Last year I wrote a long piece excavating the top 25 bands and albums of my high school years. Now I want to go on an archeological expedition even deeper into the past, back to my junior high days (1981-83) to explore my favorite bands and albums from those formative times. To do so I have to dredge deep into my memories to recall which bands I treasured and put on the highest rotation during those years. Which albums, when listening to them 35 years later, can I still remember every song lyric, every lick, and every record scratch. Which albums, when even thinking about them now, conjure forth a cascade of dim and distant memories of “good times, bad times” with friends and family from my formative years.
As everyone knows, junior high (at least in the USA if not universally) is a formative period where you start to feel the tug of puberty (I was a late bloomer) and begin to learn something about the facts of life. It’s an intense period of human development, and the music that one listens to in this phase must have a long and enduring influence on one’s musical life. Since I’ve made music a big part of my own life and my research and writing, it makes sense to plumb this time in my life to understand how I came to love the music that I do.
So here goes.
6. AC-DC: Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)
I associate this band and album with a school chum from those days, Sean Scott. We must have shared a love for the intense bluesy hard rocking sounds of this band, and sniggered at all the dirty jokes embedded in their albums (as in all great blues songs). When you’re a suburban boy pushing 12, who doesn’t want big balls? I believe I bought this album at the Burlington Mall (I grew up in Acton MA). I remember putting it on in my room and having wild coke parties (the drink, not the drug!) that took us out onto the rooftop above our shed out my bedroom window, and also putting on the album full blast while playing basketball in our driveway (my stepdad had put up a net above our garage, a bit lower than standard height but perfect for that age). I have loved this band ever since, and maybe that’s one reason I gravitated to the Beijing indie rock band SUBS while working on my doc film on Chinese indie rock in 2007.
5. The Kinks: Give the People What They Want
This album came out in 1982 and I remember buying it (don’t know where) and it became one of the big soundtracks to my junior high days. Some of the songs got some airplay but it wasn’t a big album, and I don’t know exactly why I decided to buy it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band, but something about this album and the lead song “Destroyer” really appealed to me. It had a raw untempered feel to it (still does) and the songs told stories that were, well, kinky (all puns intended). There was one about an art lover who likes little girls (“I’m not a flasher in a raincoat, I’m not a dirty old man...I’m an art lover, come to daddy...”) and it was the kind of stuff that a 12 year boy old could savor. “Doctor doctor help me please, I know you’ll understand...” I have memories and associations of this band and album with a childhood friend Scott Egan, and with going to the skating rink in our town on a Saturday night, even though they would never have played this album there. Instead they played bands like Foreigner and Journey, who I couldn’t stand back then. I wanted them to rev up a Kinks album but it just didn’t fit the environment of the roller rink.
4. The Tubes: The Tubes (Side B) and Completion Backwards Principle (Side A)
Many of my musical tastes and choice bands in this period were influenced by my step-father, Andy Bodge. In 1978, he met my mother Liz, and soon after that we moved into our Victorian era home on 53 Windsor Ave. in West Acton. In 1980 they were married in a beautiful wedding held in New Harbor Maine where my mom’s parents had a summer home (coincidentally my dad also married my step-mother Virginia later that year). This was a transitional time for sure, getting used to a new dad and a new home while also starting on my own journey to manhood. Though it wasn’t always a smooth relationship, one thing that really bonded us over the years (and still does today) was our love for music. Other than my biological dad Jeff Field, nobody has had a larger influence on me musically than my step-dad Andy (though my mom comes close too). This was one of the bands that Andy B liked, and I grew to like them too. Hailing from San Francisco, they were a hard rocking band with a humorous edge and lots of novelty songs, but also some deep dark ones. Their eponymous album that came out in 1975 had a rather shocking cover and as a kid of 12 I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. There was a lot of twisted sexuality and other dark stuff. I always played side B because I loved the song “What do you Want from Life?” (I can still recite it from memory nearly 40 years on). The final song “White Punks on Dope” taught me to avoid drugs : ) Sometime in junior high, we acquired their 1981 album Completion Backwards Principle and that soon went on heavy rotation, but only Side A with its novelty toon “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman” and the orientalist song “Sushi Girl” where I first learned about the Tokyo district of Shinjuku. I associate these songs with my daily walk on Route 111 from West Acton to the R J Gray Junior High School in the middle of town. Even today I still have occasional dreams about that walk.
3. The Doors: Strange Days and The Doors
Another favorite of my step-dad Andy was the Doors, another California band from LA. Andy B grew up in California (or at least spent part of his childhood there) so that might be the reason he gravitated to Cali bands. When I was around 10 or 11, we took a big trip to San Francisco to visit his dad Alan Bodge, who lived in Sebastopol, and Andy took me and my sister to Anaheim for our first visit to Disneyland. While I don’t associate this album with any of those memories, I do remember first getting into the Doors in a big way in junior high, and they went on heavy rotation in our home. I associate the band and its funky Kurt Weill-inspired tunes with memories of driving up to New Hampshire with Andy B to watch him do time trials in his red Lotus (which he still owns today and has spent a great deal of effort fixing up over the decades), and with his friends the Hills who lived in Lebanon, whom he met while a student at Dartmouth. Their son Andy Hill was around my age and we also shared a lot of the same musical tastes including this band and the final and most important band in my lineup.
2. Led Zeppelin: Houses of the Holy and In Through the Out Door
No junior high school education would be complete without a dosage of Led Zep. While I wasn’t the type of kid who grew his hair long and wore outsized t-shirts of heavy metal bands, I always loved this hard-rocking band which traveled a bluesy, folksy road deep into Middle Earth. Again, it was probably Andy Bodge who introduced me to them, and he had some of their early albums, but I also associate this album with my neighborhood friends Marc and Pete Bennett. It was around this time that my mates Marc, Pete, Steve, and Jon and I were deep into Dungeons and Dragons, and I was also reading the Lords of the Rings trilogy, so fantasy was on my mind as I listened to this album with its weird cover and songs like “Over the Hills and Far Away” (if that isn’t a nod to old Bilbo Baggins I don’t know what is). I think I must have bought it at the local K-Mart, though that seems strange to me now, but I believe I picked up quite a few records there over the years. Many years later, when I was studying guitar, I learned how to play the “Rain Song” and today this song still haunts me to my bones. When I think about these albums I think about roaming “over the hills and far away” with my childhood mates by bike or by foot to swim and fish in local ponds and streams and occasionally camp out in the starry Acton night.
1. The Who: Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, Sell Out/A Quick One (Double Album), Tommy
If there was a band that defined my junior high years, it was The Who. This band replaced the Beatles as my all time favorite band. Once again, this was an Andy Bodge legacy and he had collected many of their albums over the years, but I do remember buying Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy and again associate that one more with my pals the Bennett brothers. It was full of childlike novelty tunes like “Happy Jack” and also angsty teenage tunes like “My Generation” and as a compilation album it introduced me to some of their best songs from their early years. I also bought a double album Sell Out/A Quick One and remember it was on heavy rotation in my room for a while. While in junior high I started studying guitar at the Acton Music Center and didn’t get very far but I do remember trying to learn the song “Sunrise,” a haunting tune by Pete Townshend that still sends chills up my spine. And then there was Tommy. I can remember just about every scratch on that old double album which I devoured. I loved how the band told stories and this was a weird one for sure, about a deaf dumb and blind boy who loves playing pinball, but somehow in the tangled brain of a 12 year old it all made sense. I associate this band with summer camp (Camp Coniston up in New Hampshire which I and my sister and cousin attended for five years) and remember making a Who sign as part of an arts and crafts class (wish I kept it but must have thrown it away years ago). And I went around wearing a Who t-shirt to which this photo attests. Another thing I recall is that Casey Casem, a popular radio DJ at the time, did a big show covering all The Who songs over the years, and I recorded it and listened to it frequently. Decades later, when Pete Townshend wrote his memoir, Andy B gave it to me as a Christmas gift, and while reading it, I could hear every lick and lyric of every song he mentions in his story, and it was just one revelation after another. I can’t explain...