A Little Context
When I was around 14, my dad brought me to the gym with him for a few months. It was the same one he went to back in the ‘80s, and I couldn’t believe that the key for his locker still worked. It was a dingy place with basically nothing but free weights, racks and benches. Proper old school business. There were a couple of treadmills for the cardio crew, but this was for muscle builders; not a space for people just toning up.
Apparently all of the same people from back then – the entire male Afro-Caribbean community of Nottingham, now in their 40s – still attended regularly. One of my most vivid memories from those days was when a group of around 10 of them – mid-set – all bruk out with the wickedest synchronised skank when Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” came on the sound system.
At this time, I’ll admit that I barely knew the song. I’d learned about music from my dad, but he only ever really stretched my music knowledge back to the early ‘90s with R&B. Beyond that was a different world (which I completely understand now). This slice of New Jack Swing magic had somehow evaded me. I learned so much music in my teen years by being around older people, listening to their favourite tunes from back in the day, getting annoyed I didn’t know these jams, and going to research those artists.
Sometimes I’d try things from the ‘80s and it was completely unlistenable to my ears. I wanted to learn as much as I wanted to find music that I liked, so that meant having to bare some of this stuff. Because there’s so much more music that we don’t know than we do, it’s so difficult to know where to start with older music. If you’re like me and just want to troop on explore the stuff that you missed the first time around, these are the main ways I was able to navigate the old stuff to find what I was actually into:
I have to credit DJ Funktual’s channel as the foundation to my appreciation of ‘70s Funk and Soul. The easiest way to work out what music you like is by finding the ones you didn’t realise you already know.
Websites like WhoSampled.com, and the many YouTube channels dedicated to this kind of content are worth looking into, if you want to a nudge in the right direction for older musicians to listen to.
I spent £280 of accumulated Amazon gift cards on music books in 2009. That week of deliveries was magic. I immersed myself in learning more about the history of the genres I cared most about, and they’d often spend a lot of time talking about the earlier genres that led to their creation. The process can open you up to whole different generations of musicians.
Stick to what you like. There’s no need to force yourself to go down a path that you’re not sure about. The things that you currently like will probably lead you down to the ones you don’t know about yet.
Watch Live Performances
YouTube is constantly improving, thanks to the good people of the world. Now you can find almost any live performance that was ever recorded to video. Watching live versions of songs can make you have a completely different appreciation of them.
The best examples for me are with Soul Train videos. There are so many Disco tunes that I never would have cared about if I hadn’t seen the drummer getting busy in real life. If you’re ever on the edge with a song, I’d advise that you use these tactics to feel them more.
Themed Radio Stations
Context is important. Listening to radio stations or sets that are dedicated to a specific time period allow you to understand what was going on at the time, and why the music sounds like it does.
I feel like this tactic is for the more dedicated people out there, as you’ll probably spend the majority of the time hating a load of tunes. However, when you hear the good ones pop out, you’ll appreciate them so much more.