Saturday, February 06, 2016

When I discovered music as a kid

When I was a kid, my family and I spent most of our summers in Trenton, New Jersey. We stayed at my grandmom's house on Dayton Street.

My grandmom had an old floor model radio set in the dining room. This was my single most memorable source of entertainment. It was after all, the mid-1970s and the music scene was bursting with soul. Elton John was singing Philadelphia Freedom, the Bee Gees were singing Jive Talkin', KC and the Sunshine band were in their element, Stevie Wonder had Boogie On Reggae Woman. It was a great time for music.

My introduction to David Bowie was his smash hit Fame. This song got a lot of airplay in the tri-state area, probably in part because he made a lot of friends recording the album Young Americans in Philadelphia, and likely also because the song featured John Lennon backing him up. Lennon was huge in New York, only in part because he lived there. But this song Fame was amazing. I've heard it so often that I would typically be exhausted of it, but no. It certainly became one of many songs that bring me back to Trenton in the 1970s. I can tell you I was not impressed when Bowie re-worked the song for a 1990s remake. I considered it an abomination and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I've had a love-hate relationship with the Bowie catalogue over the years, as my musical tastes changed. But Fame will always be the definitive Bowie song for me.

As I mentioned, the mid 1970s produced a staggering amount of quality soul music. But powerful ballads were in evidence too, my absolute favourite being Elton John's Someone Saved My Life Tonight. My musical sphere was limited to whatever was playing on the radio. But while I was hanging out at a playground just around the corner, I met a family of kids who seemed to know a lot more about music than I did. I was intrigued, because this was the first time anybody ever wanted to talk to me about music. And these kids knew their music. They invited me to go back to their house, not far from my grandmom's on Dayton. Their parents weren't home, but they had the run of the place. I think the eldest child was an older teen, so it was all good. They had a stereo system! And record albums. Lots of albums. They would ask me if I had heard of this band or that artist. One of the first ones I said 'no' to was the band Chicago.

When they heard that I didn't know about Chicago, they went into full on demo mode. Now, it's one thing to listen to charting hits on a 1950s vintage, floor model, tube amplified, monophonic AM radio. It's quite another to be introduced to music on a good quality stereo system. Let's face it, Chicago isn't just guitars and drums either. It's horns and vocal harmonies and power chords. It's bombastic. On a proper stereo, it's a revelation. I was in awe. Why had I never heard this before? This was incredible music. The kids played one album after another in their entirety. We'd be playing some games, with Chicago blaring in the background, and every once in a while, they'd stop and say "OH! Listen to this song!", and we'd stop what we were doing and listen.

I tried to talk about this newly discovered band with my family, but they don't really talk about music. Unless you're talking to my dad about the old big bands and artists like Herb Alpert. I wish I could thank those kids, wherever they are, for opening my consciousness to the possibility that there was a lot more great music out there than what I had been hearing on the radio. It certainly had an impact when I was expanding my musical horizons in the 1980s.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...we didn't talk about music, but we do now, no? H. And thanks for that picture...brought back a million memories!