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Surfing the sonic seas with Nick Healing

When longtime CELSA English instructor Nick Healing kicked off his annual presentation on his “very personal vision” of the music of the 1960s and 1970s, the beginning point wasn’t the Beatles or Elvis or even Chuck Berry. Rather, he started on June 18, 1967 — the final day of the Monterey Pop Festival in California, when a little-known Jimi Hendrix Experience stormed the stage amidst fire and feedback.

“That changed everything forever,” Healing said, blasting Hendrix’s high-energy mutation of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” recorded at the festival.

From there, Healing led his audience gathered in CELSA’s Grand Amphi on a tour of the weirder side of rock ‘n’ roll history, playing music from the likes of Captain Beefheart, the Velvet Underground, and Frank Zappa. Of course, he mentioned the Beatles, showing off the copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that he bought the day it came out in 1967. “But I’m not going to play any of it, because you all know it back to front,” he quipped.

When discussing Stevie Wonder’s 1974 magnum opus “Songs in the Key of Life,” Healing introduced special guest Jean-Philippe Rykiel. As a young keyboard prodigy, Rykiel met Wonder and was present in the studio during the recording of that album.

Rykiel remembered listing to Wonder record the vocals on one track, saying “I was almost crying, it was so beautiful.” He was surprised, then, to hear the engineer abruptly stop the tape and ask Wonder to start again.

Upon unveiling his list of the top 100 albums of all-time, Healing identified his candidate for the greatest album ever made: “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys. As he played the sublime Carl Wilson-led “God Only Knows,” it would be hard to argue that point.

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