I haven’t rambled about music in a while.
I’ve been editing stories lately, pretty much all of my previous writing, and organizing my work. Regardless of what I decide to do with any particular piece of writing, suffice it to say that I am… particular… about some things and I like to be organized, I like to be able to find what I’m looking for, which also seems to cut down on the distraction level and then I can achieve better focus and so on. So that’s what I’m working on, I’m working on everything.
The other day I was listening to an Ambrosia song and I thought to myself… How did that start? How was it that I ended up listening to that 70’s music so very many years after the fact? Really though it’s music from the mid 1970’s to the early 1980’s…easy listening, soft rock, which is kind of a wonderful not quite oxymoron.
I was thinking about when it was, which was a long time ago now, probably more than ten or fifteen years ago, and I know that because I remember buying “The Little River Band’s Greatest Hits” cd. I’d heard a song on the radio and it had to have been accidentally and while I was driving otherwise I’d have changed it because who wants to listen to all of that old stuff? Elevator music. I used to listen to the local classic rock station and we had a jazz station here in the valley for a while that used to be really great, but somehow I ended up listening to some “easy listening” station and some song really got me and I thought, “That’s a great song. How did I forget that great song?” Which lead to thinking about all of those other great songs from the 1970’s that I kind of didn’t really listen to at the time because they were what was called “adult contemporary” and that wasn’t what I was into. They were the songs on the radio, that was also during the time when things were going from primarily AM radio, to FM radio, which used to play full length albums all the time and some people might have used to record them onto cassettes, the super exciting new fangled replacement for 8 tracks, that was in the ancient times, my dears. We’d sing a long with our transistor radios in a very sing-songy way to a catchy refrain, but we weren’t really listening because everything seemed like it was bubble-gum somehow but it really wasn’t, not at all.
I was building something of a media library at the time, when I started listening to this music again, I still am though not as fervently, and while obviously most of us have our favorite albums that we’ve listened to hundreds of times and we have to have those songs in that order and a greatest hits album isn’t quite going to cut it, I hadn’t ever really listened to the original albums that most of those 70’s songs were on, and so getting the greatest hits cds for some of the bands of the day was definitely the smart way to go.
There are those who still think… Yeah, whatever, that old elevator music… But those songs from that era were poetry, they were love letters, they were anthems, they were representative of a very unique time in our cultural history, so many of the songs were all about relationships and soul searching and sex and ego and there’s more tension and magnetism in some of those lyrics than anything getting airplay since. Not to mention the sheer quality of some of the singers.
I started listening to the music of that era again as though I were hearing it for the first time, understanding it for the first time, because in so many ways, I was. I’d heard these songs, but I hadn’t ever really listened to them before. They weren’t just catchy tunes with a tag line, they were songs that were about something.
Have you ever really listened to the heart-breakingly pure tone quality of Karen Carpenter’s voice?
There were all of these completely amazing female voices, Carol King, Janis Ian, Carly Simon, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Roberta Flack, CHER, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray, Yvonne Elliman, Donna Summer, Thelma Houston… and some of them were one hit wonders, but they were some serious contributions to music. And there was everything happening at once in the mainstream, pure love songs, country, rock, top 40 radio, and disco, and on the edges of things there was the burgeoning metal sound, Sabbath and Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, as well as the origins of Punk Rock. You can say whatever you want to but some of the biggest voices in music had their full expression in disco songs and I think we dismissed it too quickly and too easily, there was a lot more quality there than I think most people realize or remember.
Great songs, with delicate rhymes and complicated stories and saying all kinds of things that people don’t seem to sing about in quite the same way anymore, wistfulness and reverence, sentimentality with the nostalgia already built in.
“When you walked into the room, there was voodoo in the vibes…” What? Well, that’s some great line.
The songs weren’t just sexy or suggestive, but we tend not to think about them as being as clearly about what a lot of them were about because so much of what we hear now is even more blatant. However some of Donna Summer’s vocals could not get airplay on certain stations due to their explicit nature. ( Her hit “Love to Love You Baby”, a disco song, was named by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”) So to say that it was a time of tremendous change in terms of our musical culture is really a massive understatement, it was an important time for music as the boundaries of socially acceptable artistic expression were being pushed to their limits and beyond.
And some of those songs are still so romantic.
Groups like ACE, Bread, Firefall, Orleans, Player, Poco, Climax Blues Band, Three Dog Night, duos like Seals and Crofts, England Dan and John Ford Coley, youtube that stuff up and take a listen. Steely Dan is in a class by themselves but those songs alone, every one of them is a story. There were so many groups and bands that just kind of went away in the mainstream as popular music began to change radically again from about 1983 on. I’m just hitting the highlights of some of my favorites here. I realized that what those songs are, what it is about them… they’re writer’s songs, written during a time when there was a very different aesthetic at work, the arrangements are complex, an ensemble of musicians most of whom could play more than one instrument, the vocal harmonies are layered and intricate, precise. Many of the musicians were classically trained and if you begin to look around you’ll see that many of them played in different groups at different times, recording various tracks, collaborating with other bands, lending back-up vocals. There is a depth and a richness to this music that seems somewhat overlooked if not ignored or dismissed completely. It was truly an amazing time for music and it always kind of surprises me whenever anyone scoffs at it but then I realize and remember that I had to take another listen as well.
I wanted the last song to be an uptempo one.
I wonder what I’ll get into next.
Here’s a link to a pretty good playlist.