Inspired, at least in part, by a stubborn recent earworm of “Chuck E.’s In Love.“
I sometimes try to divorce myself from the sonics of my favorite records (listen to the wonderful subtlety of that high-hat part!) and chew on the deeper effects the music had on other people’s lives.
Who originally owned the vinyl copy of the first Rickie Lee Jones album that now sits on my shelf? When did they buy it? What did they think of it at first? What did they think of it after a year? Did they play it when their friends came over, and what did they all do while they were listening?
Did the original owner end up going into a shaven-headed Joy Division/New Order phase and dumping all their old albums for pennies on the dollar?
Every song and record has a story involving the people who care (and cared) about it. Any music that matters touches somebody somewhere, and becomes part of their life somehow.
Which brings me to the curious factoid at the heart of this post, courtesy the invaluable ARSA database of local radio play charts:
For a solid month in mid-May to mid-June 1979 — five straight weeks — radio listeners in Hartford, Connecticut, bought more copies of Rickie Lee Jones than any other LP.
Not Bad Girls, not Van Halen II, not Breakfast in America, not Cheap Trick or the Doobie Brothers, but the jazzy, shuffling mumblings of a previously unknown beatnik poetess.
(“Previously unknown” as in no earlier recording experience. Ms. Jones had a hit single at the time, of course, and had performed on “Saturday Night Live” in April.)
Hartford lives in my imagination, based on a limited number of visits, as kind of a boring place.
So I am piqued by the possibilities.
I’m imagining the 15- and 16-year-old sons and daughters of insurance-company middle managers, tearing the plastic off this much-buzzed-about platter and getting their first inklings of bohemianism like the waft of secondhand joint-smoke.
When you live in places like that, and you’re stuck in suburban day-to-day teenage routines, you’re fair game for something unexpected — like, say, a jazzy beatnik poetess — to come along and knock you off your axis.
So, I imagine the youth of Hartford tentatively snapping their fingers behind their bedroom doors … trying to suss out what a Pantages is, and wondering where one would go in their hometown to PLP … and sorting out how this unexpected, liberating new perspective fit into a landscape previously defined by Led Zeppelin, the Bee Gees and/or Peter Frampton.
Heck, maybe the most resourceful of ’em even went out and b0ught some secondhand berets. There are incriminating snapshots in shoeboxes, I have to believe.
Or, the absolute opposite could have happened.
The kids of central Connecticut might have given Rickie Lee Jones one or two spins, rejected the whole goofy-ass knock-kneed boho trip outright, and gone back to Bad Company or Peaches & Herb or something similarly digestible.
And maybe one of their copies, bought, rejected and tossed to the four winds, is the one that sits on my shelf.
Yeah, that sounds OK.