Mike’s Musical Memoirs – Three Records I Loved When I Was Four or Five.

May 20, 2017 in features

This July, I’m going to become a father for the first time. My beautiful partner and I will be welcoming our happy little surprise into the world with open arms, hearts all aflutter and we can’t wait! We’re taking note of the albums we’ve had on high rotation over these past seven months, building a playlist that will remind us of this phase for years to come. Unpredictably, ‘More Life’ by Drake is looking to be the top album that will take us both right back to the intense pregnancy phase of early 2017 whenever we hear it from now on. It’s a surprisingly soothing listen! Mom to be really loves it and Dad to be totally gets it.

I’ve been delving into all sorts of childhood memories and intense reflection as I anxiously ponder how our lives are about to change forever, surely for the better, which got me thinking – what are the very first albums or songs that I remember enjoying? Not my own childhood favourites. I’m talking about the tapes that Dad would play in the car when he drove around town running errands, or the songs on the radio that Mom would sing along to in the kitchen while she made lunch. What were you digging on before you were even old enough to make your own musical choices? More significantly, which of those have remained or perhaps re-emerged as your personal favourites as an adult? These are the first few that came to mind from my own experience:


 

Thestranger1977Billy Joel – The Stranger

When I was wee, the album cover of The Stranger freaked me out a little. The mask looking up at Billy Joel from the pillow on his bed had an unsettling effect. To me, it appeared as though someone’s very soul had been imprisoned in Billy’s bed and its hollowed-out face looked up helplessly as he stared down with calm indifference. I was still semi-new to subjectively processing visuals and when you’re four or five, most images from the grown-up world can be willed into some sort of nightmare scenario, especially when it’s rendered in black and white. Additionally, the spooky whistled intro to the album’s title track did very little to scare off the ghosts in the air. Despite that, I really got a kick out of the parts in ‘Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)’ when Billy sang ‘Heart Attack-Ack-Ack-Ack-Ack-Ack!’ and ‘Cadiliac-Ack-Ack-Ack-Ack-Ack!’. I would anticipate those spots and mimic them in the backseat of the car on the epic, hour long drive to Grandma and Grandpa Patterson’s house in Dundas all the time.

November, 1979: Mom and Dad dropped my brother and I off at the Grands’ house for the weekend so they could enjoy some long overdue kid-free time. On this occasion, they took a road trip to the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium to see Billy Joel in concert. They returned with a tour program that I would flip through constantly at home. I could barely read yet, but the pictures were pretty cool.

A couple of decades later, right around the turn of the millennium, Mom and Dad bought me the CD for Christmas which, compounded by the strong sense of sentimental nostalgia that it stirred up within me, served as the perfect soundtrack to a light winter depression that I fell into that January…call it my own little mid-twenties crisis. I was single and lonely, I hated my job as a fundraiser (read: a telemarketer, selling tickets to old timer’s hockey games), and my band was still haplessly struggling to become something beyond the well-established local favourite that we remained after a few years of putting all our eggs into one basket. Oh, woe was me. Looking back now, it’s a laugh and an eye roll, but The Stranger really helped me to get through those tough, tough times. Ha.

These days, I keep The Stranger close at hand and sing along with just about every word. It still stands up as it bubbles over with hokey romance (‘Just the Way You Are’, ‘She’s Always a Woman’), focused introspection (‘Vienna’, ‘The Stranger’), sentimental reflection (‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant’) and inspirational resolve (‘Movin’ Out’, ‘Only the Good Die Young’, ’Get it Right the First Time’). I can’t wait for my little girl to help me loosely recreate history when I play it in the car on the epic, two-hour drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Dunnville all the time.


 

519z8vmUGzL._SS500Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years

Released during my birth year of 1975, the singles from Paul Simon’s solo breakthrough remained a staple of the airwaves for years beyond its promotional cycle. To my post-toddler ears, the chorus of ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’ had a rhyming scheme that was easy to follow and fun to recite. As far as I was concerned, it was just another fun nursery rhyme. “Just slip out the back, JACK. Make a new plan, STAN. Don’t need to be coy, ROY!” etc. I loved it and would ask mom to play it again and again. I have a flash memory of being in a bulk candy store with her – sometime in 1979 – when it started playing on the shop’s stereo. I really didn’t want to leave until the song was over. I suppose the combination of the exciting location (CANDY!) and the surprise appearance of that song in the moment stamped it into my long-term memory.

Adding to the overall legend of the album, was the famous Saturday Night Live sketch from the U.S. Thanksgiving episode of 1976, in which Paul performed the smash-hit title track in a Macy’s Parade-ready turkey costume. Fun fact: October 11, 1975, the date of Saturday Night Live’s debut broadcast, hosted by George Carlin, is also my birthday. My dad was at the Queen’s Hotel in Dunnville that very night, passing out cigars and buying celebratory rounds for friends as Mr. Carlin told his jokes to a live audience of millions, helping to kick off an entirely new era of late night comedy television.

Jump ahead to 2015: I’m on my own couch, enjoying the SNL 40th Anniversary special like a grown up, but wondering why they were having this party so prematurely, in February, and not over the Canadian thanksgiving weekend on it’s TRUE birthday. OUR birthday.  One of the musical guests was to be Miley Cyrus, which didn’t excite me at first. “But…hold on…wait a minute…is this?…is she gonna?…OMG!…she’s doing 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover!” It was a slightly country-fried but very respectful take on the smooth-rock anthem that, just like the show, was born in NYC, 1975 AND was written by one of the shows’ most favoured guest hosts through the years. It was such a perfectly appropriate choice for the occasion, and such a pleasant throwback surprise to watch her sing it, AND since I hadn’t even heard the song in so very long, she actually gave me the chills a bit…and sure, maybe it was just the Saturday night weed in my system talking, but either way…well played, Miley Cyrus. Very well played.


 

R-2401018-1281947391.jpegBeatles – Something New

A deeper title in the Beatles’ intercontinentally scattered full length discography, it’s a mish-mash of sorts, comprised of album cuts from the Hard Day’s Night soundtrack, the Long Tall Sally EP and its key angle was to give their German version of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ (‘Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand’) a proper home for US audiences. My folks had a well-worn copy of this LP in their big sea chest full of records (it’s still there) and it holds the distinction of being my very first favourite rock record.

My generation was widely served with a generous helping of the Beatles in our earliest years. Our baby boomer parents had spent the 60s and 70s growing up with the music of the Fab Four and their subsequent solo ventures, respectively. The universal appeal and bold simplicity of their earlier work will always make for great family listening and it really was the perfect go-to intro to pop music for us 70s tots.

Though it’s not on this particular album, ‘She Loves You’ warrants mention as the first song that I ever jammed out with my brother. I remember the two of us setting ourselves up with some bullshit toy drums and a baby toy guitar under the basement stairs of our not-quite-finished home. We mercilessly bashed away while repeatedly screaming ‘She Loves You! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!’ in unison as our incredibly patient Grandma Bell, who was visiting from her wisely chosen retirement locale of Victoria B.C., hid upstairs as my parents were off running errands in town. I was probably 5 or 6, which puts my brother at 3 or 4. “Did you hear us, Grandma?” – “Yes, I most certainly did, Micheal.”  I digress…back to Something New.

Three of the most beautiful songs ever written are here: ‘And I Love Her’, ‘If I Fell’, and ‘Things We Said Today’. As the years passed, my tastes developed and went off in all sorts of directions, and mostly away from The Beatles. But in the mid 90s, as I began my 20s, I took a keen, retro-active interest in the psychedelic and progressive rock of the late 60s and early 70s. This inspired me to dust off my parents’ Abbey Road LP, and so my journey back into Beatlemania began there. Later, I spun ‘Things We Said Today’ on their copy of Something New for the first time in almost 20 years and my brain flipped over. I’d virtually forgotten about this hidden McCartney gem and now flashbacks of hearing it at home all those years ago were suddenly emerging. My new obsession with the tune was such that I had to sit down, learn all of the chords and memorize the lyrics. Come to think of it, I’d had a very similar experience with ‘Vienna’ from The Stranger CD that my folks had given me right around the same time. It’s the ultimate music-nerd rush to rediscover great songs like that. It actually makes your face tingle. At that time, most of my musical energy was being spent on trying to come up with really weird riffs that showed little regard for traditional song structures or chord phrasings, but ‘Things We Said Today’ and ‘Vienna’ both brought me back to school for a minute. They reminded me of the importance of ‘the song’ and to study the inner workings of such sophisticated, minor key, pop masterpieces as these. George Harrison’s harmonies on those verses alone, I mean, come on. All the chills.

Conveniently, my parents were about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary just as I was dissecting these tunes for myself, so I decided to record my own take on ‘Things We Said Today‘ with my trusty cassette four-track as a gift. I even indulged myself and added a third harmony vocal track. They loved it and we had a bit of a full-circle family moment. Years from now, if our little girl decides to record her own take on Drake’s ‘Passionfruit’ as a gift for her mom and I, there will surely be laughter and waterworks abound. July just can’t some soon enough.

 

 

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By Mike Bell

Mike is a musician, a bassist by trade. He used to have a band called Chore. He's currently in a band called Customaries. He got his official start in music writing at Hamilton's View Magazine, way back when he worked at Sonic Unyon Distribution as an indie retail sales rep. He now resides in Toronto and very intermittently posts essays at mikesmusicalmemoirs.wordpress.com, a music blog of his own making, and is the host of the southernsouls.ca/podcast

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