In a time when most of us are carrying around devices in our pockets that can pull up and play just about any song from music history, there is something exhilarating about the fuzzed-out wheel of fortune that is an FM radio dial. To take a break from the constant onslaught of information and decisions and hand the steering wheel over to someone else for a while feels both nostalgic and liberating. Remember when that’s all there was? The sweet static-filled unpredictability of the radio and a stack of carefully chosen records that you listened to over and over and over again?
As soon as the first track begins on this wide-ranging record, that familiar sound emerges like a beacon: the squeal and squalor of a radio dial, tuned by André Cymone himself, inviting us to step back in time. For the next 51 minutes, he’s got this. All we have to do is sit back, open up our minds, and listen.
And back we go, back before André Cymone became a revered studio musician and producer, before he toured the world alongside his best friend; before he had even met Prince and they started playing in their first band together, Grand Central. André is taking us back to 1969, when he was only 11 years old, sifting through his older siblings’ records and listening to their heated discussions about politics. Back to a pivotal moment in U.S. history that was reverberating throughout his neighborhood in North Minneapolis, and an explosive moment in rock music history that shook a young André to the core.
As soon as he starts talking about those hazy early days of music discovery, you can hear André’s voice go soft as stars fill his eyes. As the youngest of six kids, he had a seemingly endless array of genres and styles to sift through, and he recalls borrowing everything from early jazz, blues, and Motown albums to the latest from Parliament Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, Joan Baez, and James Brown, dropping the needle down and sensing that his mind was expanding.
“Once I realized that there was all this music and I started listening to it, it just opened a world for me,” he says, sighing. “It just hits you. It’s like a magic moment. You realize that music is kind of magical. For me, at least, it has this ability to transport. I wanted to make music so bad back then. Once I heard some of the different artists and different sounds, I just became really transfixed.”
Music historians have marveled for decades at the genre-melding spirit at the core of the Minneapolis Sound that André would help create. But in this moment, remembering back to his big brothers’ and sisters’ record collections, one has to wonder if the Minneapolis Sound didn’t start right there on André’s turntable, which he and Prince would soon sit in front of and master songs from far-ranging bands like War and the Ohio Players to play with their Grand Central band.
Listening to 1969 in 2017, the effect is profound. As that radio dial twists and André pulls us through the anthemic opening track “We All Need Something,” the Hendrix-inspired psychedelic trip of “California Way,” the Rolling Stones-channeling woozy blues of “It’s Rock N’ Roll,” and the politically charged and poignant stomp of “Black in America,” the nostalgia for those early sounds is evident, as are all the similarities that exist between that moment in time and this one. After 50 years of struggle, hope, and change, why does it seem like so much has stayed the same?
“Back in those days, there was so much going on with civil rights — you had the Black Panthers, and now you’ve got the Black Lives Matter movement. There’s a lot of connections,” André notes. “Back then there was Richard Nixon and his war on drugs which, in my neighborhood, felt like a war on my community. And now you have Donald Trump and his war on — well, everything.”
The circular nature of music, politics, and time is most evident on the album’s poignant title track, “1969.” As the radio dial tunes into a news report about yet another police shooting of an unarmed black man and a night of civil unrest — which could just as easily be about North Minneapolis in the ‘60s as it could be about Ferguson or Baltimore in these past few years — André strips away everything but his voice and a cyclical acoustic guitar to reveal his album’s resounding thesis statement.
“Ringing in my ears through all these years, I can still hear your voice / Here comes the storm, and the clouds came rolling in / It’s 1969 all over again.”