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The Song That Changed Your Life: Picks

By Steven Toth

I need my hit again. I can’t wait for the needle to do its job. Carefully, I lift the tone arm from the vinyl before the mechanism can kick in and bring the spinning 45 to a stop.

I position the stylus above the outer edge of the black disc and ease it down. A quick scraping zip comes from the hi-fi speakers mounted high on the rec room’s mahogany panelling  The air fills with a tantalizing hiss.

No more Billy Vaughan and his soporific sax. No more of Pat Boone’s limp mockery of rock and roll. This is the end of the line for the Bobbies and Jimmies and the wholesome harmonies of Peter, Paul and Mary.

Frank, I never got you, or Dino either. Maybe it was the bow ties. Sorry Elvis, your best years were before my time.

The vocal shouts out. My paper-thin voice parrots the words. Here’s the guitar. I play along on a badminton racket. It’s decided: I’m going to be in a band. Good racket players are hard to find. Going to grow my hair long too. Dad won’t like that. The last chord is still in my ears when I snatch up the tone arm one more time.

This is the day my family’s stereo becomes really important to me. Who knew it would lead me to Sam Cooke, to Ella and Miles and Oscar? And to Leonard Cohen and Ron Sexsmith and The Lark Ascending and Zen Masters of the Japanese Shakuhachi?

A couple years in the music business. That was enough. I still play. Once a week with a couple of guys who are better musicians than I am. I chose the bass. Fewer strings than the badminton racket.

I still own that first song. Now it’s on my iPod along with 2000 other pieces of music. I tap the play arrow. “Wun, two, three, FAAA! Well she was just 17...”

Steven Toth is from Hamilton, ON

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