Childhood Favorites: Kiss

My 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Orsborn, was¬†shocked to discover that I was a fan of Kiss. Indeeed, I was a member of the Kiss Army; no doubt there’s a a jacket patch mouldering at the bottom of a landfill somewhere. But Kiss was my first music fandom. They were the first band that I got super enthusiastic over: watching for every new release, learning the band members’ (fictionalized) biographies, eagerly watching for every mention in the popular press. They were fun and accessible and ROCKING as all get-out. Most of all, Kiss were theatrical.

gene simmons

Gene Simmons

The Spaceman, the Demon, the Starchild, the Catman–it was 70s arena rock at its most overblown, but as a little kid I absolutely ate it up. And all the things that were true back then are still there. Kiss still shows solid songcraft, pretty good technique, and the best sense of what being a “rock star” means. I have no doubt that Gene Simmons is kind of an asshole in person (lord knows I’ve seen plenty of evidence in interviews) but that doesn’t diminish the joy he’s brought to the world.

Childhood favorites: Benny Goodman

I remember always having at least a few albums around from Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and other big band greats. Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert is a blessing–a reminder of why swing was genuinely¬†popular music in its heyday. Listen to the urgency of Krupa’s drumming, the boldness of the soloists, the complex interplay of instruments underlying the insistent throb of the beat, the excitement of the crowd. This remains one of the best live albums ever recorded and it introduced me to the giddiness and triumph of jazz music.

Childhood favorites: the Meters

You know, I think I’d adore the Meters even if they weren’t an ever-present part of my childhood. They made some of the best instrumentals in rock and roll and brought New Orleans regional sounds into the funk and soul mainstream. If you don’t know their work then ask me and I will tell you about their awesomeness ’til I’m blue in the face. This was the very first record I ever bought: the band’s tribute to New Orleans’ Audobon Zoo. “They All Asked For You”!

Childhood favorites: Johnny Horton

This is one of those that’d never happen to me nowadays. I just happened to be young and impressionable when I heard Johnny Horton’s album of historical songs. I know it sounds corny as all get-out, but looking back I think this was one of the events that sparked my interest in history. I soon started putting together plastic models of warships, airplanes, and cool cars.