My main solace and support during an unhappy adolescence was my radio. I remember it as good-sized and rectangular with a wood finish. It sat on the little night table by my bed, and was always set to the same channel — WRPI, the station (still in existence) of the nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, staffed and run by college students.
WRPI played what was then called progressive rock — rock songs that were outside the Top 40 hits that the commercial stations played. These could be songs, available only on albums, by performers who had Top 40 hits, or songs by performers considered esoteric or “experimental” enough that they were outside the Top 40 sphere altogether. Among other things, “progressive rock” offered me more introspective, poetic music that knew something about the deeper world of my feelings.
Since then my tastes have expanded, from ultra-introspective Mahler and Bruckner to wildly joyous Sonny Rollins and much in between (I also attempt my own contribution). The advent of YouTube some years back led me, in a sort of hushed curiosity, to search and find songs that in some cases I hadn’t heard since those distant days of adolescence. And in some striking cases I discovered that a song had not lost—or had even gained—power over me compared to back then.
All of the four songs I’ve picked below use only voice and acoustic guitar. All are from the late sixties; my WRPI-listening years were 1969-1972.
I was never, even back then, a particular fan of Pink Floyd—except for the Roger Waters number “Grantchester Meadows.” It was considered experimental because it uses taped background noises of a skylark, a goose, and a fly. In fact, gimmicky though it may seem, it works well; the nature sounds fuse beautifully with the pensive guitar chords and idyllic lyrics.
For me this song was a refuge, an induction into a dreamy realm where serenity and even eternity —
Laughing as it passes through the endless summer making for the sea….
flickered. I was also struck by the lyrics:
Basking in the sunshine of a bygone afternoon,
Bringing sounds of yesterday into this city room…
They added a nostalgic overlay, saying the tranquil scene was not happening in the present but, rather, a recollection, weaving its enchantment out of the past.