Friday, July 08, 2005

Music Of My Youth

Thanks to access to a large on-line catalog of music, i've been exploring some of the music that i listened to when i was first starting to develop my own tastes (as opposed to listening to whatever my parents had on in the car). My older son Nathan is at this point in his life now, so it's been interesting to me to go back and look at what i liked then and why.

A large percentage of the music that i listened to then can be categorized as either a) now unlistenable, or b) already classic at the time. In the (a) category is stuff like KISS, Nazareth, and Ted Nugent; while the (b) category would include The Beach Boys and Elvis. I had a large collection of Beach Boys 8-track tapes, and a box full of Elvis 45's that would probably be worth something these days. Between those categories is a soup of classic rock, pop, and forgotten artists.

For reasons that i no longer remember, i started collecting music in the 8-track format, and that lasted for a while since i had a 8-track player in my first car (curious historical trivia: the 8-track tape was invented by Bill Lear of Learjet fame). Other than the Beach Boys and an embarassingly large collection of KISS tapes, i had Aerosmith, The Alan Parsons Project, Billy Joel, Elton John, Styx, and Led Zeppelin. Most of this music i'd be happy to never hear again, but there's some that i still enjoy. Billy Joel's The Stranger holds up fairly well, i think. I like most of Elton John's catalog still. Aerosmith is about the only harder rock band from the collection that i'd still listen to, though it's hard to find the Aerosmith catalog on-line prior to Rocks. With the exception of Alan Parsons, this was popular, chart-dwelling music that i'd heard on local radio. I had a few interesting nuggets that i'd acquired from friends or from the back of somebody's van. I had a Bay City Rollers tape because of a girl i liked. I had a couple of Parliament/Funkadelic tapes, though at the time i thought i was the only person who listened to them (remember, this is rural Indiana).

Despite my 8-track collection, i was something of an audiophile as a kid, within the limits of my very limited budget. I had a Kenwood integrated amp, a Kenwood tuner, and my pride-and-joy Electrovoice EV-1 speakers. It took me a while to scrounge the money for a turntable, but when i did the first two albums i bought were Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and KISS Alive II (yes, more KISS). Some of Rumours still sounds pretty good, i especially like Christine McVie's Songbird (i remember putting that on mix tape for my one-day-to-be wife while in college, along with other strange stuff like Yes's Roundabout and Squeeze's Is That Love. Why she still married me i don't know).

My taste didn't improve too much on vinyl. I remember having a Bad Company record, Candy O by the Cars, an REO Speedwagon record, some Queen (de rigeur during my early high school years). I had British Steel by Judas Priest (me and every other white male teenager). I had multiple Molly Hatchet records and Lynyrd Skynrd Live. It wasn't until high school that i had some moderately cool records that i still wish i had. I had More Songs About Buildings and Food by the Talking Heads, some Elvis Costello, and Squeeze. I also had a copy of Waylon Jenning's Ol' Waylon with Luckenbach, Texas. My mom bought me Pink Floyd's The Wall.

I guess what's most amazing to me in retrospect is how much music i didn't buy. I loved the Knack song My Sharona, but never bought the album. I like several of the new wave bands, but didn't purchase much beyond the token Elvis Costello and Squeeze. I didn't buy Jackson Brown's Running On Empty, despite the fact that i liked several of the songs. I didn't own a real punk record until college, or a rap album, and the only non-pop album i owned was a version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. My conclusion is that my musical purchases were driven to a large extent by peer influence.

I don't feel too bad about this, given that it's almost an axiom within the music marketing world that young people buy music because other people buy it first. There must be some trendsetters, but the trends they set don't necessarily correlate to the music being interesting. My sense is that kids are escaping this now, probably because they have more ways to hear music. Music still has to be cool, but cool can now be defined by MTV, Fuse, Nickelodeon, the radio, some buddy's IPod, or Napster.

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