Thursday, July 28, 2011

#43 Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd

This band, like Led Zeppelin, tends to get a bad reputation by we non-music snobs mostly because of the people we see wearing "Dark Side of the Moon" t-shirts.  These individuals look more interesting than those I talked about in the Led Zeppelin IV post; but nevertheless, their long stringy puke flecked dreads and the "just raped" look they give off (like models posing for Cosmopolitan Magazine) as they stare into space doesn't usually make me want to go buy a Pink Floyd album.  They tend to be mid-forties, strung out, with the permanent occupation of "looking for work."  No offense to a great friend of mine whose favorite band happens to be Pink Floyd; dood, you are soooo excluded from this category.

Having said that, I found this album very enjoyable.  It is all the things you've heard about it, if you've never listened to it before.  It's "weird."  "You might like it better if you weren't sober."  etc. but what I thought was so excellent about this album is for the first time since I began this project I really felt like it mattered that I listened to all the songs in the right order.  I've been very careful to make sure that my iPod is not on shuffle, or the cd isn't on random, just to make sure that I am hearing the album in the order the artists wanted me to.

With Dark Side of the Moon, man, the whole thing is one continuous EPIC song.  I loved it, from start to finish.  I listened to the whole album several times; two times didn't feel like enough to really attempt to comprehend what was going on.  There were so many existential themes like those found in "Time" "Us and Them" and other songs that pointed out illusions and bullshit like in"Money."  Not to mention that "Brain Damage" juxtaposes the sane vs the insane and I got the feeling that insanity is all about who is pointing fingers and who perceives who to be insane.  While at work in a courthouse in the middle of nowhere, with many people I don't know, I kept thinking "the lunatics are in my hall" but maybe that had nothing to do with Pink Floyd.

The album is very deep and in ways that are hard to pin down.  I could listen to the whole thing and miss it or have moments of flash inspiration only to be mistaken that those were my own thoughts carrying me away.  And although they were inspired by the music, I found those thoughts had little to do with the lyrics I was listening to.  Perhaps I was picking up on a general feeling the music instills.  It's an emotion somewhere between disquietude and inspiration.  So anything really, great range katy, jeez.

The music is not generally to my taste; the strange instrumentals, the noises, the sound effects, but after listening to the album over and over, I couldn't get enough.  The more little epiphanies of Camusian absurdity I realized they were talking about the more my respect for this band grew, exponentially.  "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" are so awesome, especially one right after the other, concluding this amazing album that flows from thought to thought through song through song to end in this great crescendo about nothingness.  or absurdity.  or life.  or something less profound.

"I think every album was a step towards Dark Side of the Moon," keyboardist Rick Wright said. "We were learning all the time, the techniques of the recording and our writing was getting better." As a culmination of their inner-space explorations of the early 1970s, the Floyd toured the bulk of Dark Side in Britain for months prior to recording. But in the studio, the band articulated bassist Roger Waters' lyric reveries on the madness of everyday life with melodic precision ("Breathe," "Us and Them") and cinematic lustre (Clare Torry's guest vocal aria "The Great Gig in the Sky"). Dark Side is one of the best-produced rock albums ever, and "Money" may be rock's only Top Twenty hit in 7/8 time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

#194 Transformer - Lou Reed

Drugs and Trannies anyone?  BEST DAY EVER!!

It takes a total badass to sing about trannies and heroin.  It takes an even bigger badass to get David Bowie to produce your solo album about gender-bending and usage after being in one of the greatest bands ever (The Velvet Underground).  Hypothetical Lou Reed smack down: *Oh, and I rubbed shoulders with Andy Warhol and you didn't Frank Sinata.*  Wear it.

But let's get down to business.

The first time I heard a portion of this album I was with my dear friend in Colorado Springs.  "If you like The Velvet Underground," she said, "you're going to love this."  And she turned up the volume in her car and we listened to "Vicious" and "Andy's Chest."  She was totally right.  Lou Reed has made his way into my heart wedged somewhere below Bob Dylan and The Beatles.  So prior to this marathon I only had room for three (noteworthy, 'good') artists and Lou Reed happened to make the cut.

So I cheated, I've heard this album before because I left Colorado and bought it immediately.

Lou Reed is most famous for "Walk on the Wild Side," although the song seems different musically than the rest of the songs on the album.  The beat is so catchy you might find yourself walking around your house with a new found swagger reserved for only the most beautiful drag queens named Jenna Tolls or something much more clever; not being a gay man myself, I lack lexiconal-sexual-cleverness.

"Make Up" is one of my personal favorites because who sings about make up?  Although it has a transgender-twist to it which makes it way cooler than some cover girl commercial- which I originally thought when I first saw the name of the song.

Also, you can't forget the haunting song "Perfect Day," which I vow to learn how to play on the piano.  The song became really popular in the movie, "Transpotting" when sexy Ewan McGregor plays a Scottish junkie trying to kick the habit.  He overdoses and while he's being dropped off at the hospital, "Perfect Day" is creeping you out as the most ideal background music.

I strongly recommend this album for anyone, even those of you who aren't keen on trannies and drugs.

Rolling Stones Peeps:

David Bowie counted the former Velvet Underground leader as a major inspiration — and paid back the debt by producingTransformer. The album had glam flash courtesy of Ziggy Stardust guitarist Mick Ronson as well as Reed's biggest hit, "Walk on the Wild Side" — which brought drag queens and hustlers into the Top Twenty — and the exquisite ballad "Perfect Day." It was Reed's first producer, VU impresario Andy Warhol, who inspired the lead cut when he suggested "Vicious" as a song title. "You know, like, 'Vicious/You hit me with a flower,' " Warhol elaborated. Reed took him at his word, penning the song and cribbing the lines verbatim.

Friday, July 22, 2011

#338 Cheap Thrills - Big Brother and the Holding Company/Janis Joplin

For a white chick, Janis has SOUL.  The whole album will blues you relentlessly.  For the first day I listened to the album I was angry with every person who had the opportunity to expose me to her and failed to do so.  Then I was angry with myself for having never listened to her before.  For the first time I am beginning to regret this blog because I want to go off and buy everything she's ever sung and listen to it non-stop (like I did with Bob Dylan in college) but I can't because I need to get through the list.  When the list is over, Janis will be waiting.  And then I will get to experience all the songs I haven't heard yet with fresh ears like reading one of the Harry Potter books for the first time after waiting a year or longer at 2 am in bed...

I have an anecdote for you though.  I had the music playing very low in the background behind me while I was finishing up something for work, and my fiance came into the room and he began to talk to me.  "Summertime" came on and Joplin's raspy voice began to wail, and my fiance stopped short and said, "Oh God, where are the cats?"

And I said "what?"

And he said "one of them is hurt, you can't hear him?"

Me: "no, I don't know what you're talking about."

Fiance: "Is that Socrates screaming?"

And I said, "Sweetheart, it's Janis Joplin."

I know this isn't a good sell for the album, but TRUST me, she's awesome. "Piece of My Heart" makes you want to scream it outloud and then replay it and then scream it again in the shower, and then replay it and then get mad at yourself because listening to that song while running doesn't allow you the lung capacity to run and scream it at the same time.

And nothing is better than listening to "Summertime" while soaking up the July sun in the backyard.  I'm really going to miss Janis as I move on to other albums.

What the so-called experts have said:

Janis Joplin said, "we're just a sloppy group of street freaks." But these San Francisco acid rockers, one of the first Haight-Ashbury groups, were the most simpatico band she ever had, especially when its raw racket backs her up on "Piece of My Heart," perhaps her greatest recording.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

#315 Surfer Rosa - The Pixies

To be honest, sometimes I had a difficult time resisting the urge to turn off the noise.  Half of the sounds produced by the Pixies I had to keep convincing myself that it was music I was listening to and not an alarm system.

The Pixies seem hard to label.  They have merged so many genres of music into this album that it is hard to have a firm grasp on what "type" of music they produced.  I can hear metal, rock, indie/alternative beats, a dash of jazz, ska, and one or two interludes that try to be funny and fail at humor.  Although this description sounds a lot like The Clash, they really sound nothing like them.

"Where is My Mind" is easily the best song (BY FAR) and the most memorable.  It made me recall the closing scene of "Fight Club" where Edward Norton and the chick who plays Bellatrix LaStrange are watching Project Mayhem in action.  He's got blood seeping out of the two holes in his throat and you're thinking, damn brad pitt and edward norton, one person! Best Day EVER!  And this song fades out the best movie of that decade.  Maybe that totally wasn't the song.  someone correct me if I'm wrong (or don't).  I could look it up or pop in one of the 8 copies of that movie I have laying around.  I'm pretty sure the only music trivia I ever won was claiming it was the Pixies whose song played in the credits.  I remember drunk people screaming "nuh uh, totally Oasis man" "No way dude, 3rd eye blind" and then I sheepishly said, via divine intervention "Twas the pixies.  wear it."  anywho, back to the tunes:

I feel like they made the rest of the album just to release this totally badass song.  And then the director of fight club was like "omfg i have such an easy decision to make.  there is only ONE good song on this album! oh joy!  I choose you."

Kurt Cobain would totally disagree.  Rumor has it, upon my cursory web searchings, that The Pixies deeply influenced him.  So clearly, what do I know?  This band helped make Fight Club and Nirvana?  Score.  Can't say you accomplished that, can you Frank Sinatra, can you?

The Experts (notice they didn't know what to say about the pixies either):

Smack in between hardcore punk and alternative, it was impossible to deconstruct the Pixies' ferocious howl. Their secret weapon was leaping from sweet to screamin' (which Kurt Cobain admitted to boosting): On "Gigantic," Kim Deal sings like Peppermint Patty as the band drives a spike into Eighties rock.

Monday, July 18, 2011

#306 Songs for Swingin Lovers - Frank Sinatra

I don't really have much to say except this album was horribly predictable.  Everyone knows who Frank Sinatra is, even me, so that should tell you how overplayed he's been.

There is no denying that Frank's sonorous voice could moisten the granny-ist of panties but that didn't change how bored I got halfway through the album.

I'm probably being too hard on Frank, but he feels so cliched at this point.  I couldn't help but recall that ridiculous Mel Gibson movie "What Women Want" which was basically an excuse to use product placement every three seconds because the movie took place in an advertising firm.  Mel Gibson's character tries to win over Helen Hunt's character as they work together on advertising for the companies who sponsored the movie.  To make it cheezier, the soundtrack is Frank Sinatra (and most of the songs on this album).  I remember this terrible part where Helen tries to do turns around the office and her inability to dance made me as embarrassed for her as I was for Frank through about 40% of his terrible lyrics and easily identifiable euphemisms (1. I wanna go and bounce the moon, just like a toy balloon 2. I wanna go play hide and seek).  I felt like a freaking 8th grader wrote his music.

Anyway, don't bother.  If you've heard one frank song, you've heard them all.

The Rolling Stone People:

Here is an album that means to deny the rock & roll that was then changing America and succeeds. The songs were standards, most ten or twenty years old, and Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle were bent on jazzy, hip sophistication. "I've Got You Under My Skin" still stands as a Sinatra high point.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

#66 Led Zeppelin IV- Led Zeppelin

I don't think I ever got into Led Zeppelin because of the people who wear Led Zeppelin shirts.  Now before you get your panties all in a twist, think about people you've seen wearing Led Zeppelin t-shirts.  The shirts are usually black, so people who have issues with spilling ketchup on themselves, and those with profuse sweating problems will probably have a higher chance of wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt than a different band shirt.  I know this is a gross generalization, but most of the individuals I've seen wearing Led Zeppelin shirts come with a particular odor you'd associate with not having bathed in a good while.  And, oh, you have a ketchup stain, but you are wise, good sir, for that shirt is black and I cannot see it well!

I recall one particular time when I was at walgreens waiting in line and the man right in front of me (wearing a led zeppelin shirt) was scratching his beard and watching a young woman buying condoms.  He turned to me and said, "she'll be having fun tonight"  as some sort of appropriate way to open a conversation with a stranger.  I laughed nervously and mumbled something I can't recall.  But, I wanted to say, "not with you, right?" because that beard is gross, you are creepy, and you smell like cheese and crusted ketchup.  Furthermore, you haven't washed that shirt since they were on tour, have you?

But maybe this experience is unique to me.  I certainly hope so, but it seemed to be some sort of universal sign that Led Zeppelin is reserved for creepy, fat, nasty, old men who look like Jack Black but aren't as charming or funny.

Having said that- I loved this album.  It helped to wash away any of the creepy memories I have associated with this band.  I had heard "Stairway to Heaven" before, but not nestled inside of an album that made the speakers in my car rumble and hum with delight as I drove out to the middle of nowhere yesterday morning (for my job).  The music is so heavy, and yet very easy to listen to.  I didn't feel overwhelmed with sounds unfamiliar to me, like many songs of heavier and more intense music.  I feel like Jimmy, Robert, John, and John have "rocked me" better than any of the bands I've heard before.  And I won't lie that listening to "Black Dog" makes me pose and flirt uncontrollably for red-light cameras and suppress an urge to throw my underwear on a stage.

This album was so unique, because it wasn't just an excellent rock album.  It also had an element of strangeness and mystery to it as well.  I can't even put my finger on where it comes from, or what it is, exactly.  Its just a feeling that begins with the Battle of Evermore and creeps in and out of the rest of the album.  Maybe this is the part that attracts the crazies, but I found that it added an individual style and soul that sets it apart from other bands of its genre.

A good enough band, and maybe, just maybe I'd wear one of their t-shirts if they come in any color besides black.

What the more qualified have said:

"I put a lot of work into my lyrics," Robert Plant told Rolling Stone in 1975. "Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized, though. Things like 'Black Dog' are blatant let's-do-it-in-the-bath-type things, but they make their point just the same." On their towering fourth, rune-titled album, Led Zeppelin match the raunch of "Black Dog" with Plant's most scrutinized lyrics ever for the epic ballad "Stairway to Heaven," while guitarist Jimmy Page leads Zeppelin from the extreme heaviness of "When the Levee Breaks" to the mandolin-driven "Battle of Evermore." ("It sounded like a dance-around-the-maypole number," Page later confessed.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

#146 Surrealistic Pillow - Jefferson Airplane

"When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead"

-- this post is going to try to mimic that quote from "White Rabbit" (as an excuse for very poor editing.)

This album was deceptively deep.  I began to write something about it a few days ago but deleted it all.  I listened to Surrealistic Pillow once on my way to work and once on my way back and came home and sat down in front of my computer and I was completely blank.  I really didn't have anything to say except, "oh, I've heard 'Somebody to Love' before, but I didn't know it was Jefferson Airplane..."  Great, like that shit is entertaining.  I was so bored editing that sentence that I was on the verge of just skipping this one altogether for the time being.

And the only other interesting point I could add was: The pictures of the band members are wardrobe directions for obnoxious hipster types found in alternative coffee shops presently (for those of you unaware of this countercounterculture, please see this youtube video for clarification: where the dirty hipsters are)

But then the next day, I thought I'd give them another shot.

It might be important information to tell you that my drive to work is 1.5 hours, and I drive on a one lane Texas highway to a very small town where the sheriff really does have a handlebar mustache and a cowboy hat (ok that part wasn't important information, albeit true, but the part about my long drive is important).

So I'm driving, and there is nobody on this single lane highway and I've got Surrealistic Pillow jamming at near max volume with the windows down at 104 degrees outside (I love the heat) and I let myself zone out, and then fall into a sort of trance as I listen to Grace Slick's vibrating voice...........

And other than the fact that I'm thinking, f*ck, if I had as cool of a name as Grace Slick, I'd get away with murder--it occurs to me in an instant that what this band is doing is mirroring a mushroom trip, or some other type of psychedelic experience from beginning to end.  Each song is meticulously placed to show varying stages of lucidity, reality, ontological discovery, effervescent love, being one with everything and yet being completely alone and trapped in your mind, having been here before and yet having never been here, and then BAM you get "White Rabbit" which shows how figuring out other layers of consciousness affect one's ego... and then a coming down or *back to reality* (if you choose to believe that altered states are different from reality) with "Plastic Fantastic Lover."  Which shows, imo, that what is "real" in our world is incredibly fake, and beneath all the shiny plastic, you're left with societal norms but maybe no substance... and further poses the question - just because your conscious discovery happened to you alone in your head, isn't that more important than what you currently perceive?

Wow, all this in an album I was about to just write off as an "eh, it was alright" album.  Timothy Leary would have rolled over in his grave had he read what I originally wrote.

The lyrics of ALL the songs go both ways.  To those of you not looking to fall down rabbit holes, you might think many of them are normal love songs - but for those of you who chase rabbits you might see songs like "My Best Friend" as those moments when you are in perfect camaraderie with people you barely know, trying to find your car the night of perfect debauchery.  Or you may perceive "Today" as the type of song that represents those feelings of oneness with the universe.  When in a typical day, upon second look, makes you realize that a whole life is trapped inside of a bug, or that beauty is found in a small pebble or a rainbow (please see this AWESOME youtube video for an additional example: Double Rainbow) when you may not have noticed these things before.

"Comin' Back to Me" is haunting to hear.  It reminds me of those moments when you are unable to be fully connected to another and discovering that sense of aloneness.  But you could also see it as a love song if you weren't chasing rabbits.

I've read that this album was so groundbreaking for its time (1967) because it reflected the counterculture of rabbit chasers who didn't have a large amount of alternative music yet for their conscious-altering ideas.

This album has made me think more than any other album I've ever listened to and I can't even really explain why or how.  It has made me think of that great short story by Denis Johnson "Car Crash While Hitchhiking" where the narrator wants to know what it might be like to scream in horror.  It also reminded me of the Matrix when Neo chases the white rabbit tattoed girl.. and all of this imbedded escapism, being and time, and many other glimmers of rapid neuron firings inside my meatbag's brain as I'm reminded of moments where I feel connected to everything and nothing all at once. . .

Feed your head.  Feed your head.  Feed your head.


Psychedelic scholars have long tried to pin down just what the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia did on this album (he is credited as "musical and spiritual adviser"). But the real trip is the Airplane's concise sorcery, a hallucinatory distillation of folk-blues vocals, garage-rock guitar and crisp pop songwriting. The effects were felt nationwide. Grace Slick's vocal showcases, "White Rabbit" and "Somebody to Love," made Surrealistic Pillow a commercial smash during San Francisco's Summer of Love, and Marty Balin's spectral "Today" is still the greatest ballad of that city's glory days.

Monday, July 4, 2011

#28 Who's Next - The Who

Clearly the best song on this album is "Won't Get Fooled Again" where band member Pete Townshend expresses the idea that the 1960s revolution doesn't really change anything at all, and the "new boss" is the same as the "old boss" in the final line of the song.  All the hippies had their chance and led a decent revolution, but in the end you might as well play the guitar, because we'll all be fooled again.

and he was right.

Needless to say, I think he was spot on.

The whole album is beautifully done.  "Getting in Tune" made me really happy.  It was very fortunate for them that they were right in tune, otherwise they could have nicknamed the song "ironic" even though that's already been taken by someone who doesn't know what irony is.  but maybe that's what made the song ironic.  who knows.  I digress.  I'll rip her a new one when I get to her album.

It dawned on me for the first time since I began this project, that we just don't have anyone who makes music like this anymore.  Like any of the albums I've been immersed in.  At least they don't get famous and aren't in the spotlight if they do.  I think that's a huge problem.  These songs are intelligent, fun to listen to, beautifully put together, well thought out, and by the end of the album you're trying to piece together what it all meant, what it means to me, what it will mean in the future and what creative holy spirit possessed this band to work tirelessly over it.  sans autotune.

The music of my generation is "good" if you can have sex to it in a club or at 3 am.  Lady Gaga, you can f*ck to that.  She's great in her own creative/imaginative way, and contrary to popular assumptions, she can play the instruments and she can sing like she invented vocal chords, but who else of my generation can do such a thing?  Lady Gaga just happened to also write music people can f*ck to which is why she's famous.

All of it, listen to a top 20 chart.  You can reproduce to all of that shit.  It's the only thing that sells today.  Most of those people are created in a music laboratory and then their voices are autotuned.  but nobody cares, because it's music you can f*ck to.  Jesus, I'm starting to sound like one of "those people."  I need to pull the needle full of The Who out of my veins.  Or unplug myself from my iPod.

The Who won't put you in the mood to do it, but they will rock a part of your soul that needs to be awakened if it hasn't already been.

Who's Next was released in 1971

What the Gods have to say about that:
Pete Townshend suffered a nervous breakdown when his planned follow-up to the rock operaTommy, the ambitious, theatrical Lifehouse, fell apart. He was also left with an extraordinary cache of songs that the Who pruned down and honed to a beefy sheen on what became their best studio album, Who's Next. "Behind Blue Eyes," "Going Mobile" and "Bargain" all beam with epic majesty, often spiked with synthesizers — especially "Baba O'Riley," which Townshend partly named after avant-garde composer Terry Riley. "I like synthesizers," Townshend said, "because they bring into my hands things that aren't in my hands: the sound of the orchestra, French horns, strings. . . . You press a switch and it plays it back at double speed."

Friday, July 1, 2011

#343 Bat Out of Hell - Meat Loaf

This album surprised me with sadness for a lot of reasons.  It is clear that the band members have a distinct musical talent akin to Jack Black and Tenacious D.  They really can rock out, and the music itself is excellent to listen to, but the lyrics, not so much.

Rather than using their talents to create excellent music that discusses life and small epiphanies humans encounter on a daily basis, they chose to lament about teenage encounters of the sexual kind and take the death of relationships (which as anyone who has been through one can recall that they are devastating, angry, overwhelming, and sorrowful) and trivialize them; furthermore, they explain the "pain" in the break up through an immature and silly lens.

It reminded me of steamy locked cars parked on farm roads when I was supposed to be at pep rallies in high school, of books being thrown across college dorm rooms in breakup maelstroms, and of terrible, regrettable, conversations about falling out of love.  But all of this, filtered through a fifteen-year-old's brain.  So void of pain and mostly all in jest.  A mockery of breakups, in sum.

It gives off a cult classic following feel, and I won't lie that I certainly enjoyed the amazing music, but if I could get an instrumental version without any of the words, that would make this album excellent.  Their songs would go well on Rockband or Guitar Hero, and they are certainly catchy.

If you are going through a breakup and do want to laugh about it for some reason, then this is your album of choice.  I disagree with the Rolling Stone's statement that they bring real emotion to the songs.  I got the vibe that they were making fun of the audience somehow.

From the source:
Meat Loaf's megaselling, megabombastic breakthrough was written by pianist Jim Steinman, who'd intended the material for a new version ofPeter Pan. This is one of rock's most theatrical, grandiose records, yet Loaf brings real emotion to "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."