“Did your parents listen to them?”
It’s a line I hear often when questioned about my music taste, which notably includes many songs from the 1960s through the 1980s. I now have a rehearsed answer: “No, I just kind of stumbled upon them, I guess.”
While this statement holds some truth, it only applies to the beginning of my musical journey. Before seventh grade, I would basically listen to whatever other kids my age were listening to. Then, I went through a yearlong Paramore phase that I’m only bringing up for the sake of consistency. But come eighth grade, I needed a crutch to get me through the exaggerated struggles attached to being a junior high student. Music became a way for me to sort out my emotions and my identity — and what better way than to wax poetic with classic rock?
That’s where the Beatles, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and more came into play. When I think back on it, it’s pure luck that I heard “Walk This Way” being blasted into my ears somewhere in Florida and realized that I liked the way it sounds. And I’m eternally grateful, because it sparked something in me to explore this genre further.
The best part about starting with classic rock is that the era has already happened. Everything is there, laid out like a buffet of euphoric guitar solos, Moog organs and lyrics ranging from drugs to existential crises (this one goes out to you, Pink Floyd!).
I slowly moved through the decades; I’d sit and shuffle through the iHeartRadio app, diligently Shazam what came on my local classic rock and ’80s hits stations and follow every breadcrumb to discovering a new obscure or widely popular band from the genres that I’d just never heard of before.
My eagerness to fully immerse myself in classic rock, a genre I held so dear to my heart, prevented me from branching much out of it. For years, variations of pre-2000s rock was all I would listen to. From my senior year of high school up to the middle of my freshman year in college, I listened exclusively to ’80s music. I had settled into complacency, but strangely enough, meeting other students with similar, but just different enough, music tastes somehow inspired me to frantically expand my own. I’d listen to recommendations and wonder where these songs had hidden. I felt behind with the times, and like I was missing out on a whole universe of great music. And I was.
Here I am today, digging through r/indieheads on Reddit and scouring local venue calendars in search of the newest addition to my ever-growing music collection that, thankfully, no longer consists of just classic rock.
Part of me feels like I missed out on the ceremonial imparting of ’70s and ’80s music from parents to children in my generation. I could never find comfort in this music as something familial and nurturing, like many of my peers did. My mom listens to generic modern pop (and Wham!), and my dad listens exclusively to Kannada-speaking artists from the 1970s. They usually tell me to turn down whatever I’m listening to, but I like to think I’ve found ways to make up for our musical differences. My good childhood friend’s dad would blare classic rock on his car radio, and he’d turn it up when I was in the car because he knew I loved it.
But I’m still glad I was able to find and explore the genre on my own instead of having it handed down to me; it makes the effort more fruitful on my part. Discovering really good music, not just music that you dismiss as catchy but clearly lacking substance, fills you with a warm, fuzzy feeling whenever you hear the first few notes being played. It’s nothing short of pure ecstasy. My ears still perk up like they used to when I hear an unfamiliar, but welcome song — the kind of song that strikes a chord within your very being, and you automatically know it is a keeper.
The beauty of having a constantly evolving music taste is that you’re always on the search for something new. I unearth songs from the ’60s as well as those that just came out yesterday. I haven’t heard every single Beatles song yet, and I’ve put off listening to songs by countless supergroups for years, though I tell myself I really shouldn’t. Hell, I only got into psychedelic rock this year, but now I can’t stop listening to it.
But now, when I look at my YouTube recommendations after listening to a Deep Purple song, I see suggestions for Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd as expected. But I also see thumbnails for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Oasis and Vince Staples. Who knows what I’ll see next week, or even tomorrow? I’ll find out soon.
Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].