I started out as a child.
A fortunate one in many ways, not least of which was that I had 3 older siblings. So there were always records to listen to. Not just Bill Cosby comedy albums – though there were plenty of those – but everything Beatles (we had one of those black-label “Please Please Me” 45s on Vee-Jay records, along with all the Capitol singles), plenty of Monkees, and all the usual one, two, or three-hit wonders.
I can still remember buying my first 45, which was Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane…1967, of course, so I would have been 8. My oldest brother took me down the street to the newspaper store to get it…a great memory (and a great record).
I was a dedicated Top-40 radio listener from the start. Somewhere along the line, my folks bought me a stereo – we weren’t one of those Hi-Fi families, so it was your basic cheesy all-in-one deal. I do remember the bright red “stereo” light in the middle – very exciting. I was probably 13 or so. I had entered the wacky world of Frequency Modulation.
I continued my hit radio ways for a while, listing to an odd, DJ-less Albany, NY station around 100FM in the early 70′s – “Rock 100″ or something like that. I remember “Dreamweaver” by Gary Wright and “Miracles” by the Jefferson Starship were in (very) regular rotation, and by god did they sound cool in Stereophonic Sound. But I was experimenting here and there with other FM signals.
There were two stations available that would probably be described as “Progressive Rock.” One was WQBK-FM, at 103.9, a commercial station, and the other was WRPI, a college station at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which was of course left-of-the-dial.
One night, sitting in that tiny 2nd-floor bedroom with the red shag rug, I was checking out the somewhat dicey WRPI signal when this song came on and changed everything.
Now, we all know about ELO: fruity, bombastic, over-produced, annoying. That’s what they became, but for a couple of albums they were a somewhat interesting prog-rock group that was actually taken seriously. This cut has a lot to do with that – it’s a seriously awesome slice of prog-meets-rock that they never equaled. The production is tremendous, it just leaps out at you…the guitar playing is righteous, and the arrangement of Chuck Berry’s masterpiece is mindbending.
I can’t tell you how incredible this song sounded that night, leaping out from that barely-tuned-in station over my crappy $100 stereo. If this was what these other, weirder FM stations were playing, I needed to hear more of it.
I didn’t spend a lot of time with WRPI – they were block-programmed, like most college stations, so you never knew if you were going to tune in to a rock program or an hour of Tuvan throat-singing. My loyalties shifted to WQBK-FM – Albany, which would capture my imagination for the next few years, my musical landscape forever altered.