I assume most people like music and although there are songs that have captured the interest of the masses over the generations, aka Top 40; one's taste in music is a highly personal experience. We may all like the same song, but for entirely different reasons. Tony Cennamo, a college professor I had (and long time jazz host on WBUR Boston), once explained that all music was memory driven; it reminded us of specific moments in our lives. The music of our youth tends to be our "favorite" and many people never expand beyond the songs that were popular during their formidable years. Julian Breen believed people related best to the music playing when they lost their virginity, but for some of us; that's one or two songs - tops!
I believe that there is an inherent magic in hearing a song that strikes you for the first time at any time of your life. Even though I grew up in the late sixties through the seventies, I continue to discover new and old music that I like. "It's A Shame" by the Spinners brings back many great memories (and is a great song on its own), but I also enjoy hearing "Photograph" by Nickleback or "Black Magic" by Louis Prima and Keely Smith.
Popular music has been around since the dawn of the twentieth century. Guy Lombardo, considered "threatening" by the previous generation, was quite popular with kids at the time. By the time I became a teenager, he represented an era that was beyond ancient history. The scary part is that just have many years have passed since the Beatles ruled both music and popular culture. Somehow though, the Beatles don't conjure up the same old fogey-ness that the Royal Canadians did back then. Or, maybe they do. I recall my son Kyle rolling his eyes when he heard "When I'm Sixety-Four" a few years ago. Keep in mind he has always been a huge fan of sixties music; but when I told him that this was an "old fashioned" song the Beatles did as part of their famous Sgt. Pepper album, he noted, "Aren't all Beatle songs old fashioned?"
Every decade has produced great music, the big bands, the vocalists, to the dawn of rock and roll and hip-hop. Usually each decade has a peak period of new music or variations that is driven by the medium with which it is delivered to the masses. The advent of the phonograph brought everything from opera to big bands into homes much like the transistor radio brought Elvis and the Beatles into kid's pockets. There' no doubt that the sixties will remain the benchmark for popular music, simply because of the advent of portable radios and an explosion of baby boomers to listen. Fragmentation that began at the end of the decade will prohibit any one group or genre' from dominating pop culture quite the same.
I truly like most types of music; from rap to opera to Gregorian chants. I still like to hear songs that have been played daily on radio for decades. For years I was perplexed when someone tried to pin me down to a favorite artist or song. Well, until 1978 when Steely Dan's "Royal Scam" started me on an album (and later CD) collection to discover an artist that I finally liked most every track on the disk. There are other artists I've collected over the years and I thought the Grunge and Rap of the Nineties was some of the best music produced since the sixties. But there are a few songs and albums I'd like to share that, for various reasons, never made it to the masses. The first of these draw blanks even from Google, but hopefully this page will correct that.
In no particular order, I'll start with the CD "Eclipse Of The Soul" by Graeywulf, mostly because I know one of the principle artists, Jennet Russell. The songs alternate between Kenn Kirby and Emma Russell (Jennet's alter-ego I guess); each providing the lead for the songs they wrote. Rex Diamond provides harmonica for all the songs. The quality of the CD does not replicate a major label, but the soft accoustics lends itself to the music. And the music is very good.
I'll forever regret losing the letter that accompanied the CD as Jennet described her thoughts and some regrets over the mixes and performances. None the less, this group of songs works very well together. I remember putting it on "repeat" on afternoon because I was laying on the couch. After each play, the songs were like a journey that most great albums take you on. With each play, each song would grow on me and I had difficulty choosing a favorite, therefore I'd play them all over again. It's also one of those collections that after you have heard a number of times and are ready to move on to the next artist, it's hard to match the mood. Leonard Cohen, Aztec-Two Step? Most times, I let it play one more time.
I doubt whether this album would have ever been commercially successful, but it would be on my Top Twenty list, if I had one.
This next album came from the depths of the record library of WMAS-FM in Springfield. I was doing a Coffeehouse program on Sunday mornings and always looking for something that fit. All I know about this recording is what's printed on the album jacket and Internet searches on all those involved have never yielded a single hit (no pun intended). Sterling Silver seemed to be a local band out of Connecticut that got together, recorded, produced and pressed their own album. Most of the tracks sound that way, but one song, "I Can't Wait To Be In Your Arms" is one of those songs where everything goes right. Kathy Marquette and Tammy Tanner will never be confused with Celine Dion, but their voices connect to the words and music like so few songs ever do. You might not agree at first, but give it a few plays and it truly grows on you. There's a little cue burn on the record and hopefully someday I'll transfer it to digital and put a part of it here to hear.
Another song from the Coffeehouse years is "Western Mass Hilltown" by Catherine D'Amato. I loved this song from the very first time I heard it and can play it over and over and over and it's still great. Again, the vocal, words and instruments create and exciting pop-oriented song you can't get out of your head. And although I played the heck out of it for ten years, it didn't get into too many heads. (It's cue-burned as well). I tried to call her a few years ago, she works for an agency in the state of Massachusetts, the eastern portion of the state, and I got a hold of her secretary. She was out of the office and I've never heard back.
Andy James sent a copy of his CD to WLTW in New York, only to be placed in the proverbial "Help Yourself" bin. My son grabbed it on his visit to the station one day and at 6 years old, played it over and over. In time some of the tracks became very memorable and I still enjoy giving it a spin. I emailed Andy to say how much we enjoyed his CD, but he was more interested in getting the disk back to the station and over the airwaves.
The music business is tough no doubt. Some artists come close, others enjoy success in other ways. Had James Taylor put Jim Dawson's "Rainy Sunday" on one of his albums, it would have been a different story of the singer/songwriter who enjoyed moderate success in the seventies. Today, Jim does shows throughout the New York City area and has a nice base of fans who keep connected through his web site I met Jim through my show "America's Coffeehouse" and he's as good a conversationalist as a singer.
The Pousette-Dart Band produced phenomenal harmonies with a country/folk/rock feel that cracked the Top 100 in the seventies a couple of times. "Fall On Me" could have easily been as big a hit as Orlean's "Dance With Me," but it wasn't. I saw them live a few times at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA and they were as good, if not better, than on their records. Jon Pousette-Dart has had a couple stints as a solo artist, but it doesn't come close to the work of the band. A Greatest Hits CD was released in the early nineties and I assume is still around. It actually features all the tracks from their first two superb albums, and a third that was diluted by a cheesy remake of "Stand By Me."
And finally, I can't end this page without mentioning someone who didn't sell a ton of records, but wrote enough hits to keep her from worrying about it. Laura Nyro had one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard and coupled with incredible song-writing talents, recorded some of the most soulful songs ever. And I did get to hear her live at the Newport Folk Festival one sunny afternoon in 1988. It was one of the few times during the show that the audience near the back, away from the stage, quieted down to hear her sing.
"Wedding Bell Blues," "Eli's Coming," "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "And When I Die" were all huge hits she wrote before she had turned 20, all major hits by other artists. The one irony is that she did have one song she sang show up on Billboard's Hot 100, "Up On The Roof," which was written by Carole King. Another Greatest Hits CD to look into, or a copy of the CD "First Songs" will give you plenty of insight as to what an amazing singer/songwriter she was. When I heard about her death from cancer in 1997, I truly felt a loss.