Thought for the Day:
“Finding old music you used to love is like getting back in touch with an old friend.”
Question for the Day:
Are you a fan of old school music?
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m all about good old school music also known as “grown folks music,” “my joints from back in the day,” “old school classics,” “slow jams,” “baby making music,” etc. This is generally the music of choice amongst 40 plus folks like myself, who tend to gripe about today’s music and long for a resurgence of the “real music” of yesteryear. (Guilty!) Despite my childrens’ efforts to convince me that Nicki Minaj and Migos deserve their props, in my opinion, there is no comparison between constant booty references and “skirrt skirrt” noises and the classics of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s that educated, inspired, encouraged, and empowered. (Fight me! Lol)
Basically, I’m an unapologetic “old head” meaning my favorite songs are usually the ones that invoke childhood memories and make up the soundtrack to my coming of age. Songs from the golden era, still have the power to instantly transport me to a better time and place with just one song. As a sensitive soul, nothing seems to get down to the bottom of how I’m feeling quicker than an old school classic. Thankfully, I grew up in a home with a father who was a professional singer and lover of music himself. We had one of those wide floor model stereo consoles that could play LPs as well as eight tracks, which meant listening to good music was a given. My parents had an impressive collection of all of my favorite soul, jazz and folk artists including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Nina Simone, John Coltrane, Nancy Wilson and Donny Hathaway to name a few. I’ll never forget the first time I heard Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You.” I couldn’t have been older than 4 or 5, but that song hit me straight in my gut and seemed to help me understand love, heartbreak and pain at a level that was at least two decades beyond my chronological age. To this day, it still might be my favorite song of all time.
The village who raised me also further nurtured by love for music. Memories such as my cousin Katy playing “Reunited” by Peaches and Herb over and over in her small sunny apartment in Long Beach, CA come to mind. I also remember my sister’s friend and my babysitter Demarsha playing “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club, “Got To There” by the Jackson 5 and “Square Biz” by Teena Marie while she cleaned. My cousin Vivian also introduced me to Lakeside and LTD when she came to California to stay with us while she went to school. She took me on a “Fantastic Voyage” every time she bumped her records and the vibe her music brought to our home was unforgettable. So basically, I had no choice but to love the old school because it had a hand in raising me. Music has always served as a personal escape for me and provides an outlet for troubling thoughts and emotions. It remains one of my most effective coping strategies and here are my top five reasons why.
Old School Music Inspired Love
Today’s music is tragically sex-obsessed and there is very little mention of the word “love” unless it’s referencing one’s love of money or big booties. Nowadays, it generally doesn’t take more than the first few bars of a song to be hit with graphic descriptions of sex acts that I didn’t even know about until adulthood. In 2020, there is nothing left to our kids’ imagination as they are informed about sex to a degree that is not proportional to their stage of development or level of maturity. Granted, old school artists did sing about sex, but when they did, it was usually within the context of a loving, committed relationship. Artists from back in the day sang about making love as a way to express their emotions to someone special, and the value of love always outweighed the value of sex. Song’s like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” or The Manhattan’s “Shining Star” made me want to share the love I had with someone special rather than share my body with someone random.
Old School Music Required Talent
Most of the artists of today wouldn’t even be good enough to secure a meeting at Motown or Stax Records. With old school artists, there was no overuse of synthesizers, auto tune (with the exception of Roger Troutman), sound effects, reverb, filters, distortion, and digital beats to compensate for one’s lackluster vocal ability. In order to get a record deal back in the day, you actually had to be able to sing. And even then, singing was only the beginning of what was expected. Old school artists were required to execute real musicianship with actual live instruments, choreography, style and stage presence. There were no hype man to pick up the slack if you ran out of energy. Instead, bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, Frankie Beverly and Maze, and Kool and the Gang would be ten or more members deep and still be giving us full on singing, live music, and choreography from the top to the bottom of every single show. The talent I grew up appreciating had nothing to do with distracting people with a pretty package as to not draw attention to a lack of talent. The music that raised me actually required skill.
Old School Music Wasn’t All About Image
Now, I personally think Luther Vandross, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, and Teddy Pendergrass were handsome men and my mother and all the ladies of her generation would wholeheartedly agree. However, I sometimes wonder if their unfiltered masculinity and straight up grown man appeal would even be seen as “marketable” today. Today’s artists are all subject to having their image constructed and their art watered down by mainstream branding. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find an album with a man who resembled your father or uncle on the cover like we had back in the day. We had artists that looked like they could be part of our families which is what connected them to us as fans. It also gave us hope that, with enough talent, we too could achieve success. Would some of our female pioneers such as Aretha Franklin or Betty Wright, though beautiful black queens, have a chance at securing a contract today? Though undeniable talents, they may still be overlooked as the music industry’s current climate values big butts, light skin, and over the top custom lacefonts as initial criteria, with talent becoming an afterthought. White is the New Black I’m so grateful to have come up in an era when a beautiful black woman could grace the cover of an album with no make up and a glistening afro and not have her beauty questioned or denied. Listening to old school artists continues to remind me to value what matters most and to never lose sight of what makes a person and their art truly beautiful.
Old School Music Taught us to Celebrate Life
I don’t care what anybody says, “ain’t no party like an old school party, cause an old school party don’t stop!” I still remember my parents hosting parties at our house when I was young. I would watch as our family and friends partied to songs like “Street Life” by the Crusaders or “The Hustle” by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony. I later would remember dancing to songs like “Paul Revere” by the Beastie Boys in junior high and “Groove Me” by Guy in high school. And don’t even get me started on my time as a coed at Howard University. Songs like “Check the Rhyme” by Tribe Called Quest and “This or That” by Black Sheep kept the party jumpin’! Today’s artists, if they’re not bragging about sexual conquests, are typically all about thuggin’, toting guns, running drugs or being depressed and confused. Black people in generally have always faced struggles, but where old school music used to help us focus on the positives, today’s music seems to focus on the negatives. We were inspired to celebrate the good that life still has to offer, but the music of today seems to inspire our young people, already short on hope, to give up even sooner.
Old School Music Empowered Us
I don’t know what today’s Top 100 will teach our children about who they are but judging by the lyrics I hear on the radio, they’re likely to see themselves as as either thugs, sperm donors, or as Meg Thee Stallion says “sassy, moody, nasty.” I miss the days when William Devaughn taught us to “Be Thankful for What You Got,” James Brown encouraged us to “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and Queen Latifah told us we were queens worthy of the “Respect” Aretha sang about. Bill Withers got us motivated by teaching us to appreciate a “Lovely Day,” Curtis Mayfield taught us to “Keep on Keeping On” and Nina Simone made us acknowledge that we were “Young, Gifted and Black.” Whenever I doubt myself, there’s nothing like a little old school music to get me back in focus.
Old school music has helped shape my understanding of who I am as a Black woman and taught me to value the capacity to love others. In my opinion, it’s called “soul music” because it can touch us in a place that transcends our current reality and connects us with what I believe the joy of heaven might feel like. The 60s, 70s and 80s gave us the blueprint and planted the seeds for hip hop and 90s R&B which, along with gospel music, further rounded out my musical sensibilities. Hip hop demonstrated for me how to let go and be free, while 90s R&B taught me how to fall in love at a time when I was most open to it. To this day, I have a collection of CDs and tapes that I protect almost as much as one of my kids! On rough days, I break it out and take myself back to a simpler time when hope and love abounded. Classic music allows me to release my fears and reminds me of the beauty this life has to offer. If you’re like me, you have to continue believing that good still exists if you’re going to make it through these disheartening times. So the next time you feel like giving up, take one Marvin Gaye , one Patti Labelle and two Big Luthers and call me in the morning. 🙂
“Singers and dancers alike say, “all my springs are in you.”