I’m a big music fan. I grew up with Christian and classical music in the house. My dad’s particular favorite album was a 3 LP version of Handel‘s Messiah with an amazing soloist named Nicolai Gedda. My favorite piece from the recording was “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted” Tenor Aria. Growing up with parents who frowned on most pop music certainly made my music discoveries interesting. The first music that helped me to realize I was a music fan was the “Entertainer” instrumental from The Sting: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. I took an interest in ragtime/jazz after inquiring with my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Silva, about it. I specifically remember trying to impress my grandmother with a portable cassette player playing ragtime, but ending up annoying her. Another great outlet for me to discover and explore music that wasn’t played in my parent’s house was at weekly roller skating nights at the Christian high school that was affiliated with the grammar school I attended. We’d skate on the gym floor as the sound system played organ music (which I enjoyed), but certain nights the music selector would break out some pop songs like the ridiculous one-hit-wonder, “Shaddap You Face” by Joe Dolce.
While tagging along with my folks as they shopped around for a used car, I have a vivid memory of playing around with a car radio unit display inside the showroom and finding an easy listening station. I instantly took a liking to the melody and pop sensibility of pretty songs like Neil Diamond‘s “Song Sung Blue” and Christopher Cross‘ “Sailing.” From then on, I enjoyed listening to “soft rock” stations with my mom whenever we’d drive together. Another outlet for pop music was TV, where I enjoyed ads for Barry Manilow (espcially “I Made it Through the Rain”) and Roger Whittaker (“Red Roses for a Blue Lady”). Mr. Whittaker looked so wholesome. He reminded me of a father figure. While riding in my friend’s father’s car, I got a healthy dose of Ann Murray.
While at my Seventh Day Adventist elementary school, I first caught on to contemporary pop music when a bunch of my classmates came to school one morning buzzing about Laura Branigan‘s sizzling new hit, “Gloria.” They instantly proclaimed it as their favorite song. In Boston, a new radio format captured the diversity of pop music of the day, and I was about to catch on too. Instead of hard rock, WHTT “Hit 103” played music that was incredibly exciting to young music fans. I found my personal groove with New Edition‘s debut single, 1983’s “Candy Girl.” I loved the ultra-modern beat, complete with funky sound effects. And in 1984, while at a little league baseball practice, I heard the first two songs from Van Halen‘s new album, 1984–the synthesized title track back to back with “Jump.” I’m sure my parents would have been shocked that this new, slick, rock sound didn’t offend me like other rock music did. Also that year, I remember a gathering at a friend’s house where all the boys in our small elementary school class crowded around the radio and listened to “Jam on It” by Newcleus, a modern, spacey, minor-key rap song, and “Roxanne Roxanne” by UTFO.
A friend and I bought stereo boom boxes and we’d record pop songs off the local hit music stations like Hit 103 and WZOU “The Zoo” (94.5). The key was to pop in a cassette, go into record/pause mode, keep your finger on the pause button, and release it as soon as you heard the opening note of the new hit you had to have. One song I had to have was “I Wonder if I Take You Home” by one of the longest band names, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with Full Force. And yes, I do admit the song had added impact due to the fact that the woman behind the blatantly suggestive lyrics was really sexy! Other songs included “Neverending Story” by Limahl, “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head,” and other ’80s classics by Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Prince.
Since my parents were very late in getting cable, I had to sneak my MTV viewing at friends houses, sometimes even with kids of church friends. The Police‘s “Wrapped Around Your Finger” was a very moody, stylish video that I remember being impressed with, along with Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It” and “Billie Jean,” and of course, “Thriller.” Between 1984 and 1986, kids and teens in the Boston market were very lucky because a new TV station, V66, played music videos on free TV. They played hits and also debuted many cool videos like A-Ha‘s “Take on Me” and Julie Brown‘s “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun,” plus Boston group’s New Man, ‘Til Tuesday, and the Fools. One of the VJs, John Garabedian, went on to host the long-running, syndicated radio show, Open House Party. The channel’s overall attitude was quite edgy and it was probably my first taste of “alternative.”
I’d been recording music off the radio and copying cassettes and LPs from friends, but ate age 13, in 1985, I finally started buying pop music cassettes. I actually hid them from my parents for quite a while, until gradually, I eased my folks into my pop music listening habits. My first two cassettes, Phil Collins – No Jacket Required and Sheena Easton – Do You were (purchased at Lechmere in Dedham, a great chain store similar in style to Best Buy.
I got my rock music education from my next door neighbor’s older brother, who wanted to be a recording engineer. He introduced me to Journey and Styx, but I didn’t care much for his other favorites, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. I did become a big Journey fan.
My first concert was Chicago at Great Woods, a new outdoor venue in Mansfield, MA. They were touring 1986’s 18 album (with hits like “Will You Still Love Me” and “If She Would Have Been Faithful.” This was the album recorded immediately after Peter Cetera‘s departure from the group. I loved Peter Cetera (and continued to follow his music), but I also loved new Chicago singer Jason Scheff. In later years, I’d appreciate Chicago’s use of horns in their music.
I continued to enjoy the diverse, “anything goes” climate of the ’80s pop scene which included black music from the Jets, Janet Jackson, Morris Day and the Time, Denise Williams, Karen White, and rap from artists like Kurtis Blow (“Basketball”) and Grandmaster Flash, but I didn’t gravitate to the gangster rap that exploded with the release of the film, “Colors,” and its soundtrack. I also enjoyed precise, techno-pop from artists like Level 42 (“Something About You” and “Running in the Family”), Johnny Hates Jazz (“Shattered Dreams”) and slow, dark music that I’d compile onto mix tapes for night driving, inspired from the music of TV’s “Miami Vice.” These were mostly album tracks that I’d discover on cassettes in my collection and included Duran Duran‘s “Palomino,” Howard Jones‘ “Guardians of the Breath.”
During the summer between my Junior and Senior years of high school (1989), with the help of high school friends, a sometimes goth/sometimes alternative club in Cambridge called ManRay, and my new skateboarding lifestyle, I discovered “alternative” music and fell hard for the music of English groups Depeche Mode, Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys, the Smiths, and the one group whose sound most identified with, New Order. I heard critics refer to their music as techno pop, and it struck a chord with me. I love the programmed drum tracks, the great keyboard melodies and accents, and the singing voice of Bernard Sumner who sounded sort of like an everyday man living his dream. He was far from a great singer, but succeeded at conveying deep emotion through his song and lyrics.
The first 18+ club night that me and my friends tried at ManRay had a unique setup of arternative music in one room (spun by DJ Chris Ewen), and Caribbean and black American music (spun by DJ Grandmaster Woody Superstar) in the other. I loved the techno pop and alternative dance music in the alternative room, but I also discovered dancehall reggae that night–music with deep bass and punchy treble, sung by Jamaicans with rapid fire lyrical deliveries. I began to buy reggae albums to seek out this sound. A certain store owner tried to steer me over to Bob Marley‘s Legend, but I know I wasn’t looking for hippy reggae listened to by long haired marijuana smoking college students. I did eventually hone in on exactly what I was looking for, and it wasn’t 1970s roots reggae, but rather modern dancehall reggae utilizing Jamaica’s latest production techniques, and delivered by mysterious (to me) artists like Supercat, Ninjaman, Shinehead, Gregory Peck, Reggie Stepper, and others. Dancehall reggae was going through somewhat of a boom, so I was able to catch crossover success of songs like Foxy Brown‘s “Sorry” and Frighty & Colonel Mite‘s “Life is What You Make It.” I enjoyed this music so much that I wondered if I’d ever collect enough of it to drive around in my car and have the center console full of reggae CDs. I was truly on my own with reggae, as none of my friends took to it like I did. I also enjoyed some world music. I discovered salsa through David Byrne‘s Rei Momo album, calypso through Sting‘s “Love is the Seventh Wave,” and lambada through Kaoma‘s World Beat album.
Throughout college, I continued to enjoy alternative and reggae. On the alternative spectrum, I delved deeper into slow, dark music, found amazing groups like the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil (all on the 4AD label which would become my all-time favorite), and the Legendary Pink Dots. I went to a lot of concerts including Erasure, the Cure, Depeche Mode, the Happy Mondays, Pop Will Eat Itself, a Halloween performance with Alien Sex Fiend, and many others.
I continued to go to ManRay and various deep house nights in Boston and Cambridge, and I developed a love for soulful house music–both instrumental and vocal. My favorite production team was Masters at Work (“Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez). During the early ’90s, some authentic house music crossed formats and generated airplay on pop and urban music stations. Examples include “Show Me Love” by Robin S., “Too Blind to See It” by Kym Sims, “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” by Crystal Waters, and CeCe Peniston‘s “Finally.” As hardcore techno music started to pervade underground clubs, there was a clash between music lovers who preferred the soul and warmth of house rather than the cold, harsh, soullessness of techno, and I was firmly on the house side. I also loved a duo sometimes called the KLF that created a genre called stadium house. Their club hits of 1991 and 1992 were some of the biggest. When their songs “What Time is Love,” “3 A.M. Eternal,” “Last Train to Trancentral,” and “America: What Time is Love,” played in the club, it was an event with the smoke machines and strobe lights operating at full capacity and dancers going wild.
Also in the early ’90s, underground clubs starting playing English music that crossed the boundaries of rock and dance, and fused the two genres with what was called the Manchester sound, since many of the popular groups leading this wave were from Manchester, England. I fell hard for the sound that included songs like “Step On” by the Happy Mondays, “The Only One I Know” by the Charlatans, “Fools Gold” by the Stone Roses, “Commercial Rain” by the Inspiral Carpets. Even this music crossed over with EMF‘s “Unbelievable” and U2‘s album, Achtung Baby, produced by Flood who gave them the popular dance/rock sound they wanted to emulate. Former Boston club DJ, John Debo, was the Manchester sound’s main proponent in Boston, and he promoted the music at his residences at Venus De Milo, Axis, and ManRay. This was also the time when the rave scene tried to take over the club scene. If you weren’t partying until 6 AM at after-hours spots like “the Loft,” you weren’t doing it right. The rave scene, combined with dancers’ liberal use of the drug ecstasy, and the Seattle rock movement of 1993 (Nirvana), pushed my music scene out of favor. I managed to stay up ’til 6 AM one night while dancing at the Loft, but I said no to the pill–what she called “a little pick-me-up”–offered by a young lady I barely knew.
While at Emerson College, I dove deep into their radio station, WERS, and got a time slot on their reggae show. I graduated from producer to on air host, and then to coordinator, where I was in charge of a staff of 9 that were involved in the daily reggae show from 5-8 PM every weeknight. I read books on the history of reggae and the faith in Haile Selassie called Rastafari so that I could understand and relate to the lyrics. When I’d interview the artists, it was sometimes hard to understand the excited, faster-talking ones, but interviewing Freddie McGregor, Cobra, Capleton, Patra, the late Dennis Brown, and many others were rewarding experiences.
In 1996, a local TV station, WUNI Channel 27, aired a show called “Pachanga Latina” that played popular Spanish music videos interspersed with footage of people dancing to the same music at a local club. Although I’ve never really learned to dance to salsa music, I developed an interest in salsa and artists like Jerry River, La India (who switched from house music to salsa), and the late Frankie Ruiz by watching this show and listening to Spanish radio on the AM dial.
After graduating from college, I continued to play reggae on the radio, moving from WERS to WMBR, WUMB, and WRBB before giving it up in 2002 to make time for myself. As far as non-reggae, I got into trip-hop and artists like Massive Attack, Morcheeba, and Mono. Currently, I enjoy and seek out those dance/rock tracks of the Manchester scene, ’80s pop hits, and I continue to listen to my all-time favorites like the Sundays, the Cocteau Twins, New Order, Erasure, and Duran Duran. In 2005, I discovered that I love current pop-punk, emo, and power pop–especially where the singer has a hint of sarcasm in his or her voice. I made a mix of the catchiest tunes of these genres from 1994 to current. Here’s my track list that spans three CDs.
SR71 – Right Now
Green Day – Nice Guys Finish Last
Allister – Better Late than Forever
Nerf Herder – For You
MXPX – Prove it to the World
MXPX – Heard that Sound
My Chemical Romance – I’m Not OK (I Promise)
Alkaline Trio – Steamer Trunk
Amber Pacific – The Right to Write Me Off
Jimmy Eat World – Pain
Jimmy Eat World – The Middle
Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue
Blink 182 – All The Small Things
Zebrahead – Playmate of the Year
American Hi-Fi – The Geeks Get the Girls
Offspring – Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)
Wheatus – Lemonade
All-American Rejects – Dirty Little Secret
Treble Charger – American Psycho
Bowling For Soup – 1985
Sum 41 – In Too Deep
Green Day – Longview
Green Day – Holiday
Bowling for Soup – Almost
Stroke 9 – Little Black Backpack
Amber Pacific – Save Me From Me
Linkin Park – Breaking the Habit
Linkin Park – In the End
Linkin Park – Numb
Story of the Year – Anthem of Our Dying Day
My Chemical Romance – Helena
New Found Glory – My Friends Over You
Simple Plan – Welcome to My Life
Fall Out Boy – Sugar We’re Goin Down
Dashboard Confessional – Vindicated
Hoobastank – The Reason
No Doubt – Don’t Speak
Fefe Dobson – Don’t Let it Go to Your Head
Fefe Dobson – Everything
Killers – Mr. Brightside
Bravery – Honest Mistake
Placebo – Bigmouth Strikes Again
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.
Rancid – Time Bomb
No Doubt – Sunday Morning
No Doubt – World Go Round
Save Ferris – Come on Eileen
Simple Plan – The Worst Day Ever
Offspring – She’s Got Issues
Fountains Of Wayne – Stacy’s Mom
Click Five – Just the Girl
Wheatus – Anyway
Wheatus – Randall
Len – Steal My Sunshine
Dynamite Hack – Boyz-n-the-Hood
Simple Plan – Untitled
Most of my mix CDs take hours to finish because I beatmix or at least segue every song. In November 2005, I put together a Martin Gore with Depeche Mode 2 CD set called The World We Live In, And Life in General 1983-2005. It includes my favorite Martin Gore-sung Depeche Mode songs, and my favorite selections from his solo albums. I’ve done the same with New Order and even Boston (before Brad Delp passed). I have plans to put together a set of Erasure songs.
In February 2007, I started a reggae music podcast called Reggae Rhythm Update. I record the show from home in my second bedroom. It has become quite popular!
August 11, 2012 edit:
Since my marriage to my beloved wife and the birth of our son, I’ve had no time to continue the podcast. At the start of 2012, I announced that I would not be continuing with it. I actually packed up the studio equipment and moved it into the attic. But at some point, I hope to revive the show.
October 15, 2014 edit:
For the last couple years, I’ve dived deep into the world of (mostly college level) a cappella. The TV shows The Sing-Off and Glee were inspirations. But nothing compares to see real, live, one-take performances by top level groups like Northeastern University’s The Nor’easters, Boston University’s The Dear Abbeys, and Tufts University’s The Beelzebubs.
When my wife and I attended the Northeast region International Championship of Collegiate a Cappella (ICCA) semi-final at MIT in 2013, I kept track of my favorites and who I thought would win, take second place, etc. The last performance of the night was The Nor’easters. I was blown away, and I felt like they blew everyone else away. The judges agreed with me because they took the win that night, then continued to NYC for the finals and won. I’ve seen the group perform numerous times since, and they continue to be my go to group for tapping in to just what I love most about a cappella music. Now there’s nothing I like more than attending live a cappella shows and sitting close enough to take great photos of these groups, many of which you’ll find on my blog.
To be continued…