I’m fairly certain I found my way to Sam Phillips through Rolling Stone magazine. As I’ve noted before, I was a devoted disciple on the magazine through my high school years, doing the best I could to glean from it what I needed to know about the vast land of rock ‘n’ roll that my local radio stations weren’t providing. That got me trapped in the magazine’s wearying predilections (Neil Young is an important artist, but not every damn album in a masterpiece), but I occasionally had just enough of an instinct to remember the albums that were offered effusive if glancing praise, almost as if done reluctantly. This usually happened deep in the reviews section, after they’d already dutifully parceled out the breathless raves for those performers who’d gotten their start sometime in the nineteen-sixties. That’s where I read about The Indescribable Wow, Sam Phillips’s first album under that name, after several years recording Christian pop.
I made a point of playing tracks off of The Indescribable Wow when I got the to college radio station, several months after its spring release. But there was nothing that cemented an artist as one of mine like committing to one of their releases when it was in the new music rotation. The second Sam Phillips album, Cruel Inventions, showed up toward the end of my junior year, right as the college was moving towards the summer months when I, as one of a select few who was getting paid to keep the station running, was guaranteed to be on the air a lot. And I played Cruel Inventions plenty, taking great pleasure in its offbeat bending of pop song dynamics and the rich, intoxicating voice of Phillips. I more invested than usual in playing material I didn’t think would cross over, still smarting from the previous summer when I’d make the mistake of heading to my dismal hometown instead of staying to toil at the station. I wanted things I didn’t believe I would’ve heard had I repeated that ill-fated choice. “Tripping Over Gravity,” while hardly challenging as, say, a John Zorn assault on the senses, fit the bill nicely. Extending over five minutes, the rubbery, airy, modernized psychedelia could only find a home on one set of airwaves to which I was privy.
Phillips was still one album away from the full-length effort that locked in as my favorite, but there was plenty for me to value on Cruel Inventions, plenty to help remind me how lucky I was to be at a place where I could make a discovery off of new album with every last on-air shift. In that respect, the album was the sound of home.
Listen or download –> Sam Phillips, “Tripping Over Gravity”
(Disclaimer: I believe that this is one of the albums by Phillips that is out of print as a physical object that can be purchased at your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner than compensates both the proprietor of said store and the artist. I guess this could be on a compilation somewhere, but that didn’t occur to me until I placed the period on the prior sentence, so I didn’t double-check that. It’s okay if it is, though, because I don’t intend this to serve as a way for people to bypass paying for some of Phillips’s music. Quite the contrary, this should be seen as a sample to entice people to go get one of the full-length releases. Seriously, at least across her first few albums, I can attest that there’s no way to go wrong. Still, I know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove the track from this humble corner of the interweb if asked to do so by any individual or organization with due authority to make such a request.)