Category Archives: Music

Acclaimed Albums – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 157/250Title: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Artist: Lauryn Hill
Year: 1998
Position: #124

I have been meaning to listen to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill for a few weeks now, but it never seemed like a suitable album to listen to whilst coding. Also, with the exception of Erykah Badu, I am not exactly au fait with neo soul as a genre – so I wanted to make sure that I was able to pay adequate attention to this album.

The thing is… I found it a bit too long.  Now I know it’s a bit rich to have an issue with this album because of length, especially when I have really enjoyed albums that are around the same length, but 16 songs over 70 minutes is a bit long. Maybe it would have helped if I had just stuck with the 14 tracks and not bothered with the hidden tracks. It would have spared me from hearing the rather uninspiring cover of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’.. but then again these hidden tracks from the main album, so it has to be done.

I feel like I am being really harsh on this album. I mean sure, around the 12-13 song mark I kept checking my iPod to see how close I was to the end because I wanted to start listening to something different (in this case, another listen of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae), but it isn’t all bad.

Truly there are flashes of brilliance on this album. For the first 6-7 tracks (which includes the excellent ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ and ‘Ex-Factor’) I really thought that this would be an album that I would end up gushing about. However, it just started to run out of steam – at least for me.

I’m clearly in the minority here considering it’s high position on this list and it’s Album of the Year win at the Grammys.  The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill has a well-deserved place in history because of it’s landmark status for the neo soul and hip hop genres. It’s just that I wish it was more of the former and less of the latter.

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Acclaimed Albums – Who’s Next by The Who

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 156/250Title: Who’s Next
Artist: The Who
Year: 1971
Position: #32

When I first started this blog back in March 2014 I had pretty much written off The Who (and pretty much any of the bands from the 1960s) as a bit sad and not exactly relevant to my own musical taste. I have been proven wrong time and time again, but I don’t think an album has shown just how stupid that line of thinking was as much as Who’s Next.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how much I enjoyed ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, which is the closing track of Who’s Next. I enjoyed how this track was a development on from early Led Zeppelin tracks like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and was the just right amount of hard rock for me to enjoy it, but not too much that it stops being melodic (at least to my non-metal trained ears).

It’s interesting to note how Who’s Next was the result of a failed attempt to produce a new rock opera – which would have been their second after the very successful TommyMuch like The Beach Boys’ Smile, this failed rock opera resulted in a number of songs for future albums by The Who.

My favourite, and likely one of the most famous, is Who’s Next‘s opening track: ‘Baba O’Riley’. What’s amazing about this opening is that synthesizer in the background. This is a song from 1971 and it features such a dominant use of an instrument that wouldn’t come into its own for another decade. In ‘Baba O’Riley’ I can also hear a bunch of other rock songs – most notably ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ – which means that I have not been able to get parts of it out of my head for the last two days.

Whilst the rest of Who’s Next is still a great album it is really dominated by the tracks that bookend it. The more I do these albums, the more I find out how it makes sense that certain tracks became known as the famous ones –  that doesn’t detract from the experience of the whole, just makes it that much harder to get to the second track.

Acclaimed Albums – Thriller by Michael Jackson

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 155/250Title: Thriller
Artist: Michael Jackson
Year: 1982
Position: #25

Thriller is one of those albums where I’ve probably heard all the tracks separately, just not necessarily all at once and in order. I mean, this is an album where seven of the nine tracks were released as singles (which is insane when you think about it) and most of those singles were incredibly successful. An album whose middle three tracks are ‘Beat It’, ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Thriller’ really deserves it’s high placement in the list… right?

I think that the big thing that I have learned from this albums list, and music listening in general, is that it is a rare thing to have a great album without a few skippable tracks on it. For me, there are two of these on Thriller: the final track and the terrible third track ‘The Girl Is Mine’. There is something so mesmerising in such strange track as the latter one, which is a duet between Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. It manages to just about  skirt around cringe until the poorly acted spoken exchange at the end. Seriously I do not know what they were thinking.

And then you get to the middle three, which may be one of the largest contrasts in quality that I have ever encountered on an album. How do you go immediately from ‘The Girl Is Mine’ into ‘Thriller’? It boggles the mind somewhat, but I guess that couldn’t exclude a single from the album, especially one that featured a former Beatle.

Then again, there’s the rest of the album which is great example of how a lot of eighties pop borrowed from disco and funk (just like Prince did with 1999 and Purple Rain). It’s also really interesting to see how Jackson’s sound matured from Off The Wall and I just mean in his voice which is transitioning towards a rockier sound.

I’m glad I finally got around to listening to this. Probably worth my time finishing off the Top 25 so I can see which albums Thriller counts as neighbours.

Acclaimed Albums – Entroducing….. by DJ Shadow

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 154/250Title: Entroducing…..
Artist: DJ Shadow
Year: 1996
Position: #76

Yes, yes, I know I should be listening to the older albums on this list in order to keep up with my progress (or lack there of) in the 1001 songs list. However, I have really been in the need of instrumental music at my job – so this album sounded like the perfect thing to listen to.

Entroducing….. has the distinction of being the first album to be created entirely out of samples. It’s an album that has been undeniably influential in how sampling is done and how beats can be constructed on a small scale. Yet this is one of the few albums (and artists) that, upon starting this list, I had never heard off.

Extensive sampling is so commonplace now that it’s really cool to know that a flash point, like Entroducing….., actually exists. So often you had albums, like Blue Lines, where sampling was interposed with original content, but this really is a singular vision.

The most impressive thing about Entroducing….., however, is the variety. This is describes as an instrumental hip-hop album; yet there are elements of ambient, trip-hop, electronica, glitch, shoegaze and noise pop. Rather than this being a series of tracks mixed into each other, you find yourself standing on constantly shifting ground.

You have tracks that are moody (Mutual Slump) and chilled (Changeling and Midnight In A Perfect World) but then there are those which betray the hip hop roots really well (The Number Song). Yet everything here does feel united by some degree of signature commonality that is incredibly engaging.

In some ways the samplings used earmark this as an album that comes from the 1990s. However, there are also times where I would have believed that this had been released this year and was influenced by the works of Panda Bear and Jamie xx. It’s albums like this that make me happy to be doing the lists; something completely unknown that I have truly enjoyed.

🎻♫♪ – The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 34/501Title: The Firebird
Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
 1910

As I was cooking my Russian Easter food we decided to go a bit further. We had a side table with a disassembled Russian doll and, as I was prepping the Kulebiaka for the oven, we put on some Russian music – which meant listening to The Rite of Spring and The Firebird. Of course a lot of this was covered by kitchen noises, so I listened to a different rendition of it from YouTube where you see the conductor get more and more dishevelled at the piece progresses.

When first listening to The Firebird I didn’t know it was by Stravinsky (just as a note, I wasn’t the one who put it on, I was just told this was Russian classical music), so I am very proud of myself for recognising that this piece has a frenetic kinship with The Rite of Spring. I know it’s a small thing, but me being able to link these pieces together by the sound of them really shows that this 1001 list is starting to educate me.

This is another piece of music that I have listened to for the list that originated as a ballet. As a piece, it tells the Russian folk tale of The Firebird (for a good re-telling of this, I would recommend the Myths and Legends podcast episode); something that is lost when just listening to it.

Still, The Firebird is notable for being the piece that brought Stravinsky to wider attention and helped him to become viewed as one of the (then) new generation of Russian composers. It will be interesting to see how he will develop from here and after The Rite of Spring whereupon he became more independent and delved into Neoclassicism… but I probably won’t get there for a long time.

1001 Songs – 1971: Part Three

Tired of Being Alone – Al Green

Having spent the last few months listening to modern music or classical music, it’s weird to be back in the songs list where this type of soul music is on the menu. This is very much not Kacey Musgraves or tune-yards.

I know we have some Marvin Gaye coming up to finish 1971 out and that is going to be a more edged soul that I would expect from the 1970s. This feels like a song that belongs in the 1960s and is very much something I can imagine on one of those bargain bin Valentine’s Day compilations.

Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

Right, so THIS is what I am expecting from a song from 1971. This is a year where we haven’t quite reached metal, punk or the hard rock that we know nowadays, but this is a light on the path towards it.

The old psychedelic are still there with the organ in the background, but this isn’t just any organ – it’s a sythesised organ. So here we have an 8 and a half minute long song with thrashing guitars, a synthesiser and a heavy metal scream.

It’s songs like these that make me happy to be back doing the songs list.

Vincent – Don McLean

‘Vincent’ is on this list, but ‘American Pie’ is not. Let’s let that sink in for a little bit and move on. I mean, I have always preferred ‘Vincent’ as a song but that isn’t the popular opinion.

As the title suggests, ‘Vincent’ is a folk song about the end of Vincent Van Gogh’s live. It manages to be a beautiful tribute to a troubled man whilst not delving into being overly sentimental. It does this with a sparse arrangement, which makes an interesting use of the marimba.

It’s clear that, in writing this, Don McLean is influenced by Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel. However, we have a bit of world music seeping in through that marimba, which moves it forward.

City of New Orleans – Steve Goodman

In Ireland you have Don McLean creating a thing of folk-beauty in ‘Vincent’, on the other side of the Atlantic you have ‘City of New Orleans’ for folk music.

To call this traditional would be an understatement, but it’s meant to be. This song was made to harken back as it highlights the disappearing rail services across America, which was starting to affect people living in rural areas.

An interesting history, but not really a song for me.

Peace Train – Cat Stevens

Talkin’ of trains and songs that we inspired by a train journey. We have the images of trains being evoked for an anti-war song. It’s worth remembering that, in 1971, we are still 4 years away from the Vietnam War from ending.

It’s a nice message, but it feels a bit limp. Maybe, because of how it sounds compared to the likes of ‘Ohio’ and ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, it just feels a bit complacent and lacking in urgency. I mean it’s nice to know about the Peace Train, but I’m not convinced by this song to buy a ticket.

Superstar – The Carpenters

Okay, now here’s a song I absolutely adore. The Carpenters have always had a reputation for being a bit twee at times, but there is no denying how fantastic the production and instrumental arrangements are on this song. Same goes for the always faultless and crystal-like vocals of Karen Carpenter, which are all from the first take.

There is an underlying darkess to this song that her vocals pierce through, which makes this a dark pop song unlike anything we have yet heard on this list. It’s a song that you can see being in the back of ABBA’s minds as they later created their darker tracks like ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’.

A Nickel and a Nail – O.V. Wright

O.V. Wright really had a fantastic set of pipes. We’re in a blues-style soul song, where his gospel roots are showing. It’s just a pity that the recording equipment is having trouble capturing the full range of his vocals as he really starts belting.

I could probably do without all the funk-style horns and, instead, up the ante on the bass guitar and the backing vocals. I know this isn’t in the style of Southern soul to do so, but I would have been interested to hear this sung as a straight blues recording.

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye

We’re finally finishing 1971! Man, it’s taken months and we’re ending with one of the greats and with a song that still feels relevant to this day.

This is a song about black pain, anger and protest that chooses to speak through it’s lyrics and a low hum of a then-modern take on blues backing. Later on, songs like this would become grouped under the name of ‘quiet storm’, but because of the politcal nature of this song – ‘Inner City Blues’ would just about be inelegible for this classification.

Listening to this, I do wonder about how much more music we would have gotten out of Marvin Gaye if he had not been murder by his father. How would he react to the politics of his country right now. Guess we’ll never know.

Progress: 344/1021

🎻♫♪ – Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 33/501Title: Symphony No. 6
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Nationality: German
Year:
 1808

Well, I did say that I was going to try and cross off all the Fantasia pieces before progressing further in the 1001 Classical Works list – so today’s post will be awash with multi-coloured pegasi and centaurs depicting racial stereotypes.

Symphony No. 6 has the secondary title of the Pastoral Symphony as it is meant to evoke thoughts of the goings on in the countryside. Each movement (of the five in total) is written to depict events; unusual for Beethoven who worked more melodically and abstractly.

If you have seen Fantasia you’ll know exactly the images that Beethoven tried to create, but even without the help of Disney there is a lot you could get when given the secondary title. The fact that the first three lead into a grand party celebrating the great outdoors (I imagined it as a celebration of the first blossom as a signifier of the end of winter) is showcased by the jubilance of the woodwinds and brass section.

It’s the fourth section, which depicts a thunderstorm, where I fell back into the Disney images. The infant pegasus being tossed about by the wind and the unicorn foal trapped by the rising river were images too strong to be ignored (probably because I used to find them upsetting). Even with those images in mind it’s hard to deny the power of the timpani in it’s role of the striking lightning (all the more powerful as this is the only movement featuring percussion).

Did I get more out of this listen because this is a piece I knew and could focus on more minute details? Maybe, but that doesn’t stop this being an interesting, enjoyable and worthy piece of classical music. There’s still a lot more Fantasia to go, so let’s see which way I go next time.

🎻♫♪ – The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 32/501Title: The Nutcracker
Composer: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Nationality: Russian
Year:
 1892

There are times where the only thing that helps me concentrate at work is some classical music (or ambient music like Digital Rain by Johnny Jewel). I have pretty much done Chopin’s Etudes and Beethoven’s Kreutzer to death by this point so, for whatever reason, I decided to pop on The Nutcracker.

Despite only writing three ballets, it is hard to deny that Tchaikovsky didn’t write three classics. With The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty (which I’m actually seeing in a few months) to his name, it makes me wonder why he didn’t write more of them. He obviously has an incredible talent for them and having listened to The Nutcracker on Spotify… well I just want to see it live now.

Having read up on the story that the music is written for, I do wonder whether knowing this even matters. In the end, for a ballet like The Nutcracker, it really is a bunch of beautifully composed and choreographed set pieces loosely stuck together with a narrative thread.

I mean, it is easy enough to deduce from the music alone that the second act of the ballet is the more fanciful and far more interesting than the first one. I’m likely not alone in saying that my favourite section of music in this ballet is the Divertissement in the second act – where the different residents of the Kingdom of Sweets dance for the heroine (the Chinese and the Russian dances being my favourites).

Now, I swear that I’ll be done with the Fantasia music soon. It might make sense for me to prioritise it over the rest of the list; just so that I am able to listen to more music with fresh ears and fresh images in my brain. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to have the dancing thistles in my head for the ‘Russian Dance’, but I like to be able to think of my own interpretations rather than remember someone else’s.

At least when I see Sleeping Beauty live I will be able to associate that music with the live ballet more than the animated film. Well, live in hope.

Acclaimed Albums – The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 153/250Title: The Soft Bulletin
Artist: The Flaming Lips
Year: 1999
Position: #111

In all the years that I have been listening to Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots it never really  occurred to me to listen to their previous album. Sure, I tried listening to the excellent follow up (At War With the Mystics), but it wasn’t until a week ago that I turned on The Soft Bulletin at work whilst typing up some handover notes. It actually worked rather well.

Having not listened to Zaireeka, or any other of their older records, I cannot exactly comment on how The Soft Bulletin was a sharp change in direction that ended up being the making of The Flaming Lips. I mean, how a group can go from being mostly guitar-led alternative rock group to something neo-psychedelic and incredibly beautiful is beyond me. Speaks to the creativity of the band.

As a listen, it is hard find another overarching word to describe this album than ‘beautiful’. The arrangements are intricate, the vocals are heartfelt and everything about it just feels lush. I love the lilt in his voice as he sings as well, it’s somewhat unusual and helps to really sell the lyrics.

However, I cannot tell you what any of the songs are about – I just get so swept up in the sounds of the music and vocals that I find it hard to focus on what is being sun. In no way is that a criticism of the lyric writing ability, just my own inability to concentrate.

With The Soft Bulletin I really do have the agency to go back and get better acquainted with The Flaming Lips’ discography. I mean, this is the third album of theirs that I think is absolutely fantastic and there are eleven other albums of theirs for me to give a go to. At least now, thanks to Spotify, I won’t have to source 4 CD players in order to give Zaireeka a go.

🎻♫♪ – Music for the Royal Fireworks by George Frideric Handel (Post #1000!)

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 31/501Title: Music for the Royal Fireworks
Composer: George Frideric Handel
Nationality: German/British
Year:
 1749

Yet another piece of music that, once it started playing, I easily recognised. It really speaks to the power of music that memories of primary school came flooding back to me once the Overture got into full swing. You see, whenever we had school assembly there would be classical music playing on a portable stereo at the front of the room. I bet that I’ll be getting a few more flashes from the past as I go through this list – it’ll be interesting to see what the next piece will be.

The name Music for the Royal Fireworks doesn’t leave much up to interpretation as to the purpose of Handel’s composition. Similarly, the title immediately flags up who send forth the commission. So, when listening to this piece, I tried to imagine how this would pair with fireworks – which means that this would have been more a good piece of background music than something that emulated the fireworks. This makes sense as that would have been a nightmare to sync up.

What makes this very different from the other pieces I have done so far is the amount of brass and woodwind. The version I listened to was the orchestral one that Handel created after the original stringless piece had served its purpose. It doesn’t take away from the strength of the blown instruments by having some of them replaced with strings; the brass and woodwind are still very much the centrepiece.

I know that I’m probably going to have to do a longer piece again soon… maybe an opera? That could be fun if I found a way to listen to one with a crib sheet.


This was a complete coincidence, but music for fireworks does feel rather apt for this landmark. When starting this blog back in March 2014 I, to be completely honest, did not fully expect to have kept it up for a whole year – let alone reach the 1000th post as I have done today.

Compared to the original idea of the blog, where I would be going through a more specific list of things, the scope really has exploded into a huge number of lists that I can only hope will be completable in my life. Still that’s kinda the fun isn’t it.

Thinking back on my headspace when I started this blog, things were incredibly different. It was a few months after my depression diagnosis and I was looking for some sort of meaning (having been in effective life hibernation for 3 years). Boy, am I in a better place now. Sure, I could still afford to physically healthier – but I have a a great marriage, a mortgage, a job I adore and money to follow my travel passion. For the moment life is good, and I’m going to make the best of it that I can.