5/15/18: Seven Albums

I just did one of those Facebook things where you have to list seven albums that have been on your “active” playlist for years and years. You’re supposed to just post the cover of the album, and no need to explain why I like it. It’s probably some kind of marketing scheme that is actually collecting information about my shopping habits based on my listening habits. But what the heck, it’s fun. And it’s an interesting challenge – it’s not what I have officially designated as my Favorite Albums, but rather the ones I actually listen to.

Since I wasn’t supposed to talk about the albums on Facebook, I’ll do it here. Here’s my list:

Simon and Garfunkel: “Sounds of Silence”
Amy Rigby: “Diary of a Mod Housewife”
Rolling Stones: “Between the Buttons”
Leo Kottke: “Songs for 6 & 12 String Guitar”
Sam Prekop: self-titled
Love: “Forever Changes”
Joe Jackson: “Look Sharp”

There were a few albums that almost made the list, like the Beatles’ “Revolver,” James’ “Laid,” and Fugazi’s “End Hits” – they’re all great, and if I had been asked for 10 albums instead of seven, I would have listed them.

I think the qualities that draw me to these albums are strong songwriting and a pop music feel. They also all have a combination of great riffs, memorable melodies, and insightful lyrics. I would love to have written a lot of these songs. They’re all “hummers” – you can’t help humming them all day after you hear one. Even the Leo Kottke songs, with no vocals; you want to hum along to his guitar parts.

LookSharp

When I first started getting serious about playing the bass, I spent my practice time learning songs that I really liked. “Look Sharp” was at the top of my list, right after “Talking Heads ’77.” Both albums have great, melodic bass lines that hold the rest of the song together. At the time, I was unemployed, and set myself the goal of learning all of “Look Sharp” on bass. It was a challenging project, and I was having a great time. Unfortunately, somebody hired me and I had to put my “Look Sharp” plans on hold. But I’ve recently decided I’m going to take up the challenge again and finish learning the album.

AmyRigby

I discovered Amy Rigby’s “Diary of a Mod Housewife” at exactly the right time. Have you listened to an album and felt like it was addressed directly to you? That’s how I felt with this one – I was the right age, the right gender, and going through a lot of the same things the songs talk about. She writes fantastic pop songs, and she’s a great lyricist. Plus, Elliot Easton from the Cars produced it, just to put the cherry on top of this awesome-flavored musical sundae.

SoundsSilence

I’ve known about Simon and Garfunkel for most of my life – my parents had “Bookends” and I think one other album. I’ve always loved the way they use harmonies (Simon and Garfunkel, not my parents) – tastefully, not too much, and just in the right places. Their lyrics paint amazing pictures of the darker side of life and love. Two characters kill themselves over the course of the album, and at least one other dies for some undetermined reason. But the high body count is balanced out by the beautiful darkness of “Sounds of Silence” and “I Am a Rock,” as well as the wonderfully goofy “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing.”

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The Rolling Stones are another band I’ve known about forever. I can remember my uncle playing “Hot Rocks” on the 8-track back when I was a wee thing. “Between the Buttons” comes from a period in the Stones’ history that I particularly like – their songs were on the poppier side (see “Amanda Jones”) and they were experimenting with different sound sources, like the cello and recorder on “Ruby Tuesday.” And Charlie Watts drew a nifty little cartoon for the back of the record. “Connection” is probably my favorite song on the album, but there are a lot of great ones to check out.

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As for Leo Kottke, if I could play any one of the songs on this album, I would be very happy indeed. It’s definitely complex music, but also very accessible. I could listen to this album over and over again (and I have). There are no vocals on this, but I wouldn’t call it a lack of vocals so much as just the right amount of guitar. And it’s a very catchy group of songs; Leo writes good riffs.

SamPrekop

The Sam Prekop album is one of those records I had on continuous heavy rotation for weeks. It’s restrained, jazzy, spare, and compelling. But it’s still emotionally enthralling. You might know Prekop from the Sea and Cake, who are a little more rock & roll; this is a more minimal experience. Oddly enough, considering how mellow a lot of his music is, the only concert where I ever thought I might encounter violence was at a Sam Prekop show in the East Village. It was totally the venue’s fault; they packed in the fans until nobody could even move comfortably. A fight almost broke out right in front of me. Still, Sam played great and I enjoyed seeing him.

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And of course, there’s Love. Even if you don’t like music from the 60’s, even if you don’t like complex song structures and surreal lyrics, even if you don’t like total awesomeness, it’s worth giving “Forever Changes” a shot. It’s really different from a lot of music of the time; I think that it would do very well if released today. There are a couple different songwriters in the band, which helps keep things interesting, and the songs themselves are so compelling that I feel like I learn something new every time I listen to them.

In fact, that’s another quality all of these albums have in common. It’s not just that they’re easy to listen to multiple times, but every time I do listen, I get something out of it. That for me is a mark of a successful piece – it continually entertains and informs over time.

 

Header image by Nan Palmero. Creative Commons License 2.0.

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7/17/17: Monday Funday Dance Party

I love this song because it gets to the heart of what a pop song should be – music for dancing and having a good time. Shaking your booty is optional, but encouraged.

Yes, slow, romantic songs also make amazing pop, but this is Monday Funday Dance Party, after all. Besides, I have a thing for songs that are so insanely happy that it may actually annoy the more mellow listener.

And the video! Happy toast and drunken squirrels. Does it get better than that?

 

6/20/17: CDs and OCD

I own many many CDs. LPs and cassettes as well, but it’s probably less than a hundred records versus a couple hundred cassettes versus over a thousand CDs.

I keep most of the CDs in these big zippable folders that hold about 200 each. They’re organized by artist (last name first), in chronological order by release date. Compilations and unclassifiable go at the end. Classical music is separate from jazz and rock/pop, and is organized by composer’s last name or artist’s last name. CDs with packaging that I like are not put into folders, but stored elsewhere.

This is the only area of my life in which I display any ability to be neat and organized, by the way.

But my weird control issue with CDs stops the minute one leaves the folder. After that, it can go drifting around the apartment for months before it gets re-filed.

Unfortunately, a few of my favorites are missing now, and have been for some time. Thanks to music streaming services and the internet, I can always listen to the music, but there’s something special about the actual physical object that you associate with the source of a musical experience. Also, I have a gap in my collection where a CD should be.

Image – publicdomainpictures.net

5/12/17: There’s Something Happening Here

I found out about this from Ken Michaels’s social media feed. Ken hosts the Beatles radio show “Every Little Thing,” which you should check out ASAP.

Eric Burdon of the Animals has released a cover of the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth.” Very appropriate, given the political crisis here in the U.S.

 

First of all, the drums. I love them. They’re just really interesting, and a nice sound.

And I like where Eric’s voice has gone. At 72, it’s only become more interesting. Of course, it’s always been unique. There’s a sternness to it, but he’s a good blues singer, too. He’s always kind of sounded like an old man. Here he is in 1965.

 
In 1970, Eric sat in with War for “Spill the Wine.” He is having so much fun in this video. I’m not sure it’s the original recording, but this is one of those songs where I think it really doesn’t matter too much as long as it’s a great performance, which it is.

 

And here’s the original “For What It’s Worth,” released in 1966 during a different time of political crisis. There are a lot of wonderful protest songs out there, but I wish there didn’t have to be any.

5/6/17: Rock & roll for grownups

There’s a lot of Who music going around the house these days. One of us is making a mix for a friend, and I just bought a Pete Townshend greatest hits album.

I’ve heard that girls supposedly don’t like the Who. I’ve also heard that about Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, two bands I love, but in my case it was kind of true with the Who.

I always liked their singles, and I saw and loved both “Quadrophenia” and “Tommy.” But that thing that makes you really connect with an artist’s music was just missing from my relationship with the band.

Things are changing now that I’m old and pruny. I’ve grown to appreciate Ringo Starr’s drumming and Bill Wyman’s bass playing, and I’m listening to lots of Pete Townshend. There’s that emotional connection now, and I keep going back to his music.

So you know what’s going to happen now. I’m going to be hitting all the Who albums, and inflicting them on you. But that’s a great kind of infliction. Like getting hit in the face with a bag full of awesome.

In the meantime, here’s Pete. I love the lyrics – they’re great in his songs – and also the chord choices. Not too elaborate, but sophisticated.

This is a duet with Ronnie Lane (of the Small Faces and also the regular Faces).

 

And here’s “Rough Boys,” because it’s fun.

 

 

 
Image by Annie Mole. License: Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

 

4/23/17: Rain and Sun and Led Zeppelin IV

Up here in the Northeast, April can feel like November. But not as bad.

The difference is what’s coming next. Flowers are already out now, and the trees are blooming. Springtime and sunshine and all that happy stuff are on their way, and nothing can stop it. No even a gloomy cold thundercloud day.

We just had one of those days; rainy and cold and grey and Novembery. So I made tuna casserole with my super-secret ingredient* and put on Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. And I heard this, the second movement of the first Brandenburg (as opposed to the first movement of the second )

 

And I thought, what a great piece of music for a gloomy cold rainy night in any month.

 

April being what it is, the next morning was sunny and warm and perfect. And this came on my iPod Shuffle and I thought, what a great piece of music for a perfect spring day:

The universe is providing me with a soundtrack.

 

 
*mustard

 

Image by Elizabeth Walsh (copyright 2013)

April 4, 2017: Kansanthrax

It’s another one of those cold, gloomy April days when you know spring will never come. Everything’s dank and grey and brown and ick.

On days like this, the best thing to do is make yourself a nice cup of tea or vodka and crank up the Anthrax:

You can tell they love that song; I found it via the Aquarian’s interview with Charlie Benante.

Ebeth fun fact (sort of): I love to compare and analyze different versions of songs. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of U.S. folk music and the different ways it’s been interpreted over the years, but I’m always interested in how one band interprets the work of another.

Like “Carry On My Wayward Son” – Anthrax’s version is very respectful, and it really brings out just how well the guys play.

There’s another cover song they do that I love: Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time.”

I remember when I heard this for the first time. It was at an Anthrax show at Roseland. I didn’t know they covered it, and it was like getting slapped in the face with a wet sock full of awesomeness.

Roseland is a great place to see bands, by the way. Although I’ve got to say I think the shape of the room could bring out the bass too much in a live band. And I say that as a bass player.

But you know what? Sometimes too much bass is not nearly enough. I also saw White Zombie play at Roseland, and there was so much bass that night. Soooo much bass. And it was perfect.

 

 

 

 

Image: Screen Capture from Anthrax’s “Got the Time” video

1/23/17: Suffering for my craft

Folks talk about practicing until your fingers bleed as an indication of your dedication to your craft.

I only had that happen once, over a series of two or three gigs at a club in the suburbs of New Jersey. I was playing bass in an Irish/pub rock band, and this was a really fun place to play. Lots of dancing and conviviality.

So we did a series of three or four gigs there – something like every other Saturday night And it would be a three set night and we’d get paid something and it was great.

One of these Saturdays, I finished Set One, and noticed that I’d ripped open the ends of the third and fourth fingers on my right hand. My first reaction, of course, was “Cool! I’m bleeding! I’m a real rocker now!”

fonziecool

I think that using band aids (they have to be the right kind to allow for movement) and maybe switching to a pick would have been the best solution to deal with the next two sets. Naturally I had none of those things with me, so I just kept on playing with the open wounds.

The rest of the night was not as painful as you might have thought. It actually didn’t hurt while I was playing. Bass strings vibrate as you play, and that seems to have numbed the pain. By the end of the night, there was blood spatter on my nice white pickguard.

I went home after the gig, and spent the next two weeks taking really good care of my fingers. I also checked out my bass to see if there were any issues that might have caused them to bleed, and there weren’t.

When the next gig came, my fingers were healed and I was all set to play a night of music. I felt extra rock and roll that night because I just made my fingers bleed, man. I rock.

And the exact same thing happened again. Same fingers, even. Now I know my limitations when it comes to being cool, and although someone else might rock ’til they bleed at every gig, I don’t. I do not rock that much.

You may have noticed by now that it hasn’t occurred to me to check my amp. But finally it did, after a total of 4 sets (about 3 – 3.5 hours) over two gigs with no fingertips. And yes, that was the problem. The amp was gradually losing volume during the sets, and I would unconsciously respond by playing harder.

In my defense, that was a tough problem to diagnose. I couldn’t hear what was going on very well during sets, and when I went to check my amp before each new set, it would sound fine again.

But … I should have thought to check ALL of my equipment when something unusual happened. Lesson learned.

Still, I waited a long time to clean that blood spatter off of my pickguard. Kind of gross when you think about it, but rock and roll is not for the squeamish.

So in honor of my poor fingertips, here are a few songs that finger-bleeding cool.

10/19/16: Digging in the bins

These days I buy a lot of albums by digital download, but I also like to go out and purchase real-live, physical CDs. I’m lucky enough that I’m near a very good used CD/DVD/vinyl store, so I still experience the fun of discovering music that you thought about once a couple of years ago and now here it is again and you can actually afford it.

Today I had a good haul: “A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon,” Rilo Kiley’s: “More Adventurous” and Spirit’s “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.” And of course, the latest copy of “Weird NJ.” One must stay up to date, after all.

“Dr. Sardonicus” was pretty intense. I’ll have to sit down and listen with headphones, but for now: Wow. There’s a lot going on there. In a good way, but I need to absorb that a little more.

I still have to check out the Warren Zevon album, but I’m loving the Rilo Kiley CD. A friend made me a mix CD a few years ago that had “Does He Love You?” on it. I loved the lyrics, and also how Jenny Lewis presents her vocals. She tells her stories so well.

The arrangements are country-esque in places, with some orchestral pop and folk. Very tastefully done.

Following a quick listen to the whole album, here’s a couple of songs I liked.

Photo by: Jane Rahman; Issued under CC 2.0 License.

No changes have been made to the image.

09/06/16: Personal motivation and audio cleanliness

Way back in 2011-12, I was unemployed, and it was really rough out there in the job market. Nobody was hiring. For anything.

It was easy to get discouraged, after sending out resume after resume after resume. And yes, cheesy as it sounds, there were songs I would listen to during that time specifically to encourage myself to keep going. This is one of them:

Featuring the late great Bernie Worrell. And note that David Byrne has solved the problem of what a lead singer can do during instrumental parts – just take a couple laps around the stage.

This is from the live movie “Stop Making Sense,” one of the great moments in rock cinema. Why? It’s just a bunch of really good musicians doing a live show and it’s one of those great nights where everything works out perfectly and it’s just magical.

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of live albums. I love when things are beautifully recorded in the studio and you can hear what’s going on. Like you hear on any Talking Heads studio album:

And the studio version of “Life During Wartime” is a great track:

But for me, the energy of the live version, along with the additional musicians, just takes the song to a whole new level. And that energy makes the lyrics have that much more impact – it goes from kind of ironically detached in the studio version to serving up the emotional equivalent of a punch to the stomach in the live one. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s recorded really well.

Of course, I can’t get too precious about pristine studio recordings. First of all, it’s so easy to go too far with that, in which case you wind up with a sound that’s overly sterile (see: The Eighties). Secondly, I’m a big jazz fan, and the stuff I listen to is generally either a live concert, or an album that was entirely recorded in one day.

Here’s “Samba Triste” from Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd’s “Jazz Samba,” an album that was recorded in its entirety in just one day. It went on to hit #1 on the Billboard Album charts, and won Getz a Grammy. It also reminds me of autumn, which is coming up way too soon:

 

Image by Jean-Luc Ourlin, CC License 2.0