Monday, May 3, 2010

Great Moments In Music History II

It turns out that Sunday was the start of National Music Week. I have no idea why we need a National Music Week but it does give me another excuse to talk more about some of the songs that I associate with different times in my life.

Before I do that, I have to pass along a story from a guy named Josh that I work with . . .

I just need to share this with you...your question, "Do you have a song that always reminds you of some moment in your life you’ll never forget?" Yes, I have one particular song that takes me back. No matter what the situation is, I go off into LaLa Land and daydream. When the song ends, I return to reality.

Let me reminisce for a moment....I'll be right back.

Ok, I'm back.

The date was November 6, 1992. I just graduated from intense Marine Corps Boot Camp at dreaded Parris Island, South Carolina. Boot Camp in the USMC is longer and more intense than any other of the Armed Forces. For 13 long weeks, along with the physical and emotional roadblocks to deal with, a recruit is also shut off from all outside interruptions. No TV. No newspapers. No magazines. No radio. When you graduate, you aren't aware of the current news, the current celebrity gossip, the newly released movies, the story line for your favorite shows or the current top 10 songs.

As I was leaving the base, I turned on the radio and for the first time in over three months, I heard the sweet sound of music. The song was "Layla" by Eric Clapton, the MTV Unplugged version. I'd never heard the song before, that version or the original version. But it was so soft and peaceful. No screaming or yelling. Just Eric and his acoustic guitar, telling a story.

Now, whenever I hear that mind takes me back to that day. I don't really think about the rigors and pain of Boot Camp. I think about the sweet South Carolina air, the ocean breeze, the pride of having accomplished the most stressful time of my life, the excitement of seeing my family again (and knowing I would never have a drill instructor screaming in my face again!!)

Is that a cool story or what? And as much as I love the original version of Layla, the acoustic version is even better! Thanks Josh!

So, I kinda got through my high school years last time. Let’s see if I can wrap up the rest of my life this week.

Want A Doobie?
I was a freshman living in Poling Hall at Oregon State University, when I first heard the Doobie Brothers song, Jesus is Just Alright. (Sing along with me: Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo dooooo!) Even though I was a poor, starving college student I forked over $2.99 to buy the album. Much to my surprise, I loved every dang song on the album. And pretty much every song on every Doobie Brother’s album from that point forward.

Soon after buying the album, my roommate (who shall remain nameless cuz I can’t remember his name) asked me, “You know what a Doobie is, right?” Being the sophisticated guy I am, I replied, “No.” He explained that a “doobie” was (horrors) a marijuana cigarette! I was shocked but loved the album and played it all the time anyway. (On another note, I shouldn’t have been shocked my roommate knew what a doobie was since he had spent most of spring term trying to grow pot in the window of our dorm room, all the while claiming it was a mint plant.)

Disclaimer: I’ve never smoked pot or ingested any controlled substance without specific permission from medical professionals and Major League Baseball.

Confession: Always wanted to smoke pot. Never did. Never will.

Back to the story . . .

Other than Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers are my all time favorite group. I’ve sent them in concert a few times and I think I own every album up they made up through the time Michael McDonald left the group - and several after that as well.

Cher and Cher Alike
One summer in college I worked at berry cannery along with a couple of my friends. We took turns driving to work cuz it way out in the sticks in east Multnomah County. We worked a shift that started in the late afternoon and would usually run until after midnight.

One night we got off a bit early and were heading back home along Oxbow Park Road, which is one of the windier roads in the state. My friend, Mike, was driving his family car (a Ford Galaxy station wagon, I believe) and I was in the back seat while my other friend, Bill, was in the passenger seat.

We had the radio on pretty loud (because that’s the only way a radio should be listened to) and the song Gypsies Tramps and Thieves by Cher came on. I hated that song then and I hate it now BUT that didn’t keep us from singing along with it that night.

It did, however, keep Mike from paying attention to the road for long enough that he lost control of the car on one of the curves and we crashed into an embankment. In that moment we all have when time slows to a crawl, just before disaster strikes, I watched as the car was careening toward the embankment and thought: “If I die while Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves is playing on the radio, I’m gonna be pissed!”

We didn’t die – and no one was even hurt. The car, on the other hand, was a mess. We got out and walked about a quarter of a mile down the road to the first home we could find. We knocked on the door and explained our dilemma. The couple invited us in so we could call a tow truck. When we stepped into the light of the house, they noticed our clothes, which were splattered and stained with the strawberries we’d been canning all night and the woman asked, “Oh my gosh! Are you guys okay?”

We all had a good laugh but, to this day I still hate Cher and especially that song!

Grand Funk
In college I also discovered soul music and even better: funk! My roommate during my sophomore year, Brad, was more straight laced than my pot growing freshman year roommate. However, he loved Motown and especially Marvin Gaye. The album What’s Going On and especially the song Mercy, Mercy Me exemplified musicianship at it’s finest. That led me to check out lots of other similar artists.

I quickly fell for the Isley Brothers and especially the songs That Lady and Fight the Power. Fight the Power had the added bonus of containing a swear word, which made it kinda more fun to sing along with cuz you felt like you were doing something slightly illegal.

My other fave was Earth Wind & Fire. I wore out the album, That’s The Way of The World and the song Shining Star. In the mid 70s I saw them in concert. The three things I remember most about it are:

1. Loudest.Concert.Ever – my ears rang for two days.

2. Verdine White, the bassist, played a wireless bass. At the time I couldn’t figure out how it was possible.

3. Before the show, during the intermission and after the concert, they played just one song over the loudspeakers. Over and over. I had no idea what it was and became obsessed with it until a couple of years later when I heard it on KINK one morning. The song was Romantic Warrior by Return to Forever. It was still another year or so before I found the album. I still play that song often.

AND to this day, funk is one of my favorite styles of music. Maceo Parker, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Soulive and a ton of others, come up on my iPod playlist a lot.

Gross Funk
I worked at OSU’s campus radio station, KBVR, when I was in college. Easy credits and, being college radio, you could kinda, sorta do what you wanted. Along the way I got a weekend job as a DJ at K103 in Lebanon, where I worked for a year or two.

Even though I only worked weekends, I hated having to play songs that had been picked by the program director, rather than songs I liked. To this day, I pretty much hate any song from that dark, forgotten period. Billy Joel’s Glass Houses, John (pre-Mellencamp) Cougar’s debut album, Blondie’s Heart of Glass are among the albums I cannot stand to hear – even today.

By far the worst of that whole period was the song Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. I remember coming to work one Friday evening and seeing it listed as being in “heavy rotation.” That meant I was likely to hear it 2-3 times over the next six hours. I’d never heard it before but after hearing it for the first time, I hated it. Sure, part of it was that it was a stupid disco song (and let me point out here there is only ONE good disco song – Disco Inferno by The Trampps) but both the music and lyrics drove me insane.

Sing it with me: “Won’t you take me to – Funkytown! Won’t you take me to – Funkytown! Won’t you take me to – Funkytown! Won’t you take me to – Funkytown!”

AND on top of that, every girl in the Willamette Valley called to request the song, over and over again. And if you had already played it, and couldn’t play it again until it came around in the rotation, they said they would just keep calling until you played it again. And that’s exactly what they did.

I quit soon thereafter.

Well, now we’ve made it pretty much up to the time I got married and had kids. Those years will have to wait for another time, cuz I’m tired of this subject for now – and if I am tired of it, you must be going insane! Kinda like I was having to listen to Funkytown . . .

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