All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Classic Rock

Life's encyclopedia.

Life’s encyclopedia.

If you celebrate enough birthdays (even if you are “forever 39”), you learn a few things. But where did all this wisdom come from? Turns out there is a fourth R — Reading, wRiting, aRithmatic and Rock.

Turns out all I really need to know I learned from classic rock.

If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.
(Hold On Loosely, .38 Special)

Better recognize your brothers, everyone you meet.
(Instant Karma, John Lennon)

Hold on to 16 as long as you can. Changes come around real soon make us women and men.
(Jack and Diane, John Mellancamp)

The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.
(Subdivisions, Rush)

Maybe it’s not too late to learn how to love and forget how to hate.
(Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne)

The love you take is equal to the love you make.
(The End, The Beatles)

And it came to pass that rock-n-roll was born.
(Let There Be Rock, AC/DC)

Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.
(Dust In The Wind, Kansas)

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
(Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell)

Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me.
(Time Waits For No One, The Rolling Stones)

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed, now. It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen.
(Stairway to Heaven, Led Zepplin)

War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.
(War, Edwin Star)

I hope the Russians love their children too.
(Russians, Sting)

It doesn’t really matter which side you’re on. You’re walking away, and they’re talking behind you.
(New Kid In Town, The Eagles)

The problem is all inside your head.
(50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon)

Traveling twice the speed of sound, it’s easy to get burned.
(Just A Song Before I Go, Crosby, Stills & Nash)

I’ll love you with all the madness in my soul.
(Born To Run, Bruce Springsteen)

Send it off in a letter to yourself.
(Rikky Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan)

There’s too many places I’ve got to see.
(Freebird, Lynyrd Skynyrd)

There ain’t no Coup de Ville hiding at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.
(Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Meat Loaf)

So teach your children well, GenX, and keep that throwback rock station on the presets. It’s called classic for a reason.

 

Photo credit — http://www.freeimages.com/Andras Unger

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Meeting the Beatles for the Non-Believer

The Beatles Later YearsAnyone interested in parting with roughly $190 US for the new Oasis deluxe box set? Me neither. Nor is my fellow blogger at everyrecordtellsastory.com. He has issued a Vinyl Challenge to see how else he might spend the equivalent in British pounds. He’s set out to build the best record collection he can for a friend who needs to get hooked on vinyl. Check out his last few posts to see how he’s accomplishing this. If you haven’t shopped for vinyl in a while — or say 20 years — you’ll be surprised at how things have changed.

Every Record Tells a Story has inspired me. I’m not in the market for an Oasis deluxe box set, either, so I’ve thought about what else I could do with the money… some way that I could help out a friend… some way that I could build a package of the best the world of music has to offer. And, coincidentally, you could say it was inspired by Oasis in reverse.

But really it was motivated by an incident that took place a few weeks ago at a party we hosted. There I learned that one of our guests does not like the Beatles. Like most people who say this, he seemed to imply that the band is overrated.

A shrug for the Beatles? This is quite curable.

With people one knows well, the remedy can be achieved over time and a paced series of recommendations. But in the case of a person one sees occasionally and at social events that primarily revolve around their children’s school, it’s a bit trickier as people aren’t so receptive when one dominates the conversation with talk about bands. (Trust me, I’ve been down that road before.)

So the challenge I have undertaken is this — find a way to budget the $190.00 to develop my own “box set” that provides the critical education necessary for enlightenment and enhanced musical pleasure, because, after all, life is so much better when you have the Beatles around to enjoy.

You might ask, “Can’t you just download some hits from iTunes and be done with it?”

The key here, though, is context. My friend probably has already heard most, if not all, of the Beatles chart-toppers and a handful of B-sides. Somewhere along the line, their brilliance was not absorbed. (In fact, I argue that the prevalence of things like The Beatles 1, etc., does more to inhibit understanding of the Beatles than develop it.)

Like the Oasis box set, my collection includes more than just music. In order to appreciate the Beatles, a person needs to understand their role in the development of the rock and popular music canon, how they transcended boundaries — the disappearance of which we take for granted, and the foundation they established for the artists who emerged with them and afterwards.

I don’t know said friend well enough to spend $190 on him, regardless of how life-changing this gift would be, so this is fact-based but fictitious. So, let me introduce to you…

THE GENXATMIDLIFE.COM BEATLES ENLIGHTENMENT BOX SET

IMG_2083Hard Days Write ($9.98 at Barnes & Noble) — The Beatles were prolific. Maybe it was the 10,000 hours of practice, the intensity of Hamburg, the early years spent in hotel rooms sheltered from mobs of teenage girls bent on plucking the hairs from their growth follicles — but few bands (or none) have produced so much, so good in such a limited amount of time. It probably helped that they didn’t tour after 1965 — more time for songwriting and working in the studio.

This book does a great job of illustrating the bridge between the Beatles’ early years — simpler songs, “innocent” subjects — and the more sophisticated compositions of their later years. These guys could write about anything… from pets to prostitutes… and make it awesome. In fact, if they were sitting in my house right now, they could probably craft a Top 10 hit about how much I’d like new granite in my kitchen.


revolver

Rubber Soul ($19.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($19.99 on amazon.com) on vinyl. Post Hard Days Night the title for “the Beatles’ Best Album” is up for grabs. Is there really a consensus? Each has it merits, but in my opinion, these two are the most important for the non-believer, as they are likely the ones they don’t know that well. (This observation is based only on conversations I’ve had with said people and is in no way quantifiable or scientific.)

You can’t have one without the other. The transition began before Rubber Soul, but it’s at this point that it is fully emerged. With Revolver, it is fully realized, and there is no turning back (even with the stripped-down efforts of Let It Be). By this time, the Beatles had obviously matured significantly as musicians, songwriters and observers of the world.

This is one case where I insist on vinyl. There is something about the act of placing the needle on the record, the shiny outer strip that marks the anticipation of the first notes, that prepares the listener for the power of what they are about to hear. It’s like a ritual, paying homage to those first listeners who slid the vinyl disc from its dust cover, delicately securing its edges between the pads of their middle fingers and thumbs, placing the hole on the center spindle, setting the speed to 33 1/3 and switching on the turntable. If my friend is going to really listen to these albums for the first time, this is how it needs to be done. (And if they don’t have a working turntable, they can come to our house where we will be happy to provide educational commentary between sides.)

Rubber Soul ($12.99 on amazon.com) and Revolver ($13.88 on amazon.com) on CD. For practical reasons.

Let It Be RooftopAbbey Road ($12.99), Let It Be ($16.29), The White Album ($19.88), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band ($13.88), Magical Mystery Tour($13.88), Help! ($16.29) on CD from amazon.com*. Why CDs and not iTunes? Each of these need to be understood as a collection. On iTunes, it is too easy to perceive each song as a single, and that is no way to consider the works of the Beatles. You need to hear “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” roll into “A Day in the Life. You need to witness the range of “Rocky Racoon,” “Glass Onion” and “Julia” within a single (double) album. Worst of all is how iTunes severs The Medley.

With a CD, you can open the jewel case, check out the cover, hold the evolution in your hand. On iTunes, it’s too easy for very special music to get lost among the shuffle of Ratt’s first album, the Timberlake stuff you have for parties and that Edwin McCain song you downloaded for your friend at 12:03 a.m. last Saturday night after that second appletini.

If I had more money to work with — or was a better bargain shopper — I’d buy all the way back to Meet the Beatles. But given the limitations of my imaginary budget and, most likely, my friend’s willingness to listen, I can’t push it. Anyway, I want to leave something for the “new” Beatles fan to discover, so they can come back to me again and again and tell me how right I was.

IMG_2089Hard Days Night” DVD ($18.99 at Laurie’s Planet of Sound) — It’s easy to think of a band that recorded, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” as dismissible in the post-60s musical era. In fact, this is the song people (though they are few) bring up when I express my shock that they don’t care for the Beatles. These people need to be reminded that the Beatles had a lot of work to do before they could unleash “A Day in the Life,” and even “Help,” on the world. They had to chip away at the barriers of convention that dominated popular music.

In the movie, “A Hard Days Night,” the world was introduced to four young men from Liverpool, of all places, whom you could see right away had a kind of humor and humanity that gave hint to their staying power. After seeing this, how would anyone be able to resist?

Without tax*, I have spent $189.03, just shy of my $190.00 goal. Converting a non-believer for less than $200.00? As Master Card would say — Priceless.

* I know that shopping at markets and independent record stores is much more fun. But with Amazon Prime, shipping is free, it comes in two days and I don’t pay tax, which I have conveniently left off the B&N and Laurie’s “purchases.” Plus, it’s a bit cheaper than our local indy shop.

Elvis from a different angle

-Elvis-elvis-presley-30741633-440-619My first memory of Elvis is not a song. It’s an image of a him wearing a jumpsuit on stage with his band in the 70s, looking a bit sweaty and performing songs that had become so woven into pop culture that they blended into the background. I did not understand why the grown-ups gave him so much credit.

After seeing Donny Osmond sing “Are You Lonesome Tonight” on The Donny & Marie Show, I added one track to the Elvis log in my brain. Eventually songs like “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Jailhouse Rock” joined the list. “In the Ghetto” was kind of interesting, because it seemed socially conscious. But, to me, nothing stood out as any reason for this guy to be any different from the one who sang the theme song to Happy Days.

As a music fan, I have a basic understanding of the role Elvis played in the emergence of rock music in popular culture. I know a handful of people my age who actually do consider him “The King.” I know that many of the 60s artists that I admire were big fans of Elvis and that meeting him was a highlight of many of their careers. But his music had never elicited more than a shrug from me.

It wasn’t until I caught a few moments of a PBS show on Elvis’ gospel roots that I got it, at least on some level. Elvis wasn’t really about “Suspicious Minds” and “Love Me Tender”. He was about the energy he brought to the music… the sense that before the words passed through his mouth they started the trip deep in his soul. My husband recently said that what makes a singer good is their commitment to the lyrics. This is where it all clicked for me with Elvis.

This past weekend, my husband and I were sitting on our front porch listening to music on YouTube. This is where we go when we want something different from the thousands of songs in our iTunes account. I’ve been on a 70s light rock kick for about a year now, so I was playing things like Pablo Cruise and Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, and he asked to hear some Elvis (which, of course, is where he’d want to go after “Don’t Pull Your Love“). I avoided the typical and found some gems from early in his career.

There are other artists out there who are known for work that doesn’t capture their true essence, unfortunately. Consider Heart and “Alone” vs. “Magic Man.” God forbid they are remembered for their 80s hits over their contributions in the 70s, but I have a feeling it happens. Some would call it selling out, but I think it’s more complicated than that. “Heartbreak Hotel” might sound trite to people who’ve heard it 100 times over the grocery store sound system (let alone the dozens of other places it’s played), but the swing of his cadence and deep reach of his voice probably sounded amazing to the people who first heard it.

There are probably other artists people believe are misrepresented in their popularity. Feel free to add some more. In the meantime, enjoy this one from Elvis. (Hang in there… he doesn’t start until about 20 seconds in or so.)

My once and future favorites

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

Who could resist this album art? It is a post unto itself!

I knew lyrics to Beatles songs before I could understand them. When I was three years old, I was weaned on a steady musical diet of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The songs on this album are the soundtrack of some of my life’s first memories (along with “I Think I Love You” and “Sugar, Sugar”), and I believe that my views of the world were formed, in part, by what I heard in the music and lyrics.

I distinctly remember being three or four and cycling the lyrics to “She’s Leaving Home” through my mind, which was not at all prepared to understand the meaning of the song. I stumbled over the line, “She breaks down and cries to her husband, ‘Daddy, our baby’s gone.’” I wondered what in the world a husband-daddy was, and when it became too complex to imagine, I gave up and just sang along. I was probably ten before I reconsidered those words and then understood. That was about the time my interest in The Beatles was reignited and being mature enough to comprehend what they were saying was akin to finding hidden treasure under my swing set… it was always there but just waiting for the right moment.

The Beatles exposed my young mind to all kinds of other questions, such as:

  • Why would a banker wear a guy named Mac when it rains?
  • What spooky things were going on at that benefit for Mr. Kite?
  • Why did Eleanor Rigby wear a mask? I muddled this with Halloween and trick-or-treating and came up with a very odd image that perhaps I’ll share with Tim Burton if I ever meet him.

Early exposure to The Beatles is a beautiful thing. I can think of no collection of modern artists more appropriate to provide a lifelong love of popular music. When my children were born, I picked songs for each of them from the Lennon & McCartney collection, In My Life,” and “Here, There and Everywhere”.

They will always be my favorite band.