With Thanksgiving just days away, and Christmas coming soon, I thought I’d check in once more before the year-end edition. It’s been a couple of months since my last post (since deleted), and I’ve been spending the time adjusting to my new job (see “Turning The Page” from August), and trying to stay abreast of the plethora of new music that overwhelms us at this time of year.
Since July I’ve picked up some things here and there – most of which I’ve posted to my Facebook page. But I’ve had to be selective – which means I’m sticking to the tried and true (The Stones, Dylan, David Gilmour, etc.), but there have been a few interesting other additions since then.
From Bomp I picked up The Ultimate Acid Dreams Collection, a 5 CD import box set from Rubble that collects the Acid Dreams series of releases of 60’s garage and psych obscurities. The sound quality is excellent, and of the 93 tracks here, there were fewer than 10 I didn’t already own somewhere (and my collection of this stuff is comprehensive). So it was worth the money. I don’t rate it as highly as the Nuggets set on Rhino, but it’s a worthy addition, and compares favorably to the Back From The Grave series on Crypt, not to mention the Pebbles, Garage Punk Unknowns, Mindrocker, Garage Beat, Teenage Shutdown, and Psychedelic States collections on a variety of labels. There’s a nice booklet included, too.
One of the bands I’d marked for further investigation is The Church. They’re a band I’ve loosely followed since their Heyday album in 1985. But until now I only had a couple of LP’s and a couple of compilations – one of which was a CD-R made for me by a buddy who’s a devout follower of the band, and which served notice that their later records were well worth checking into. It took me awhile to get to it, but I found some things used online. I picked up Priest=Aura, Magician Among The Spirits, Forget Yourself, and Hologram of Baal – all of which impressed me. The band retains their original sound, but they’ve moved beyond the limitations imposed by the “pop group” label. In some ways they’re almost progressive, but in a post modern way rather than what we’d normally think of as progressive rock. They’re a thinking man’s pop group, and the records are sonically very impressive as well. They only just arrived recently so I need more time with them, but based on what I heard there’s more investigating to be done.
David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock is very satisfying. It strikes a nice balance between Pink Floyd, and Gilmour’s solo work, and I expect it to place highly on my year-end Top Ten list. Likewise, the new solo record from Keith Richards, Crosseyed Heart. It sounds less like a Stones album without Mick Jagger, and more like a true Keith Richards solo album. The material is far better than on his previous studio effort, Main Offender, and suggests that if the Stones pull the plug, Keith could carry on for a few years more at least if he wanted.
The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, have been quite active of late issuing more titles in their From The Vault series. Live At The Tokyo Dome is from the Japanese leg of the 1990 Steel Wheels outing, and the band is in terrific form. It surpasses the official release from that tour, 1990’s single disc Flashpoint. I’m also awaiting the arrival of the just issued Live In Leeds 1982, which preserves the final show of their 1982 trek promoting the Tattoo You album. The band would not tour again until ’89, and this one features lots of Tattoo You, and should exceed Still Life as the live document from that period. I’ve no idea what else remains unissued, but as long as the sets feature both audio and video, and don’t repeat much of what’s been released before, I’ll stay with it.
It’s a shame the band doesn’t own its 60’s catalog, but into the breech step any number of labels to help fill the gap. A label called Coda has issued Live at the BBC…and Beyond, a collection 14 tracks from BBC recordings, as well as the Ed Sullivan and Mike Douglas Shows in the U.S. The sound is good, and the band displays the form that made them legends.
Much the same is happening with the Bob Dylan catalog. An import on the BDA label titled Finjan Club chronicles a Montreal club performance from July of 1962. This is the folk period Bob Dylan, and is mostly a set of standards along with a few Dylan originals. Not essential, but certainly interesting – especially for fans of that period in Dylan’s career. Meanwhile, the mother label – Columbia – has just issued The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: 1965-1966 The Best of the Cutting Edge. This is a 2 CD distillation of a much larger 6 CD set, and deluxe edition of outtakes, alternates, demos, and what not from the period beginning with Bringing It All Back Home and culminating in the release of Blonde On Blonde. This is absolutely essential unreleased Dylan. There’s not a title in the bootleg series I wouldn’t recommend, but this is certainly among the best two or three you can get.
Pacific Surf Line by Gospelbeach (featuring ex-members of Beachwood Sparks, and The Tyde, among others) on the Alive label is a slice of California sunshine – all shimmering guitars, and vocal harmonies. At the moment it’s running neck and neck with Brian Wilson’s No Pier Pressure for my favorite record of 2015. Also from Bomp mail order I picked up The Motions Wasted Words import LP, a collection of the band’s 45’s for the Havoc label. They were a Dutch beat group, contemporaries of The Beatles, Kinks, Yardbirds, etc., and masters at their craft. I’d had very limited exposure to them on compilation LP’s, but they’re one of the best-kept secrets of that era. If you were a fan of that period, I guarantee this one will satisfy you.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that I picked up a collection of live performances from the Soul Train TV series that I’ve had my eye on for some time now. The Best of Soul Train Live features Labelle, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. The Isley Brothers, Ike & Tina Turner, Bill Withers, James Brown, Aretha Franklin duetting with Smokey Robinson, Tower of Power, Stevie Wonder, Barry White, Sly & The Family Stone, and Al Green, every one of them in stellar live performance from the series. If you can find it, get it. It’s a mindblower.
Besides the above, I’m spending a lot of time with the playlists I’ve compiled for my iTunes program to listen to at work. I have to laugh every time I see some record label post a playlist via Facebook, or I hear or see someone’s Spotify playlist. The guys I work with have Spotify, and whenever they’re playing one of their lists, they’re loaded with the most obvious things. I’ve boasted to people that those playlists are for amateurs, and that there’s an art to making a proper playlist. I’d liken it to compiling the perfect mix tape – also an art, and thanks to the forward march of technology, a lost art at that. But allow me the boast. Digital technology took away the life I built for myself, and definitely did not want to abandon. So when I tell you I can make a far superior playlist to what some computer can randomly pull up based on your listening habits, or what some intern at Spotify or some other streaming site (if any of them use interns) can put together after spending hours in front of his computer screen, believe it. A friend of mine asked me to write a piece about it for these pages, but rather than delve into a subject that would take thousands of words to do justice to, maybe I can present a truncated version of what I do here to give you some idea of what a playlist should look like.
Let me give you an idea of what my lists look like and try to detail what sets them apart in the simplest terms.
My goal in compiling a playlist is to set a mood that comes as close as possible to aural time traveling. The idea is to create or recreate a world that is gone if it ever existed at all. And you can do it if you know enough about music, and where it comes from. Some of my lists are standard type lists – favorite artists, for example. I have a Jefferson Airplane list titled Airplane Parts that collects my favorite Airplane, and Starship songs along with fellow travelers like Hot Tuna or solo efforts from Grace Slick or Paul Kantner. My Allman Brothers Band list includes Gregg, and Duane solo pieces, along with Dickey Betts, Hour Glass, and 31st of February. My Ritchie Blackmore file includes Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Blackmore’s Night. For Stephen Stills you can do solo work, Manassas, CSN, CSNY, Buffalo Springfield, and the Stills-Young Band. The Velvet Underground can include Velvet Underground as a band, Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico as solo artists. My Al Kooper file has Al Kooper’s solo stuff, his work with Mike Bloomfield, and Stephen Stills, Blues Project, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. And so it goes. You get the idea.
I like to compile lists of songs by years, and I usually gravitate to my formative years for that. I have a master list of my favorite music spanning 1969-1972, and then three separate lists derived from that master list for use on my shuffle. I have the single years 1973, 1974, and 1975 as well. Each of these files focuses on only music released in that calendar year. If you don’t have any idea about what was released when, or you want to check your aging memory, Wikipedia is a good source for that. Those files cover my musical history from the age of 12 to the age of 18, and every important record is there – no exceptions. If I want to relive the year I turned 16 without the homework, and the curfew, and the acne, all I have to do is dial up my playlist. (I even have a second 1973 playlist that features only complete LP’s from that year titled 1973 Longplayers.)
AM & FM radio were dominant influences on me growing up, so I have collections of 45’s in files covering the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, but I also have collections of FM radio fare from the 70’s in a file titled Redbeard Masters after the DJ that I was listening to and learning from in those days.
I have several soul music files. One is for full-length albums. I also have a file that focuses on funk only. I have a 60’s soul file, and a 70’s soul file, too. I have separate soul music files for music from Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia. And I have files collecting my favorite soul singles from each decade. My favorite, though, is one I titled Psychedelic Soul that collects only records, and artists produced by the great Norman Whitfield (Temptations, Edwin Starr, Undisputed Truth, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Marvin Gaye). The trick, though, is knowing which records he produced, because those he didn’t produce don’t fit the file at all.
American Garage is a master file of garage rock from the 1960’s. Teen Beat Mayhem collects that book’s Top 100 garage rock songs in order from 1 to 100. Nuggets has my favorite garage rock songs in a smaller file for the shuffle.
Genre files are easy. You simply take every reggae song you like and put it in a file. I’ve done it with country music, jazz, blues, folk, and ambient/electronic music as well.
In addition to my file of favorite Rolling Stones songs, I have a file of their From The Vault series as well as an entire file of Rolling Stones cover songs done by other artists – nearly 200 of them so far, titled Rolling Stones Universe.
My blues files are separated into pre-war and post-war blues. The difference in audio fidelity makes this a must.
My Rain Songs file has nearly a hundred songs with rain as the subject or setting.
Paisley Underground covers that late 70’s/80’s west coast scene and includes all of the leading lights such as Dream Syndicate, Opal, The Bangles, True West, Green On Red, The Last, The Long Ryders, Rain Parade, The Plimsouls, The Three O’Clock and several more.
There is a file of nothing except records released on the Norton Records label. Motown also gets its own file.
A pair of Jazz Lite files collects the more commercial jazz of the 70’s and 80’s - David Sanborn, Spyro Gyra, Bob James, Earl Klugh, Tom Scott, Grover Washington, John Klemmer, Crusaders, Steps Ahead, Brecker Brothers, the CTI label collection of artists, and many more.
Two more files collect the best music for Halloween, and for Christmas, too.
I have three separate files devoted to music made in California or by California natives, or music that sounds like either. I have a file for Los Angeles, and another for San Francisco (very different files, believe me). And when you combine the two, you get the California file and it sounds different than either of the separate files even though it uses the same music. But when you mix and match and put music in different contexts, you get an entirely different listening experience. And if you think a San Francisco file consists of some Airplane, Dead, and Quicksilver records, think again. There was much more to that city’s music scene than the bands Spotify might choose for their list. You need some Commander Cody, and Flamin’ Groovies, and Boz Scaggs, and Steve Miller Band, and Santana, and Doobie Brothers, and Journey, and Moby Grape, and The Charlatans, and Big Brother, and Country Joe & the Fish, and Hot Tuna, and even Creedence. And if you have those FM radio CD’s featuring period radio shows with commercials featuring DJ’s Tom Donohue, and B. Mitchell Reed, you can really get to San Francisco without a plane or any help at all from Stanley Owsley.
Do you like jangly guitars, and melodic hooks with great vocal harmonies, and crisp production? You’ll find those in the Power Pop file that features everybody from The Beatles, and The Byrds to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, the dB’s, Marshall Crenshaw, Badfinger, The Knack, Raspberries, R.E.M., XTC, Hoodoo Gurus, DM3, Shoes, Cheap Trick, Crowded House, Dwight Twilley Band, The Romantics, The Bangles, and too many more to mention. You have any idea what this stuff sounds like on shuffle? You’ll never get a sugar high like this from eating a box of sugar cubes.
Letter From Britain (named after Simon Frith’s column in Creem at the time) focuses on the very best music coming out of England in the late 1970’s – Elvis Costello, Dr. Feelgood, Graham Parker, Marianne Faithfull, Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, Rockpile, Dire Straits, Ian Hunter, Peter Gabriel, The Inmates, The Jam, Eddie & the Hot Rods, The Pirates, The Clash, The Specials, The English Beat, Any Trouble, Roxy Music, The Searchers (but only the stuff they recorded for Sire then – not their 60’s recordings – those belong in the Power Pop file, dig?), Kate Bush, Madness, and so on.
CBGB brings together Talking Heads, Ramones, Television, Blondie, New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, Suicide, Dead Boys, Mink DeVille and some of the lesser known acts to grace the CBGB’s stage. This file blows my mind every time I play it.
Blue Collar collects Springsteen, Mellencamp, Billy Joel, Pretenders, Tom Waits, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Nils Lofgren, Little Steven, Robert Gordon, Lou Reed, Del Shannon, John Hiatt, Bob Seger, Dwight Twilley, Joan Jett, Ronnie Spector, Mink DeVille and others in what is a mix of working class, and romance with a East Coast/Midwest feel. Not all of these acts seems to fit together, but my ears tell me they do every time I play it.
Americana features The Band, Lucinda Williams, Black Crowes, Blasters, Bob Dylan, Springsteen, The Byrds, Elvis Presley, Emmylou Harris, The Dillards, Flying Burrito Brothers, Jerry Garcia, Joe Ely, Hollis Brown, Johnny Cash, Lee Ann Womack, Los Lobos, Maria McKee, Lone Justice, Nanci Griffith, The Reivers, Ry Cooder, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Gene Clark, and more.
Bang Your Head is 240 of my favorite hard rock and metal songs. Southern Rock brings together true rock from the American south and southwest and mixes in some rock-influenced country music as well as country-influenced rock. In this file you’ll find The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Poco, .38 Special, Wet Willie, The Black Crowes, The Byrds, Charlie Daniels Band, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Rossington-Collins Band, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, Elvis Presley, Gram Parsons, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Delaney & Bonnie, Bruce Hornsby & The Range, The Outlaws, and others. Once you’re south of the Mason-Dixon line you can travel east or west and the music fits together.
If a streaming service offers a British Invasion file, you can expect The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Animals, Yardbirds, Hollies, and all the other big names from that era. But will they remember Billy J. Kramer, Petula Clark, Billy Nicholls, The Foundations, The Sorrows, The Merseybeats, Sandie Shaw, The Mindbenders, The Creation, The Action, and hundreds of other more obscure groups who never made a splash in America, but whose records were as good as those made by the marquee acts?
Would a streaming service even conceive of a file titled And Friends that brings together Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie & friends, J.J. Cale, Bobby Whitlock, Derek & The Dominos, Blind Faith, Traffic, Gregg Allman, Johnny Jenkins, and Rick Danko? Would the service understand why these artists all fit together? If it did, it would have to know that most of these musicians played together, and mixed and matched on a variety of records and in touring bands in the 1970’s, and that many hailed from Oklahoma, and that some of those Okies influenced and played with the Brits like Clapton, and Traffic. This is what I’m talking about. To create a proper playlist – one that digs deeper, and satisfies on every level, it’s necessary to think outside the box. I know from experience you can put a collection of 60’s Rolling Stones songs in a file with the best songs from The Clash, and it sounds perfect together. The first time I tried it, I couldn’t believe how right it sounded.
You see why I have no need for a streaming service? Why color with the box of 8 Crayolas when you can use the box of 64? Technology can take my career away, but it cannot reproduce what I’ve been hearing the way I hear it over the past 50-plus years. So the next time you’re thinking about a playlist, think a little longer.
I think the next, and maybe the final edition of The Recordchanger will appear in late December or early January. That will be the annual year-end roundup of the best music of the calendar year. Until then, enjoy your holidays, stay safe, and be aware of your surroundings. There are some crazy people out there. Don’t let them ruin your good time.