first-gen-ipodMother’s Day fell this year on the weekend after I finished my last album entry for this project, and as usual I drove with my family up to my hometown to visit my Mom.  Traffic was more than usually impossible, which was tough with two young kids.  But what made it not only bearable but fun–at least intermittently–was the music.  Last year, I started cultivating a playlist for my kids full of some of my favorite old songs–real music, but with some kind of a hook that will draw kids in–girl group stuff, doo wop, lots classic New Orleans R&B–a fun collection of great music, made even more exciting by the vicissitudes of shuffle mode.

And suddenly it occurred to me that although I had just completed a lengthy project celebrating the integrity of the album, listening to them as often as possible on good old fashioned LPs, here I was enjoying the hell out of music (anachronistic though it may have been) in a thoroughly modern context–digital, on the go, and as discrete, disconnected songs, randomized by my listening device.  This isn’t anything new–I never disavowed such modern conveniences entirely–but it was the first time in a while that I really got into that joyous, shuffle mode groove.  We don’t travel by car as frequently in the colder months, and at home, I have largely internalized the discipline of listening to music an album at a time–if only because my analog set up is superior to my digital rig.  And certainly, as my slow progress through this project attests, there is something to be said for getting back to that kind of more deliberate, album at a time listening.  But sometimes, it must be admitted, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to just take it a song at a time, never sure what’s coming next.

This is not, of course, an entirely modern premise.  In many respects, it resembles the medium through which music was most reliably enjoyed in the period of popular music’s peak years: the radio.  My dad’s a big radio guy, and often tries to steer me toward a greater appreciation for it, speaking in rapturous terms about “the serendipity of the radio.”  And I get that–I see the appeal, and I have had a handful of great radio moments in my lifetime.  Certainly there’s good radio out there if one looks for it, especially in this age of global streaming capability.  But I will never have that same deep in my bones reverence for the radio that my dad does, for the simple reason that the basic act of turning on the radio to any given station has been infinitely less rewarding in my youth than it was in his.  When My father was in high school, you could turn on the radio in your car and find “Like a Rolling Stone” or “Satisfaction” or “Mustang Sally” without much effort.  In my lifetime, everything had already splintered into various stylistic formats that didn’t really speak to me, in which even “classic rock” meant more, like, Bachmann Turner Overdrive or Journey than it did Beatles or Stones.  My hometown actually has a very good, very eclectic radio station, and there are lots of good college stations out there, but as a central, organizing vehicle of musical appreciation, the radio was not a real option in my lifetime the way it was for my father’s generation.

I did, however, come of age in what might well have been the golden age of the mixtape–back before the advent of the CD burner, let alone the iPod.  Back when putting together a nice collection of one’s own eclectic favorites meant cueing up tracks on the record while keeping one’s hand on the tape deck’s record button, trying to make it all as seamless as possible, and always falling just a little bit, charmingly, short.  And, of course, one had to make it all fit as neatly as possible on two 45 minute sides.

The modern playlist–be it on iTunes or on some even more modern streaming platform–doesn’t have quite the same romance as either the radio or the old fashioned mixtape.  Indeed, part of the rationale for the recent resurgence of vinyl is the aura of integrity that comes with having a physical object with which to emblemize one’s love of music, rather than just, in Alice Cooper’s recent useful phrase, “buying air.”  But, though its been around long enough to experience a bit of a backlash, there’s no denying that the advent of portable digital audio was a major and exciting development in the way people enjoy music.  I was thrilled when the first iPod came out (I still have that first, oddly clunky looking model in a drawer somewhere), and if I have come to favor the home-based integrity of albums on vinyl again, I still appreciate the alternative form of music appreciation the iPod made possible (minus the compressed audio aspect, which I most vehemently eschew).  In some ways, putting a playlist together resembles the making of a mixtape, minus the character building inconveniences and limitations.  And if your list is large and played in shuffle mode, it brings back a bit of the radio experiences’s capacity for epiphanic moments of divine musical-situational appropriateness.  My dad has the serendipity of the radio, and I have what I’ve come to think of as “the god of shuffle mode.”

In any event, driving along, having a ball as my kids sang along to songs like “Mr. Lee” and “Don’t You Just Know It,” it suddenly occurred to me that it might be fun to take one last retrospective look at the album project I just finished through the lens of songs–to put together a list of individual songs from the albums of this list that represent either particular favorites of mine, or songs that somehow distinguished themselves within the context of my project.  As is always the case with me (such as with these introductory remarks), it wound up growing into something more cumbersome than I initially intended it-something a good deal longer than what might typically pass for a “playlist,” but more genuinely representative of the project as a whole.  I thought about doing a more distilled short list within the list of songs I truly loved, but I figured anyone who has been following this project at all could figure out that something like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” is a good deal closer to my musical heart than, say, “Homeward Bound,” or “Fuck tha Police.”

I allowed myself a maximum of one song per album (though I fudged it on the two volume girl group collection).  I wound up, semi-accidentally, with 333 songs–a number that nicely echoes the 33 1/3 number that was of such underlying importance to my album-based project (as in RPMs).  Some are songs I just remember being surprisingly non-loathsome, like “Faith” or “Take the Money and Run.”  Others are ones that have stuck in my consciousness in the years since I heard them, which I figured counted for something.  Some became a small conciliatory gesture to artists and genres I have not been all that generous toward over the course of my project (still no Billy Joel, though).  Not every song is intended to be the “best” or most emblematic song on the album, or even necessarily my favorite.  Indeed, especially on the albums I know well, I often wound up favoring some small gem over the more obvious masterpiece or hit on the album (and other times the hit or the masterpiece just would not be denied).

In general, I tried not to work too hard–if a song from an album didn’t easily present itself, I mostly didn’t go digging too hard to find one.  Sometimes an album I liked a lot didn’t have a particular song I wanted to highlight, so it’s not represented here.  I tried to some extent to hold to the ideal of the playlist in making my selections–to pick songs that aren’t too long or ponderously “album oriented,” though I failed on that score a few times.  The general hope is that the songs I picked are ones that I would at minimum not rush to skip past if they were to come up on shuffle mode, although admittedly some of the more aggressive tracks–the rap ones especially–probably wouldn’t pass that test in the great majority of my actual life circumstances.  Not every song “belongs” on the same playlist in the classic sense, but they all fit here because they all represent some small portion of the albums I just spent the past three and half years listening to and thinking about.

This list is not meant to be in any way definitive, let alone polemical.  It was just something I thought it would be fun to put together–as a list here, and then again (at least in part) as an actual playlist on my iPod.  And indeed, it was a whole lot of fun to do.  If I could find a way to do this type of thing all day for a living, I’d be a happy man.  A joy in listening to music was not the explicit intent of my listening project, nor the consistent reality of it.  But certainly it’s the fundamental impulse that undergirds it all–the simple love of music beyond all analytical or psychosocial considerations that drove me to undertake such a project, and I look forward to reconnecting to a little bit of lightness and pleasure right at the end of this project through the medium of these songs.

  1. Good Morning, Good Morning – The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1)
  2. God Only Knows – The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (2)
  3. I’m Only Sleeping – The Beatles – Revolver (3)
  4. It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry – Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited(4)
  5. In My Life – The Beatles – Rubber Soul (5)
  6. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (6)
  7. Sweet Virginia – The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street  (7)
  8. Train in Vain – The Clash – London Calling (8)
  9. Absolutely Sweet Marie – Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (9)
  10. Cry Baby Cry – The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album) (10)
  11. Tryin’ to Get to You- Elvis Presley – Sunrise (11)
  12. Blue in Green – Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (12)
  13. Sunday Morning – The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground and Nico (13)
  14. She Came in Through the Bathroom Window – The Beatles – Abbey Road (14)
  15. May This Be Love – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced?  (15)
  16. Idiot Wind – Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (16)
  17. Lithium – Nirvana – Nevermind (17)
  18. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out – Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (18)
  19. Sweet Thing – Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (19)
  20. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson – Thriller (20)
  21. You Can’t Catch Me – Chuck Berry – The Great Twenty Eight (21)
  22. Come On In My Kitchen – Robert Johnson – The Complete Recordings (22)
  23. Remember – John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band (23)
  24. Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing – Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (24)
  25. I Don’t Mind – James Brown – Live at the Apollo  (25)
  26. You Make Loving Fun – Fleetwood Mac – Rumours  (26)
  27. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – U2 – The Joshua Tree  (27)
  28. Baba O’Riley – The Who – Who’s Next (28)
  29. Little Green – Joni Mitchell – Blue (30)
  30. It’s All Over Now Baby Blue – Bob Dylan – Bringing it All Back Home (31)
  31. Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones – Let it Bleed  (32)
  32. I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend – The Ramones  – The Ramones (33)
  33. Caledonia Mission – The Band – Music from Big Pink (34)
  34. Suffragette City – David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars  (35)
  35. Beautiful – Carole King – Tapestry (36)
  36. Ask Me Why – The Beatles – Please Please Me (39)
  37. Alone Again Or – Love – Forever Changes (40)
  38. Anarchy in the U.K. – The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (41)
  39. Time – Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon (43)
  40. Redondo Beach – Patti Smith – Horses (44)
  41. When You Awake – The Band – The Band (45)
  42. Redemption Song – Bob Marley and The Wailers – Legend  (46)
  43. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed – The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East (49)
  44. Slippin’ and Slidin’ (Peepin’ and Hidin’) – Little Richard  – Here’s Little Richard (50)
  45. Here I Am (Come and Take Me) – Al Green – Greatest Hits (52)
  46. Don’t Bother Me – The Beatles – Meet The Beatles (53)
  47. (Night Time is) The Right Time – Ray Charles – The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Recordings  (54)
  48. Burning of the Midnight Lamp – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland (55)
  49. Blue Moon – Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (56)
  50. As – Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life (57)
  51. Street Fighting Man – The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet (58)
  52. Lookin’ Out My Back Door – Creedence Clearwater Revival – Chronicle Vol. 1 (59)
  53. Moonlight on Vermont – Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica  (60)
  54. Everybody is a Star – Sly and the Family Stone – Greatest Hits  (61)
  55. Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns ‘n Roses – Appetite for Destruction (62)
  56. One – U2 – Achtung Baby (63)
  57. Moonlight Mile – The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (64)
  58. Heartbreaker – The Crystals – Phil Spector: Back to Mono (1958-1969) (65)
  59. Caravan – Van Morrison – Moondance  (67)
  60. Morning Bell – Radiohead – Kid A  (68)
  61. Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (68)
  62. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (69)
  63. The Boy in the Bubble – Paul Simon – Graceland (71)
  64. Kashmir – Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (73)
  65. Hot Pants (pt. 1) – James Brown – Star Time (75)
  66. When Doves Cry – Prince and the Revolution – Purple Rain (76)
  67. You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC – Back in Black (77)
  68. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long – Otis Redding – Otis Blue (78)
  69. Ramble On – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II  (79)
  70. Gimme Some Truth – John Lennon – Imagine (80)
  71. Heart of Gold – Neil Young – Harvest  (82)
  72. One Rainy Wish – The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold as Love (83)
  73. Respect – Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You (84)
  74. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone – Aretha Franklin – Lady Soul (85)
  75. Dancing in the Dark – Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (86)
  76. Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd – The Wall (87)
  77. Cocaine Blues – Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison (88)
  78. Breakfast in Bed – Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis (89)
  79. I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever) – Stevie Wonder – Talking Book (90)
  80. Bennie and the Jets – Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (91)
  81. Well…Alright – Buddy Holly – 20 Golden Greats (92)
  82. Weary Blues from Waitin’ – Hank Williams – 40 Greatest Hits (94)
  83. Sparks – The Who – Tommy (96)
  84. A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall  – Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (97)
  85. Pump it Up – Elvis Costello  – This Year’s Model (98)
  86. Luv ‘n Haight – Sly and the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On (99)
  87. This Will Be Our Year – The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle (100)
  88. I Get Along Without You Very Well – Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours (101)
  89. Syeeda’s Song Flute – John Coltrane – Giant Steps (103)
  90. Fire and Rain – James Taylor – Sweet Baby James (104)
  91. You Don’t Know Me – Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (105)
  92. Sheena is a Punk Rocker – The Ramones – Rocket to Russia (106)
  93. Nothing Can Change This Love – Sam Cooke – Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 (107)
  94. Life on Mars – David Bowie – Hunky Dory  (108)
  95. I Am Waiting – The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (109)
  96. I Found a Reason  – The Velvet Underground – Loaded (110)
  97. High and Dry – Radiohead – The Bends (111)
  98. California Dreamin’ – The Mamas and the Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (112)
  99. Help Me – Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark (113)
  100. Sunshine of Your Love – Cream – Disraeli Gears (114)
  101. Odorono – The Who – The Who Sell Out (115)
  102. Play With Fire – The Rolling Stones – Out of Our Heads  (116)
  103. Bell Bottom Blues – Derek and The Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (117)
  104. Gone – Kanye West – Late Registration (118)
  105. At Last – Etta James – At Last! (119)
  106. Hickory Wind – The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo (120)
  107. Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone – Stand! (121)
  108. Johnny Too Bad – The Slickers – The Harder They Come Soundtrack (122)
  109. It’s Tricky – Run-DMC – Raising Hell (123)
  110. 8:05 – Moby Grape – Moby Grape (124)
  111. Stir it Up – Bob Marley and The Wailers – Catch a Fire (126)
  112. Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) – Talking Heads – Remain in Light (129)
  113. Night Fever – The Bee Gees – Saturday Night Fever Original Soundtrack (132)
  114. Suicidal Thoughts – The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die (134)
  115. Rocket Man – Elton John – Greatest Hits (136)
  116. Here Comes a Regular – The Replacements – Tim (137)
  117. People Say – The Meters  – Rejuvenation (139)
  118. Sunday Girl – Blondie – Parallel Lines (140)
  119. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector (142)
  120. Mama Roux – Dr. John – GRIS-Gris (143)
  121. Fuck tha Police – N.W.A. – Striaght Outta Compton (144)
  122. Black Cow – Steely Dan – Aja (145)
  123. Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow (146)
  124. Helpless – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Deja Vu (147)
  125. Over the Hills and Far Away – Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy (148)
  126. Evil Ways – Santana – Santana (149)
  127. 52 Girls – The B-52s – The B-52s (152)
  128. Smokestack Lightnin’ – Howlin’ Wolf – Moanin’ in the Moonlight (154)
  129. Brass in Pocket – The Pretenders – Pretenders (155)
  130. Shadrach – The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (156)
  131. Rock and Roll All Nite – Kiss – Alive! (159)
  132. Cosmic Dancer – T. Rex – Electric Warrior (160)
  133. I Love You More than Words Can Say – Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay (161)
  134. 1999 – Prince – 1999 (163)
  135. Let’s Get it On – Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get it On (165)
  136. Alison – Elvis Costello – My Aim is True (168)
  137. Three Little Birds – Bob Marley and The Wailers – Exodus (169)
  138. Goin’ Back – The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers (171)
  139. Maggie May – Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story (172)
  140. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference – Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything? (173)
  141. Isis – Bob Dylan – Desire (174)
  142. Mr. Guder – The Carpenters – Close to You (175)
  143. One Nation Under a Groove – Funkadelic – One Nation Under a Groove (177)
  144. It’s All Right – (Curtis Mayfield and) TheImpressions – The Anthology 1961-1977 (178)
  145. Dancing Queen – ABBA – The Definitive Collection (179)
  146. Heart of Stone – The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones, Now! (180)
  147. Lively Up Yourself – Bob Marley and The Wailers – Natty Dread (181)
  148. Rhiannon  – Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac (182)
  149. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain – Willie Nelson – Red Headed Stranger (183)
  150. Like a Virgin – Madonna – The Immaculate Collection (184)
  151. Skin I’m In – Sly and The Family Stone – Fresh (186)
  152. In Your Eyes – Peter Gabriel – So (187)
  153. Any Day Now – Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis (190)
  154. Hot Burrito #1 – The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin (192)
  155. Satellite of Love – Lou Reed – Transformer (194)
  156. Dirty Water – The Standells – Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 (196)
  157. My Babe – Little Walter – The Best of Little Walter (198)
  158. Last Nite – The Strokes – Is This It (199)
  159. Highway to Hell – AC/DC – Highway to Hell (200)
  160. Homeward Bound – Simon and Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (202)
  161. Smooth Criminal – Michael Jackson – Bad (203)
  162. When the Deal Goes Down – Bob Dylan – Modern Times (204)
  163. Politician – Cream – Wheels of Fire (205)
  164. When You Were Mine – Prince – Dirty Mind (206)
  165. Oye Como Va – Santana – Abraxas (207)
  166. Wild World – Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman (208)
  167. Alive – Pearl Jam – Ten (209)
  168. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here (211)
  169. Hang Fire – The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You  (213)
  170. It’s Gonna Work Out Fine – Ike and Tina Turner – Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner (214)
  171. Diddley Daddy – Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley/Go Bo Diddley  (216)
  172. Paul Revere – The Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (219)
  173. Pungee – The Meters – Look-Ka Py Py (220)
  174. Tipitina – Professor Longhair – New Orleans Piano (222)
  175. Cracklin’ Rosie – Neil Diamond – The Neil Diamond Collection  (224)
  176. Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska (226)
  177. Mr. Grieves – The Pixies – Doolittle (227)
  178. Sweet Emotion – Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic  (229)
  179. Have a Heart – Bonnie Raitt – Nick of Time (230)
  180. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen – A Nigh at the Opera (231)
  181. Victoria – The Kinks – The Kinks Kronikles  (232)
  182. Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man (233)
  183. Mrs. Robinson – Simon and Garfunkel – Bookends (234)
  184. I Fall to Pieces – Patsy Cline – The Ultimate Collection (235)
  185. I’ve Got to Get Back (Country Boy) – Jackie Wilson – Mr. Excitement! (236)
  186. I Don’t Mind – The Who – My Generation (237)
  187. Wang Dang Doodle – Howlin’ Wolf – Howlin’ Wolf (238)
  188. Express Yourself – Madonna – Like a Prayer (239)
  189. Do it Again – Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill (240)
  190. The Real Slim Shady – Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP (244)
  191. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – Jerry Lee Lewis – All Killer, No Filler: The Anthology (245)
  192. Help, I’m a Rock – The Mothers of Invention Freak Out! (246)
  193. St. Stephen – The Grateful Dead – Live/Dead (247)
  194. Drive – R.E.M. – Automatic for the People (249)
  195. Izzo (H.O.V.A.) – Jay-Z – The Blueprint (252)
  196. Hungry Heart – Bruce Springsteen – The River (253)
  197. Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) – Otis Redding – Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (254) 
  198. The Unforgiven – Metallica – Metallica (255)
  199. How Will I Know – Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston (257)
  200. Do You Remember Walter? – The Kinks – The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society (258)
  201. Stardust – Willie Nelson – Stardust (260)
  202. Ripple – The Grateful Dead – American Beauty (261)
  203. Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills and Nash – Crosby, Stills and Nash (262)
  204. Fast Car – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (263)
  205. Dire Wolf – The Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead (264)
  206. Just for a Thrill – Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles (265)
  207. Sea and Sand – The Who – Quadrophenia (267)
  208. Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard – Paul Simon – Paul Simon (268)
  209. Beast of Burden – The Rolling Stones – Some Girls (270)
  210. Please Let Me Wonder – The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today! (271)
  211. Ooh Baby Baby – Smokey Robinson and The Miracles – Going to a Go-Go (273)
  212. Lady Marmalade – Labelle – Nightbirds (274)
  213. My Name Is – Eminem – The Slim Shady LP – (275)
  214. Night of the Thumpasaurus People – Parliament – Mothership Connection (276)
  215. This Song of Love – Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1 – Anthology of American Folk Music (278)
  216. My Home is in The Delta – Muddy Waters – Folk Singer (282)
  217. Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe – Barry White – Can’t Get Enough (283)
  218. Just What I Needed – The Cars – The Cars (284)
  219. I Love Every Little Thing About You – Stevie Wonder – Music of My Mind (285)
  220. Love and Happiness – Al Green – I’m Still in Love with You (286)
  221. Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks – Something Else by The Kinks (289)
  222. Jesus is Waiting – Al Green – Call Me (290)
  223. Don’t Worry About the Government – Talking Heads – Talking Heads: 77 (291)
  224. Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood) – Bob Dylan and The Band – The Basement Tapes (292)
  225. Famous Blue Raincoat – Leonard Cohen – Song of Love and Hate (295)
  226. Mother People – The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only in it for the Money (297)
  227. Jesus Walks – Kanye West – The College Dropout (298)
  228. Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton – Coat of Many Colors (301)
  229. Fight the Power – Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet (302)
  230. I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight – Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding (303)
  231. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley – Grace (304)
  232. 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten – Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels in a Gravel Road (305)
  233. Where it’s At – Beck – Odelay (306)
  234. I’ll Be Back – The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (307)
  235. Down on the Corner – Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys (309)
  236. The Greeting Song – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (310)
  237. Who Will the Next Fool Be? – Charlie Rich – The Sun Records Collection (311)
  238. Come as You Are – Nirvana – Unplugged (313)
  239. Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (314)
  240. Here Comes My Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes (315)
  241. Where is My Mind? – The Pixies – Surfer Rosa (317)
  242. Burnin’ and Lootin’ – The Wailers – Burnin’ (319)
  243. Pink Moon – Nick Drake – Pink Moon (321)
  244. God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)  – Randy Newman – Sail Away (322)
  245. Spirits in the Material World – The Police – Ghost in the Machine (323)
  246. Lay Down Sally – Eric Clapton – Slowhand (325)
  247. Divorce Song – Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville (327)
  248. It’s a New Day – James Brown – In the Jungle Groove (329)
  249. It’s Only Love – The Beatles – Help!  (331)
  250. Shoot Out the Lights – Richard and Linda Thompson – Shoot Out the Lights (332)
  251. Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden – Superunknown (335)
  252. TV Party – Black Flag – Damaged (340)
  253. Run On – Moby – Play (341)
  254. Slippery People – Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense (345)
  255. Eye Know – De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising (346)
  256. Bike – Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of Dawn (347)
  257. 99 Problems – Jay-Z – The Black Album (349)
  258. My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) – Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps (351)
  259. So Far Away – Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (352)
  260. Dark Fantasy – Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (353)
  261. Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield – Randy Newman – 12 Songs (356)
  262. Ruby Tuesday – The Rolling Stones – Between the Buttons (357)
  263. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters – Elton John – Honky Chateau (359)
  264. What Do I Get? – The Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady (360)
  265. Love Her Madly – The Doors – L.A. Woman (364)
  266. Killing in the Name of – Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine (365)
  267. The Beast in Me – Johnny Cash – American Recordings (366)
  268. Message in a Bottle – The Police – Regatta de Blanc (372)
  269. It’s Oh So Quiet – Bjork – Post (376)
  270. Boom Boom – John Lee Hooker – The Ultimate Collection (377)
  271. Wonderwall – Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (378)
  272. Waterfalls – TLC – Crazy Sexy Cool (379)
  273. Pressure Drop – Toot and the Maytals – Funky Kingston – (380)
  274. Surf’s Up – The Beach Boys – Smile (381)
  275. The Girls Want to Be With the Girls – Talking Heads  – More Songs About Buildings and Food (383)
  276. Any Major Dude Will Tell You – Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic (386)
  277. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes – Elephant  (390)
  278. I’ve Got a Feeling – The Beatles – Let it Be  (392)
  279. Paper Planes – M.I.A. – Kala  (393)
  280. Guilty – Randy Newman – Good Old Boys (394)
  281. Ain’t Too Proud to Beg – The Temptations – Anthology (400)
  282. Life’s a Bitch – Nas – Illmatic  (402)
  283. Free Bird – Lynryd Skynyrd – (Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd) (403)
  284. Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (408)
  285. People are Strange – The Doors – Strange Days (409)
  286. Love Sick – Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind (410)
  287. Dr. Wu – Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime (413)
  288. We Got the Beat – The Go-Gos – Beauty and the Beat (414)
  289. What’s He Building? – Tom Waits – Mule Variations (416)
  290. Let Me Roll It – Paul McCartney and Wings – Band on the Run (418)
  291. Maybe Baby – Buddy Holly and The Crickets – The “Chirping” Crickets (420)
  292. Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)  – The Best of The Girls Groups Vol. 2 (421)
  293. Will You Love Me Tomorrow – The Shirelles – The Best of The Girls Groups Vol. 1 (421)
  294. (The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up – The Ronettes – Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes (422)
  295. When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes – The Supremes – Anthology (423)
  296. $1,000 Wedding – Gram Parsons – Grevious Angel (425)
  297. I Want You to Want Me – Cheap Trick – At Budokan (426)
  298. I’ll Come Running to Tie Your Shoes – Brian Eno – Another Green World (429)
  299. What is Life – George Harrison – All Things Must Pass (433)
  300. The Ballad of El Goodo – Big Star – #1 Record (434)
  301. All Apologies – Nirvana – In Utero (435)
  302. Paper Tiger – Beck – Sea Change (436)
  303. Dirty Old Town – The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy & The Lash (440)
  304. Satisfaction – Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (442) 
  305. The Cisco Kid – War – The World is a Ghetto (444)
  306. Take the Money and Run – Steve Miller Band (445)
  307. The Girl From Ipanema – Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto (w/ Astrud Gilberto) – Getz/Gilberto (447)
  308. Wrapped Around Your Finger – The Police (448)
  309. These Days – Jackson Browne – For Everyman (450)
  310. You Know I’m No Good – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (451)
  311. Angel From Montgomery – John Prine – John Prinei (452)
  312. A Matter of Time – Los Lobos – How Will the Wolf Survive (455)
  313. There Goes My Baby – The Drifters – Golden Hits (459)
  314. It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – R.E.M. – Document (462)
  315. I Don’t Believe in the Sun – The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs (465)
  316. Clocks – Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head – (466)
  317. Valentine’s Day  – Bruce Springsteen  – Tunnel of Love  (467)
  318. Killing Me Softly – Fugees – The Score  (469)
  319. The Calvary Cross – Richard and Linda Thompson – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (471)
  320. Faith – George Michael – Faith (472)
  321. Ten Crack Commandments – The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death (476)
  322. Everybody’s Had the Blues  – Merle Haggard – Down Every Road (477)
  323. She’s Got You – Loretta Lynn – All Time Greatest Hits (478)
  324. Africa – D’Angelo – Voodoo  (481)
  325. Guitar Town – Steve Earle – Guitar Town (482)
  326. Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual (487)
  327. La Grange – ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (490)
  328. Here Comes the Rain Again – Eurythmics – Touch (492)
  329. Kamera – Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (493)
  330. Kids – MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (494)
  331. Love Has No Pride – Bonnie Raitt – Give it Up (495)
  332. Waiting for a Train – Boz Scaggs – Boz Scaggs (496)
  333. How Blue Can You Get? – B.B. King – Live at Cook County Jail (499)

photo-mainBrevity has never been my long suit as a writer, and I’m well aware that I all too often abuse the patience of my readership with overly lengthy write ups of these albums.  The Band’s eponymous second album, commonly referred to as The Brown Album, is, as I stated in my proper entry on the subject, my all time favorite album.  As such, I had a whole lot to say about it, and wound up writing quite a bit (even for me) on the subject.  As I went to publish it all, though, I felt a pang of reluctance at burying my favorite album in such an excess of verbiage, and made a snap decision to publish what had up till then been pretty much just my introductory comments.  It stood well enough alone, and I felt good about limiting my thoughts to something more manageable for my readers.  At the same time, the part I posted dealt primarily with my own relationship to the album, rather than saying much of any substance about the album itself (another ongoing tension of the project, but that’s another story).  Anyway, I figured just for this one album I’d permit myself the indulgence of posting a second, “optional” entry on the album out of the parts I had written but decided against making a part of the official write up.  It’s really only for those who know and care about this album as much as I do, and perhaps wanted some greater detail to mull over.

In the part I did publish, I made the assertion that I regard this as pretty much a “perfect” album.   The stuff I wrote but didn’t publish explores further this idea of perfection, defending it largely through negative means–looking at possible criticisms of the album, and looking at ways that the group’s unfortunate creative decline after this album might have been anticipated in this high point of an album.  That was another reason I cut it out–why be a downer about an album I love so dearly?  Perhaps I should have just stuck with the much smaller point of identifying what I think of as the album’s wabi sabi moment–the small imperfection that puts the greater perfection into even more thrilling relief.  It occurs in the sublimely beautiful song “Unfaithful Servant,” when Danko sings “to take it like a grain of salt,” when everyone knows the phrase is “with a grain of salt.”  That might well have been concession enough of the unreality of actual perfection.  Instead, though, I wrote what follows, which again, is probably only of interest to real fans of the record, for whom many of these concerns will not be new.  Here’s what I came up with:

If there is one criticism of the album that might stick, it is that it is almost too perfect at what it does.  That is, some people (not many, but a few I’ve talked to) find the album kind of overbearing and pretentious in its indefatigable rusticity.  The consistency of its presentation, sonically, visually, even on down to the pleasing tactility of the album cover–perhaps strikes some as indicative of a professionalism, a kind of calculated effort that seems at odds with the easygoing, down home image the album is attempting to project.

And there is perhaps some truth to this, but not to an extent that bothers me all that terribly.  It falls generally under a much larger philosophical-aesthetic conversation about the relationship between art and authenticity–with the added caveat that the art in question is a piece of mainstream, commercial rock music.  Whatever concerns one might have along those lines are pretty easily swept away with a pithy phrase or two–Picasso’s “art is a lie that makes us realize the truth,” say, or Emily Dickenson’s “Nature is a haunted house. Art is a house that tries to be haunted.”  In any event, the thoughtfulness and care that went into making this album go down so effortlessly is not in my view any serious detraction from its great success at doing so.  Regarding authenticity, my favorite tidbit about the making of this album is that, as deeply as it evokes the feeling of rural North America, and as much as it is associated with a particular area in upstate New York, the album itself was recorded not only in Los Angeles, but in Sammy Davis, Jr.’s pool house.  I shit you not.

What does perhaps merit some further reflection is the ways in which that tension between lofty artistic intentionality and simple heartfelt expression played out in the history of The Band, and particularly in the relationship between their chief songwriter, Robbie Robertson, and the rest of his bandmates.  As a formal, cohesive art piece, it is Robertson’s hand that is most evident in the creation of this album, and yet its enduring emotional resonance is very clearly the result of a broader group effort.  We needn’t even look very far for an apt metaphor: Robertson wrote most of these songs, and yet could not sing them.  That’s not to denigrate his very fine guitar playing, or to belittle the obviously central contribution of being the primary author of most of these songs.  But it took the blended voices of three of his bandmates–Richard Manuel, Levon Helm and Rick Danko–to breathe real and enduring life into his writing.  Each on his own was a marvelously distinctive, soulful singer, and the chorus of their voices, in unison, call and response, and haphazard overlapping is to a large extent the spiritual substance of this music.

Underpinning this, they were also each of them tremendous musicians–not virtuosos, perhaps, but deeply soulful, thoughtful players.  The pairing of Danko on bass and Levon on drums in particular is among my very favorite rhythm sections in all of western popular music, embodying that sweet spot of a relaxed, groovy, slightly behind the beat feeling, while still feeling very tight and in the pocket.  There was a real–an authentic–road tested, deeply ingrained sense of musical communion between all the players in the band–Robertson included–that was born of spending the better part of a decade on the Canadian bar band circuit before being plucked from obscurity to back up one of the most important and revered singer/songwriters of that or any other era.  They functioned as a unit–a brotherhood, a band–in a way that very few groups manage to achieve, and it is from that circumstance more than from Robertson’s rustic imagery or aesthetic vision, that this album arrives at such a broken in, rumpled shirt kind of comfortability.

In and around this foundation stands the group’s most enigmatic and musically accomplished member–in some sense their secret weapon–Garth Hudson.  Elfin, eccentric to the point of seeming almost autistic, and possessed of a true virtuosity on a wide range of instruments, it is his filigrees of a thoughtful, nuanced kind of noodling, most prominently on the organ, that elevate the group’s sound above merely being the tightest bar band ever to being something truly extraordinary and expansive.  His playing is grounded in classical technique, but is not constrained by it.  For all his nimbleness and facility, there is an equal measure of thoughtfulness and soul in his playing.  The stately, unplugged sweetness of “Rockin’ Chair” would not be half the song it is without Garth’s subtly jazzy, unerringly melodious accordion parts, and the heavy, funky feel the group achieves on “Up on Cripple Creek” and “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” rely to a huge extent on Garth’s choice, rhythmically deft keyboard parts.  Indeed, well regarded producer Don Was has pointed out that on “Cripple Creek,” in an effort to simulate the sound of a jaw harp, Garth essentially invented the funk clavinet.  “Before ‘Superstition!,” notes Was.

If there is something unsettling in the perfected sound The Band achieves on this album, it is only in reference to the comparative lack of cohesiveness that one hears on their later albums–the incipient spark of discord hidden deep inside the beautiful, communal spirit of the album.  The specifics of that fragmentation are extensive and various, but the simplest, best known source is a tension between Robertson and the other members of The Band over songwriting royalties.  Essentially, Robertson was the author of most of these songs, and is so attributed, which meant that he made a lot more money off these records than any of his bandmates.  The complaint–leveled in the greatest detail in Levon Helm’s autobiography This Wheel’s on Fire–is that this imbalance obscured the very real contributions the other band members made toward shaping these songs into the masterpieces one hears on this and their first album, Music From Big Pink (and less consistently elsewhere).  That is, the sound achieved on this album is the result of a bandThe Band–working closely together, feeding off their years of mutual music making and friendship.

So when Robertson became a great deal richer than he rest of them as a result, some hurt feelings inevitably resulted.  Robertson’s reply has always been along the lines of “sorry, but I wrote these songs, and contributing a drum part doesn’t a co-writing credit make.”  On paper, of course, Robertson has a point, and I sometimes suspect that Levon’s version of events was shaped by an extremely deep seated, not entirely rational resentment.  I guess I think of the situation in terms borrowed from The Big Lebowski–“You’re not wrong, Robbie, you’re just an asshole.”

My sense of this album is that Robertson gave it structure, and the rest of them gave it soul.  He strikes me as having been a cannier, more ambitious person than the rest of his bandmates, and it comes through not just in the songwriting credits, but to some extent in the songs themselves.  Just about every songwriter of his generation owed a debt to Bob Dylan, but he was in the unique position of being able to study at the master’s feet.  Danko and Manuel shared a songwriting credit each with Dylan on Big Pink, but it was Robertson whose own writing demonstrated the most attention paid, and the greatest effort to rise to that echelon of artistry.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but where it gets dicey is in the sense of using his bandmates–not just their voices and their musical talents, but their very souls–to flesh out his writerly ambitions.  The most obvious example is “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which Robertson has always characterized as being a song he wrote “for Levon,” as though he was giving him a present.  But seen otherwise, he was exploiting Levon’s gravitas–his salt of the earth southernness (and his Arkansas twang) to put some flesh on the bones of what might have otherwise been a kind of didactic and pretentious musical exercise.  Evidence of this premise starts to show up on later records, when relations between Robertson and the others had grown less cordial, and lacking the unfettered access he once enjoyed to the inspiration his bandmates provided him with, Roberson started churning out embarrassingly heavy hand clunkers like “Last of the Blacksmiths” and “Where Do We Go From Here?”

The entire history of The Band following this album is a sad one.  No album they made after this one comes anywhere close to achieving its masterful status, although most of them have at least a few good songs on there.  But it got much sadder still after Robbie decided to break up The Band, no longer needing to earn his living out on the road.  In the film The Last Waltz, one of the greatest concert films ever made, even as it smacks of a vanity project for Robbie that none of the others were all that keen on, Robertson waxes quite poetically about the grind of living on the road, and the desire to leave it behind.  But for all his poetics, in one view, he more or less condemned the others to a terminal kind of road-life.  They still needed to keep earning their living that way, and they spent too long foundering in relative obscurity, playing their old hits to half empty rooms, growing older and more entrenched in rough and unhealthy ways of living.

The tragic nadir, of course, was Richard Manuel’s suicide, hanging himself in the shower at a Holiday Inn one night after a show.  Rick Danko died  years later, just as the group (sans Robbie) was really starting to regain the respect they deserved.  Levon lived long enough to see his legacy validated, keeping the music going to increasing acclaim even as he fought hard against the throat cancer that eventually took him.  Only Robbie and Garth, the two non-singers, and arguably the two who most forcefully shaped The Band’s sound, remain, and I don’t imagine they have much to do with each other.  And yet, sad and angering as that history is, it does not–cannot–diminish in the slightest the warmth and power and truly collective genius of this album.

Anyway, that’s all.  Thanks to those who made it this far.  It’s a damn good album, isn’t it?

Kid A Redux

October 9, 2014

(#67 – Radiohead – Kid A (2000), take 2)

51bWxHi9jgLWhen this list was extensively revised right in the midst of my project, a friend of mine asked if I’d be revisiting the albums I had already heard which got a promotion to a higher ranking.  Absolutely not, was my feeling, and I pretty well stand by that.  (No way I was going to sit through The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt again.)  And yet as this album approached, I began to feel that there is something kind of sacrosanct about the top 100, and that I really ought to listen to this album in its proper place.  And then, having done that, I felt that I ought to let my readership know that I had.  So I am.

In fairness to the other albums I chose not to revisit, I won’t say much further about the album itself.  I haven’t even gone back to look at what I said about it back when it was ranked all the way down at #428.  Instead, I’m going to reflect a bit on the way Rolling Stone chose to update the list, and what it means to call this album the 67th greatest album of all time.  Any such rankings, of course, are at bottom preposterous.  One need only briefly scan the comments on the webpage for the list to see that the list they came up with has no shortage of detractors (“No Rush?” “Too much Beatles,” “Dark Side of the Moon should be in the top ten,” etc. etc.) and that the aura of objectivity Rolling Stone has attempted to imbue it with is, of course, an illusion.    The faults, or at least idiosyncrasies in the list became clear to me pretty early on.

The last gasp of faith I had in the quasi-scientific process by which they arrived at these rankings died when they revised the list to incorporate (or in some cases reevaluate) newer albums.  Obviously, there was some sort of formula at work–a weight given to the newer releases that dictated their place on the list in accordance with their place on the smaller best of the 2000s list.  I’m not a math guy–I’m not sure exactly what they did.  But even so, choices had to be made about which albums got eliminated, and it wasn’t simply the lowest thirty on the list.  Someone went through and pruned out what had grown less essential seeming a decade on.  Where previously there were two No Doubt albums, now there are none (and rightly so, in my view).

Such pruning portends a specific, judicious hand playing havoc with the various formulaic mechanisms by which they arrived at the original list, and then folded in another list.  But more importantly, it offers proof positive that a bit of distance is required for an album to truly belong to posterity.  So they added in a bunch of new records by, like, L’il Wayne and The Arctic Monkeys, and asks us to accept the premise that they will still be regarded as important records–some of the best ever made–a decade or more from now.  And frankly, in a lot of those cases, I tend to doubt it.  I guess I should be grateful, though.  The only way to have really done the update right would have been to start over, and that would have messed my project up much more substantially.

The day I relistened to this album turned out to be the fourteenth anniversary of its release.  I guess that’s long enough to prove its staying power–especially since it was released early enough in the decade to have made the original list. And I think it did deserve a promotion at least into the top half of the list.  But I feel like the formula they used put too much weight on this being the best album of that decade, and arrived at a number that’s just a little too high.  I’d be happy seeing it at, say #147, to pick an arbitrary number.

I do think it is a great record–one both revolutionary and daring and enduringly satisfying to listen to.   I guess in the end, it is my inbuilt suspicion of the music of my own lifetime that makes me wrankle slightly at this elevated ranking.  It may well be a failing on my part–certainly its a limiting strategy–but I have preferred music made before I was born since I was old enough to know the difference.  In the end, all I can say is that this album is one of a fairly small handful from this era that would make my own personal list, which is all the more noteworthy for it being very much an album of its time.  I think it provides an exceptionally elegant solution to the stalemate of modern music, finding something beautiful and enduring in the sound of things disintegrating.

Source: LP – double ten inch record set “From the Capitol Vaults”

george-jonesFor a project that is implicitly focused on rock n’ roll, this list has done a good enough job making room for country music–as good, at any rate, as it has done for other outlying genres like jazz and blues.  It has tended, of course, to highlight artists who have enjoyed some level of crossover appeal with a rock audience, and doesn’t pretend to present anything like a well rounded education in the genre.  Unfortunately, though, a lot of giants have fallen through the cracks in such an arrangement.  The absence of George Jones on the list is completely understandable under the circumstances, and yet to me is a deeply unfortunate omission. And while I don’t generally consider it my duty to fill in the many pieces this list has missed, George Jones has been one of my great musical obsessions of late, and I figured I’d take the occasion of his second posthumous birthday to reflect a bit on his music and what it has meant to me.

It is a more dangerous musical obsession than most, since, as anyone with even a passing familiarity will tell you, it is profoundly sad music.  It’s not so much crying in your beer music as it is killing yourself with liquor music–which Jones himself very nearly did, of course.  It’s odd that this period of my life–happily married with two lovely daughters and everything going well–would be the time I have most gravitated to his music.  I’ve known of him for a long time, but for many years, even coinciding with my own era of romantic desolation and poor decision making, it was really just a small handful of early songs like “She Thinks I Still Care” and “The Race is On” that I knew and loved.  The tragicomic “The King is Gone (So Are You)” was one of the few songs of his later years that had grabbed me in any significant way.  I think in part, it must have been almost an unconscious act of self preservation that kept me away from his deeper catalog when I was too unmoored to safely absorb its implications.  Listening to too much of this stuff could have done some real damage under those conditions.

So why now?  In darker moments (such as when I find myself listening with grim obsession to his most powerful songs), I wonder if I’m not rehearsing for the moment when my life falls apart: when something–most frighteningly something I’ve brought about–takes everything and everyone I love away from me, and I am powerless to do anything but will my own oblivion.  But let’s not get carried away here–there’s no actual warning signs on the horizon of that type of situation unfolding.  It’s really just the power of Jones’s music forcing me to contemplate the specter of losing everything.

I think my recent George Jones habit is actually something more to do with a perverse sort of attachment to a melancholy that has little place in my daily life.  Listening to his music allows me to feel that kind of profound, bottomless sadness that my day to day life is far too busy and full of the joys and stresses of early parenthood to bring about much on its own.  But why  would I want to provoke such a feeling?  I don’t think it’s mere nostalgia, partaking of the simple comforts of a familiar emotional climate.  If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it’s that George Jones’s music can thrust me into a beautifully deep, “human all too human” state of being that is paradoxically healing to feel.  It’s not a good (or possible) place to permanently reside, but to feel something as deeply as his music can provoke is a necessary and life affirming act, provided one has the option of just visiting.

After a long time circling around his music, looking for a way in, the song that finally drew me in for real was this one:

As with many country songs, it hinges on a concept that threatens to tip over into novelty–in this case a guided tour of the site of a man’s descent into terminal romantic desolation.  But Jones’s delivery leaves no room to mistake this for something to be taken lightly.  With each vignette of a site of former happiness turned barren and cold, the pathos builds, culminating in the room where his child used to sleep.  It was this moment that, as a family man, really gave me the sense of terror that has since become strangely compulsive to revisit.  There’s little question that the singer’s situation is of his own devising, implied (if unintentionally) in the faintly misogynistic taking-for-granted of lines like “she’d bring the paper to me.”  But this does not, for a moment, lessen the impact of the devastation the song wreaks.

I especially like this performance of it, which has the advantage of losing the heavy, string drenched arrangement that the recorded version is saddled with.  It’s also fascinating to actually watch Jones delivery the song.  Decked out in hideous mid 70s leisurewear and hair, he looks strangely out of place, and, for a professional entertainer, downright terrified to be there.  He isn’t a condescending or canny enough a  performer to act out on his face the turmoil his voice is conveying with chilling acuity.  Indeed, he sometimes tentatively seems to almost smile, as though he suddenly remembers that he’s on stage (and TV), and that it is his job to be congenial.   But mostly, he just looks deeply uncomfortable, and it seems that this discomfort is not simply a matter of stage fright, but of an acute sort of embarrassment at having the capacity to let such infinite sorrow leak right out of his mouth, like a secret that is equally painful to keep inside or say out loud.  Even with those sideburns, he broadcasts a repressed, Republican sort of uptightness in his bearing that is on the face of it completely anathema to the kind of emotional depths his vocal chords are betraying.

There’s another song from this same performance that soon drew me in as well:

It’s concept is simpler, and if the result is not quite as luxuriantly catastrophic as “The Grand Tour,” it has a punch in
the gut kind of directness to it that is arguable even more powerful.  This particular performance verges on the lugubrious in its arrangement, and I actually kind of miss the wash of strings on the record that drive the point home.  But, as is always the case with his best work, his voice contorts and twists in ways that convey human anguish with almost superhuman dexterity.  george-jones-1371580863

Both of these songs belong to Jones’s early days on the Epic label in the early 70s–a period that corresponds with his notoriously tumultuous marriage to Tammy Wynette (another great artist who could have been on the list but wasn’t), and with some of his very finest performances.  Great as they are, though, the lush production style is almost always to the detriment of the track over all, and so I tend to listen to the songs of this era in more limited, selective doses.  For my day to day listening, I’ve started to rely on a tremendous collection called The Great Lost Hits, a compilation of his work for the Musicor Label in the 60s that had been tied up in a legal dispute for a long time and is only recently available again.  The production style on these tracks is much more tasteful, and if only a few of the tracks arrive at the overwhelming intensity of “The Grand Tour” or “The Door,” there is a pervasive melancholy to the songs that takes me right to the edge of a chasm of despair without quite pushing me over, which works better for regular consumption.  One of my favorites of this era, which is also one of his biggest hits is, on the face of it, not even a sad song at all:

It’s a song not of love lost but of love found.  And yet the way Jones sings it makes it perversely almost as sad.  There’s an acknowledgement built into the lyric of how hard love is to find, how fragile the happiness he has found really is, and a pervasive implication, especially in the context of his other songs, at what a price would be paid for letting it slip away.  But above and beyond this, Jones’s voice sounds every bit as suffused with sadness and longing as ever, so that the listener is left wondering if real happiness is something that exists at all.  One comes away feeling that the palliative influence of domestic contentment is not something, in the end, that will forestall ones inevitable hurtling into the abyss.  This earlier performance is another great one, and has the same air of repressed sort of awkwardness about it, especially as he’s forced to briefly participate briefly in banter with the host.  His hair and mode of dress is more traditional, so that he resembles a nervous bible salesman, or a marine who has recently suffered a nervous breakdown.

For the most part, my wife has taken my George Jones obsession in stride, expressing amusement when I started pleading some months ago, seemingly out of nowhere, never to leave me and take the kids after one too many listens to “The Grand Tour.”  A few weeks ago we were out of the city for awhile, and anytime the kids were asleep or otherwise non-insistent on hearing their music, I was playing George Jones.  One time I went out for milk, and listened to a particularly acute series of songs on my drive.  A bit later when I got home, somehow failing to make the connection myself, I told my wife that I was feeling kind of melancholic.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  “I dunno,” I said, “Just that kind of ambient, existential blues feeling, I guess.”  She thought a for a moment, and then said “Stop listening to George Jones.”  It’s true, that would be a simple, practical solution to my complaint.  And yet it wasn’t something I was quite prepared to do at the time, and I guess I’m still not.  Happy Birthday, George.

The 100s: A Recap

June 12, 2014

Okay! Despite grinding to a halt for a few weeks right near the cusp of the top 100, I’ve generally been pretty happy about my momentum going through this portion of the list.  The albums really are getting better as we go, and I find myself spurred on by the desire to hear them.  Even when the next album or two on the list isn’t all that exciting, there is always something just over the horizon that I find it worth making the push to get to.  I suspect that this trend will only intensify as we get to the top 100.  I’m feeling pretty excited about it.  Are you excited? I’m excited.  As always, having reached the end of this group of 100, here are my thoughts on the best and worst of the lot, and other various reflections and statistics.

Favorite Album of the 100s: It’s getting harder to pick just one, of course, but I’m going to go with From Elvis in Memphis.  Other favorites of this batch included The B-52s, Parallel Lines, Aja, Fresh, Red Headed Stranger, and The Harder They Come.

Is it better than The Basement Tapes?: Apples and oranges, really, but in terms of soulfulness of performance, I’m gonna say yes.

Favorite Album I Had Never Heard Before:  Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything? is the obvious choice, although I haven’t wound up listening to it again as much as I predicted at the time.  Other great ones that were new to me included Natty Dread, Electric Warrior, The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Late Registration.

Least Favorite Album of the 100s: My absolute, unquestionable choice is The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt, although it’s two ways tricky. For one thing, at the time I listened to it, it was much lower down on the list.  It got a significant and preposterous bump in the list revision, although the reason for this, happily, is that they eliminated her other entry on the list.  It’s also tricky because she recently announced that she has Parkinson’s Disease, and so I feel like a jerk for revisiting my deep seated loathing for her music.  But there’s just no getting around it.  There are actually no other albums on this portion of the list I could be truly said to have hatedMaster of Puppets was rough going for me, though its technical impressiveness is hard to overlook.  Kiss’s Alive!  was silly and too long, but it gave me a better sense than their lower rated studio album what people might see in them.  And The Carpenters’ Close to You was harrowing to get through, but I actually came away from it with greater respect for the group than I had going in.  So, yeah, really just Linda Ronstadt.

Is it worse than Billy Joel’s 52nd Street?You’re not gonna believe this, but yeah, it is.  I hate Billy Joel, but Linda Ronstadt commits the greater sin of diminishing the stature of great songs by some of my favorite artists through her aggressively impersonal cover versions, which is completely unforgivable.  I am sorry for her health problems, though.

Most Pleasant Surprise: I’m gonna go with Houses of the Holy.  I came into the project hoping to soften my historical antipathy toward Led Zeppelin, but doubtful that I really could.  But this album, the only one of theirs on the list that did not make the top 100, was surprisingly satisfying and easy to like.

Biggest Disappointment: The Chronic.  After a great experience with the Dr. Dre-produced Straight Outta Compton, and a general sense of The Chronic as one of the best rap albums ever, I was actively excited to hear it.  I’ll certainly be revisiting it, but at the time I heard it, I was upset to discover that I found it downright off-putting, almost malevolent feeling.  On the advice of friends, I checked out Doggy Style, which is essentially regarded as a sequel or sister album, and found it more to my liking.  So maybe it was just my mood at the time.

The Statistics: As we get higher up the list, it’s getting harder to say what I did and didn’t like.  For one thing, the project really has tugged at my prejudices a bit without quite bedding them back down, so in some cases its difficult to definitively say how I felt about an album.  It’s also the case that since the albums are getting better overall, and I actively hate fewer of them, the criteria of liking is perhaps getting a bit more stringent.  I counted several albums that were fine in a general sense as ones I didn’t like, to distinguish them from the ones I really did like.  My ultimate criteria was my gut feeling of the moment about how I’d feel about listening to the album again.  Even with this tighter criteria, the number of albums I liked went up to 56, a modest increase from the 50% enjoyment rate that has held pretty steady throughout the project.  But really, I’m being quite stringent.  The number of albums I could cheerfully endure hearing again is probably closer to 75% at this point.  The number of albums I had never heard before was 69 out of 100, which is pretty close to where it was in the last 100.  I had expected that number to drop more.  Perhaps in the top 100.  There are no longer any artists on the list I had never heard of before the project began–although I might have been a little bit hazy on who The Strokes were.

I’m glad to report that the ear trouble that  had slowed me down right above the 100 mark is all but over.  It’s still a little duller sounding on the right side, but not so that it really distracts me like it used to.  I’m feeling good, and ready to enjoy the 100 best albums of all time (or 99 rather, since Kid A already got a hearing before it was promoted to the top 100).  And yes, great as this project has been for me, I’m also looking forward to drawing it to a close in the not too distant future.  Thanks as always to those who have been following along, with whatever degree of consistency.





Some Kinda Tube…

June 1, 2014

Ear-Diagram-300x207The faithful reader of this blog will recall that there have been various fallow periods over the course of my project–periods of days or weeks when the irregular pace of my postings stops altogether.  Sometimes it’s real life intruding, sometimes the next album to listen to is something long and unappealing enough that it takes awhile to work up the steam to get through it.  Some of my entries–ones that I care too much about–wind up taking forever to write because I can’t seem to make them say what I want them to.  Once or twice, I had given up coffee and just couldn’t string intelligible words together for a week or more.

I find myself in such a period now, but for none of those reasons.  I’m actually chomping at the bit to move forward: I’ve had pretty good momentum going through the 100s, and am just two albums away from moving over into the top 100.  Things are getting good, and I really want to keep listening!  What’s got me stalled this time is something of a (hopefully) temporary physical handicap: my right ear is all screwed up, and it makes music sound terrible.  Our whole family got sick with some type of mucus-intensive infection, which I think has segued into my first real experience with springtime allergies.  And while I’m more or less on the mend, my hearing remains impaired by some kind of blockage.  As far as I can gather, some mucus has made its way into my eustachian tube, which is the part that connects the ear to the nose and throat, and is having trouble finding its way out.  No amount of ear cleaning or nose blowing or allergy medication has yet moved it along.

Some moments are better than others.  At it’s worst, I’ve been hearing a doubling of sound in my right ear, as though everything-especially higher pitches–is being played through an octave pedal.  Where I should hear a note, I hear something more like a chord.  It makes music unpleasant to hear, and, what is worse, it makes my children’s voices tough to take as well.  The already distressing sound of my own child crying gets intensified into this brain-stabbing assault of high pitched noise.  Even at better moments, things just sound muffled and not quite right.  I keep trying to listen to music more generally, but it never sounds like it supposed to, and seems to actively irritate the situation in my ear.  It’s a drag, man.  A rock solid drag.

Anyway, as the saying goes, I’m not complaining, I’m explaining.  I’m really eager to be moving forward into this upper echelons of the list, but I don’t feel I can do it impaired as I am.  Obviously I could struggle through and give the records some measure of attention.  But the degree to which even music I love irritates my ear right now would make it unfair to the albums I have yet to hear, and whose virtues would likely remain obscure to me under these conditions.  The alarmist in me fears that it will never be right again in there, and that my big beautiful stereo and record collection will just sit there unused forevermore, mocking my incapacity.  But hopefully–and realistically–things will dry up soon in there, and I can get back to not flinching when my children make a sound, to enjoying music,and to seeing this project through to a satisfying conclusion.


Sam_Cooke-1024x576As  mentioned in my entry on the Sam Cooke compilation Portrait of a Legend, the realities of being a Sam Cooke fan involve reconciling oneself to a certain amount of light, pop oriented material amidst his more deeply soulful offerings.  Those who count ourselves fans have for the most part made peace with this, but for the novice, the large volume of faintly treacly material one has to wade through can potentially confuse the question of just why Cooke is regarded so highly.  A friend of mine who recently bought this collection found himself a bit overwhelmed by the fluffier material on here, and expressed a wish that it could have been a more concentrated collection of just the really good stuff.  I like a good list as much as the next guy, and it got me to thinking about what I would choose from this collection if I had to limit it to just ten songs that represented the Sam Cooke I love best.  The list I came up with, drawing only from tracks found on this compilation, in the order they appear on it, includes the best of his popper material along with his more mature offerings, since it too represents a large swath of his output, and does has real value beneath its easygoing surface.  But it also favors some songs that would be considered minor compared to bigger hits like “Another Saturday Night” or “Twistin’ the Night Away,” but which strike me as more emotionally resonant, interesting music.  Every Sam Cooke fan would no doubt come up with a different list, but here is mine:

  1. You Send Me
  2. I’ll Come Running Back to You
  3. Sad Mood
  4. Cupid
  5. (What a) Wonderful World
  6. Chain Gang
  7. Bring it on Home to Me
  8. Nothing Can Change This Love
  9. That’s Where it’s At
  10. A Change is Gonna Come

I can and do enjoy the entire collection, but these are the ten songs I could listen to again and again, forever and ever.