By Cecilia Quarles
(PIKESVILLE – December 23, 2021) – There are a few things I know for sure. I know for sure that no one can help when they were born, where they were born, to what race or gender they were born. Another thing I know for sure is, I am proud and grateful that I was born Black in the 1960s and in the city of Baltimore where the music legacy is rich, undeniable, and progressive. I also know for sure that no matter who you are, or when and to whom you were born, everyone is touched by and has a personal relationship with music. The music industry is an industry, just like the oil, mortuary science, pharmaceutical, etc.
Music is spiritual oxygen. Musicians need to create and perform and humanity Needs to hear and connect with it – in order to survive!
The question then becomes, how powerful of an influence, be it physical, mental, spiritual, subconscious, primal does music have in our lives? For this answer, I will speak for myself.
By today’s standards (and even my 18-year-old self), I am officially old.
But by the time I was 17 in the late 1970s, my musical influences were founded on the most relevant, powerful musicians and bands in the 20th century. (I wonder will 17-year-olds today, be listening to “lil baby whoever,” when they are 55?)
It was and still is the 1970s for me. As much as I love authentic Hip Hop and always will, I refuse to let the rich musical legacy gifted by this decade, ever be diminished or lose any of its relevancy in my soul. Sampling and Itunes didn’t exist then and would probably have been looked at as cheating and unauthentic. We didn’t realize how phenomenally good we had it ~ or maybe we did. I guarantee you, now we do!
Music was written and played by real true musicians – many who actually still read and understand music theory and composition. They may have looked like the hippiest of hippies and smelled like Bob Marleys’ ashtray, but they could play anything off of a page or from their soul and write it too. Real musicians, playing real instruments and singing straight into a microphone. Live concerts always sounded better than the records.
We had record stores within easy reach. Record stores provided a sense of adventure and calm all at the same time. It was like going to a museum except you could not only touch but sample the art. Most Record stores housed their in-house guru. A person who knew everything about music, musicians, record players, speakers, concerts, and their customers.
You could easily spend hours in a record store without ever buying a thing and leave empty-handed but definitely not empty! Only to drive to another Record store because finding exactly what you were looking for was something you were compelled to do.
The album covers were works of art in and of themselves. We treasured albums for both the outer beauty and inner treasure that was sure to transform. I remember dissecting the cover art of many albums. I would scourer and examine every minute etching- ponder its relevance. I would escape through the art as it led me to the music and the music back to the art. The albums from Parliament Funkadelic are a perfect example of this practice.
I remember young men and boys hysterical for the next Ohio Players album so they could see the strikingly hot and beautiful Black women, guaranteed to be nude, bald, and strong: a needed reminder of all of our beauty and desirability as Black woman.
All of us, I suspect, remember how we felt and how we were transformed as a people when we first heard “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” by Mr. Brown. I was about 6-years-old and in Baltimore one of the few cities in the 60s that had 3 Black music radio stations. This song was played almost continuously for weeks as if the programmers were hoping to “program” us. Truthfully it worked because I remember a shift happened in the walk, demeanor, and spirit of all of us. This song gave us a whole new leaf on life, one that I continue to nurture to this day.
We were taught by the music of the 70s. We were being carried on its wings. We were being thrown in the air like toddlers and caught in the loving arms of the lyrics that we looked up to more than our own parents at times.
It is impossible to list all of the magical musical experiences that this decade gave. The point is that those who were there, know exactly what it felt like to try and drop the needle on a record on the exact spot to play from the beginning – because God forbid you to cut the introduction short …
Those who were there know what it smelled like to crack open the plastic that housed a brand new album filled will visual and musical upliftment. How it was sacrilegious to buy an album and just listen to what you thought was your favorite song. Albums were played from start to finish, then flipped over and played some more. The experience was the guaranteed surprise of hearing music you needed to hear before you knew you needed to hear it!
We blossomed and buried ourselves in all of it.
Never was the adage “we are one” more true than in the 70s. Sure, there was crime and drug addiction but it was not the way of life.
There were house parties, and people dressed and smelled good. No one wore tennis shoes to a party. There were no fights or guns at parties or clubs. The music wouldn’t allow it. The music left us no choice.
What was there to be angry about?
We needed this and we had it in abundance, to be shared so it would be stronger. We were unable to allow anything to separate us from the music, the joy, the ride, the oneness. The music gave us this. And we were so happy and grateful for it.