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WHO: Quentin Harrison
WHERE: Atlanta, GA
ALBUM: Spice Girls’ Spiceworld (1997)
Last year, I was in a local record store I frequent in Atlanta. The clerk and I were discussing David Bowie. It had only been four months since his passing and he remained a hot topic of conversation among audiophiles. He casually asked how I got into Bowie and with not a hint of irony I responded, “The Spice Girls.” His eyebrows raised as I smiled and proceeded to explain the link, for me, between the Thin White Duke and the Spice Girls.
But, let's take it back to March 14, 1998, the day when I purchased my very first record: Spiceworld (1997). For a more detailed version of this story, please see me directly or the introduction to my inaugural book Record Redux: Spice Girls. To say that this, their second album, redirected the course of my life is an understatement. I went through two copies of it before finally managing to keep the copy you see me holding in the accompanying photograph.
For many, the cultural phenomenon that was the Spice Girls is hard to separate from their music itself, making it easy to dismiss their artistic accomplishments. Yet, it is their music that has kept me coming back for 19 years and counting. I studied the album, back-to-front, as a pre-teen, and later as a young adult with even more experience, thanks to the Spice Girls—more on that in a moment. The lyrics, the flavorful voices, the melodies and grooves, it was magic for me. Spiceworld was the catalyst for me falling in love with the structure of an album.
I learned three lessons from Spiceworld, all of them shaping how I listen to, disseminate and write about music. The record taught me to appreciate vocal character. Technical prowess is integral but can sap uniqueness from a voice if favored in lieu of personality. The Spice Girls had vocal ability—and gained more through their later sonic adventures—but they never lacked personality. They used character and skill to color their songs as singers. Learning that aural axiom has allowed me to appreciate a wide breadth of vocal approaches.
Spiceworld gave me a true love of pop as an ever-changing and creatively uninhibited presence. You have a classic Motown inspired track like “Stop” rubbing elbows with the world music groove of “Spice Up Your Life,” and it works unfailingly somehow. Understanding that has led me to constantly challenge my appetites as a listener. Lastly, the record gave me the direction to seek music outside of the American sphere of influence. They're the reason why I discovered Loose Ends, XTC, Kylie Minogue and Hikaru Utada, to name just four of the international figures I've brought into my expansive record collection.
As I sat there giving this same explanation, albeit condensed, to the record store clerk, he smiled and remarked that he'd actually enjoyed the Spice Girls second single from Spiceworld, “Too Much.” I smiled and replied back, “That's a really good song isn't it?” He nodded in agreement and we went onward to discuss why Bowie's album Heathen (2002) was such a favorite of mine.
I've traversed many genres and artists since that day back in 1998 when I purchased Spiceworld. Its place in my heart, in my life and even in my career as a professional music writer hasn't dimmed. It never will.