, Paul Weller‘s endeavour The Style Council (who I love) was creating catchy 50’s/60’s style jazz numbers that were completely different than what he had created before. By the mid-80’s there was a new musical fusion on the scene that mixed jazz and popular dance music, and introduced the smooth stylings of artists like Sade to the Top 40. There was a lesser known but much more impressive group called Working Week, an incredible ensemble that built on three musicians by adding a six-piece horn section and a rhythm section. While the configuration of the band couldn’t last, the music has. I pulled this record out recently and realized that almost 30 years after I bought it, “Working Nights” hasn’t lost a thing — stunning.
And now for something completely different — Ryuichi Sakamoto
Trying to decide on my fifth album was hard work. There are so many options — Bob Marley’s “Babylon by Bus”, any number of Joe Jackson’s efforts, little known bands like The Long Ryders or Shame — but when I looked at my collection of records I realized I had to choose something by Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. My first exposure to his gorgeous music was the soundtrack to “Empire of the Sun” starring John Malkovich and a very young Christian Bale. But it his 1983 release “Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia” album that may be most memorable for me. Hauntingly beautiful, and exposing his range of musical experimentation, this album left me lost for words when I heard it in 1988. Unfortunately, I was not able to find a (yet) a video of a track from this album, but here is on from another for which he provided the soundtrack, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”.
Bonus — Johnny Appleseed
I very distinctly remember listening to an old 78 rpm record of Dennis Day performing “Johnny Appleseed” at my grandparents house while growing up. Thankfully my grandmother gave me the record a few years ago and I still have it. This is the first record I remember getting out and putting on a turntable all by myself.
This isn’t the version I listened too, but who can pass up something by Joe Strummer?
I hope you have enjoyed these selections. See you in a few weeks with the letter B.