Like many baby boomers, I grew up listening to Top 40 radio. Radio was cool back in the day, because it wasn't all corporate and sanitized and racist. In the space of 20 minutes, you could hear Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, The Temptations, Simon and Garfunkel, Marvin Gaye and The Beach Boys. Nowadays, you hear breathy, please-screw-me songs by an endless parade of one-named teenage girls who make up for their lack of singing voices by wearing really short skirts.
Was that song by Rihanna or Ciara? No, fool! It was LeToya! They almost make you wish that Britney would dump that Feder-leech guy and make a comeback. Almost.
Anyway, I listened to all kinds of stuff when I was a kid, but I naturally gravitated toward soul and the blues because, well, that's the best stuff. This week is heaven for me, what with Earth, Wind and Fire having played one Indian casino on Tuesday and Smokey Robinson at the other casino tomorrow night, Friday. Aug. 18. If we had more Indian casinos, we could probably get James Brown and George Clinton to stop by, too.
Earth, Wind and Fire hit big when I was in college. I just loved their early stuff like "Devotion" and "Keep Your Head to the Sky." By the time they came out with "Reasons" and "Shining Star," they were monsters. I loved everything about them, from their soaring falsettos to their powerful horn section. I especially liked the zero-tolerance, drug-free makeup of the band at a time when drugs were ravaging music and society.
I once saw EWF in concert with Average White Band, a bunch of funkmeisters from the Soul Music Capital of the World--Glasgow, Scotland. AWB's self-titled album is a classic, but shortly after its release, the founding member and driving force of the band, drummer Robbie McIntosh, died after snorting what he thought was cocaine but was actually white Chinese heroin. Singer Alan Gorrie almost died that night, too, but was saved by Cher, of all people. After that horrible night, lead singer Hamish Stuart stayed with AWB for a while, but eventually left to join (ugh!) Paul McCartney and Wings. That alone should tell you that drugs have a lasting and damaging effect on people. Average White Band put out several more albums--some of which were pretty good--but they never completely recaptured the magic of the white album. It's like Robbie McIntosh took the greatness with him, and damn him for choosing drugs over immortality.
Both EWF lead singer Philip Bailey and AWB's Stuart relied on falsetto singing to charm ears and buckle knees. They're both great at it, but there is only one master--William "Smokey" Robinson. Sure, people remember the quote from Bob Dylan, who called Smokey "America's greatest living poet." But did you know that more children were conceived to "Ooh Baby Baby" than to any other song in history?
I completely made that up, but it could be true. When I was in high school, we would have parties on the weekends. Even though it was in the ghetto, there wouldn't be any drinking or drugs, because we were athletes and were naïve enough to believe that athletes didn't do stuff like that.
What there was, was punch and chips, and dancing. The perfect party would go from about 8 p.m. until midnight. The first hour would be lots of fast songs, with "Ooh Baby Baby" and Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions' "I'm So Proud" sprinkled in. The second hour would be a 70-30 fast-slow mix. Then 50-50 and finally, the last half-hour or so would be all "Ooh Baby Baby" until everybody was making out or, like me, wishing they were making out.
There is a huge movement among today's young people focusing on music from the '60s and '70s. Kids love The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. For whatever reason, not so much soul music. Oh well, that's their loss. However, last season's point guard on my girls' basketball team, Nora, loves Smokey Robinson. Her cell phone ringtone is "The Tracks of My Tears."
She's heading off to college on Saturday and will be spending her last night in Tucson attending the Smokey concert with her honey, Adam. She was hoping to get to meet her idol, but that probably won't happen. What she should be hoping for is that the baby boomers in front of her don't feel like dancing.