WYSO's Four Albums From High School: Tod Weidner
Seasons are changing, and back to school time has arrived again. Inspired by a social media meme making the rounds earlier in the summer, we asked our music hosts here at WYSO to reminisce on their high school years and pick four albums that they found or were released during that time that have stuck with them ever since. Today's picks from the past come to us from The Jewel Case's Tod Weidner.
I got an email from the station asking me to name four albums that were important or influential to me during my high school years. Those are two very appropriate adjectives, because that’s an era when the music you latch onto takes on a mystical level of significance. Your mileage may, of course, vary but, for me, my life up to then had been relatively trauma- and adventure-free. Without much other outside stimuli to shape me, I looked to music to help define who I was. The music choices a kid makes in the social petri dish of those four years are crucial – at least they sure seem that way at the time.
I grew up in rural Miami County, and my high school years lasted from Fall of 1984 to Spring of 1988. My folks liked music just fine, but they didn’t listen to it for pleasure that much, and there was no rock & roll in the house. This wasn’t for the usual religious reasons, mind you – my dad graduated high school in 1947, and had been teaching at that same school (the same one I would eventually attend, as well) for a few years already when Elvis went into the Army (he recalls how ridiculous it seemed, all the girls in his classes sobbing at photos of him getting his boot camp crew cut). My mom was young enough for rock and roll but, for whatever reason, seemed a bit ambivalent about it. So, with the exception of a few old scratched 45s, my sister and I were left to find stuff on our own. What’s more, we didn’t have cable, so MTV wasn’t available to shape our tastes, either. It was radio – either Top 40 pop or what’s now known as “classic rock” – that served as our conduits. I actually went through a swing/big band phase in middle school (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how cool that made me in 8th grade) before the local oldies station became Z93, but that’s another story.
I would love to say that The Clash saved my life in high school, or that I would sneak out to all-age punk shows, but none of that stuff had really reached Milton-Union High School yet in the second half of the 80s. We were just too far out in the sticks. I found out about a lot more music once I started college, but I still have a very soft spot in my heart for these four cassettes – that’s right, CASSETTES, because 80s – that define those four weird years of my life:
1. The Beatles - The Beatles (AKA “The White Album”) (1968)
Oh, this album. It’s hard to remember these days – when I buy music constantly – that I used to save up allowance and little bits of money I could scrape together until I had enough to get a ride to the mall or the Troy K-Mart and buy a new cassette. That cassette would end up being my whole world for the next month or so, until I could afford the next one. It’s a great way to listen, really; you have all the time in the world to really analyze a record, and the White Album is jammed full of weird little moments.
A lot of folks say what an amazing SINGLE album The White Album would have made if it had been edited down, but I think they’re missing the point. It’s the “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road”s and the “Revolution #9”s and the “Bungalow Bill”s that make the record so fascinating. I LIVED in this album in the spring and summer of ‘85. It is and always will be my favorite Beatles record, and occupies a safe, permanent spot in my All-Time Top 5.
2. The Rolling Stones - The Story Of the Stones (1982)
This was a two-tape set put out by K-Tel (remember the K-Tel TV ads?) that I picked up in the K-Mart bargain bin, and my first exposure to the Stones. It’s a weird selection of songs, similar to the more popular and legit Hot Rocks best-of comp: songs from their early career with Decca Records that they lost legal control over to their shifty manager Allen Klein (again – another story).
But here’s the thing that makes this pick special to me – the copy I got was, for some reason, manufactured at a speed a least a few steps slower than normal. Since both cassettes of my set have the same issue, I can only assume that I’m not the only customer it happened to. BUT, since I had no real prior history with the Rolling Stones catalog, I was none the wiser until I heard the songs elsewhere and couldn’t figure out why they were SO FAST. Some of those songs still feel better to me at the K-Tel speed – “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Satisfaction” are great songs, but you should hear them slowed down – thick, nasty, and more menacing. It’s a bit of serendipity that made me a Stones fan for life.
3. Prince & The Revolution - Purple Rain Soundtrack (1984)
I remember the night I first heard “Let’s Go Crazy” on the radio. A great faux-gospel “Dearly beloved…” intro, giving way to a driving, crunchy tune. Ok, I’m on board. I need to own this. Then, out of nowhere – the paint-peeling guitar solo at the end hit me right between the eyes. I remember thinking, “I don’t know what he’s doing, or how he’s doing it, but I want to learn how to do that”. This is one of maybe two or three albums that made me want to play guitar, so it will always be special to me. It’s overflowing with fantastic songs, just naughty enough to make you want to hide it from your parents and, aside from some dated-sounding drum programming, it still holds up remarkably well.
Oh, and I STILL can’t play that solo at the end. Thanks a lot, Prince.
4. Van Halen - Diver Down (1982)
It’s really impossible to overstate the importance of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen to me in high school. They were my band. I loved everything about them. I would have killed or died for them. My obsession with Eddie Van Halen blurred the lines between fandom and identity crisis – I didn’t want to be *like* Eddie, I wanted to BE Eddie (In retrospect, with all I’ve read about him since, I’m glad I wasn’t, but YOU try convincing 16-year-old Tod otherwise. I’ll Wait. [no pun intended]).
Van Halen understood the hormones of teenage kids – boys, especially. Realistically, I could have put VH I, VH II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, or 1984 in this spot, but I’m going with the dark horse candidate, Diver Down. Nobody in the band seems to like this album very much; it was tossed off quickly, it’s only a little over half an hour long, there are five cover songs on it... the list goes on and on. For me, though, it takes me back to late summer/early fall of my sophomore year. I was finally learning how to make more than noises on my new electric guitar. I was unspeakably smitten with the head football cheerleader (of course), who was dating the quarterback (of course). This record makes me think of her and the smell of dry grass and leaves, the last gasp of pre-driver’s license teen angst, and about a dozen other things, some good, some not so good. Really, when you get right down to it, music you love is as much about context as it is about the music itself.
And “Secrets” is a straight-up beautiful song, one of the best in their whole doggone catalog, or anybody else’s. Fight me.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jimi Hendrix - Kiss The Sky (1984)
I can’t really leave Jimi off the list. This is yet another compilation (I seemed to be drawn to those back in the day), curated by the infamous Alan Douglas, the less-than-savory custodian of Hendrix’s catalog from the time of Jimi’s death until the mid-90s or so. It has a lot of the hits one would expect (“Purple Haze” “Watchtower”, etc.) interspersed with some inspired left-field choices (“Stepping Stone”, a great live “I Don’t Live Today”, “Third Stone From the Sun”), and it makes for a very entertaining listen. Oh, yeah – and it was one of the few tapes I brought along with me on a class trip to Europe, so... again, context. I haven’t seen a copy of it in years, but it’s worth tracking down if you can find it.
Listen to Tod every Thursday night from 8-11 PM on The Jewel Case.
Editor's Note: I made my best attempt to locate a track from both compilations to no avail. I'll get you next time, Tod. —Evan
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