The first full album I ever listened to on my own was The Beatles’ White Album. It was the next natural step in my Fab 4 fandom at the time, having already obsessed over their most familiar hits. “It is time”, my 16-year old self decided, then proceeded, in a strange decision, to pun on the group’s most sprawling, diverse work. Even more strange, it was not the album’s mishmash of styles and forms that really blew my mind. In fact, I didn’t even get to really experience that at first – I only made it through track 8 and then stayed there for a while. Hearing Happiness Is a Warm Gun for the first time made such an impression on me that I had to play it again immediately just to make sure that what I heard was real. Then again. And again and again, completely forgetting about the rest of the album. This happened while I was on a ski trip, but really, the thing I remember the most is just getting back to the hotel every night and playing the song.
This is definitely not something that I’m alone in – many people have similar experiences with music. Experiences where a single song can take you by surprise and then in a matter of minutes single-handedly change everything you thought you knew about music. Another one that I fondly recall is listening to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds for the first time. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate – I did hear the album once or twice before, but this was the time that I really listened to it, as opposed to just playing it in the background. It was a warm summer night and I had terrible insomnia. Album after album went on in hope that one of them would finally put me to sleep, but Pet Sounds had the exact opposite effect – it made me wide awake, in awe of what I was hearing. Once those waves of instruments and harmonies hit my ears it felt like I had finally discovered true beauty in music. I remember going to the window while I’m Waiting for the Day was playing and watching the sun come up. It felt like the time stood still.
Sometimes it’s the music itself, but other times it can also be the words. As an aspiring writer, I’ve always been interested in how the lyrics are put together in a song – the wording choice, the way they tie with each other and flow, their meaning. Lou Reed took all these elements to a whole new level when he decided to set a full narrated story to music in Velvet Underground’s The Gift. When briefly reading about the album, for some reason I got the impression that this would be some kind of artsy poetry over music type thing, where you could either pay attention to the words or not. Upon playing it for the first time, I realized that it was in fact an actual story, with characters, plot and the whole package. I started following it, not knowing what to expect. I got drawn into it more and more with each new sentence. I was lying in bed with headphones on, waiting to hear the conclusion of Waldo and Marsha’s story. Then the ending came on – without giving away any spoilers, I’ll just say that it left me completely speechless. For a few seconds I just stood there mouth open, trying to wrap my brain around the fact that they had done something so dark, so dirty, so daring. After that I burst out laughing because the whole thing was just so ridiculously cool.
All of these moments happened quite a while ago and opened new doors for me in terms of how I view music and what I seek from it. I still play those songs every once in a while, even though nothing will ever compare to that first listen. Sometimes I wish I could hear them with fresh ears just so I could feel that again.
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