Thursday, 19 January 2017


A Bittersweet Symphony: meGeoff’s Primordial Top Ten

My Facebook friends have been listing their first batch of essential top ten albums. Their posts are necessarily dry, merely artist and title with the caveat that any artist may only be named once. I’ve enjoyed exploring the formative influences on my friends’ established and since expanded tastes. The curse of youth is that everything about you is being shaped and moulded while you’re not old enough to know better. The blessings of youth are a clean slate (for a limited time – provided you’ve been baptized) and curiosity. Turns out, some kids were always hip. I wasn’t.

My list stops in 1974. I was 14 then. That year clings to me because that was the year when our family home was irretrievably broken. My father had already accepted a Bell Telephone transfer to Ottawa from Montreal. My older brother had moved to Edmonton to begin his career in engineering and the oil patch. My sister was in pre-med; she’d moved out and taken the family cat. It was just me and my mother in an empty house; I tried to fill the space with sound.

Beatles: Something New. My sister would’ve killed me if she knew I snuck into her pink bedroom repeatedly to spin this Capitol album downstairs on the dining room hi-fi when nobody was home (I secretly read her sophisticated paperback novels too – Chaim Potok’s ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’ still stands out). I would sit by the speaker and stare at the cover. The rhythms made me feel guilty and sinful, inarticulate feelings demanding the darkness of the confessional.

Johnny Cash: At San Quentin. Dad was a Prod. Mom was Catholic. Because it mattered in those days it was agreed between the parents of the bride and groom that their offspring would be raised in the one true faith. Joy was being sick on a Sunday and having to stay home with Dad as he did work around the house while listening to Johnny Cash. Years later I realized that ‘A Boy Named Sue’ was just a violent riff on the gentle comic irony of an O. Henry short story. It is always a song about a father and his son.

Coldstream Guards: Marching with the Coldstream Guards. “A ‘New Orthophonic’ High Fidelity Recording’ on RCA Victor, LPM-1684, designed for the phonograph of today or tomorrow.” Dad again, strutting on a Sunday with a sheet of sandpaper and a paint brush. I own this LP of martial music now; he mailed it to me years ago, maybe as a gag. Even the masking tape holding the sleeve together has dried and split. Late in his life my father succinctly summed up his experiences in the Second World War to me: “We were wet, cold and hungry.” The Royal Canadian Air Force 409 ‘Night Hawk’ squadron lost more aircrews training in Scotland due to deplorable weather conditions than they did upon their combat deployment to France. He once revealed to my sister that he would’ve been an air force lifer if he hadn’t married our mother.

Glen Campbell: Greatest Hits. The first full length 33 1/3 album I ever bought. In the late 60s and early 70s our family used to vacation in Kennebunk, Maine. Those two weeks in July or August were quite the family affair with my father’s parents and his sister and her family. I bought the record at a Grant’s department store. Lately Campbell has been subject to some degree of critical reevaluation but I cannot help but cringe at my awful taste: ‘Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.’ Mom did not fit that bill.

Elton John: Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player. Every other song on this album was better than ‘Daniel,’ the hit. That was a revelation and I quickly discovered that he’d recorded and released even better albums before this brilliant one.

Alice Cooper: Billion Dollar Babies. “Mom? I’ve brought two people home for lunch, Geoff and Moore.” I spent so much time at my friend Tim’s house and we played this record so frequently that I never needed to buy it.

Grand Funk: We’re an American Band. Big, dumb rawk, two good songs buffered by eight tracks of filler. Alas, I was not a quick study and shelled out for the follow up ‘Shinin’ On’ which adhered to the same template, much to my regret. My Grand Funk years made me the object of my brother’s derision. Then again, he thought the Dave Clark Five were better than the Beatles. My discovery was producer Todd Rundgren who had apparently dyed his pubic hair blue, or so it was reported in Circus magazine or maybe CREEM.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive: Not Fragile. Two glorious sides of beefy riffs augmented by the stuttering chorus of ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,’ “b-b-baby.” Randy Bachman was in another band before BTO? And, what’s a Mormon?

Paul McCartney and Wings: Band on the Run. The first current ubiquitous long player in my experience. Everybody had it. Everybody played it constantly. I’m still not tired of it. The latter half of the seventies would spawn more: ‘Frampton Comes Alive,’ ‘The Eagles’ Greatest Hits’ and ‘Rumors.’ I spent too much time trying to identify the escaping convicts depicted on the cover. It was mind blowing to think that McCartney could press-gang movie stars and such to pose for his record sleeve. ‘Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five’ seemed centuries’ distant: I’d be a university graduate wearing a varsity jacket with stripes on one sleeve by then and impossibly old.

Rolling Stones: It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll: A Christmas gift from my brother and sister. The departed returned to the house in December, 1974 for, I now suspect, an awkward family finale. I was naïve enough to believe that maybe things would turn out all right after all. Perhaps that single moment of idealism explains my incalculable fondness for this middling Stones effort. On the upside though, ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’ opened my ears to the Temptations and the glories of Motown, and ‘Luxury’ was a crude and crunchy nudge in the direction of Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Toots and the Maytals.

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