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#95 – Green River (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

In musings, Top 150 on September 24, 2013 at 10:00 am

 

Creedence Clearwater Revival is some of the best classic, American rock in my opinion. Their sound incorporates this Americana sound that is hidden underneath strong guitar riffs that I’m sure sounded far more hard-rock than they do now. For me, listening to “Green River” was literally an “Oh yeah, this rocks” kind of experience. You have to love CCR.

Also released in 1969 (like so much good music), this album is a sweetly succinct and cleanly produced album. It’s got intention, it’s got drive, it’s got variety, and it’s got strong stories behind it. But again, it stays committed to the kind of Americana, classic hard rock. They are one of the most clearly recognized classic rock bands. John Fogerty’s vocals on tracks like “Tombstone Shadow” and “Bad Moon Rising” are unmistakeable.

In this album, I hear the clean guitar lines that are typical of rock during this time, backed by noisy and persistent drumming, and topped off with the reverb-laden vocal tracks. It creates a harder sound that is still accessible, but distinguishes itself from other bands of the time.

This is a great album, plain and simple. Nothing wild, nothing long and epic, but it’s so great and so easy to listen to and enjoy.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Green River
  2. Commotion
  3. Tombstone Shadow
  4. Wrote a Song for Everyone

Side Two

  1. Bad Moon Rising
  2. Lodi
  3. Cross-Tie Walker
  4. Sinister Purpose
  5. The Night Time is the Right Time

#96 – Tommy (The Who)

In 99-75 on September 23, 2013 at 8:59 pm

 

Rock-opera. That’s what I keep reading as I research this album, and that’s what I hear when I listen to The Who’s 1969 four-sided release, Tommy. My first reaction to this album was “What the hell is this?”. And then I started actually listening a bit more carefully.

Tommy is an epic album. From the “Overture” to the final track, there are movements of music that represent different stages of the life of Tommy Walker, the son of Captain and Mrs. Walker. I will let you do the Googling yourself if you’re interested in finding out more details about the overall story that connects that tracks on this album.

What’s notable is the style of the album, as I mentioned already. It is literally a 75-minute long rock opera that is heavier on the rock side than the “musical stage performance” side. But the result of this concept is a diverse album with expressive movements that vary in style, from “Eyesight To The Blind”, a sparse and sharper sound with more ominous tones than  a track like the groovy “Smash The Mirror”. The album is fantastic because each song has a self-contained, distinct story, but they are also part of a greater storyline that connects through the individual stories.

Most of these songs I had seriously never heard before. Oh man, I feel embarassed everytime I say that on this blog. But its so interesting! The only track I actually recognized off this album was “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

Glad I had the opportunity to listen to this album, and I’m sure I would have a greater appreciation for it if I had heard it within the context of when it was actually released. It wasn’t my favourite listen so far, but I can appreciate it’s significance.

#98 – This Year’s Model (Elvis Costello)

In 99-75, Top 150 on June 26, 2013 at 11:38 pm

 

Elvis Costello. His music sounds like his look. A bit unassuming, with a quirky style and slight eccentricity. This Year’s Model is his second album with The Attractions backing him up, a 1978 release that has been critically acclaimed.

As usual, my first few listens to this album didn’t really sit well with me, but as I listened to it more and more I realized that this album still has a current sound. For a 1978 release, its incredibly contemporary. Its got an intentional sound that is precise, skilled, and really makes me appreciate the talent of Costello and his crew. And yes, with songs like “Pump It Up” and the rock-organ that underscores much of the track, you can easily place the music in the late 70s, early 80s. It captures some of the wild, loose sounds of the psychedelic era and refines it into a sound that is equally expressive but almost sounds more controlled.

What sticks out to me more than anything else on this album is the sex-charged undertones. But I suppose with an album title like This Year’s Model, what should I expect, right? It just amazes me because beneath the upbeat, light, jazz-pop sounds, there are lyrics like “I don’t want to be a lover / I just want to be a victim” (from “The Beat”). I mean come on, Mr. Costello! But I guess that’s part of what adds to his music, in particular this album. Its charged with passion that’s exciting to experience, whether you listen to the lyrics or not.

The more I listen to this album, the more I appreciate it. It might actually become part of my regular listening repertoire, that’s how much I’m enjoying it right now. Really cool to listen to some of his earlier music.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. No Action
  2. This Year’s Girl
  3. The Beat
  4. Pump It Up
  5. Little Triggers
  6. You Belong To Me

Side Two

  1. Hand In Hand
  2. Lip Service
  3. Living In Paradise
  4. Lipstick Vogue
  5. Night Rally

#99 – There’s a Riot Goin’ On (Sly & The Family Stone)

In 99-75, musings, Top 150 on May 3, 2013 at 11:53 pm

 

I’ve been sitting on this album for months. Why!? I don’t know. It’s cool, it’s groovy, and I can hear the depth of this album, complete with overdubbing and the imperfections of analog recordings. Honestly, it’s great. But this has been a tough album for me to get my head into.

“There’s A Riot Goin’ On” is an aptly named album, echoing the turmoil that Sly Stone and his family and band were going through at the time, including heavily increased drug use. This album has some serious funk happening, but its also got a strange sense of isolation to it. Tracks like “Family Affair” are cohesive, well-produced, and have a beautiful depth of sound and clarity to them, but there is no doubting the undertones of loneliness. The sounds are complete, but they are separated from one another, which, as I discovered, is due in part to the fact that this album was primarily recorded by Sly, alone in the studio, using overdubbing.

So track by track it’s kick ass and showcases Sly’s funk vocals, backed by the smooth and mellow synths and guitar fills. “Smilin'” is a great example of these sounds, and the easiness of some of the tracks. The entire album is hailed as a critically acclaimed (and criticized) recording for its time, but for me, there is a lack of momentum across the entire album. I really don’t want to finish listening to most of the tracks on the album (with the exception of a few). At this point, I try to remember to contextualize this album and remember to keep in mind that this is a follow up to a much more psychedelic sound on previous albums, so the darkness that fuels the funk on “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” is a very different underlying energy. It still captures elements of the psychedelic 60s but serves as a much bolder transition into a new sound for Sly and The Family Stone.

I suppose that’s one of the main reasons that this album is number 99 on the Rolling Stone list. And I can respect that. I just don’t think this is the kind of music I want to listen to very often. So with that, onwards to number 98…(and I feel good to leave this album behind)…

#100 – In The Wee Small Hours (Frank Sinatra)

In 124-100, Top 150 on January 21, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Usually regarded as one of Frank Sinatra’s best recordings, In The Wee Small Hours captures the feeling of time slowing down, cocooning the crooner in a melancholy state – a state which is perfectly freeze-framed on the LP cover. Sinatra is legendary, as we all know, but my experience listening to this album was contrary to what I expected. Most of the Sinatra tunes I know tend to be more upbeat and jovial. And if you know anything about this album already, you know that it isn’t exactly jovial!

The downfall of Sinatra’s controversial relationship with his second wife, Ava Gardner, seems to have inspired this April 1955. Although Sinatra didn’t write the songs on the album, its still considered to be one of the first “concept” albums, because it has such similar themes of melancholy, late-night heartbreak. Its also one of Sinatra’s top selling albums, originally released in a 2-disc, 10 inch LP, as well as a single 12 inch LP. According to Wikipedia, by 2002, In The Wee Small Hours sold over 500 000 units and was certified as a Gold release.

What I love about In The Wee Small Hours is the timelessness of recordings. Sinatra’s voice has spanned almost 50 years of recordings and been played everywhere, in every movie, in every restaurant, in every home. The beautiful warmth and easy intensity of his vocal stylings are matched by studio artists who accompany him with equal warmth. I think this album is one to add to a list of LPs to pick up, because listening to a vinyl recording of this, as opposed to digital, would be fantastic. It would be even smoother, even warmer, and even more melancholy as a result.

I’m not sure what else to say about this album, so maybe I should just leave it here. To send off though, I decided to plug in a nice video in here of one of my new favourite tunes from this album, “I’ll Be Around”. There is a subtle difference in this track that distinguishes it from others on the album. There is definitely a difference in the instrumental track, although I can’t make out what it is, but Sinatra’s voice has less push and more of a sense of calm at the beginning of this track. It caught my attention, and now I love the subtle difference. Its refreshing.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning
  2. Mood Indigo
  3. Glad To Be Unhappy
  4. I Get Along Without You Very Well
  5. Deep In A Dream
  6. I See Your Face Before Me
  7. Can’t We Be Friends?
  8. When Your Lover Has Gone

Side Two

  1. What Is This Thing Called Love
  2. Last Night When We Were Young
  3. I’ll Be Around
  4. Ill Wind
  5. It Never Entered My Mind
  6. Dancing On The Ceiling
  7. I’ll Never Be The Same
  8. This Love Of Mine

Enjoy this album! And guess what! We’re officially at the 100 mark now. Next up, number 99…

#101 – Fresh Cream (Cream)

In 124-100, Top 150 on November 2, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Okay, it’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything. Truthfully, I’ve listened to this album, Fresh Cream, a few times, but didn’t know what to write about it. And it’s definitely grown on me, as much of the music I’ve listened to does after a while.

So yes, Cream. This album was released in January 1967, although the UK version was released one month prior. It included one track that the US version does not. The US version includes the single, “I Feel Free”, where the UK version includes “Spoonful” instead. Just prior to the release of the UK album, “I Feel Free” was released as a single. For Cream, this album came as their debut record so it makes sense that it did well – it was released by a new supergroup of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.

To me, the album is good, but not phenomenal. Yet, it’s rated higher than Disraeli Gears on the list of the greatest albums. “I Feel Free”, “Four Until Late” and “Toad” are my favorites tracks on the album. The other tracks seem a bit lack luster to me. I feel like the second side of the LP release is where the real magic starts to happen. It’s almost like the first half of the LP was a warm up until you flip the record over and get to hear the real juicy stuff on side two. And on the second side of the LP you really get a sense of diversity on the album. Ranging from the airy amp up anthem, “I Feel Free”, which starts off the entire album, to the country feeling in “Four Until Late”, to the more classic rock sound in “Toad”…this album definitely delivers a sense of diversity by the end.

Many of the tracks I really enjoy, but for some reason as an album, it doesn’t excite me. That said, it is an iconic album in history, and it’s driven by Eric Clapton’s incredible guitar and vocals. And something else cool about the release is that it was officially released in both stereo and mono recordings for LP. I would love to get my hands on one of those LPS and give it a good listen. Classic rock was made with analog sound and personally, I think it would sound even better with the warm and depth of that mode of sound, as opposed to mp3 or CD.

Anyway, I’m happy to listen to Cream, and I really dig Clapton, but this album isn’t one of my favorites and I’m okay with that.

Track Listing (US Release)
Side One
1. I Feel Free
2. N.S.U.
3. Sleepy Time Time
4. Dreaming
5. Sweet Wine

Side Two
1. Cat’s Squirrel
2. Four Until Late
3. Rollin’ and Tumblin’
4. I’m So Glad
5. Toad

#102 – Giant Steps (John Coltrane)

In 124-100, Top 150 on September 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I struggled with this album, and I’ve been listening to it off and on for a few weeks now. Finally, I just decided to write about it.

Giant Steps is considered to be a jazz standard and is especially well known for being difficult to improvise over the chord progressions of the same name. Coltrane released this album in January 1960 and was well known for improvising songs on recordings.  My understanding is that “Giant Steps” is no different. In fact, according to some of my research online, there are other cuts from the recording sessions that you can hear the other musicians struggling to improvise with Coltrane’s speed and progression.

As an album, I find Giant Steps to be very similar in tonality. I’m not sure if its just my lack of education in this style of jazz, but for me, it has a similar sound and feeling throughout much of the album. And that is, by no means, my attempt at dismissing the album – its completely impressive to listen to someone play sax that fast and with such unique chord changes.

Now, I love listening to the title track on the album. I love the smoothness of the intro and outro. The intro provides a base from which the entire track expands into a seemingly chaotic but also precise expression. And then I love that the whole song gets wrapped up as he revisits the opening chord progressions during the outro. To me, Coltrane’s saxophone takes on a different sound than any other jazz music I’ve really heard. The harmonies and intervals between notes is unique. The piano underscoring provides a solid and familiar sound to tie the sax harmonies to, but it is really original compared to the other jazz I’ve listened to.

Honestly though, I don’t know what else to say about this album. Clearly, Coltrane is incredibly talented and demonstrates skill and a musical sense that is unique from other musicians at the time. Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this album, and about Coltrane’s career. His name is known, even if someone doesn’t recognize his music. That’s impressive!

I will gladly listen to his album now, and I am starting to enjoy it more and more, especially a few tracks. Still, I can’t listen to this style of jazz non-stop. It can get a bit monotonous to me.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Giant Steps
  2. Cousin Mary
  3. Countdown
  4. Spiral

Side Two

  1. Syeeda’s Song Fute
  2. Naima
  3. Mr. P.C.

#103 – Sweet Baby James (James Taylor)

In 124-100, Top 150 on July 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Released in February1970

In my home town, James Taylor was played (a lot, I should add) on the Easy Rock station. As a result, the music of James Taylor has always seemed a bit stiff to me. After listening to Sweet Baby James a few more times, and just sitting with it a bit and trying to understand it a bit more, it still felt a bit stagnant to me. What was I missing about this album?

I listened to it a few more times and started doing some reading, trying to gain a better understanding of the context within which this album was released. And that’s when I started to understand this album and its success. In a time dominated by music from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, the stripped down sound of James Taylor probably felt like a breath of fresh air. It is totally breezy! Its simple and has space in every track that really lets you hear Taylor’s beautifully simplistic guitar and lyrical imagery.

In “Oh, Susannah” you can practically hear the wind rustling between notes.  “Sunny Skies” almost feels like it could be the opening of a 70s-version of the TV show ‘Friends”. Its got such an easy, upbeat feel to it. Most of the tracks on this album have a similar musical structure to them – and I don’t mean that in terms of the lyrical structure, I mean that in terms of the overall sound. The instrumentation and lyrics work together in a similar fashion for most of the tracks on this song. That said, “Steamroller” was a total shock to me when I heard it on the album. Its a bluesy-jazz tune with more vocal variations in one track than you can hear on the entire rest of the album. And I loved it! I was impressed that James Taylor, who I thought was just a nice, quiet man singing honestly about his troubles and his experiences, could put so much intensity into his vocals (a great example is when he sings “I’m a napalm bomb for ya baby”).

“Fire and Rain” is a song that I feel like everybody knows, and again, when I really started to listen to this song, I started to understand it on a much deeper level. Its immensely personal, referring to the loss of a friend (Suzanne) who committed suicide, as well as referencing his own personal struggles with depression and drug addiction. He also sings “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground”, which is a mention of his work with The Flying Machine, which was a band that Taylor pursued a career with prior to his solo success with Peter Asher, Paul McCartney and Apple Records. Once I began to see the depth of this song, and recognize the personal stories that Taylor worked into his songs, his music became so much more meaningful to me.

To think that Sweet Baby James was released in 1970 in the midst of the pyschedelic rock era is amazing to me.  I still won’t say that its one of my favourites, but I do feel like I understand its musical significance in a very different way than I did before I decided to write about it. So that’s great news! Sweet Baby James has a totally different sound and honesty than any other music I’ve heard from the late 60s and early 70s.

#104 – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (Ray Charles)

In 124-100, Top 150 on June 25, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I haven’t written an entry for two weeks now, and its been mostly because I haven’t been sure what to do with this album. I’ve listened to it start to finish a few times, and was a little caught off guard. I love Ray Charles and specifically, my friend helped me clarify that I love the live music I’ve heard from Ray Charles. But something shocked me when I listened to this album. It wasn’t as soulful and expressive as I expected. At least, not on the first listen.

When I first listened to Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, I thought it sounded like Ray Charles was singing over the background tracks of really white music. The precision and stiffness of the choral background tracks, and the string arrangements…it just didn’t seem to add up for me. But I listened to this album a few more times, and finally, decided to do some reading, and discovered the songs from this album were selected from about 250 country and western songs that one of Ray’s producers sought out for him. He selected the final tracks on the album, but wanted to make his own versions of these tracks. Ray played piano in a hill-billy band when he was young, and so he was heavily influenced by country music in his early days. He also said that country and western music is just like blues and jazz, and that the lyrics are not smoothed out  the same way that other music might be – they are honest, they are blunt, they say it like it is. And I can definitely say I agree with this. Most country songs I’m familiar aren’t incredibly poetic, rather they tell a story in clear and plain English and that story is what people connect to. My understanding of this album is that Ray believed the same thing was true of Blues, and as a result, he fused the two genres by taking country and western songs and making his own R&B, blues, and jazz versions of them.

And so, with this context in mind, I re-listened to the album and discovered a whole new sound and an entirely new experience. Suddenly, this album has so much more weight as an artistic expression and also as a piece of musical and social history. Ray combines the two genres with ease and every song sounds like his own.  Before, I thought Ray was not as soulful and expressive as other recordings I’ve heard, but now that I listen with a new perspective I feel like he kind of tricked me. Like this album was so much smarter than I imagined it to be when I first listened. He is soulful and soft and honest on tracks like “It Makes No Difference Now”, and with the slow and easy horns and drums on this track, it feels like its straight from Ray and nobody else, like there never was version of this song before this album was released. Some of my personal favourites are “Hey, Good Lookin'” from the original release, and “Here We Go Again”, which was on the 1988 re-release of the album, possibly because I feel like they both capture the deep, soulful vocals that so many of us know  and love about Ray Charles. I never knew this was a country cover until I was researching this album, but now that I do, it seems completely obvious that the main vocal line has country influences.

So yes, Charles was successful at combining Country and Western music with Blues and Jazz, two genres which he already said were so similar. What’s even more exciting about this album is that it was one of the best selling albums by a black recording artist at the time. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music was released in April of 1962, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The combining of genres on this album was symbolic of the movement to move past racism and prejudices. The recording significantly increased the amount of white listeners that Ray had, without losing his established listener base, which was mostly black. This album was a unification of American music and of American society, and as a result, it is incredibly significant in music history.

I have to admit, I was getting annoyed over the last two weeks, thinking about this album, wondering what I really had to say about it. Now I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and I actually think this has been one of the most transformative listening experiences for me so far, because my opinion and my view of the album changed so much from the first time I listened to it, until now. I’m really thrilled that I had such a fascinating learning experience from listening to this album. That’s what this project is all about.

Enjoy and please let me know your thoughts, as well.

Track Listing

Side One

  1. Bye Bye Love
  2. You Don’t Know Me
  3. Half as Much
  4. I Love You So Much It Hurts
  5. Just a Little Lovin’ (Will Go a Long Way)
  6. Born to Lose

Side Two

  1. Worried Mind
  2. It Makes No Difference Now
  3. You Win Again
  4. Careless Love
  5. I Can’t Stop Loving You
  6. Hey, Good Lookin’

#105 – Rocket to Russia (Ramones)

In 124-100, Top 150 on May 29, 2012 at 10:35 am
Cover of "Rocket to Russia"

Cover of Rocket to Russia (released on November 4, 1977)

Listening to Rocket to Russia was my first experience with the Ramones. They are distinctly different from anything I’ve listened to so far on my list.

I hear the Ramones as a Beach Boys influenced punk-rock musicians. Aside from the surfing references,  you can hear similarities in the simple harmonies and melodies that the Ramones bust out on “Rockaway Beach” and “I Can’t Give You Anything”. There is definitely a sense of rebellion on this album (which in my own opinion, tends to go hand in hand with punk-rock). Tracks like “I Don’t Care” capture that rebellious spirit with a little more of a hard-rock sound.

Without doing too much research on this, its clear that the Ramones are known for their influence on what was becoming slightly monotonous pop music in 1977. In other words, they tried to do something a little different after so many people emulating the typical successful rock and pop styles of bands like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Rocket to Russia is a simple but energetic American-punk rock album that is definitely worth a listen. I don’t really want to write more about it, not because I don’t like the album, but just because I feel like I can see and hear the uniqueness of this album and I am ready to move on to something a little different! I hope you enjoy this one, though!

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