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Ten songs that influenced teenage me

ten-songs-influenced
Image (and research): Wikipedia

Most of my musician friends spend time on Facebook, so that’s why I probably saw so many of those ‘10 albums which influenced your musical tastes’ challenges. It is no surprise this diversion has become popular in the uncertain time of COVID-19 because it allowed us to yearn, just a little, for those carefree days when music helped shape our lives.

You can tell how much the ‘challenge’ means, as so many participants cannot leave it at 10. Ah, the warm feeling of remembering a relationship that budded and flowered, just as Cat Stevens released Tea for the Tillerman. Maybe you’d met a brown-eyed girl (called Rhonda); perhaps you lived in a town without pity. Or it really got you when Ray Davies wrote, ‘I’m not like everybody else’.

I walked in to the ‘challenge’ by posting an ironic observation that nobody had nominated me to do anything, My record producer friend Pix Vane-Mason popped up, asking about the music that influenced my teenage years.

It didn’t take long for me to break the rules and make my own mini-FOMM, with explanations and reviews (most just post album covers on 10 successive days, with no comment at all). A few people who saw the first entry were surprised to find I was a pre-pubescent jazz head. No 1 was Carmen McRae’s version of Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’. The song version of Brubeck’s famous jazz instrumental (in 5/4 time) came out in late 1961, when I was about to turn 13. I’d not heard the original instrumental version (1958), but this set me off on an exploration of modern jazz.

In 1962, pop music began to intrude, starting with Cliff Richard’s ‘The Young Ones’ in 1961. In 1962, I quickly became impressed with Cliff’s backing band, The Shadows. Original and distinctive tunes like ‘Apache’ and ‘Flingle Bunt’ can still be heard on the radio today. Check out this 2017 version of the No 1 hit ‘Apache’ (1960) when Hank Marvin and the original members reunited for one final tour.

 

(There’s a prize for the first one to tell me which politician they think the drummer resembles. Ed)

In 1963, the fickle fifteen year old was torn between folk (there was a folk club in town) and the peer pressure to go with those brash young pop/rock groups from the UK. This was the year The Beatles penetrated the Kiwi consciousness.

I liked the two covers the Beatles did early on (A Taste of Honey and Till There was You) which hinted at the musicality to come. But the music I remember most from that year was a collection of trad folk songs by an extraordinary singer, Odetta. It was a hit record in NZ.

An incredibly eclectic mix of music came through the AM radio in 1964. The Beatles dominated the charts – five songs in the top 20 including numbers 1 and 2, and nine in the top 100. But they had to share Billboard’s top 10 with Louie Armstrong (Hello Dolly), Roy Orbison (Pretty Woman), the Beach Boys (I get Around) and Dean Martin (Everybody Loves Somebody). I really liked vocal harmonies so the Beach Boys almost always got my vote. But the jazz influence was still there, so even though it seems cheesy now, Stan Getz’s collaboration with Brazilian singer Astrid Gilberto, was, as Danny R said on FB, perhaps our first taste of ‘world music’.

Difficult as it was to pluck one song from the plethora of hits in 1965, I could not go past ‘Rescue Me’ by Fontella Bass. It was released a few months shy of my 17th birthday. I bought the record and played it to death. Nothing wrong with a good old fashioned teenage crush, eh! This was the year that brought us ‘King of the Road’, ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’, ‘Downtown’, ‘Help’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’, so there was a lot of competition.

(Rescue Me)

Aretha Franklin is sometimes mistakenly credited with this song, which was written by record producers Carl Smith and Raynard Miner (Bass claimed she co-wrote the song but was never credited). The other song that grabbed me in1965 was ‘I Got You Babe’ by Sonny and Cher (Cher also recorded ‘Rescue Me’ in 1974). What was that I said about teenage crushes!

Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Early Morning Rain’ was a hit for folk trio Peter Paul and Mary in 1965. A version by George Hamilton IV made No 9 on the country charts in 1966. This was the year Simon and Garfunkel emerged, suitcase and guitar in hand, also a beautiful song full of imagery (Elusive Butterfly of Love). But this was also the year of ‘Doobie Doobie Doo’ (say no more) and the Monkees, a manufactured band provided with catchy hits by a then-unknown Neil Diamond. For all that, folk/country music was starting to penetrate the pop charts courtesy of artists like Dylan, PP&M and Gordon Lightfoot. ‘Early Morning Rain’ covers prevailed for decades, including Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eva Cassidy and Australia’s Wendy Matthews, A great song is always just that, no matter the genre.

No 9 & 10 in music that influenced me as a teenager makes a reference to J.S Bach. I was raised in a household where classical music was always in the background. Mum played the piano and organ, so naturally enough, the Bach-inspired introductions to hit songs in 1967 (the year I turned 19), pressed all of the right buttons. The late Ray Manzarek, keyboard player with The Doors candidly spoke about the inspiration for the intro to ‘Light my Fire’, Bach’s Invention No. 8, BWV 779. Many piano players who ended up in rock bands had a classical background. So when the organ intro from Procol Harem’s No 1 hit ‘Whiter shade of Pale’ first emerged from the AM radios we owned in those days, the similarity between that and Bach’s Air on the G String was immediately identified. Matthew Fisher’s Hammond organ intro eased the way for Gary Brooker’s distinctive vocals and a global hit was born. Jim Morrison’s smoky vocals on ‘Light My Fire’ emerged from Ray Manzarek’s attacking organ intro.

Later, in my 20s, the classical/jazz influence continued with a love of 70s bands like Blood Sweat and Tears, Genesis, Sky, The Nice, the Moody Blues and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

While Joni Mitchell’s songs (Both Sides Now and the Circle Game) were hits for Judy Collins and Buffy Saint- Marie in 1967, Joni’s first album did not appear until 1968 (when I turned 20). Little did we know, 19 albums later, what an incredible influence she would be for anyone with a keen sense of music, poetry and art.

My bad – I forgot to mention ‘Friday on My Mind’ (The Easybeats, 1966), selected as one of the best songs of the last 1,000 years by Richard Thompson, Here’s RT’s version.

In the Facebook posts I also neglected to mention a key influence on my songwriting, Ray Davies of The Kinks. Those well-crafted songs (e,g, ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Dead End Street’, ‘Lola’ and ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’), stitched sardonic social comment into a fabric of catchy and rhythmic tunes. His songs lived on in my lizard brain until I picked up a guitar aged 27 and discovered the circle of fifths, just like Ray!