Recently, I was listening to Can’s Tago Mago. It’s one of my all-time favorites, especially “Halleluhwah” and it still gets played a minimum of once a year. This time, I got to thinking about when I first heard it.
My “formative” music years began in a very small town in upstate NY, where I had access to AM radio. My father played Romantic Classical and Dixie Jazz records. Eventually, I discovered the FM station at Syracuse University, which was only slightly better than AM radio, albeit no commercials. Although artists like King Crimson and Pink Floyd had found their way to my ears, I was a musical know-nothing.
By 1972 I had migrated to Colorado Springs and had just started working in a record store. The business was contractually tied to dealing exclusively with a one-stop in Denver. But what a deal it was. We had 100% return privileges, meaning any merchandise could be returned no matter the condition it was in. I understood that also meant I could open and play any record that seemed even remotely interesting. The UK cover of Tago Mago was a shot of the band on stage with Damo Suzuki’s hair flying around. I had to hear what they sounded like, and I quickly fell into playing the two-disc album at least once every day. (My co-worker wasn’t impressed and stuck to his steady diet of Cat Stevens, Grateful Dead and Thick as a Brick.)
That wasn’t the only discovery highlight during my time working in that store. The doors to the European Music Theatre were wide open and I didn’t hesitate to run through. Samla Mammas Manna, Gryphon, PFM, Magma, Klaus Schulze, Popul Vuh, Grobschnitt, Zao, Agitation Free, Weather Report, Greenslade, Neu!, Wallenstein, Ash Ra Tempel, Nektar, Tangerine Dream, Gentle Giant, Caravan, Super Sister, Matching Mole, Cluster, Henry Cow, Curved Air, Hatfield and the North, Van der Graaf Generator (inhale!)… and so many more.
Until then, I hadn’t realized I was so interested in exploring music that wouldn’t be heard on everyday radio. Those few years I spent in that store had an enormous, positive influence on my music education. The snowball got a solid kick start and it hasn’t stopped rolling. I mentally shudder to think what it might have been like otherwise.