The Soundtrack to My Life would be like a tapestry that extends from birth to death, but there is one section of it that is particularly special to me. I don’t know why I was thinking about it, but there is a period of time where some of my favorite music was made and still stands the test of time today.
The time was the years around my graduation from High School and the transition to the working, adult world. I suppose it’s a typical time where most young people have strong feelings about their music. But I think there was more to it than that. There was just something special about music of the time.
Here’s a list of music that I’m thinking of and it’s all music I still love today. Almost every album (and some of these were some of the first albums – remember vinyl? – I bought, not just heard on the radio.) is full of songs I know by heart. I don’t think there is more than one or two tracks in the bunch that don’t hold up today.
Don Mclean – American Pie
Paul Simon – Paul Simon
Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant
The Moody Blues – Every Good Boy Deserves Favour
The Byrds – Fifth Dimension/Turn Turn Turn
Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat
… there are more, but I’ve got to draw a line somewhere or this post will be too long…
American Pie was an anthem for our generation. Besides being a long, Top-40 radio unfriendly eight and a half minutes long, it was a great story about a terrible tragedy. I remember sitting in a car in a parking lot, waiting for a friend to come out a store, while two other friends sat there making out, as if I wasn’t there. I sang along to the whole song, as it played on the radio, word for word. If they were going to ignore me, they were going to pay for it by having to listen to me sing! They just don’t make memories like that anymore!
The rest of the album is great as well. I saw Don McLean at Artpark some years later and he was still captivating.
Paul Simon’s eponymous album is another classic. I like Kodachrome just as much for that every-song-is-a-great-song quality, but it came out later.
It’s tough to even pick a favorite song, so many are so good and still a great listen today. Mother and Child Reunion, Me and Julio, Congratulations… all great songs. But if I was forced to choose a favorite, I could live with Run That Body Down. It’s great advice still and you’ve got to wonder if there’s a bit of an autobiographical angle to it. This was Simon’s first solo album after breaking up with Art Garfunkel, he was still married to his first of several wives, and he must have felt his youth going away and the toll of fame and fortune taking hold.
Another too-long-for-top-40 song, Alice’s Restaraunt was the album that made Arlo Guthrie as famous as his father. I like most kids, didn’t even know about Woody Guthrie then, but Arlo inherited a natural storytelling ability from him.
We didn’t have walkmans back then. Heck we didn’t have stereos, we had “record players.” Our family had a table radio in the kitchen that was mostly used to listen to news. I used to go down into the basement to listen to the radio my Dad kept there above his workbench. It was the only way I got to listen to stations like WYSL and WUFO. Yes, I ocasionally liked to listen to the only African-American Radio station in Buffalo. It played some pretty good R&B music back then.
I don’t want to sound deprived, I had many “transistor” radios, small portable radios that you could listen to with a little earphone if you wanted privacy. I had built a crystal set when I was about 12 and could hear several local stations on it. It’s just how it was back then. By the time I was in high school we did have a “stereo” that played FM and records, but it was in the living room and I couldn’t drive everyone else crazy with it.
Alice’s Restaurant was a 20-minute long saga about a Thanksgiving dinner gone wrong that turned into an anti-draft anthem. Because of it’s length, it was hard to hear on the radio. I remember having a friend whose brother had a copy of it put it on their record player and play it over the telephone for me. He put the handset down by the speaker and went away and left it play.
This is the album, and the song, Story In Your Eyes, that started my Moody Blues collection. I bought every album I could find and then when CDs came along, did it again. I saw them live three times in three different venues over the years. I haven’t gone to see them the past few years that they’ve come through the area. They’re not really doing much new and with some main members of the group retired, are basically cashing in on the “oldies” tour.
But EBGDF is still a favorite album. To me, it’s better than the Days Of Future Passed concept album. The idea of using a symphony orchestra, while groundbreaking at the time and a novel concept, is still just a little too bombastic for me.
One of the great things the Moodys did well was make an album that you could listen to from start to finish. While individual songs are still great on their own, the whole album just flows from song to song and almost has a plot to it. Most of their albums are like that. It’s something you just don’t get on a “greatest hits” compilation!
I really can’t decide which of these two albums I like better. The reason is, I didn’t have either of them at the time. I had a Greatest Hits album, which had some of each. Of course, by that time, the group had broken up with key members going on to groups like Crosby, Stills & Nash and The Flying Burrito Brothers. So I started with the Greatest Hits and worked backwards.
Turn! Turn! Turn! was the earlier, folkier album which had the Bob Dylan song The times They Are A-Changin’ on it. Turn, Turn, Turn was of course adapted from a Bible verse by Pete Seeger. He Was A Friend Of Mine was a tribute to JFK/MLK/RFK. How can you go wrong?
Fifth Dimension is the album that took The Byrds into psychedelica. It’s pretty tame today, but at the time was revolutionary. Eight Miles High, widely believed to be about a drug trip, but wasn’t at all, nonetheless would have been a great song to hear while using drugs. You don’t need drugs at all, just close your eyes and let the music work.
Mr. Spaceman poked fun at the whole space-UFO thing. The traditional Wild Mountain Thyme shows Roger McGuinn’s folk roots again. But I also like 2-4-2 Foxtrot (The Lear jet Song), nearly an instrumental with the only lyrics being a chant-like verse in the background mixed with aircraft chatter and morse code.
Many people would pick Sweetheart of the Rodeo as their favorite Byrds album. Indeed, I remember it being chosen in a Rolling Stone list of ten albums to pick to be stranded on a desert island with. But, at the time, these were the albums I knew. I didn’t get Sweetheart until much later.
Roger (Jim) McGuinn is still playing and making his music. I saw him a couple years ago at Buffalo State’s Rockwell Hall. While there were a number of talented people in The Byrds: Chris Hillman, David Crosby, and Gram Parsons, among others, it was still McGuinn’s jangly 12-string sound that defined the group.
Long before he became Yusuf Islam, Cat Stevens came out with a number of albums. Teaser and the Firecat was not his first, but it was the first that most of us heard and launched his career with the song Peace Train.
But, as with all these albums, there were so many other good songs on the album, that it stands the test of time as one of those defining albums of the era. Moonshadow, Morning Has Broken, (an adaptation of a hymn) Tuesday’s Dead, nearly every song as good as the next. The range of emotions covered on this album is everywhere. There is a song for every mood that you could be in.
A close second would be his Tea For The Tillerman album, also chock full of great songs.