For a California girl, a soulful revelation

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EARTH, WIND & FIRE GREATEST HITS, VOL. 1
Label: ARC/Columbia Legacy
Released: 1978
Cover art: Shusei Nagaoka

Told by Dena Odell

Where I grew up in Orinda, there weren’t very many black people.  In the Bay Area there were lots, but Orinda itself wasn’t really anything that you could call racially diverse. The music taste of a lot of my peer group at that time was pretty white-bread. So I really didn’t have knowledge at all of rock and roll, of soul, of so many different kinds of music. But I had a little bit of money. For some reason, I don’t know why, I decided I needed to buy a record album.

I remember riding my bike. It was on the corner in Orinda just up from Loard’s Ice Cream. A drugstore; Bill’s Drugs. I went in and they had a tiny little records section, right by the cash registers. They had maybe a hundred albums. I just started flipping through. I didn’t know many of the names. There was a Bee Gees. There weren’t a lot of bands in there with any kind of interesting ethnicity. That’s when I remember distinctly coming to this album. I remember pulling it out, looking at it, thinking, wow, this is something really different. This has things on the cover I don’t understand. I just remember looking at it and thinking, this is something different and this is probably something really cool. That was the one I bought.

What it was doing in Bill’s Drugs in Orinda in this tiny little record selection, I don’t know. But there it was. I remember going home and the first time I listened to it, I just totally fell in love with it. I loved the energy of it. I loved the mood of it. It was literally the first album I bought, but it was also such a complete album in the way one song flowed into another. It was really like a musical journey. There was “September,” Shining Star,” there was “Reasons,” where the vocalist sings incredibly high.

It was soul, it was definitely some funk. It was probably my main exposure to music different than what I’d listened to, or my parents listened to, or what I’d heard before. It was my gateway album. I started listening to a lot of other stuff. But this album, I would never get tired of it. I could listen to it over and over and over again. It made me think: Who are these guys? I’m this white girl from Orinda. I would stare at the pictures and be like, what is this world? Because this is not my world, but I love this music. It just opened my world.

33HiFi interviewed Dena Odell, an elementary school teacher in New Mexico, on July 19, 2017 from Kingston, Washington.

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