The music we grow up with is special to us. It anchors our memories and provides a soundtrack to our lives. To learn the music of previous generations takes more effort. If you’re lucky, you grow up in a house with a big record collection. If not, you can read about it and seek out examples to listen to.
Much of the music I love mostly grew out of rhythm and blues, and I’m lucky enough to work in a library with a good collection of it. These British imports come in three volumes of four discs each, covering the periods 1925-42, 1942-52 and 1952-57. Each contains extensive liner notes.
The fact that they’re British seems significant. When I first heard many of these songs, they were being played by white Englishmen during the British Invasion of the mid-60′s. R & B is of course, overwhelming a Black music, which meant it was largely off the radar for white Americans.
What these sets provide is context. What subgenres existed? Who were contemporaries? Who influenced whom? How did this song evolve into that one? It’s the next best thing to growing up listening to it, fun, and an education, too.