It has been said that music has a way of capturing a time and place in your mind better than any other art form. There’s something about popular music (or even not-so-popular music) that can instantly transport you to a precise location with specific people at an exact point in time – say, the high school parking lot during prom night – every time you hear it on your radio, or stereo, or iPod.
It’s uncanny, really. The first couple of seconds of The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” or Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” or Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” can conjure up crystal-clear images of where you were when you first heard them. This even holds true with the dreaded ear-worm songs – the ones with the incessantly annoying but undeniably gripping hooks and lyrics that made them chart-toppers even though you hated them with a passion: Paper Lace’s “The Night Chicago Died” or The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” or Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” or Sheb Wooley’s “The Purple People Eater.”
Music can get in your blood, inhabit your soul, infect your head, steal your heart. It does all this to me, and more. It’s my passion, and, I’d wager to say, it’s yours too. That’s probably why you’re reading this, the first entry in a new blog that aims to examine the irresistible hold that music can have on us all. I was born in 1955, the year that rock and roll first showed up in the mainstream of pop music, the year of “Rock Around the Clock” — exactly halfway through the black-and-white decade of the Fifties, the demarcation point between the safe, puerile music of our parents’ generation and the edgy, defiant sounds that would dominate the charts thereafter.
My peers and I were perhaps a bit too young to absorb the radical nature of roots rock as it happened. But that didn’t stop us from learning to appreciate it later, once we’d come of age and been exposed to the cornucopia of styles and genres that defined the phantasmagorical orgy known as The Sixties: Motown, the British invasion, girl groups, garage rock, folk, psychedelia, country and blues. It all competed for our attention – sometimes, in those days, on the same radio station.
And then came the decade everyone now loves to disparage – The Seventies. The confessional singer-songwriters, the progressive rockers, the country rock cowboys, the Philadelphia soulsters, the androgynous glams, the faceless arena bands, the angry punkers, the disco kings/queens, the new wave mavericks. It, too, was a period of competing styles, each with its own radio station, its own rabid fan base. Music sold in greater numbers in the ‘70s than at any time before or since – mostly on full-sized vinyl albums but also on Dolby cassettes and on the dreaded 8-tracks.
Finally, the Eighties, the age of MTV, when everything seemed to become more synthesized, more fine-tuned, more of a spectacle, sometimes more about the video than the audio. Dominated more than ever by huge superstars – Madonna, Michael Jackson – and yet open to a burgeoning underground of vibrant sounds and manifestos that demanded to be heard.
These are the years that interest me. The years of my childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, even (dare it be said?) middle age. The music from these times – good and bad – shaped me, resonated in me, reflected my desires, my dreams, my regrets. I am moved to write about this music, and I hope you’ll enjoy what I have to say in this blog. Some will be amused by it, some will be enraged by it. Some may find it intriguing, or exhilarating, or boring. I invite you to tell me what you think. Suggest future entry topics. Ask questions. Challenge theories. Make me work harder.
Music is a passion we all can share. Let’s do it here.