["Open Mike" (no karaoke) is the often off-topic, anything-goes Editorial page of TOP. It appears on...ohthehellwithit, it appears whenever it appears, I give up. —MJ]
Most of this has surfaced on TOP before, here and there, but repetition never hurts and what's more, repetition never hurts.
Musical tastes...everyone's is different. I was mainly into later '50s jazz for about 10–12 years. Now I’m back to listening to some pop and rock for the emotion, but my tastes are eclectic. I listen to a fair amount of classical but my tastes in that area are pretty circumscribed, basically instrumental music from the Baroque to the late Classical period, favoring smaller-scale over larger. I went through several years in the '80s obsessed with Bach. Almost addicted: if I didn't get a Bach fix every three or four days I started jonesing. Favorite: BWV 1052, which Robert Schumann considered among the greatest of masterpieces. A window to the heavens of great God.
I have a turntable in the family room with a few hundred old albums, including the first one I ever got when I was seven years old, “Something New” by the Beatles, a USA-only packaging, bought new in the Summer of '64. Although I grew up with it I don't really like rock that much, and I don't care much any more for blues, other than roots blues, although I used to. By far my favorite period of rock is '90s grunge. About three times better than the '60s if you ask me, although the '60s were also pretty good.
I have about 14,000 music files* but overall they don’t really reflect my tastes…more my explorations.
It takes an awful lot for a whole record to break through into “favorite” status and it doesn’t happen very often. Some favorite albums that I b'lieve are all from the 2000s:
Post War by M. Ward
Small Town Heroes by Hurray for the Riff-Raff
'Sno Angel Like You by Howe Gelb (of Giant Sand—he hired a gospel choir for the project, and the result is zany but completely enjoyable, to me anyway). Howe Gelb is an isolated and neglected genius.
Continuo by Avishai Cohen (jazz)
The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas by the brilliant Courtney Barnett, a young Australian singer-songwriter. In her natural state she sounds like she's high.
You Had It Coming by Jeff Beck. Soundtrack to my life during an important year. Strange it didn't damage my hearing, except maybe it did. After my GF bailed on me, I was afraid to listen to this again for a long time, but when I finally did it wasn't too bad.
That's enough of that. Nobody works in albums any more.
I listen to a fair amount of pop too but it's like gum, sweet at first chew but pretty soon you want to spit it out. Songs with words are problematic if you ask me, because it adds a whole 'nuther layer the artists have to get right. A lot of musicians suck at lyrics. There's a legend that Paul McCartney's original lyrics for "Yesterday" started with "scrambled eggs," but John and George Martin jumped all over him, insisting the melody was way too good for stupid lyrics. (This is why some people do better work in bands.) Another example: "Seaweed" by the Fruit Bats. Gorgeous melody, instrumentally perfect (the intro of the banjo at 1:23 breaks your heart, just lovely), but the lyrics are so go**amned horribly shi**y it makes me want to wring Eric Johnson's neck every time I hear it. A potentially brilliant gem of a song ruined. If I were rich I'd pay him a lot of money to write new lyrics for it, and I'd hire a guy to stand there next to him and hit him with a stick every time he started drifting off into stupid. (I blame Weezer and "the Sweater Song," which kicked off a brief fad for willfully stupid, trivial lyrics**, as if it were cool...fortunately pretty soon people realized it was just stupid rather than stupid-as-cool.) Lyrics are like color in photographs: a whole extra layer that has to be right or ruination results. /rant
A few recent-ish favorite songs or cuts:
- "Fade Out Lines" by The Avener, a deep house rework of "The Fade Out Line" by Phoebe Killdeer and The Short Straws that was a hit in Europe. (But, again, if you're tempted to listen too hard to the lyrics, best not to.)
- "Eve's Perspective" by Lorine Chia. This might be a lesbian anthem for all I know, although I don't know anything about Lorine. But I've been listening to a fair amount of hip-hop and rap recently and I'm naturally drawn to the slowdrag melodic stuff such as Geto Boys' "Six Feet Deep" which rechannels Marvin Gaye. I'm over this now ("Eve's Perspective," I mean) but the cut had legs for a whole year for me.
- "Destiny" by Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker (Zero 7). Bobby Burnett turned me on to this, and it alone is enough reason for all the people who made it to have been born.
- "Turiya and Ramakrishna" by Alice Coltrane (jazz)
- "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" by Porcupine Tree. A long, dramatic, almost operatic cut, in the style of high-period Pink Floyd. A good example of the importance of primacy in art: if this had come out in the '70s it would have been as famous as Tubular Bells. But despite being completely amazing no one's ever heard of it, or heard it.
- "Gabriel's Mother's Hiway Ballad #16 Blues" by Arlo Guthrie. A stone folk classic, but I just discovered it last year, waiting in the line at the car wash. Whatever's old is new the first time you hear it.
My two favorite musicians, in any genre, are Coleman Hawkins and Hank Jones. (Both have huge discographies. To sample, try the Hawk's Here and Now, an Impulse disc from '62 which has both "Quintessence" and "Apache Love Song." If you have Amazon Prime you can stream it for free on Amazon; otherwise better get it on iTunes, as it's pretty thoroughly out of print. For Hank, try any Great Jazz Trio record or one of my faves, "Bluesette." I love Mr. Hank, he is a paragon of taste and modesty and chops that never stop. R.I.P.
Finally, a few amazing videos everybody should see:
- Tash Sultana, "Jungle," (bedroom recording). New discovery to me, compliments of a woman I don't know named Isabella.
- Marquese Scott used a spell of homelessness, living on the street, to work on his urban dancing, and this vid earned him an apartment and a BMW. Or so I heard, and I like the story so I'm not fact-checking it. The music is a Dubstep version of the controversial "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People from 2010.
- Imogen Heap's virtuoso one-woman "Just for Now" is a must-view.
- Ibeyi's "The River" is simple but stunning, very creative, and I love the song.
- If you're into dance compilations, there's a great one of Christopher Walken (who dances in just about every movie he does), and a film preservationist did a mashup of dance clips from old movies set to "Uptown Funk" that's pretty wonderful
- Finally, compare this one and this one. Threads, it's all threads.
Obviously this conversation could continue. Music is a consumable as far as I'm concerned. I need fresh, and it's a constant exploration, a constant search. It's possible for someone to love music and not like a single thing I've mentioned in this post. An ocean, fortunately, and you can't drink up it all. Suits me.
(Thanks to M.D.)
* I'm sorry, but nothing by Leonard Nimoy.
** The prototype is Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" from 1968—even Webb himself was put off by its bloated, bombastic, over-the-top arrangement violently yoked to dopey, meaningless lyrics. Wikipedia tells us that comedian Dave Barry nominated it as the worst song ever written. Listen to the original Richard Harris version for the full-on treacle of the arrangement. One hopes its great popularity had mostly to do with audiences' appreciation of its campiness....
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Featured Comments from:
Wolfgang Lonien: "What a coincidence that you bring up music. I used to be a bass player when I was young (almost like in another life), but lately—short before my 61st—I've begun online jamming again—and 'published' an album. Listen to it here if you like. And honest critique is welcome, tho please keep in mind that this is a) only some jammin', and b) I'm missing some 35 years of practice, so I'm like a bl**dy beginner...."
Mike replies: I wonder if I have the right page...it sounds very accomplished to me, not much like jamming. Good on you for getting back to it and getting yourself out there in any case! I'm always impressed by that. I hope my novel will be like that.
Ken: "Your tastes in music, cameras and photography are seemingly (mostly) the opposite of mine. Maybe, for me, that's one part of what makes TOP interesting to read. Better that than an echo chamber."
Mike replies: Yes, that's why it's so important for reviewers to be honest and open about their tastes and prejudices. That way, readers can learn from them even if they don't agree with them.
Speed: "Re: Scrambled eggs. Keen to not forget his magical dream melody, McCartney wrote some temporary lyrics for the song—about scrambled eggs, and named it after the breakfast dish. They went: 'Scrambled eggs, oh, my baby, how I love your legs.' Scrambled Eggs became a running joke between the band for 'months and months' ... 'We almost had it finished when we made up our minds that only a one word title would suit and, believe me, we just couldn’t find the right one. Then, one morning, Paul woke up, and the song and the title were both there. Completed!' See the article here."