So in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I am reviving a long-dormant project: writing about my favorite albums by way of saying a few things about, you know, life, the universe, and everything. But first, a bit of (pre)history.
Having been born in 1967, I have no real memories of the 1960s. My earliest musical memory is of CCR’s “Looking Out My Back Door,” recorded in 1970, heard by me somewhere in the next few years. Coincidentally, this song would turn up much later in one of my favorite movies:
I also remember B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” which apparently I used to sing in a manner that some considered cute. I did not know at the time that this song came from the soundtrack of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and it still strikes me as odd. But facts are facts:
On the whole, I was not in any way in control of my musical environment for the first half of the decade. My exposure to music came through my parents or the radio. My mom favored pretty things like John Denver and Simon and Garfunkel; my dad liked gospel and a bit of soul, and had a pretty decent collection of rock records spanning 50s 45s (Little Richard, Bill Haley) and 60s LPs (Dylan, The Beatles).
As for radio, the era of which we are speaking – the mid-70s – was a fairly bleak one. A lot of good music was being made but the airwaves and charts were dominated by soft rock and first-wave disco. I remember hearing things like “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band (which as a naïve youth I thought was a song about fireworks), and “Wildfire” by Michael Martin Murphy (a stupefyingly sad song about a girl and a horse). (I also remember hearing David Bowie’s “Fame” on my transistor radio alone in bed sometime late(ish) at night. I found it disturbing more than anything – that spooky rising and falling voice, you know. This began a longstanding pattern of being initially frightened by things I would later come to love.)
In the mid-70s I took enough interest in music to start acquiring 45s, all of which I still have. There is an alarming amount of disco. My collection includes the obligatory records by the Bee Gees and K.C. and the Sunshine Band, “Fly Robin Fly” by Silver Convention, “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, and “Shame, Shame, Shame” by Shirley and Company.* I recently looked this last one up on the YouTube, and it is not bad, actually:
I’m not sure what I love about this video more: Shirley herself, an amply proportioned African-American lady wearing some sort of dressy blue tracksuit, or the portly white dude (“Company,” I presume) who appears at first to be strictly ornamental, then opens his mouth and reveals a voice that is fairly shocking in its soulfulness. Try not to think too hard about the fact that these two might have been doing it.
Speaking of shame, that is mostly what I feel about all this. In my defense, I was young didn’t know any better. It wasn’t until later that I figured out that disco was, for lack of a better word, evil. I know that nowadays disco seems cute and harmless, but things were very different back in the 70s. Initially it seemed like just another fad, but as the years went on it consumed more and more of the musical and cultural landscape, absorbing people and bands, dissolving them in a solution of glitter and cocaine, and spitting out discofied replicas. If you wanted to make records in the late 70s, you had to account for the disco audience — either by kowtowing to it (as many did, very few retaining their dignity in the process, maybe the Stones and the Kinks, and arguably Bowie), or by intentionally spitting in its face. And thus punk rock was born.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. When punk was happening in 1976 and 77, I was nine and ten years old. In April of 1977, I was simply a child with no particular cultural inclinations other than a burgeoning fondness for Saturday Night Live, during which I often fell asleep. Then, in May 1977, a movie came along that changed everything.
* In a twist, this may, or may not, have been one of the sources for “Fame”; sources disagree, with some saying that John Lennon loved “Shame, Shame, Shame” and sung it in the studio while working with Bowie, and others saying that this is bunk.