Steven Page,
The TVD First Date

“I grew up with parents who loved music, so there were always records playing on our stereo at home.”

“My folks had a record collection that, to a seven-year-old, seemed slightly impenetrable: jazz artists like Joe Williams and Oscar Peterson, folkies like Ian and Sylvia or Buffy Sainte-Marie, or stuff I thought was just plain mushy like Charles Aznavour. Of course, years later I realized the awesomeness of all of these artists and am grateful for being exposed to them at such a young age.

However, looking back, it strikes me that my Dad must have bought in the neighborhood of one rock album per year: Sgt. Pepper, Abbey Road, Hey Jude (aka “The Beatles Again”), Blood, Sweat and Tears, Joni Mitchell’s Clouds, CSNY’s Deja Vu, the Chicago album with the chocolate bar on the cover, Bee Gees’ Main Course, Clapton’s Slowhand, Hotel California, and then the descent into Dad buying only singles, ones like Kansas’ “Dust In the Wind,” because he didn’t much care about getting to know the rest of the album. For which I say thank you, Dad.

Dad loved to sing along to songs on the radio in his clear, high tenor, especially ones that had intricate beats to which he could drum his rings on the steering wheel and dashboard. He’s a great drummer and this rare display of abandon was both thrilling and embarrassingly intimate to my little brother and me in the back seat of our AMC Matador. The most exciting would be when Dad enjoyed a song so much that he’d buy the 45 of it. Like, for example, the double A-side of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” / “We Will Rock You.” That was exciting to have in the house. I liked “We Will Rock You,” Dad liked “We Are The Champions” because of the high anthemic singing. I was seven. He later bought “Another One Bites The Dust” and I played it over and over and over until he told me to stop. I said, “But I thought you liked that song?” to which he replied, “I did.”

Most of the aforementioned rock titles still make me feel weird. Songs for other people. Of the list, only The Beatles, Queen, and Bee Gees still resonate deeply with me, along with my mom’s Aznavour collection (it took me well into my twenties to realize she was right about him). Then came the inevitable surrender to full-blown adulthood, when popular music seemed to tell people in their late 30s that rock was no longer for them. That was the ’70s. Air Supply, Anne Murray, and Kenny Rogers were the new voices of family car rides and full LPs of their Greatest Hits lived on the living room stereo. Seems like defeat, but honestly, I’ll defend every one of those artists and their catalogs to the death.

There were hours I’d spend lying on the white shag carpet of my parents’ living room, huge Realistic-brand headphones from Radio Shack covering my white-blond penis-head pixie cut, staring at The Beatles, reading every word on the sleeve, wondering if my mom would let me wear some of her silk scarves so I could feel like Ringo at that final photo shoot—the one that would end up on the Hey Jude album, one that I didn’t realize was a compilation of music from 6 years, but at least 3 distinct eras of Beatledom. I thought it was just a great album. And it is.

The next stage began with asking for my own albums (besides the kiddie ones like the 7” of “Inchworm” that came free with your purchase of Romper Room’s “Inchworm” riding toy. I can still sing it word for word if you ask nicely). This phase was hit-or-miss. I asked for and received Kiss’ Originals (their first three albums packaged together with a poster and some Kiss Army stickers) and enjoyed the stickers and looking at the pictures. Didn’t spend a lot of time familiarizing myself with the music.

And then I asked for and received the record that changed my life forever. The one I’d been seeing the ads for on TV over and over: K-Tel’s Goofy Greats. It was a double album filled with “novelty songs” ranging from Ray Stevens’ “The Streak” and deeply problematic “Ahab the Arab,” to bubblegum classics like “1-2-3 Red Light” and “Yummy Yummy Yummy” all the way over to The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” and The Standells’ “Dirty Water.” Sure, go ahead and call two of the most exciting and important garage-rock performances “goofy.” It’ll prepare me for my own critics later in life.

Regardless, this record, along with The Beatles stuff (note that my parents owned no Beatles records before 1967—they were 22 years old with full-time teaching jobs when the Beatles played Ed Sullivan. This was stuff was for their students, not them!), taught me more than nearly any other record has before or since.

The third stage of listening to records is perhaps the most important—the first records one buys with one’s own money. I think sometimes people ask others about the first record they purchased with their own money in either in hopes of humiliating the one answering, the questioner hoping it’s “Macarena” or something inexcusable in their mind. (Pro tip: If you get asked that question and your answer is something along the lines of “Macarena,” “Mambo #5,” or “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” if asked why, the correct answer is “Because it’s rad and I like to dance.”)

Although I bought an Elvis single of “Bossa Nova Baby” b/w “Witchcraft” for 25c at a garage sale on my street, I played it on 33 1/3 by mistake and it scared me (years later I heard “Telephone Call From Istanbul” by Tom Waits and understood why. Mid-period Waits has a lot in common with Elvis 45s played at 33). On top of that my parents said they didn’t much care for Elvis. He died later that summer. I hope that showed them…

The first single I ever bought with my own money was “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. I was visiting my grandmother in Florida so it must have been March 1978. Seven years old. It was not long before I was told that “disco sucked” as did the Bee Gees. One of the greatest groups of the 20th Century—decade after decade—sucked. And I apparently was gay for liking them as was the t-shirt I got at the mall with a “Steve” on the back and the front festooned with a photo transfer of the Gibb brothers onstage, spotlights shining from the rear lighting truss directly over my nipples. I put that record away for a while, but I did listen to it a lot before I did.

The next step was buying my first full-length album with my own money. For me, it was Get The Knack by The Knack, probably December 1979. I was taken with “Good Girls Don’t,” especially the harmonica, but also the feel, the hyperactive tempo, and Doug Fieger’s leering, conspiratorial voice. I got it home and quickly realized it was a headphones-only album, as there were bad words and stuff that was definitely about sex, although I couldn’t identify exactly what. I didn’t want to be responsible for my little brother coming into the room and suddenly learning about the world on my watch.

Still, the record SOUNDS so incredible—great songs, incredible playing, one guitar panned hard left, the other panned hard right. Booming, almost out of control drums. And those dirty lyrics. But most of all, I’d listen to the record staring at the picture of their band on the back, dressed in black and white against white cyclorama, a Strat and a Les Paul and a Precision Bass. It’s been my archetype for a rock band ever since.

I spent years on the road searching for albums that had long been out of print and never released on CD, which, in the ’90s meant huge swaths of Neil Young or Harry Nilsson’s catalog. Carrying stacks of vinyl in my suitcase has always been a pain in the ass, but the sense of accomplishment in finding a record for I’d been hunting, or one I’d not previously known about, always outweighed the inconvenience.

Nowadays, when I’m about to unleash some old fogeyism about how much better the old days were, I remind my self that the ease of finding music, whether it’s on a streaming service as you’re driving in a van from gig to gig or to be played on your turntable at home, is an awesome blessing. The thrill of the hunt can still be experienced; there are lots of albums still not available digitally, and vinyl both new and used can arrive at your doorstep within days of falling down some YouTube “what records did Jesse Ed Davis play on” rabbit hole. Life is good for music lovers these days. Just remember that it’s not the weight of the vinyl, it’s what’s in the grooves that counts.
Steven Page

Steven Page’s new album Discipline: Heal Thyself, Pt. II arrives in stores September 14, 2018 via Fresh Baked Goods / Warner Music Canada—on vinyl. Pre-order the signed LP here.

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PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN

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