Okay, I am going to totally date myself here, but I remember buying and playing vinyl records. There, I’ve said it and you now have a better picture of the kind of person I am.
I’ve always liked to consider myself somewhat a connoisseur of music figuring wherever I lack a most expert judgement in my taste of tunes, I make up for it in enthusiasm for the medium. In fact, like everybody else I know, my life has its own personal soundtrack and I love to delve through my eclectic music selection, put something on and turn up the volume to create at varying times a mood to raise myself up or settle myself down, sing along to and most definitely bop around my kitchen table or a dance floor to. There’s a chance my parents sparked my interest with Sinatra’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers and Ella Fitzgerald’s Ella Fitzgerald Sings Cole Porter’s Songbook forever on our turn table or playing in the background while they hung wallpaper to decorate our rooms. Or perhaps I can blame it on the juke box we had in our basement growing up which played hundreds of singles we could swap out and change as our music tastes wandered. In our high school years we ran the gambit from The Beach Boys’ California Girls to Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes to The Rolling Stones’ Shattered , The Police’s De Do Do Do Da Da Da , Kool & The Gang’s Celebration, Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody and Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop “Til You Get Enough. In college, Neal introduced a more international flair to my playlists with Everything But The Girl and The Style Council being mixed in with the universally acclaimed Dave Brubeck’s Jazz At Oberlin, but then Jeff got me to delve into ska and reggae with his contagious Locals Only shows performing on the college circuit, threw in loads of anything by The Beatles and topped it all up with an exposure to Branford Marsalis and Sting’s Englishman In New York which probably went some way to subliminally influence me to want to be an American in London! In London, Nick and I spent our Saturdays at the Kings Road HMV buying up all the acid jazz of the 1990’s especially loving Jamiroquai’s Emergency on Planet Earth album as well as splurging on Kenny Loggins Live From The Redwood Forest, and later Bueno Vista Social Club. I told you it was eclectic.
I can even still remember what songs were hits when I was pregnant with my kids and I swear they’ve navigated towards the genres they heard through me as soon as they could hear. If you check your Billboard rating lists for 1998, Shania Twain was belting out some beauties that year and I find Megan, although her taste is presently rather indie these days, she’s always got a sweet spot for country given a chance. And Christy, well, Toni Braxton’s sultry R&B was actually on in the delivery suite in 1999 when she arrived and I can see her lean towards sensational, soulful vocals whenever she gets the chance to plug in her iPad and pick the next tune to listen to. Skyler definitely has 2004’s Hey Ya! by Outkast ringing in his subconscious as although he loves the likes of Maroon Five and Michael Buble he always rouses us with an all-body-moving Black Eyed Peas song when he wants to get the “party started in here” .
Sometimes I love just listening to the tunes and the quality of the human voice connecting with the lyrics. When I was living through chemo treatments, I would alternate my iPod on a loop of James Taylor’s October Road to Yo Yo Ma’s Songs of Joy and Peace as I would try and drift off to sleep away from the cancer and the “therapy” . I fear I may sound like an X Factor judge but I have to say the clear tone of James Taylor’s voice and Yo Yo Ma’s cello accompanying top artists of every music discipline saw me through nights and eased me through the worries that wore on me like no medicine my oncologist could have prescribed for me.
So, why the confession about vinyls? Well, ever since Beyonce came out with her big groundbreaking Beyonce album with a matching set of videos this December which according to the iTunes editor has “cemented her status as a pop visionary”, I’ve been thinking – what is the big whoop? I love Beyonce, like it seems everyone else on the planet does, however, I don’t get how it is such an amazing concept that she came out with a whole set of songs at one go instead of dribbling out a single here, and once that ran its course, a single there. What she did reminds me of what vinyls have been doing all along. The artist/band gets to pick their full set of songs, put them in a meaningful order, accompany them with a visual like a defining album cover and include the lyrics and even hopefully liner notes which reveal the human side of the music and allow fans to ponder about the meaning of and person who produced the music. Don’t get me wrong, I think what Beyonce has produced is super cool and I am really enjoying the music yet I just don’t get how she’s considered such a revolutionary innovator on this front.
Now I am in full flow of my middle aged rant I guess I can let you in on the schpeel I was going to carry on with about how easy our kids have got it filing through thousands of songs at the swipe of a finger while our old compilation tapes actually were labours of love. Mary Kate adores to laugh at the time I decided it would be a good idea to make a compilation tape for one of my high school crushes while at the same time making him chocolate chip cookies. With the stereo system, including the record player and tape machine, on the far side of the living room located on the opposite side of our house to the kitchen I really challenged myself one Christmas to produce a gift for the hearing and tasting. I would load up another round of cookies to throw into the oven between flying back to the living room and hitting the tape to pause so I could cleanly edit in the next track on the tape without cutting off a song or running into the next one on the album. I was ever grateful for the space between the songs. All you forty plus year olds must know what I’m talking about. Kates thought it was the best fun to watch me dash back from the kitchen with an oven glove on my hand to hit the tape deck between batches. At one point, as I was wearing socks and running on hard wooden floors, I slipped and nearly took the Christmas tree out as I cleared the entrance of the living room like someone sliding into home base. The biggest damage done was that I didn’t have a perfect mix and had to try and rerecord the Careless Whisper Wham song I was so desperate to include.
Nowadays, we might not have to fumble with needles to amplify a sound out into the world for songs, but we certainly had/have people producing full albums which can be bought and listened to in their entirety just like Beyonce. I am happy to report all of my kids are great djs when it comes down to it and my listening life is enriched by the music they share with me still some how I think they miss the point sometimes when they just know one song from an artist. Even Skyler, who at almost ten, has an encyclopedic knowledge of bands and one off songs he has heard and likes from the charts (or from eavesdropping on his super cool teenage sisters’ playlists). Each of my kids has an amazing capacity to recall these singles in random order and its like having our own personal original compilation pour out of them and their iPods when they manage the audio controls scrolling through the iTunes library and choosing what song will come on next. That said, I still think there is something worth following an album of ten to twelve songs through from beginning to end. Wouldn’t you agree you literally get more into the rhythm of the experience and the artist if you let yourself get moved by the full expression of those sets of soundtracks ordered in such a fashion to link together to give us as a whole album? Even if you eventually fast forward through your less favourites you still know where each song falls on an album. Just as I can recount the songs of my life along the way, I’d like to suggest on your favourite albums you can finish one song and know without even thinking what that one will segue into? I’ll go back to James Taylor and if you are even half the fan that I am don’t you just know when he wraps up I Will Follow on Dad Loves His Work with “Follow Love” the most natural sound you hear in your head even if you don’t have it playing is his plucking of the guitar and then him singing, “Believe it or not I’ve been waiting for you to come through.” the first lines of Believe It Or Not.
Finally, I wanted to declare, I even love the space between the songs on an album. Even if I’m not trying to make a compilation tape and need to buy some time – you know just before the last song finishes and the next one begins don’t you love that quiet in between? Just a moment to reflect, to pause. This morning that space of quiet came even more profoundly to me when I listened to a report about a woman in her forties who last month had cochlear implants placed in both her ears and who heard sound for the first time this week. PLEASE PRESS HERE TO LISTEN AND TO WATCH I’ve now watched the video when I was looking for the link for you but think listening to it on the radio was almost even more poignant. Press play and close your eyes and listen to her hear. The whole recording grips you and especially when the nurse asks her if she can hear herself and she says, “Yes” through her sobbing, laughing amazement. Maybe what I’m trying to say about all this music stuff is that however it is packaged there is something so purely good about hearing and being heard. Whether you cherry pick a song or go for the whole bunch at one go – I hope you enjoy it and revel in the act of listening.