Musical Reflections ’68 – ’88: An Eclectic Journey
“Music was my first love and it will be my last
Music of the future and music of the past….”
“Music” - John Miles, 1976
8 December 1968 and my 6th birthday is finally here!
I rip open the small box, roughly pulling at the polystyrene protectors and there it is - a small Toshiba FM portable radio, the exact gift that I have been lobbying my dad for all year. Excitedly I twiddle the dial and soon hit upon Springbok Radio, our top South African station for music, news and soap operas during it’s heyday in the 60’s and 70’s. I can still remember the very first song I heard on that little portable which was The Doors “Hello I Love You” My musical journey has just begun.
The Toshiba portable soon becomes my new best friend, I just cannot get enough of the music beaming out to me from it’s tinny innards. With the aerial fully extended and pointed in the optimal direction the FM reception is not bad at all; to a 6 year old with a nascent musical awakening it’s sensory heaven!
Soon I have cajoled my dad into getting me subscriptions to the UK music magazines (Melody Maker, New Musical Express etc.) to supplement my listening pleasure and am devouring them cover to cover despite the fact that they come by ship in those days and are usually 2 months out of date when they hit our local news agent!
My walls are covered with posters of the leading “glam rockers” of the early 70’s period – David Bowie ( His Ziggy period), David Cassidy, David Essex. Slade, Mud and Sweet with their sparkling jumpsuits and 8 inch stiletto heels and the diamante – clad duo of Gary Glitter (later to become notorious for criminal offences) and Alvin Stardust.
SWEET - BALLROOM BLITZ 1974
Every Friday night it’s the same ritual for me – bedtime is 9.30 pm but our main pop music show The South African top 20 only begins at 10pm and reaches its countdown climax with number 1, preceded by multiple dramatic drum rolls, only being revealed at five minutes to midnight. Nothing for it but to sneak my new portable under the covers, sound muted and will myself to stay awake as the DJ Dave “Gruesome Gresh” Gresham takes an expectant nation through the countdown in his inimitable, ebullient style. Needless to say on many nights I only made it through to number 14 or thereabouts – fortunately there was always a repeat broadcast of the top 10 on Saturdays at 5pm !
Every week’s top 20 is faithfully written up in my journal number 20 right through number 1 and then I spend hours rearranging the selection into my own order of preference (Author’s note: Accountants have this weird thing for lists!).
As the 70s dawn I start to record music from the radio onto “mixed” tapes using a tiny casette deck – at first it’s just a case of putting the tape deck next to the radio (no wired connection) inserting a blank BASF cassette, telling everyone to keep quiet and hitting the record button. I lost count of just how many carefully planned taping sessions were ruined by someone opening the door, switching on the vacuum cleaner or making some other forbidden noise. When I later discovered a connection chord from radio to cassette deck the results were much more successful – the age of the mixed party tape had truly arrived.
Soon it’s the early 70s and I’ve moved on from the teenybopper sound. In 1972 A young Canadian hippy Neil Young puts out his landmark Harvest album, partially recorded in a barn on his San Francisco ranch, and sets the world on fire – soon the single culled from this album “Heart of Gold” hits the S.A. number one and my first (and still all – time greatest) musical icon is born.
NEIL YOUNG - OUT ON THE WEEKEND 1971
1976 – The age of disco is upon us. I hear the Bee Gees for the first time and a lifelong love for their music is born. “Saturday Night Fever” with it’s disco dancing sound track is in the air and us 14 year olds are all aspirant Travolta disco kings, slicking our hair back, wearing “stovepipe” denims, begging our folks for new leather jackets and hitting the school disco’s most weekends. There’s a new magic in the air and the night is alive with possibilities! (Even if we are way too shy to actually dare dance with our female peers !).
THE BEE GEES - STAYING ALIVE 1976
Mid 1977 - I switch on the radio one day and a superb vocal line caresses my auditory senses – “You can go your own way, go your own way” – an incredible guitar solo on the outttro follows, and I am firmly hooked. I simply cannot get enough of the Lindsey Buckingham driven Fleetwood Mac, ex British blues kings metamorphasized as laid-back west coast rockers. The record-breaking Rumours album is quickly procured for my growing LP collection and another musical act is added to my all-time legends.
FLEETWOOD MAC - DON'T STOP 1977
Inspired mainly by Lindsey I get an acoustic guitar and take some lessons – alas it’s not to be; it’s soon clear that I have absolutely zero musical talent! So besides lusty singing in the shower (continuing to this day) mine is to be the life of a consummate music fan (but nevertheless with the soul of a frustrated artist I like to think!)
It’s late 1978 – I’m approaching my 16th birthday. I walk into Pick n Pay (A leading S.A. Supermarket) one Saturday morning with my mom and my eyes fixate on a poster displayed in the record section which reads in large lettering “The kind of album which comes along once in a lifetime” above an LP cover featuring a yellow cover and a blurred picture. Dire Straits have arrived on the scene with their self –titled debut featuring Sultans of Swing and musically things will never be the same. Of course we leave the store with the LP clutched under my arm – indeed it is a unique sound unlike anything I’ve ever heard and Mark Knopfler is still the most unique and one of the most brilliant guitarists of all time in my view.
DIRE STRAITS - SULTANS OF SWING 1978
In the late 70’s and on into 1980 I have a bit of a heavier groove going on - Boston (The flying saucer – themed album covers) Toto, Van Halen, Journey and Foreigner lead the way during this phase of my musical journey. However, besides the heavier bands I’m also getting into newly discovered solo troubadours. Bruce Springsteen releases the magnificent double “The River” in 1980 – blue-collar tales in song from the American heartland. Scotland’s version of Dylan, Gerry Rafferty, produces Baker Street with its landmark sax solo and soon I have his outstanding albums City to City and Night Owl. A Detroit hard rocker, Bob Seger, having already paid a decade of gravelly-voiced dues releases “Stranger in Town” – every track is a standout and I cannot get enough of the LP. To my added delight I find that these artists already have well established back catalogs like Springsteen’s landmark 1975 “Born to Run” – there is so much going on during this fertile musical period – just not enough hours to listen to it all!
BOB SEGER - WE'VE GOT TONIGHT 1978
I also discover the Rolling Stones around this period through their “come back” (the first of many!) song “Emotional Rescue” with Mick on high falsetto vocals
Through all fads, trends, seasons and changes in musical tastes it’s these artists, first listened to in my late teens which remain and continue to remain the unchanging bedrocks in the pantheon of my all-time legends
February 1981 – Schools out for good and I’m off to Rhodes University to do my B.Com. My sound system, turntable, amplifier, 4 foot high (!) Pioneer speakers and all chords and accessories plus more than 50 albums make the journey with me (much to my dad’s disgust since everything had to be packed up and brought home by car each term!). Musically punk is already dead (Punk was not for me!) and it’s the time of the new wave/ new romantics – I’m into Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Human League and Ultravox at this time. I meet a guy from the UK who is into heavy metal and we spend hours in his room listening to Deep Purple, Judas Priest and Whitesnake – unfortunately just too heavy for me !
We get several top local bands putting on live concerts on the Rhodes campus in the early 80s – Juluka, eVoid and Dog Detachment being some of my favorites.
The mid - 80s at university fly by and soon it’s 1986 and I’m starting work. Musical tastes are still largely as described above although I do discover the Irish legend Van Morrison via his “Avalon Sunset” album – celtic lyrics and mysticism at it’s finest. A British / Nigerian artist Sade (Smooth Operator) is another favorite artist who emerged during this period – ultimate smooth !
VAN MORRISON -ORANGEFIELD, 1988
In 1988 it all stopped ……….
Well, for me at least.
That’s the year I believe great music died – my friends sometimes give me a hard time about this but I genuinely will hardly listen to anything after 1988 as you’ll see from my posts on here – if it’s after ’88 it will always be a live performance of an earlier recording.
Don’t get me wrong - there are 1 or 2 artists who have emerged post ’88 who definitely do it for me – David Gray for one comes to mind - but in general I simply don’t believe the artists and music output of the past 30 years can withstand comparison with that of the previous 30.
I sold many of my over 400 LP’s to get funds to buy the new-fangled CD’s when they came out in South Africa the late 80s (now much regretted). I continue going to the live concerts, collecting the newer music and devouring the biographies of my favorite artists who emerged in the 60’s, 70s and 80s.
Over the past few years I’ve made a return to the turntable and vinyls (70 survived) and the sound is better than ever - this time thankfully played through speakers which are only 30 cm high.
As Kim Wheeler, our noted Bebee music commentator, notes one’s personal musical journey and treasured memories are ultimately about a particular time, place, context or event which a specific song or album evoke. Music has the power to do that.
“Hey hey, my my,
Rock n roll will never die…”
Neil Young, “Out of the Blue”, 1979