Using Vinyl to Teach my Daughter Rock Heritage

Making a connection with one of my daughters is something I pray I never get used to.  I was almost a bachelor this weekend but at the last minute my 17 year old, second daughter decided to not go on the camping trip with my wife and other daughters.  I had been trying to get a "date" with her for about a month so - what a wonderful opportunity!

Brenna is a musician, like her mother and I.  She is a guitar player like me.  She is quiet, intense and by all accounts and as near as I can tell, a fine guitarist.  Watching her excel at something I love has been enormously satisfying.  This past year she made the "house band" at the School of Rock that she attends (Katy, Texas).  I gave her the idea for her initial audition song for last year's tryouts ("Blackbird" by the Beatles) and since tryouts are approaching for next year there have been numerous discussions on what she should do.

We recently re-did our living room (re-painting pending Memorial Day).  We brought my old vinyl collection out and it is now being revived via a turntable I purchased as a Christmas gift to the entire family.  

So there we were on a Friday night.  Brenna was hanging out on the new sectional so I took the opportunity to put on a tune on the turntable.  She liked my choice so I put on another, and another.  I told her about the tunes I played and tried to put them in context for her.  I thought it made sense to capture the list here and reflect on it a bit.

"The Voice" - The Moody Blues
I am not sure why it is that I like this song so much but I was introduced to it at a pivotal moment in my formative years and the opening line speaks to me in that moment "Won't you take me back to school?  I need to learn the Golden Rule."

"Free for All" - Ted Nugent
Such a cool riff and just telling a young musician that there was someone they called the Motor City Madman - a rock and roll legend who did not drink and avoided drugs.  I loved playing this song nice and loud on my nice and loud car stereo when I was younger.  Did I say "loud" yet?

"Find the Cost of Freedom" - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
I love this tune because it is short and potent.  CS&N never overstayed their welcome on the ears of their listeners and fans.  Plus it was a good lesson for my young, aspiring musician because it was my understanding that whereas the creative dynamic was there, in the case of CSN&Y the relationship was not easy and actually contentious.

"Hide in Your Shell" - Supertramp
Being a shy introvert, this song was tailor made for me.  I also am drawn to songs with long, drawn-out endings that are cathartic and manage to keep my interest.  Where other musicians are out of ideas if they can manage to come up with one decent hook, bands that I tend to like have the ability and the need to "go around one more time" and milk the tune for one more emotional ride.

"Do You Recall" - Journey
If you do not like Journey, I feel sorry for you.  They are such an easy target for derision but in my opinion they do not get the credit they deserve.  Just try and write music that people like. It is hard.  And few people ever did it as well as these guys.  Yes, "Don't Stop Believin'" is a great tune and "Escape" and "Frontiers" are what they are most well-known for but it's albums like "Evolution" that blow me away.  I put this song on for one reason - Steve's vocal lead into the guitar solo where his vocal ride just blends right into Schon's guitar lead.  The note, the pitch, the execution is just exciting and breathtaking.

"Majestic" - Journey
A song with the entirety of the lyrics being "Wah".  Short, sweet and ... well ... "majestic".  This song reminds us that great music is melodic and that lyrics are not everything.

"With You There to Help Me" - Jethro Tull
Tull is an acquired taste.  I had a good three year period where I listened to Tull a lot but I ultimately had to give it up.  Mainly because I couldn't find anyone else that wanted to listen to it.  The album "Benefit" has always been one of my favorites and I wanted to play something from Tull that wasn't on Aqualung so I went with this tune.  Tull reminds us that being weird and eclectic is not mutually exclusive of rock and roll.

"Southern Cross" - Crosby, Still and Nash
I have always been a sucker for melody and few songs match the soaring chorus of this tune.  I especially like the way they tease you at the end of the tune and don't take you back through the chorus again.  You want it - they do not give it to you.  Which makes you want to listen to it again.  Young musician - alway leave them wanting more.

"A World of Fantasy" - Triumph
Other than AC DC's "Hells Bells" I cannot think of a song with a better intro.  However, that's the thing about this song .... it peeks early.  Triumph had a knack for writing songs that were "almost" great or oddly unbalanced.  In this tune there is a fantastic intro and then the rest of the song is just kind of there (at least in comparison to the intro).  A word of caution to the aspiring musician - gather your hooks and do not deploy them in haste.  One great song >> 10 OK songs.  But dude, Rik Emmett ... "Along comes a woman, a fantasy ... and I took the fall!"

"Wasted Years" - Iron Maiden
Mike Hutchison was an Iron Maiden fan.  I had a passing interest in Maiden but Mike was fanatical about them.  Every morning on the way to high school, Fred and I would pick Mike up.  Mike lived about 5 minutes from the school but we picked him up because, well ... why not?  Mike would jump in the car and every freaking day he would hand either Fred or I another Maiden mix tape with the obvious expectation that we would put it on because ... well ... Maiden.  He drove me nuts with that.  Not every day was an Iron Maiden day.  I wanted to play this tune for Brenna because whereas they were not my favorite, everyone should know a little Iron Maiden. 

"Bridge of Sighs" - Robin Trower
Trower never got the respect he deserved.  This album is solid and any guitarist worth their sand needs to hear at least one or two tunes from Robin Trower.  You have to be in the mood for it - but even if you are not you should give the album a chance.

"Freeway Jam" - Jeff Beck
In the beginning there was Eric Clapton.  Clapton was god and he taught (among others) Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.  I find the dichotomy between those two disciples interesting.  Beck was the consummate technician and Page was all passion.  Beck's creativity and ability to creatively link lick-to-lick was unrivaled but he could never write a melody to save his life.  In comparison, Jimmy Page had melodic talent in spades especially in acoustic stuff) and played so sloppily that it sort of surprises me to this day that Led Zeppelin did not try to replace him.  Beck is another artist that any aspiring guitarist must be familiar with.  This tune is the most accessible of the classic Beck tunes and if you've never been in bumper-to-bumper traffic with your windows down and blasting this tune - you have not lived.  

"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" - Gordon Lightfoot
My dad was a hippy.  He once met Gordon Lightfoot in a bar in Nova Scotia.  He bought Lightfoot a beer and shot the breeze with him.  When Gordon left the bartender asked my dad if he knew who that was.  My dad had no idea.  Year later my dad would be sitting on a couch with his 7 year old second son.  This kid would be listening to a new hit song called "Sundown" and he would lie to his father and tell him that he had written the song.  Yes, that was me - an aspiring song-writer at such a  young age.

My father did not call me out on that fib - I am not sure what I was thinking when I told him that.  But I've always loved Gordon Lightfoot.  And the mystery of what happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald just made this song irresistible to a boy who obviously loved stories.  Songs that tell stories like this one and C.W. McCall's "Convoy" have always appealed to me.  I played this one for Brenna because I was hoping it would expand her horizons and didn't want to play "Convoy" (yes I actually have it).

"Don't Look Back" - Boston
I played Boston because I've always felt a kindred spirit to Tom Scholz.  Boston engineered and recorded their own music.  They did not march to the beat of the record label's drum.  I thought it was important that Brenna knew that long before it was easy to do so - there were bands trying to take ownership of their brand and their music.  I also told Brenna that 10 years too late I voted this song as my high school's graduation song for the class of 1987.  It wound up losing to "Forever Young" by Rod Stewart.

"Feelin' Satisfied" - Boston
I liked that this song used clapping.  It begs listener participation and in that way finds a new way to connect with people.  Young musicians often fail to engage all available methods to make an impression with their audience.  I pointed out to Brenna that Boston was following in the path of bands like Queen who had so effectively used clapping and stomping in "We Will Rock You" just the year before.  How to use hands and feet to get to people's hearts.  In these songs I also pointed out the giant "wall of sound" and how bands like Boston used multi-tracking of parts to create that sound.

"Van Diemen's Land" - U2
U2's "Rattle and Hum" was such a cool movie.  This album was a great album.  This being the only song I knew of, and had access to, that was played and sung by "The Edge" - I wanted him represented in this evening of music.  From a technical standpoint, The Edge was an awful guitar player.  But U2 did not need a great guitar player.  And the space that was created when this guitar player wasn't constantly slathering 64th note arpeggios over every spare second of their music allowed for a new 'spacious' sound to be created.  In that sense this "awful" guitar player becomes inarguably "great".  Music is all about the effective use of space.

"Distant Early Warning" - Rush
Rush has to be my all-time favorite.  It baffles me that Brenna hasn't taken a larger shine to them.  I get the impression that she likes them - just not the way I do.  I played this song and told Brenna about the weird discrepancy between Rush's musical ability and their video ability.  Rush's videos were either terrible or unremarkable but there was something about the kid riding that missle that was burned into my brain.  It was tragic without being sad.  Anyway, I used this song to relay the weird tension that was my life in the 80s.  I thought way too much and the Cold War had me worrying about nuclear holocaust way too much.  In that sense, we were the kid on that rocket.

"Subdivisions" - Rush
I could not imagine explaining to someone why I would play "Distant Early Warning" but not this tune.  So I played this tune for Brenna.  Of course, she had already heard it and already liked it.  I used this song to tell her about how "Grace Under Pressure" was a reaction to "Signals" in that GUP was Alex restating his position in the band.  Sometimes as a musician you have to fight for what should be yours by right.

"Eye of the Storm" - Roger Hodgson
Another great tune with a long outro that holds your interest.

"Classical Gas" - Mason Williams
I first heard this song when I was about 8.  It made an impact on me.  I used to listen to this and Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits.  This is just one of those songs that, as a guitarist, you should have heard before someone asks you if you've ever heard it.  No daughter of mine should ever say the phrase "I've never heard the song 'Classical Gas'."  That's just sloppy parenting to let that happen.

"Brother's in Arms" - Dire Straits
It is a stereotype - the anti-war musician.  I concluded the evening with this song to remind Brenna that not every 80s band saddled up to ride missiles - some were hopelessly naive and chocked full of pithy advice.  I remember at the time thinking that this song sounded wise.  Now it just sounds formulaic and pedestrian.  I guess I have grown up.

Others I would have liked to have played (but lacked it on vinyl):
"Hallowed Be Thy Name" - Iron Maiden
"Fade to Black" - Metallica
"Solsbury Hill" - Peter Gabriel
"Bravado" - Rush
"Meddle" - Pink Floyd
"Annie's Song" - John Denver
"If You Could Read my Mind" - Gordon Lightfoot
"Layla" - Derek and the Dominos
"Who Wants to Live Forever" - Queen
"Driver's Seat" - Sniff n the Tears
"September" - Earth, Wind and Fire
"With or Without You" - U2

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