I'm making progress with my album "Held Momentarily". I just got the final mix for Vulnerary Love yesterday. So that makes two songs complete, and 8 more to go. I worked on the project schedule this week, and it looks like it will be an October 2014 release. Get out your allowance kids, it's going to be worth it. Also, quick note. I started reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner) this week. Yes, I was working my way through 2 books this week (more on that below). I am enjoying every twist and turn, every turn of phrase, and every expertly observed character in this remarkable book. Can't wait to get to the end--and also never want it to end.
70: Billy Joel -- The Stranger (1977)
After I started this project, I learned that there is a "better" list to use called Acclaimed Music's The 3000 Most Recommended Albums Of All Time. Instead of just polling RS contributors, this list tries to aggregate critical response from every source. I'm already too deep to change course at this point--but I do plan to go in later and fill in anything I missed from their Top 100 list.
Why I mention this now is that Billy Joel's The Stranger is #70 for Rolling Stone, but #559 for Acclaimed Music. That's a pretty large gap. And my impression is that Acclaimed Music is probably closer to the truth.
That's not to say there aren't some genius songs here--Movin' Out, Just The Way You Are, and She's Always A Woman. Only The Good Die Young is a fine song, though I would be fine never hearing it again. I had never heard [the song] The Stranger or Vienna before, but really like them both--even if I always expect the opening line "Slow down you..." to end with "...move too fast" a la Simon and Garfunkel's 59th Street Bridge (Feelin' Groovy).
But otherwise, things get a little corny.
As of this deadline, I'm still not sure how I feel about Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. I starts sweetly enough, a bottle of red...a bottle of white. Beautifully orchestrated and lush. Then at 1:45 comes the plunk-plunk-plunk-plunk section, and he switches his vocal delivery to a timbre I don't like so much (let's call it the "Rock Billy" voice). Then the Brenda and Eddie section comes in (around the 2:50 mark, with the infectious Oh-Ohs)--OK, I'm into it again. Then around 5:57, we get to the BIG Symphonic interpretation of the theme...and finally at 6:29 we're back to bottles of wine. It's an adventurous move for a songwriter, without question. I'm just not sure it works--sometimes less is more. That time is now.
69: Led Zeppelin -- Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
For this one, I read yet another volume of the 33 1/3 Series dedicated to this album, available here. As I'm reading about the band, and their flirtation with the occult, and possibly some Satan shit, I was whalloped by a blast from my distant past.
I grew up the grandson of a Baptist preacher in Central Florida. That meant I wasn't allowed to listen to any of the music on this very list (or go to the movies, or go to high school dances or parties either--good times; I digress). We were at Church 3+ hours each Sunday, for volleyball or basketball each Tuesday night, the midweek service on Wednesday night, visitation on Thursday night (don't know what that is?? It's where your Sunday School teacher takes you around to the popular kid's homes to tell them about Jesus--well-intentioned, but terrible for our already troubled social standing in school), Saturday is Youth Group--and then it all starts again on Sunday.
Part of being around that many religious people is that you're exposed to people with some pretty intense beliefs (and some wonderful people too--don't get me wrong). One of the things that was HUGE when I was an early teen was something called "back-masking"--the belief that rock bands were recording subliminal messages (mostly Satanic in nature), reversing them, and burying the reversed sound in the song's mix. One guy around our church, especially, spoke about this incessantly, and about demons lurking in the woods and campgrounds, etc. He ended up writing a book about how evil and depraved Led Zeppelin are. This 33 1/3 book references his book many, many times...sometimes respectfully, sometimes pointing out his lack of "scholarly research"...either way, I was transported back to those crazy days when almost every song had reports of backwards messages within them (including the Beatles and Madonna).
OK, so get beyond the lore. How's the music?
As I've mentioned when writing about the preceding two records (II and Physical Graffiti)--I want to like them. Before this record, I had not been convinced that they have a space in my personal collection. This album has not necessarily changed my mind either.
This is definitely the better album of the three I've heard so far. I love how the album starts off with the guitar's panting of Black Dog (something I learned from the 33 1/3 book). Just a classic track--even if the lyrics are a little non-sensical. I am torn about the guitar riff when it goes out of time/synch with the drums. I read that originally John Bonham was going to try some tricky time signatures to stay closer to the riff, but then decided to dig in and stick to his 4/4 groove. The result is disorienting, and somehow satisfying when the beat and riff reunite a few bars later.
Rock and Roll is another classic cut. Robert Plant's vocal stylings show how Axl Rose or AC/DC later took pages from his book. Here's where I most likely heard the song for the first time:
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I have to admit, I'd never heard Stairway To Heaven all the way through until this week. Again, just look above to realize why this was the case. It's a beautiful song--"true" lyrical meaning aside--perfectly building a story to a rewarding climax. I also hear the inspiration for some of Jeff Buckley's vocal stylings in Robert Plant's delivery of the line "To be a rock and not to roll".
The song Going To California was inspired by Joni Mitchell, so yeah, bonus points--"To find a queen without a king, They say she plays guitar and cries and sings" a reference to her song "I Had A King".
When The Levee Breaks breaks through with its huge and beastly beat, a cool blues song originally written by Memphis Minnie in 1929 about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that displaced many, many people. The band has been widely criticized for outright stealing many of their riffs and lyrics. It's nice to see with, at least, this track that some respect is paid.
I enjoyed Billy Joel's The Stranger more than I thought I would. I'm convinced that it's a good album...I'm not sure it's as great as some of the others I've already listened to in this project--even those further down the list.
Led Zeppelin. I'm really trying here. I see the allure of some of their hits, and especially see this as the best album of theirs I've heard thus far. It is thankfully missing II's drum solo (replacing it with some iconic beats), and Physical Graffiti's patience-testing album length--with several of the cuts coming in at more than 8 or 11 minutes. IV (or what ever you want to call it) is tight and delivers more punch because of it.
68: Michael Jackson -- Off The Wall (1979) 67: Radiohead -- Kid A (2000)