There is a theory that every person, of every generation, ends up thinking the music they listened to in high school and college is the best music ever recorded.  And if, 40 years later, they hear the strains of a song that became a hit during the summer after their junior year it still brings a smile to their lips, injects little youthful exuberance into their soul, and makes them want to move their feet, just as it did during their acne-addled years.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, really.  For most of us, we’ve never listened to music as fully and intensely as we did during high school and college.  Records and bands were important in those days.  It was not uncommon to listen to records, or the radio, for hours, with or without friends, and then talk about new groups and music, or some great older pieces that you’d just discovered, when you encountered your friends at school.  (“Hey, have you listened to this new group called The Eagles?”)  I even subscribed to Rolling Stone, read its reviews of new albums, and sometimes made purchases on the basis of its recommendation alone if the review was a rave.

And, of course, when you listen to music so carefully you tend to associate it with specific memories from your callow youth — like the album that was playing when you and your buddies were playing pool in the basement (Deep Purple’s Machine Head, maybe?) or the song that your high school girlfriend said was her favorite one time when you were out on a date.  How many people who graduated from high school in my year of 1975 can still sing every song on Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run album because repeated listenings ingrained it forever onto their memory banks?

So, I’m guessing that everyone out there thinks that the music that they listened to during their high school and college years — whether those years occurred in the ’50s, ’60s, ’80s, ’90s, or in this new millennium — is unquestionably the greatest music ever.  Fortunately, in my case, involving the music that I listened to during the ’70s, that just happens to be accurate. I’ve made several playlists that capture those songs, and one of them, UAHS Rock, focuses on the harder stuff that I listened to back when I was walking the halls of Upper Arlington High School during the early ’70s, with an embarrassing haircut and ludicrous ’70s clothing.  The first 20 songs of the playlist still stand up pretty well:

I’m Eighteen  — Alice Cooper
Layla — Derek & The Dominos
Smoke On The Water — Deep Purple
Stairway To Heaven — Led Zeppelin
Walk This Way — Aerosmith
Sweet Home Alabama — Lynyrd Skynyrd
Hocus Pocus — Focus
Band On The Run — Paul McCartney & Wings
Superstition — Stevie Wonder
Come And Get Your Love — Redbone
All Right Now — Free
Rocky Mountain Way — Joe Walsh
Twist And Shout — The Beatles
Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress — The Hollies
Badge — Cream
Roll With The Changes — REO Speedwagon
Radar Love — Golden Earring
I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home — Grand Funk Railroad
Hold Your Head Up — Argent
Moby Dick/Bonzo’s Montreux — Led Zeppelin

Happy Birthday, Sir Paul

Today is Paul McCartney’s birthday.  Born on June 18, 1942, then going on to become part of one of the most successful songwriting duos in history, the heart of the Beatles and the head of Wings, and ultimately knighted for his many accomplishments, Sir Paul turns 70 today.

McCartney has packed a lot of achievement into his 70 years.  His output is astonishing.  Most musicians would be happy to write one song like Yesterday (which is generally regarded as the most “covered” song in history, having been recorded more than 3,000 times) but McCartney wrote dozens of classics, from I Saw Her Standing There, Hey Jude, and Let It Be with the Beatles, to Maybe I’m Amazed and Too Many People in his solo career, to Band on the Run and My Love with Wings — and this list barely begins to scratch the surface.

McCartney wasn’t just a songwriter, however.  He was a fabulous band mate who arguably was the greatest rock ‘n roll bass player ever — listen to his stunning bass line on the Beatles’ Come Together if you don’t believe me — and his back-up singing helped to make the Beatles songs unique.  George Harrison’s Something is a wonderful love song, but McCartney’s back-up singing helps to ensure that the Beatles’ recording of that song will never been matched.  McCartney’s inventiveness and musical adventurousness also are remarkable.  In an era when many bands found a successful formula and then stuck with it, over and over and over again, McCartney constantly probed new areas, new instruments, and new sounds.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the epic second side of Abbey Road would not exist but for Sir Paul McCartney.  And the same goes, of course, for the Wings’ Band on the Run album, which was on the turntable, playing constantly, during my senior year in high school.

A few years ago, Richard and I went to watch Paul McCartney perform live in Cleveland.  It was a birthday present for Richard, but it was a huge treat for me, too.  McCartney’s performance was terrific, including an awesome version of Back in the U.S.S.R. and a heartfelt tribute to George Harrison played on the ukelele.  It’s obvious that McCartney still has a lot of love for music and passion for performance.  I’d go see him again in a heartbeat.

Each of us who has enjoyed listening to the Beatles, and whose spirits have been lifted by listening to a song like You Never Give Me Your Money or Michelle, owes a debt of gratitude to Paul McCartney.  Happy birthday, Sir Paul!

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.