Continued from…

 

Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy

v.

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd

As Led Zeppelin's brilliant "Misty Mountain Hop" fairly exploded from the stacks of speakers above a new Alabama State Fair attraction called The Himalaya, I stood in line for tickets and bobbed my head. A high-school-age girl just ahead of me did the same, and at one point, she looked straight at me and smiled. And there you have it: an older girl actually smiled at me while Robert Plant wailed lyrics I still can't decipher. It goes without saying that I made plans to find the album, but the following week I chose Pronounced instead. This was a hideous, grievous error, made even more inexcusable by the fact that all three albums were in the "L" bin at J.C. Penney the afternoon that I purchased the Skynyrd classic.

But in fairness to me, you had to be there. This new thing called "underground" radio had just hit town, providing the soundtrack to practically every after-school drama I witnessed or participated in. "Freebird," once it finally got rocking, roared from our seven-pound FM portables and across the schoolyard like so many, well... electric guitars. Significantly, Lynyrd Skynyrd was comprised of guys whose hair, facial features, and apparel were remarkably similar to our own. That is to say, it appeared that shy, skinny, blue-collar losers from the South could be guitar gods and rock stars, too.

 

The Rolling Stones
Exile on Main St.

v.

Yes
Close to the Edge

By the time I knew about either of these albums, I was genuinely confused by the Rolling Stones' line-up. Just who does play guitar opposite Keith, anyway? Are there still two Micks in the band? Why does Bill Wyman look so unhappy? And is there someone we can ask? A lot of the Stones' stuff was sounding a bit "same old same old" in those days, and I had a vague intuition that their music was not really intended for kids who were still too young to get liquored up. What led me astray, however, was an experience with a pair of headphones and an Emerson, Lake, & Palmer album. I got an earful–or a head full, you might say–of the "oh wow" rock sound. A fascination with The Moody Blues and Pink Floyd came soon after, with Yes finally offering prog-rock grandiosity at its zenith. I wanted music that would take me somewhere, and what better for the task than synthesizers with built-in interstellar overdrives? With a dark room, a dose of Nyquil, and headphones, I didn't need a love to keep me happy, with all due respect to Mr. Richards. Or Richard. Of course, with Yes, loving their distinctive sound (or knowing who was actually in the band) in no way contributed to a full understanding of the lyrics. Having the words printed on the sleeve was no help either: "Sad preacher nailed upon the coloured door of time, insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme." Is there someone we can ask?

 

Three Singles. One Error.

For the one occasion during that early period that I bothered to purchase a single (remember 45s, with the big hole?), I also managed to get it wrong. My first option was "Roundabout," a swirling number by Yes that, in purely technical musical terms, was the most sophisticated thing on AM radio at the time. My other two possible choices were "Brandy," a huge track by one-hit wonder Looking Glass, and Sugarloaf's "Green-Eyed Lady," to which I often fast-skated at Lowes' Roller Rink. Like any kid at the mall with two dollars in his fist, I cracked under pressure. Brandy, you're a fine girl, what a good wife you would be.

This wasn't a wholly devastating error, mainly because, in the circles I moved in, 45 singles and AM hits were viewed as largely the province of girls. The only occasion on which you might care to hear various songs by various artists would be a party, and the female of the species, so went an unwritten law, was in charge of all social events. There was wisdom in this arrangement, because unlike us guys, very few chicks would make the party-killing blunder of dropping the phonograph needle on Dark Side of the Moon. Sure, we were sometimes required to good-naturedly suffer through the odd hit by Bread or Carly Simon, but we could always count on the "cool" girls to stack the turntable with pleasant surprises.

I often wondered where these girls found all those good new singles, and one fall afternoon at Western Hills Mall I got a brief glimpse into this mystery. Per mall protocol, I ditched my mom at Loveman's and made my way toward Musicland, at which point I spotted Lori Weekly and Kendra Sosebee exiting Baskin Robbins just ahead of me. Normally I would have said hello, but these two gals had changed significantly over the summer. They were wearing fringed, wide-flare jeans, tank tops, and–can you believe it–they were barefoot. They did not look or act like my old schoolmates from the previous year. Kendra was keeping a set of lime-green "Clackers" (a deadly toy later banned by mall management) in perfect motion and Lori was expertly managing a chocolate cone. They strolled through the mall with confidence and poise, exuding a don't-give-a-damn attitude that rendered them wholly unapproachable, and therefore entirely exotic. I followed/shadowed/stalked them to the record store where the manager, every bit of 18 or 19, emerged from the counter and began insisting that the girls purchase this single or that. The sly bastard had never even spoken to me about anything in the inventory, and I was a regular customer. I guess that was another lesson, in retrospect.

Just imagine, therefore, how thrilled I was to find a party invitation taped to my locker the next week: "When–7:00 p.m., Where–Kendra's house, Hosts–Kendra and Lori." Surely, I was numbered among the elect. At the party, a lightning round of Spin the Bottle led to my first kiss, the surprisingly willing recipient being... Lori Weekly. The song was "Precious and Few," if you must know. This confluence of events did not cause me to fall in love with Lori, primarily because I had adored her since the first grade anyway. School-age children aren't supposed to have style, and yet there stood Lori Weekly, consistently older and wiser than her years, with impeccable social skills and the right clothes. She was the only kid in school who would by-pass the cafeteria line and order tomato soup and a salad from the lunchroom ladies. She carried aspirin and lipstick in her tiny, fashionable purse. She was pretty.

Lori apparently stopped thinking I was cute sometime during the eighth grade, but by then I had a crush on Jill Wells, a blue-eyed, slender swim-team beauty with a cute nose and the longest brown hair you ever saw. I sat behind her in history, and she got in the habit of placing those brunette tresses on my desk, handing me her hairbrush, and so much for the Gettysburg Address, Reconstruction, and westward expansion. Jill and I often talked about Todd Rundgren and Elton John. Jill was one of the cool girls, too.

 

During the intro to "The Pilgrim," Kris Kristofferson begins speaking, "I started writing this song about Chris Gantry. Ended up writing about Dennis Hopper and Johnny Cash, Jerry Jeff Walker... Ramblin' Jack Elliott..."

Ain't it always the way? A discussion of old record collections winds up being about girls we knew, admired, or never mustered the courage to speak to. Of course, I don't really need to point out that teenage romantic anguish has always been a primary concern of rock 'n' roll. An unintended consequence of this–or perhaps it's cosmic justice–is that for those of us who become too introverted to even consider the opposite sex, our taste in music often exponentially increases in sophistication and style. I didn't know any girls the year I purchased David Bowie's Low, the first Public Image record, or a 12-inch Kraftwerk single. And by the time I had memorized the lyrics to The Sex Pistols' "New York," as well as every song from the first two Cramps albums, I had also stopped lying about the records I owned. I certainly wasn't ashamed to have Cabaret Voltaire, The Fall, Bauhaus, or Siouxsie and the Banshees in my library. I even got my hands on that copy of Harvest, and I picked up After the Gold Rush just to spite everyone (it remains in my top 20). Most amazing of all, I eventually met another "cool" girl, and lo and behold: Her collection was almost identical to my own–and still is.

First Published: April 25, 2002 • Black & White (www.bwcitypaper.com)

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