This past week, I've started my 2014 blog project of listening through the top 100 from Rolling Stone's Greatest Albums of All Time... I'm working on my new record "Held Momentarily" now... I'm hoping this 100 record education will inspire me to produce the best album I can...and discover new touchstones along the way.
I have always envied people who come from families that ushered them through their childhoods, educating them on all the great records that came before. I love my family, but they just didn't do that. I've always had this insatiable desire to stay on top of all new music, never really looking back. Maybe that's a product of youth, and we all get to a point eventually where you just have to look back. It must happen to all of us at different times, different ages...My time is now.
The Zombies - Odyssey and Oracle
In at 100, is The Zombies' "Odyssey and Oracle". Released in 1968, upon first listen it seems to have all the hallmark sounds of what I think of as a 60's record--the stacked harmonies and harpsichords, "Oooh, Oooh, bum bum bum". There's a lot of talk about seasons, and sunshine and rain. But then you listen a little deeper, and realize the first song is a summery ode to someone about to be released from prison (Care of Cell 44). Rose For Emily has one of the most infectious melodies, while the lyrics economically span a whole lifetime of loneliness. Beechwood Park could easily be a track from the new Broken Bells record... This Will Be Our Year is my theme for 2014...my theme for us. You and me. Friends Of Mine is one of the corniest songs ever, but so perfectly goofy and expertly crafted. My favorite part is the background vocals...
Joyce and Terry, Paul and Molly, Liz and Brian, Joy and David, Kim and Maggie, June and Daffy, Jean and Jim, And Jim and Christine
How can I not mention the song we've probably ALL heard from this record, Time Of The Season.
What's your name? Who's your daddy? Is he rich like me? Has he taken any time to show you what you need to live?
Best pick-up line ever? I'm also struck by the genius of that clap on the second eighth note of every bar...and the breath on the and-of-two...perfection.
I guess what struck me most about this record is that it somehow manages to be of it's time and timeless simultaneously. There's not a single throw-away track in the batch. The one track I had trouble with originally was Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914). I could hear Colin Meloy singing this...maybe that was part of the issue--I've never found a way to enjoy The Decemberists. But, on repeat listening of this track, I'm swept in by the production and the story.
Sly & The Family Stone - There's A Riot Goin On
For this one, I had the aid of the 33 1/3 book 32: There’s a Riot Goin’ On written by Miles Marshall Lewis. Gaining the perspective of what (riot) was going on at the time, and where Sly Stone was at artistically while making this record definitely deepened my appreciation. I have to also say, the chapter called "The Believer Whose Faith Was Shattered" was so keenly observed that I completely saw myself in his character of Butch. How Miles describes the late nineties, choosing Erykah Badu as his central figure (who remains one of my all time favorites) reflecting that time's search for "spiritual knowledge" and seeming to be on "the cusp of the Aquarian age"... How he ties in The Matrix, The Prophet, The Artist's Way, Conversations With God, The Alchemist, all of it--yeah that was me--and really speaks of the promise of the time, and how it was quieted abruptly by September 11th.
I always have a kind of PTSD flinch when those two words combine: "September" and "Eleventh"...but the way he uses it to equate the death of my generation's innocence to the death of Sly's generation's (he points to the Rolling Stones' concert at the Altamont as the death of the sixties).
Sly was working on this album during that time, finally releasing it in 1971. With a newfound fame, and the aid of cocaine and PCP, he descended into a paranoid depression...but woah what an album he was able to create.
I can't tell you how many smoke-filled dorm rooms I sat in while friends forced a listening of James Brown, Tower of Power, or Parliament Funkadelic...and here's a confession. It's cool--I just never got it.
Let me explain.
I'm just a mellow guy. Lay that beat back, and I'm about it ALL DAY LONG. Push the beat too much, and I'll tap my toes and all...but it just doesn't speak to me the same way.
This record is the perfection of that--it is the peak of funky, but it's so laid back and groovy (I know, I don't use that word either, but it is). Even though you can hardly understand much of what Sly has to say here (he's slurring through much of the record), you can FEEL it. And it just feels so good, that you want to move (Luv N' Haight). I could definitely play this record as a double feature to one of my laid-back favorites, Shuggie Otis's Inspiration Information (it's funny, now checking out the wikipedia page for Inspiration Information, I see I'm not the only one to think of this).
There's A Riot Going On is a great example of an artist letting the music do much of the talking. The lyrics are mostly sparse and repetitive. Just Like A Baby, woah. Poet? This will be my new theme song when I need to remember that "I'm a songwriter. Well. Well. Well. A poet." I love that he declares what he is, without feeling like he has to PROVE anything. There is no wordplay. No inner rhyme. Just a simple, confident declarative.
Family Affair. It's interesting being a generation or two after a song like this (like Time Of The Season above). You know the song from commercials, or the many, many crap cover versions you've heard of it. I don't think I'd ever really heard the original version, or listened to the lyrics. Here he masterfully mixes light and dark: positive statements within a dreary scenario. It works on so many levels.
(You Caught Me) Smilin'. I love this one. I love how he sings it in a way that totally red-lights his mic's input level--leaving it distorted, but still it works. Spaced Cowboy is one of the strangest things I've heard in a while...the first time I heard it, I had to stop and ask "Is he yodeling?" Yeah. He's yodeling. But I think I love it more every time I hear it. Was he high out of his mind when he recorded it? Mos def.
Runnin' Away is another one I'd never heard. This song could be released today (perhaps by Daft Punk) and blow up...I love it so much. Especially how she delivers the word "stretchin'" in the line "Makin' blues...of night and day. Hee hee, hee hee. You're ST-TT-TT-RETCHIN out your dues" at around 0:20.
Thank You For Talking To Me, Africa. The laid-back, funked out cousin to Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). "Many things is on my mind, Words in the way." Any surprise that I love the elongated version?
Yep. I love both records, and can certainly see why these made it on the list of best albums of all time.
2 down, 98 to go. Can I do this? Let's see.