Sunday, July 20, 2014

PERSPECTIVES


     We took the dog for a walk through the neighborhood this Sunday morning. There was fog when we awoke, and a bit of moisture still in the air, but it’s been unseasonably cool this past week and very pleasant. July and August are to summer what January and February are to winter: the worst of the season, days and weeks to be “gotten through” on the way to something better. But if this July has been among the more pleasurable on record where weather is concerned – at least in southwestern Ohio - it’s exacted a toll in other ways.
     This past week was especially horrific. A Malaysian airliner with nearly 300 people aboard was shot down over Ukraine. Those initial reports were bad enough, but it was horrific to see the evening news with pictures of a devastated crash site, and bodies strewn everywhere and rebels keeping investigators at bay. Imagine hearing that a flight carrying a loved one had been shot down only to turn on the news and possibly glimpse a body or a toy or a belonging you might recognize as the property of that loved one and be told there is no one looking after the site or retrieving the bodies because some government and its rebel forces need to flex their egos and prove who is in charge. At times like this, it’s difficult to understand how the human race has managed to survive its own barbarism for so many centuries.

     In our neighborhood this morning it was very quiet. Sundays were a day of rest when I was growing up. Most businesses were closed. People got up, had breakfast, read the newspaper, went to church and maybe visited the grandparents. In the afternoon they sat on patios and read while the kids played in the backyard. Maybe you fell asleep on the couch later watching an afternoon baseball game. You grilled hamburgers outside, and as the nighttime approached the kids were out catching lightning bugs in a jar. The whole idea of the day was to relax, and recharge your batteries for the workweek ahead. For the duration of our walk this morning, it might well have been 1964 instead of 2014. We took note of the many nice looking houses with well-kept yards on the blocks we walked. There are more fences now than I remember as a child. People seem to have affection for those six-foot high wood privacy fences these days. I think they’re an eyesore. I’m all for privacy, but if you live in the suburbs, it seems to me that putting up a fence to keep the neighbors away is missing the whole point of living in the suburbs. If you want that much privacy, move to the country or to the mountains. The rest of the fences we saw were often in need of paint or in a state of disrepair, but that only suggested that the people with those kinds of fences were less concerned with privacy than those with the other kind. I noticed, too, that while many people go to great lengths to beautify their yards, few people trim their trees. I know it can be expensive. But it’s necessary unless you want to undermine all your other work. Still, I don’t want to be too critical. Most people in the neighborhoods here really do seem to care about appearances. When houses go up for sale around here, they’re usually not up for sale long. The streets are quiet as well. There’s not much traffic, and the distant sound of a barking dog or a lonesome train whistle are often the only things you’ll hear for hours.
     On days like this, I’m grateful I don’t live in the Middle East. Israel launched an offensive against Gaza this week that has already seen hundreds of casualties. It’s easy to ignore the news coming out of the Middle East on a daily basis because the entire region is in a constant state of conflict. When the quiet subsides in my neighborhood it’s because of children riding their bikes or the squeal of the brakes as the UPS truck stops in front of the house. When the brief and always temporary quiet subsides in Gaza, or Israel or Iraq or Syria, it’s breached by the sound of bombs exploding and people screaming.
    
     The newsfeed on my Facebook page this week was the usual array of cat pictures and cat videos, along with pictures of food, and jewelry, various placards decorated with art and a quote that pertained in some fashion as to how to make the world a better place or your own life more enjoyable, along with a variety of status updates that were usually bereft of any recognizable wit or so opaque as to be pointless to everyone except the person who posted it. These were interrupted frequently by news of the deaths of famous people. The jazz musician Charlie Haden died unexpectedly. The original drummer and last surviving member of The Ramones died. Actress Elaine Stritch died. Guitarist Johnny Winter died as most blues musicians seem to – on the road awaiting his next gig. Actor James Garner passed away just yesterday. These were all people who touched my life in some way, and I felt the passing of each to varying degrees. I asked myself if any of them might have answered in the affirmative if they’d been asked if they were happy to be escaping all the misery and conflict and suffering most of us witnessed this week all around the world? There’s no way I can get an answer to that question, but I think of it these days every time anybody dies. I miss my parents to this day, but I took some comfort in the fact that they both passed before the effects of 9/11/2001 sent the world we all knew spiraling into some kind of chaotic hell from which it appears we may never escape. They’d witnessed the horrors of World War II. That was more than enough.

     Any Sunday I’m not working is welcome. I usually get Sundays off, but I’ve had to work more than my share of them lately, and it changes the entire week for me and negatively affects my outlook for the week ahead. I still try to keep my Sundays as they use to be – a day to rest and recharge the batteries. I get to read, sometimes I find time to write, or see some baseball on TV. My job, while I’m grateful to have it, and to be bringing home the modest paycheck that goes with it, is a near constant assault on my concept of integrity, and work ethic, my patience and my sanity. It’s all I can do each day to walk upright from the building and not begin screaming the moment I emerge from the building. The air-conditioning in the part of the building in which I work is still broken. So I’m working in uncomfortable heat and humidity for eight hours. I witness a profound lack of work ethic in many of my co-workers and managers. And if pressed to pick a single word that most accurately describes the work force I’m embarrassed to be part of, the word would be “lazy”. These are people who will not bend over to pick up something they dropped on the floor. They will not, under any circumstances, lift a finger to do anything that they are not required to do – unless it benefits them in some way. They take no pride in doing their jobs well or in earning every dollar they are paid – no matter how minimal. I’m not that way, so I don’t fit in. I usually try to work on my own to avoid witnessing the kind of behavior I use to fire people for exhibiting when I was managing stores. In order to maintain my sanity, I’m forced to stop caring about the outcome of my labor. I can only care about satisfying my own work ethic and my own integrity because I am outnumbered and cannot otherwise have an impact on how efficiently and effectively my work center operates. My days off need to be quiet walks in my neighborhood because my workdays are noisy, and uncomfortable, and, indeed, sometimes dangerous since safety is not and never has been a focus or concern for the company.
     But unless I fall off a ladder and split my head open on the concrete floor (where I have no doubt my broken body would lie for days while my co-workers stepped over it, ignoring the inconvenience and refusing to clean up the blood I’d spilled) my job probably won’t really kill me the way a bomb in my neighborhood would or falling out of the sky from 33,000 feet certainly would. Am I the lucky one then? Or are the lucky ones those who perished for whatever reasons this past week? Depends on your perspective, I guess. All I know for certain is that while there are reminders still of the world I knew as a child, the world in which I’m living now is not the one into which I was born. I don’t recognize the people. I don’t understand them. I don’t know why they believe as they do or act as they do. All I know is that I’m not one of them. And I’m proud not to be.

     I have an appointment tomorrow to have my eyes checked. I already know I need new glasses. So perhaps it will all look different to me tomorrow. But I doubt it. 

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.
__________

     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.

__________

     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)*


Sunday, June 29, 2014

THE FREE THINKER NO. 16

In this edition: 
   Power Down
   My Writing Guru
   Detective Work
   The Paisley 
    Underground 
    Resurfaces

__________


Power Down

     Last night we had what, in the years ahead, I’ll be referring to as the thunderstorm of the century. Trees were uprooted or turned on their sides, buckets of rain fell from the sky, and winds were tornado, if not hurricane, force. It was all over in 15 minutes, and when it was, a peace descended upon the house, the sun came up one more time to escort the moon to its place for the fall of night and I settled in front of the television to quell the adrenalin that had flowed while the storm threatened. Fifty-five minutes passed, and I heard an explosion in the distance and we lost our power.
     Eighteen hours later, and running on maybe three hours sleep in the past thirty-four, I sit at my computer keyboard trying to pass the time while listening to the Beach Boys on the portable, battery-powered CD player I bought when we had the infamous power outage of ’09 when we were without for 8 full days. I went to work this morning, and did a six-hour shift before coming home to a warm, muggy house. I ventured out to buy some ice for the cooler that now held what was left of the food in the refrigerator my wife had just bought yesterday. The ice cream and popsicles in the freezer melted, and they’re out in the garbage awaiting pickup tomorrow. I suspect more food will follow.
     The pump in the basement runs on electricity, and when we lost power the water poured in. We were luckier than our neighbors, though, both of whom had standing water and lots of ruined stuff to sacrifice to the gods of refuse. I’m trying to cope. I did a bit of reading after I got home, changing locations several times to get close to any window where there might be a breeze coming in. But, in spite of the length of time, it was easier in ’09. That was a September and we happened to get eight of the most beautiful days of the year while our power was out. It was in the low 70’s during the day with a nice breeze, and little humidity. At night it cooled into the fifties rendering the house livable all night and into the next day. But I don’t like the heat and humidity. And if the storms predicted for tonight return with the force we saw last night, we’ll be forced to close the windows. The basement stays cool, but I can’t swim, and I don’t fancy drowning.
     Dayton, Power & Light is out cutting trees down again to free lines brought down in the storm, and they’ve enlisted help from Kentucky. We can’t get an ETA on our missing power, but they assured us they can do nothing until the trees are cut and the lines freed. So we could be in for a long ride, and storms are in the forecast every day this week.
     What makes me angry is our dependence on electricity. I can read by daylight because I still own actual books. And I can run a CD or cassette player on batteries for awhile, but not a turntable which I prefer.
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     (At this point, I got a message on my computer screen warning me that I’d better save my work because my computer was nearly out of battery power, and would be dead in the next minute if I did not hook it up to an energy source. I saved what I’d written and closed the top and went back downstairs to sweat. Three hours later our power was again up and running. And it’s been on ever since. So let me finish my thought.)
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     The first I’d heard of global warning was in the 1970’s during the Ford (or maybe it was the Carter) administration. I thought to myself that if we’d reacted then to the information we’d been given, I might be living in a solar powered house now, free of the dependence on artificial energy. And these “weather events” (as the media now refers to them) that appear to be the result of the damage we’ve done to our own environment could only threaten my life and not my comfort. It seems as if the message is finally beginning to sink in, and government appears to be taking its first baby steps towards dealing with global warming. But it’s too late now. We waited far too long. The damage is done, and the fallout is just beginning. We’re in for a helluva ride in the foreseeable future. Most of the predictions I’ve seen expect some sort of serious catastrophe or reckoning by the end of the century. If that’s accurate, it means a child born now could still be alive to see it unfold – and that’s assuming it doesn’t happen sooner which it certainly could (and probably will).
     So when my power goes out – for even a short time – it makes me angry for a variety of reasons, and not all of it has to do with the humidity.

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My Writing Guru

     So that’s how the week began. Since then it’s been business as usual around here. I’ve been desperately trying to catch up on a stack of magazines I hadn’t read while I was trying to get some books read this year. I’ve got issues of Record Collector (which I read mostly cover-to-cover) with entire sections still untouched. The new Ugly Things arrived jammed with articles I couldn’t wait to read, too. But I felt the pull of my library again, and from there I emerged the other day with a collection of essays on jazz written by Ralph J. Gleason, Celebrating the Duke and Louie, Bessie, Billie, Bird, Carmen, Miles, Dizzy & Others (1975). It appeared the year Gleason died. I’ve had the book on my shelf for decades now. I was saving it for the right time because I knew there wouldn’t be another Gleason book. 

     I began reading Ralph J. Gleason’s work in the pages of the magazine he co-founded with Jann Wenner in 1967, Rolling Stone. Gleason had been a music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and while jazz was his first love, he also wrote about folk and pop and was a supporter of the late 60’s rock scene in San Francisco that birthed bands like Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Big Brother & the Holding Co. Gleason also wrote liner notes, and was one of the founders of the Monterey Jazz Festival. He had a television show called Jazz Casual that ran on PBS for eight seasons. There’s a book award named for him, and I could probably write an entire piece about his work and accomplishments.
     The reason he matters to me is that he was the very first jazz critic I ever read. When I began reading Rolling Stone in 1973, I’d never seen a jazz magazine, and still didn’t own a jazz record. In the pages of Rolling Stone, Gleason wrote of the jazz greats he loved, but he also wrote about the Airplane, and Janis and the rest of the scene of which Rolling Stone was an integral part. He had an intimate, conversational writing style. He was never judgmental. He seemed to only write about the music and the people he loved, and in that way, he was atypical – especially as jazz critics go. Most of them are notorious snobs – as I later discovered when I began reading Down Beat magazine. But as Studs Terkel pointed out about his friend, Ralph, in the forward to this book, Gleason never forgot that he was a fan first. That comment resonated with me when I read it, and by the time I finished the book’s lengthy opening essay – not having read Gleason at all since he passed away in 1975 – I realized something I hadn’t realized before. More than any other writer I’ve read, he’s influenced my own writing style.
     When I began to write seriously, the biggest hurdle I encountered was discovering my writing voice. Who was I? How would I read on the page? Would people hear me or hear a variety of disconnected voices? It was very important to me to find my own voice and my own style very early on. So I asked myself what kind of writer I wanted to be, and what I wanted to accomplish. Keep in mind this all happened more than 30 years after I’d last read Ralph Gleason in the pages of Rolling Stone. My earliest attempts were somewhat awkward and unsuccessful. But working within the guiding principles of writing for the pleasure of writing, and trying to convey to readers my great passion for all types of music, I gradually got a little better, and the voice for which I was searching emerged, and it’s been with me ever since. It’s only in reading Ralph J. Gleason again that I realized that, subconsciously at least, I was trying to do what Gleason did – convey my love and passion for music with the sole purpose of spreading its gospel to anyone who would listen. When I read Gleason, I can see my own writing style in his. As a writer, on my best day, I could never hold a candle to Gleason. But his influence and his attitudes about music are all over my best work, and I didn’t even realize it until I began reading him again in the pages of this book. When I’d get each new issue of Rolling Stone, it was Gleason’s column to which I’d first turn. I read them and reread them. He taught me more about Miles Davis (who loved Gleason’s work, by the way) than any author I’ve ever read. And in two short years it was over. He died unexpectedly at the age of 58 – just a few months older than I am now.
     I wrote Rolling Stone a letter after he passed inquiring about a book of Gleason’s that was supposed to be published after his death. I’d assumed it was a collection of his Rolling Stone pieces to be published by Straight Arrow, the magazine’s book publishing concern at the time. I never received an answer, and I never saw any book until I stumbled upon this one in a used shop a few years later. I can only guess this was the book to which they were referring, but I think it’s tragic that the columns Gleason wrote for the magazine along with his pieces for The Chronicle, and the various liner notes he wrote for records through the years are now lost to the ages. Jann Wenner retained Gleason’s name on Rolling Stone’s masthead, but I think a greater tribute would’ve been to collect some of Gleason’s work and put it between covers where readers could always find it somewhere in the years to come. I don’t suppose we’ll ever see it now. Fortunately, though, I did find, about a year ago, a copy of Gleason’s book Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound published in 1969. That’s on my shelf waiting to be read, but I won’t wait so long this time. I can’t afford to. If anyone enjoys anything I write, I owe a debt to Ralph Gleason for making me a better writer. But his sudden passing at a relatively young age, reminds me that it isn’t a good idea to put off doing anything you really want to do. I feel lucky to have ever read him. If you haven’t, maybe you can find some of his work out there somewhere – even if it’s just on the back of a used record.

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Detective Work

     I’ve written a great deal in these pages about Norton Records, and since I last did, Miriam Linna, who runs the label with Billy Miller, has released her own record, Nobody’s Baby under the name ‘Miriam’. As of this writing, I’ve heard the first single, and sampled the rest of it, but I’ve been waiting to order it because the label just issued several other new titles, and there’s one which has been delayed that I was waiting for so I could do everything at once (and save the extra shipping costs – such is the state of my economy these days). In the meantime, however, my curiosity about Miriam’s record inspired me to do a bit of detective work. I knew the album was a collection of cover songs, but there wasn’t a single title on it that I could immediately recognize. That bugged me because my knowledge of the popular music of my lifetime is encyclopedic by any yardstick, and Miriam is roughly the same age as I am. As a label owner, I would assume she knows of and has heard countless things I’ve never come across. But to cut an entire album of songs I didn’t recognize? Well that was a bit much for my ego to take. So with nothing more than the titles in hand (no songwriting or publishing credits at all) I went to You Tube to try and search all dozen titles on Miriam’s album and figure out who’d done the originals and how Miriam knew of them when I didn’t.
     As it turned out, I did know a few of the tunes, and even owned a couple of them already. But they were obscure enough that the titles didn’t register when I first saw them. The problem I ran into was trying to sort through multiple different records with the same titles, and determine which of those Miriam had recorded for her album. After extensive searches, I tracked down 11 of the 12 songs on her new record in the original versions – versions I believe Miriam sourced for her album. I was able to verify my choices as correct when I sampled Miriam’s record on iTunes. I downloaded them, and sequenced them in the same order as Miriam had – omitting the one track I wasn’t able to find (perhaps it’s new and original, or previously unreleased?). And I listened to this various artists version of her album, and discovered something amazing. The album of songs, with nothing else to tie them together beyond some random period and stylistic similarities, and the fact that they were hand-picked by one person as favorites, actually works beautifully as a various artists collection of obscurities. The sequencing is perfect, and the collection I put together sounds like it belongs together. All of which is a roundabout way of saying Miriam did a brilliant job choosing material for her record, and presenting it in a way that reflects her own personal tastes. Not only did I gain some insight into who she is as an artist, I also gained some insight into why her record label is so good at doing what it does. It’s something I touched on in a previous piece in these pages, (Vinyl Obsessions posted earlier this month) that a collection, whether by a single artist or a variety of artists, can, when presented the right way, provide a unique and thrilling listening experience. There are some really great songs on Miriam’s record, and I’d not previously heard most of them. What a gift to come across 9 songs I’d never heard – most by artists of whom I was already a fan! I’ll have Miriam’s new record soon (available at nortonrecords.com on vinyl and CD and download from iTunes), and then I’ll have the opportunity to hear her work her own magic on these songs. In the meantime, I’m keeping my various artists collection of these songs as a companion piece. (By the way, this is a good example of the things I do when I’m in my music room. Sometimes I’m playing detective. Sometimes I’m just being a fan. But I’m always eager to listen.)

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The Paisley Underground Resurfaces

     My other music project recently was finding more music from the movement known as The Paisley Underground. The scene originated on the West Coast in the early eighties and was the name given to a group of bands with a penchant for 60’s influenced pop, garage and psychedelia, heavy on the guitar interplay and vocal harmonies. The scene included The Bangles, Dream Syndicate, The Long Ryders, Opal, Green On Red, Game Theory, The Three O’Clock, The Last, Rain Parade, The Plimsouls, True West, Wednesday Week and others. I knew of all of these bands during that period, and owned several of the records that came out of the scene. But it all passed far too soon, and I felt that it was a ripe subject for further research.
     It turns out there was a book written about the scene, Tell Me When It’s Over: The Paisley Underground Reconsidered by John L. Micek. But an extensive Internet search did not turn it up, so I searched some newspaper articles and blogs and put together a list of bands from the period I wanted to further explore. I was a fan during that time of several of those bands, but except for The Bangles, I had nothing on CD that I could add to my iTunes program and listen to on my iPod when I worked. It seems those original records have become scarce and collectible, and many of them are out-of-print. I was able to turn up a few reissues and compilations, and I’ve been adding them when I can afford to. I’ve managed to build a nice collection that’s representative at least of what the scene was all about. Here’s a short list of what I was able to turn up. If this sounds like your trip, I recommend further exploration. I’ve found it very satisfying, and a nice alternative to everything else I’ve been listening to lately. The compilations are representative and include a lot of rarities, while the live sets capture a bit of the atmosphere.

   The Best of The Long Ryders
   The Hidden World Revealed – The Three O’Clock
   Hollywood Holiday Revisited – True West
   Drifters – True West
   What We Had – Wednesday Week
   The Complete Live at Raji’s – Dream Syndicate
   The Day Before Wine and Roses – Dream Syndicate (This was just issued recently.
      It’s a live performance the band gave on radio the day before its debut LP, The
      Days of Wine and Roses was released, and has finally been properly released.)

   Be sure to track down Rain Parade, the early Bangles, Opal (if you can afford them), Green On Red, Mazzy Star and The Plimsouls. You should at least be able to hear some of these bands on YouTube.