“I was looking at the black and white world, it seemed so exciting …” – Elvis Costello


A loyal reader, J., writes, “ERM, your blog is the best thing I’ve read in my entire life! I think you are a genius! Are you going to include all types of albums in your list, including hip-hop, jazz, etc, or will it just be rock?”

I’m paraphrasing some, but that’s basically what he said.

It’s a good question, and it deserves an answer. And that answer – as is usually the case with someone who decides to write a blog in their spare time – won’t be a short one. Some hip-hop will definitely be included as candidates for the top 100, but I should say I don’t own much hip-hop. And the hip-hop I do own is frighteningly predictable.

(And apparently this predictability goes both ways.)

The reason I don’t own much hip-hop isn’t because I have a problem with hip-hop, or dislike it as an art. It’s just that I’ve never listened to it very much. Most of the hip-hop I love tends to be individual songs that are catchy, goofy, and bordering on parody. (Though usually not as funny as The Master.) I don’t own many hip-hop albums. As a music fan, what really grabs my ear is a strong melody and harmonies, and I love the sound of guitars and a drum kit. So while I do enjoy a hip-hop song or two, I find that an entire album’s worth starts to sound too repetitive to me. As a result, I haven’t purchased many hip-hop albums.

As I noted in an earlier post, an individual’s background plays a large part in the types of music a person loves, and I never really developed a framework for serious hip-hop appreciation. I’m sure much of that has to do with the extremely white, some-might-say bigoted, area where I grew up. Among my peers growing up, music was definitely thought of in terms of black and white, and I’d be lying if I said that in my youth I never heard Motown, R&B and soul music referred to as “[n-word] music.”

My own house had music playing in it almost constantly, for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my parents would listen to Burt Bacharach, Big Band music and 8-track cassettes of Broadway shows.annie 8 track (Along with a healthy dose of Spike Jones and his City Slickers.) I listened because it was in the air. When I wanted to listen to music myself, I listened to whatever was playing on WLBR, one of two local AM stations at the time. (The other being WAHT, which presaged the 90s talk radio boom by 20 years by featuring a talk show host, Fred Williams, who everyone hated, but listened to anyway.) The station broadcast games of the Flyers, Sixers, and (my favorite of all) the Phillies, and played typical 70s AM fare when there weren’t any games. At the time, I didn’t make much distinction between white artists or black artists. Stevie Wonder and Elton John were equal in my book – even though I preferred Sir Duke

to Island Girl,

I also liked Crocodile Rock better than My Cherie Amour.

During my middle school years, disco was king. And since I had two older sisters who were huge fans of the genre, and who went to Stan’s Disco (at the empty Robert Hall store on Route 422) every weekend, I became a fan as well. Again, I didn’t really think much about the artists’ ethnicity. After all, my favorite disco band at the time had members of every race, who worked in most every imaginable job (assuming Cowboy and Indian were actual occupations in 1979. Not to mention Leather Guy … I guess I figured he worked in some kind of a motorcycle shop.) [Side note: I remember in 8th grade that Mike S. claimed that he heard The Village People were gay. I was incredulous, and believed that the group’s obvious manliness – as most evidenced by the very masculine Construction Worker – was all the confirmation I needed that the group members were strictly hetero. I guess I was a little naive back then …]

By my high school years, I started listening to ROCK on the radio. I didn’t know it at the time, but the format was called “AOR.” It’s the stuff that today is called “Classic Rock,” or – as incomprehensible as it sounds to someone so youthful and vibrant as myself – “Oldies.” The music was by artists who were almost exclusively white – in fact, they were so white that to say the artists were “almost exclusively” white is to astonishingly minimize the actual exclusivity of the artists’ collective whiteness. If the artists on AOR were ingredients on the side of a box of Stove Top Stuffing (let’s say), non-white artists would probably make up about 1/100th of the entirety of the Propyl gallate in the packet. (With this analogy I certainly don’t wish to imply that non-white artists on AOR radio were as (apparently) harmful to kids as Propyl gallate. The analogy holds only in terms of numbers of artists.)

Of course Jimi Hendrix was featured prominently, and Santana got their fair share of airplay, but the other artists-of-color that I can name nowadays are ones that I didn’t even realize weren’t white at the time, like one-hit wonder band Redbone

(who I didn’t know were Native American until I drove across the country and stopped in Gallup, NM, and talked to some Indian folks at a bar), and Irish-band-I-thought-were-Southern-rockers Thin Lizzy, led by the African-Irishman Phil Lynott.

And while we’re on the topic of identity politics in music, it’s probably as good a time as any to state that the non-male contingent on AOR was limited to Heart, and Heart alone, at least until Pat Benatar came around.

I watched a ton of early 80s MTV (a topic that I’ll have to cover in another post some day) and so I got exposure to Michael Jackson, Prince, Lionel Richie and some other black 80s pop acts, and I thought they had some good songs. But by the time rap really hit it big and started to go mainstream – maybe 1984 – 1986 – I just didn’t have an interest in it. It didn’t have melody, it didn’t have guitars and drums (unless they were sampled), and so I didn’t spend much time listening to it. In fact, in the mid-80s I was so enthusiastic about such a very small sliver of musical genres (basically only acts featuring guitar solos and high-pitched male singers, preferably playing songs as complex as possible) that I actively dismissed and agitated against other forms of music, including rap.

So, J., to answer your question with regard to hip-hop – if it’s in my collection, and I think it could be Hot Hundred-Worthy, I’ll give it a listen.

With regard to jazz … I do like jazz, and I own several jazz CDs – mostly Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus, and another certain artist who my wife and I like enough to have given our son his unusual name. But I’m not going to include them in my Top Hundred list. I don’t experience jazz music the same way I do rock and pop. For some reason my little brain has trouble putting them in the same basket. So I’m not going to try to do it.



7 responses to ““I was looking at the black and white world, it seemed so exciting …” – Elvis Costello

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