It May Not Be New, But It’s Still Great Music
Saturday, January 1, 2011
With my iPod, all the CDs that I bought in the past are now immediately accessible. I no longer have to dig out a CD, put it in a player, and listen to the whole thing.
And since I've already heard some albums like "Exile on Main St." a thousand times, listening to them in their entirety ultimately becomes unnecessary. But when a random cut comes up, such as "All Down the Line" with its killer bass line, I can stop and enjoy it for three minutes and realize how much I love the whole album without listening to the whole thing. The iPod has allowed me to further explore some of the albums or artists that I haven't listened to in a while.
The iPod has also encouraged record labels to go deeper into their catalogs and release music that they may not have in the past, mostly because people now have the ability to store and listen to their music whenever they want (affordability is another story).
How about the nineteen CD box set of the complete Sandy Denny? Or the entire (eight CDs) "Funhouse" sessions by The Stooges? I bought the complete Igor Stravinsky, conducted by Stravinsky, 22 CDs, for forty bucks!
Here is my take on reissues, artists that I may have missed the first go-round (Velocity Girl and the Wipers are recent examples), and music that I already own and have recently rediscovered:
Yeah I know, they're everywhere--classic rock radio, movies, commercials, etc. But I recently borrowed the 2001 box set from the library (a great source for iPod users) so I could add some album cuts ( that I only had on vinyl) to my iPod, and listened to the entire set over a week. And man, John Fogerty was smokin!
The run from "Bayou Country" through "Cosmo's Factory" was an intensely creative period. Listen to his incredible vocal on "Born on the Bayou," especially the line after "rollin' with some Cajun queen" --you can't even understand what he says (a notable Creedence trait), but you get it anyway.
I also completely missed cuts like "Feelin' Blue" (another one of his classic "swamp" songs), "Effigy," and "Midnight Special." I also rediscovered some favorites, notably "Tombstone Shadow," with its incredible one-note guitar solo, and "Keep On Chooglin," which is basically nine minutes of John Fogerty soloing on guitar and harmonica over one chord. And after all those years of playing together, the band was super tight; they kept it simple, like a lot of the best rock and roll. And surprisingly, this digitally remastered set actually sounded better than the CD that I owned.
After the relatively straightforward, song-oriented "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain," I was really thrown by the sprawl and randomness of 1995's "Wowee Zowee." I tried to like it, but ultimately got rid of it.
I did the same with the next two Pavement discs ("Brighten the Corners" and "Terror Twilight"); they just didn't seem to have the noise and fun of their earlier stuff.
But after seeing them on their recent reunion tour in Seattle, I thought I'd give them another chance. For the last few years, Matador has been reissuing the Pavement catalog in two-CD sets, and I bought used versions of both "Wowee Zowee" and "Brighten the Corners" (thank you Lou's Records).
My problem was that I had been listening to them as a song band instead of a noise band. They're really closer to Sonic Youth than bands like Superchunk. The difference is that Pavement's leader, Stephen Malkmus, makes all the noise. He really stretches out on some of these songs: plays some great guitar, screams his head off when he feels like it, and writes songs with enough hooks to keep you interested. And there are a lot of songs--44 on "Brighten the Corners," 50 on "Wowee Zowee." They're all listenable, even the two versions of the "Space Ghost" theme.
A common complaint by people when they don't like a band is that the songs all sound the same. Well, in Galaxie 500's case, they DO all sound the same: three or four chords, slow to medium tempos, tons of reverb/echo, and whiny, vaguely paranoid vocals.
But in almost every song, guitarist/singer Dean Wareham starts slowly building these incredible, driving guitar solos. At first, it sounds like he's just noodling around, but it keeps going and going--you have to stop and listen.
There is a lot to be said for great guitar solos. This year Domino reissued the three Galaxie 500 discs ("Today," "On Fire," and "This is Our Music") also in two-CD sets. I had "On Fire" and "Today" and was forced to download "This is Our Music." "On Fire" is probably their most focused disc, with a couple of great covers (New Order's "Ceremony" and George Harrison's "Isn't It A Pity"). In "This is Our Music," they throw in a little more texture via horns and keyboards. "Today" is actually almost too up tempo, but it does have a great cover of Jonathan Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste."
I wouldn't say this is a rediscovery but more a source of constant joy. When most people think of The Who, it's the classic rock Who of "Tommy" and Who's Next."
What I like is the early Who, roughly from "My Generation" (the album) through "Magic Bus" plus all the singles, most of which were collected on "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy."
The Who were so funny, so different, so crazy. I added to my Who collection when I found the "Thirty Years of Maximum R & B" box set at the library and discovered unheard singles like "So Sad About Us," "Daddy Rolling Stone," "Jaguar," and "Early Morning Cold Taxi."
And I love Keith Moon! Just listen to "Happy Jack." It's really not that much of a song, more of an excuse for him to pound on the drums for two minutes. Listen to the break just before the final chorus.
There's also the whole "Sell Out" album, complete with real and fake commercials (including the hilarious "Medac"), and it's transcendent ending that paves the way for "Tommy." For an even deeper listening experience, try and find Petra Haden's a capella (both words and music) version of "The Who Sell Out."
Where to start? See if you can find the single disc compilation "Who's Better, Who's Best," although it doesn't have "Boris the Spider" and has an abominable edit of "Won't Get Fooled Again."
When Randy Bachman left The Guess Who at the height of their popularity (circa "American Woman"), lead singer Burton Cummings found another overweight guitarist (Kurt Winter) and went on a fascinating run of albums from '71 through '74 (from "So Long, Bannatyne" through "Road Food"). I wanted to include all of them here, but after suffering through a drum solo on "Live at the Paramount," I'm going to restrict it to the "Rockin'" album.
One of the key things about The Guess Who is that Burton Cummings played piano, and many of the songs were composed on the piano (similar to Bryan Ferry with Roxy Music). So instead of a lot of riffs, we get actual chords and song structures. This also allowed them to be almost jazzy at times.
"Rockin' " includes a little of everything. There's the leadoff rocker "Heartbroken Bopper", some socio-political commentary ("Guns Guns Guns" and "Smoke Big Factory"), a relatively straight blues tune ("Arrivederci Girl"), the jazzy one ("Your Nashville Sneakers"), and the hysterical final trilogy "Hi Rockers."
And Burton Cummings always sings, as Creem Magazine said years ago, like a mutha. Their whole run of albums save "Live at The Paramount" are like this--no straight love songs, just a running commentary on their lives and what they experienced at the time, all produced by the same guy (Jack Richardson). If you can find "Best of The Guess Who Volume II" (vinyl only), grab it.
Dave Walters has an extensive collection of vinyl records for sale in The Antique Warehouse at 212 South Cedros in Solana Beach. His booth is #150 and it's called Dave's Vinyl.