Feb. 2 2010 07:08 PM

Striking (ABBA) gold in the unlikeliest of places


Can fans of Slightly Stoopid elevate to Peter Tosh?Last week, I found myself driving to L.A. to see Music Go Music, a band I wasn't necessarily excited to watch. This is an anomaly. I usually need at least a passing interest in a live show to leave the house, much less venture into the belly of the beast during the biggest storm of the year.

I went anyway, because my buddy had been raving about them for a while. They're often described in the press as “ABBA plays metal” or some such nonsense, which was a bad omen from the outset. God may as well have sent me a hand-written note saying, “Never, under any circumstances, go see this band.”

However, two significant events occurred on this fine evening.

The first was that Music Go Music was pretty damned good, emulating Heart circa-Dreamboat Annie with a gorgeous redhead singer whose voice actually merited some of the ABBA comparisons.

The second was a conversation my friend and a female acquaintance were having about music. The gist is that both of them were really excited for the show, which led to a back-and-forth about what other kinds of music they listen to.

“Pretty much anything except reggae,” she said. “I can't stand it.”

“Wait, did you just say you don't like reggae?” I interjected. She affirmed. “Maybe you're not listening to the right stuff. Have you ever heard Horace Andy? How about Junior Murvin?”

Her instant dismissal of 50-some-odd years of some of the most influential music ever made caused me to wonder why we're so quick to shut off based on our preconceived notions. I did it with Music Go Music; she did it with an entire genre.

As we grow up and our tastes become more “refined,” we think we know more about what we like and don't like, but that often means the element of surprise—part of what makes listening to music so interesting—is lacking.

This is where the gateway artist comes in.

The gateway artist is the one who grabs your attention and forever changes your listening habits. It's usually an act that's watered down the form enough to make it accessible, even if that's not always the case. But chances are, the gateway artist is far more embarrassing than you'd like to admit.

For example, I always cite Nirvana's In Utero as the first album that got me seriously listening to rock music. But, in a way, Aerosmith's Get a Grip and the first Stone Temple Pilots album were my real gateway drugs, even if they mean very little to me today and I haven't revisited either in more than 15 years—just like Vanilla Ice and M.C. Hammer were my true introductions to hip-hop, rather than those Snoop Doggy Dogg singles a couple years later. “2 Legit 2 Quit,” indeed.

It's not that I don't get where this girl was coming from on the topic of reggae. Southern California is glutted with third- and fourth-rate white-boy Sublime cover bands and false Rasta prophets who think throwing a “Jah” here and there is an effective substitute for actually having something to say. But all it takes is a quick browse on the Internet to introduce your average Slightly Stoopid fan to Peter Tosh, which may change their listening habits entirely.

For example, my oldest brother used to play Sublime's 40 Oz. to Freedom when he was forced to drive me around as a preteen, and I vaguely remember disliking it, especially the horns on “Date Rape.”

A few years later, Sublime was all over the radio, and I decided to revisit 40 Oz., only to find them covering Toots & The Maytals, The Descendents and Bad Religion while dropping references to Fugazi, Minutemen and a bunch of other great bands that I still listen to.

I'm not going so far as to defend Sublime or any of their albums, but the point is that it's impossible to know where the next musical inspiration is going to come from; what's most important is keeping your ears open.

As for the young, reggae-hating lady, might I make a suggestion? Perhaps a copy of Soul Jazz's Studio One Rockers would do the trick. As for me, it's probably about time I go digging for ABBA records. You never know.Write to toddk@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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