All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song. —Louis Armstrong
Like most American kids, I grew up surrounded by a wide array of music. While gospel tended to be dominant there was plenty of contemporary and classical music across every genre. We grew up with a broad appreciation for music and it was rare, especially by the time my brother and I were both teenagers, that there wasn’t something playing on the stereo from the moment we woke up each morning until our parents forced us to bed at night. Even then, the ear bud coming from my radio made sure there was s song to keep me company in the dark.
Being surrounded by all that music, especially during a period when rock music was at its best, we became accustomed to hearing really incredible music all that time. I know I would be horrible at trying to be a full-time music critic in today’s environment because there is so little of what I hear now that stands up to the monumental achievements of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Three Dog Night, and so many, many others. A song has to be more than good to get my attention, it has to be outstanding and different.
There have been but a few times in my life when someone has said to me, “Dude, you have to hear this song,” when I didn’t wince on the inside. Those few instances, though, started early and stick in my memory even though a couple of the songs have been dropped from anyone’s standard repertoire. My father rarely got excited about a song. My father was an even-keeled man who rarely got too terribly excited about anything. But there were a couple of times in the 70s when it actually happened: Poppa got excited about a song.
The first time was in 1970 and I remember the experience as clearly as if it were yesterday. Poppa had attended a conference where the leader of a youth choir (those were really popular at the time) had adapted Jerry Reed‘s Preacher and the Bear for the group. Poppa enjoyed the song so much that he brought the group’s album (which was generally as amateur as one might expect) and he couldn’t wait to play that song for us the instant he got home. We hadn’t yet heard Reed’s version (it never was much of a radio hit), so the song was quite a novelty. Of course, being my father, he tried turning the song into a joke he could tell from the pulpit and, being my father, that attempt failed miserably. And while I don’t care to remember the name of the group on that old album, I have to smile every time I hear Jerry’s version of the song. Take a listen.
The Preacher And The Bear, a song by Jerry Reed on Spotify
Poppa would get excited a few months later that same year when Three Dog Night released Joy to the World. I have a little more difficulty explaining this one other than it was on the radio a lot and it was one of the few songs Poppa would turn up and didn’t mind too much when I sang along with it, loudly, and probably off key. We never owned the single nor the album. I was too young at the time to be investing in such things and, honestly, we were poor enough at the time when the $5 for an album represented a fair amount of grocery money. Nonetheless, I caught Poppa turning this song up every time it came on, even when he was well into his 60s. I think you understand why.
Joy To The World, a song by Three Dog Night on Spotify
There was a lot of incredible music throughout the 70s and if I tried to list every song that influenced me in some way we’d be here for weeks. As the disco craze developed, though, there was one song from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack that started a movement of its own and launched the career of an incredibly under-appreciated musician named Walter Murphy. He’s not someone who tours, ever, but the depth of his talent has not only influenced a number of movie soundtracks but is the glue that holds together the music productions of the animated show, Family Guy. Now, every time I hear that familiar theme I can’t help but think of this song:
A Fifth Of Beethoven – 2007 Remastered Version Saturday Night Fever, a song by Walter Murphy on Spotify
A lot of music from the early 80s that we thought we liked at the time makes me shudder now. We listened to some really, really horrible stuff for a few years. So, when Prince released his sixth album along with a movie by the same name, my first reaction was one of skepticism. The sound was so different from the other junk we were hearing that it took listening a couple of times or more before I caught on to exactly what was happening. Finding the song now in its original form is challenging. You certainly won’t catch it on any of the streaming services and where it does exist is usually in a remastered form. While the visual quality is lacking, the video below is as close as I can come to the original version of the song that gave the early 80s some definition.
Micheal Jackson was one of those performers I grew up listening to and was astonished by his continual development and ability to out-perform whatever his previous effort had been. While his entire catalog is full of one hit right after another, it is a song from his 1987 album that has always stood apart for me as one of the most meaningful and long-lasting. Man in the Mirror didn’t get a lot of attention at the time, initially being eclipsed by the title track from the album, Bad, but it eventually hit number one on the Billboard charts the next year. Over time its message has proven to be one of the most enduring and effective and is still one of the most downloaded songs ever.
Man in the Mirror, a song by Michael Jackson on Spotify
Once we get into the 90s, my choices for songs that I really want to share grow fewer and farther between. Unfortunately, I’m bumping up against both a time and world limit. So, we’ll just have to save the more recent songs for another time. There’s a lot of new music being released today. Maybe one of those will be a song we all really want to hear.