Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – Different Class by Pulp

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 193/250Title: Different Class
Artist: Pulp
Year: 1995
Position: #119

It really is a relief to have crossed off so many albums from the 1970s that, statistically, the 1990s are available for listening once again. Since I’ve already done albums by Blur and Oasis, it made sense for me to finish off the list’s Britpop trinity. It would be a big 4 normally, but none of Suede’s albums are in the Top 250.

Like all Brits born in the late 1980s, I remember Pulp’s ‘Common People’ being absolutely everywhere in the mid-1990s. Hell, I remember dancing at this when I went to university a decade ago and I tried to fit in by going to the local clubs. It’s one of those songs that has just endured and still sounds anthemic some 24 years later.

So here I am actually listening to a Pulp album for the first time and I absolutely love it. It might actually be the best of the Britpop albums that I have ever heard. For one thing, the songs on this album don’t feel the need to impress or be cool. They are poppy, they are arty, they are good to dance to and the topics are surprisingly subversive at times.

It’s difficult to go against the conventional wisdom that ‘Common People’ is the highlight of the album. This song about a rich person wanting to act like a tourist and see how the majority live is full of Cocker’s acerbic wit whilst also being incredible to dance to. It’s also really worth singling out ‘Disco 2000’, which is one of those great dancing with tears in your eyes kind of song that Cocker wrote about his best friend. I also really appreciate the voyeurism of ‘I Spy’ and however you would describe ‘F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E’.

Different Class is one of those rare albums that has managed to age extremely well and yet remains the pinnacle of now extinct genre of music. I’m going to be sticking around in the 1990s for my next album, but I cannot help but think it’ll have a hard time living up to this one.

Acclaimed Albums – Raising Hell by Run-D.M.C.

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 192/250Title: Raising Hell
Artist: Run-D.M.C.
Year: 1986
Position: #229

For the last 3-4 months, all of my non-classical music posts have involved me to listening to albums and songs from the 1970s. To shake things up a little bit, I figured I would look at the lower reaches of the Top 250 to find something a little bit different. So here I am, listening to an album for two key reasons: it isn’t from the 1970s and it features the theme song from one of my favourite video games of all time.

It sounds a bit sad, I know, but there really was a rush the moment ‘It’s Tricky’ came on. In total, I must have played SSX Tricky for days when I was a young teen; so to hear the song in it’s original form was really cool. It also helped that the remainder of this album’s first half was really good. ‘Peter Piper’ was a great opener showcasing a more rocky side to early hip-hop and then there’s the ‘Walk This Way’ duet with Aerosmith which helped to produce one of rap’s first crossover hits.

Things started to deteriorate, for me, in the latter half of the album where the rock began to subside and it became more focused on the rap and hip-hop aspects. I hit a bit of a wall when ‘You Be Illin’ and ‘Dumb Girl’ were playing, but it recovered with the closer. So where do I stand with Raising Hell? There are some really good songs on here (more than I expected to enjoy given my history on this list with rap and hip-hop) and in the light of what is to come in a few years with Public Enemy, I really enjoyed having a more rock sound to it. Something that I think I am going to miss when I start covering rap albums from the 1990s.

Still though, it was nice to come up for air from the 1970s and see just how much I have been neglecting more recently released albums. I think I finally have some license to mix up the eras a bit more, which is going to make is a lot easier to grab things to listen to on the fly.

🎻♫♪ – Madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
66/501Title: Madrigals
Composer: Claudio Monteverdi
Nationality: Italian

Over the course of his life, Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi wrote 9 whole books of madrigals (a madrigal essentially being the secular version of a motet). For the purpose of this list, the book stipulates a recording that showcases the books seven and eight of this extensive collection. The reason being that these are peak of his work and where he was able to break with tradition and begin to innovate this genre of classical vocal music.

From the beginnings of the first recorded madrigal, it’s clear that things have really started moving on in this early section of the classical list. I mean, sure, as this is in Italian I have no idea what’s being said – but from the way that the polyphonics are crafted it no longer feels religious.

Whilst this does feel just that bit closer to a more modern style, this is still a long way from something that I could listen to for pleasure… or can listen to without it being too much of a distraction. Honestly, I really do not think that all these complex polyphonic pieces are really for me. However, I can appreciate how much of a step forward this is – so I guess this list is widening my perspective in some way.

Acclaimed Albums – The Man-Machine by Kraftwerk

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 191/250Title: Die Mensch Maschine/The Man Machine
Artist: Kraftwerk
Year: 1978
Position: #237

So today was a bit of a cool day at work. I am currently learning a new computer language and I managed to complete my first proper project a few weeks ahead of schedule.

I only mention this, because The Man Machine was the album playing when I was doing the bulk of the final work and the first track (‘The Robots’) was the song going through my head during the walk around the office that lead to my final epiphany. If the track ‘Movies’ by Weyes Blood has become the anthem of my getting a permanent position in a job I love, The Man Machine might well be the album that I now associate with one of my big coding breakthroughs. Weirdly apt seeing how Kraftwerk’s music always has that tinge of man and machine combined.

Now, it isn’t just just because of this epiphany that I say this (although it will help with some retrospective rose-tinted glasses), but this albums is really good. I really liked their other entry on the list (Trans-Europe Express) and this is the step-up that I both hoping for and got in spades.

For Trans-Europe Express I enjoyed the minimalism and got to listen to the beginnings of one of my favourite genres of music. It was also weird to hear because somehow it managed to sound very current – something which I have found again with The Man Machine.

Listening to The Man-Machine has only galvanised my respect for Kraftwerk all the more and has properly demonstrated to me just how they could be considered one of the most influential groups of all time. Some have said that they are second only to The Beatles… and I can’t say I disagree when you consider how wide their music has reached.

With The Man Machine they took what made Trans-Europe Express a landmark album and turned it into something you could actually dance to. Tracks like ‘Spacelab’ and ‘The Model’ feel like watershed moments where this was no longer just electronic music, but electropop. It’s a chilled, swaying sort of danceable electropop mind you. Still though, this is pretty major.

1001 Songs – 1976: Part One

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

(Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Blue Öyster Cult

Starting the year off with one of the most recognisable riffs in rock history. Given the harder (and punk) rock that I’m going to be hearing in the coming years of the 1001 songs list, it is so gratifying to know that the spirit of late 1960s psychedelic rock is alive. Not just alive but, like a Pokémon, has managed to evolve with the harder rock to produce something so brilliant as this.

I know that the rest of the parent album is not like this and is, in fact, a lot harder – but sometimes it’s good to reach back to the past and get in touch with your roots. Man, I really liked this song.

More Than a Feeling – Boston

Time for some old-school dad rock that’s a favourite at many a karaoke bar when the Dutch courage has set in. It’s really one of those archetypal examples of classic 1970s hard rock. It’s an overly dramatic rock power-ballad with a great chorus to sing-a-long to with accompanying air guitar. The ordering of the book to have this after ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ makes for an interesting contrast in the paths rock has taken and the audiences they satisfy.

This is very much mass appeal, but it works for the song and it is easy to understand how it became so popular.

Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder

So many songs are written to honour those who inspired us once they have passed on, ‘Sir Duke’ by Stevie Wonder is probably one of the best examples out there. ‘Sir Duke’, written in memory of jazz musician Duke Ellington is a brilliant bop where Stevie Wonder pays tribute not just to Ellington but other people like Count Basie who inspired Stevie Wonder along his musical journey.

It’s songs like this where I really find it difficult to get an angle on whether it’s funk or soul. At this point, an artist like Stevie Wonder can just bring the together and make something brilliant like this. I really need to listen to Songs in the Key of Life.

The Killing of Georgie (Parts 1 & 2) – Rod Stewart

Okay, so this song hits hard. I’ve never heard of ‘The Killing of Georgie’, but it feels like something really important that the LGBT community of my generation should have heard of. I mean, a 6 minute long song about the life of a gay man who was kicked out by his homophobic father, moves to New York, finds love and it then stabbed to death by a street gang (which is also based on someone he knew)? This is brutal and I am so ashamed to be a gay man and not have heard of this song.

Writing and releasing a song like this in 1976 as a single feels like such a risk for Rod Stewart to make… and somehow it reached number two in the UK singles chart. I have to say, that I’ve gained a bunch of respect for Rod Stewart thanks to these lists. I may not think this was the best song, but at least I know it exists now.

Dancing Queen – Abba

Now for a perfect palate cleanser with a song that actually has been widely brought into the gay culture. I mean, what is there to say about ‘Dancing Queen’ that hasn’t been said millions of times before? I love ABBA to the point of visiting their museum in Stockholm and no matter how much I hear their music, ‘Dancing Queen’ included, I never get tired of it.

This is the beginnings of pop as we now know it, rather than ‘popular music’ like The Beatles. There are extreme disco influences here blended with Euro-pop to make an anthem for the love of dancing and having a good time. Sure it’s wholesome and very feel good, but this is a perfectly crafted pop song. End of.

Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones

I don’t know how many times I have referenced the Ramones debut album in other posts about proto-punk, punk or post-punk albums. For years this has been my favourite album of the punk genre and finally I have reached the iconic ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ as part of the songs list.

Listening to this again in isolation from the rest of the album, and having recently listened to Raw Power and Entertainment! I realize the reason I love this song so much – it’s feel good pop-punk in a time where pop-punk wasn’t yet a thing. Probably explains why I like this the most, given my pop leanings.

Love Hangover – Diana Ross

So, this feels like a structured traditional Diana Ross ballad in the beginning half only to shift into an elongated disco break full of her improvising. I was really hoping this song was set for disco lift off and foreshadow Donna Summer’s epic 1977 song ‘I Feel Love’. But no, instead it’s just a lot of the same and I cannot imagine what it would be like to listen to the 12 minute version.

Cokane in My Brain – Dillinger

No. Just no. I don’t know if a song is meant to inspire fits of giggles, but I’m not entirely sure how else to approach this. It feels like someone transcribed the ramblings of a patient in a mental hospital as he talked to himself and then put it to music and sang it with as flat an affect as possible. No wonder I never listened to the reggae music station in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Christ.

Police and Thieves – Junior Murvin

And here we have another reggae song in a row. The topic of turf wars in Jamaica is interesting, but the music was so distorted and the falsetto vocals so unsettling that it was difficult to discern what the song was about. At this point I don’t know what to say about reggae that I haven’t said before – the constant repetition of all the musical elements just makes it boring.

Still though – why oh why couldn’t this be the cover that The Clash did for their debut album instead of this.

(I’m) Stranded – The Saints

Wow, I hadn’t quite realised how far-reaching the punk movement was in the beginning. Here we are with the Australian band The Saints releasing their first punk single before the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash. To be fair, it only pre-dates ‘Anarchy in the UK’ by just over a month but it’s interesting to note.

Unlike ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, this song does have some anger running through it. Interestingly though it’s an anger about being isolated rather than anger at the establishment, which will coming up a lot in future punk songs on this list. As the 1976 songs draw to a close, all the key pure punk players will have emerged with 1977 marking the beginning of post-punk. Makes a bit of a mockery of the whole genre thing, doesn’t it.

Progress: 434/1021

Acclaimed Albums – Raw Power by The Stooges

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 190/250Title: Raw Power
Artist: The Stooges
Year: 1973
Position: #99

In a previous post for the 1001 songs list, I made a comment about the opening track of this album was a bit straightforward and left it at that. Now I’ve listened to Raw Power a few times and listened to the track in relation to the rest of the album – I stand by it a bit, whilst also realizing that I lost the point a bit.

Here we are in 1973 and we’re still very much in the proto-punk period, where in a few years we will be firmly in the throes of punk… which gives way a few years later to the beginnings of post-punk (as I saw from the last album I did for this list). I mention this historical context mainly because Raw Power just didn’t hit me as hard as their previous album (Fun House) did.

It’s interesting to see how the sound of the Stooges developed between their first three albums. The change between The Stooges and Fun House was one of energy and impact whereas the change between Fun House and Raw Power is one of sophistication. The tracks don’t hit as hard, but there’s no doubt that they are better constructed and better produced – which is a fundamental towards a proper punk album like Horses.

Still, after having my head turned by Fun House, I can’t help but have been slightly disappointed by this album. Don’t get me wrong, Raw Power is still good – but with track names like ‘Penetration’, ‘Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell’ and the titular ‘Raw Power’ I cannot help but wonder how this would have sounded if it had been recorded post-punk and therefore had more of a kick behind it.

🎻♫♪ – I Was Glad by Hubert Parry

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
65/501Title: I Was Glad
Composer: Hubert Parry
Nationality: English

A nice short one from the classical list with an interesting history attached to it. I Was Glad is a piece that has been traditionally performed at the coronation of British kings ever since Charles I back in 1626. Since then this Anglican piece has been re-arranged a number of times, which leads to Hubert Parry’s version from 1902. This was done for the coronation of King Edward VII, where it was played twice as director music misjudged the timings and the king had yet to enter the hall.

As pieces from this list go it is rather short at little under 6 minutes and is not too complex. The organ is grand, the choral section is based on a psalm and the overall effect is nice enough, but short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s really interesting to see a more modern version of this religious music and see how, in some ways, things have moved on since the beginnings of the 1001 list and how things have remained the same.

🎻♫♪ – Eine Alpensinfonie by Richard Strauss

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
64/501Title: Eine Alpensinfonie
Composer: Richard Strauss
Nationality: German

I can’t quite believe that this is the first time I’ve grabbed something from the classical list since I was in Paris two months ago. Confusingly, this is another Strauss piece – just by the German Richard Strauss who is of no relation to the Viennese Johann Strauss II. All these composers get confusing at the best of times, let alone when you have two in the same time period who have the same last name.

Eine Alpensinfonie is another example of a tone poem (or symphonic poem, depending on whose terminology you follow) which, over the course of 50 minutes and a number of phases, takes you on a day long journey in the Alps. This journey is much more varied and eventful when compared to my hikes around the Black Forest.

The size of the orchestra required to do this piece justice is immense – then again so are the swings in the mood of the piece. It’s like the orchestra equivalent of that thing where you need to pack double the clothes if you have no idea what the weather will be like on holiday. You need the thunder-board for the storm scenes and then you have to have a number of different bells for the pastoral sections in order to evoke delightful alpine cows.

It’s pieces like this, which treats the story as one long movement rather than being a song cycle containing clear divisions, that make me enjoy a good tone poem. It tells an interesting (and mostly intelligible) story where you can easily lose yourself. I know that I should be doing these classical pieces more often, so now that I have job security I’m hoping to start crossing these off more readily.

Acclaimed Albums – Entertainment! by Gang of Four

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 189/250Title: Entertainment!
Artist: Gang of Four
Year: 1979
Position: #164

It didn’t take that long between the release of punk rock’s seminal albums and the beginning of post-punk. After all, post-punk is the natural evolution of the punk rock genre seeing how it takes the stripped back nature of punk and begins to infuse it with elements of other genres.

What’s kinda cool about listening to Entertainment! is that it would be to post-punk that Ramones was for punk back just three years earlier. Not only was it really well regarded by critics at the time, but is has become very influential on the other post-punk acts that followed. It’s a bit of a shame therefore, that unlike Unknown Pleasures, another seminal post-punk album released in 1979, Entertainment! just didn’t live up to it’s name for me.

It makes sense that, being one of the first big post-punk albums, Entertainment! would still have a lot of punk rock in its DNA. Not in the Modern Lovers kind of way either, more like something that I have heard done a number of times before and done better. This is just one of those issues of doing a list that requires you to look back at originators – things that sounded fresh back then have the tendency to feel cliched now.

Maybe my next album will make a bigger impact on me. Honestly, I listened to this three times today and I just didn’t come away with it with any real idea of what made this album particularly interesting. Still, looks like I’m slowly getting back on track with the albums list and, hopefully, with the coming bank holiday I’ll get the time to dive further back into the songs list and get further into the 1001 TV show that I picked out the magical bucket.

Acclaimed Albums – Hotel California by Eagles

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 188/250Title: Hotel California
Artist: Eagles
Year: 1976
Position: #113

Right, so the idea of my doing an album a week to get to the end of this list by the time it is Christmas 2019 has kinda fallen by the wayside. I mean, it’s been two months since I did the last album and with 33 weeks until the end of the year (and 62 albums), it’s unlikely that I’ll achieve that goal. Possible, but unlikely.

I’ve had a few false starts on the road to listening to Hotel California in the last few months. There were times that I would get stuck on the first track and repeat it a few times before giving up, then there were the times where I thought I had time to listen at work and then had a pile of coding work land on me. Anyway, I finally found the time and the headspace to listen to this… and to be honest it felt pretty average.

There’s no doubt that the title track is brilliant. Or maybe I just find it brilliant because it’s so famous that I’ve heard it a number or times? Nah, it’s just a great song that feels mysterious. I guess that, after listening to ‘Hotel California’, the rest of the album just felt like a bit of a let down. Like they were reaching for something meaningful and they never quite got there.

Sadly this wasn’t the best album to break my long stretch in the desert, but at least it’s one of the more iconic ones.  Also, I’m getting this listen in before the title track turns up as part of the 1001 songs… so there’s also that.