Favorite Albums pt. 10 of 10

Let’s be real for a second, I love far more than 10 albums but this has been a fun exercise. I really struggled to name my last album but ultimately shrugged and decided to just pick another one I love.

It took me quite a while to warm up to Marquee Moon. I first heard it in college and dismissed it as a band that wanted to sound like the Cars but was trying too hard. Over time I grew to appreciate the sound and its place in history. And I don’t necessarily mean musical history. There is a kind of weariness to it and in my mind that fits in well with the times. I can’t help but hear Vietnam and Watergate fatigue in the sound.

That weariness is also why I’ve never really considered it a punk album. It doesn’t have the attitude and snarl I expect out of punk. Marquee Moon strikes me as a mood album. The guitars are more atmospheric than driving in my opinion. But what a mood! I love the feel and sound of this album, they more than justify its perpetual placement on critics’ best albums lists. It’s another one that too few people have heard.

Favorite Albums pt. 9 of 10

Punk Rock!

Take a prototypical American punk album, lo-fi, grating, low on talent but high on attitude, and mix it with third wave feminism and you get this album. Bikini Kill was at the forefront of the so-called Riot Girrrl movement, female punk rockers carving out their own space in punk music. Here is a quick primer on the movement as a whole. I think Bikini Kill was easily the most “punk” of all of them.

This album starts with the lead singer Kathleen Hannah yelling, “WE’RE BIKINI KILL AND WE WANT REVOLUTION!!” That sets the stage for the onslaught of guitars, screaming, and general badassery to come. Punk rock has always specialized in confrontational, deliberately antagonizing songs and trying to shock people that they see as antagonists. There are some doozies on this album that fit into that punk archetype like Carnival, Suck my Left One, and White Boy. Also on here is what most people think is their signature song Rebel Girl.

Listening to this in 92 was a revelation. It also reminded me of the music scene I had fallen into at college. Today I think it is bracing, like splashing cold water on your face. I will still listen to this when I need to get my blood pumping and my senses sharpened.

My Favorite Albums Pt. 8 of 10

This may be my favorite important album that most people have never heard of or the artist.

Double Nickels on the Dime is an American punk classic. The only song from it most people recognize is Corona because it was used as the theme to the movie Jackass. As an aside, Corona is a brilliant song and it pains me that people’s only connection to it involves the Jackass franchise. Sigh.

Released in 1984, DNOTD features sparse, witty songs with the Minutemen’s signature brevity. “We are time Nazis…” is one of D. Boone’s self descriptive lyrics. Some of my favorite songs on the album include the aforementioned Corona, The Big Foist, Jesus and Tequila, Little Man with a Gun in his Hand, and their taking-the-piss versions of Steely Dan’s Dr. Wu and Van Halen’s Ain’t talking ’bout Love. I think anyone that loves honest, blue collar rock with punk leanings needs to hear this album. I’ll always love it.

Favorite albums 5 of 10

This is the fifth installment of my list of my 10 favorite albums. You can see the beginning of it here.

Today’s album still haunts me after all these years.

Pretty on the Inside is not fun to listen to, nor is it filled with songs that you’ll find yourself humming. Harrowing is the best word I can find to describe it. The album seems to chronicle a woman’s descent into heroin and prostitution. Abusive relationships, the threat of overdoses, and the constant fear of herself round out the fun times. The songs hold together really well and the lyrics are both well crafted and delivered expertly.

I don’t usually like concept albums, or even albums with a narrative thread. Most of them never transcend the didacticism of their story telling. I always imagine the artist presenting their very important work to me and I’m supposed to be the grateful receiver of their message. Pretty on the Inside manages to transcend this problem by simultaneously painting an excruciatingly stark painting of this woman’s life and not caring if you “get something” out of it or not. The lyrics and performance feel too honest to be just stories. Knowing what we know about Courtney Love’s life makes me sure she has first hand knowledge of what happens to the protagonist on this album.

I love this album because it is an honest, complete piece of performance art. Love has managed to make a towering monument to self-loathing and bad decisions. I think it is important to experience art like this from time to time in order to empathize with people in these sorts of situations. Sometimes you have to stand in the dark in order to see the light. This album gives you a taste of what living in a spiritual and emotional darkness must be like.

Most important albums to me pt.1 of 10

My brother shared a cute Facebook thing were we are supposed to share our favorite 10 albums over 10 days. The idea is to just post the album covers and not really editorialize about them. Well, I take this stuff too seriously to let it go like that. Here are my 10 most important albums in no particular order, one day at a time.

First up is the album I played through all of my childhood.

I’m willing to bet I played Abbey Road more often than any other LP in my life. I don’t know how young I was when I started but I’ll say this, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer was the very first non-kids song I ever knew all the words to. My parents owned some interesting records by some interesting bands like CCR, The Association, Jefferson Airplane, Isaac Hayes, and other albums by the Beatles but Abbey Road was the one I came back to again and again, for decades.

Really though it was the first side that captivated me as a kid. I think that as a little kid I really liked the sing song tracks like Octopus’s Garden and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer but as I got older I appreciated the weirdness and heaviness of I Want You and Come Together. I absolutely adored the abrupt end of I Want You, it seemed so absurd to me.

For whatever reason I didn’t really appreciate the second side until my teenage years. Maybe because that’s when I started to play music loud. The entire medley and especially The End just sounds so much better loud.

Years later I learned that Abbey Road was essentially the death throes of the band and was essentially recorded without Paul and John working together. That broke my heart. Still, the album is a masterpiece by any measure and was the first album to pop into my head with this album challenge.

In Defense of Debby Boone

I am astonished at what was happening with music in 1977. That was the year that punk broke into the mainstream with The Sex Pistols and The Clash both releasing classic albums. Disco was cresting in popularity with the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. Seminal albums by Television, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Bob Marley, Kraftwerk, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Billy Joel, and even Meatloaf were released that year. Other albums like Aja from Steely Dan and Rumors by Fleetwood Mac epitomized the state of mainstream rock in 1977. Hip Hop was taking its first baby steps in parties in New York City. So what was the biggest hit of the year? You Light up My Life by Debby Boone held the top spot on Billboard’s chart for 10 weeks.

These days, any mention of You light up My Life to music connoisseurs is bound to elicit eye rolling and possibly a sneer in response. “That’s why punk music had to come around, crap like that is unforgivable.”

Before I explain why I don’t share that sentiment I just want to make sure everyone understands that I know that it is pure pop cheese. It is maudlin, it is syrupy. I don’t have a problem with Boone’s dedication of the song to her, “Lord and Savior,” but for many that just adds to the cringeworthyness of the song.

If I think all of those things are true, why do I not think that this is exactly what punk was made to combat? Surely it’s easy to see how Debby Boone and the Sex Pistols are on opposite ends of the musical spectrum. Well sure. Stylistically, politically, and personally they don’t have anything in common. I do think that what saves You Light up My Life is that it is honest. There is an authenticity to it that comes through. She believes it and absolutely nailed that performance. Most of us are hardwired to detect phonies. Debby Boone wasn’t one and that resonated with the public.

No, in my mind punk was musically rebelling against the likes of Captain and Tennille, Pablo Cruise, and all the other countless acts that peddled similar soulless, contrived material. There’s no question that You Light up My Life was made to be sold but Boone’s performance is what made it hit the stratosphere. That honesty is what it has in common with Anarchy in the UK.

I firmly believe that if more pop music had been made with the same honesty as You Light up My Life, the punk movement wouldn’t have been as necessary from a musical standpoint. Hate on Debby Boone for what she represents if you must but don’t saddle her with reason that punk had to come and bloody some noses…

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MA Recordings; Wonderful music but frustrating

 

Here’s a new audio blog! It’s been a long time I know… This one is mostly about some new music for me. MA Recordings continues to amaze and frustrate me. The music is amazing but their insistence on publishing to CD only is making me a bit crazy.

Begoña Olavide has a variety of things available on iTunes and Bandcamp, including an album named “Mudejar” but it doesn’t sound like the same recording. I managed to find a track from album Calamus on YouTube. I think this is the best album to get if you’re new to this kind of music.

That’s medieval Spanish music with Arabic, gypsy, and even Sephardic influences in it. I love it completely.

Vlatko Stefanovski and Miroslav Tadic are a guitar duo with a unique sound. There are all sorts of influences in there from Eastern Europe, Spain, and even American blues. Here is a live performance of one of the songs on the album.

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Sound of Da Police

I’ve expressed my admiration for this song before but goddamn, I can’t think of a more appropriate song considering recent events. It does a great job of showing the ongoing problems black folks have had with the cops. It’s sad that the song is just as relevant today as ever…

 

Are you really for peace and equality? Or when my car is hooked up
You know you wanna follow me, your laws are minimal
‘Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
‘Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police

 

 

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Yeah, I’m straight out of Compton

I haven’t been keeping track of the late night talk shows and I certainly haven’t kept up with The Tonight Show since Leno came back. I heard he left and that Jimmy Fallon took over. My problem is that I kept confusing Jimmy Fallon with Jimmy Kimmel. Hopefully I’ll be forgiven for not wanting to watch a talk show with Kimmel hosting… Turns out Fallon is  likable guy and seems to be funny enough to hold down the spot. The only reason I’ve seen any of the show is because of the popularity of the history of rap segments he’s been doing with Justin Timberlake. Haven’t seen those? Here’s the 5th installment:

 

 

I’ll start with the negatives. OK, yeah, it’s two white guys going over the history of a musical genre that was not only predominately written and performed by black folks but often spoke of a uniquely black experience. On top of that, outside of the band I don’t know if there were any black people in the building at all. If you wanted to be uncharitable you’d say that it’s another example of rich white people riding not only the efforts but the actual culture of black America for their own ends.

There was a little bit of that for me in this performance but I’m willing to forgive them mostly on the basis that they clearly love the music. They weren’t making fun of it, they were attempting as genuine a performance as possible, down to the dance moves and vocal mannerisms of the original acts. They were clearly having fun. Most of the songs they picked in this episode were top 40 hits. The exception is when they did a trio of “Gangster Rap” songs culminating in an aborted start of Straight Out of Compton. If you don’t watch any other part of that video, make sure to watch the few seconds starting at 1:50. 

That was gold. It’s a bit that everyone can laugh at. The idea that Jimmy Fallon could even attempt that song without descending into parody and/or become a laughingstock is just silly. As it was, he was able to pull it off for 4 seconds with only Timberlake seemingly pulling him back from the brink. Fallon went all in and took it as far as someone like him could. Timberlake making fun of him was the logical denouement. 

I think the reason that bit resonates with me so much is also the reason I think they “got away” with doing this. For those of you not familiar with Straight out of Compton, allow me to introduce you. To complete Fallon’s start…

”Straight out of Compton crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube

From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes

When I’m called off I got a sawed off

Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off…”

 

It is, in a word, horrifying. If taken literally, it consists of mass murderers bragging about their body count and especially taking glee in gunning down cops. Oh, it has some truly grotesque misogyny thrown in for good measure too. So why is it popular? Are the people that like it just cretins? I’m sure some of them are. I can tell you that from the perspective of a well off, white (late)teenager, it was exhilarating. A pure dose of testosterone wrapped up in a fantasy of anger unleashed. Straight out of Compton was probably the height of bragging rap. It was understood to be hyperbole. Well, it was understood to be hyperbole to its targeted audience. To everyone else it was self described “Niggas” talking about killing people and they were from Compton after all. No wonder they scared white people everywhere! It was attractive to me because, as a frustrated male coursing with hormones, violent thoughts weren’t all that uncommon even if, and maybe because, I never gave in to them. Why was I frustrated? I dunno, aren’t all teenagers? As attractive as this was to me, I can’t begin to imagine what the effect could have been on people actually living in Compton. You know, people that had real frustrations in life, the kind that lead to making that kind of music…

For 4 seconds, Jimmy Fallon channeled that teenager, giving in totally to the rush. And while playing the cassette in your car as a teenager gave you the freedom to feel totally bad ass, a white guy on national TV has no justification. Having Timberlake bring Fallon back to reality was a gentle rebuke to all of us. It is this awareness that kept the entire exercise from veering into the stupid. Acknowledging that there  are limits and using them instead of the off limits material is a sign of a mature performer.

For those of you that want “to witness the strength of street knowledge,” I give you NWA. If you haven’t heard it before, it is definitely NSFW. Those of you that have heard it before I’ll leave it to you to decide how gangsta you want to be at work…

 

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CDs

I continue to rip my CDs into my computer. I haven’t seen these in almost 6 years and they are bringing back lots of memories. I’m currently ripping “Calamus,” a recording of Arab-Andulisian music. Really haunting, and very unusual. It used to be a favorite demo disk of mine when I was selling stereo equipment, always impressed people. I’ve also just stumbled across a disk my girlfriend in college gave me. 

Here’s a good one, I just unearthed my box set of the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir. I know, I can hear you now, but really, this is some amazing stuff. Like Calamus, the Bulgarian choir sings in a style that has a zillion influences from both east and west. It really is mesmerizing. Well, maybe not three disks back to back to back mesmerizing, but really good.

I’m looking for my favorite Flamenco disk, my collection of different composers’ “Stabat Mater,” and all of my various live jazz and classic jazz recordings. Oddly enough, the big rock collection isn’t exciting me overly much. I probably ripped most of that before I went to Yemen and have been listening to it ever since. I’m also probably still hearing it via the various streaming services I use. Hmm, and maybe most of the really good stuff is on vinyl. Probably all of the above. In any case, it’ll be good to get through this project.

I’m seriously considering backing this up to another hard drive (aside from my usual back-up) and keeping it somewhere else for safe keeping. I plan on getting rid of all of these CDs once I’m done with them. I would then be in a situation where all of my music would be in two rather fragile drive enclosures. If something really bad happened here, I don’t want to lose all of that stuff. Hmm. Will have to think about where I could put it.