Do you remember your first time?

My son texted me the other day and asked how I discovered the group Portishead.

Beth Gibbons of Portishead

Beth Gibbons of Portishead

It got me thinking about the first time I’d heard a particular song, remembering exactly where I was and what I was doing. His mother and I were in the car, driving to the city for dinner at Dmitri’s, and about to turn onto West River Drive when I heard “Sour Times” for the first time.

That night a DJ saved my life—or at least enhanced it. The haunting vocals of Beth Gibbons, backed by multi-instrumentalists Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley, were at the forefront of creating a new genre of music called trip hop that would captivate me for the next half dozen years.

There was the first in an art gallery.

I discovered Morcheeba in 1996 at the Owen Patrick Gallery in Manayunk and was immediately smitten. I asked the owner who it was. Main Street Music was only a couple of blocks away and I was able to fulfill the urge immediately. I caught their first U.S. show at the TLA a few months later and wasn’t disappointed: the Godfrey brothers (DJ Paul Godfrey and multi-instrumentalist Ross Godfrey) teamed with vocalist Skye Edwards, blending trip hop, rock, R&B, and pop to create their own blend of hypnotic sounds. Their self-titled debut is one of my favorite records of the mid ’90’s.

Then there are the ones you pick up in a bar. In July of 2002 I was in Ottawa, Canada, walking towards a string of outdoor bars, when I heard the luxurious intro to the O’Jays “Backstabbers,” and decided that this was where I would be drinking my Canadian beer that day. To my surprise, it wasn’t the O’Jays at all, but it was one hell of a Sound-of-Philly sample. The bartender informed me that it was Angie Stone’s “Wish I Didn’t Miss You.” Her sultry voice and some very personal lyrics make this one of the most-played songs in my music library. Definitely not a one-night stand.

And sometimes a first time happens while you’re watching TV. This time it wasn’t a DJ or a bartender who hooked me up—the Internet had come of age.

On August 12, 2007, I was sitting in my living room watching an episode of Entourage and about to fall asleep. As the show reached its conclusion, I heard a killer instrumental that worked like caffeine and sent me on a 90-minute hunt to find out what it was. Ironically, after all my searching, I realized I already owned the CD. Initially I went through my iTunes library and played all 150 Cat Power songs, but it wasn’t there.

Cat Power - Credit: Wikipedia

Cat Power – Credit: Wikipedia

I was sure I heard her voice. So I Googled Cat Power and found out that she had teamed up with Prince Paul, producer of De La Soul and Handsome Boy Modeling School. He also performed on the latter. It had been a recent purchase for me, but only because of a collaboration with Barrington Levy; I never made it past his song. If I had, I would have noticed the Cat Power track that was on the same CD: “I’ve Been Thinking.”

Sometimes what you’re looking for is right in front of you.

All of my firsts are special. It’s that combination of newness and discovery that gets your heart beating in time with the tune. And eventually they all become part of the classics you love, but you never forget the moment their rhythm first met your ear.


This blog post originally appeared in the Ardmore-Merion-Wynnewood Patch….