When I started to listen to gramophone records, my parents had a Decca machine that played all records in mono. I thought it was great, I knew no better. Then my elder brother Henry, once he had started working, bought an extension speaker that meant I could now listen to audio, if it was recorded as such, in stereo. Life changing. Especially this particular record, although I have no recollection as to how it came into our possession.
It was “Rhapsody in Blue”, written by George Gershwin in the 1920s. Not only was this the first recording I can ever remember listening to in glorious stereo, it also had a profound effect on me personally. As someone who was brought up on classical music, here was a piece of, well, basically, a jazz piano concerto.
Listening to it in this newly-fangled stereo, it sent amazing messages through my entire body. It vibrated, it extemporised, it gave me a musical awakening that I still find totally invigorating. I loved jazz from that moment onwards, and this piece of music, a mere 17 minutes long, has the same effect on me now as it did all those years ago.
Just last night, very late, and a mere 12 hours before I started writing this blog, I listened to a version of this on YouTube, performed by Khatia Buniatishvili, a fabulous Georgian-French concert pianist – again, it so mesmerised me just as it always does. It brought me to tears, I felt I was in heaven once again.
It obviously might not have the same effect on you, but that doesn’t matter one iota. I hear that amazing clarinet solo that starts it all off, maybe one of the most famous intros of all time! Then the orchestra that quietly embraces and anticipates what follows, and then the piano that sets the tone for the whole piece. It was written in the 1920s, and did not conform to anything! It was daring, it was bluesy, it was symphonic, it was outrageous! Thankyou Mr. Gershwin. Thankyou more than you will ever know….
…’there’s no dark side of the moon. In fact, it’s all dark’…
Not really. I mean, Pink Floyd was just one of those blows that did smack me hard.
Being happy to live in the late Soviet era, what we didn’t know back then, we – the young Soviet schoolboys in the second half of the 80s – were going crazy on Western rock and pop music. Sure, we listened to the Soviet rock bands, too, some of them making dramatic impact on my generation that still feels today.
Most of it was prohibited or not welcomed by the authorities. Most of us didn’t care about it. This was one of the reasons that buried the Soviet Union; the totally fucked up ideology with only a very few still to be faithful.
When Roger came up with the idea to do this topic, I sat and asked myself: what will I write about? During my life there’s been plenty of stuff that has been smacking me, up to this day. It still is.
To make a long story short, it is hard to name it all here. I’ll just go for some bits and pieces instead. Probably the brightest stars in my constellation.
‘Girl’ by the Beatles. Might sound very naive for a Westerner. It struck me back in my 6th grade at school, in 1986, I was twelve. I don’t like it now, I think it sounds to me too plain, but thanks to this ‘Revolver’ song, I dived into the Beatles universe very deeply.
‘The dark side of the moon’ / ‘Shine on you crazy diamond’ by Pink Floyd. Very powerful. Both of them. My high school years. I switched to it after the Beatles period. But not true love like with the Beatles.
‘I’m gonna miss you’ by Milli Vanilli. Yep, these guys were to be remembered for their fake voices but this song to me at some point, in 1998, was like having on orgasm. The project had been created by Frank Farian and he knew how to load it.
‘Chemical love’ by Stevie Wonder. I love Motown music and this is one of best of it.
Lots of Queen songs. In fact, the 90s were my Queen years. It began after Freddie died. I was getting into it more and more back then. He was dead but miraculously resurrected to me (yep, ‘The miracle’). Still love it but it is behind me now musically. It all started from ‘Bohemian rhapsody’, sorry. But I love some rare stuff, too, like ‘Back chat’ from their 1982 LP ‘Hot space’.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Dire Straits. Lots of great songs are written by Mark Knopfler. This one being SOOO romantic. Still listening to its various concert versions because they’re even better that the original one and sound kind of jazzy… Probably the best ballad ever to me. Truly ‘Love over Gold’.
‘The greatest’ by Cat Power. This one comes from December 2010 when things were happening in my personal life and the changes in it and the fight for it. First heard it as a soundtrack from ‘My blueberry nights’. Very moody and stylish, just like the movie. It is an anchor to me. It turned out great but, in the moment, I was going through the valley of darkness…
The whole bunch of the Stones songs. Pick any of Mick’s song that I’ve listened to – I’ll tell you some story. I’d especially point out ‘Let it loose’, ‘Fool to cry’, ‘Memory motel’ and ‘Waiting on a friend’.
‘None of us are free’ by Solomon Burke. Comparatively new to me with cool blues sound. Used my Shazam to catch it from the ‘Dr. House’ series.
‘A song about fishing’ by Genesis Owusu. I got it recently on the local FM radio called ‘Silver rain’. So melodic, positive and down to earth at the same time. ‘Rise and shine to down I wake casting my net in a fishless lake…’. Good.
Could’ve added around thirty more songs, both Russian or Western that smacked me really hard. But the list would be too long. I’ll stop right here.
The Music that smacked me….
So, in Britsher, there’s this word “Gobsmacked”. From what I can tell, it means you are completely blown away by the latest Teletubbies epic. It can be used in other settings too: like when you hear an incredible song for the first time.
There are several songs we can all name worthy of the Gobsmacked title. Bohemian Rhapsody certainly qualifies. Anything later Beatles would also make a great candidate.
But no, there is only one song that made me stop and stare at the speakers the first time I heard it: Thriller. You know I can hear you! Stop it! This is before we knew about Jesus Juice and little boys. This is back when he was only strange.
There had never been another song like Thriller and when the video debuted, us old fogies were properly gobsmacked again. Before that multi-million dollar mini movie came out, most MTV videos were basically a person singing the song on camera with some special effects thrown in. This was different… and there had never been anything like it.
Everything about Thriller was ground breaking and as far as I’m concerned, it was the height of Michael Jackson’s career. Sure, the Bee Gees & the Beatles have sold more records and I’m a fan of both. But the entire Thriller album stands alone; according to Wikipedia Thriller remains the best-selling album of all time, with sales of 70 million copies worldwide.
Yeah, when you have an album that sold more records than Saturday Night Fever, you done good. Let me put that in perspective for you: at one point the Bee Gees had five of the top-ten hits… simultaneously. You never hear Thriller on the radio anymore but you still hear the Beatles and occasionally even the Bee Gees. I think that may have more to do with MJ than the music. Too bad really, I think he was a better dancer than Fred Astaire and his music has more raw energy than Queen.