Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Musically, When Did the Plot Change For You?

(My goal for the next couple of months is to try to post a new blog entry every 7-10 days (we'll see how that goes ;). I've been trying to post this particular entry for the past week, but every time I'm about to hit the publish button, I remember another song/artist that has changed the way I listen to music. This post was a lot of fun to write, but at times difficult to decide upon. Music, one of my passions!)

Last Thanksgiving, my family and I were having a very enjoyable Turkey dinner with friends/colleagues. At dinner, there was a colleague who is a music aficionado like myself and we were discussing what else, music. He posed the question to people, "When did music: be it a song, an artist, etc caused you to never listen to music the same way again? The day you heard the song/artist that turned your musical world upside down. So, we began discussing different artists and songs that had changed the plot for our lives so to speak. This colleague mentioned Nirvana and their classic tune, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Talk about an influential tune. Nirvana, for a trio had such a huge sound. And truly, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” is a song like no other. The sound, the power, the unintelligible lyrics at times (I remember that that when MTV used to play the video they would have the lyrics on the screen so that people knew what they were) Nirvana ushered in the grunge movement and flannel became a fashion statement. For some of us, flannel will always be a fashion statement. But, this got me thinking; musically, when did the plot change for me?

Thanks to my Pops and his vast vinyl album and 45 collection, I grew up on Motown (The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5) so Motown has always been a constant in my life. However, the very first 45 that I purchased was Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy,” go figure? The very first album that I purchased was Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall.” I purchased Off the Wall when I was 8. And I had a ritual, with this album; I would come home from school on Fridays and play the album in its entirety. My way of kicking off the weekend. I would listen to the album with the album cover open so I could sing or follow along to the lyrics in the album cover as the songs played (I miss albums/vinyl, but they are making a comeback as are turntables. There are now turntables that can vinyl into mp3s). If I was interrupted for any reason (my mom calling me, the phone ringing etc.) I would stop the record and then either proceed again from the first song of the album, “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough,” or I would just put the needle back onto the song that I had been listening to when I was interrupted. As one can see, I’ve been a little OCD from way back ;). I still listen to this album, now on my i-pod and needless to say, I know the lyrics to all the songs. And it seems like I always discover something knew when I listen to it. It’s an incredible album! The musical arrangements, the horns, the strings, the lyrics. I didn't realize as a child obviously, but listening to it now, Rock With You is a total pick up song and a good one at that! Anyway, Off The Wall changed me and it continues to do so. The following list are songs and artists whose music changed the plot for me in no particular order and I am forever grateful! When did the plot change for you?

Stevie Wonder- Superstition (1973)- I saw Stevie Wonder perform this tune on a Sesame Street re-run as a child a few years after it had come out initially. The sound that his synthesizer made intrigued me and still does. It was a hot performance! 

Sugar Hill Gang-Rapper's Delight (1979)
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5- The Message (1979) 

I put these songs together because I heard them around the same time when I was 9 yrs. old. Living 40 minutes outside of Philadelphia in the state of Delaware had it’s advantages back then because rap was in its infancy and Philly was not that far from NYC, which was the center of the rap scene. So,  all these rap tunes would come out of NYC, filter their way down to Philly, and be played on Philly radio stations, which were the stations that we would get in Delaware. I immediately gravitated to rap; one for the beats and two for the vocal interplay. Back then, rap was about having a good time for the most part. It wasn’t profane, misogynistic, or violent.

Blondie -Rapture (1981)- The queen of hits “One Way or Another” and “The Tide is High” put out a great tune (in my opinion) with Rapture. Rapture was the first rap influenced single to reach #1 on the U.S. Billboard Chart ad the first rap video to be aired on MTV in the U.S. One, I was surprised that Blondie could pull off such a funky tune. The rhythm guitar and the bass lines are something else. I listen to this tune a lot at the gym. It was the first time I was also exposed to Fab Five Freddy who made an appearance in the video. I saw Blondie in concert back in 1990 and she performed Rapture, it was fantastic!

The Specials, The Fine Young Cannibals, and early UB40 (1985)- In addition to my Pops and my good friend Dave Beasley, I owe a debt of gratitude musically to an old buddy named Chuck Garner. Chuck introduced me to alternative music when we were in grade 9. Chuck was the only person I knew back then not listening to commercial radio; but to college stations and his taste in music reflected this. Chuck exposed me to groups like The Specials, Fine Young Cannibals, English Beat, General Public, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and UB40. I was immediately attracted to The Specials and Fine Young Cannibals due to their sound, for they sounded like nothing else my peers were listening to at the time and nothing that commercial/pop radio would ever play. The Specials and English Beat exposed me to ska, while early UB40 was my introduction to reggae; which in turn led me to discover Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, and Peter Tosh.  I also dug the groups because they were all racially diverse. Thanks to Chuck and the above mentioned groups for they opened up a whole new world of music to me. 

The Style Council (TSC)-Long Hot Summer Live version from Wembley Arena- (1985)- I was struck at how soulful this live tune was. It was a sound I had never heard before at the time (1985). This tune thus began my interest in all things TSC and Paul Weller. 

Eric B and Rakim-I Know You Got Soul (1986)- I remember hearing this tune at a b-day party and it got everyone on the floor and movin’. I kept asking everyone who is this? And they all kept replying, “Eric B & Rakim, you don’t know?” This was the first time I had heard/recognized sampling. The guitar, the beat, and Rakim’s voice makes tune. When I first heard this tune, it truly struck me as a tune like no other (at the time). When I heard this tune it felt like cotton had fallen out of my ears.

Soul II Soul- Back To Life (1990)- One of my favorites, it has now become one of my children’s favorites as well. Love the tune, love the video, love the way the song makes me feel when I hear it!

The Beastie Boys-Paul's Boutique (1989)- I dig the Beasties for various reasons mainly because they are goof balls, they dig what they do, and they are good at it. And Paul's Boutique did change the plot for me, but not upon initial listen, it actually took multiple listens and via headphones. Listening to the album on headphones reminded me of the first time I went scuba diving. That there is a whole 'nother world beneath the surface and this album exemplifies that statement. Paul's Boutique is layer, upon layer, upon layer of sound. The nuances and subtleties of this album come out when listening to it closely. Wikipedia describes Paul's Boutique as, "Widely varied sonically and lyrically and it is so true. The lyrics, love' em and here are a couple, "If your world were all black or if your world were all white you wouldn't get much color out of life now, right? Or, "Girl, I want to butter your muffin, I'm not bluffin', put you on platter like Thanksgiving stuffin', stuffin'! I can't type that last line without laughing. With a line like that, any wonder why I could barely get a date in college?  

Paul Weller- Paul Weller (1992)- There are some Motown styled gems on Paul Weller’s self-titled first solo LP. I played this cd continuously my third year in college. One of my all-time favorite albums!

Jamiroquai –Jamiroquai (1992)- I borrowed this cd from my good friend Dave Beasley and I remember listening to it on the floor of the family room in my parent’s house. The tune opens up with a little cacophony, then a digeridoo, strings, horns, and then the bass drops. When the first words came out of lead singer Jason Kay's (JK) mouth I was blown away! I stopped the cd looked at the cd cover and took a good long look at JK. From the sounds I was hearing on the opening tune, “When You Gonna Learn,” I thought I was listening to a Black female, but when I saw the cd cover I saw a scruffy looking white dude wearing a funny hat. I couldn’t believe he was making the sounds I heard. I love that cd and “When You Gonna Learn,” is one of my all-time favorite tunes. Great lyrics!

Dexter Gordon (1986), Wes Montgomery & Grant Green (1997)- I originally published this post without any references to jazz artists who changed the plot for me, shame on me because I dig jazz! And here are three jazz artists who changed the plot for me. Dexter Gordon's performance in the 1986 movie Round Midnight turned me onto his music. My interest and love in Dexter's music in turn turned me on to John Coltrane (I dig his My Favorite Things album) and Miles Davis (Kind of Blue, classic!) I came across the jazz guitar genius of Wes Montgomery while on a date in the early 90's. My date had great taste in music and when she put on Montgomery's cd The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery I was blown away from the first couple of notes. I believe I actually said, "Wow," upon first listen. For the next hour, I don't think I heard or paid attention to anything my date said because I was so into this album. Incredible that Wes Montgomery didn't learn to play the guitar until he was an adult! I was introduced to Grant Green by a guy who struck up a conversation with me in a restaurant. We were talking jazz and he asked me if I head ever heard of Grant Green, I said, "I hadn't," and he told me to pick some up. I did that weekend and I had no idea that jazz guitar could be so funky. Grant Green opened up a whole new world to me.

Tortured Soul-Introducing Tortured Soul (2005)-This album changed the plot for me and introduced me to a whole different genre of music, soulful house. I came across this Brooklyn, NY trio thanks to a student who was breakdancing after school when I worked at Taipei American School (TAS) in Taiwan. Breakdancing is huge in Asia and it was huge at TAS. I often thought I was on the set of the movie Fame with all the dancing that went on around me after school. I came upon the student breaking, was diggin' the tune he was breakin' to, asked what it was, he told me, and we had a great conversation about music. Went home checked out Tortured Soul on cdbaby.com and that was it. I pretty much listened to Introducing Tortured Soul nonstop for the next two years. This album just has you movin' even if it is a ballad, love this album!

Music has shaped and molded me in many countless ways and there are many artists and songs that have influenced me and continue to do so. But, the tunes and artists I have listed above are the ones that in one way or another, changed the plot for me musically. How about you?


Kittie Howard said...

First, happy birthday, Ryan, and many happy returns. Enjoyed the previous post and how you connected with school friends. Chuckled at your multi-tasking quip...how right you are. AND thoroughly enjoyed this post. You really know your music. I'm going to have to give your question some thought.

HeavySoulBrutha DaveB. said...

No surprise, we have a lot of the same musical influences. I'd definitely add hearing Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," which opened me up to Jazz. DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's Brainfreeze performance of all Soul 45's sent me on a never ending search for those great little two song treasures. Nice post kid!!!


Ambrose Slone said...

A truly bottomless topic..

Bill Evans: Sunday at the Village Vanguard .
Feels like you're in the room.

Miles Davis Quintet: Miles Smiles
Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Ron Carter...I've always been partial to the second quintet.

Jimi Hendrix: Axis: Bold as Love
Little Wing, Castles Made of Sand, Spanish Castle Magic...

Frank Zappa: The Grand Wazoo
"Eat That Question"

Glenn Gould Bach: English Suites BWV 806-811
Counterpoint. Suite 2 in A minor is a personal favorite.

Maurizio Pollini Chopin: 24 Preludes Op. 28
Beautiful. I was lucky enough to see Pollini this year in an all-Chopin recital.

Keep posting, Ryan.