If there was no such thing as the magical mystery that is music, I wonder what humans would do to pass the time? If I couldn’t hum to myself or learn to produce tonal incantations from odd and diverse objects, then how would I express myself beyond the fragmentary thoughts that bind my mind and yet escape before I ever once catch them?
I am a child of the 70s. Technically I was conceived in the spring of ’69, which I’m told was a pretty darn good year. My mother used to tell of having morning sickness while watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Now that’s a prenatal story if I’ve ever heard one.
And as a child of the wild and woolly 70s, I was epically, perhaps even defiantly, Raised on the Radio. My father came from the time of the Stones and the Beatles, and my mother loved Elvis. There was rock, country, rockabilly, Motown, blues, and everything in-between.
One of my most vivid memories from when I was probably 3 or 4 was standing on the stool at my parents’ bathroom sink, my dad’s trusty transistor radio blaring in the early morning hours as he dressed for work, my mom still snoozing in bed. Karen Carpenter’s heart-achingly beautiful voice was telling me she was “On top of the world /looking down on creation /and the only explanation I can find /is the love that I’ve found /ever since you’ve been around /Your love’s put me on the top of the world.”
Do you know I can still sing along perfectly to that song? That’s how much I loved it, and that’s how much it moved me, even if I didn’t understand it, and even if I had no idea what was waging in the newspapers that very day.
I can remember John Denver (one of the first concerts my parents took me to), and Peter, Paul & Mary, as they told me about “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” and I knew that the song had a sad ending, even if I couldn’t tell you why. But then they would play “If I Had a Hammer,” and I would revive my hope for the world.
There was Johnny Cash, telling me about some kind of “Ring of Fire,” but why in the world would he walk it? Then Conway Twitty would step in, usually with Loretta Lynn, and remind me that true love won’t let any obstacle stand in the way.
(the lady with the shaving cream on the album cover was delightfully naughty to a 5 year old), along with Bill Cosby and his humor albums and Ricky Nelson, who I loved to watch on “Ozzie & Harriett.” Garden Party, anyone?
As for myself, I found Shaun Cassidy and the glory of “Da Doo Ron Ron,” because I just knew he invented that song. The first 45 I ever bought with my own money was Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes,” and nearly played it til the grooves wore off the thing.
There was Kenny Rogers, and I can still sing along to “The Gambler,” “Lady,” and “Ruby,” as the soldier begged, “Oh girl, don’t take your love to town/for God’s sake, turn around.” The Vietnam War echoed all around the land, even in music, because I’ve heard Marvin Gaye and Buffalo Springfield telling us all to ask what’s that sound.
Some of my best radio memories are trips to my grandparents’ house, where I would lie in the back seat (it was the 70s, people) and listen to the “oldies” station for the two hour drive. As the Four Tops and the Temptations and The Supremes told me all about love, Jim Croce, Carole King and James Taylor smoothed out the rough edges to lull me into sleep.
I saw “The Graduate” when I was probably younger than appropriate, but Simon & Garfunkel colored my world for years. Then the raw storytelling of Harry Chapin, Don McLean and Marty Robbins…stories that you don’t really hear anymore.
Sure, I’m an 80s baby, too. I love me some Duran Duran and U2, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue, REO Speedwagon and ABBA, but the Eagles will always be one of the most defining bands for me, because they are ingrained indelibly on my memory as powerfully as mind pictures of my mom and dad.
I still listen to the radio. There’s a station here that plays a mix of 70s, 80s, 90s and now. I even listen to the top 40 and adult contemporary. But I hope I raise our girls on the radio, too, because you never forget the music that binds you across the years and generations and forever holds you, grounded, and yet, on top of the world.
About the author:
After a career as a newspaper reporter and editor, Melissa Swedoski thought she was well informed on the chaos of everyday life. Then she married a man 13 years her junior and became a SAHM to two toddler girls. Now, she’s mumbling through the mayhem of marriage and motherhood in a small Texas town, turning her investigative eye on the mishaps and misadventures of parenting and the marathon that is marriage, always with the emphasis on humor and love. You can find her living her big little life at Home on Deranged.