A Father's Duty: Listening to Worn-Out Classics

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a cheery little ditty titled Five Things I Hate About Music. In case you somehow haven't read it (that was a joke, although I do seem to have a few deeply disturbed readers), one of the five was Obvious Songs.

While expanding on said annoyance, I took to task local classic rock radio legend KSLX. I claimed that I had a tough time listening to KSLX because "I go nuts in about 25 minutes because every song it plays is so damn obvious."

When I submitted it, my editor mentioned the irony that Up on the Sun had named KSLX "Best Classic Rock" radio station in its 7 Best Radio Stations in Metro Phoenix blog posted earlier that day.

After my initial "How the fuck could the New Times staff have decided on 'Best Classic Rock' anything without polling the old man?" reaction, I started a month-long experiment on the subject of worn-out music.

Wow, Kids, Your Idea of a Deep Cut Is Pretty Shallow

To my editor's credit, he didn't suppress my conflicting opinion.

He did send me the link to their take. I read the article immediately.

I absolutely agreed with my fellow writers' suggestion to "screw anyone who says [classic] rock is just for dads." I hailed their contention that Mötley Crüe was never actually good.

And obviously, I shared the sentiment that "you've heard those same old Aerosmith hits a hundred times on other stations."

However, I completely disagreed with the key assertion that I wasn't hearing those same old hits on KSLX because it does some "serious crate digging."

Deep Aerosmith on KSLX? Surely, you jest. Try "Walk This Way" or "Dream On" or maybe "Love in an Elevator."

I have been listening to the station on and off since I arrived here in 1987, and I feel safe in saying that outside their specialty shows (which the blog noted, and I agree, is one of KSLX's bright spots), the chances are minimal that you going to hear "No More, No More" or "S.O.S.," or anything deeper than Aerosmith's Top Ten.

And it's only Top Ten because Aerosmith is a legend. An overwhelming number of bands that it plays don't go deeper than one or two songs.

So I wrote my editor back and um, politely disagreed.

I didn't disagree that KSLX is a Valley legend. Not even with the idea that it is the "Best Classic Rock Station" in the Valley (although that's like saying I'm my kids' best dad since there aren't any other classic rock stations).

I just disagree that it plays deep cuts.

As the senior dad of the staff (truth be told, I don't know anyone on the staff; that's just a hypothesis) and a self-proclaimed classic rock expert, I felt I had to do so.

Besides, arguing about relatively unimportant, music-related stuff like this is the most fun part of being a record store geek.

Uh, I'm Not Sure That's the Scientific Process.

So I set upon my quest to prove my contentions, and from that point on, for about a month now, I've been listening to KSLX in the car.

My daily routine is almost entirely Tempe-based, so thankfully I don't spend much time in my car. Like most people, I don't enjoy commuting.

And as I mentioned in the initial blog, this "obvious song" data-collection process is aurally painful for me.

Nevertheless, in the interest of my half-assed Record Store Geek research, I listened.

And the obvious songs flowed, and I confirmed . . .

KSLX is not deep.

I'll grant you that "deep" is a relative term, but I assure you I was being generous.

I wrote down stuff for the first day or two. "Fortunate Son," "Another One Bites the Dust," "Heartache Tonight," "Cats in the Cradle." One non-deep cut after the next.

It wasn't until the third day that I turned on the station and heard my first two non-obvious songs:

Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Still . . . You Turn Me On" and Dire Straits' "Romeo and Juliet"

"Finally," I thought, "a break in the obvious."

My amazement lasted until the DJ's voice chimed in.

At which point, I was informed that I was listening to The Acoustic Storm, a specialty show.

Oops. Doesn't count. It's not the basic programming. We all agree the specialty shows are good.

Anyway, it's been going on like this all month. The only time I hear a deep cut is during a specialty show, syndicated or otherwise.

"Good Times, Bad Times?" Must be Get the Led Out.

"Can't You Hear Me Knocking?" (which I heard today as I took a writing break to go pick up my kid at baseball practice). Must be Six O'Clock Stoner.

So What Did Your Study Reveal, Dr. Record Store Geek?

The findings of my study: I'm right.

KSLX generally plays worn-out music. It's classic rock candy for the mainstream masses, and no place for anybody looking to go deep into the world of rock 'n' roll. It's been here forever, so obviously, it works. It just isn't deep.

So if I'm right, why am I questioning my stance on the avoidance of obvious music?

Why I have I decided to make sure I throw on KSLX in the car once in a while, even though my research is over?

"White Rabbit."

You know, the Jefferson Airplane song.

"One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all."

Their most obvious song (although "Somebody to Love" is close)?

Oh, you don't know?

I have no idea how you don't know, but that's fucked up.

One Man's Worn Out Classic Is Another Kid's Fresh New Song

So, I have been rethinking this. As a result of my "study," and two related events.

First, it turns out that the person in my life who hadn't heard the Airplane's obvious psychedelic classic was my 15-year old son. My music nut. The one I've been grooming all his life (see: The Two Albums Before Bed Rule). The one who knows more about classic rock than most of my friends.

We're cruising along, listening to KSLX, and I'm doing what I've been doing all month.

Pronouncing KSLX songs as obvious. Like the pain in the ass that I am.

Grace kicked in, and I started in on my diatribe about the worn-out nature of "White Rabbit." You know -- one song makes me nauseous, and one song makes me puke -- that sort of snarfy stuff.

"I've never heard this song, Dad," the kid says.

"Are you shitting me?" (I hadn't even considered the possibility that he hadn't heard it.)

He wasn't.

"Wow. That's not right," I thought. I might be sick of it now, but it was pretty damn good the first 500 times I heard it.

Oh, By the Way, Which One's PInk?

Second, I was hanging out with my old Hoodlums pal and manager, Andy, who now manages Revolver Records in Tempe, and we were approached by a young customer.

The kid was 25. Open-minded. Vinyl buyer.

He said, "Can you help me find some classic rock?"

You could tell he was into the music.

A few quick questions revealed that he was clueless about great rock 'n' roll albums.

The stuff that I call obvious.

Do you have any albums by Neil Young? CSN? Allman Brothers? Cars? Van Halen? Petty? Zeppelin? Beatles?


But the kid knew songs. Enough to guide us.

And if he grew up here, he more than likely heard those songs on KSLX.

We set him up with five great albums for under 20 bucks, and sent him on his way, content in knowing that we had contributed to his soul, and started him on the path to the glorious depths of rock 'n' roll.

For Him, It Feels Like the First Time

And I felt that feeling that I've gotten so many times before.

Musical jealousy.

For the kid that was going to hear Brothers and Sisters for the first time. For the kid making his journey into the heart of rock 'n' roll.

(For more on this subject, read Why I Own a Record Store: First Listen Jealousy).

And I thought about my sons and daughters -- and I hoped they would make a similar music journey -- and find all those classics albums the same way that I did.

And I remembered something really important: The journey starts with the songs.

The obvious songs.

They need to hear them, so I might have to suffer through them a few more times to help them on their journey. It's my duty as a father.

If it's the worst sacrifice I have to make for them (it isn't, but that's a blog in itself), then I guess I'll be okay.

So fire up the KSLX. Break out the Greatest Hits. Let's party.

Thanks for reading.

Steve Wiley is Up on the Sun's resident Record Store Geek and Jackalope Ranch's Parent Hood.

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