Ode to Vinyl: Reflections from a Music Guy (or What I Really Want My Teenage Daughters To Know About Music Listening)

I am a music guy. I am not a musician, to be sure, but I am a person who loves listening to music.  In high school, I had one of the best record collections going.  Yes records.  As in vinyl.  As in LP’s.  Sometimes we called them called albums (Confession: I still do).

I used to love flipping through my record albums (yes, afficionados will use the terms together or apart as the mood fits).  I had so many I was forced to put them in alphabetical order for easy reference.  My first true love, musically, was the stuff of the mid to late sixties (older than I am, btw).  I loved bands like The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, and Led Zeppelin.  Then there were The Doors, The Animals, and so on.   I still think Eric Burdon is one of the great rock-blues vocalists of all time.  Check him out here in 1965: http://youtu.be/HHjKzr6tLz0

I began exploring stuff like Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group. Then I would go back in time a little and dig up the Yardbirds and Cream. Ginger Baker’s drumming was something else.  Ever heard  the Faces? This band was Rod Stewart's launching pad. http://youtu.be/JtqF0qBqzZo

Before long, I uncovered seventies greats like Yes and Steely Dan.  Extraordinary musicianship.  It was my uncle George who introduced both these bands to me when I was a kid.  My uncle George was an awesome musician, and he really knew his stuff. Getting music suggestions from him was like a getting the inside track on coolness. I still get chills when I hear the 70’s classic Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty.  Maybe one of the best driving songs ever.  You want a cool experience, try cruising down a nice stretch of open road, windows down, sunny day, with Baker Street at full blast.   You will seriously thank me.  http://youtu.be/lSIw09oqsYo. Follow that up with Sultans of Swing by the Dire Straits: http://youtu.be/xo-J1wf2KHc. Killer road tune for sure.

As the years passed, my musical tastes broadened. I found Jazz.  Miles DavisDave Brubeck.  I found Leonard Cohen.  Always liked Simon and GarfunkelGordon Lightfoot.  Johnny Cash.  And early Elton (when Bernie Taupin still wrote the songs): http://youtu.be/hoskDZRLOCs

I still remember being a U2 fan before anyone knew who they were.  Loved The Clash.  Enjoyed the New Wave sounds of the 80’s.  And Bowie always.  Ironically, for me the 8o’s hair bands were so-so.  I spent that time more interested in older stuff.  Clapton. Bad Company. Buffalo Springfield.  Neil Young.  In the 90's, I dug grunge, and Radiohead, Oasis, REM and the Tragically Hip.

Today, I enjoy listening to music as much as ever.  I have grown to enjoy the ease and convenience of  iTunes, and have amassed a fairly large digital music library.  I enjoy top 40; ok, maybe not the overproduced bubblegum pop, but I do like a lot of it. I am especially impressed by the range of styles and sounds that is considered popular today.   Folk, rap, rock, techno, soul, funk, country – it’s all on.  For the record, I loved Adele long before she released her blockbuster “21.”  I was listening to “19” and raving about her sound and style while most had never heard of her. 

As I get older, though, I love to explore the margins a little more.  I just recently got on to jazz great Nina Simone (who recorded her first songs in the 50’s): http://youtu.be/OfJRX-8SXOs. And Mulatu Astatke. This man blends African music from Ethiopia with jazz (yes, it is called ethio-jazz, you can google it… or say it at parties to impress the hipsters). A uniquely cool vibe.  Listen for yourself: http://youtu.be/yqa-RvqFXqk.

In 2012, I discovered a guy named Michael Kiwanuka.  Believe me, this is material of the finest quality–mellow soul for a modern world: http://youtu.be/VHRKdpR1E6Q. And Jake Bugg.  This guy is like a Bob Dylan for millenials, only he’s a Brit.  I had the chance to see him live last week.  He is the real deal. http://youtu.be/XuWJ7ZWyw2I

Not long ago, I raided my father in law’s record player (along with his original Ray Charles and Nat King Cole albums) and hooked it up to my new sound system.  It had been years since I played a record.  Instinctively, I grabbed Astral Weeks, and pulled the vinyl out of its cover. It felt very familiar in my hands. I found myself savouring the smell, which was not unlike the scent of old books.  It took me right back to the Saturdays of my teen years, which were spent mostly rummaging through the used record stores on Seymour and Granville streets downtown.  

I set the record on the turntable, and clicked the button.  Slowly, the needle moved over and dropped. And then came the sound -  that sweet, crunchy, split second crackle - that happens when the needle first touches the vinyl.  I hadn’t heard that sound in years.  It triggered a feeling somewhere deep inside. A slow rush of nostalgia overtook me.  I decided then and there that it was one of my favorite sounds in the universe. And then the music started.  And I thought to myself, with the lights dimmed low, heaven, if there is such a thing, ought to be a little like this.


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