I have my parents to thank for exposing me to the music that’s nearest and dearest to my heart by accident. There were some extremely cool records in our living room when I was a small child. I have no memory of my parents ever playing those very cool records themselves. They certainly never talked about them. If I ever asked them where those cool records came from, they never seemed to know or care. It didn’t make sense to me. I knew that my father listened to classical music in his study. He had mentioned thinking that rock music seemed kind of dumb to him. I knew that my mother thought James Taylor was dreamy and I remember her spinning Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” and loving it. Her taste was definitely of the time and place (suburban New York in the early 70’s) but it wasn’t nearly as cool as some of the records in the living room. So where did those cool records come from? It’s still kind of a mystery to me. Maybe my parents got their groove on when we weren’t looking. Maybe some friend or relative had given my folks those records in a failed attempt to make them cooler. However those records got there, they were there in our record collection and we (my older brothers and I) found them.
The first record in the world for me was the American version of the Beatles A Hard Days’ Night soundtrack. My parents owned an old scratched up copy of the album. My brothers and I played it on the living room stereo and in our room on a little briefcase record player my uncle had given us, starting when I was about 4 or 5. It was the most wonderful, exciting thing I’d ever heard. For years, the Beatles were the center of my universe. All I wanted to do was be in a band like theirs and play music like their music. I wanted to know everything there was to know about the Beatles and hear every note they ever played. Eventually I got all of their records. But it all started with A Hard Day’s Night. I’m listening to that old LP right now as I write this. George’s electric twelve string solo on the title track still gets me all excited.
Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline was also in that living room record collection. It was an odd, rather gentle intro to the music of Bob Dylan, but it was enough for me. It wasn’t long before I was way gone on his whole catalog, quoting his lyrics in my notebooks. After all these years, that mellow country record still sounds very lovely and appealing to me. In fact, I’ve performed three songs from Nashville Skyline on my own gigs in the past three days.
The soundtrack to the Jamaican movie The Harder They Come was also one of our living room lps. Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker and several other soulful giants of reggae music, showed me a whole new side of the groove. I listened to that album over and over again in my young teen years. It filled me full of emotion and made me want to move. I loved all of the voices, harmonies, grooves and melodies. I loved the evocative world of the lyrics. I used to go see Jimmy Cliff in concert every time he came to town. I still perform and/or listen to most of the songs from The Harder They Come regularly.
Then there were the Warner Brothers compilation albums:
My parents had four double lp samplers that Warner/Reprise put out in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Neil Young, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Fleetwood Mac, The Faces, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Herbie Hancock, The Grateful Dead, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison… They were all on these records. And the album packaging was filled with liner notes and photos so you could read all about the artists.
Those records were the land of dreams for me.
I branched out and got into all kinds of music in the years that followed those little kid in the living room days. But I don’t think I’ll ever lose the influence or the joy of those first few records. The sounds and the words from the songs on those albums are pretty central to my aesthetic world. To this day, there’s nothing that will ever sound as familiar and yet perpetually fresh and new to me. I know I can hear the influence of those records all over my own songs.
..And how about you? What were your first few records?