What were you listening to in 1976?

I have always loved music.  Not playing it.  I have no ability to hum, sing, keep a steady beat, or play an instrument.

I can barely play the radio in tune.
No, my love of music has always been more confined to the act of collecting it and listening to it.  My iPod, for instance, has some 6,000 song titles on it.  To give you some idea — if I started playing my Elvis Costello song list when I pulled out of my driveway, I could drive to San Diego, 1,200 miles away, before I got to the end of the list.

Hell, I have 10 different cover versions of the Bee Gee’s classic “To Love Somebody” including a kick-ass reggae version by Busty Brown, and 90’s-era almost emo version by Blue Rodeo.

And though it’s harder to keep up with music now that my kids are grown, I’m happy to report that my obsession with music isn’t limited to songs from “back in the day.”  Yeah, I’ve got the Grateful Dead — but I’ve also got Deathcab for Cutie.  The Beatles may have hung out with Ravi Shankar, but they disbanded before Anoushka, Ravi’s stunning and musically gifted daughter (and half-sister of Norah Jones), was even born.

I’ve got all three of them on my iPod.
But I’ll admit — many of my favorite songs are those we grew up with.  Which is why I got a kick out of a web site that a friend forwarded to me recently.  The site,  The #1 Song on This Date In History, was built by another music buff, Josh Hosler, and is based on the Billboard rock/pop charts and includes song titles dating back as far as the 1890’s (well before our time, even!) through the current day.   Though my friend forwarded it with the intent of looking up what had been #1 on the day he was born, I actually find it more interesting to look at what we were listening to in those years between ages 12-16, which according to author Daniel Levitin, is a particularly important stage in terms of imprinting the music that will stick with us for our lifetime.


Stevie Wonder, captured live at the Seattle Center Arena, sometime around
1974.  His warm-up act was Rufus, featuring Chaka Kahn. 

Levitin’s book “This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession” is a great read, by the way — a little tough at times for people, like myself, who don’t understand simple musical concepts like rythm, pitch, melody…but still well worth the read.  Levitin is a former music producer (having worked for bands including Pink Floyd and Steely Dan) who went back to college, got a PhD in psychology, and now does research on how the brain processes music.

The result is a fascinating account of what the brain “expects” from music, why we react to it the way we do, and why some sounds appear musical to us, while others just sound like….well, disco.

What he fails to explain are the larger mysteries that science may never solve, such as “how did ‘Convoy’ make it to the top of the Charts in January 1976?” or “With thousands of songs to choose from, why does the classic rock station play ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ every time I tune in?” or “what was the deal with disco, anyway — was it JUST the drugs, or is there some other explanation?”

Which brings me back to the original topic:  check out Hosler’s site.  It’s fun to see what was playing during our high school years.

And if you have any musical memories to share, feel free to add them to this post!

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