Spent some time last week fine-tuning the playlist for my 50-year class reunion. OK, a lot of that time was spent listening to the music on the deck, or working at the computer, and the end result was a handful of additions and deletions.
But I wasn’t just consuming entertainment — I was Musing about how great the music that came out between the summer of 1963 and mid-’67 was. I think you could call it the Golden Age of Rock and Roll. (Hey, Ian — that would make a great song title! Oh, you already got it covered …)
The playlist that was on my iPod, run through a Bluetooth amplifier into my home stereo speakers, ran 120 songs and almost six hours. It mostly came from my CD collection — some original albums, but also greatest hit collections and compilation disks, too — with a few purchased songs and some digitized vinyl.
The late additions were a few tunes from pre-1963, classics that we heard on the radio and danced to the at the mixers and hops. “Rock around the Clock,” for instance, and “Peppermint Twist” and a few others, including Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly numbers.
The deletions were songs that were listed as being from 1967, but that came out after we graduated the first week in June. Plus “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which just made it under the pre-graduation bar, but had the segue to “With a Little Help from My Friends” at the end — a technique not used much in rock before then, if at all — didn’t really work in a shuffle-all playlist.
OK, there was one other exception to the pre-graduation thing. I left in Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man,” which was released in September 1967. Judge me — the song had one of the best opening riffs of all time, so it had to stay.
S&D would have been covered in the play list anyway, because of “Hold on I’m Comin.’” Besides them, there was a lot of Motown, rhythm and blues and soul — the foundation for the MUHS Reunion list was my Motown playlist, which runs almost nine hours, 180 songs.
So, lots of Diana Ross and/or the Supremes, Temptations, Smoky Robinson and the Miracles, Otis Redding, Martha and the Vandellas, Aretha, the Wicked Pickett, etc. Plus the Beach Boys, Beatles, Rascals (Young and not), Lovin’ Spoonful, Mama and Papas, Dylan, Association, Tommy James and the Shondells and other white and British Invasion acts.
There were also a bunch of One Hit Wonder stuff, like Percy Sledge, the Troggs, the Elgins, Gentrys. And the beginnings of psychedelia’s arrival in the Top 40, like the Airplane, the Doors and Procul Harum.
I sat and listened to those dozens of songs, and marveled at the gems of popular music among them. As noted above, the opening bars of “Soul Man” are irresistibly infectious (whether done by S&D or Jake and Elwood). The Temptations’ “Can’t Help Myself” had the best opening line of all time: “Sugar pie, honey bunch,” etc.
The Temptations edged out “Stop in the Name of Love” (remember how the Supremes articulated that in the video?) in that category. But they also gave us the seductive-yet-wholesome opening bass line in “My Girl.”
Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” also had a wonderful opening, and built on that steadily, getting better and better. Percy Sledge tore out his heart and put it in the grooves of the vinyl on “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Aretha just knocked it out of the park on “Respect.”
You could listen to the Spoonful’s first single and almost believe in magic, at least the musical variety. If you were like me, you counted the weeks of your early high school years by new Beatles singles.
“Good Vibrations” is still hypnotic, and the Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School” can still put me back on the Circuit in Janesville, Wis., cruising and listening to the AM radio. Eric Burdon’s vocal on “Don’t Bring Me Down” showed how the British Invasion could do soul (but why didn’t I have “House of the Rising Sun” in there?).
“My Boyfriend’s Back” maybe wasn’t the best of the Girl Group songs, but it was close. Those, and the Motown and gearhead/surf songs talked to the sorts of things teens worried about, before our brain’s fretting centers had bigger fish to fry.
There were some gaps in the playlist — no Stones, because I don’t have any of their early albums, at least not on vinyl or CD. The Hollies, Dave Clark Five, some other Motown and Stax artists, Jan and Dean, etc., should have been represented.
That said, it was seven hours of great, fun music. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the music that got played at our Saturday night reunion gathering, not in its entirety. For some reason, I had two reunion playlists, but assumed they were accidental duplications. But the one I punched up as the evening started was the original, five-hour version.
Turns out it probably didn’t matter. The venue was kind of cramped and loud, my classmates were doing a lot of catching up and the conversation level was loud.
I don’t think anybody paid much attention to what was coming out of the speakers. But reconnecting is what class reunions should be about, and the organizing committee agreed that we just wanted background music.
But I hope that some of them could hear, just below the combined conversations of 80-some people, what I heard: the soundtrack to my high school years.