Marc Cohn, the singer-songwriter behind the hit "Walking in Memphis," was only 11 years old in 1970, but the music of that year left a significant impression on him. Cohn's latest album, Listening Booth: 1970, is devoted to covers of some of 1970's greatest songs.
"I think the music you hear around that age ... really gets to you in a very deep, resonant way," he tells Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered. "I think it stays with you the longest as well."
That year marked a sea change in music. The Beatles parted ways and a wave of singer-songwriters released soon-to-be classic records.
"[Moondance by] Van Morrison, Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens, Sweet Baby James by James Taylor. All these records really impacted me the moment I heard them. They all came out that year," he says. "But along with all these deeply poetic records, there was also just really fun pop music on the radio — a really eclectic range of it."
Cohn says he was careful in choosing the songs for Listening Booth.
"Two things were important: First, could we bring something fresh to this song without just rehashing it. And the second was, is it a good song for me to sing — that it sort of fit my voice and my tone," he says. "But that was the challenge. And some of them didn't work. Some of the ones I really hoped would work were too iconic to change."
Cohn covers Simon & Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy In New York," a song he calls their "parting gift"; the duo broke up in 1970. Cohn also does Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," and says he tried to scale back from the screaming rock vocal of McCartney's original.
"We just brought it back to a guitar-based, finger-picked ballad, where I'm singing kind of low in my range, not trying to scream or do anything sort of over the top," he says. "Just this really relaxed, laid-back, late-night approach."
An Emotional Recovery
The past few years have been a challenge for Cohn. He was the victim of a carjacking in 2005 and suffered a gunshot to the head. Although his injuries were ultimately not life-threatening, he says the emotional stress of the incident took a toll.
"I was so lucky where the bullet ended up, and it was just taken out while I watched the doctor do it. It was strange," he says. "What was left for me to deal with was the emotional side effects. That was difficult. I had some nightmares and a lot of anxiety, but nothing that lasted too long. I was back on the road four months later and grateful to be."
Cohn says he's thankful that the side effects of his trauma faded away quickly, compared with soldiers who are impacted by their experiences day after day. Since his injury, he's recorded and toured extensively. And after getting through it all, he says he finds a brand new appreciation for his work.
"I really came out of all the stuff that went down for me feeling like I have a great job [that] I want to do as much as I can," he says.