Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Great American Rock 'n' Roll Revival: One Million Pieces of Perfect Pop Culture #1

Note: You can listen to my Spotify playlist that recreates this album.

Thank God for the Columbia House Record Club.

Probably the first cassettes, of what would one day grow to be a collection of 10,000+, that I ever obtained were from one of these type of ads that came in the Sunday paper or in a magazine or something like that. For those too young to know about this deal, here's what it was: You basically signed a contract saying that if Columbia House (or one of the many imitators) sent you X number of albums for a penny, you had to by X number of other albums at inflated prices with ridiculously high shipping. They often offered a bonus, that if you bought another album at full price, right now, you could get 1-4 extra free albums. Then you would proceed to never fulfill your part of the bargain, and then go ahead and do the whole thing over again with a different name or from your new address or whatever. In other words, this was one of the main ways how poor people grew their album collections for many decades before the Internet.

The first time I did it was probably in 1985, and while it wasn't one of the full 12-for-a-penny orders like in the pic above, it soon sent me the first few cassettes I owned.  I can't remember everything that I got, but I want to say that it included Foreigner "Records," Duran Duran's "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" (now immortalized in a tattoo on my neck), something or another with Phil Collins (probably Genesis?), and, most importantly for this post, the Great American Rock 'n' Roll Revival.

That's a vinyl version, but mine was cassette, naturally. It was this new thing, a double-length cassette, that put two vinyl records onto one cassette. This was literally my first real world understanding (that I can remember) of why math was important, it helped me understand that different medium had different storage sizes and various other mathematical things that are obvious now that weren't when I was like 11 or 12.

I was relatively new to listening to music and hadn't taken it seriously before that. And along with the Duran Duran album (which I've now listened to in at least five different formats), this album changed my life. Here's the full track list.

The name is a bit misleading, as it was a pretty narrow scope of 60s rock n roll that was represented on the album, but man, what a selection. Certain artists are over-represented (Dion and/or the Belmonts appear nine times, for instance), but nothing here sucks. And this album is loaded with classic songs, and for almost all of them, this is the first time I heard them. At that point in my life, my musical interests came from three places: 1. MTV and video shows. 2. Top 40 radio shows such as Casey Kasem and Rick Dees, 3. What my parents listened to around the house, which had a relatively focused scope (Beatles, Elvis, Doors).  So a lot of the music from the 60s that wasn't made by the biggest superstars was new to me. This album not only introduced me to these particular great songs and numerous artists that would become among my all-time favorites (the Beach Boys, Dion, Del Shannon), it also helped me discover entire genres (doo-wop, surf rock, girl groups, Motown, 60s rock crooners), which I would then go and listen to in depth, but it would also introduce me into the concept of listening to an album without any prior knowledge of what was on it, a tactic I still use extensively today and one that has added great diversity and depth to my music knowledge.

There were subtle influences of this album on my politics, too. What I saw on this album, at a young and impressionable age, was that it didn't matter who you were if you made great music--the singers here are young and old, white and black, female and male, diverse.  It's not perfect, and there are some subtle hints of older values which I would reject here and there (particularly in terms of gender: the world 'girl' is tossed around a bit casually), but for the most part, this album is basically a 60s dance night where nearly everybody is welcome and I took that message to heart. In retrospect, it's obvious that there are some exceptions, but this album was pretty forward-thinking in terms of the time period of the music (which makes sense, since the compilation was released in 1980).

The album also introduced my ears to a bunch of different ways to make musical sounds that were interesting. Doo wop, in particular, was all about people making sounds with their voice that imitated instruments in various ways. There was a lot of what would be considered revolutionary by the standards of the late 70s/early 80s, much the way that punk songs often were throwbacks to garage rock song structures/styles. This music, at my age, my lack of experience, and intellectual development at the time was nothing short of revolutionary in its affect on me. I literally listened to this album hundreds of times. And I learned a ton from the experience.

Read more about "One Million Pieces of Perfect Pop Culture" and read more entries in the series.


  1. I listened to it again as I was writing this and it still sounds just as good