Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – Innervisions by Stevie Wonder

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 180/250Title: Innervisions
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Year: 1973
Position: #46

Four and a half years. That is how long it has been since I did the last Stevie Wonder (Talking Book) album for this blog. Hell, I said two months ago in a 1001 songs post that Innervisions was high on my listening list and it has still taken me a while to get to this. Yet I managed to find time to listen and feel a bit meh about two classical pieces in the last week.

Well I’m here now and I think Innervisions is brilliant. Listening to the full album length version of ‘Living for the City’, rather than the single version which removes a lot of the ending, was a harrowing listen that showcases the political side of this album. It’s not the only time that he does it on this album. His songs deal with the topics of drug addiction and then, in his final track ‘He’s Misstra Know-It-All’, takes aim at then-president Nixon – who would soon be ceremoniously cast out of office.

Then, on the other end of the soul extreme, are some really optimistic songs with some positive messages. The most known of these is the Latin-influenced ‘Don’t You Worry ’bout a Thing’, which I am really sure that I’ve heard on the radio at some point. It’s one of those great songs that instantly make wish that you knew how to dance. You also have the love song ‘Golden Lady’ which helps to keep the album feeling positive in the first half.

One more Stevie Wonder album left in this cut of the Acclaimed Albums list, which is higher in the rankings than Innervisions. Then again the album I’m talking about is Songs in the Key of Life – which is long and ridiculously famous. I doubt it’ll be another four and a half years before I get to that.

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🎻♫♪ – O Magnum Mysterium by Tomás Luis de Victoria

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 57/501Title: O Magnum Mysterium 
Composer: Tomás Luis de Victoria
Nationality: Spanish
Year:
1572

Right, so this is the piece I was meant to be listening to instead of Battle MassThe difference in length actually means that I probably did these the right way round: Battle Mass at work and O Magnum Mysterium as I got my post together for The Spider’s Stratagem and fretted about the baklava I currently have soaking in syrup. All within 4 minutes.

It’s interesting that, for the 1001 Classical Pieces list, the sole Tomás Luis de Victoria piece that they picked is not the one considered his masterpiece. Instead we get this incredibly short piece which is Catholic chant, traditionally done at Christmas. This is one of the chants that I’m sure will appear in other entries on this list (and might have already appeared already considering how many of these vocal piece I’ve done by now.

Like I’ve said in previous posts, I’m a the point where I am just a bit over these simple pieces. It doesn’t feel as if the type of pieces have really moved on in the previous century up to this point – which I guess will be partially down to fewer people moving between nations, therefore the exchanges of ideas and cultures is exceedingly slow. I mean, this piece is fine, but I wasn’t close to being moved.

🎻♫♪ – Battle Mass by Francisco Guerrero

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 56/501Title: Battle Mass
Composer: Francisco Guerrero
Nationality: Spanish
Year:
1582

Going back to the second oldest piece left on the list (I was meant to listen to the oldest, but I got in a bit of a mix up) and it’s time for some more religious music. It’s been a few months since the last religious piece, and that was so much more interesting than this one.

Honestly, after a while a lot of these masses have a tendency to merge into one – with the exception of pieces like the The Western Wynde Mass, which was legitimately interesting. I know that I should be able to note some difference in the harmonies or the style when comparing it to the other masses and motets that I have heard so far – but that would require a lot more reading up on the history of classical music, a step beyond what ticking things off of this list requires.

At least I’m getting closer and closer to the end of these religious vocal pieces. Next time on the classical list will be… the oldest piece I have left to listen to because I am a completionist like that.

Acclaimed Albums – Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 179/250Title: Siamese Dream
Artist: Smashing Pumpkins
Year: 1993
Position: #133

Leaving behind the 1970s today as I felt the need of something a bit more modern and rocky whilst playing with some VBA coding at work. I was really between doing this and the remaining Nirvana album, but the prospect of something a bit more shoegaze led me here to Siamese Dream.

Apart from their appearance on The Simpsons, I don’t think I will have ever heard a song by Smashing Pumpkins. They’re one of those groups that I have known about for as long as I have been buying music, but I’ve never gotten around to even picking up one of their albums – other than to look at the artwork of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Now that I have finally gotten around to listening to it, I believe the word is wow. The album takes all the bits I like about My Bloody Valentine‘s shoegazing added in with some grunge, a touch of metal and a bit of prog rock to make an incredibly varied and satisfying group of songs full of production tricks that are missing on Nirvana’s work.

I know I’ve listened to a good album when I immediately restart it once I’ve finished it, and I know a future favourite song when it’s been on repeat for the better part of an hour. So, let’s talk about ‘Disarm’ for a bit. It’s been a while since a song so (pun unintended) disarmed me. The bells, the strings, the emotionally gravelly voice, the tale of an abusive upbringing and the continuous building in the production. God, this is an amazing song and this is an amazing album. Oh well, 26 years too late but I got there in the end.

Okay so I haven’t kept up the ‘album a day’ thing that I had hoped for after listening to Electric Warrior, but three in the first week of the year should bode well and bring nearer the time that I plan to expand the list. When that happens, there will be an excuse to spent some more time with Smashing Pumpkins as Mellon Collie becomes an album to cross off.

Acclaimed Albums – Electric Warrior by T-Rex

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 178/250Title: Electric Warrior
Artist: T-Rex
Year: 1971
Position: #161

I had a bit of a grumble last year in a 1001 songs post about the arrival of glam rock into the next few batches of songs. It’s one of those things where I came into it with a limited exposure of a few parts of a few songs and formed a very negative opinion of a whole genre. The over-playing of Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ every single bloody year did not help.

Now, thanks to this blog I am getting to know more about glam rock and am developing a more nuanced opinion. Sure there are songs that I don’t like, but there are others like Sweet’s ‘Ballroom Blitz‘ and Sparks’ ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us‘ that I have legitimately loved. Today’s album by T-Rex, which is pioneer album in the glam rock canon, falls very much into the latter category. I really enjoyed it.

Turns out that this music is perfect for writing code and learning new macro tricks. From this album everyone will know ‘Get It On’ because that was a cross-over success that lead to the popularisation of glam. You could say the same of the album which provided the template for what many glam acts would later become.

Songs like ‘Cosmic Dancer’, ‘Planet Queen’ and ‘Jeepster’ all act as crossover points between the earlier genres of psychedelia, rock and roll and hard rock with the newer glam rock. There is this freedom in wordplay and themes from psychedelia that gets paired with the harder sounds and instrumentation of rock and roll and harder rock. It makes for an interesting more poppy take on rock – which I guess is why I like it.

This marks two albums in two days, which I won’t been keeping up (obviously) but it gives me hope that I’ll be able to make real progress with this category before the year is out.

Acclaimed Albums – Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 177/250Title: Court and Spark
Artist: Joni Mitchell
Year: 1974
Position: #213

I swear there is nothing quite like a 1001 songs post to give you a kick in the backside necessary to cross another album off the list. For the purposes of the songs list I listened to ‘A Free Man in Paris’ –  a lovely folk-jazz hybrid about her friend who happens to be Geffen of Geffen Records. Since, at the time of writing, it is New Year’s Day – I’ve made a mini-resolution to try and finish off this list in the next 52 weeks… so thought an album like this would be the place to start.

Right after I wrote my blog post for Blue (nearly 5 years ago) I immediately listened to Court and Spark, but decided to hold off writing the post for a while. After all, I didn’t want to write about the same artist in consecutive posts. I then forgot about this until listening to ‘Free Man in Paris’ – so Court and Spark accompanied me whilst I was cooking lunch and whilst making some apple pancakes.

I think as a fair rule, if you love Blue you will love Court and Spark. On this later album the music isn’t as raw, but we still have songs in a similar style – just with a bit more folk-jazz hybridisation, less stripped-back and a little bit more upbeat. This actually makes this album more suitable for multiple listens across more varied situations when compared to Blue which feels like it needs a quiet area and some contemplation.

‘Free Man in Paris’ is an excellent pick for the 1001 songs list as it shows how commercial this style of music could get without losing the spark that makes it a Joni Mitchell song. It’s definitely a highlight of the album, much like the leading single ‘Help Me’ was. For me, however, my top pick is ‘Raised on Robbery’ because it’s Joni at her most upbeat and I love to hear her having fun on a track. It’s also one of a few of her songs that I am able to sing along to.

Given the 6 month lead I have, it won’t be until the July 2020 posts go up that I’ll properly see if I was able to finish off this list in a year. I really hope I do, there’s so many great albums out on the extended list to discover!

1001 Songs – 1974: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Evie – Stevie Wright

At just over 11 minutes long, ‘Evie’ is one of the longest songs on this list. But, to call this one song is deceptive because it is formed of three very distinct parts. The first a bluesy Rolling Stones style rock song wooing Evie, the second a more piano-driven soft rock depicting the comfort of the relationship with Evie and the concluding third part a more disco-driven rock (think Santa Esmeralda’s version of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’) about his emotions having lost her.

This song is epic in all the right ways. The roller-coaster of emotions at the birth, life and death of a relationship with such contrasting musical styles. All three parts would work separately, but together the three parts put most album length rock operas to shame. Bravo.

Free Man in Paris – Joni Mitchell

To think that Joni Mitchell wrote this song about her friend on holiday in Paris. A friend who happens to be David Geffen, the founder of the music label Geffen Records who released one of my albums of 2018.

I love this era of Joni Mitchell and how she fuses folk and jazz music to make something so earnest and so enjoyable. Listening to this had also reminded me that I really need to get around to writing up Court and Spark. I listened to it ages ago and never got around to writing it up. It’s things like this that is making the completion of the albums list drag on a bit.

I Will Always Love You – Dolly Parton

Right, so I know I’m in the minority here but I really do prefer Dolly Parton’s original version of this song to the 1991 Whitney Houston version. There’s no denying the power of the vocals in Houston’s version, I mean come on it’s astonishing, but you can not beat the raw unfettered emotions in Parton’s original. Although, to be fair, Houston’s version suffers a lot from the arrangement… and by that I mean the saxophone solo.

The spoken-word section leading into the final chorus, leaves me misty eyed pretty much every time and goes to show that a beautiful voice showing weakness can do more than a powerful voicing showing strength. I still love the Whitney Houston version though, even if the arrangement is dated.

The Grand Tour – George Jones

Another country song about a parting. However, where Dolly Parton’s song is from the point of view of the leaver – ‘The Grand Tour’ sees George Jones cast as the man left behind. Where Parton’s song left me misty eyed, Jones’ tipped me over the edge. The titular grand tour is Jones taking us around the house to show all the places he and his wife used to find enjoyment before they had to part (most sources say because of a divorce, but some think it’s referencing her dying in childbirth).

To put these two songs next to each other is a genius move by the editors of the book as it helps to provide such an amazing contrast between the two viewpoints of leaver and left behind within the world of country music. Sure, Parton was singing about a musical partner, but the emotion was there just the same.

With the exception of ‘Free Man in Paris’ this has been such a sad run of songs… and by the looks of the next one it won’t be getting cheerier any time soon.

Withered and Died – Richard and Linda Thompson

Was there a shortage of mood stabilisers in 1974 or something? This half of 1974’s songs is so much of a downer that I’ve had to wrap a blanket around me.

‘Withered and Died’ is such a haunting and sombre song about, what I am assuming, depression. It’s a song about being left behind physically and emotionally and giving in to the dark part of the soul. As someone who has been through depression there’s a lot of this song I can identify with and so listening to it just once has left me feeling, for lack of a better word, hurt.

Beautifully sung and arranged, but still. Ouch.

Louisiana 1927 – Randy Newman

And the depression keeps on coming with Randy Newman’s lament about hundreds of thousands of people left homeless in Louisiana after the floods of 1927. He talks of the the lack of help they received from President Coolidge and has the repeated refrain of ‘they’re trying to wash us away’. Sounds oddly familiar doesn’t it? It’s little wonder that this song gained further notice after Hurricane Katrina hit which lead to Newman re-recording it as part of a benefit album.

I still cannot fathom that this is the man that wrote the Toy Story soundtrack. I mean, he used to write music that felt so important and so political in his youth and now we all know him for ‘You Got A Friend In Me’.

You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – Stevie Wonder

Finally a break in the clouds of depressive music, even if it is an angry protest song at the presidency of Richard Nixon (seriously, between this and ‘Louisiana 1927, it goes to show just how little has changed since the 1970s). It feels good to have some good funk music with a heavy clavinet track and the first appearance on the list of the Jackson family (the Jackson 5 provided the backing vocals, which is more a footnote than them making this song extra special).

I like how this is the good side of funk. There’s repetition but, unlike James Brown, there’s enough variation to keep you interesting and the repetition isn’t done ad nauseum.

This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us – Sparks

I don’t know if it’s because this is the ultimate antidote for the rest of the songs in this post, but I absolutely adored this song. Another glam rock song that I am loving, if you had told me this a few months ago I would not have believed you.

Why do I like this? I cannot tell you other than that it’s a bit nuts with it being completely sung in falsetto with fake gun shots and the use of the film cliches. This song feels like the moment where glam rock has started to mutate into power pop – and I really love good power pop. What a great way to finish off 1974!

Progress: 404/1021

🎻♫♪ – Winterreise by Franz Schubert

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 55/501Title: Winterreise
Composer: Franz Schubert
Nationality: Austrian
Year:
1827

It’s that period between Christmas and New Year and, in-keeping with the cold and the festive spirit, I really wanted to find a piece that would go with the season.  This is where today’s piece, Winterreise (translated to Winter Journey in English), comes in. It’s a song cycle about a man who goes on a journey in the winter months, which sounds pretty much perfect.

While Schubert was responsible for the melodies of Winterreise the lyrics themselves are poems by German poet Wilhelm Müller. This is the second of two song cycles that Schubert wrote to the words of Müller’s poetry, the other one (Die schöne Müllerin) having been published four years earlier in 1823 and will be listened to at some point for the 1001 list.

Now, originally this part was written for a man’s tenor voice with a piano accompaniment. The vocals have been adapted for different ranges, Schubert having done this himself, but this tenor and piano arrangement is standard. I, however, did not know this and ended up listening to an interpretation featuring a female soprano being accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy.

This makes Winterreise the first entry on the list where I have listened to two very different versions. The second version I heard was more traditional and the specific one highlighted in the book – but I am still very glad that I heard both. Where the tenor-piano version keeps with the gloom and the existential crisis as in the original, the female version felt profoundly more mystical thanks to her higher register and the whirring of the hurdy-gurdy.

Both versions have their merits and have different ways of going about Winterreise. They also manage to get across that this song cycle is haunting, even if I don’t understand a word of what they’re saying.

1001 Songs – 1974: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Essiniya – Nass El Ghiwane

So, we are starting out 1974 with something I’ve never heard before – Moroccan music. As a group, Nass El Ghiwane broke the mold in their native country. They brought in Western instruments, grew their hair long and refused to write songs that praised the king of Morocco (as was the custom at the time).

My husband described this as being the equivalent to the punk movement within Moroccan music, which really helps to give the perspective of what they were up to. The song starts out sounding fairly folksy and (I guess) borderline traditional and then – at about two and a half minutes in – the song picks up the pace and truly gets started.

It’s still not quite my kind of music, but this did go on to inspire modern groups like Tinariwen whose music I do like. Kinda cool to now have this song as a bit of a touchstone. I wish that this list had more songs like this.

Carpet Crawlers – Genesis

So whilst in Morocco boundaries were being pushed, the west had prog rock. This is the second song from Genesis that I’ve listened to as part of the list and, interestingly, this is also their last… which coincides with this being the last song of theirs featuring Peter Gabriel.

As with ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’, this song is telling a story that I cannot make head nor tale of without help from Wikipedia. What’s different, however, is how lush their music has become. The underlying piano part is gorgeous and their harmonies are really on point.

Aguas de marco – Antonio Carlos Jobim & Elis Regina

This is starting to feel like a proper trip around the world now. This song finds us in Brazil… where bossa nova is still top dog. ‘Aguas de marco’ (or ‘The Waters of March’ in English) was written by the man behind who introduced bossa nova to the English-speaking world via a little song called ‘The Girl From Ipanema‘.

Going with the water theme, it’s impressive how the entire song has been written with the notes of each line going down the scale. It’s been done to mimic the falling of the March rains, but to me it felt more like the rise and fall of a tide – so at least I’m still getting the water.

It’s also lovely to hear, towards the end, both singers really enjoying themselves with Elis Regina tripping slightly on her line and suppressing a laugh in her singing. This feels like one of those untranslatable songs because of the wordplay element to the lyrics, so I’m glad that it’s the Portuguese version on the list.

Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City – Bobby Bland

Our world tour is going to land in the USA for the rest of this post… and it starts off with a fairly bland R&B song. Spotify cut out part way through this and, honestly, I wasn’t best pleased that we needed to start it over.

I get that this song is meant to be referencing inner city poverty, but we’ve already heard so many good songs on similar topics for this list; so I’m not sure what this adds by its presence. Then again this is one of those songs that has been covered semi-regularly, which means I am clearly missing something.

(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night – Tom Waits

This is so not the Tom Waits that I’ve gotten to know via Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs. Then again, no songs from those albums appear on the 1001 – so I wonder if this list is going to really show him at his vaudeville experimental best.

The fact is that this list completely avoids his mid-career shift and that is so wrong to do. It was in that period that he was making music like I’ve never heard before, unlike ‘(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night’ which is a competent folk-blues pre- major Bruce Springsteen look at the working man getting drunk on the weekend.

This may be the first time that the list has majorly pissed me off… and it’s over Tom Waits. Who knew!?

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Now for a song we all now and have heard people sing along to at a wedding on the way to getting plastered. And who can blame them, this is one of those songs that I think it’s hard to dislike – or at least the chorus is.

Written as an answer song to two songs that Neil Young had written about Alabama and the American South in general, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ pulls off the impressive Southern trick of slighting someone (Neil Young in this instance) with a smile on their face. Then again, they agreed with Neil Young’s stance, just not on how he painted the whole South as being the problem… so they went a little easy on him.

Piss Factory – Patti Smith Group

What a lovely song name to finish on.

We’re still in the era where punk music hasn’t quite started, so we have a lot of different kinds of proto-punk songs that will later feed into the more centralised punk core. With ‘Piss Factory’ the punk elements of aggression are there in full force as Patti Smith reads her long poem as she slams on the piano.

At times humorous and at other times enraged, ‘Piss Factory’ is a more stripped down and feminine sounding Patti Smith than what you later see on Horses (where her voice deepens and she augments her sound with more instruments). I guess I’ll be talking more on that when 1975 hits and we get to her other song on the list: ‘Gloria’.

Progress: 396/1021

🎻♫♪ – Sensemayá by Silvestre Revueltas

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 54/501Title: Sensemayá
Composer: Silvestre Revueltas
Nationality: Mexican
Year:
1938

I did say that I’d cover another piece as soon as possible, so I figured there was no time like the present.

With Sensemayá I am adding another country to the list with the first piece of Mexican classical music being crossed off from the list. To be honest, this was the reason I settled on this particular piece, also it helps plug a hole in section where I haven’t yet listened to a piece.

Like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from yesterday,  Sensemayá  is based on a poem of the same name. This poem by Nicolás Guillén has the translated title of ‘Chant to Kill a Snake’ which, if you read the poem, feels like quite an accurate name. So the original source material takes from Afro-Caribbean religious cults and snake-killing chants, the classical piece then develops this into a classical piece that most of us could recognise as being indicative of some sort of tribal dance.

There’s something somewhat threatening and foreboding about this piece (probably all the snake death), in that over the course of nearly 8 minutes it seems to whip itself into a frenzy only to calm itself down again. Knowing that this is based on a snake killing chant – I cannot not think of snakes being slaughtered and their blood raining down on their executioner. The ending feels like a final knife blow or the moment the head of some sort of hooded cobra is decapitated and lifted above the head of the chief dancer.

As a piece the main sections being utilised are the brasses, woodwinds and percussion. Seeing how we are in a slightly different culture compared to other classical pieces, you can hear some different pieces of percussion coming to the forefront. Alongside the glockenspiel and drums you can hear maracas and the prominent use of claves (or woodblocks) to demonstrate the change in tempo of the dance.

If Disney ever do another Fantasia… it’s highly unlikely that a piece like this would be used. Unless they think snake massacres are suitable for children, then it’s fair game.