I think it was 93 or 94, I must have been seven, we lived in an old mill town on the Willamette River, outside of Portland, Ore. It rained a lot. It was melancholic and beautiful.
I had my own CD player, I loved it, I painted it with glitter nail polish. I had two CD’s only at first. One of which deserves no mention (some Disney movie BS) and the other, Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles. I remember buying them at the mall.
Listening and playing music inside while it rained outside was a big part of my childhood. I remember feeling like my CD player and my CD’s were gold. They were sacred. I would save up my allowance and go to the Mall and buy CD’s. My brother was always trying to sell me things. Once he sold me a nearly dead Lizard, it died within hours of me buying it. But when I could dodge his tempting sales pitches, I bought CD’s.
My Dad was a classic rock guy all the way. He was an elementary school music teacher, and mostly a pianist. When my brother and I were young though, I remember him listening to music more than playing. He would spend weekends rearranging the garage or the living room in our old farmhouse, listening to Fleetwood Mac or The Band or The Beatles or something at top volume. Our house was always uncluttered and I was exposed to a constant stream of really killer music.
I was taught to worship the Beatles at an early age, but my choice to go with Magical Mystery Tour over another record was partly the influence of a friend, and the fact that it was probably the only album my Dad didn’t have. Surely he had every other Beatles Record.
I can’t remember the name of this said friend, but my memory of her is like something out of a David Lynch film – but a kid-friendly non-violent David Lynch film. Play dates at her house were always unsupervised and bizarre. We would sit in her basement listening to her copy of Magical Mystery Tour. I think it was a tape. She was the only other 8-year old around who also dug the Beatles. I remember The Hanson’s and The Spice Girls being all the rage amongst my friends. I only knew her for that year, was it second or third grade? I can’t remember. She claimed to see ghosts and wore a lot of black for a seven or eight year old. I thought she was the coolest, jamming out to the Beatles in her basement, hoping for the ghosts to come.
My Dad (Like so many others) regarded the Beatles as the best band EVER; Of course I was massively influenced by them, I think it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been influenced by the Beatles. I think it’s important to mention how into black music they were – John Lennon was the one who named Chuck Berry “King of Rocknroll”. Was it appropriative? Sure. Rocknroll was, as we all know now, created by black people. Some of their songs feature some sexist language. You have to see them in their context, growing up in post-War England. But what they did with it all – using the Indian music and western classical, all woven together with the power and magic of this Black American idiom. With acid! So in 2018 I could look at some lyrics and think they are less cool… But their musical genius is undeniable, and their work is canon.
Keep up with Heart Hunters here.
The first album I purchased was ESC4P3 by Journey (1981).
I wasn’t familiar with their music, I just liked the album cover (I should mention that it was a cassette..I had just gotten my first “boom-box”). King Tut had toured through Chicago a couple of years before, and the Scarab meant a lot to me. So did the “1337 sp34k”–Google it if you aren’t familiar–on the cover. I spent much of late 1981 reproducing that cover in my school notebooks. I liked the imagery so much that I bought a baseball tee bearing the same imagery at the record store along with the album, still not having heard any of their tunes.
I had been brought up on The Clancy Brothers and Dean Martin and really didn’t care much for rock music, however I was determined to start “fitting in”. After all, I was 13 and I was tired of telling my schoolmates that rock wasn’t really music. Anyway, Journey is what I got. I told the other kids they were my favorite band, and I hadn’t really listened to another so I suppose it was true. I was informed pretty quickly that Journey was “a band girls liked” which I thought was just about as stupid as everything else. Within a year I had moved on to Motorhead and was in a whole other world of stupid. Before that, however, I stuck to my guns and picked up all of Journey’s cassettes through the Columbia Record and Tape Club. ESC4P3 remained my favorite and I continued to draw that album cover over and over.
It’s kinda funny, but listening to that album startles me to this day. It still has that 90s Platinum feel that simply is what it is…mostly due to Steve Perry being the Streisand of pop-metal. “Don’t Stop Believin'” is the highest-selling digital single of the 20th Century. I did think at the time that “streetlights…people…” was nicely abstract and potent. I can’t honestly say that I like the song. The feeling is more like love; the kind of love you feel when you’re thirteen and simply don’t know any better. It was also one of the first albums I listened to with headphones. Listening in my bottom bunk on my boom-box scared me sometimes. I had to take off the ‘phones and look around the room because it was so “real”. It was real. It was my first album. That’s all there is to it.
Keep up with Charlie Smyth here.
In the summer of 1984 I was four years old. I was over at my aunt’s apartment hanging out with my cousin who is about ten years older than me. She had some friends over and they were listening to music and dancing around listening to a tape that was unlike anything my tiny brain had ever heard, nothing like Conway Twitty, nothing like Itsy Bitsy Spider. The shit was FUNKY with electronic hand claps and a vocoder vocal part that kept saying “electricity” over and over.
I haven’t thought about this in twenty years and had to look it up before writing this.
It was the song “Electricity” by the band Midnight Star off their album No Parking On The Dance Floor. This record also has the track “Freak-A-Zoid”, which is a term I still use daily but didn’t know where it came from until right now reading their Wikipedia page.
This is the type of freaky electro funk that has stood the test of time. There is probably, right now as I write this, a hipster in a warehouse somewhere high as fuck on dolphin tranquilizers shaking his or her ass to this. Also, this shit is like 8 minutes long–it just keeps on giving.
Later that evening I was sitting at my granny’s kitchen table underneath the painting, that I think everybody’s grandparents have, of the old guy with the white beard and flannel shirt praying with a loaf of bread and a bowl of soup on a table in front of him. I’ve got one hanging in my kitchen and there’s also one hanging in the bar I go to. I don’t even know what it’s called but I love it. My dad came in and I told him about the song and he was like “Oh yeah, I know that song, it’s great! I’ll pick you up a copy from the record store.”
I was excited and couldn’t wait to listen to it over and over.
The next day he gave me this album. I put it on my little Fisher Price record player but it wasn’t the same. I said, “Dad, whats this!? Where’s the handclaps and the wiggly sounding synthesizer and the robot voice!?” He said, “Naaah, this is what you wanted right? This is the Police son! This is the shit!”
Turns out it was not “Electricity” by Midnight Star but rather “Synchronicity” by the Police. I’m not sure whether he knew he was making a mistake or not. Maybe he thought that I wouldn’t notice. Maybe he had been wanting to buy this record but was embarrassed and then relieved at the opportunity to purchase it under the guise of fulfilling the wishes of his son.
I was fucking livid.
Many years have gone by since the first time I listened to “Electricity” by Midnight Star at my cousin’s dance party in my aunt’s apartment in Shreveport as a young child. I’ve remained haunted by Sting well into my adulthood. This was strongly reinforced by his portrayal of Feyd Rautha in Dune. First you shit on Midnight Star and then you try to take out the Kwizatz Zaderach? You really gotta have ALL them fucking candles in your music video? Tantric sex, etc…
So, my first record was Synchronicity by The Police, but it was supposed to be No Parking On The Dance Floor by Midnight Star. I don’t know if its influence is immediately apparent in my songwriting but it’s there for sure. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with my heart beating like an 808 hand clap and hear that sweet vocoder melody out there calling to me from the darkness.
Keep up with Chuck Westmoreland here.