When I was a kid in Sunday School, the Passover tradition, as it was explained to me by my sweet Methodist teachers, didn’t endear me to Moses and the Israelites as much as it put the apparent reality of the being affectionately known as “The Angel of Death,” on my psychic map. I think that term was also applied centuries later to Josef Mengele, but the world Mengele carved was related to me more slowly and with greater care so that I took it in with all-due processing.
I wish the same had been true for my learning of the Passover “angel.”
I always wondered what, as a first-born son, would have happened to me back in that ancient world? Would my Jewish father have plastered lamb’s blood across the top of our front door post? Would my Gentile mother have let him make such a mess? I could go on with my questions, but better now, since I have only the scars of such learning and not the reality of the event, to offer these Top Ten tunes.
For this week, we return to the 1970’s, that decade where Southern Rock, Disco, folk-rock, and “hard-rock” (think Deep Purple or Black Sabbath here) somehow co-existed, not to mention the beginnings of Punk, Prog rock, and American New Wave.
So, this is not an exhaustive list (how could ten songs ever be exhaustive?), and I’m not saying these are necessarily my favorite 70’s songs. Still, they have their own power, and I can remember something essential about my life as I reconsider each one.
10. “21st Century Schizoid Man,” KING CRIMSON. I got to see this British Prog group fronted by Robert Fripp at Birmingham’s Boutwell Auditorium when I was 15. My friend Fred drove us in his old gold Porsche. Fred knew that KC was the group of the night, even though they were the middle act, appearing just after Ashton, Gardner, and Dyke, and just before Badfinger. You can apparently do everything with a mellotron, and I’m not being paranoid or schizoid. You might be, however, once you listen several times to this one.
9. “Little Wing,” DEREK AND THE DOMINOS. From 1972’s “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs,” the only LP, by the way, that I ever shoplifted. It was at a JC Penney in Western Hills Mall. I made it out alive, though I’m sure that I acquired the very tiny heart scar that I live with today from this incident. “Little Wing” is the first song on the last side of this double album. A Hendrix song, though I didn’t know that then. I just heard the force of Duane and Eric and wondered how I would ever be the same.
8. “Go All the Way,” RASPBERRIES. I think you call this “Power-Pop.” In any case, I saw them at Legion Field with my brother Mike and our friend Don, the first act of ten bands on a hot July 4th day, 1975. Eric Clapton would end the evening, and Billy Preston would land in the middle somewhere. But Eric Carmen’s group used Marshall amps, and this tune, one of those concise and precise pop anthems, made me want another helping of spare ribs.
7. “Fight the Power,” THE ISLEY BROTHERS. In the relative same era as that 4th of July Clapton/Raspberries show mentioned above, I also heard and danced to this early Disco hit at Birmingham’s premiere and fairly hidden gay club, The Gizmo. The Isley’s had been recording for over a decade, so I don’t think they were capitalizing on a dance movement as much as finding their inner groove again. They weren’t the only ones. “Time is truly wastin’.”
6. “Someday, We’ll Be Together,” DIANA ROSS AND THE SUPREMES. Of course it was their farewell song, one that zoomed from nowhere to Number One on the charts of Birmingham’s WSGN: ”The Big 610. It was later featured in a seminal episode of ABC TV’s “China Beach,” but that’s even more depressing. This is one of those songs that even had it ended after the violin intro and Diana’s early humming, would have scored. What a way to go out.
5. “Stairway to Heaven,” LED ZEPPELIN. From 1974, the year I graduated high school. How many Friday nights that year, as we drove around in our parents’ cars, did we hear this one on WERC, or SGN? Like most, I grew weary of the eight minutes it took to listen, though on many nights, I also sang and air-guitared and otherwise closed my eyes as we winded on down that road. I might prefer “Livin, Lovin Maid” to this one in the moment, but not in the long run.
4. “Because the Night,” THE PATTI SMITH GROUP. Yes, Springsteen wrote this, and yes, I am slighting him in this list today. There’ll be other days, Bruce, but Patti deserves this because she sings like she’s emerging from a five-day yoga retreat and needs some reassurance that her local coffee shop still wants her. In the little room where I used to box jewelry for my Dad in the summer of ’77, I cranked the volume of that old FM portable for all it was worth when I heard the opening piano. The night would come, though of course back then, I had no lover.
3. “Instant Karma,” JOHN ONO LENNON. It beat out John’s former band’s hit, “Let It Be,” for number one on the Dick Clark Show one week in March, 1970. That was when I knew the world would never be the same again. I so love this song that I forgave Yoko right then and there, not that she had ever done anything to me. As for John there was nothing, ever, to forgive. On and on and on and on.
2. “Wish You Were Here,” PINK FLOYD. From the album of the same name, a record I bought in 1975 with my first paycheck as editor of The University of Montevallo’s student newspaper, The Alabamian. I was only a sophomore, but I knew the $4.99 was worth it. The whole album compels me to put it on repeat, but this song in particular is the band’s finest moment. Go ahead and disagree, but that’s the way of subjectivity. Besides, if we are “just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,” what do you care?
“Cowgirl in the Sand,’ NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE. I’m cheating because this was released in 1969, but I didn’t know about it until 1971. I mean the ten-minute, 13-second version from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. I never quite understood all the lyrics meant, and I tried for years. She might be just another one of Neil’s favorite waitresses, crying in the desert rain. “Purple words on a gray background, to be a woman and to be turned down.” And then those dual guitars, Neil and Danny Whitten. My favorite Neil Young song: “When so many love you, is it the same?” I played this over and over in the antique bedroom I inherited from my grandmother, “the old laughing lady.” It has never NOT been in my head.
Enjoy, and please respond if you have favorites, or ones you just love.