I’ve been thinking about a particular record this week. There have been so many great releases in the last little while (Radiohead, James Blake, Joan as Policewoman, Buddy Miller’s Majestic Silver Strings, Gregg Allman, etc.) that it’s been easy to forget about older albums. This is an older one, as you can tell from the cover.
Langley is a small city just down the road from Vancouver. In the 1970s, a rock musician was somehow hired as a music teacher for two schools in the district. Without a set curriculum, and without formal music training, he decided to teach the kids what he knew: rock and roll. His classes weren’t so much about the mechanics of music but about giving the kids a chance to discover the joy of making music. And discover joy they did!
In the late 70s, two different concerts were recorded that featured these classes. The recordings were made in a gymnasium with virtually no budget – and you can tell. There is no studio gloss and no post-production sheen on these recordings. The piano is out of tune as is the guitar (played by the teacher) but the spirit of the music more than makes up for its technical deficiencies.
The songs were collected from a variety of artists and many of them were hits – “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows” from the Beach Boys (the later being arguably the greatest pop song EVER), “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings, “Saturday Night” by The Bay City Rollers, and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, just to name a few. But there are three songs that stand out as highlights each time I listen.
Highlight 1 – The Eagles’ “Desperado”. This song is one of the few solo numbers on the recording and features a nine-year-old girl who, while maybe not the equal of Don Henley’s delivery, absolutely destroys the Linda Ronstadt version. Her singing is so fragile and pure that the lyric becomes heartbreaking – it’s as if she is singing to her wayward father. Amazing!
Highlight 2 – David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. As with the original recorded version, there are a variety of bells and other strange sounds on this song. However, most, if not all of them are performed by the children and so the timing is a little… loose. But the song actually takes on an even more unsettling feel due to these sounds being slightly out of time. You can’t plan genius like this.
Highlight 3 – The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda”. Apparently the children arrived to every class and asked to sing this song, and you can hear their love of it in their performance. This is the joy of music-making, plain and simple. The sheer exuberance of this performance always reminds me why I started playing music in the first place.
Can you feel it? Can you feel how much the kids love the song? And how much they love singing their part to make the song work? Do you remember feeling like that? Do you still feel like that? Allow this song to encourage you to enjoy what we do together. To not take ourselves so seriously that we forget why we do it. To impart our love of music to those whom we teach, play with, and play for. And, lastly, allow this song to remind you to tune your instrument.
Until next time…
Update: I just came across this link when a friend asked where he could hear more of this music. All the songs are here. Enjoy!