Thursday, September 18, 2014

THERE IS ALWAYS MUSIC


     For whatever else is going on in my life and around the world lately that isn’t good, the music, at least, has been very satisfying. I was channel surfing the other afternoon after a miserable morning at work and happened to catch on the Palladia music channel a documentary about The Breeze: An Appreciation of J.J. Cale, the tribute album by Eric Clapton and friends for the late J.J. Cale who passed away in 2013. When the album was released at the end of July, the reviews I saw were of the lukewarm variety – as are most reviews of anything these days by Eric Clapton. So, I passed thinking the Cale recordings already in my collection would suffice. But the documentary was excellent, and after hearing some of the songs from the album by the likes of Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, and even John Mayer of whom I’m not a fan, I decided the reviewers were wrong, and I bought the album the next day. Not only is the entire thing worthy of its subject, I think it’s probably the best Eric Clapton record since the record he cut with J.J. Cale in 2006, The Road To Escondido. But it’s not about Clapton. It’s about the songwriting and the stylings of the late J.J. Cale. There’s much to enjoy and appreciate in his work, and this tribute is a fine reminder of the legacy Cale left behind. There’s also a wonderful booklet with countless photographs of Cale, and detailed recording information. If you love Cale’s work, or Clapton’s, or the work of any of the artists here, you should add this to your collection. It’s a perfect record for when the late summer days turn quietly to autumn. Put it on and go to a window or out on your porch and watch the leaves fall. It must be the breeze.

     I saw an article from some online source I can’t recall at the moment with a list of 10 records you must own on vinyl before you die. I had five of them on vinyl, and four others on CD (to hell with formats – if it’s a great record, it’s a great record). But there was one title with which I was unfamiliar, and when it comes to music, my curiosity is boundless. Off I went in search of a reggae album by The Congos titled Heart of the Congos from 1977. It turned out the record’s reputation in reggae circles was the stuff of legend. And as luck would have it, there was a reissue on the VP label that was within my price range. I love reggae, and I’m still scratching my head wondering how I missed this one all these years. Better late than never. It’s a fantastic album from start to finish. The Congos are Roy Johnson and Cedric Myton. Their voices blend beautifully together and with a mix from Lee “Scratch” Perry, and help from the likes of Ernest Ranglin on guitar, Sly Dunbar on drums among others, and backing vocals from luminaries like The Heptones, and Gregory Isaacs, it’s no wonder the Rough Guide To Reggae listed it as one of the genre’s 100 Essential Recordings. It’s got all the elements great reggae recordings always have, but what it has in extra doses is a sense of the spiritual that runs through it, and makes it one of those records you bond with the first time you hear it.

     A review in a recent issue of Record Collector tipped me off to a new box set from Virgin Front Line, Sounds of Reality, a 5 CD set collecting the cream of the best reggae on Virgin’s Front Line imprint. The first three discs in the box reproduce a trio of budget line compilations the label issued at rock bottom prices in the late 70’s and early 80’s along with bonus tracks on each. There’s another CD of “disco” mixes, (but not “disco” like you’d have heard at Studio 54 back in the day, but reggae remixes), and a fifth disc of rarities. The artists were nearly all names I recognized, and I even owned some singles and albums by these artists. But the contents of this box were all new to me, and as I’d been looking for another quality reggae box to expand my collection of reggae music, this one was the perfect fit. The packaging is outstanding as well. The CD’s come in slip covers resembling the original LP’s, and the booklet provides a detailed history of the period, and the artists you’re hearing. I’ve been boycotting Amazon in the U.S. since March of this year because of their shipping policies. But the UK division is far more efficient – and cheaper, too. U.S. Amazon was selling the box as an import for 92 dollars. The UK import ordered from Amazon in the UK, and shipped to the U.S. direct was 46 dollars – 50% off the U.S. import price. It pays to shop around. It also pays to boycott vendors who don’t treat you well. Since my Amazon U.S. boycott began, I’ve found countless other places to shop for music and DVD’s that have provided better service, and better prices in nearly every instance.

     I went to Collector’s Choice for the Live At The Rainbow ’74 double CD by Queen when not a single retailer I could find in my city had the album in store to buy. I was very excited when I heard this was coming out. Queen is a band I’ve always liked, but I’m not a hardcore fan of the group. I loved the albums through Day At The Races, and the odd single after that. But, except for a nice collection of early BBC recordings issued in ’89, I believe, I never felt the group’s live albums had done them justice – until now. Even though these concerts happened just before Queen had their greatest success, they are a clear signpost of a band whose success was inevitable. Queen live, from the evidence presented here, was a juggernaut. Brian May, in particular, is just amazing here, but the entire band is the very definition of what great live rock music should always be. I love archive projects like this one when somebody (in this case the band members themselves) uncovers something in the vaults that truly should’ve been issued back in the day. They don’t make live rock records like this anymore. It’s an essential addition to the Queen discography, and one of the year’s nicest surprises.

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     I continue to look for ways to challenge myself when it comes to listening to older, familiar music in new ways that make it fresh and exciting again. So I’ve spent a good deal of time with my iTunes program creating new files of music to listen to during my work shifts. Over the past few months I’ve developed several that I think are quite interesting and rewarding. I’d accumulated so much soul music recently with the addition of several titles in the Backbeats UK series that I hit upon the idea of separating the music into three separate files by geography. I built Detroit, Philadelphia, and Chicago soul files using the material from those CD’s along with existing material I already had. I added a couple of Rolling Stones files focusing on specific two-year periods in the band’s career. Rolling Stones ’65-’66 collects the work the band did in those two very important years with all the odd singles and ‘b’ sides collected with both the UK and US editions of albums like Out of Our Heads, December’s Children, Aftermath, Flowers, and Between The Buttons – all recorded during that stretch. That was the period during which the band grew from an R&B cover group to an accomplished rock & roll band with an ear for pop as well. Brian Jones certainly made some extraordinary contributions on these records, and heard together, it’s an impressive progression.
     I also did a Stones ’71-’72 file which begins with Sticky Fingers, followed by Jamming With Edward, a jam album Mick, Charlie and Bill cut with Ry Cooder, and Nicky Hopkins. That dovetails into the extra tracks from the Exile On Main St. expanded edition issued a couple of years ago, finishing with the ‘Exile’ album itself. Jamming With Edward, while not strictly a Rolling Stones album, is the bridge between Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main St., and listened to in this context makes sense of how the band developed during that time.
     In addition to these, I now have a Power Pop file that includes everything from Shoes to The Raspberries to Cheap Trick to The Searchers, The Records, The Posies, R.E.M., The Beatles, The Byrds and anyone else you can think of whose music fits that description and features great harmonies and some prominent jangle in the "string section".  The Paisley Underground file that I mentioned in a previous post is nearly complete, and, if I say so myself, nicely compiled. Letter From Britain (named for Simon Frith’s column in the late, lamented Creem magazine) collects the best British music from the pub rock/punk era of late seventies Britain – think Dr. Feelgood, Graham Parker, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, Dire Straits, The Jam, etc. And Blue Collar is an umbrella file for the likes of Springsteen, Southside Johnny, John Hiatt, John Mellencamp, Little Steven, The Romantics, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Del Shannon, Billy Joel, Tom Waits and others. I was looking to meld the Midwest working class with the NY bohemian crowd because there are a lot of connections between the two. That might sound strange, but it’s there, believe me, and it’s a heady mix of great stuff that really sounds great together. As I said, I’m always looking for new ways to experience music with which I’m already familiar, and finding new surroundings for it makes all the difference. It’s like changing your living room furniture around, and applying a fresh coat of paint to the walls. It makes everything new again. In this case, it restores context to this music for me. These were connections I made when I was discovering this music, but those connections were lost in time as artists changed and grew, and my listening habits evolved.

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     In closing, I wanted to mention a couple of things I read in a couple of the essays in Ralph Gleason’s book Celebrating The Duke…and Other Heroes. In a piece on Miles Davis, Gleason recalls a conversation he had with the trumpeter in the early 70’s about the electric music he was then playing. Gleason said to Miles that the music was so complex that he needed five tenor players to be able to play it properly. Miles shot Gleason a look, and snapped, “I had five tenor players once.” Of course he was talking about the late John Coltrane. It was as if Miles was acknowledging just a few years after Trane passed away that the music goes forward, and some players simply are irreplaceable. Miles was roundly criticized in jazz circles for the rest of his career for continuing to move his music forward instead of back. If you played with the musicians Miles played with who then moved on to their own bands and careers, what else could he have done?

     In a piece titled The Death of Albert Ayler, Gleason makes the point that when Ayler passed in 1971 neither the NY Times nor Gleason’s hometown newspaper The San Francisco Chronicle mentioned it. Ayler’s body was found a few days after he was reported missing floating in the Hudson River. The papers reported on his funeral which came two weeks later, but Gleason’s point was that Ayler was largely ignored in his lifetime because his music was challenging, and progressive, and not understood or patronized by a large audience. He goes on to say that free jazz pioneered by the likes of Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane among others changed music forever because it challenged the very notion that there was a “right” way and a “wrong” way to play music. Where art is concerned, he wrote, “absolutes of right and wrong do not hold…and not as much as we thought they did in other areas either. It [free jazz] did not then and it does not now make older styles and forms of jazz any less important or less creative than the existence of Jimi Hendrix was a denial of Bessie Smith.”
     Gleason goes on to write eloquently about what art truly is about and how important, but underappreciated Ayler’s work was in his lifetime. “…the music of the Aylers, the Shepps, and the Taylors is music of beauty. That we may not at some point in our lives be open enough to see and to hear that it is, indeed, beautiful, is our loss.”
     The entire piece speaks what I have always felt about music, and its place in our world. The purpose of music, I believe, is to open our minds to truth, beauty, and possibility. If you are searching for meaning and purpose in this world, maybe it’s not a bad idea to put down your newspaper, power down your computer, and put a record on the turntable. If nothing else, it might restore a sense of balance to a world that seems about to spin off its axis.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

THE FREE THINKER NO. 17


     The last piece I wrote for these pages some weeks ago reflected a weariness, and sense of resignation I’ve been feeling this entire summer. I posted it, and a few days later removed it along with 46 more pieces I’d written that were no longer relevant or that never found an audience in sufficient numbers. I’ve had countless ideas this entire summer for good short fiction, and several music pieces as well, but none of them got written because the past three months – a good 75% of the season – were lost in the heat and humidity, and the spirit killing atmosphere of my job. I need energy to be able to write. I need uninterrupted time so that I can focus on what I want to write about. But when my job becomes so oppressive that the eight hours I spend doing it five days a week overwhelms the rest of my life, writing goes out the window replaced by hours spent vegetating in front of a computer or TV screen. I didn’t finish a single book for nearly three months because when I get home from work I’m too exhausted to read most days. I’d liken it to the sex life of a married couple that diminishes to fading memory once the business of raising children on a daily basis takes over. At least there’s not that to deal with, too. But my job saps every remaining bit of energy and spirit from me, and has been doing that with extreme prejudice since May.
     I returned from a week’s vacation in May to a ridiculous stretch in my work schedule that rendered the rest I got from vacation completely moot. Working in a retail environment during the summer “back to school” season is a hell unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. Coping with the Christmas season is far easier because the Christmas season is properly staffed. The summer season is not. The air conditioning in the part of the building in which I work doing back breaking labor has not been functioning since May, and there is no one at a management level at my store or at the corporate level that seems to care. Nearly the entire staff in my work area – supervisors included – has turned over in the past eight weeks, and we were given a workload that far exceeded what even a staff triple the size of our current staff could’ve handled. It’s been the most miserable experience of my nearly forty years in retail, and while the workload has, for the moment, leveled off, it will begin ramping up again in just a couple of weeks when Halloween and Christmas product starts to arrive for fall. Unless you’ve done it, you can’t begin to comprehend what it’s like to drag yourself out of bed every morning at 3 a.m. to go to a job where the environment in which you work is not safe, the management does not care about anything but their paychecks, and 80% of the people with whom you work are the dictionary definition of lazy and stupid. No one can make a decision, or think outside the box. No one can solve a problem. All I can do each day is try to satisfy my own work ethic – which is light years beyond that of nearly everyone else in that building – and drag myself home to try and get enough rest to get up and do it all over again the next day. I can’t find another job that would pay me sufficiently, nor can I afford to be without a job. I’m trapped like a rat in a maze, and when the job is like this, the quality of my life overall is poor.
     But I have two days in a row off, and an extra day off next week, and I thought I’d try and write something just to see if I still could write. I’ve bought some music lately, and a couple of books that are worth sharing, I think. They’re the things that have sustained me all summer. And the heat and humidity we’ve been feeling the past couple of weeks has subsided today, at least.

     One of the decisions I made in an effort to steal more quality time when I’m not at work just to maintain my sanity was to abandon my Facebook page. I spent five years trying to navigate what is laughingly referred to as “social media” only to discover that I wasn’t particularly interested in socializing. I also came to the realization that nobody using social media is actually there to socialize. Social media has been co-opted by everyone as a platform for proselytizing, and promoting their own agenda – be it advertising their business, or shoving their political agenda down your throat, peddling charitable causes or getting you to accept whatever god they worship. And don’t even get me started on the constant deification of all things military or the plethora of cat videos, pictures of food, and folksy sayings and self-help placards that nearly always feature misspelled or misused words. I was guilty of it, too – trying to share music with people who had no interest in listening to it, or talking about books no one was ever going to read. As small as my audience is here, I can reach more people by blogging. 

     I think Facebook is a great invention that is being almost universally misused, and ultimately wasted by a populace too stupid to realize its potential for real communication. What I liked about it was that it was good for keeping up with things going on in the world that I’m actually interested in. I could, through the Facebook practice of “liking” various things, wind up with a newsfeed that was actually relevant to my life, and worth whatever time I spent with it. So I created a new page under another name – one in which I do not accept “friends” but merely design my own news feed based on my own interests. I also joined several groups specific to those interests and that affords me an opportunity to exchange information and ideas with like-minded people – or, more accurately – people with whom I share the same interests. I don’t do a lot of posts on my own page, but what I do post is public, and people can “follow” me if they’re at all interested in the things in which I’m interested. Most of my friends didn’t seem to be, but I’m sure there are strangers out there who are, and perhaps they’ll find me through some of the groups I’ve joined. What it really does is allow me to decide how social I want to be while maintaining my privacy. And the time I spend on Facebook now has dropped by about 50%. So I have more time for other things. I only wish I’d gotten to this much sooner. Five years was a long time to figure it all out. But now that I’ve figured out how to use social media so that it benefits me without robbing me of too much time, I can move on to other things. I had already solved the technology issue. I said “no” to the cell phone revolution. I have a cell phone in my car for emergencies. I don’t text. I don’t watch movies on it or take photographs. It’s essentially a car phone. And the iPod replaced the transistor radio for me. Gaining control over, and learning to use modern technology to benefit instead of overwhelm your life is a key component of maintaining quality of life in the 21st century – only most people haven’t even begun to figure it all out. I have. So for once, I’m ahead of the curve.

     When I was at the dentist a couple of weeks ago to get yet another in a series of crowns, I stopped by the bookstore nearby for the first time in months, and I actually discovered two books I’d not seen that I wanted to read. The first, There Goes Gravity by rock writer Lisa Robinson became the first book I finished all summer when I read it in just five days. It’s the memoir of her life as a rock writer spanning more than four decades, a book I’d been anticipating for years. Robinson has a way of telling amazing stories without the sense of awe that often gets in the way of such entertainment memoirs. Her memory, thanks to her habit of documenting every encounter, and saving notes and photographs along with a diary, provides a solid foundation for some of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll tales in the history of music journalism. Robinson is clear-eyed about all of it, and there’s no revisionist history here either. Everything is told to the reader, and contextualized forty years after for what it brought to her life, and to pop culture. Robinson was no wide-eyed fan, but a professional journalist doing a job that just happened to cross lines with her great passion in life – music. That passion infuses every sentence and every story of this wonderful memoir. I was choking back tears in the final chapter as she put 40 years of music into perspective. The memories came rushing back in a flood for me because I lived those same years depending on Lisa Robinson to live the life I couldn’t live, and to report back to me on what it was like backstage, and who these people were, these musicians who changed my life forever, and for the better. I love and treasure this book, and I don’t doubt for a moment that I’ll reread it again someday. The community of rock journalists from that period – and there weren’t that many of them – were idols and teachers to me, but there was no one I loved and trusted more than Lisa Robinson. She was both a teacher, and the cool big sister I never had. There Goes Gravity is my favorite book of 2014.
     The other book I found is by Bill Janovitz. Titled Rocks Off – 50 Tracks That Tell The Story of The Rolling Stones, it does just that – recounts the band’s history through the prism of 50 songs that, if you know how they came to be created, and why, become biography and music history lesson rolled into one. Janovitz retells the band’s story focusing on the reason for their fame and fortune – those incredible records. When I picked up the book to page through it, the litmus test as to whether I would buy it was whether or not Janovitz picked the right songs. After all, I’m not some neophyte Stones fan. I know the band’s history well enough by now to write it myself, and I know the music even better because I still listen to it all the time. I looked at the 50 tracks, and closed the book and reached for my wallet because he got it right. I’m not sure I wouldn’t have chosen the same 50 tracks. It’s full of insight and behind the scenes stories of how these amazing songs came to life. It’s an essential piece of not only your Rolling Stones bookshelf, but your music bookshelf as well.

     On the flip side, I hadn’t been buying a lot of music in 2014 because there was little that caught my eye. And, in fact, I still don’t have a lot of new releases to talk about in 2014. There have been a few this summer, but because there weren’t a lot of them, I had money left to explore some different genres and get a bit deeper into some genres or movements I’d not been able to explore properly the first time around. I used my desire to build excellent files for my iPod listening at work as a guide. If you read the piece I posted earlier this year, Right Between The Ears, you’ll know what I mean.
     Buying vinyl has been severely curtailed this year because of the increasing expense of buying new records. Prices are now bordering on the ridiculous in many instances. The used record business where I live is in an awful state – overpriced records in marginal condition when you can even find something you want to buy. That market has dried up around here. But CD’s are being rapidly devalued thanks to the vinyl resurgence, and the inexplicable (to me anyway) popularity of streaming services. So CD’s – great ones – can often be found for between 3 and 5 dollars, and that’s where I’ve been spending most of my music dollars, anticipating that CD’s won’t be available forever, and if I want them for my collection, now is the time to buy them.
     I was focused on building a “lite” jazz file that reflected the records I was hearing in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when I first began learning about jazz. And while it’s true that “lite” jazz morphed into the dreaded “smooth” jazz in the late 80’s and 90’s, the period between 1976 and 1985 yielded some nice records that bridged the gulf that has often existed between jazz and pop. I went used CD shopping online and found collections by Bob James, Tom Scott, George Benson, and Spyro Gyra, along with some early gems from Ronnie Laws (Pressure Sensitive), David Sanborn (Hideaway), and Lee Ritenour (Captain Fingers). I wound up with an excellent “lite” jazz file for my iPod that includes these artists and many others from the same period (John Klemmer, The Crusaders, Jeff Lorber, Joe Farrell, Grover Washington, Jr., and the CTI label catalog to name but a few).
     I filled some catalog gaps in my collection, too by picking up a couple of John Cale CD’s I didn’t have, Walking On Locusts, and Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood from 2013. Both are excellent. I added a Todd Rundgren album I’d never seen called One Long Year that also turned out to be worth owning. And I got Mazzy Star’s debut, She Hangs Brightly to augment my mushrooming Paisley Underground file. The Dream Syndicate, The Beatles, if you will, of the Paisley Underground movement, had issued a couple of live albums, one of which I missed completely when it was first issued. The Complete Live at Raji’s is a two CD set of an incredible show originally recorded in 1988, and released in 1989, and reissued in 2004 (the year I left the music business) in this expanded edition. The other live album was issued a few months ago. The Day Before Wine and Roses takes us back to the show the band played to launch their first LP in 1982, The Days of Wine and Roses. It’s a great show with lots of cool cover tunes, and a real sense of history about it. 

     My passion for Weather Report has continued unabated, and led to the purchase not only of their debut self-titled album which I never owned, but also to their second studio album I Sing The Body Electric, and to the Live In Tokyo album sandwiched in between them, but originally issued only in Japan. It was reissued a couple of months ago on CD here in the U.S. for the first time ever by Wounded Bird. All three albums are essential components of one of the greatest catalogs in all of jazz. There’s also a documentary in the works about the band that will be a must see, I’m sure. And I even bought another live Weather Report set Live In Cologne 1983, which documents the band I saw in concert several months earlier here in the U.S. It’s superb as well.
     In the middle of all this retro listening came the excellent new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album, Hypnotic Eye. Alive issued the new Radio Moscow record, Magical Dirt – which is on a par with the rest of their fine catalog, while Norton Records hit with new titles from The A-Bones (Ears Wide Shut), Daddy Long Legs (Blood From A Stone), and the fourth volume in their Kim Fowley production series, Technicolor Grease. But the real story from Norton was the release of the first LP by co-founder, and Norton co-owner Miriam Linna. Miriam’s Nobody’s Baby is in the discussion, and on the short list for Record of The Year – not only for me, but from several music media outlets as well. It’s a throwback to the girl group era, but collects a bunch of cover songs that don’t seem to belong together (along with one original), and somehow manages to become this magical listening experience. It’s a sort of concept record about heartbreak, and if you miss it, you’ve missed one of the most unique listening experiences of this or any year. Imagine putting cover songs by Neil Young, The Ramones, Gene Clark, and Reparata & The Delrons (among others) onto the same record and making it sound like they should have always been on the same record to begin with. When it comes to picking material, Miriam might have the best ears in the business.
     Some other notable vinyl reissues came from Prestige in the form of Etta Jones masterpiece Don’t Go To Strangers, and a pair of reissues from Ska masters Two Tone, The Best of Two Tone Records, a double set of classics from the era’s golden age in England, and The Specials Live at The Moonlight Club, a live set from the movement’s greatest practitioners.
     Meanwhile, this just in from the 60’s, Big Beat has reissued The Seeds Raw & Alive as a two CD set featuring the original album as recorded (minus audience overdubs), the original as released (with the overdubs) and a completely unreleased show from the same period packaged in a gatefold digipak with a stunning booklet. The band is in great form, and if you’re a fan, it’s a must. Capitol has paired what are widely considered to be the two best Hank Thompson titles on to one CD, Songs For Rounders/At The Golden Nugget - honky tonk country music as it was meant to be. If you’re in the mood to listen to James Brown in the wake of the new biopic in theatres that’s getting rave reviews, you could do a lot worse than picking up Polydor’s 5 CD budget priced box set featuring, Live At The Apollo, 70’s Funk Classics, Sex Machine, Revolution of The Mind, and In The Jungle Groove.
     I’ve been revisiting some late 70’s, early 80’s power pop as well in the wake of the release of the new Paul Collins record on Alive, Feel The Noise, which sounds as if the past 30 years never happened, and I picked up a collection I’d missed by one of the best power pop bands of all-time, Shoes. 35 Years: The Definitive Collection 1977-2012 is a great way to catch up with a band that never stopped making terrific records.
     Wounded Bird finally righted a wrong and issued the legendary Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival 1972 on CD. Some of us have been waiting for that for three decades. The two CD set features Muddy, Wolf, Freddie, Sun Ra, Hound Dog Taylor, Bobby Bland, Dr. John, Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt with Sippie Wallace, Junior Walker, Koko Taylor and more. And it’s every bit as great as I imagined it would be. Thanks to Wounded Bird for resurrecting it before I was six feet under.
     I have mentioned in these pages many times that there are artists whose back catalogs I continue to mine for hidden treasure (Todd Rundgren, Weather Report, and John Cale to name but three). Another is XTC. I found a website that had 7 XTC titles I did not own - dirt cheap - to go with the one I found at a used bookstore here. The eight titles doubles my collection of XTC albums, and all are worth your time. The eight are Rag & Bone Buffet, Nonsuch, BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert, The Big Express, Homespun, Homegrown, Apple Venus and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). All that for a pair of Jacksons.
     Just today I picked up cheap CD copies of records I’d worn out on vinyl, Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and my two all-time favorite Wynton Marsalis albums, Black Codes From The Underground, and J Mood. And that’s all the money I’m spending for awhile because I have to start saving for Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Complete Basement Tapes.
     And I should mention that Suzy from Bomp sent me an advance of the new CD by a new band signed to Alive calling themselves Handsome Jack. Do What Comes Naturally will be out in September, I believe. Suzy wrote me that she thought it was the best record the label has ever done. I’m not sure about that given the label’s excellent history, but I don’t know that I’d argue the point either. It’s excellent. Keep an eye and ear open for it.
    
     I could’ve done without the horror story my job has become this summer. At least something good came from some of the money I earned doing it.

     In closing, let me say that not a single day has passed in the last three weeks that I’ve not thought of the late Robin Williams. I’m sorry he felt compelled to leave us, but I don’t condemn him for the decision he made (as many have). He left behind an incredible body of work, and his generosity in sharing his talent with us for so long enriched our lives in ways we could never have repaid. I’d liked to have had the opportunity to tell him thanks in person, but I hope that since I never got the chance, he’ll hear me laughing from wherever he is every time I watch him. I hope that might, at least, make him smile.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

MY TOP 200 ALL-TIME FAVORITE ALBUMS (2014 REVISED EDITION)


     When I began blogging The Recordchanger in September of 2011, my seventh post was a list of my all-time favorite top 200 albums. I thought if I was going to write about music in a blog, readers should have some idea where my musical tastes lie. So I decided to revise a list I’d made twenty years prior, but had never revisited. I posted the list and almost nobody looked at it. It garnered one of the lowest “hit” totals for any piece I’ve ever posted here. But over the past three years, my tastes have continued to evolve. I’m able to listen to more music than I’ve been able to listen to since I was in my teens, but my collection and my frame of reference has expanded a thousand fold since then. Since this is not a list of the best or the most important or the most influential records of all-time, but rather just a list of personal favorites, it continues to evolve as my tastes and listening habits evolve. Nearly three years have passed since I posted that first list, and it seemed to beg for an update. Whether anyone bothers to look at it this time is open to speculation, but I’m posting it anyway because music is the primary business of this blog, and this list is representative of where my head is musically in 2014.
     The original list has been deleted, but to give you some context I’ll begin by giving you a list of the 36 records that fell off the list in the past three years, and try to provide a brief explanation as to why. I’ve also placed an asterisk behind each of the titles that are new to the list. Some records retained the same placing as last time, some went up the list, while others fell. The biggest change in this list from the 2011 list is that this one includes all genres of music. The 2001 list did not include any jazz or country music. This one does – although not as many titles made the list as you might’ve guessed since rock has always been, and remains my favorite music.
     The list still reflects a bias towards the music of the 1960’s and 1970’s, but there are more records than before from the late 70’s and 80’s than previously. A lot of artists I love and listen to all the time are not represented at all because I listen to tracks or collections by those artists rather than any specific individual album. Compilation albums are excluded because they are, by their nature, a different artistic concept than an album of original recordings conceived as a piece representative of a specific period in an artist’s career. (In fact, many compilations are issued with little or no input from the artist at all.)
     At some time in the future, I’ll probably revise the list again as necessary. But in the meantime, this list is representative of my tastes now.
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     Let’s begin with the list of records that fell out of my Top 200 since 2011 (the number before the title shows where the album placed in 2011). An explanation follows as to why these records dropped off the list.

     Deleted

     33. Northern Lights-Southern Cross – The Band (1975)
     39. The Yes Album – Yes (1971)
     69. Live At Leeds – The Who (1970)
     74. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1962)
     86. Fragile – Yes (1972)
     98. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere – Neil Young & Crazy Horse (1969)
   103. Every Picture Tells A Story – Rod Stewart (1971)
   107. Blue – Joni Mitchell (1971)
   112. Disraeli Gears – Cream (1967)
   113. Crown of Creation – Jefferson Airplane (1968)
   127. Raw Power – Iggy & the Stooges (1973)
   129. Time Fades Away – Neil Young (1973)
   130. John Wesley Harding – Bob Dylan (1968)
   133. Blind Faith (1969)
   150. 4 Way Street – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1971)
   151. Synchronicity – The Police (1983)
   153. If I Could Only Remember My Name – David Crosby (1971)
   156. The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars – David Bowie
         (1972)
   158. Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969)
   160. Scarecrow – John Cougar Mellencamp (1985)
   161. Free (1969)
   162. Captain Beyond (1972)
   163. Gorilla – James Taylor (1975)
   164. Harvest Moon – Neil Young (1992)
   165. Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)
   166. Eric Clapton (1970)
   175. Volunteers – Jefferson Airplane (1969)
   178. Performance-Rockin’ The Fillmore – Humble Pie (1970)
   183. Spooky Two – Spooky Tooth (1969)
   186. Songs For A Tailor – Jack Bruce (1969)
   194. Country Life – Roxy Music (1974)
   195. Marquee Moon – Television (1977)
   196. Wind & Wuthering – Genesis (1976)
   198. Stranded – Roxy Music (1973)
   199. By The Light of the Moon – Los Lobos (1987)
          *Revolver (US) and Yesterday and Today (US) - The Beatles (see explanation below)

     These are all very fine records that failed to make the revised list, and that’s not necessarily a reflection of the quality of these records as much as it is a reflection of my own changing tastes and preferences. In the case of The Band’s Northern Lights-Southern Cross, for example, I found myself playing about half of it regularly, but not the rest of it. When I wanted to hear The Band, I reached for Music From Big Pink and The Basement Tapes (with Bob Dylan) far more often. The Yes titles that fell off were replaced by the live Yessongs album that contains every key title from each of those two records, and is the one I listen to most often. Collectively, and as individuals, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young dropped seven titles from the 2011 list. I’ve lived with all these records for a very long time, but the decline is a reflection of my weariness with the four of them as a group and as individual artists – especially Neil Young. Neil Young and Stephen Stills are still represented on this new list, but Crosby, Nash, and the band are not. I still listen to my favorite tracks by each, but the albums don’t give me the same buzz they once did. Maybe that will change again at some point, but the simplest explanation is that they’ve fallen out of favor with me at the moment. The Who have also fallen out of favor with me. They’re still represented, but Live At Leeds is not a record I’ve wanted to listen to much in recent years. Rod Stewart is another artist whose songs I listen to more than complete albums these days. Joni Mitchell’s Blue was bumped due to fatigue, but her Mingus made the list for the first time. The records by Cream, Jefferson Airplane, and Blind Faith were casualties of fatigue as well, but in Cream’s case, Disraeli Gears was trumped by Wheels of Fire – a record I still play, and the Airplane are represented by Surrealistic Pillow (Top 20). I love that one and listen to it complete, but tend to cherry pick favorite tracks from the rest of their catalog. The titles by Bowie, Free, Captain Beyond, Eric Clapton, Humble Pie, Spooky Tooth, and Jack Bruce lost out to newer favorites. Bowie, for example, is an artist I listen to as often as I always did, but I favor his Berlin period a bit more now than his glam-era work. The others were holdovers from my FM radio days, and while I still enjoy them and play them sometimes, there are other records I play more often that earned a spot on the list. At the end of the day, any list of this sort is all about making choices. I recently listened again to the entire Bob Dylan catalog, and that prompted a re-evaluation of his work that caused some changes in this list. There were several Dylan albums I considered this time that just missed (Infidels, for example). I’m moving more towards Dylan’s later music these days. Iggy & The Stooges Raw Power was a victim of the re-evaluation I gave their earlier Fun House record following Rhino’s boxed set of the Fun House sessions. I decided I like Fun House better and I ran out of list before I could get to Raw Power – still a record I love. Synchronicity by The Police was bumped in favor of their Ghost In The Machine. I revisited both records since the previous list, and I prefer ‘Ghost’. John Mellencamp fell victim to the individual tracks syndrome – though Scarecrow has more of them than any of his other records. And James Taylor’s Gorilla got nowhere near the playing time his Sweet Baby James or Very Best Of collection did – though I still think it’s a superb piece of work. Roxy Music is a band I listen to more often by songs rather than whole albums. The same is also true for Los Lobos. Television’s Marquee Moon album fell off for the same reason The Band’s ‘Northern Lights’ album did – I spin a few of the tracks all the time, and the others rarely. The Genesis record just missed the cut because of all the new titles from other genres.

     *One other note: when I compiled the 2011 list, I was listening to the U.S. editions of The Beatles catalog, and used those the majority of the time with the exception of Help and A Hard Day’s Night whose UK editions are all Beatles programs without the scores from those films. This time, however, I elected to simply choose the best title available, and that led me to include the UK edition of Revolver instead of the US version. It also allowed me to delete the US only Yesterday & Today album as its tracks are included on both the UK Revolver and UK Help albums.

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     Here, then, is the revised edition of my favorites list. The most important factor in where each album ranked is in its playability. If it’s a record I go back to again and again and play from start to finish, then it’s stood the test of time and deserves its place. I hope you see some things that make you want to further investigate some music you might have neglected or overlooked. ~ The Recordchanger

    
MY TOP 200 FAVORITE ALBUMS OF ALL-TIME

    1. All Things Must Pass – George Harrison (1970)
    2. Close To The Edge – Yes (1972)
    3. Help (UK) – The Beatles (1965)
    4. The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle – Bruce Springsteen (1973)
    5. Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan (1975)
    6. Sticky Fingers – Rolling Stones (1971)
    7. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd (1973)
    8. L.A. Woman – The Doors (1971)
    9. Aftermath (US) – Rolling Stones (1966)
  10. That’s Why God Made The Radio (Vinyl Version) – The Beach Boys (2012)*
  11. Revolver (UK) – The Beatles (1966)*
  12. A Tribute To Jack Johnson – Miles Davis (1971)*
  13. The Who By Numbers – The Who (1975)
  14. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (1966)
  15. Kind of Blue – Miles Davis (1959)*
  16. Surrealistic Pillow – Jefferson Airplane (1967)
  17. A Hard Day’s Night (UK) – The Beatles (1964)
  18. Bitches Brew – Miles Davis (1970)*
  19. The Division Bell – Pink Floyd (1994)
  20. III – Led Zeppelin (1970)
  21. Heavy Weather – Weather Report (1977)*
  22. Pat Metheny Group (1978)*
  23. Layla – Derek & The Dominos (1970)
  24. Exile On Main St. – Rolling Stones (1972)
  25. Live at Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band (1971)
  26. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen (1975)
  27. The Rolling Stones Now! – Rolling Stones (1965)
  28. The Doors (1967)
  29. Abbey Road – The Beatles (1969)
  30. The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
  31. A1A – Jimmy Buffett (1974)
  32. Surf’s Up – Beach Boys (1971)
  33. Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (1969)
  34. Out of Our Heads (US) – Rolling Stones (1965)
  35. Rust Never Sleeps – Neil Young & Crazy Horse (1979)
  36. Africa/Brass – John Coltrane (1961)*
  37. Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan (1965)
  38. Teaser & the Firecat – Cat Stevens (1971)
  39. Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, Jones, Ltd. – The Monkees (1967)
  40. Beggar’s Banquet – Rolling Stones (1968)
  41. Aja – Steely Dan (1977)
  42. Forever Changes – Love (1968)
  43. Seventh Sojourn – Moody Blues (1972)
  44. (Untitled) (4th) – Led Zeppelin (1971)
  45. My Favorite Things – John Coltrane (1961)*
  46. The Hissing of Summer Lawns – Joni Mitchell (1975)
  47. Sweet Baby James – James Taylor (1970)
  48. Tea For The Tillerman – Cat Stevens (1970)
  49. Desperado – The Eagles (1973)
  50. Let It Bleed – Rolling Stones (1969)
  51. On The Road To Freedom – Alvin Lee & Mylon LeFevre (1973)
  52. Heartbreaker – Free (1972)
  53. Willy & the Poor Boys – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
  54. Days of Future Passed – Moody Blues (1967)
  55. Meet The Beatles – The Beatles (1964)
  56. One Fair Summer Evening – Nanci Griffith (1988)*
  57. Selling England By The Pound – Genesis (1973)
  58. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel (1970)
  59. Holland – Beach Boys (1973)
  60. Setting Sons – The Jam (1979)
  61. The Basement Tapes – Bob Dylan & The Band (1975)
  62. Can’t Buy A Thrill – Steely Dan (1972)
  63. The Captain & Me – Doobie Brothers (1973)
  64. Making Movies – Dire Straits (1980)
  65. Beautiful Vision – Van Morrison (1982)
  66. The Dream of the Blue Turtles – Sting (1985)
  67. Who’s Next – The Who (1971)
  68. Idlewild South – Allman Brothers Band (1970)
  69. Moondance – Van Morrison (1970)
  70. The Beatles’ Second Album (1964)
  71. The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys – Traffic (1971)
  72. Allman Brothers Band (1969)
  73. Tupelo Honey – Van Morrison (1971)
  74. Beatles ’65 – The Beatles (1964)
  75. …Presenting The Fabulous Ronettes featuring Veronica (1964)*
  76. Peter Gabriel (3rd) (1980)
  77. Wheels of Fire – Cream (1968)
  78. In The Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson (1969)
  79. Something/Anything? – Todd Rundgren (1972)
  80. The Royal Scam – Steely Dan (1976)
  81. Chuck Berry Is On Top (1959)
  82. Young Americans – David Bowie (1974)
  83. The Way It Is – Bruce Hornsby & The Range (1986)
  84. First Circle – Pat Metheny Group (1984)*
  85. Electric Ladyland – Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968)
  86. Heroes – David Bowie (1977)*
  87. Pretzel Logic – Steely Dan (1974)
  88. Visions of the Emerald Beyond – Mahavishnu Orchestra (1975)*
  89. Made In Japan – Deep Purple (1973)
  90. Will O’ The Wisp – Leon Russell (1975)
  91. 461 Ocean Boulevard – Eric Clapton (1974)
  92. Band On The Run – Paul McCartney & Wings (1973)
  93. Green River - Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
  94. Yessongs – Yes (1973)*
  95. Where Have I Known You Before – Return To Forever (1974)*
  96. Dusty In Memphis – Dusty Springfield (1969)
  97. Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory – Traffic (1973)
  98. Strange Days – The Doors (1967)
  99. In The Wake of Poseidon – King Crimson (1970)*
100. Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal – Lou Reed (1974)
101. Manassas – Stephen Stills & Manassas (1972)
102. Fifth Dimension – The Byrds (1966)
103. Buffalo Springfield Again (1967)
104. Blow By Blow – Jeff Beck (1975)
105. Music From Big Pink – The Band (1968)
106. The Early Beatles (1964)
107. It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll – Rolling Stones (1974)
108. Odessey & Oracle – The Zombies (1969)
109. What’s Goin’ On – Marvin Gaye (1971)
110. On The Border – The Eagles (1974)
111. Blow Your Cool – Hoodoo Gurus (1987)
112. Orange Crate Art – Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks (1995)
113. Liars – Todd Rundgren (2004)
114. Desire – Bob Dylan (1976)
115. On The Beach – Neil Young (1974)
116. Some Girls – Rolling Stones (1978)
117. Tim – The Replacements (1985)
118. Sound Affects – The Jam (1980)
119. Howlin’ Wind – Graham Parker & The Rumour (1976)
120. I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin (1967)
121. Mysterious Traveler – Weather Report (1974)*
122. Voice of America – Little Steven (1984)
123. Brain Salad Surgery – Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1973)
124. Harvest – Neil Young (1972)
125. Bayou Country – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
126. Dreaming My Dreams – Waylon Jennings (1975)*
127. Afro Blue Impressions – John Coltrane (1977)*
128. One Live Badger – Badger (1972)
129. Heart Like A Wheel – Linda Ronstadt (1974)
130. 80/81 – Pat Metheny (1980)*
131. Valley Hi – Ian Matthews (1973)
132. 12X5 – Rolling Stones (1964)
133. In Concert: Live At Philharmonic Hall – Miles Davis (1973)*
134. Robbie Robertson (1987)
135. Bridge of Sighs – Robin Trower (1974)
136. Black Market – Weather Report (1976)*
137. Bad Co. – Bad Company (1974)
138. Tattoo – Rory Gallagher (1973)
139. Darkness On The Edge of Town – Bruce Springsteen (1978)
140. Ram – Paul & Linda McCartney (1971)
141. Stand Up – Jethro Tull (1969)
142. Vol. 4 – Black Sabbath (1972)
143. Cosmos’ Factory – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1970)
144. Other Voices, Other Rooms – Nanci Griffith (1993)*
145. He’s A Rebel – The Crystals (1963)*
146. Quadrophenia – The Who (1973)
147. Bare Trees – Fleetwood Mac (1972)
148. Joe Cocker! (1969)
149. McCartney – Paul McCartney (1970)
150. After The Gold Rush – Neil Young (1970)
151. Master of Reality – Black Sabbath (1971)
152. Red – King Crimson (1974)*
153. Superfly – Curtis Mayfield (1972)*
154. Sunflower – The Beach Boys (1970)
155. Eat A Peach – Allman Brothers Band (1972)
156. Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin (1975)
157. Rock ‘N’ Roll – John Lennon (1975)
158. Pirates – Rickie Lee Jones (1981)
159. Paranoid – Black Sabbath (1971)
160. Santana (1969)
161. Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
162. Younger Than Yesterday – The Byrds (1967)
163. Benefit – Jethro Tull (1970)
164. Trilogy – Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1972)
165. The Pretender – Jackson Browne (1976)
166. Blonde On Blonde – Bob Dylan (1966)
167. Rickie Lee Jones (1979)
168. Discipline – King Crimson (1981)*
169. You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw – Spooky Tooth (1972)
170. Madman Across The Water – Elton John (1971)
171. Aqualung – Jethro Tull (1971)
172. Moving Pictures – Rush (1981)
173. Aladdin Sane – David Bowie (1973)
174. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (1973)
175. Led Zeppelin (1st) (1969)
176. Bringing It All Back Home – Bob Dylan (1965)
177. Muswell Hillbillies – The Kinks (1971)*
178. Hard Again – Muddy Waters (1977)
179. Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols – The Sex Pistols (1977)
180. Learning To Crawl – Pretenders (1984)
181. Go For Your Guns – The Isley Brothers (1977)*
182. Live – Bob Marley & The Wailers (1975)
183. Hard Promises – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1981)
184. We’re An American Band – Grand Funk Railroad (1973)
185. Ghost In The Machine – The Police (1981)*
186. A New World Record – Electric Light Orchestra (1976)
187. Mingus – Joni Mitchell (1979)*
188. Don’t Cry Now – Linda Ronstadt (1973)
189. FM/Live – Climax Blues Band (1973)
190. Fun House – The Stooges (1970)*
191. Sign Of The Times – Prince (1987)*
192. Feats Don’t Fail Me Now – Little Feat (1974)
193. Wired – Jeff Beck (1976)
194. All Mod Cons – The Jam (1978)
195. Prisoner In Disguise – Linda Ronstadt (1975)
196. The Joshua Tree – U2 (1987)
197. Hearts of Stone – Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes (1978)
198. This Is The Modern World – The Jam (1977)
199. Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin (1973)*
200. Low – David Bowie (1977)*