Your High School Music

The other day I thumbed through my iPod music playlist and stopped at the playlist “UAHS Rock.”  (UAHS stands for Upper Arlington High School, from which I graduated in June, 1975.)  It’s a list of about 200 songs I remember listening to during my three years attending high school as a Golden Bear.  (In those days, classes were so huge that the freshman year was spent in junior high.  I think my graduating class had about 890 people in it.)

upper_arlington_oh_sign-307x192I wrote about the playlist some years ago, but it had been years since I’d listened to it.  My musical tastes have broadened quite a bit since my high school days, and lately I’ve been enjoying classical music from the baroque era.  But I got the sad news that one of my high school classmates had passed on, and it made me think about those days and the music I associate with it.  Once I started playing the music on the playlist, I felt the stirrings of my 17-year-old self, sitting in my room at our split-level family home in “new Arlington” and listening to records on a cheap Panasonic turntable or on WCOL-FM, the “album rock” station in town.  Boy, there was some great music being recorded during those days!

All of the songs on the playlist now form a core part of the playlist on any modern “classic rock” station, and they all came out during the days when I was a kid trying to find my locker and then make it to my next class in the sprawling corridors of UAHS.  The songs are terrific, and because they came out at that weird, awkward, scary, fun time, they pluck some of those special musical heartstrings we all have.  I’m guessing that pretty much everyone has a special corner of their psyche reserved for that high school time in their life and especially the music that is so incredibly closely associated with it — whether you graduated from high school in the ’60s, ’80s, post-2000, or are in high school right now.  You listen, and you feel yourself beginning to do the same lame dance moves you first tried as a fumbling teenager.

I’m not arguing that the rock music of the early ’70s is the best rock music ever — who would argue with that irrefutable proposition? — but only observing that if it’s been a while since you’ve listened to your high school music, you’d be doing yourself a favor by doing so.  You’ll feel younger!

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Obscure Bands And Great Songs: Argent And Hold Your Head Up

The other day I realized that my Ipod is filled with some great songs from some pretty obscure bands.  One of the great things about the internet, however, is that you can do some quick research  and learn some interesting things that make the bands a bit less obscure.

A good example is the band Argent, and the song Hold Your Head Up.  The song is a classic of early ’70s rock that was a staple of rock radio stations when I was in high school.  A butchered singles version hit no. 5 on the American charts in 1972.  It’s obvious from listening to the song that the band members have some significant musical talent — but from where?

A few Google searches inform us that Argent was named for Rod Argent, its founder.  Argent, a keyboard player, had been a member of The Zombies and had played on songs like Time Of the Season.  (Now that I’ve learned this, I see some parallels between the sound of Hold Your Head Up and the sound of Time Of The Season.)  The lead guitarist, Russ Ballard, and the bassist and drummer all were veterans of other bands.  They clearly had some musical chops, and it shows.

Hold Your Head Up had one of the greatest intros of any rock song of the ’70s.  It starts with an undercurrent of sound from the keyboards, like a musical depiction of a tingle running up your arm.  A simple, thumping bass line joins in, and then a choppy, raggedy sounding guitar.  The beat is slow and deliberate.  The vocals are a bit distant, and at times the moaning, trilling keyboards are almost like a second vocalist.  The lyrics are a few verses, so short they could have been written on a cocktail napkin with plenty of room to spare, that are repeated over and over.  The repetition gives the song a kind of anthem-like quality.  The heart of the song, in my view, is an extended instrumental section with just the organ and a cowbell — and it was this part that hit the cutting room floor when a “single” was produced for release in the States.  Fortunately, in Columbus WCOL-FM played the long version, and that it what I listened to in those days.

Argent recorded another terrific song, called God Gave Rock And Roll To You, which was not a big hit but which featured a great guitar riff and chorus.  It was covered by Kiss and also by a series of Christian rock acts.  Isn’t it amazing what you learn on the internet?

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Summer of ’74

I was thinking about the summer of 1974 as I drove home today, because I heard the song Rock Your Baby by George McCrae on the radio.  It was one of those songs that you seemed to hear everywhere, whether you were at the pool, or listening to the radio at home, or out on a date.  Upon reflection, the summer of ’74 was a pretty good summer.  I was working at Big Bear and therefore had some money in my pocket, all of which I gladly spent on dates with my girlfriend.  I was getting ready for my senior year at Upper Arlington High School, where I would assume the weighty responsibility of serving as co-editor of The Arlingtonian along with my friend JD.  We attended a summer journalism workshop at Ball State that summer, and they kept the TV tuned to the Watergate hearings the whole time we were there.

I seemed to spend a lot of time in my car that summer, listening to tunes.  There was some great album music on the airwaves, including Sweet Home Alabama and various selections from On The Border, Band On The Run, and Bad Company.  WCOL-FM was the classic “head” station, with extended play of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and various “album rock” artists.  On the Top 40 stations like WNCI and WCOL-AM there was lots of Elton John, Wings, and John Denver, as well as novelty songs like Blue Swede’s version of Hooked on a Feeling and arguably the worst song ever to become popular in America — Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.

During the summer months, you didn’t watch TV because it was all reruns, but you did go to movies.  The venue of choice was the Loew’s Arlington, at the corner of Reed and Henderson, and the University City Cinema, both of which were big, standalone theatres with enormous screens and lots of seats.  That summer saw the release of first Death Wish, which was a great, chilling summer movie that raised an important, but as-yet unanswered, question — why in the world would Charles Bronson’s wife open the door to a giant bald guy in a leather jacket, and why would the producers cast the actor best known for his roles on Love American Style as the guy who gave Bronson the gun he eventually used to mow down lowlife scum when he returned to the city?  The Longest Yard also came out that summer, when Burt Reynolds was cool and Bernadette Peters made an impressive screen debut as warden Eddie Albert’s beehived, lipstick-smeared, nympho secretary.

It was a fine summer, indeed.