I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s. The first music I heard came from Big Bands’ tunes being playing on 78 records. They reminded my parents of the music they danced to in their youth. There were many bands, with famous conductors, that toured the country. They played their popular songs and people danced to their music rather than sit and listen to it. That came later –after their albums were bought and played in homes. The band I remembered and enjoyed the most was Glenn Miller’s. He was extremely popular. Some of his hits were: “In The Mood”; “Moonlight Serenade”; “A String of Pearls”; and “Stadust”.
At this and other places in this article is where You Tube comes in handy. Hearing the music I’m talking about is, obviously, better than just reading about it.
The first music I chose to listen to was Doo Wop. It was popular in the 1950s and 1960s. It was “developed in African American communities in the Eastern part of the United States.” Other ethnic groups used the format for their songs, too. Vocal harmony, with little instrumentation, was the primary component of this type of music. Groups of 3 – 5 individuals, usually with few/no women, dominated this musical format.
Two groups that produced many best selling songs were: The Platters (“Twilight Time,” “Only You,” and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”); and The Drifters (with and without lead singer Ben E. King): “On Broadway,” “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and, featuring Mr. King, “Stand By Me.”
Doo Wop overlapped the onset of Rock and Roll. Rather than go through a list of R+R individuals and groups, I’ll mention a few memories I have from that time. My first record was Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.” That bit of information means I’m older than many people reading this, but younger than Tony Bennett.
In high school, a friend of mine suggested I listen to an album he had just bought. I liked it a great deal, as did he. We were the only two white guys in a blindingly white section of Philadelphia who knew who Ray Charles was.
After high school, I and many other people marveled at a surprising number one hit: Little Stevie Wonder’s recording “Fingertips.” He’s done well ever since.
Bob Seger is probably the only rock and roller I can listen to and like everything I hear. Most days, my favorite song from anybody, tho, is The Eagles “Hotel California.” In my opinion, the only rocker with the talent and energy to please everyone in every audience is Bruce Springsteen. And the only woman who can match him in both qualities is Tina Turner. (If you haven’t already, catch her performance in Mad Max 2: Beyond Thunderdome. Even a young Mel Gibson couldn’t outrun her.)
A few more artists need mentioning. Bill Haley (and the Comets) made “Rock Around The Clock” the national anthem in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey in the mid-50s. Chuck Berry showed everyone Elvis was not the first or only person to gyrate on stage. Chuck’s duck walk helped people realize singing , moving, and playing guitar at the same time was not impossible. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine published its list of the “500 greatest songs of all time.” Mr. Berry had 6 of them. And in 2008, his song “Johnny B. Goode” ranked first in the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.” Finally, Sam Cooke and Buddy Holly made their talent known to us –and vanished.
From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, folk music found an audience. The Kingston Trio was the first group that caught people’s ears. That experience led further into the folk music world. Bob Dylan appeared (before he went electric, then country, then/now American standards) as did Joan Baez for more than one cause. Tom Rush (catch his guitar playing on Panama Limited and limitless folk music repertoire), James Taylor, and Carol King gave endless enjoyment. Gordon Lightfoot in Canada and the USA was wonderful, if less well-known. Joni Mitchell gave folk music a jazz twist with a voice the quality of Baez’, and …and for the greatest guitar playing I’ve ever heard in any genre I must mention Leo Kottke (Your homework assignment: on You Tube or somewhere else find Mr. Kottke’s version of “Vaseline Machine Gun” and keep telling yourself: it’s just one man playing one guitar until you believe it).
One more paragraph on folk music. The Weavers came before everyone in the boom of folk music. They started their 4 person group in 1948. They sang all the old folk songs and added new ones. They were on the right side of every problem this country had –and paid a price for it. They left us gradually. Lee Hays in 1981 (age 67); Pete Seeger in 2014 (age 94); Ronnie Gilbert in 2015 (88); Fred Hellerman in 2016 (age 89). They were the country’s conscience when it was difficult to find one.
I need to mention three more performers I enjoy. Paul Simon has been entertaining me (and a lot of other people) since the mid-1960s. Teaming with Art Guarfunkel, many hits were produced. Bridge Over Troubled Water was my favorite single and album of theirs. On his own, more albums have followed. My favorite two have been: “Graceland” (with many fine songs; eg, “Graceland,” and “The Boy in the Bubble.”) and “The Rhythm of the Saints” (with more wonderful songs: eg, “Born at the Right Time,” and “Can’t Run But.”). Simon’s creativity and quality of work is astounding.
Annie Lennox may well be my favorite female singer –period. She possesses a unique and wonderful choice of material. My two favorite albums: “Medusa” (her version of every selection is perfect; start anywhere and let the album play through; the result is one long parade of excellence) and “A Christmas Cornucopia” (contains some holiday songs with which I am familiar and some new to me; my most played holiday music; always a joy).
I have followed the above two artists a long time. In the last two years, I found another voice I can’t praise enough: Lady Gaga. Beyond her early costumes (remember her meat dress?) is a passionate and powerful voice. She made a reputation and gained a following with her early work (eg, “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face”). Then, her life and her music changed. Her relationship with Tony Bennett led to an album, tour, two television specials, and a cute commercial (for Barnes and Noble; is that right?) Her repertoire grew and so did her popularity. Her latest album, “Joanne”, has fine material, although some fans did not like the more introspective tone of some selections. Still, it sold well. I liked 9 of her songs a great deal, especially “Million Reasons,” “Joanne,” and “Perfect Illusion.” But “Diamond Heart” was my favorite. In a few days, she will be the Super Bowl’s half-time entertainment. A few million fans will see a fine performer.
The music I’ve spoken about in this article accompanied me throughout my life. What music has been the soundtrack for your life?