This week it was all about expectations. I had never heard either record before in a conscious way. I had some vague familiarity with Creedence Clearwater Revival (or at least thought I did), and so thought that if I wasn't crazy about them by now, there probably wasn't much reason to be. In other words, very low expectations.
Trout Mask Replica. I mean look at that album cover. I had never heard of Captain Beefheart, nor this record. But somehow I expected something amazing. It is on the list, right? I pushed play at the start of the week, with expectations oh-so-high, and...
60: Captain Beefheart -- Trout Mask Replica (1969)
First, I found it interesting that when I went to listen to it on Spotify, it wasn't there. That's not unheard of--so far, John Lennon and AC/DC have not been on Spotify either--you have to purchase their music, or else. I can respect that.
But then I went to iTunes to find Trout Mask Replica. It's not there.
I went to Amazon, it's there--but only costly imports, no downloads.
Captain Beefheart, YOU forced me to illegally download your music.
And after that minor delay, I loaded up my phone with the album and was ready to be surprised and delighted.
As you've figured out by now, I was not.
You know how there are certain albums that are your go-to records if you want to be happy? Well, I have to say that I now have such a record to pull out when I want to be frustrated. Or angry. Or when I want to have my patience [or sanity] tried.
This is clear from the very first track. Still, though, I wanted to give it a fair shake, so I listened to the entire 1 hour and 18 minutes of it.
This album is lauded for:
...combining elements of blues, avant-garde,free jazz and other genres of American music, the album is regarded as an important work of experimental music and a major influence on genres such as alternative rock, progressive rock, math rock and post-punk.
I watched the documentary below, and learned that the band was sequestered to a home in a suburb of LA for eight months to rehearse this album. They were tortured psychologically by Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart), could only eat a cup of beans a day, and forced to rehearse up to 14 hours a day. The record was produced by Frank Zappa. Van Vliet is said to have recorded his vocals in the room with only the sound bleeding through the walls from the control room to guide him.
And that's exactly what it sounds like.
After listening to it the first time through, I had to read more--trying to understand the why's of this album's inclusion as one of the greatest of all time. Matt Groening and David Lynch are devout fans of this record--and those guys are definitely huge deals in my mind. Groening said that he listened to it the first time and it was pure shit--and that after many listens he realized that it was genius because, yes, it sounded bad but it was intentional--by the time he listened to it the sixth time, he saw the genius.
I know that some of the greatest albums of my life have been odd to me upon my first listen. But this album almost DARES you to like it. It bores itself into your mind, and projects a dark and grating film.
By watching the documentary and seeing some of his other work, he's clearly a very talented musician. But this kind of musical deconstruction is not fun for me.
Listening to it a second time--it was less terrible than the first time. I heard interesting motifs that I'd missed the first time through. There is some clever word-play in the many spoken word, stream of consciousness tracks. My guess is that my subsequent experience has more to do with expectations being recalibrated than the album's genius slowly revealing itself to me. But if I'm wrong, and you love this album--show me the light.
[iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/4M5YE_a4B1U" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]
59: Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits (1976)
I wasn't expecting so much from this album. And I was wrong.
John Fogerty is one of the best singers in Rock & Roll.
After listening to it through many times (I had more time to devote to this one once I moved past Trout Mask Replica), I was surprised by how many great songs there are here. Yes, it's a greatest hits collection--so that is to be expected. But I didn't realize how good this band really is.
Susie Q is a great song (I love the the thick background harmonies that come in at 2:31). I had no idea that John Fogerty wrote Proud Mary--I do find his "cajun" accent distracting: Big wheel keep on toinin', proud Mary keep on boinin'. Bad Moon Rising is a great song--even if it does stir some Super Storm Sandy memories. Down On The Corner -- how can you not love the line "Willy and the poor boys are playin' bring a nickel tap your feet"? And the song has cow bell for cryin' out loud. Sure, I punch the air with alternating fists to the song Fortunate Son. Who'll Stop The Rain and Have You Ever Seen The Rain are great songs. The guitar riffs on both Up Around The Bend and Run Through The Jungle are clear examples of why John Fogerty is also considered one of the best guitarists of all time--and the harmonica on Run remind me of the theme for The Wire, which I am currently working my way through. Long As I Can See The Light sounds like a mix between Van Morrison and Otis Redding, demonstrating Fogerty's high, strong, and well-worn vocal style.
My favorite song here is one I had never heard before: Someday Never Comes. Such a simple observation universally understood, told through a very simple verse-chorus song structure.
When my girlfriend watches movie previews, she will very often have to stop it about halfway in, because she feels that they just reveal too much about the movie in most previews. Some of that has seeped into me, and I've adopted her similar habit of reading books without reading the jacket first. It really is so much more enjoyable because I have no idea where the story will go.
But in order to do this, we need to know that the thing is good enough which is why we need to be thoroughly (and perhaps overly) convinced to consume it in advance.
I guess this is why we rely on lists so much. We want to be surprised and to trust that the listed will be great--that we won't have to pore through every album, movie or book. But the issue with a singular list of the BEST of anything is that no one will like every single inclusion. The list itself is an amalgamation of many people's individual lists.
And yet, I'm still moving forward with this project. I'm just realigning my expectations, especially as I get higher up the list.
I won't like every single album.
You won't either.
58: The Rolling Stones -- Beggar's Banquet (1968) 57: Stevie Wonder -- Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)