I recall a discussion from early in my senior year of high school, in the fall of (gasp) 1984 (!!),
with friends Rick and Josh about a report we had recently heard. The word from the radio, or maybe MTV, was that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page had reunited to cut an EP. This sounded like Earth-shattering good news. I myself was giddy with excitement. Neither Rick nor (especially) Josh could ever really be described as “giddy,” but they were both interested, although one of them (probably Josh, as he has always been wise beyond his years) cautioned that there was a decent chance the EP would suck.
I was incredulous at the suggestion. “How could anyone imagine this EP could suck!!???” I wondered. “Weren’t Robert and Jimmy half of the greatest hard rock band in the history of this world and Middle Earth?? Weren’t they such a kickass band that even their slow songs fuckin’ rocked?” I chuckled at the suggestion that anything produced by such a collaboration could suck.
Sure, based on their post-Zeppelin output, I didn’t expect the EP to be as good as Led Zeppelin. But clearly, there was no way it would suck. Even the new band’s name, “The Honeydrippers,” I thought boded well, as in my adolescent mind it was somewhat reminiscent of the vaguely raunchy lyrics from Zep’s The Lemon Song.
I have a memory of watching MTV when the channel unveiled the World Premiere of the video for The Honeydrippers’ new song. Maybe it’s a purely conjured memory, but in my mind I can see Mark Goodman welcoming viewers to the unveiling of “the video for first single from the new EP titled The Honeydrippers, Volume 1” (which indicated to me that more great volumes could be on the way!!), “Sea of Love!”
This was it!! Page and Plant, together again!! “YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!” my 17 year old brain screamed, “ROCK AND ROLL!!!!!!!!!!! ROCK! ON! ROCK! ON! ROCK! ON! Hey, Hey, My, My, Rock and Roll Will Never Die!!! Long Live Rock!! I need it every night!!!”
And I settled myself down to watch Glorious Rock Majesty unfold:
Okay, I don’t expect you to watch every second of every video I post. But the first 20 seconds is enough to realize that this is NOT going to be another Immigrant Song. And by the 42 second mark, when a coiffed, mustachioed and generally hairy dude in a Speedo appears with Plant, waving beaters over – but never actually playing – a xylophone, it was clear to my teenage self that everything I thought I knew about Plant and Page was completely wrong. This was not Hard Rock. This was not Rock and Roll. In fact, this was not any kind of Rock that I could even imagine. For Christ’s sake, this wasn’t even Soft Rock!! This was music that my PARENTS would appreciate, and if there’s one thing I know that my parents DO NOT appreciate, it is ROCK MUSIC.
This was … this was … THIS WAS BULLSHIT!! My wiser friends had been right – there was a chance the music could suck. It did suck.
At the time I claimed to like the song, out of some sense of loyalty to Plant and Page, or maybe a kind of faith in Led Zeppelin – like the deeply Christian family that doesn’t understand why God allows misery, but realizes that there are mysteries to His work that one just has to accept, even if at a gut level it seems just wrong. I claimed to like it, but I knew … It Sucked.
It took me a long time to realize that it didn’t really suck all that bad, and an even longer time to realize why such (apparently) debauched Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll guys like Plant and Page would make an EP of songs like this.
It’s because – as I’ve linked before – it’s always high school in your brain.
The reason I relate this story in a blog about trying to name my favorite albums is because I recently pulled out (at random, as always) the album 90125, by Yes. It is an album I haven’t listened to in at least 25 years. In fact, I had forgotten about it entirely, until I was trying to put together a list of albums that I figured would have been Top Ten for me back in 1984-85. I used to play that cassette, which one of my sisters got me for Christmas in 1983, regularly, I recall. For a stretch there, I probably played it daily. I loved that cassette – every song.
I stopped listening to it sometime in college. During and after college, my musical interests began to change – I had grown to love The Beatles, and was less interested in album rock and classic rock, but more interested in college-radio acts – melodic, punkier music by bands like REM and XTC. By the time a friend loaned me a box set of The Clash (a band I’d heard before, but never really took seriously [after all, they had no intricate, 5 minute guitar solos, no confusing time signature changes, and their singer didn’t sound like his nuts were in a vise, so how could they be taken seriously?]) my entire perspective on music had been altered radically.
So I never thought much again about 90125 – or if I did, I scoffed and mocked my younger self for ever being so silly as to listen to something so glossy and produced.
But in the interest of being as thorough as possible in documenting my musical tastes, I bought a used copy of the disc ($1.99!!) on the net. And when I put it into the CD player in my car, and the songs began to play, a wave of good feelings returned. Obviously, not every memory from adolescence is happy, fun or positive, but I found myself enjoying the music, and thinking about old friends and old times that I hadn’t thought of in a while. I sang all the lyrics to songs I hadn’t heard in 25 years or more. It all came back to me, including what it was I liked about the album.
I felt like Plant and Page must have felt when they decided to collaborate on music from their teenage years, my parents’ teenage years. After twenty years of involvement with a genre, it was fun to revisit what sparked their musical interests in their youth.
For me, these associated memories make it difficult to rate albums, to compare albums against each other. The good feelings and memories can’t be dissociated from the records – at least I can’t dissociate them. My love for some albums might have more to do with associated memories than with the actual music I hear, and I don’t know how to change that. Maybe professional music critics have some toggle switch to allow them to turn off the memories and focus solely on the music at hand. I know I don’t have one. And I’m glad I don’t!