For Christmas 40 years ago my parents bought me a small cassette recorder with a built-in AM-FM radio. It wasn’t fancy, and I’m sure it wasn’t expensive, but that didn’t matter. It may have been my all-time best Christmas present.
In about 1971, I had started paying close attention to music on the radio. My love for music was an irresistible force after that. I began to buy vinyl records in 1972, and a lifetime hobby was in full swing.
I methodically recorded my favorite songs off the radio. I even wrote down the titles, artists and the year they were released. I still have those notes to this day – as well as those ancient cassettes.
In my opinion, at that time the world of top 40 pop and rock radio music was on the verge of its greatest single year – 1973.
I remember three prime examples of pop radio’s great “singer-songwriter” era that were in rotation 40 years ago. All three – “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “Been To Canaan” by Carole King – reached their peak on the charts in January 1973.
Those three artists were supremely talented and turned out great hit music for many years.
Among the first vinyl albums I bought were “Chicago Transit Authority” (released in 1969) by Chicago, “Teaser and the Firecat” (1971) by Cat Stevens and “Baby I’m-A Want You” (1972) by Bread.
I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing. All I knew was those albums featured songs on the radio that I dearly loved. Those albums – and many others during that time – had outstanding depth, with very few filler songs.
One of several hit songs on that most successful Bread album (which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard chart) was “Diary.” Somehow I connected those poignant lyrics to a crush I had on an “older woman.” She was a mysterious sophomore. I was a clueless freshman. I sat next to her in study hall and didn’t get much studying done.
The mournful conclusion to the lyrics of “Diary” – “The love she’d waited for was someone else not me” – stabbed me in the heart. I gradually sank from the naïve belief I might have a shot with her to the cold realization that she barely knew I was in that study hall.
Emotional connections like that turned out to be an even stronger “hook” for me than the musical part of those smoothly crafted songs.
Also, 1972 was the year I “graduated” from vinyl records to buying 8-track tapes.
Like many others, I became a member/slave of the Columbia House Tape Club. The 11 tapes I got in my initial shipment included classic albums by Paul Simon, Elton John, Three Dog Night, Rod Stewart, The Moody Blues, Bread, Chicago and Joe Cocker.
I think I did a pretty fair job of pickin’ ‘em, as they say.
I may be a little bit of a musical snob now, especially when I compare today’s music to what I grew up with starting 40 years ago. I still insist that the early 1970s era was the best in pop music history in terms of melodies, hooks and lyrics.
I still own “best-of” compilation CDs of each of the musical artists mentioned in this column. And that will probably still be true 40 years from now if I’m still alive.
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