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james reed

A child of the late ’70s, loving music of an earlier time

The vocals of the Beach Boys and other early ’60s groups still captivated young ears, decades later.

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The vocals of the Beach Boys and other early ’60s groups still captivated young ears, decades later.

I wasn’t alive in 1964, but it didn’t matter.

As a child of the late 1970s, I grew up with that year ringing in my ears. My earliest musical memories came courtesy of my parents, mostly my mother. The radio was on in the car from the minute she turned the key in the ignition. Instead of Cyndi Lauper, Prince, Madonna, and other ’80s artists on the dial during my adolescence, the oldies station was always on.

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Since I hadn’t hit puberty yet, I was my mother’s perfect duet partner, the Phil to her Don Everly. Our harmonies were tight:

“She loves you, yeah yeah yeah.”

“ ’Cause breaking up is hard to do.”

“Here he coooooomes, that’s Cathy’s clown.”

“Goin’ to the chapel, and we’re gonna get married.”

“Round, round, get around, I get around.”

The songs were among the staples on oldies radio back then, hits from the early ’60s that captivated my young ears because they were so damn sweet. They were aural bubblegum for kids of any generation.

The Beatles – and the Supremes, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks – are part of pop music’s fabric. You don’t have to own a single album to know at least a handful of their songs. They’ve endured and they’re still everywhere: from “You Can’t Hurry Love,” which I heard the other night at the grocery store, to that iconic, fuzzed-out guitar riff of “You Really Got Me” blaring from a car speaker this morning.

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Those honeyed harmonies that came out of that era would lead me to my favorite bands when I was growing up. My obsession with the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas was unrivaled. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever loved a band as much as I idolized those groups, studying the way they wrote melodies and worked magic with their different voices.

I suspect my own experience is representative of how 1964’s relevance has rippled throughout the years. Even if you don’t know the bands, you hear their influence in everyone who came in their wake. I think about how many times I’ve heard a modern pop song and thought, “Hey, those harmonies sound like the Beach Boys,” or “These chord changes are so Lennon-McCartney.”

My mother was only 7 when the Beatles appeared on the Sullivan show but remembers how her entire family liked the Fab Four. They were wholesome.

“Not like the Rolling Stones. They looked like a bunch of dopers,” she says. “The only bad thing the Beatles did was have bad haircuts.” (It should be noted here that in her fifth-grade school photo, my mother had one of those “bad haircuts” that made her look uncannily like McCartney.)

At 35, I’ve cultivated my tastes in music beyond pop, with an ear for everything from country and punk to folk and world music. And my voice isn’t nearly as high as it was on those early car rides with my mother. One thing hasn’t changed, though: Every time we’re together near a radio, we don’t even have to look at each other to know who’s singing which part.

“She loves you, yeah yeah yeah.”

James Reed can be reached at james.reed@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJamesReed.
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