Category Archives: Music

1001 Songs – 1968: Part Two

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

Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) – James Brown

Compared to the previous James Brown I listened to – where I was unable to get SNL’s Kenan Thompson out of my head – this song actually had a bit more meat to it. I mean we are talking about a time where racism was more prevalent (it’s still pretty prevalent, but you know what I mean) and the Black Power movement was still gaining traction. So a song like this about black Americans being abused by the police became a powerful song to use.

My main problem is still this: this song is incredibly repetitive. It works a bit more here as a protest song, but he does this in other songs so I am not sure how much of a point there was to that as it feels generally improvised.

Hard to Handle – Otis Redding

Here is a song that something more to it. I know this is more soul and James Brown is funk, but this actually has a changing structure and recognisable parts. It’s actually been a while since I last listened to an Otis Redding album and I was reminded of why I enjoyed it.

I think it goes to show that, at this point in time, I like soul a lot more than funk.

A minha menina – Os Mutantes

Okay now for something unlike anything I have heard on this songs list. I enjoy it when random acts of fusion begin to happen as the next round of musicians start to take on the work of other cultures. Here we have the more traditional Brazilian bossa nova music combined with the psychedelic rock that was coming out of the US and the UK.

What you have when these are mixed is something completely new and would form significant part of Brazilian cultural identity in the late 1960s and beyond: Tropicália. It’s fresh, it’s different and it’s something that could only come out of a country of such contrasting cultures as those found in Brazil. I hope a few more of these songs turn up along the way.

Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones

Okay so we have two songs in a row that have fused rock music with Latin American influences – in this instance the samba. I mentioned two years ago about how much Beggar’s Banquet (the album where this song acts as an opener) left me cold. I even signalled out ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ as a song that did nothing for me.

Here we are two years later and I am able to enjoy this song more. I love how the upbeat samba forms a strange contrast with the satanic lyrics. The thing that gets me is just how highly this is rated on best song lists. It’s fine, it’s fun and it’s very repetitive. Listening to it makes me wonder just how many times they are going ‘woo woo’ in the background. I feel like I am in the minority when it comes to rock music, but that’s okay.

Pressure Drop – Toots & The Maytals

You know that scene in Spongebob where Patrick dreams of riding a coin-operated horse and he is moving up and down in the same repeated fashion? That’s reggae music to me.

I have to admit that ‘Pressure Drop’ is better than most of the reggae music I have heard. The upped tempo instantly makes this better than ‘Israelites‘ and any of the Bob Marley that I’ve listened to so far. The song itself is about weather pressure as a metaphor for karma, which I did not get but can appreciate the poetic choice of.

Cyprus Avenue – Van Morrison

Wow it has been years since I listened to Astral Weeks for my album list. It’s one of those albums where it’s difficult to choose a specific cut because it’s all meant to be listened to together as a song cycle. Still, if a song had to be picked it makes sense that it’s ‘Cyprus Avenue’.

There is an awful lot going on in this song. You have Van Morrison singing about his younger years in Belfast (where Cyprus Avenue is a street) with strings, a guitar and a harpsichord playing over and underneath him. It is whistful, sentimental and dreamy all at the same time – but should not be listened to by itself. This song belongs in the heard of Astral Weeks and just gets cut off at the end as it starts to pick up the pace.

Hey Jude – The Beatles

So here we are at the end of an era – the final Beatles song on the 1001 list and it’s arguably one of their biggest ones. The genesis of this song is a actually quite weird (but sweet). Paul McCartney writing this to comfort John Lennon’s son in the wake of John Lennon’s divorce from his first wive as caused by his affair with Yoko Ono.

Pretty much everyone in the UK will know this song and have quite possibly sung to the fade out. I have talked about repetition a lot in this section of 1968 (or at least it feels like I have) and here we have an example that works. For the final 4 minutes the lyrics and the basic instrumentation are the same, but they play with it every now and then. Also, the reason behind it as a song to cheer up Julian Lennon just brings a smile to your face. I have to hand it to Paul McCartney here – he done good.

Voodoo Child (Slight Return) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Okay so I was expecting to find out that the Rogue Traders song had taken a sample from this or something. Not the case sadly as that would have been this little except written up for me right away.

‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ acts as the closing song of Electric Ladyland – the final album that Jimi Hendrix released when he was alive. It revisits and expands on some of the musical themes that came up in ‘Voodoo Chile’, which was a track on the same album.

For me this track continues to support the image of how amazing a guitarist Jimi Hendrix was. He is lauded for a reason and this song just shows why. The waste. The sheer unadulterated waste.

The Pusher – Steppenwolf

The single that Steppenwolf released before this was biker themed anthem ‘Born to be Wild’, so it’s interesting that the list instead went for this one about a drug dealer. Taking the subject matter onboard I cannot say I disagree with that decision. I mean, sure, this isn’t the more famous song, but the way that this song chooses to tackle the war on drugs is interesting.

It takes the stance that a lot have people still take nowadays – that there is a difference between hard drugs like heroin (sold by the pusher) and softer drugs like grass (sold by the dealer). Of course we’re only now getting into the position where this separation is being reflected in politics, but it’s interesting to see that 50+ years ago we were already having this conversation.

The Weight – The Band

Okay so this is where the folk-country part of my music taste wants to come out and make itself known. I really enjoyed this song goes honky-tonk as it hits the chorus line with it’s chunky piani line and singalong lyrics.

Speaking of honky-tonk, I can see this as being one of those great drinking songs that can get a rise out of many a drunk as they start to slip into unconciousness. It feels like one of those comfortable songs that we all know even if we’ve never heard it before.

Days – The Kinks

How do I know this song? Seriously, can someone please tell me as this song was immediately recognisable to me and I have no idea from where. I don’t think it’s like ‘The Weight’ where I feel like I have gotten to know this as part of the collective subconscious, I know I have heard this somewhere and it is really bugging me. Yes, this is a bit of a weird note to end on. It’s a really nice song, but I wish we’d ended with The Band.

Progress: 268/1021

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🎻♫♪ – Motets by Nicolas Gombert

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 21/501Title: Motets
Composer: Nicolas Gombert
Nationality: Franco-Flemish
Year:
 1530-1550

Excuse me, but I think I’m suffering from a bout of motet blindness. I think I am getting to the point with this classical list that I am starting to find it difficult to tell some of these earlier pieces apart. This isn’t a slight at any of the performers whose recordings of these pieces I have heard up to this point.

The thing is – when you have this sort of choral music it can be hard to distinguish between composers if months have passed between pieces. What I can tell from listening to Nicolas Gombert in isolation is that these motets are an example of polyphonic choral music – something that we didn’t have in some of the earlier pieces of music.

Other than that I’m out. The problem with this in particular is that there didn’t necessarily feel as if there was any underlying story or throughline for each of the motets. It just felt like voices coming in, choosing whether to harmonize or not.

Hey ho, as with 1001 it isn’t a guarantee that you’ll like all the stuff that’s early in the chronology. It just helps with that overall learning experience.

Acclaimed Albums – Definitely Maybe by Oasis

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 134/250Title: Definitely Maybe
Artist: Oasis
Year: 1994
Position: #111

We go into any piece of media with preconceptions. I remember how huge Oasis were when I was very little; to the point where I remember my mum playing What’s The Story (Morning Glory) on our first CD player. We sang  ‘Wonderwall’ in school music lessons (where they insisted that we sang it as ‘wonderwahl’ instead of ‘wonderwaall’). They were massive in terms of their popularity and in terms of being pricks.

So I went into this thinking that I would like this and then feel a bit ‘ugh’ because of how I remember the Gallagher brothers acting. I was pretty much correct. It saddens me to say that I really prefer Definitely Maybe over ParklifeThen again, Gorillaz are amazing and I would listen to them over Oasis any day; so it’s swings and roundabouts.

However, I don’t I actually knew any songs from Definitely Maybe. I guess I am just too young to remember when this album came out, but I swear later songs in their catalogue still get more radio airplay than songs from this debut album.

I’m not sure why that would be either. For one thing, this is one of those albums that has actually made me feel happy as I listen to it. I’ve seen this album’s lyrics described as being ‘optimistic’ in some reviews – and I have a hard time disagreeing with that. I know that these contemporary reviewers will have welcomed a more positive type of rock music coming out after a few years of grunge music being in vogue. I mean, as much as I thought Nevermind was a good album, it wasn’t exactly cheerful.

As far as my limited knowledge of Oasis goes, I will pretty much stake a claim that this is likely to be the album of theirs that I like the most. It’s not as poppy as they would become (where at times they would feel like they are trying to become the next Beatles) and instead is far more on the glam and hard rock side of the musical fence.

Acclaimed Albums – Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 133/250Title: Surrealistic Pillow
Artist: Jefferson Airplane
Year: 1967
Position: #173

Sticking very much in 1967 after my last album. I was planning on knocking out one of the Oasis albums instead, but figured that since I was going on a long walk it would be better to listen to something with a little more life in it.

I always had a certain image of what Jefferson Airplane; mostly from what the spin-off groups became. When you think of songs like  ‘We Built This City On Rock and Roll’ and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ you would be excused of expecting Surrealistic Pillow to be a bit twee. Also, while I am at it – it’s actually impressive that this group were still finding relevance and getting hits and award nominations some 20 years later.

Surrealistic Pillow is not twee. It’s inconsistent, yes, but not twee. In places it is some of the best music that I have heard coming out of the 1960s – well in two actually. There is a reason that ‘Somebody to Love’ and ‘White Rabbit’ are the tracks that are best remembered – they are exceptional.

I think most people my age will know ‘Somebody to Love’ from the cover by Boogie Pimps with that weird video of parachuting babies. For me, the thing that immediately came to mind was one of my favourite movies: A Serious Man. Needless to say, this song and the vocals from Grace Slick are both exemplary.

I’ve talked about ‘White Rabbit’ before – but I think it’s worth mentioning this song’s appearance in Futurama where it is sung by Richard Nixon’s head. Still cannot believe this song got away with all the drug references just because it hid them under the thin veil of Alice in Wonderland. Bravo Grace Slick, bravo.

The rest of the album is fine, but you come for the two Grace Slick solo songs. I think the inconsistency problem lies in that the writing credits are very spread out among the group. It makes it feel like the album, and therefore the group, doesn’t have a clear and consistent voice.

Acclaimed Albums – Songs of Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 132/250Title: Songs of Leonard Cohen
Artist: Leonard Cohen
Year: 1967
Position: #149

With Songs of Leonard Cohen I have broken my recent streak of only doing albums where the artist still has multiple entries on the list. It’s getting to the point where my playing through the 1001 songs list has started to catch up to the point that I am hearing songs before I have heard the whole album.

As it turns out I have a bit of catching up to do; especially since I have now reached 1968 on the songs list. At some point I will get to Jefferson Airplane, Cream and another album by The Who.

Honestly, I only chose this album because Leonard Cohen was amongst the many lives claimed by the spectre of 2016 and I’ve already done albums by David Bowie and Prince. Now that I have listened to Songs of Leonard Cohen I don’t think I quite get why it appears in the list.

As far as I am concerned there are two really good songs on this album and the others just feel a bit… generic. Yes, I know that what would feel generic now after years of development in folk music would have been huge back then. I also feel that a lot of the songs here are just another person doing Dylan and (with the exception of ‘Suzanne’ and ‘So Lone, Marianne’) not as well.

Maybe I am underestimating him here because he, primarily, is known for the lyrics of his songs and I didn’t really give them the opportunity to be fully digested. Then again, if it isn’t enough to entice the wanting of a further listen then I have no real reason to go back.

1001 Songs – 1968: Part One

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

I Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin

I had never understood that this song is about a woman living her life whilst her boyfriend/husband is off fighting in Vietnam. When viewed through this lens ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ becomes a lot less of a throwaway song.

It’s hard to deny the great vocalist and a force of musical nature that Aretha Franklin was. In the late 1960s it feels like she was almost untouchable… and a work horse considering she was releasing 2-3 albums a year by this point.

The Snake – Al Wilson

Staying with the theme of soul music we have ‘The Snake’, which is basically a musical fable.

I only heard of this song because of Donald Trump using it to back his views on immigration. Because, well, the kind-hearted woman takes in and saves a snake that was near death for it to turn around and kill her because, after all, he’s a snake.

It’s a brilliantly entertaining song that’s now been coloured by modern usage.

Oh Happy Day – The Edwin Hawkins Singers

From soul we segue into one of the most famous pieces of gospel music. Whilst I haven’t heard this particular version of ‘Oh Happy Day’, I have heard this in a large number of American versions whenever they go into a gospel church.

At over 5 minutes long this song is just LONG. I mean I get that this would be in a church and there would be other things going on… but this doesn’t translate to a set of earphones as you are making a stir-fry.

Israelites – Desmond Dekker & The Aces

Oh god. It looks like reggae is starting to come into this list. I have mentioned this many a time before, but not only do I not get reggae – I find it annoying.

Especially ‘Israelites’. It’s a big piece of musical history since it was the first reggae song to get to #1 in the UK and one of the first to get a high placement in American charts.

It’s a piece of musical history, but can we move on now.

Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell

A bit of a different song here as we head into the world of country music. It tells the story of a man’s loneliness as he works on the telephone lines and misses his lover.

It’s actually a rather sweet song that feels like an early attempt at country-pop. The production makes the whole song feel ethereal and otherworldly. I am not sure how they managed to get some of the effects in (to make it sound like Morse code), but it really made for a great song.

I Heard it Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

We’re back with soul and in the presence of one of the biggest soul songs of all time by one of the biggest soul singers of all time.

In the Marvin Gaye timeline we are still before he went political with What’s Going On and before he went full sex with Let’s Get It On.

Speaks to the longevity of his career that he had where this song is comparatively early and has become such a classic. His voice, the slow tempo and the charisma sells it utterly.

America – Simon & Garfunkel

‘America’ is not the first Simon and Garfunkel song I would think of for this list (that would be ‘The Boxer’, ‘The Sound of Silence’ or ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’… none of which are on this list).

It’s a beautiful song, don’t get me wrong, about a road-trip undertaken by a man and his girlfriend. The storytelling in the song is on the extreme when you consider the short runtime. Then again, that was always Paul Simon’s strong-suits.

I guess I can see how this song signifies what the Bridge Over Troubled Water album was going to become. And it did give that lovely seen in Almost Famous.

Still, would have loved to have had ‘The Boxer’

Ain’t Got No/I Got Life – Nina Simone

I forgot there was another Nina Simone song on here after ‘Sinnerman’. I have been listening to Nina Simone for years, she was a huge part of the soundtrack of my summer of 2009.
And yet, I had no idea that this was neither a song of her creation nor that is was a medley of songs from the musical ‘Hair’. I just figured that this was a song dedicated to the civil rights movement.

Guess that’s the beauty of a good song (and the true genius of Nina Simone). Multiple ways to listen to it and to enjoy it.

Piece of My Heart – Big Brother & The Holding Company

It took me ridiculously long to get that this was Janis Joplin. That’s an amazing set of very distinctive pipes on her.

As covers go it is nearly indistinguishable from the soul original. Instead it is a loud psychedelic rock song with shredding vocals by Joplin. It’s not a sweet song about longing anymore the “take a piece of my heart” is a defiant dare to those who would hurt her. That, unlike in real life, she would bounce back and remain invincible and undeterred.

I really need to listen to Pearl at some point…

Progress: 257/1021

Acclaimed Albums – The Stooges by The Stooges

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 131/250Title: The Stooges
Artist: The Stooges
Year: 1969
Position: #159

In my playthrough of the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, I have gotten to the point where punk music is in it’s developmental stage – otherwise known as protopunk. In my most recent post (where I just finished 1967) I am at the point where garage rock is just about over the threshold into protopunk – which makes listening to The Stooges all the more interesting.

Here we are 1-2 years later and The Stooges is an album that sounds entirely different to what has come before. It’s too polished and well-engineered to feel like a garage rock album and there are times that this album feels a bit too subdued to be a full-blown (proto)punk album. In fact, you have rock songs from the dramedy musical Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that are more hardcore in their own way: see ‘What A Rush To Be A Bride’.

This isn’t me disparaging the music. It’s just interesting to see how far punk rock and hard rock have come as genres. There is some great work on here with ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and ‘No Fun’, but we are still from Ramones territory.

It is my understanding that when I end up listening to their second album (Funhouse) it will be  far more visceral and, well, punk experience. So it’s going to be interesting to get to that point. For now, it’s actually been an eye-opener to hear Iggy Pop when he was younger. I mean, nowadays he is doing TV and billboard adverts with his shirt off and… it’s just difficult to take him seriously. Now? It’s a bit easier.

🎻♫♪ – The Isle of the Dead by Sergei Rachmaninov

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 20/501Title: The Isle of the Dead
Composer: Sergei Rachmaninov
Nationality: Russian
Year:
 1909

Now, here we have a piece that is so far and away from The Western Wynde Mass that it’s hard to think of them being in the same category together. I guess that speaks to the breath of classical music as a genre.

Where most of what I have written about so far is based on some aspect of religion, The Isle of the Dead is actually inspired by a black and white photograph of the painting of the same name. Apparently Rachmaninov was disappointed when he later saw a colour version of the painting as it didn’t quite fit the music he’d created.

For the first time in this list I have come across a tone poem – a classical piece that musically tells a short story. In the case of The Isle of the Dead it tells the story of the journey to the titular island.

The entire piece feels mysterious and almost macabre. Seeing how the destination of the piece is the Isle of the Dead it makes total sense that there is a grand and almost maudlin feel to it. Most of the time Rachmaninov uses the music to feel of rowing and breathing through an almost regular rhythm. It remains because most of the piece is spent actually getting to the island.

Nearer the end of the piece it swells and grows into something more euphoric, which is a bit odd considering what the piece is called. Then again the picture is partially based on a good looking Greek island, and who wouldn’t be euphoric at reaching a gorgeous destination after a long time rowing. I have seen some interpretations that paint this as an escape, but I like the idea of it being a sense of relief after a period of toil and/or dread.

It was nice to listen to something different again. I guess next time it’s back to some motets.

🎻♫♪ – The Western Wynde Mass by John Taverner

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 19/501Title: The Western Wynde Mass
Composer: John Taverner
Nationality: English
Year:
 1530s

It didn’t take too long until I got to the first (chronological) English composer on this list. Whilst it does opens up the world of classical music a little bit more, we are still very much in Western Europe. In fact, you have to get a fair bit into the list before you venture into Eastern Europe and then a lot further for pieces from outside of Europe.

For the moment, being the 1530s, classical music is still synonymous with choirs and chanting. It is based around a single verse in Middle English that reads:

‘Westron wynde, when wilt thou blow,
The small raine down can raine.
Cryst, if my love were in my armes
And I in my bedde again!’

The entire classical piece is a mass written around this, which is impressive when you consider that the piece is between 23-29 minutes long (depending on the rendition). When compared to some of the other earlier pieces I have listened to from this list it doesn’t feel that a lot has moved on in 400 years. I guess this is why the list has been able to some up 3-4 centuries of classical music within 10 entries.

I find myself wondering how much will have moved on until I get to the 24th entry, the first classical piece in the book where the title features the main instrument. Okay, so it’s a lute, but at least it shows that there will be some more instruments entering the fold of classical music very soon.

Acclaimed Albums – Natty Dread by Bob Marley & The Wailers

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 130/250Title: Natty Dread
Artist: Bob Marley & the Wailers
Year: 1974
Position: #165

Previously on this blog, some 9 months ago, I listened to my first Bob Marley album: Catch A FireI left this album feeling as if I walked in with a pre-conceived notion of what reggae and it was pretty much validated. Did this change after listening to Natty Dread?

No. No, not really. I mean the sound of the music has moved on a bit. I wouldn’t go as far to say it has matured (mainly because I am not sure what matured reggae sounds like), but it there appears to be more of a blues influence in the songs.

Also, I could actually pick songs apart from one another; something I had serious trouble with when listening to Catch A Fire. Thanks to this I think I understand how ‘No Woman No Cry’ became the better known Bob Marley song.

I first came across this song during an ill-fated game of Singstar where the idea of having ‘cornmeal porridge’ amongst the lyrics felt completely alien to me. Now that I am older, and not trying to sing this song to gain maximum points, I think I can better appreciate it.

However, I still find myself in the position where I am left utterly cold by a genre and cannot see a reason for re-playing this album. I know this album further develops the political side of Bob Marley and some people go absolutely mad for his music. Just not me.