In the midst of Saturday afternoon photography walkabout in North London (UK), my companion for the walk started laying out his idea for a music documentary recounting 1971 as the pre-eminent year and put into evidence the records which debuted to support his claim. Instinctively, I countered with 1977 and after a good while, and a lot of his assertions, I remained intransigent, fixed in the notion that the latter year reigns supreme. If I’m honest, neither of us were then or now going to back down from our respective positions on the subject.

Later that evening and much of Sunday I researched lists of artists and albums making a splash in both years, and I could see it from my companion’s perspective, not that I would ever assent – perish the thought – but this led to examine why I was being so vehement? What was it about 1977, which instilled in me such feelings, and then it hit me. Much like Douglas Adams’ hitchhiker, I had my own Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything and for me it was/is 13.

The age of 13 is a rite of passage. In my case: the point where a boy becomes a man, when a child becomes a teenager; discovering not only girls but music, eschews television and sacrifices innocence along the way. It was the year I inherited a stereo system from my uncle: a Tandberg TR200 receiver, Nakamichi 500 tape deck and Wharfedale Denton 2XP speakers and I added a Dual 1219 turntable. To top it all off I signed a record contract that year with Columbia House and received my 13 (there goes that number again) albums for $1.86. I persevered and held off joining up until they offered the baker’s dozen, and it took a while to pick the 12 and when it came to the last, there were so many to choose from that it came down to album cover artwork. There was one album which caught my eye. I knew nothing of the band and their music, all I knew was that it was going to be my 13th. Little did i know that album and the band would become my all time favourite and it debuted that very year.  Steely Dan’s Aja would be always there for me. Wherever I have lived and visited for any extensive period of time Aja would be with me in any number of formats: LP, cassette, CD and DVD (The Making of Aja).

As I meet people now who profess they are audiophiles, music lovers, record collectors, I will ask them how old they are prior to getting into discussions of their music libraries and collections to determine their 13th and test my thesis regarding the music of that year and its impact on their core popular music listening predilections. It is by no means scientific, but remains a fun exercise nonetheless.

Tale as old as time. True as it can be. From generation to generation the preceding, as if by design, is going to find fault with the successive’s taste in music, and not much has changed, apart from the frequency of generations increasing and their span decreasing. I reached a point after graduating from university where my desire to entertain new music hit a roadblock. Beforehand I kept current and was voraciously exploring the music that preceded me: classical, jazz, vocals, opera, rock, but music and hifi for that matter took a backseat to life. It wasn’t terribly concerning to me at the time, but when I finally got settled and learned of life’s realities and hard facts, I returned to music and audio as a means of solace and reflection. I could lose myself in the lyrics, melodies, and voices of musicians and their instruments.

I still have my uncle’s hifi system. He’s long since passed, but just seeing the components together – all in working order – keeps me grounded, reminding me that it is about the music first and gear second. I can be just as happy listening to recording on that system than i can on any of my others. Adele can have her 19, 21 and 25, for me David 13 will always be top of the charts.

David Blumenstein

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