So what is this all about? Well, you know how you might meet somebody and they might ask what you enjoy listening to? And me, I’d always say, Oh, you know, classic rock, blues, jazz, good pop, soul, some classical. Then I might mention a few artists or tunes.
But that doesn’t really say much, does it? That could be anybody saying that. So I got to thinking – what if I made up a list of songs that someone could listen to and say, Oh, I got it. Not necessarily, “I love everything on your list but at least I get it.” Well, that’s what this is about. (I started at 25 tunes, then 30. I eventually found that 35 songs were the sweet spot for at least conveying – if only minimally – my music trajectory.)
True to the idea of a journey, I focused on inflection points. Like you, Dear Reader, my taste developed over time. But it didn’t just happen. Somewhere along the line, I heard a new (to me) genre or someone said to me, “Hey, listen to this” and that opened up a whole new pathway. So, that’s what this is about. Note – I had no intention of making this a series. But I quickly realized that to do it in any less than four posts would not do it justice.
Given that there are only 35 songs and hundreds that shaped my tastes, sometimes one or two songs will have to stand in for an entire genre. And certainly, there are a lot more songs on this list from the “golden age” of classic rock and blues than from the past 20 years. But we form our musical tastes when we’re younger and the inflection points become fewer and farther between. (Been there, heard that).
To begin with, I grew up with two older sisters in Philadelphia. Philly at the time was a center of a certain kind of sound – soul, R&B, doo-wop, pop. Those are some of my earliest memories.
But even before that, I have this vague memory of hearing this song and playing it over and over again. The template was all there. And “Hound Dog” by You Know Who still sounds great to these ears. (If you don’t have time or patience to listen to all of these, the inevitable Spotify list will be posted on the fourth and final post):
When I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago, they showed an unnarrated video that detailed early 20th Century American (gospel, blues, country, field hollers) music and then – Bam! Elvis and Bam! – Chuck Berry. Nothing more needed to be said:
The great Dion DiMucci (still very much with us) will have to stand in for all the doo-wop I loved. “Runaround Sue” for me, never gets old:
Booker T & the MG’s were one of the first integrated Southern bands. “Green Onions” is a simple blues but it’s got a timeless groove. It was one of the songs that made me realize that you didn’t always need words:
The “girl groups.” Ah yes, the girl groups. The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Ronettes. And the Chiffons:
And then there were the Beatles. Not just a band but a cultural phenomenon whose music largely reflected the influences I’ve already posted. “No Elvis Presley, no Beatles,” John Lennon famously said. They did songs by Goffin/King, Broadway tunes, the Marvelettes (girl group!), Motown, Chuck Berry. And they wrote some pretty good songs themselves:
There were two different strains, if you will, of the so-called British Invasion. One was the more poppish or Merseyside tunes of the Fab Four, Herman’s Hermits, Gerry and the Pacemakers, etc.
The other was the bluesier London-based side that I was initially less familiar with including Yardbirds, Animals, Stones, etc. I had no money and so listened to whatever was on the radio and especially what my sister brought home. And she was not and IS not into blues for the most part.
The following band started in 1962 and my sources tell me they are still around! But that can’t be. Can it? These guys were the bluesier “bad boys” to the Beatles’ more melodic good boys. If you know anything about the Beatles you’ll know their partying and overall debauchery were pretty much in line with the Stones, just better hidden:
But I didn’t really “hear” the Stones till later. I was too wrapped up in a fake TV band. The Monkees, a band that I will have to write about someday. They eventually became more of a real band and there was definitely some talent there. This is one of their coolest songs, a Mike Nesmith tune:
I should also note that I like Broadway musicals and used to listen to both West Side Story and the soundtrack from Hair regularly. One of those tunes will make its way into the “Extended Edition” or “Director’s Cut” Spotify list.
And a few years ago, I did a series on the whole pre-Beatles era. It’s called the Indispensable 150. You can find the five parts using the search bar.
Next up – Too many inflection points to count.
6 thoughts on “My Musical Journey in 35 Songs (Part 1)”
Interesting idea for post, or a series I should say. I dig all of your picks and knew all except the tune by The Monkees. Looking forward to the next installments!
If, after reading it, you feel like using the same idea, feel free. I will advise you however, that coming up with the right mix of songs was torture. Are 25, I could not get the various genres in, 30 was almost there. 35 is just about right to nail all the inflection points if not all the songs. Once I settled on that I must have refined the list a hundred times, listening to it over and over, dropping and adding songs. But it really did make me reflect on how my taste progressed as time went on.
Great idea and each one of these is a cracking tune too.
I encourage you to try it Tony, with the caveat that trying to do it in 35 songs will fuck up your head for a while.
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Perhaps, perhaps… I never had the benefit of an elder sibling to pass tunes down (as the eldest of many I at least hope that I’ve been able to do so, though) but I have vivid recollections of my Dad saying ‘check this out’ dropping the needle on Led Zep’s IV and DSOTM at just the right time
Having an older sister that was well into this stuff and growing up in a music town like Philly were pivotal for me. Exposure at a young age is key I think.
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