Happy New Year, everyone! I'm posting a track from my new album each week until the official release of "Held Momentarily" on January 20, 2015. If you haven't already, check out the promotional video for the album on youtube (or here). If you're in the NYC area, I'll be playing my album release show on Thursday, January 22nd at 7PM at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3. I'd love to see you there!
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"Another Side" is the fourth song on the album. I finished writing this song on Valentine's Day in 2012. It represented a new style and direction for me. The song is about the anxiety inherent in pursuing our dreams, and the need for some loving support. The recording features Jonathan Ahrens on bass, and was mixed by Igor Stolarsky.
So this wraps up a year's blog project. The original intent was to educate myself on the top albums of all time. For years, I had felt deprived of a rich contemporary music upbringing. I was raised in a home where the focus was more on religious music, and secular music was forbidden (but oddly some pop radio still made its way into our family car). Since rebelling and running off to college, I became a new music addict--waiting like an addict for this Tuesday's new releases. I built a good knowledge of music from 1995 on, but had a huge gap prior to that. I guess I just got to a point in my life where I realized that we are in an age where all the tools I needed to educate myself are readily available. No more excuses, no more blame.
I listened to each album three times (at least) and watched a ton of documentaries and read many 33 1/3 books (in addition to other sources). Some weeks it was a total joy--others it was, honestly, a bit of a chore. In the end, the project has helped to reignite my love of music. At this point, my curiosity has grown exponentially. I can't wait to continue my lifelong musical education, for as long as I'm fortunate enough to breathe.
002: The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)
I had always kind of written The Beach Boys off as a sort of Monkees band that created the soundtrack for The Gidget set. I hadn't ever heard their album (less surf-centric) tracks, and certainly hadn't heard Pet Sounds (save a couple unavoidable and beautiful tracks).
I read the 33 1/3 book written by Jim Fusilli, and highly recommend it. I learned a lot about Brian Wilson specifically. He was the son of a songwriter (Murry Wilson) and had access to many instruments as a child, and also to his father's contacts in the music industry. Brian soon eclipsed his father's songwriting skills, and the competition never seems to have ended. Though his father was the band's manager for a while, he was eventually fired for being erratic. That he was also an abusive father in many ways (some truly horrible), perhaps speaks to Brian's extreme sensitivity as a young man. That Brian then became an absent father to his own daughters is a sad truth.
I also watched the Don Was documentary called Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Meant For These Times (clip above). It's one of the best documentaries I've seen this year--because it presents the good, bad, and ugly. So many films I watched really downplayed the emotional problems, drug-use, or bad behavior. This one put it all out there, and makes the subject more understandable because of it.
It's interesting to note that Brian Wilson, during the making of this album, decided that he was no longer going to tour with The Beach Boys. Instead, he would stay in LA, and write, produce, and arrange their future material--and the rest of the guys would promote it on the road. Brian was having trouble being on the road, and being away from his wife and his mother. Who does that??
Wilson was really inspired by The Beatles' Rubber Soul, and was challenged to outdo it in his own style. The Beatles were then inspired so much by Pet Sounds that they recorded Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
A critic said that these are "sad songs about happiness". I really missed that on my first listen. The music is just so joyful--harkening back to Wilson's idol Phil Spector's production bombast. But lyrically, the happy lines are co-mingled with introspective and more melancholic lines.
On my first listen, I was also struck by how modern songs like You Still Believe In Me still sound. The influence on bands like Vampire Weekend is unmistakable. The melodies are adventurous, the harmonies confounding (in a good way).
In the documentary, Tom Petty made a really good point about Wilson's genius. On this album, he is using so many odd instrument combinations. This is easy enough to do now because most of the recording is done using virtual instruments. Back then, he would have had to book the live musicians in advance and have them all come in and record--and only then could he experiment. In other words, he had to know intuitively that a harpsichord, doubling a flute, and a bike whistle would give him the sound he wanted in order to hire those musicians to see if he was right.
Instead of saying which songs I like (which I've done most of the year), I will just list the ones I don't love as much. OK, the one.
Because, let me be clear...I love this album. Completely.
Sloop John B was recorded before the sessions for this album as a single, and was kind of tagged on to the album. It's a fine song, but it doesn't really fit alongside the other songs.
001: The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
This project has a made me an irreversible Beatles fan. I used to think I hated those kind of people--you're a fan of the most obvious band on the planet...great for you. Maybe that's why I avoided really listening for so long. But now I have listened...and I'm one of those annoying people. Proudly.
I had never heard this album--just a couple of the tracks. If I had a dollar for every time I said that this year, I would have $92.
With this album, The Beatles had decided they were going to record something that they would never play on tour. It's also considered the last album where Lennon and McCartney were writing together. McCartney had the idea of creating an alter-ego band--a construct that would allow them to shed the expectations that were starting to completely stifle them. Because of this thin conceit, this album is considered one of the first concept albums.
I really like the songs here, but don't know if I could say that it's a better album than their others high on the list (Revolver or Rubber Soul)...
"A Day In The Life" is brilliant. I really love "When I'm Sixty-Four" (mock me if you will).
I think "With A Little Help From My Friends", "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", "Getting Better", and "She's Leaving Home" are wonderful tracks...
Could I say that this album is the best I've ever heard...I don't know. I don't think so. At the end of the day, I'm glad I've heard it...the ranking of great albums is completely subjective and almost beside the point. But without ranking, how could I have done this project at all??
I've kind of spoiled my thoughts on both. I see why both are so high on the list...is Pet Sounds a lesser album (even marginally)? Not to me. Is Sgt Pepper the best Beatles record? I don't know...it was certainly ambitious. Either way, I am a newly converted fan of both bands, and will devour anything I come across from both of them for some time to come.
100: Pixies – Surfer Rosa (1988)
099: Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)