I wrote this a few years ago, but never posted it. Found it in a “Drafts” folder, so why not.
About three random links away from some blog I was reading, I came across someone’s list of 5 musical milestones – moments that had an influence and impact on their musical tastes.
I thought I’d come up with my Top 5 (plus a bonus mention).
These are all from early on in my musical appreciation life. Actually, they are probably from a dozen or so months in and around late 1980 and ’81.
In chronological order:
John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over
Before December 1980, I was not very ‘into’ music. I was 15, and listened to the radio a bit, but music wasn’t really affecting me. I was more into finding a good paved hill to skateboard down. When John Lennon was killed, I knew who he was and had an understanding of his importance, and of why so many people on TV were upset about it.
A few weeks later, when my mother (inexplicably) gave me his Double Fantasy album as an unsolicited present, I graciously accepted it, thinking I’d not play it very much.
I was wrong. I played the groove out of that album, and that song. (I even liked one or two of the Yoko Ono songs on the album – even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to.)
Almost immediately, I could tell that John Lennon was going to be an influential artist in my life. He made an impact. I soon thereafter bought The Beatles 1960-1966, and The Beatles 1967-1970 (the Red & Blue) compilation albums, and my life changed. I became Beatles Obsessed. And “Music” started to matter to me.
Even though this song is not close to my favourite Lennon song, it is the one to which I owe a debt of gratitude, for introducing me properly to John Lennon and The Beatles – and the concept of “music appreciation”
They are still my favourite band, though now I am much more a Paul fan than a John fan.
The Clash – London Calling
I was deep and happy into my Beatles obsession. I was quite content with playing my growing Beatles et al. collection over and over again. Discovering other great bands of the era, like The Kinks (another band that became a favourite), Rolling Stones, etc.
Then one day I was over at a friend’s house, Colin Kennefic, and he put on a new album he just got.
It was London Calling.
From the punch and kick of that very first strum of the very first note of that titular song, I was hooked. The Beatles were great, but this music was speaking to me (a happy, middle-class naive teenager who nonetheless had feelings of chaos and revolt and a desire to rail against social norms).
London Calling, album and song, broke my punk cherry, and from there I dove head first into the back-catalog of 1976-1980’s punk (British first, then American). I swam naked in the fury and anger of that music, and I drank up all the gobs of spit and vitriol that those artists hurled.
Hank Williams – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
So, I had my Beatles obsession. I was working through all that punk, wondering if I was a nihilist. I was even writing irreverent Clash lyrics on blank t-shirts and wearing them to school. “Nembutol numbs it all, but I prefer alcohol” – even though I didn’t really drink, and had never done drugs. I was the safest kind of danger you could imagine!
Naturally, from there, I turned 180 degrees around and became wholeheartedly enamored with Hank Williams.
When I first became aware of this song, I was wallpapering a bedroom in our house with my father, and there was a Hank Williams album playing. It was a greatest hits album.
At first, I wasn’t really paying much attention to it, because as a punk, country was not cool, guv’nah. These songs, though. They kind of forced me to re-evaluate the reasons for listening to music. Was I going to be a slave to the expectations of the punk genre, or was I going to be a true-punk and say “fuck you” to expectations and choose instead to listen to great music?
I chose the latter.
I credit this song, and Hank Williams in general (and later, George Jones, in a big way) for turning the light on in my brain that said ‘listen to whatever the hell you like. If you like it, listen to it.”
A slave to fad no more, said I.
Tom Waits – The Piano Has Been Drinking
I remember the exact moment I first heard this song. It was a Saturday night, and I was at a friend’s house. His parents were away, and, as male teenagers in the early 1980s, we were doing what young men should have been doing on Saturday nights – we were listening to CBC Radio.
Truthfully, we were flipping through the 3 radio stations we were able to get, just farting around to pass time.
Then, on CBC, this song came on, and it turned my world a bit upside down. Who was he? What was that voice? Does he know the piano playing is sub-par, and perhaps out of tune? He MUST know that!?! Is that allowed?
The next week, I went to Sam the Record Man on University Avenue and purchased the first of many (well, every) Tom Waits albums.
I remember telling the aforementioned Colin Kennefic that I’d found this new artist (Tom Waits) I thought he’d like – he scoffed at my choice. I was taken aback, surprised at his outright dismissal. Turns out, though, he thought I was talking about John Waite (the “I’ll Be Missing You” guy). And, yeah, he would have been correct in scoffing at that.
Prince – I Wanna Be Your Lover
Jerry Morell, the older brother of my at-the-time best friend Wade (whose house I was at when I discovered Tom Waits), was a troubled guy. Really smart, but lots of pain and torment. He was also way ahead of the curve when it came to new music. I was in Wade and Jerry’s basement bedroom, and Jerry was showing me all these albums from artists I’d never heard of – a lot of urban, rap, and R&B stuff. One of the albums was the eponymous Prince. He wasn’t a star yet. I had punk and country-music in my blood, and this music was so foreign and sexual and provocative. I loved it, even though I was a bit scared of it. (spoiler alert) Turns out Prince was a pretty good artist.
Stompin’ Tom Connors – Ben in the Pen
My appreciation for Stompin’ Tom actually predates all the artists mentioned above. My parents had a Stompin’ Tom record when I was a kid, and I loved it. He was my first musical crush. When I was maybe 8 or 9, I even went to the Kennedy Coliseum to see him perform. He was terrific. After the show, I just HAD to get an autograph, but I didn’t have any paper or anything for him to sign. I frantically searched the floor of the Kennedy Coliseum – it was a dirt floor with sawdust strewn on top – for anything he could sign. I found an empty Export “A” cigarette pack, and got in the line for autographs. When I got to him and offered the cardboard for a signature,
he thought that was great – an 8 year old kid getting Stompin’ Tom to sign his empty smokes pack.
It wasn’t until later, after my musical awakening, that I realized how amazing Stompin’ Tom was – not just as a performer, but as an icon of Canadiana and a person who didn’t allow his principles to be swayed by fame or fortune. He, moreso than anyone else, I think, showed me how to embrace and love and make fun of where you’re from.