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Endtroducing & Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

It's been a busy week.  I've been playing open mics in preparation for my show this Thursday at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3.  You can buy tickets and find out more about the show here.

I thought I was going to be able to share some pretty big news tonight about some changes in my life...but, alas, the soonest I can speak publicly about it is now tomorrow...so you'll have to be patient, and wait for next week's installment.

I know I'm mostly speaking to myself here...but I'm OK with that.  My therapist assures me it's compleeeeeeetly normal.

 

078: DJ Shadow - Endtroducing..... (1996)

I was turned on to this record back in 2000 by a DJ friend of mine.  I fell in love with it then--it was unlike anything I'd ever heard.  The combination of spoken word, sound collage, scratching, and the general hip-hop vibe (without any rap) was very new to me then.

DJ Shadow's scavenging has become legendary.  He did a segment in the documentary "Scratch" that was pretty fascinating.  I especially love his comment about how these piles of records (in his favorite local used vinyl shop) represents all of the broken dreams of artists who, at one point, believed they were the best.  And now, few of them are still making music.  It's this humility of his that I really respect.

I also read the 33 1/3 volume dedicated to this record--in my attempt to single-handedly keep this publisher in business.  

I really enjoyed learning about DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) in his developmental years.  He was so far ahead of the curve on this cut-and-paste sound that became more prevalent in the early 2000's (i.e. The Avalanches and RJD2).  This book was great about detailing each step in his evolution from early hip-hop enthusiast to hobbyist to start-up to innovative professional.  The book was the first I've read in the series that was really mostly an interview transcript--most of the words directly from conversations with Davis.

As for the music, I really enjoyed listening to it again this week.  The tracks I love:

  • Building Steam With a Grain of Salt
  • Changeling
  • What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4)
  • Stem/Long Stem
  • Mutual Slump
  • Midnight in a Perfect World
  • What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 -- Blue Sky Revisit)

077: Derek and The Dominos -- Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)


I had never heard this record...and to be honest, the first time I heard it, there was little to no love.  I read somewhere that one of the notable aspects of this album was how understated it was...but I thought it was a dueling guitar record--too much going on.

That feeling subsided a bit on subsequent listenings--but I would never call this record understated.

It's a damn long album at 76 minutes.  On my busy weeks--that just gets me cranky from the start.

Songs I do like:

  • Keep On Growing
  • I Am Yours
  • Layla

 

Verdict

I really like Endtroducing.  I came to understand and appreciate DJ Shadow (Josh Davis) more this week by reading the 33 1/3 book and by watching his segment on the Scratch documentary.  He is a very thoughtful and capable artist.  I do think he pioneered the cut-and-paste thing, and paved the way for other acts I love like The Avalanches (self-titled) and RJD2 (Deadringer) and Lemon Jelly (Lost Horizons).  

I guess this project has definitively confirmed for me that I do not like Blues.  Perhaps one day my view will change...and honestly, I hope it will...I want to be one those guys that's really into the blues...I'm just not there yet.

Up Next

075: De La Soul -- 3 Feet High & Rising (1989)
071: Wilco -- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed?  Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Low & Screamadelica

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Low & Screamadelica

My new album, Held Momentarily, is now available. You can find it at your favorite digital music spots (here are a few examples): iTunes     Spotify     BandCamp     Amazon     SoundCloud

I have taken on a new project this month--I will be writing a song-a-day for the month of February.  I haven't written in a little while, so I wanted to make that a priority in the short term.  Because of that, this project will be put on hold for a month.  It actually saddens me to know that I can't do it all...especially after having enjoyed this week so much.  But, I will be able to look forward to getting right back into it on March 1.

In the mean time, I'm building out my site now for more information about the new album (including a new bio, lyrics, the making of the album, etc.).  Check back soon as the site evolves.

090 - David Bowie - Low

090: David Bowie – Low (1977)

This is one of my favorite albums from this whole project.  I had never heard it before.  I'd never really listened to much Bowie before last year's review of Ziggy Stardust.  I liked that album, but thought that Bowie was always that focused on show and, perhaps, less on emotion.  This album showed me a whole other side of him

In reading the 33 1/3 book about this album (by Hugo Wilcken), I learned quite a bit about Bowie's state of mind at the time of its recording.  It turns out that Bowie was hanging out quite a bit with Iggy Pop (who I somewhat dismissed last week).  In fact, Bowie produced Iggy's The Idiot kind of conjunction with the making of this album.  I turns out Bowie was coked out of his mind during this period of his life--and on the brink of major depression, exhibiting cocaine induced psychosis.

He recorded this album in a chateau in France, and some in Berlin.  He worked very closely with Brian Eno.

The first thing I was struck by about this album was its minimal lyrics and vocals.  The album is split into two distinct halves--the first side with the more conventional rock song structures (though with minimal lyrics--and two instrumentals); the second half is mostly moody ambient instrumentals with little vocal embellishment.

The sound of the record sounds so fresh to me, though it is almost 40 years old.  Bowie was really inspired by Kraftwerk at this time--but I feel like the synth sounds here held up better than some of Trans Europe Express.  I also really like the funky grooves of this album in contrast to the more robotic and stiff grooves of the Kraftwerk record.

Breaking Glass is the first proper song.  It is a great example of how Bowie can manipulate his voice into so many characteristics and styles.  I never really thought of him as a masterful vocalist before--but I do now.  The lyrics here are menacing while still winking at the object of his focus.

Sound and Vision is a favorite track (and was one of the two singles released from this oddly beautiful record).  I had heard The Sea and Cake do a cover of it on their One Bedroom record (without ever knowing it was in fact a cover until this week).  On Bowie's version, notice how it takes almost a minute and a half for the vocals to come in.  It is this restraint that is felt throughout the whole record.  He is expressing how he has nothing to say in this song (and perhaps the whole record).  But the omission of lyrics and vocals on so much of this album feels truly like restraint rather than a cop-out.  There is so much emotional impact in the music, that I feel he didn't need to do anything more than he did.

Always Crashing In The Same Car is a great metaphor and song.

The last instrumental on side one (A New Career In A New Town) is clearly an influence for bands like Radiohead that came later.  He and Eno took two disparate ideas and merged them into one piece--the blippy and synthy mellow beginning section with the bluesy harmonica stomping section that trades off a couple times.  Both pieces still work as one.

Then we get to the darker second side of the album.  With Warszawa, we are taken to some droning otherworldly place.  When the melody comes in around 1:19, it is haunting and affecting.  It then gets a bit darker around 3:54, just before Bowie's vocals come in, using a made-up language.  His vocals, though nonsensical, deeply convey something large and emotionally impactful--a cry for help?  A desperate plea?

Weeping Wall is a track that Bowie worked on without Eno.  That it sits so perfectly with the other tracks proves that it was a true collaboration with Eno, rather than Bowie (sometimes) singing over Eno tracks.   Bowie recorded it in Berlin very close to the Berlin Wall.

Subterraneans closes out the album with a truly beautiful, mostly instrumental track.  I can definitely hear the influence this track had on Radiohead.  Bowie's low vocals give this track its human and emotional anchor.  I love Bowie's sax line that comes in around 3:16.  And, again, Bowie's nonsensical lyrics at 3:54 pack a serious punch, clearly communicating the emotion of the song...even if you don't know what that's "supposed to be".  You know.  This is the music of a star on the verge of collapse.

 

[embed]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/1CXESdyGPEmrI4D9YGKEMS[/embed]

 

089 - Primal Scream – Screamadelica

089: Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991)

I know this album is supposed to be important for the way it brought club music into the rock world.  While there is some really cool production here, I'm just not feeling it.  Even as he's saying he was lost, now he's fine.  I don't believe it.  Maybe that's because I spent the week listening to someone who did sound lost.

Maybe it's also that I've heard a lot of rock and club hybrids that have come since--and feel like it's been done better since.

This album just has a distinctly early 90's sound for me.  I'm thinking KLF and Deee-lite, whom I loved very much at the time.  Deee-Lite was one of my first club shows back in 1994 at a club in Orlando (I think was) called Firestone.

So, it's not that I don't love this kind of music...I'm just not getting why this is exemplary.

What am I missing?

It isn't until Damaged (track 8) that I thought, oh wait, they may have something to say...and this is a decided shift back to rock stylings (a la The Stones) with little to no club influence.

I do like the song I'm Comin' Down.  I especially like the sax lines with the layered synth overtop at around 3:40.  But this song, like so many others on the record (in my opinion), overstays its welcome.  It goes on for about 2 minutes longer than it needs to.  I get it, you're drifting.

I can hear how Higher Than The Sun could have influenced trip hop bands like Portishead.  So, I appreciate that.

[embed]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/36tOUfkczpdzBsJmHK5S7n[/embed]

 

Verdict

As I said, I loved Low--though feel a bit bad for that, knowing now how badly he felt during this time.  Perhaps because of the depths he was really in personally, he created a truly beautiful work that really makes me think differently about song craft.  His restraint was truly enlightened and enlightening.

I did not see the light with Primal Scream.  Again, maybe this is because I feel like I've heard this before.  Maybe if I'd heard this in 1991, I would have a whole different appreciation for it.  But it does beg the question, should an album be deemed a best of because it inspired a sea change in music?  Or should it have to hold up better than any of those bands that it inspired?

Up Next

Coming the first week of March:

087: Lou Reed – Transformer (1972) 086: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? You can see the completed Rolling Stone Top 100 here, or use the Acclaimed Music list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Pet Sounds & Sgt Pepper

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Pet Sounds & Sgt Pepper

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!

[iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/169242084&color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false"]

"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.

 

2 The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

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.

[embed]http://youtu.be/pmexRESUl3c[/embed]

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.

[embed]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/0ckjlrqM8GfvnKefm05FJy[/embed]

 

 

1 The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band

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??

[ no Spotify player for The Beatles, sorry.]
 

Verdict

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.

Up Next

100: Pixies – Surfer Rosa (1988)

099: Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? You can see the completed Rolling Stone Top 100 here, or use the Acclaimed Music list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Highway 61 Revisited & Revolver

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Highway 61 Revisited & Revolver

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays! 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!

[iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/169242077&color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false"]

"Homesick" is the sixth song on the album.  This song was also written back in 2010--and has gone through some subtle shifts before making its way onto the album.  I had to really struggle with myself not to add more sections or overwrite this one.  I'm happy with the results.  This was the first song I produced and recorded for this album.  The recording features Lior Magal on bass, and was also mixed by Lior.

 

4 Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

004: Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

I had never heard this album before this week.

We've worked through several Dylan albums to this point.  I've admitted some trouble connecting with those records--though I see their undeniable genius.

This one just feels different.

"How does it fee--ee--el?"

Good question.  It was the first Dylan record I've listened to this year where after my first listen, I immediately played the album again from the top.  Desolation Row just kind of left me breathless.

I read the 33 1/3 book about this album (by Mark Polizzotti, see here).   The book thoroughly documents the writing and recording of this album (including the instrumentalists, producers, etc.).  I really enjoyed it--my one complaint being that he wrote at length about some songs that didn't make the final album, and then did not touch on several of the songs that were on the album.  It's also written for the faithful--taking it as a given that you know the Dylan mythology and shorthand.  I do not.

I also watched the documentary he filmed (just before this album was worked on) called Dont Look Back.  It was so interesting to see this side of someone so young and at the peak of their fame.  He's at a very pivotal point in his career, doing a solo acoustic British tour just before he shifts gears and starts touring with a band, embracing his early love of rock.  Watching the way he interacts with (read: eviscerates) interviewers and interlopers is hard to watch at times.

http://youtu.be/C6y7AXw5U6w

It was interesting to learn that Dylan's writing was not only inspired by authors and poets, but also visual artists.  It makes such perfect sense that this was the case considering how abstract and dreamily evocative his lyrics are.  It really inspired me to expand my notion of just what can influence songwriting.

My favorites from the album are Like A Rolling Stone (which he considers his best song ever written); It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry; Ballad Of A Thin Man; and Desolation Row.

[embed]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/6iFLhoZo6haUSEItIKkzdN[/embed]

 

3 The Beatles - Revolver

003: The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

Again--I had never heard this album before.  A few of the songs, sure.

The thing I love about this album is the mixture of sounds and vibes on a single album.  This record was written and recorded during a major creative shift for the band.  McCartney was becoming more of an equal with Lennon.  Harrison was proving himself a powerful writing contributor, and brought his newfound love of Indian instrumentation to the band.  To me, there are reflections of their earlier work (with added bite) intermingled with their more audacious material that was still to come.  It makes for a very satisfying and surprising listening experience--a near impossible balance to strike.

Tomorrow Never Knows.

Incredible.  It still sounds so fresh.  That this band was able to give us so many interesting songs of such diverse style in such a compact period of time is astounding.

As a writer, I hate them while I (and everyone else who knows the score) yearn to rip the seams and discover their pattern, fabric and stitching choices.

Or maybe a course in channeling is in order.

My favorite songs Eleanor Rigby; I'm Only Sleeping; Here, There and Everywhere; For No One; and Tomorrow Never Knows.

I struggle with Yellow Submarine.  I want to place it in the same category as Octopus's Garden (not a compliment)...and yet there's something so appealing and forward-leaning about it (that brass section after the second verse, all the weird sound design and production choices).  Brilliant.

I want to say that by writing only 2 minute songs, they're somehow cheating.  Seriously though, how the hell do they do that?  It's so hard to pack in all that interest, and complete ideas, into a single song at all...that they do it in 2 minutes is just maddening.

[ no Spotify player for The Beatles, sorry.]
 

Verdict

I want to be honest with you.

You have to promise not to judge me.

Agreed?

[If not, lie to me]

Both of these albums (and the artists who gifted them to us) deserve very, very deep study and scrutiny.  Anyone who studied either would doubtlessly be rewarded exponentially.  At the end of the day, though, this (as with all things in life) comes down to choice and predilections.  I would choose to study the songcraft of The Beatles--good melody, harmonic interest and production resonate with me.  Bob Dylan is (for shizzle) an amazing poet and one of the most brilliant minds of our age.  Lyrics are important to me, but the other things I've mentioned are primary for me...and those are things that just don't matter as much to Dylan.  The Beatles give us a variegated perfection and directness.  Bob gives us raw, aloof, sometimes intentionally imperfect recordings/songs that are about story first and everything else second.  I've heard that the divide is between The Rolling Stones and The Beatles...you love one or the other, but you can't love both.  I would say it's much more possible to love both of those packs...maybe the line really is more between Dylan and The Beatles??

Up Next

Could this be the end of a year's journey?

002: The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966) 001: The Beatles – Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Abbey Road & The Velvet Underground & Nico

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Abbey Road & The Velvet Underground & Nico

Another week down. I booked the Album Release Show for Held Momentarily.  The album will be released on January, 20, 2015.  The show will be at Rockwood Stage 3 on Thursday, January 22, 2015 at 7PM.  I am excited to be playing Rockwood for my first time in over a year and  a half.  I'll post more information as it becomes available.

I also edited a promotional video of a conversation I had with my brother, Josiah Correll, about the making of my new album.  You can watch it here, and check out samples of each of the songs on my new album.  We filmed it on a rooftop in Jersey City.  The video includes clips of various locations around Jersey City--where I love and call home.

http://youtu.be/ihnscF2lGYY

14 The Beatles - Abbey Road

014: The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969)

First off--this album, as with all other Beatles' albums, is not available on any streaming service.  So, I can't very well embed a player for you...and I'm sorry.

I'm gearing up to spend a lot of time with The Beatles over the next several weeks--four albums in the top 10 alone.  I've meant to do this for over 15 years...now's as good a time as any.

I had bought this album a couple of years back when they did a tribute to the album on The 2012 Grammy's.

http://dai.ly/xom6rj

That was the year Paul McCartney led a medley of songs from Abbey Road: Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, You Never Give Me Your Money, The End, [Extended Guitar Solo Pissing Contest].

I loved some of those bits and wanted to hear the full songs.  Normally when you hear a medley, it's an amalgamation of full-length songs that have been crammed together in a witty way to give you bits of what you love into a singular, tasty casserole.  I was disappointed to learn that those bits were the most ever committed to tape.  There are no full-length versions.

That's maybe not a fair way to introduce this album.  But it's the way I was exposed to it.

Thanks a lot, Grammy's.

Some of their best songs are from this album: Come Together, Something, I Want You (She's So Heavy), and Here Comes The Sun.  There are also the great tracks Oh! Darling, Because (which I first heard as an Elliott Smith cover on the American Beauty soundtrack), and You Never Give Me Your Money (perhaps my favorite here).  The left-field tracks--Maxwell's Silver Hammer and (Ringo's odd) Octopus's Garden--grew on me over repeated listens.

After 9 full-length songs, the album finishes with a "suite" of songs that were never finished, giving the album's second half an air of operatic proportions.  Paul and John had all of these song fragments that they couldn't finish.  George Martin, who produced this record, decided he would record what they had and weave them together into a synthesized whole.

For me, the "suite" is not as satisfying in a song sense.  But in a production sense, it is an impressive feat.

This is the last album The Beatles worked on.  Let It Be (not on this list) came out as their last album, but was mostly recorded before Abbey Road.

 

 

13 The Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground & Nico

013: The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)

I was first exposed to The Velvet Underground and Nico on The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack.  I liked the songs (neither from this album), and yet for some reason I can't explain, it didn't lead me to check out this album.  I had never heard it until this week.

For some context, I turned to the 33 1/3 Series for their volume covering this album, written by Joe Harvard.  This was one of the more rewarding books I've read from the series. It perfectly covers the formation of the band, the making of this album, the societal context, song-specific reflections, the public response at the time, all the way to the long term importance of this album.  In short--everything you want and need to know about this album is covered in this short, short book.

This album was very controversial in its time.  Lou Reed wanted to bring to Rock & Roll songwriting some of the edgier subject matter he'd read in more pulpy novels he was in to.  He wanted to be sure not to write the kind of "moon-June" love songs that were popular at the time.  I think he achieved that.  Here he covers scoring 26 bucks worth of heroin in the upper west side, sado-masochism, to the drug scene in Union Square.

The band were embraced by Andy Warhol, who became their manager, had them play at his parties, and ultimately got them their record deal.  The label was not thrilled about Reed's voice--so Warhol encouraged them to add model, actress and singer Nico to the lineup.  She only stayed in the band for this record...but you can feel the balance she adds to this album--adding a sultry lightness to Lou's dark and gritty songs.

This album made me feel similarly to the way I felt with Horses earlier in this list.  It's very moody, dark, and scary--but also exciting to see what a different world an artist can create and explore.  Many people talk about boundary-pushing albums--but few actually have the way that these two records do (still).

My favorite tracks here are Venus In Furs, All Tomorrow's Parties, and I'll Be Your Mirror.  I have to admit the last two songs lost me.  I got so far though.  So far.

[embed]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/36Y1HQIIz9Z5smE2NIzdGO[/embed]

 

Verdict

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical about Abbey Road.  I thought that the song suite thing was just something they'd done to fulfill their album obligation to the record label.  It wasn't until I started writing this that I realized that there are 9 full-length tracks--more than enough for any album.  Would the album be better off without the medley of unfinished songs?  I don't think so.  But do I still wish some of those bits got the full attention of these three songwriting geniuses (sorry Ringo)?  You bet.  Especially Golden Slumbers.

Velvet Underground is not what I would typically seek out.  This album is cool on many layers...and opened up the content that songwriters could explore ever since.  There's also a beautiful blend of melody and noise.  A lot of times with edgy bands, the focus is all on noise--as if that's the heartbeat of edge.  It's more interesting to me how Lou Reed and John Cale (et al) establish that they know how to write and execute beautiful songs, filthy and voyeuristic content, and experimental noise.  I'm glad I finally got around to this album.

Up Next

012: Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (1959) 011: Elvis Presley – The Complete Sun Sessions

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Rumours & Live At The Apollo

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Rumours & Live At The Apollo

Another busy week with the new album. It should be completely finished in the next couple of weeks (artwork and all). I’m working with some really talented people as the final days approach.

I’m still hoping to, at least, soft release it this year…but am thinking more and more that an official release (with a release party and all) may have to wait for the new year. There are so many aspects to releasing an album, that I don’t want to rush the process now that it’s complete. I want to make a space for it to get the proper attention it deserves. I’m still learning what that really means…so I’ll share more as the ideas take shape.

26 Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

026: Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)

Now this is an album I had heard before. I fell in love with it in college…and hadn’t really listened to it again since.

To me, this album is perfect.

Aspirational.

It hits all the right notes. The songwriting is solid throughout. The production is interesting, varied, and timeless. The performances are amazing…Those background vocal harmonies alone would do it for me.

I watched the Classic Albums episode about this album to get some context.

It turns out the band (which formerly housed two relationships amidst its five members) was coming apart at the seams. Because of the success they’d seen with their previous album (the first of this new lineup), they worked through the pain…and wrote from where they were. Even in this episode, 21 years after recording the album, you can still see the pain, and lingering love, barely beneath the surface.

Songs of pain. Songs of defiance. Songs of new love. Of drug use.

All performed with their central object right there in the room. On the other side of a shared mic.

I can’t imagine how emotionally intense a time that must have been.

But the result of a year’s worth of pain is an album full of wonderful songs…not a single filler.

Coming back to it after so much time, I was impressed by some of the lesser known songs–particularly Songbird. The songwriting is simple–lyrically and harmonically. But so effective and affecting. Christine McVie has such a wonderful voice. I think Stevie Nicks gets so much attention for her voice–and with good reason. But there was so much talent here that it warrants shifting focus on repeated listens. The vocals. The bass, drums, guitar, keys…all on par with each other.

Sure, some of the songs here have been played to death–having become ubiquitous in political campaigns, commercials, grocery stores, and oldies stations. But when consumed as an album…it’s hard to hold that against it. It’s a beautiful collection of songs.

 

25 James Brown - Live At The Apollo

025: James Brown – Live at the Apollo (1963)

And now for the second live album on this list. And the second appearance of the hardest working man in showbi’ness–James Brown.

I have a hard time seeing past James Brown the personality–and simply enjoying the music for what it is.

So to help gain some context, I read the 33 1/3 book on the album, written by Douglas Wolk. This book is densely written. There are some very interesting facts about what the show would have been like (covering who the openers would have been, what the general program would have been like, the vibe of the crowd, etc.). The book gets a little lost in trying to chart the origins of every song…detailing every note played by the band…the origins of every instrumental break…where, if you’re not intimately familiar with the songs (as I’m not), it’s a little alienating.

But with what I learned here, and what I learned from the Public Enemy book in the same series (which focuses quite about on JB), I had enough to get some valuable context.

Thinking a little more wouldn’t hurt, we watched the recent biopic Get On Up.

This is what ultimately gave me what I needed to imagine the intensity of the show…to imagine his showmanship, in addition to his undeniable musicianship. Chadwick Boseman did an incredible job as James Brown. He lip-synched most of the vocals–so effectively that I thought he’d actually sung the part.

James Brown recorded this show with his own money. His label didn’t believe in live recordings for his audience–they wanted him to stick to singles. His belief in the project probably saved his career…Can you imagine the loss if he’d given up at that point. The album shot his struggling career into high gear. He’d tasted fame (and certainly worked for it, playing 300 days a year, with several shows on many days), but this launched him into the stratosphere. He tried to recreate the magic again many times by releasing subsequent Live At The Apollo (LATA) volumes…but this is where the magic is. That initial burst.

One thing the 33 1/3 book does very well is explains what was happening in the country at the same time this show was recorded…the fears of nuclear war with Russia coinciding.

The crowd is right there with him…perhaps looking for some serious escapist good times. James Brown has them, especially the frenzied women, eating out of his hand.

I love the background vocals on I’ll Go Crazy…especially the “Leave me…oip” lines.

James Brown is singing his butt of on Try Me. In the absence of the theatrics, it’s easier to see how he really was the whole package. I love those intermittent hand claps. too

The band is tight. Is this because they’re afraid of Mr. Dynamite’s fines for any misstep? Or just that they’re some serious musicians?

When James comes in on Think…until he says “I think about the hard time…”, I have no idea what he’s saying for lines at a time. But it sounds good.

I Don’t Mind is another favorite–again with amazing background vocals, especially the rushed “I-doh-mine” lines.

Lost Someone is, arguably, the centerpiece of this album. You definitely get a sense of JB the impassioned preacher/lover both deprived and depraved. He can work a line, bending and twisting it until its meaning changes. The audience screams when they should, and he invites them to go further with him–with a few comical outbursts. And go with him, they do.

It’s not my favorite song here though…It goes on a bit too long for me. Perhaps because every other song is rushed through, with little time for a breath, or palate cleanser, in between. Maybe its length is necessary for that reason. But there’s very little song there. It’s mostly an underpinning for his impressive theatrics.

“Mr. Please Please” squeezes what must be 6 songs into the 6 minute “Medley”. I would love to hear a full version of the song “I Found Someone To Love Me”…but it doesn’t seem that one exists (not by James Brown anyway).

The midnight set closes with funky Night Train–a funked up roll call of American cities, which itself gives way to end the show with a rather anti-climactic organ-laced jazz.

 

Verdict

This week, for some reason, I was struck by how hard fame is on people. Both Fleetwood Mac and James Brown had massive doses of fame, and subsequently took excessive amounts of drugs to help cope with the incredible workload and pressure that that must have required.

In the Classic Albums episode, Stevie Nicks said that she’s asked all of her famous friends, and each of them has regretted the cost required, as James Brown said, to be the boss. For her, it meant no children, no marriage.

I really enjoyed both records…and hope to spend some time exploring the catalogs of both Fleetwood Mac and James Brown more.

Up Next

A first. A week for which I’ve already heard both records. I’m looking forward to spending a little more time with both, though.

024: Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973)

023: John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band (1970)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Love & The Beatles

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Love & The Beatles

This has been an incredibly busy week for me. First off, we just finished the final mix for song #8 on the album...which leaves two more songs to mix, and then we're off to mastering and manufacturing!

I'm working with a local Jersey City artist named Kayt Hester (www.kaythester.com) on the album artwork.  I can't wait to see what she comes up with.  We just saw her latest exhibit at LITM, here in Jersey City, and I decided immediately that I wanted to work with her.  Luckily for me, she was gracious enough to oblige.  She uses hand-torn tape to create all of her work--and will be doing the same for the album artwork.  Below is an example from her latest exhibit.

kayt hester work

Also, this week we went on a road trip down to Asheville, NC for a few days--and then back through Durham.  It was a grueling drive--but Asheville was completely worth it.  We fell in love with it immediately.

Lastly, I'm starting my Masters Program at The New School this week.  Really, it's Orientation Week--so there are mandatory presentations each night of the week from 6-9pm.  Pair that with a full-time job, and the rest, and I'm admittedly running on fumes.

So, that's why this post is a bit tardy.  Forgiven?

I hope so.

40 Love -- Forever Changes

040: Love – Forever Changes (1967)

I wasn't sure about this one on first listen.

As with many albums that had come before, I had never heard this before this week.  I had never heard anything of this band Love--but with a name like Love, a spot so high on this list, and great artwork to boot, how bad could it be.

First off, the song Alone Again Or starts in that maddening way where the guitar is panned hard right--so that you think your headphones are broken or not plugged in all the way.  Then the stereo kicks in just before the first verse comes in.

Musically, I was on board with the album from first listen.  Then lyrics like "and the water's turned to blood and if you don't think so go turn on your tub" in A House Is Not A Motel, or  "Oh the snot has caked against my pants. It has turned into crystal. There's a blue bird sitting on a branch.  I guess I'll take my pistol." from Live And Let Live, floated into my awareness, and I was left, like, "Huh??"

For context and counsel, I picked up the 33 1/3 book by Andrew Hultkrans.  Full disclosure, I read just over half of this book and got stuck--remember, I'm at capacity this week.  The book focuses on the prophetic nature of Arthur Lee's (and band's) otherworldly lyrics.  He explains (in an almost too-academic, aren't I brilliant, prose for my liking) the deep feeling Arthur Lee had at the time that this was to be his last album.  It was in the height of the Vietnam war, Love was at the top of their game. This album then came out and was largely ignored, being revived and sustained mostly by the UK and worldwide music journalists.

Andrew Hultkrans also says in the book that this is one of the two most difficult albums he's had to break into in his life (the other being Neutral Milk Hotel's In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, an album I have yet to attempt).  Normally, when someone says it takes an album many spins before you can enjoy it (like they did with Trout Mask Replica) I throw my hands, and choose not to play along.  My thought being that if an album (or film, book, or TV show) isn't enjoyable in the first few attempts, it isn't worth it.

As I said above, I enjoyed this record from the first listen.  Each subsequent listen I've been intrigued by some new element that I hadn't heard before.

This is one of the few examples where the fifth listen came, the week was up, and I still realized that I needed to listen to this record many more times.

[embed light]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/5qrwzKw1OZ2wAFpKYtTBBp[/embed]

39 The Beatles -- Please Please Me

039: The Beatles – Please Please Me (1963)

Once again, The Beatles appear on this list--this the second of their seven albums in the top 100.

I had only listened to two records of theirs before this project--The White Album, and more recently, Abbey Road.

This is their debut album.  One interesting note for me is that, while this is the first album from two of the world's best songwriters of all time, almost half these songs are covers.  Even this, though, was unprecedented at the time.  Yet more staggering is that the bulk of this album (10 songs) was recorded in three 3-hour sessions IN ONE DAY, giving this album its undeniable and raw electricity.

One of my favorite songs here is Ask Me Why.

[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/lbUoSKC5xjk" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]

Also, I love their cover of A Taste Of Honey.

[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/IjtkpzV1Duk" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]

The Beatles' Please Please Me is not available on Spotify.

Verdict

I really loved both of these records, in very different ways.

Love's Forever Changes is the kind of record I will listen to many times, and will most likely continue to glean new layers and meanings with each spin.  I am anxious to have the time to listen to this one more. Let's say this is an album that earns the label "art".

The Beatles' Please Please Me is simply irresistible.  The album captures the young band's infectious love of music, and hints at their genius just around the bend.  While this album isn't among their more artful, it certainly is a joy to listen to.

Up Next

038: Muddy Waters – The Anthology (1947-1972)
037: Eagles – Hotel California (1976)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Horses & The Dark Side Of The Moon

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Horses & The Dark Side Of The Moon

These weeks are flying by at this point.  It's hard to believe it has already been a week since my last confession. Up first: a quick update about my record.  I finished the recording sessions for two more of my songs this past weekend.  That means I have only to get the bass lines added (more details on that soon), and then send the files off for the mixing process.  I plan to be completely done with the recording phase by the end of this weekend.  With the addition of the bass tracks, and the mix, that means we're looking at being finished with the production phase in the next two weeks or so.

Of course, then comes the fun part of choosing album artwork, doing photographs, getting back out and doing shows to promote the album, etc.

I think I've landed on the album title that makes the most sense now...and it's not either of the working titles I've mentioned here and on Twitter.  I knew I liked "Held Momentarily" but it didn't seem to connect with this album (maybe it'll reappear on my next project).  Then I thought, "Another Side" is a great track...but Bob Dylan has already done an album by that title--and I'm sick of people comparing us...

Yes...relax...breathe...that's a joke.

But the new title works...at least for now...I can change my mind up until the CD's go to print...

In the mean time, know of any great graphic designers or photographers?  Please comment or email me to make the connection.  Thanks!!

 

44 Patti Smith - Horses

044: Patti Smith – Horses (1975)

This album was difficult.

The first time I listened to it.  I was honestly like, "what the f*ck am I listening to here".  I guess that's the feeling I always when I heard snippets of Patti Smith's work in the past.   I wasn't a fan of her voice, or her style.

The second time I noticed the beautiful piano playing of Richard Sohl.  The complexity and subtle depth of his chord choices--that was what hooked me first.

Then I bought the 33 1/3 book about this album, written by Philip Shaw.  I have to admit that his writing style is more academic than I like (not a good comment for someone about to enter grad school, but, yeah--there it is).  I stayed with it though, and learned a lot about Patti's rise from her Jersey childhood up to her historic performance at St. Marks, through to the creation of this album.  I would especially recommend reading the section called "Horses"--where he specifically covers this album, track-by-track.

Because of this newly gained perspective, I was able to hear the lyrics in a way I never had.  For instance, at first listen, I thought Redondo Beach was just a shitty reggae knock-off (especially having spent time with Bob Marley last week).  Then I let the extremely dark lyrics wash over me, and woah.

Birdland is perhaps my favorite track here.  Her writing is nothing short of otherworldly.  I realized how she must have inspired so many of the female artists I've loved thus far (PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, etc.)--not to mention how she changed the game for many, regardless of gender.  She's doing things with her songwriting that I've never heard before.

Some songs are more traditional, like Free Money,  Kimberly, and Break It Up, while the sharpness and freshness of the writing is never compromised.

Then we get to Land.  This song scares the crap out of me.  The book revealed how difficult the recording process was for this album.  The producer, John Cale, and Patti Smith were clashing in the studio over creative differences.  He was pushing her to do a longer version of this song--and to really stretch artistically.  The end result is that they recorded the basic track of all music, with Patti giving some verbal cues.  Then she went back into the booth and recorded three more takes with various stream of consciousness takes.  Then she sat at the mixing console and crafted a final comp that was a combination of these takes, layered and scatological  at times (check out around 4:50).  The end result is amazing.  The lyrics are darker than anything I've heard before.  And, yet, also beautiful in that eerie darkness.

The 8 track album ends with Elegie, a beautiful and haunting meditation on the deaths of Jimi Hendrix (whose Electric Lady studio she was recording in), Jim Morrison (from whom Break It Up was also inspired), and poet Rimbaud.

[embed light]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/6jJODJmAUdy364xDXm1WP9[/embed]

43 Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon

043: Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

This album started this whole project for me.

A little over a year ago, I was doing a mid-life internship at a music licensing company.  I was working with several music lovers.  A couple of the interns had a vast knowledge of seminal albums of many genres.  I had ignored the "great records" my whole life, and as I've mentioned before, I did not come from a family whose record collection consisted of much of this stuff.  One of my supervisors there, Lior Magal (who mixed and played bass on 4 of the tracks on my new album) asked off the cuff one day if I'd ever listened to "Dark Side Of The Moon".  I could tell that he expected that my only answer would be "of course, it's my favorite".  But when I told him that, no, I'd never heard it...his jaw dropped, and had a response much like this:

So, I listened to it...and, yep, I did love it.  And that light bulb made me question...if I previously dismissed this, but actually love it, which other of the greats would I like.

And here we are--almost 60 albums into answering that question.

I still like this album very much, but I was surprised that I didn't realize last year how much of this album is instrumental (at least half).  I have mentioned before how I'm not such a fan of instrumentals--but here, it works.    This album achieves much of the same things that I liked above about Horses (cohesive, creates its own sense of place, etc.).  The difference here is that the lyrics are nowhere near as dazzling as Patti's--though I think they were going for something more universal.  The focus here is on the production and cohesiveness overall.

I watched the Classic Albums episode of this album, though it was a year ago...I don't remember specific details--just that I enjoyed it then.

[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/ofxddEJ_aic" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]

Because this is really an Album, it's hard to pull out individual songs to cite, but Breathe (In The Air) and Us And Them are two beautiful examples--with deserved classic status.  The wordless singing of Clare Torry on The Great Gig In The Sky is powerful, soulful stuff.

Lastly, I had heard for a very long time (long before I'd actually heard the record) how cool it was to play Dark Side Of The Moon alongside The Wizard Of Oz.  I had never tried it, because it always seemed just complicated enough to not be worth it.  But then I discovered that someone had already gone through the trouble of synching the two on youtubes:

[iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/0gXvVUg-VAE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]

So this is how I listened to this album this week for one of my requisite three listens.  It does match up in several spots in cool, synchronistic ways.  Maybe I didn't get the full effect because I wasn't smoked out...but it was cool anyway.  And now there's one more thing checked off my bucket list.

[embed light]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/4erxKhyvGlvBsVXjR5nGMJ[/embed]

Verdict

Like last week, both of these albums are going to be added to my collection.  I already bought Dark Side Of The Moon on vinyl immediately after listening to it last year.

Horses will join the stack very soon.  Looking back, this is the type of album that will take you to a dark place.  I wouldn't say that I am going to put this album on repeat any time in the near future.  I can say, though, that my respect for Patti Smith as an artist and writer, especially with this album, is deep.  This album achieves the goal of  any album in my opinion: it has a strong point of view; it is idiosyncratic and creative; takes you to a specific place; and makes you think differently.

Horses is the soundtrack to any of my future dark and twisty days...though I pray they never come.

Up Next

042: The Doors – The Doors (1967)
041: The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Public Enemy & John Coltrane

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Public Enemy & John Coltrane

This was a great week of music.  Again, I had never heard either album...  Luckily this week afforded me a bit of time to listen to each several times.  

48 Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

48: Public Enemy -- It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)

This album was just before my time.  I was 11 when this album came out.  I remember being a suburban Florida eighth grader, writing a paper about this emerging genre called Rap--and specifically about the copyright infringement controversy that its new wave was wreaking.   I am sure this album was among my footnotes on that paper, but I still never heard it.

I was in to the other serious artists of that year. You know, like, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Rob Base,  and Kid 'N Play, and the next year Young MC, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Heavy D & The Boyz.

Needless to say, while I later discovered more intellectual MC's--I wasn't there yet.  After what I've heard this week, I clearly have a lot of filling in to do.

I loved this record the first time I played it this week.  I quickly realized that there was a volume of the 33 1/3 series dedicated to this album, snatched it up, and feverishly read through its entirety over the weekend.  This is one of my favorites of the series.  It turns out that the author, Christopher R. Weingarten, gave just as much attention to enumerating and sourcing the samples as he did to elucidating the rise of Public Enemy.  He covers James Brown, the WattStax Music festival, Jesse Jackson, etc.  He details the production and various techniques used in this incredibly sample heavy record, as well as the extremely limited samplers that were the cutting edge at the time.

Check out this video for some high points (also covered in more detail in the book):

[iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/BY_XUw0QGMg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]

Chuck D's lyrical prowess and intellect is awe-inspiring.  He packs in so much black history (whether via samples or his lyrics) that you can't deny his message.  It reminded me of the should-be-required-viewing PBS documentary I watched a few months back called The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross.  If you haven't watched it, I can't recommend anything more.  Whatever I thought I knew paled in comparison to what this well-researched and produced 6 part documentary presented.

This album is great from the first second to the last.  While it's crazy that this is the only hip-hop album on the list, it makes perfect sense how highly this particular album is ranked.

[embed light]http://open.spotify.com/user/jessecor/playlist/4LVNbgf5TxjlcA0GZWelxp[/embed]

47 John Coltrane - A Love Supreme

47: John Coltrane -- A Love Supreme (1965)

I want to love this album.

I want to love this album.

I want to love this album.

I do.

Don't get me wrong--I don't dislike anything about this album at all.  It's beautiful.  I just don't feel like I really get instrumental jazz records.  I seriously need to be taught what I'm listening for.

This NPR story, entitled Story of 'A Love Supreme' certainly helped.  I don't think I would have ever gathered that Coltrane's inspiration for this album was of a deeply personal and spiritual nature.

I loved the quote from that story from Lewis Porter, the head of the masters program in jazz history and research at Rutgers University-Newark:

"Coltrane's more or less finished his improvisation, and he just starts playing the 'Love Supreme' motif, but he changes the key another time, another time, another time. This is something very unusual. It's not the way he usually improvises. It's not really improvised. It's something that he's doing. And if you actually follow it through, he ends up playing this little 'Love Supreme' theme in all 12 possible keys," says Porter. "To me, he's giving you a message here. First of all, he's introduced the idea. He's experimented with it. He's improvised with it with great intensity. Now he's saying it's everywhere. It's in all 12 keys. Anywhere you look, you're going to find this 'Love Supreme.' He's showing you that in a very conscious way on his saxophone. So to me, he's really very carefully thought about how he wants to present the idea."

I heard the modulations when listening, but I wouldn't have pieced together Coltrane's intent.

Wait.

Holy sh*t.

And just like that, I think I finally get it.  As I'm writing this, I remember reading in a review from PopMatters that Coltrane had written a poem in the original liner notes.  The reviewer claimed that you could read this poem along with Coltrane's melody on Part IV of the record, called Psalm.  So, I stopped writing, searched for the poem, and gave it a try.  I pushed play on the track, and read from the top (including the title) once the saxophone line comes in.  With only a few minor spots not matching up, it's true.  And it's powerful.  Try it for yourself.

A Love Supreme

I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee, O Lord.  It all has to do with it.  Thank You God.

Peace.  There is none other.  God is.  It is so beautiful. Thank You God.

God is all.  Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses.  In you all things are possible.  Thank you God. We know.  God made us so.  Keep your eye on God.  God is.  He always was.  He always will be. No matter what... it is God.  He is gracious and merciful.  It is most important that I know Thee. Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts, fears and emotions--time--all related...all made from one... all made in one. Blessed be his name.  Thought waves--heat waves--all vibrations--all paths lead to God.  Thank you God. His way... it is so lovely... it is gracious.  It is merciful--Thank you God.  One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God... everything does. Thank you God.  Have no fear... believe... Thank you God.  The universe has many wonders.  God is all. His way... it is so wonderful.  Thoughts--deeds--vibrations, all go back to God and He cleanses all. He is gracious and merciful... Thank you God.  Glory to God... God is so alive.  God is.  God loves. May I be acceptable in Thy sight. We are all one in His grace.  The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement of Thee, O Lord.  Thank you God. God will wash away all our tears...He always has...He always will. Seek him everyday.  In all ways seek God everyday.  Let us sing all songs to God.  To whom all praise is due... praise God. No road is an easy one, but they all go back to God. With all we share God.  It is all with God.  It is all with Thee. Obey the Lord.  Blessed is He. We are all from one thing... the will of God...Thank you God. --I have seen ungodly--none can be greater--none can compare Thank you God. He will remake... He always has and He always will.  It's true--blessed be His name--Thank you God. God breathes through us so completely...so gently we hardly feel it... yet, it is our everything. Thank you God. ELATION--ELEGANCE--EXALTATION--All from God. Thank you God. Amen.

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Verdict

Both of these albums could be studied and appreciated far more than I could do in just one week.  I believe you could take graduate-level classes on each of them.

Because the remainder of the list lays ahead, I will move forward...but I am sure I will be coming back to both...through however many of life's stages that still await me.  Something tells me these albums, that have somehow managed to remain relevant in an ever-changing world, will continue to do so for many, many years.

Up Next

046: Bob Marley and the Wailers – Legend (1984)
045: The Band – The Band (1969)

Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.

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Elvis Presley & Electric Ladyland

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Elvis Presley & Electric Ladyland

I worked a lot on my new album Held Momentarily this week.  A new version of Another Side is almost ready to be mixed.  No Longer Alone, proving a tough nut to crack (who uses this phrase anymore?) is coming together with a new version as well.  I am recording and producing this album myself--so needless to say it's been a lot of hair pulling and learning, but also deeply satisfying.  In the coming weeks I will reach the halfway point for the production of the album, and I'm excited to start sharing some of it.

Elvis Presley - Elvis Presley

56: Elvis Presley -- Elvis Presley (1956)

I'm going to say it again--I never heard this record before this week.  Sure, I heard Blue Suede Shoes, Tutti Frutti, and Blue Moon before, but never in the form of this album, nor the rest of the tracks here.

I was hoping to be converted.  I am honestly sorry to say that I have not been.

Elvis is credited with revolutionizing music, bringing Rock & Roll to the masses (admittedly co-opting black music and commercializing it).  As an artist that loves R&B, Soul, and Funk myself, I was hoping to hear something of a luminary in Elvis.  Instead I hear a lot of that hiccupy, gimmicky vocal trickery that seemed popular in the fifties (and skewered in 'Inside Llewyn Davis').  I guess it's hard to look back and see how truly revolutionary something was--when it influences everything that comes afterward.

I watched the Classic Albums episode about this album, and enjoyed it very much.  You can see how attractive and charismatic Elvis was, and how his growing audience loved him.  I was surprised by the analysis of Tutti Frutti--I had no idea how suggestive those lyrics were until I saw this.  You hear a song like this so many times, the lyrics can become like wallpaper that you never focus on.

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A few songs I did enjoy were I Got A Woman and Trying To Get To You.  I love the haunted simplicity of I'll Never Let You Go (Little Darlin') and Blue Moon (had I ever really heard his version of this song, or just a million bad versions that came afterward?).

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55 Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland

55: Jimi Hendrix  -- Electric Ladyland (1968)

This is my second Jimi Hendrix experience...and I like the essence of what he was about, even if I don't buy the whole thing part and parcel.

I read the 33 1/3 book about the album.  It is one of the best in the series I've read thus far (up there with Sign O' The Times, Court and Spark, and There's A Riot Going On).  It delivers on the promise of the series: it is a thorough examination of this album; its creation (complete with song-by-song analysis), reception and its legacy.  It's a quick and worthy read.

For bonus points, I also watched the Classic Albums episode of this album.  The book and documentary have a LOT of overlap, so you could do with one or the other.

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I have a hard time connecting to Jimi as a lyricist.  I mostly don't know what he's talking about--so much is mystical and psychedelic.

Crosstown Traffic is growing on me more and more, as I found myself humming it several times this week.  Voodoo Chile is a great groove--but I don't have the patience to stick with it for 15 minutes to see if it's going somewhere.

My favorite track here has to be Burning Of The Midnight Lamp.  Loneliness IS such a drag.  I love those otherworldly background vocals (as sung by Aretha's background singers) and the harpsichord melody.

Rainy Day, Dream Away would be right up there too, though.  That talking guitar part is very cool (at 3:12, it's said that he's making the guitar say "Wow!  Thank You.  Thank you very much".  Hear it or not--it's cool.  So nice he used it twice--it actually begins the track Still Raining, Still Dreaming too.

All of the sounds Jimi gets out of his guitar on 1983 is impressive (birds, waves, fog horns, buoys)--as is that laid back yet still epic guitar theme before the verse.  Ultimately, though, I again don't have patience for a near 14 minute track.  I do like the chill instrumental section in the middle (mostly atmospherics from about 4:55, the guitar coming in at 5:47, but it seems to lose its way around 7:50 as more dissonance comes in, leading to a dreaded drum solo).

The Bob Dylan cover All Along The Watchtower is certainly the most famous of the songs on this album.  Dylan has since agreed that this version has become the definitive version of his song.  Since Hendrix was a huge Dylan fan, having come up in the village around the same time, this would have meant a lot to Jimi--had he lived to hear the posthumous praise.  The 33 1/3 book pointed out the 4 section guitar solo which I had never really taken notice of--four solos with distinct stylistic personalities strung together.  It's not hard to see why he's considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

The album ends with a reprise of Voodoo Chile, now Voodoo Child (Slight Return).  You can hear the influence of this song alone on many recent tracks by Jack White, Gary Clark Jr, or The Black Keys.

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Verdict

I am happy that I took the time to listen to both albums, and learn more about Elvis and Jimi through the Classic Albums episodes and 33 1/3 book.  I will have one more attempt with both artists as we get further up the list.  Elvis's Sun Sessions is #11 and The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Are You Experienced is #15.  I like the idea of Jimi Hendrix.  With Elvis I don't know what all the fuss is about.  Maybe these next albums with be the tipping point.

Up Next

54: Ray Charles -- The Birth Of Soul (1991) 53: The Beatles -- Meet The Beatles (1964)

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Beggar's Banquet & Songs In The Key Of Life

I'm behind schedule this week...and my editors are furious (note to self: this may be early signs of schizophrenia). This was a great week in music--with one album that has been at the top of my list for a long while, and an album I'd never heard before.

Also, I went to Chicago to visit my younger brother Josiah and his wife Becki.  I'd been there once when I was a pre-teen, but never again since.  I was surprised by how much I liked the city--how beautiful its architecture, Lake Michigan, etc.  I didn't realize there were great cities out there that didn't begin with "New" and end with "York".

I'm taking the rest of this week off of work to focus on recording more of my third album: Held Momentarily.  So far I have the final mix for 4 songs in, the fifth song almost ready to be mixed, and five other songs at various stages of undress.  In other words, I'm reaching the half-way point with the record--as I'm approaching the half-way point of this list as well.  Almost 50 records down.  Who knew.

The Rolling Stones -- Beggar's Banquet

58: The Rolling Stones -- Beggar's Banquet (1968)

As I mentioned after listening to Sticky Fingers (#64), I have never had much knowledge of The Rolling Stones.  I had chalked them up as another band that I wouldn't really like--based on next to nothing, perhaps, beside an inexplicable loathing of their tongue logo.  It's just not a design that compels one to take their music seriously.

theRollingStones_Tongue

I watched the great documentary Crossfire Hurricane (currently available on HBO Go).  It is a solid entry point to The Rolling Stones at the height of their fame, covering a wide expanse from their never-humble beginnings, the making of Beggar's Banquet, the death of Brian Jones, the addition (and subsequent subtraction) of Mick Taylor, the horror of Altamont, the replacement's replacement Ronnie Wood, all the way up to their current string of successful concerts.  I've watched a good deal of music documentaries this year.  One thing I've noticed about many of them is how they whitewash the stars--hide their egomania, drug-use, etc.  Crossfire Hurricane is remarkable in its raucous authenticity and warts-and-all portrayal.

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The music here is more rootsy and bluesy than I typically like.  I really enjoyed this album for the way it surmounted my expectations once again--even though on a song-by-song basis, I prefer Sticky Fingers.

I really like Sympathy For The Devil.  The beauty of songs like No Expectations is so unquestionable that I almost take it for granted.  On some of the songs, I can hear a direct influence on bands like The Avett Brothers and their ilk--especially Dear Doctor.  I enjoy the Dylanesque Jigsaw Puzzle, especially Brian Jones' unexpected mellotron lines.  The documentary helped me see the context and power of the song Street Fighting Man--again I like Brian Jones' nonsensical contribution of the sitar, which I didn't really hear until I listened for it.  I'm surprised by the Stones' stylistic diversity going from more rocking songs to rootsier bluesy songs, like Prodigal Son, and yet the Brits more than pull it off, faux American accent considered.

Based on the documentary, and the little I knew about them beforehand, it seems like the Stones played up their bad-boy/black-hat/Beatles-alternative shtick.  All of that, in combination with Jagger's inimitable chicken dance showmanship and Keith Richards' death-wish-drug-habit, would mean nothing if they didn't have the musicianship and intelligence that is deeply inherent in their songs.

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Stevie Wonder -- Songs In The Key Of Life

57: Stevie Wonder -- Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)

This massive double album was finally released the September following my birth.  This isn't my favorite Stevie album, but that is not to say that it doesn't have many, many moments of perfection and genius.  Maybe the sheer size of it is more than I've been able to acclimate to as of yet.

I like Stevie at his more intimate.  In this album, it is clear that he is intent to make bold statements...and change the whole idea of albums, the recording process, and popular music.

I read the 33 1/3 book for this album several months ago, and really enjoyed it.  I was struck by how much Stevie sacrificed for his music, how driven and single-minded he was.  It is obvious when you look at it this way to realize that no one can sustain that.  We look at artists like Stevie or Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, or even The Rolling Stones and wonder why they aren't making music now that is as relevant as their seminal records.  How can anyone sustain that?  Name any exemplar in any field that has been able to sustain the kind of zeitgeist-tapped success and I guarantee it's a very short list--and some thievery (or pacts with Satan) may have been involved.

I also watched the Classic Albums episode for this album which was again one of the best I've seen.  You can see it in its entirety below (#freeYa'll).  For more Stevie context still, check out 10  Things You Never Knew About Stevie Wonder.

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Now to the music.

Push play.

Those background harmonies?  From the first five seconds?  Perfection.  Love's In Need Of Love Today could be seen as sappy, but as true today as it was almost 40 years ago.  The meditative vamp of the last four and a half minutes of the song takes some audacity to pull off.  Or maybe it works more because of its sincerity than its audacity.  Who else could pull off starting a double-album with a 7 minute song, almost 2/3 of which is so highly repetitive?  My favorite moment: at 5:23 that super-smooth downward run of "hey-ee-ey-ee-ey..." that ends with "bring it down a little.  love is very peaceful, so bring it down a little" followed by crazy vocal ad-libs doubled with the Rhodes.

Have A Talk With God is one of my favorite Stevie songs.  Period.  It doesn't go too far into theology--just a simple reminder to connect with your spirituality.  It is a suggestion rarely referenced in popular culture--its genius in that it's all tucked in a super funky track.  Again, it's interesting to realize that Stevie chose to sequence this at the front of this album.

Contusion is allegedly Stevie's only musical allusion to the car accident that left him with a scar over his right eye and almost took his life--that did take away his sense of smell, and temporarily his sense of taste.  This is especially interesting when you realize that he chose to do this with a complex and mostly joyful instrumental.  The background vocals that start at 2:15 are some of my favorites of all time.

Stevie's trademark joie de vivre is continued with two of the most effervescent songs in history: Sir Duke and I Wish.

I had forgotten about the song Summer Soft--another one of my favorites.  The only thing I don't love so much about the song is its many modulations (key changes) in the end.  The first time it happens, it's the only right thing--a natural release.  To my taste, a little of that goes a long way.

Speaking of a favorite that has flaws: Ordinary Pain.  Stevie is the king of melody and harmony (and, let's face it, almost everything else).  At 2:42 when the ending vamp comes in, it's a funky, gritty, shadow-self of the first half of the song.  To me, the vamp just goes on for at least a minute too long.

Joy Inside My Tears again does the extended vamp thing, but more successfully.

If It's Magic?  If?  This song is magic.  On the documentary, listen for an alternate version with an interesting piano part--though the final harp accompaniment is the magical pairing.  My favorite moment?  At 2:31, the way Stevie says "like".

As--with yet another super extended vamp.  But it is beautiful, powerful, and right.

The close of the fourth side, and "proper ending" of the album is the latin-drenched Another Star.  Again, it's the background vocals that prove to be touchstones for any singer.  La-la-la-la-la, indeed.

The last 4 songs on the album were considered an EP, a third record sub-titled A Somethings' Extra.  The "extra" songs here are some of the strongest for me.  They are more bite-sized, and I like that.  Saturn is one of my favorites.  Ebony Eyes is a fresh and funky change of pace, I love the heavily filtered background vocals, and then the talkbox/vocoder.  Because Stevie is so rhythmically and technologically advanced , his songs like All Day Sucker still sound super relevant.

The 21st and final track of the work as a whole is the second instrumental, Easy Goin' Evening (My Mama's Call).  I don't love instrumentals--but this one, like Contusion before it, is an exception.  It so perfectly resolves the vibe Stevie (and his musicians) spent an hour and 45 minutes creating.

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Verdict

Will either of these albums change your life?  I don't know.  I think Songs In The Key Of Life may have changed mine when I heard it more than 15 years ago.  I can say Stevie's 70's period changed my life (I devoured them all at once), but can't say if it was SITKOL alone that did it.

Beggar's Banquet is an interesting counterpoint to SITKOL.  As obsessive and audacious as Stevie's record was, with new technologies acquired and harnessed in the  aim of studio progress, Beggar's Banquet seems tossed off, its aim capturing simple and rustic moments of brilliance in the studio.  Maybe if you are the more understated type, Beggar's Banquet can alter your trajectory too.  I hope it does.  We could all use some fresh lenses.

Up Next

56: Elvis Presley -- Elvis Presley (1956) 55: The Jimi Hendrix Experience -- Electric Ladyland (1968)

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The Stranger & Led Zeppelin IV

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.

Billy Joel - The Stranger

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.

I'm sorry.

Get It Right The First Time and (especially) Everybody Has A Dream prove that songs exceptionally well written can absolutely be corny as hell.

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.

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Led Zeppelin IV (Runes)

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.

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Verdict

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.

Up Next

68: Michael Jackson -- Off The Wall (1979) 67: Radiohead -- Kid A (2000)

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Imagine & II

I've gotten to a point in this project where I feel a bit of fatigue.  Focusing too hard on too many "great" albums in a row, perhaps? Before I get to that, I just finished the 33 1/3 book about Nick Drake's Pink Moon, available here.  I love this series, and especially this volume.  I, like many of you possibly, "discovered" Nick Drake after I heard the title track to his third record on a still-amazing VW Cabrio commercial in the early 2000's.  I immediately devoured his three records, and put them on constant repeat.  At that time, I read a biography about his life and too-early death.  In the more than 10 years that have since passed, I haven't listened to his music again.

When I saw this book in our Jersey City book store, Word, I saw it as an opportunity to learn more about an old, neglected friend.  Listening to the album again, I am struck by the sadness of it (and by extension, the sadness of my early twenties)...but mostly by how truly beautiful an album it is.  Amazing that it's not on this Top 100 list (it's #320 on Rolling Stone's list, surprisingly with his debut album Five Leaves Left at #283 and his second album Bryter Layter at #245).

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Since there was no reading material for this week's albums, and no documentaries either, I was freed up to watch a documentary called Muscle Shoals, preview below.  It turns out, Aretha Franklin worked on I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (and Lady Soul) with the musicians from Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  The film tells the story of the famous studios and musicians of that small town, and the incredibly tragic personal story of the founder Rick Hall.

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Whoops!  There actually is an Imagine documentary that I will now have to watch...I started one version of it, but it was just a glorified music video of the whole album.  For the actual documentary, you can find it here if you're interested in viewing with me.

John Lennon Imagine

80: John Lennon -- Imagine (1971)

OK...Let's get to it.  First off, I have to mention that this album is the first on the list NOT to be available on Spotify (hence, no links).

Imagine (the song) is one of those rare songs that I've heard literally hundreds of times, and yet I still love it dearly.  Perhaps it's in part because I was told it was an evil song growing up (because of the lyrics "Imagine there's no heaven.  It's easy if you try.  No hell below us.  Above us only sky." or his pleading to imagine there's "no religion too").  I get why this song would evoke that kind of resistance from the religious set, but how beautiful.  How quietly hopeful and counter-cultural.

"Jealous Guy" is such an amazing song as well.  I love the dry-reeded sax solo on "It's So Hard".  His melodic groove on "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier Mama I Don't Wanna Die" is one of the coolest things I've ever heard.  It's like he's jumping the rope of the groove in slow motion with his vocal delivery...you can't focus on the rope, just close your eyes, jump in and keep it going--nice and smooth.  "Oh My Love"--what can you even say.  Just beautiful.  "How?" is also a favorite.

I don't love "Gimme Some Truth" or "How Do You Sleep?".  I've read that these songs fill out Lennon's persona, and present the more complex aspects of his psyche--but I would be fine without them.  That probably says more about me, but there it is.  I appreciate John Lennon The Balladeer and Songwriter more than John Lennon The Rocker resonates with me.  But, the man had range.  No doubt.

Led Zeppelin II

79: Led Zeppelin -- Led Zeppelin II (1969)

Prior to this record, I had very little exposure to Led Zeppelin.  I know Robert Plant more because he's married to one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time--Patty Griffin.  I don't mean to say that he's Mr. Griffin to me--I just haven't ever listened to his work, deeper than Raising Sand with Allison Krauss, which is a personal favorite.

This record is engineered by Eddie Kramer, who also engineered Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love.  On the opening track, Whole Lotta Love, you can tell.  The psychedelic studio tricks are here too, and equally effective.  What Is And What Should Never Be, refers to a castle (a la Jimi again?) but is a super cool track moving between cool laid-back blues and strutting rock riffs.  Robert Plant's scatting and improv at the end is noteworthy--ballsy and strange, and yet somehow cool.

The riffs are huge, if the lyrics are cryptic and just out of reach.

Ramble On is by far my favorite track on this album.  I had heard it before, though it was never with my direct attention.  The way the verse starts with this chill drumming (a very similar box-top-like drum sound to a Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away) and then kicks into that biting and intense chorus, with the alternating kick repeats and then snare repeats.  And those haunting and simple doubled-guitar refrains.

This perfect song is followed by Moby Dick--which starts out cool.  And then I find myself deep in a much-too-long drum solo.  Is the drumming impressive?  Yeah, John Bonham had serious chops.  But if I wanted my least favorite part of any concert committed to tape, I would ask for it.  Any momentum I got with Ramble On is lost with this...

I have to say, so far I don't get the allure.  There are three more Led Zeppelin records on this list, and I'm open to being very, very wrong.  In fact, I hope I am.

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Verdict

I loved several of the songs on Imagine--but for some reason was not pulled into the album as a whole.

I am deeply impressed with Ramble On, but could leave the rest of the Led Zeppelin II off of any future mix tape.

Up Next

78: Otis Redding -- Otis Blue (1965) 77: AC/DC -- Back In Black (1980)

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The (Country/Rock) Clash

I went snowboarding this weekend--for the first time in over a decade.  We went to Hunter Mountain, just outside of Woodstock, NY.  Let's just say that I'm grunting each time I stand up now--and am lucky that I didn't seriously hurt anything...With two weeks left until my medical insurance kicks in, perhaps snowboarding wasn't the smartest move. We got back last night, returning to a familiar altitude.  I mentioned last week that I'm done with Winter, and am anxiously awaiting Spring.  Wouldn't you know it, a single tree blooms in Van Vorst Park here in Jersey City, and already my Spring allergies are kicking in.  Such is life--there's always something to complain about, and about a million other things to be grateful for that go unmentioned.

Speaking of things I'm grateful for, my new album Held Momentarily (coming sometime this Summer or early Fall) is really starting to take shape. I have finished recording several songs, and have hired someone to start mixing. Early mixes of Homesick are sounding so good. I can't wait to share it with you all. I will be starting a Pledge Music campaign (as soon as I force myself to record the requisite video intro).

A quick aside--while in Hunter, NY, we are breakfast at a place in Tannersville (just outside of Hunter) called Maggie's Krooked Cafe.  There were postings citing the place as having one of the top 10 pancakes in the whole US.  They have oats, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds.  This didn't immediately sound all that noteworthy--but I figured I should see what makes a pancake so heralded.

It was seriously the best pancake I've ever eaten--and Maggie was a truly kind owner and cook.  If you're ever in the area, look her up.  It might be a little pricey a breakfast (comparatively)...but it's worth every penny.

Neil Young Harvest

82: Neil Young -- Harvest (1972)

I have listened to Neil Young's "After The Gold Rush" but never this record.

I had heard two songs from this collection before, Old Man and Heart Of Gold.  After several more listens this week, I would say those are two of the best songs ever written.  The production is clean and timeless.

That high-hat line in Heart Of Gold, during the verses, is proof of what a little ingenuity in technique can do to take a song to an entirely different place.  It's not a difficult rhythm at all--it's simple, but unexpected and perfect.

I read the 33 1/3 volume for this album last week as well, written by Sam Inglis.  From a series that I love quite a bit, this is one I've enjoyed most so far.  It's just a perfect amount of interesting back story to the making of this record, and Neil Young's meandering career via hindsight.

One theme that really captured my imagination was Neil Young's approach to recording.  Early in his career, he was meticulous about recording every song perfectly--this was taken to extremes by Stephen Stills during his time with CSN&Y.  With this, and Neil's trouble with his backing band getting into drugs, he started wanting to capture the urgency of a song as it is just born, even if the result was something less "perfect".

At that time, many Rock & Roll acts (including Bob Dylan for Blonde On Blonde) were taking advantage of the session musicians in Nashville.  Nashville session players were known for their ability to read a song's chart a few times through and nail a pitch perfect recording.  So this approach lent itself beautifully to his new recording goals.

Overall, I enjoyed the album very much.  I don't love the orchestrated songs as much (A Man Needs A Maid or There's A World).  They don't seem to match with the approach described above.  But the live recording of The Needle And The Damage Done is so, so good.  Tragic, but so good.

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The Clash

81: The Clash -- The Clash (1977)

Where do I begin with this one?  Some of the things I love most about music--intricate melodies, lush chord changes, beautiful singing--are all decidedly not present here.

I don't like Punk music.  I'm pretty sure Punk music doesn't like me either.  I'm OK--you're OK.

But, I listened my avowed three times.

It was clear pretty early on that The Clash is leagues above any Punk I'd heard before.  The guitar tone is so cool, fun and inviting.  The drums vacillate between sneering attacks and surprising grooves.

In spite of myself, I found myself singing along to Police and Thieves as I vacuumed my apartment.  That "Oh Yeah" refrain is beyond addictive.  I also liked Garageland, especially the verse:

I don't wanna hear about what the rich are doing? I don't wanna go to where, where the rich are going? They think they're so clever, they think they're so right But the truth is only known by Wesley Snipes (okay, he says guttersnipes)

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Verdict

Again, I'm glad I listened to both of these records.  I was surprised to find that I didn't hate The Clash as much as I thought I did--even though I'd never really given them a serious listen before.

Conversely, I really thought I would be blown away by Harvest.  While I really loved a few of the tracks, the rest of the album left me cold and wanting more.

Up Next

80: John Lennon -- Imagine (1971)

79: Led Zeppelin -- II (1969)

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We've Got Two Shouters Here

This was another week where I'd never heard either record.  I had heard a few songs from both albums, but had never heard either album in total--and have never been too fond of either artist. Thankfully, both of this week's records have reasonable lengths (46 minutes and 30, respectively).  After listening to both records through twice each, I feared I was in trouble.  I was not a fan.  I've said it before, but I am first and foremost drawn to voices.  And, yes, I know Aretha is one of the preeminent voices in this Universe--but am I alone in finding it a little too harsh and demonstrative?  Also, Bruce is delivering most of these songs at full scream.  I was going to need some help to find something positive to say...

Bruce Springsteen - Born In The USA

86: Bruce Springsteen -- Born In The USA (1984)

My first impression of this album, in addition to the shoutful delivery, was how dated those synths and heavily reverb-soaked snare drums sound now.  Also, how there is a total lack of groove.

I may have mentioned that there is another Greatest Albums Of All Time list that I've learned is more regarded than Rolling Stone's, from Acclaimed Music referred to as "The Great List".  On that list, this album comes in at 162.  That's a pretty big critical gap--though it is still on the list.

I realized, late in the week, that there is a 33 1/3 book about this record (here).  Loving the series as I do (in spite of the Dusty misstep), I decided to add it to my kindle app and get to reading.  While it could have used more editing, it gave me what I needed to really listen to the album.

In reading the 33 1/3 book, I learned more about Bruce as a songwriter and the songwriting and recording process that led to this album.  This volume of the series is clearly meant for Springsteen fanatics, as it painstakingly details every song written during this very prolific period in the early 80's.  It revealed to me how strong a storyteller he is and how his songs are rarely revelatory in a directly personal sense.  More often they're economically crafted songs from the point of view of various, and often nefarious, narrators.

I never realized the depth behind the song "Born In The USA".  I didn't get that it was a protest song about the Vietnam War.  Never.  I guess the lyrics are really tucked behind that huge snare and repetitive synth line.  It is a truly complex lyric, which is successful at being truly patriotic while also calling into question decisions that were made at the time, and the impact felt.

On further listening, the album did grow on me--especially the songs Downbound Train, I'm On Fire, Bobby Jean, Dancing In The Dark, and the beautiful My Hometown.  See, I can be open-minded.

Aretha Franklin - Lady Soul

85: Aretha Franklin -- Lady Soul (1968)

I have never really liked the song Chain of Fools.  It's another song that I've probably heard a [bad] cover version more than I'd ever heard this version.  Girl can sing though--especially the line "My doctor said take it easy"--which she clearly ignored, at least in her delivery.

Upon thinking about it, maybe it's her intensity that I'm not comfortable with.  Remember: I like chill.  Give me chill.  Please.

Aretha is never chill.

I have to admit that Chain of Fools has grown on me though.

Who doesn't love her classic take on Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Jerry Wexler's [You Make Me Feel Like] A Natural Woman?

On the second listening, I was struck by the ingenious background vocals here, credited to The Sweet Inspirations (which includes Whitney Houston's mama and Dionne Warwick's too), as well as Aretha's sisters Erma and Carolyn Franklin.  I watched 20 Feet From Stardom recently and was blown away by the talents of the singers featured, most of whom I'd never heard of before.  Maybe that experience has me more tuned in to what's going on with the background vocals...but I'm not so sure.  The choices made on each track are so subtle and artistic.  For two great examples, check out Groovin' and especially Aint' No Way (the wonderful closing track written by Aretha's sister Carolyn Franklin).

This album was produced by Jerry Wexler, who also produced Dusty In Memphis.  The band is incredible, especially Tommy Cogbill on bass.  Aretha is an impressive piano player, especially on Good To Me As I Am To You (one of the two songs she co-writes here).

It is conspicuous that Aretha is the only woman of color on the entire list--a list that is already scant with women any way.  Just putting that out there.

Verdict

I'm good with Born In The USA, I won't need to hear it again--but I am glad I took the time to explore it.  I also do want to check out a couple of his other records.  I will have to check out "Born To Run" coming in at #18 of the list.  I also want to listen to Darkness On The Edge of Town, and Nebraska--eventually.

Aretha is growing on me--which I guess is a good thing, as I'll be spending more time with her next week.  Aint' No Way is amazing.  For that reason alone, this album gave me a gift.

Up Next

84: Aretha Franklin -- I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967)

83: Jimi Hendrix -- Axis: Bold As Love (1967)

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A Talking Book Lays Dusty In Memphis

It's been a snow-filled February week here in Jersey City.  My personal cold has subsided, only to be replaced by an exterior, bone-chilling coldness.  A perfect setting for me to hibernate and work on this project, and [thankfully] to also write a new song for my beloved for Valentine's Day.  You can listen to a demo of Already here. For the first time in this project, I've come upon not one but two albums that I have heard in their entirety--and luckily for me, have loved before.  I hadn't heard either of them in the past 10 years, so it's been a good opportunity to listen to them again with [perhaps] a wiser pair of ears.

Stevie Wonder Talking Book Album Cover

Stevie Wonder -- Talking Book (1972)

When I recorded my second album, Rebirth, I got many comments from people thinking that I must have been a big devotee of Stevie's.  At the time, I only knew a few of his songs, and as I mentioned last week with Elton John, most of them his late career hits (i.e. "Jungle Fever", "Ebony and Ivory", etc.)--not his best work.

So, in the late 90's, I started exploring his golden era which, according to most accounts, started in 1972 with Music of My Mind, followed closely in the same year by this record, Talking Book, then Innervisions in 1973, Fulfillingness' First Finale in 1974, and finally his masterpiece Songs In The Key of Life in 1976 (the year I was born).  I devoured each of them, and quickly became obsessed, listening to each CD on constant repeat.  Fulfillingness' is still my favorite record of these, but it's, I suppose, like choosing a favorite child.  I loved the opportunity to come back to focus on Talking Book, a record I remember loving, but not one that garnered my deepest devotion.

What's crazy to me is realizing that Stevie Wonder is 21 here.  His earnings from the royalties of his earlier successes had been placed in a trust, only available to him upon turning 21.  So, Stevie comes of age, and is finally given access to the millions of dollars he's earned.  Instead of going on a drug bender, he spends some of this money on expensive synthesizers, and devotes himself to 'round-the-clock recording sessions.

The record starts off with You Are The Sunshine of My Life.  This song gets a lot of flack for its unrepentant sweetness.  It's a song I had awareness of growing up (of course), and I heard it a lot, even on an 80's Minute Maid commercial (start the video at 3:54).  But unlike Candle In The Wind, it's a song I can still hear and appreciate--it doesn't seem any worse for the wear.  One of the things I noticed this week is that Stevie doesn't even sing the first line of his opening track, that's Jim Gilstrap, followed on the third line by Lani Groves.  Stevie comes in on the fifth line, appropriately with the lyric "I feel like this is the beginning..."  The other new thing I noticed on this song is that killer, fast underlying drumbeat starting at around 2:11.  This song was recorded at Electric Lady Studios, which is a few blocks from where I now work.  I love you, New York.

Maybe Your Baby  seems a precursor to some of the Prince recording techniques from Sign O' The Times, with the many timbres of Stevie's voice, some slightly sped up for that funked up, helium sound.  Then comes the first ballad of the record, You And I, which Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger of PopMatters refer to as "wispy" and "gloopy", in their blog Counterbalance covering the greatest albums of all time (Talking Book covered here).  I am more of a ballad kind of guy, and I find Stevie to be one of the best ballad writers of all time.  If that makes me gloopy, I'm OK with that.

The songs that follow are each as impressive as the preceding--not a single filler track in the bunch.  Of course track 6, Superstition, is the biggest hit from this record (his 9th best of his career, with You Are The Sunshine Of My Life coming it at #10).

 

Dusty Springfield Dusty In Memphis Album Cover

Dusty Springfield -- Dusty In Memphis (1969)

Dusty has one of the sexiest voices I've ever heard.

I was talking about this with my girlfriend, who asked what exactly it was about her voice that I find so sexy?  I read the 33 1/3 book covering this record.  The author, Warren Zanes, puts it best when he says that there is a "vulnerability we hear in her voice, it seems, [that] is not some fluke but the sound that pain makes when it comes out of a certain body."  I have to say that I was disappointed with the book otherwise, as it spoke more about The South, and its general influence than it speaks to this particular album.

This album, however, is anything but a disappointment.  I remember first hearing Dusty, as I'm sure many did, for the first time on the song Son Of A Preacher Man from the soundtrack to the 1994 film Pulp Fiction.  The album was re-released in 1999 (for its 30 year anniversary), and this is when I stumbled upon it.  I fell in love with her then, this CD too stuck on repeat for a while.

The first time around, I fell in love with her voice, the band, and the production.  What I was struck by coming back to it was the songwriting.  Gerry Goffin and Carole King provide the most songs (4) of the impressive songwriters gathered here (So Much Love, Don't Forget About Me, No Easy Way Down, and I Can't Make It Alone).  Each song is solid and soul-packed.  Randy Newman wrote 2, I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore (one of my favorites here) and Just One Smile.  Just A Little Lovin', Son Of A Preacher Man, and Breakfast In Bed each draw you in, for Dusty's playful and sensual delivery.

The Windmills Of Your Mind is a track that stands out from the others, for its psychedelic leanings.  I love all of the musical embellishments that change through each verse (especially that Spanish guitar).  In The Land Of Make Believe also stays in that psychedelic space, with those lush strings and sitar.

Dusty doesn't write a single track--but she embodies each song as if they were fragments of her life.  Reading a little about her, you learn that she had a troubled life (battling with insecurities and addiction).  It seems that vulnerability in her voice is hard-won.  Her sensuality, threaded through almost every raspy line, reflects her sexuality.  In 1973, she tells Chris Van Ness of the Los Angeles Free Press:

I mean, people say that I'm gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. I'm not anything. I'm just ... People are people... I basically want to be straight ... I go from men to women; I don't give a shit. The catchphrase is: I can't love a man. Now, that's my hang-up. To love, to go to bed, fantastic; but to love a man is my prime ambition ... They frighten me.

That's a vulnerable and bold statement, especially at that time.

Verdict

I enjoyed dropping in to see these two old loves, both holding time at bay, as beautiful as the day I last saw them.  Talking Book finds Stevie entering his golden age.  Dusty In Memphis is a sexy album that shows love in many of its facets: playful, heartbreaking, contradictory, vulnerable, and mischievous.

Up Next

88: Johnny Cash -- At Folsom Prison

87: Pink Floyd -- The Wall

 

 

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Yet They Somehow Remain Timeless

I was looking forward to this week. My girlfriend loves Hank Williams, often singing several of these songs around the house.  I've meant to give his music a deeper  listen for years, and this gives me the perfect opportunity.

As for Prince, I've liked his music from a distance up until now.  My biggest devotion to his music was for, don't judge me, the Batman soundtrack in 1989--which I devoured without asking if there was anything better in his oeuvre.  I remember when my step-dad brought this CD home--I listened to it once, and simply did not get it.  So this would be my opportunity to see what all the fuss was about.

The thing that ties both of these albums together for me--aside from, again, the double-CD nature of both--is the way that both conjure a specific era for me, and yet they somehow remain timeless.  You can feel the deeply personal nature of some of the songs, the vulnerability mixed with party songs.  Is that what lifts these songs into a space hovering over most music?

 

Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits

Hank Williams - 40 Greatest Hits

I'll have to admit that I don't know if I can completely buy into this being one of the greatest "albums" of all time.  It's a collection of hits (the first of several in this list).  So, by very definition, it is not an album.  I'll let that serve as my one objection here.

This is not the genre of music that I'm naturally drawn to.  While this wasn't music that was the soundtrack to my early life, there is something very, very familiar about Hank's music.  In fact the last song on this collection, I Saw The Light is definitely a song that was sung at my grandfather's Baptist church as I was growing up--but I think that's the only song I'd every really heard growing up.

I said I had only one objection--let me correct by saying that I do have a second.  It's that several of the songs are almost identical to other songs that are in this collection.  For instance, Move It On Over is almost exactly the same song musically as Mind Your Own Business.  This happens a few more times again with other songs.  That both songs end up being hits is beyond interesting.  It makes me wonder why a writer would do this.  Maybe it was a product of the time--a lack of awareness that these songs would eventually be side-by-side on collections.  Or maybe he'd released the first song, and thought it could be improved upon by the second (in this case Mind Your Own Business was a #1 hit, where Move It On Over was not a #1 hit).  Or maybe Hank was unaware that he'd plagiarized himself.

That being said, I find all of these songs to be worthy of being held up with the greatest of all time.  I learned this week that Hank died before he even turned 30 (having suffered from spina bifida all of his life--his back pain contributed to his use of pain killers and alcohol, which contributed to his early death).  It's remarkable the amount of life he was able to cram into just under 3 decades--not to mention the unprecedented body of work).

During my third listen (fitting the whole 1 hour 47 minute collection in one sitting), I found myself happily singing along with his impressive yodel-style vocals.  His vocal dexterity is as impressive as his songwriting is.  The songs that I love: Move It On Over,  Lovesick Blues (not written by Hank)You're Gonna Change (Or I'm Gonna Leave)Lost HighwayHey, Good LookingWhy Don't You Love MeBaby We're Really In LoveJambalaya (On The Bayou)Settin' The Woods On Fire,   I'll Never Get Out Of This World AliveKaw-Liga (featured in the film Moonrise Kingdom, that I also adored), and, of course, Your Cheatin' Heart.  His word-play is among the best--playful extra syllables, especially.

It should be said that this album doesn't have the advantage that most of the other albums on the list so far have--almost all songs have the same instrumentation. There is no production wizardry at all--you are left to absorb the songs themselves, along with Hanks voice and clever writing.  Sometimes, the slide guitar or pedal steel is a beautiful and haunting addition, other times the similar arrangements get in the way of the songs.

Prince Sign O' The Times

Prince - Sign "☮" the Times

Another admission: I don't love most of Prince's hits.  As I believe I've said before, I'm one of those people that is drawn to deeper tracks on records.  I mean, I like the hits as much as the next person.  It's more that once the song is finished, it's gone for me--I rarely feel the need to download that track or seek it out.  So while I agree that most of his hits are sexy and fun...that was as far as it went for me.

As I mentioned above, 13-year-old Jesse did love the Batman soundtrack that Prince released in 1989 (released 2 years after Sign).  I listened to some of it again yesterday and still love it.  Don't judge.

I read the 33 1/3 Series on this album, Sign O' The Times, written by Michaelangelo Matos.  The author was 13 years old when he discovered the album.  I love this series because it gives context for the album, as well as the behind the scenes stories about the recording process.  Some complain about the personal narrative of the author's, especially in this volume, but it made the story more powerful and real for me.  One of the more interesting bits I learned from this book is that this album had three multi-disc iterations (Dream Factory, Camille, and Crystal Ball), and track listings before (all rejected by Prince's label, Warner Bros) before he finally landed on this final double-CD.  His career was having a bit of trouble just before this record, as Parade (and Under The Cherry Moon before it) were not well-received.

Now, this record.  This 1 hour and 17 minute long album also evokes its time period--80's all day long.  It is also timeless in its bold musical exploration and ground-breaking production. The other thing I am struck by with this album is the many timbres of Prince's voice.  He's got such an urgency and then vulnerability in much of his delivery, covering the whole of the emotional spectrum.  His squealing delivery of "hot thang" in the first 9 seconds of Hot Thing shows him at his most searing.  In The Cross, he sounds like he's emotionally on the verge the whole time, every blemish exposed--the realness.  Then there's his experimentation with sped-up vocals (a character he names Camille)--If I Was Your Girlfriend the prime example.  He planned to release an album of Camille-only songs, but instead placed some of them in this album.

The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker is one of the coolest songs I've ever heard.  I could imagine it being released now (most likely by Andre 3000).  It doesn't hurt anything that he cites Help Me by Joni Mitchell.  I may even take a bubble bath with my pants on.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Starfish And Coffee.  I love.  I mean who else writes shit like this?  Slow Love?  Yep, I'll take some of that too.  In any other hands, this would be pure schlock.  But not here.

I even enjoy U Got The Look, aside from what I say above about hits.  "Your face is jammin', your body's hecka-slammin'."

If I Was Your Girlfriend.  OK.  Funky stuff.  The way he sings "Plea-he-he-hease" at 2:20.  Woah.  That detuned ending with the haunting chorale sample.  That then builds, and bursts, rolling over into that funky bass line.  Strange Relationship, another song credited to Camille, explores a dysfunctional relationship and the hot and cold feelings contained therein.

I love The Cross because of his vulnerable delivery, and also for its slow build (I mean, come on--that shot-gun snare at 2:28). Those gospel, overdubbed, and thickly stacked background vocals--amazing.

I could do without It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.  Though it is fun.  Sure.  See, I'm having fun.

Adore is beautiful, if a little dated.  He pulls out every aspect of his voice for this one.  It's the perfect ending to a wonderful record.

Verdict

I love many of Hank's songs, and am really glad that I took the time to really listen through a good portion of his greatest hits.  I would definitely want to hear more of them, but would probably enjoy them more sprinkled throughout a shuffled mix.

Sign O The Times is looking to be one of my favorite records of all time--another reason that I'm loving this project.  I am definitely looking forward to discovering Purple Rain, once it comes up at 76 on the list.

Next Up

92: Buddy Holly - Lives

91: Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

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Zombies & A Riot

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Zombies & A Riot

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hold up.

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?

Verdict

Yep.  I love both records, and can certainly see why these made it on the list of best albums of all time.

Next up

2 down, 98 to go.  Can I do this?  Let's see.

98: Elvis Costello & The Attractions - This Year's Model

97: Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

 

 

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