My Musical Journey in 25 Songs (Part 2)

“Born under a bad sign
I been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck
I wouldn’t have no luck at all”

Music, of course, started to expand and change throughout the Sixties. In fact, at least in America, everything started to change. There was an unpopular war, the counterculture developed, and kids started getting high. AM radio wasn’t pushing boundaries like FM would later but it was still pretty damn good overall.

But the British Invasion was still, shall we say, flowering. And if I did a list that did NOT include The Kinks I would (rightfully) have my membership to the Village Green Preservation Society revoked. Ray Davies was a one-man Lennon and McCartney. And his tales of drunkenness and cruelty and his peek into an oh-so-very-British way of life were revelatory:

But then an interesting thing happened which is that I might find the odd article about an artist or hear something. And after Dylan came out with “Lay Lady Lay,” I went back and found his mid-Sixties triumphs – Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and Bringing it All Back Home.

And I’ve been a mega Dylan fan ever since. I had already known “Blowin’ in the Wind” but later went back and discovered Freewheelin’ and all his other great early stuff.

Is “Highway 61” some sort of religious parable? Do you think Dylan would admit it if you landed on the exact meaning?

One day my sister brought home a batch of albums that included Sgt. Pepper, Are You Experienced, and Wheels of Fire.

MIND BLOWN!

The inflection point here, for me, was not just the mind-altering sounds of each of these albums but the prominence of electric guitar in the latter two especially.

Who are these people? What are these wondrous sounds as if – verily – handed down by the gods? I was taking guitar lessons and could not even comprehend where these sounds were coming from. (Today I warm up by playing some of this stuff on guitar. Once you learn how the magician does it, you can copy him.)

Hendrix blew everyone’s mind. I like the whole album but well, how can you not go with ‘Purple Haze?”

And then there was Joplin. Is she an inflection point given that I’d listened to (non-blues) singers like Dionne Warwick, the girl groups, etc.?ย  Well, yes because she was an unavoidable force of nature and in a lot of ways symbolized (what we thought was) the carefree anything-goes Sixties. In fact, if you know anything about her life and/or have seen the documentary you would know that Janis had the blues.

Here are Big Brother and the Holding Company doing “Piece of My Heart” from Cheap Thrills:

And then there was Cream. Now here’s an inflection point and I cannot state this strongly enough. Firstly, blues. Though I had never heard of him at the time, Albert King had recorded “Born Under a Bad Sign” just the previous year.

And even though, strictly speaking, Cream wasn’t a blues band, with Eric Clapton (who?) in the band, there was going to be some blues. This was my first real introduction (especially since Hendrix’s “Red House” had been inexplicably left off of the American version of Are You Experienced):

The other important thing about Cream is that they would sometimes play songs for 15 minutes or more. “Spoonful,” a Willie Dixon blues song, goes on for 16 minutes. And I loved it! We are suddenly a long way from the Monkees. And this opened the door for me to long, free-form improvisation which eventually manifested itself in my jazz explorations.

Now, you might think, well, Our Intrepid Music Enthusiast must have plunged headlong into the blues and psychedelia. Well, no. Those were happy diversions but I was still heavily into pop and whatever goodies AM radio would bring. And I hadn’t yet discovered a new rock magazine named Rolling Stone.

And there was still great stuff on AM radio. Motown did NOT represent all Black artists. James Brown and Aretha Franklin presented a sometimes rawer, rougher kind of soul, the counterpart to Sam Cooke’s earlier version of same. Aretha could sing just about anything and blow the roof off.

Now, a (mostly) Canadian group of musicians had supported Bob Dylan when he went electric (and was initially condemned for it.) These guys had backed up Ronnie Hawkins and been a top-notch R&B band in Toronto. And maybe it was their association with Dylan or something inherent in their collective musical makeup.

But in 1968, The Band brought psychedelia and the whole 15-minute guitar thing down a notch or two when they released Music From Big Pink. They simplified and folkified everything so much that even Eric Clapton (seriously) wanted to join them. Thanks, they said, we already have a guitarist and so Clapton wandered off and founded Blind Faith.

Here’s “Chest Fever.”

Why were The Who an inflection point? Well, besides being one of the greatest bands ever, who the FUCK else was doing rock operas? Townshend had already experimented earlier with the briefer “A Quick One While He’s Away.” But then the band releases Tommy, still a great album to this day.

I have professed my love for Paul Simon as a songwriter and Simon and Garfunkel more than once. I couldn’t decide between “Bridge Over Troubled Water” or “The Boxer” but I decided to go with the latter as I find it never gets old for me. S&G were not country but they kept my mind open to later being able to enjoy beautiful high harmonies and a beautiful musicality.

Apologies for not finding a way to squeeze the Doors in here. That’ll be on the Spotify list – Deluxe Edition.

Next – Jazzier, bluesier, funkier

2 thoughts on “My Musical Journey in 25 Songs (Part 2)

  1. Literally can’t argue with any of the picks on your list, which I think are all excellent songs. Coincidentally, I had launch with a good music buddy yesterday. Mike is about 15 years older than me and has actually seen many of the artists we both dig, including Led Zeppelin at Convention Hall in Asbury Park in ’68 – same weekend as Woodstock! He told me when he first heard “Purple Haze” at the time it came out in 1967, he was floored. “Are You Experienced” still is his favorite Hendrix album.

    “…Been down since I begin to crawl/It it wasn’t for bad luck/You know, I wouldn’t have no luck at all…” These great lines have to be one of the best blues lyrics ever!

    Also, I noticed you’ve already mentioned your older sister a few times – looks like she did have some influence in shaping your early music journey. If I’m right about we would have that in common.

    My six-year-older sister Ingrid introduced me to some of the best music I enjoy to this day, including Carole King, Santana, CSNY, Simon & Garfunkel and Pink Floyd – I believe largely unknowingly. She would simply play vinyl records from these artists in her room, and the music was loud enough I could easily follow along in my room.

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    1. That’s really interesting about your sister. I have two. The one I’m mostly talking about brought home a lot of great stuff. She went to Woodstock, saw The Beatles and her love for them is second to none. I, too, heard some of her music through the bedroom door as she listened to an “oldies” station on Sunday nights. The oldest sister liked to sing opera and I don’t think we ever discussed music.

      I wish I’d seen Zep. I’ve seen a shitload of bands but since I was in NYC I can’t come up with one good reason why I didn’t see Zep or for that matter, Lennon or Harrison. The first band I saw of that generation was Jefferson Airplane but missed the boat on Hendrix, Sly. So be it. I more than made up for it.

      As you’ll see in the next post, my next influencers became my NYC friends. Not just in listening but in concert attending which- guitar aside- has been my real hobby.

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