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#132 – The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (Bruce Springsteen)

In 150-125, Top 150 on June 10, 2011 at 10:01 am

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (Bruce Springsteen, September 11, 1973)

I can’t believe I’m about to say this. Seriously, this is a big moment in my musical career.

I like this album by Bruce Springsteen.

I know, shocking, right? If you haven’t clued in yet by reading some of my posts, I’m not a fan of Springsteen. But this album is great! Not only is the addition of the E Street Band fresh and a little more groovy than the cars-girls-cars-more-girls kind of rock that Springsteen belched out previously, its just more dynamic. But the lyrics are still classic Springsteen (ie. more cars and girls).

Track Listing

  1. The E Street Shuffle
  2. 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
  3. Kitty’s Back
  4. Wild Billy’s Circus Story
  5. Incident On 57th Street
  6. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
  7. New York City Serenade)
I like this album because there’s a great sense of reminiscing about the past, but like I said, its more dynamic than the last album I listened to by Springsteen. The addition of the E Street Band, which at this point was unnamed, adds layers of instrumentation that compliment the raspy, slightly scratchy, full-bodied voice that Springsteen is so well known for. They also contribute to more unique sounds for each track, although they all have that “E Street” feeling to them, characterized by horns, a little bit of jazz organ, and some swinging, shuffling drums to top it all of (by the one and only Max Weinberg).
The album starts off with a kick as the Boss sings “The E Street Shuffle” and wails about kids dancing on the street to the E Street Shuffle. A very different tone from his previous album. Most of the tracks on this album are noticeably longer than usual, with many of them sitting between 5 and 10 minutes in length. I have a feeling this is partly due to the fact that the newly discovered band loves to jam and improvise, embellish the lyrics.  Then we’ve got this great track, “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” which describes the setup, performances, and take down of a travelling circus and all the elements from the human canon ball, to the ferris wheel. I love this track! It’s a slower-paced song that has incredible clarity. It turns the idea of a circus into a beautiful, diverse experience, and highlights it all with a tuba, or harmonica, or accordian here and there, which is just enough to trigger that feeling of going to the circus or the fair when you were young. Really cool.
And the magic of this album continues in the next three tracks, including the well-known “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), which I immediately recognized, which shocked me. It sounds familiar, and I have no clue why. I’ve probably heard it somewhere. It is one of the more popular tracks on this album. And I do love it.
The E Street Band has an incredibly tight sound, and there is an ease and clarity to the sound that really takes Springsteen’s music to the next level. Between lyrics, the band sometimes explodes into huge (but still crisp) fanfare, but dies down just at the right moment to allow Springsteen’s voice enough punch to keep the focus back on the lyrics again. So look, this album is 100% an album that I think all of you should listen to because its a kick-ass rock and roll album and is just a really fun album to listen to.
Thanks, Bruce!

 

#142 – A Christmas Gift For You (Phil Spector)

In 150-125, Top 150 on May 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Cover Art

Next up: Phil Spector’s 1963 Christmas Gift…AND JUST FOR ME! Well, no, not really. Its for ALL of us. That’s right, Mr. Spector released this album in Christmas spirit, and as a gift for you. Unfortunately, it was released the same day that J.F.K. was assassinated in the U.S., and as a result, didn’t sell well when it was released on November 22nd.

There are two strange things about this album. First, I listened to it just as its become warm and Summery, and as a true Canadian, I’m used to mostly cold winters,  and if all goes well, White Christmases. So listening to Christmas music while the sun shines bright and its 20 degrees outside doesn’t really feel right to me. But that’s okay. What really made this a weird album to listen to was thinking about the fact that Phil Spector was accused of the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson, and in 2009 was found guilty and given a 19 year sentence. I found this out before I listened to this cheery album, so I will say it was strange listening to it and thinking about Spector’s current situation. Especially since the last track of the album, is Phil talking over “Silent Night” and thanking everyone for their support. It just made it feel weird.

Track Listing

  1. White Christmas (Darlene Love)
  2. Frosty The Snowman (The Ronettes)
  3. The Bells of St. Mary’s (Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans)
  4. Santa Claus is Coming To Town (The Crystals)
  5. Sleigh Ride (The Ronettes)
  6. Marshmallow World (Darlene Love)
  7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (The Ronettes)
  8. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (The Crystals)
  9. Winter Wonderland (Darlene Love)
  10. Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers (The Crystals)
  11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (Darlene Love)
  12. Here Comes Santa Claus (Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans)
  13. Silent Night (Phil Spector and Artists)
If you Google Phil Spector you will probably find one of two things: Lana Clarkson or the Wall of Sound. Let’s move on from Spector’s personal debacle and talk about the music, shall we?
The Wall of Sound was Spector’s signature technique which he developed at the time. It was a very layered sound that was created by large groups of instruments play in orchestrations (the example that’s given a lot is acoustic and electric guitars playing in unison) which gave a very full sound, and also played great on the radios and music players of the time. You will hear that familiar ring on this album, if you give it a listen.
Spector is an incredibly established song-writer and producer. He co-wrote Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem” and as a session musician, played on the Drifters’ track “On Broadway”. In 1961, Spector founded his own record company, Phille Records, with a partner.
Spector was married to Veronica “Ronnie ” Bennett, a member of the infamous “Ronettes” girl-group, which he also managed from 1963 to 1974. This Christmas album features the musical talents of the artists on his label, Phille Records, including The Ronettes, Darlene Love, The Crystals, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. A number of classic Christmas recordings were created on this album, including Sleigh Ride and Frosty the Snowman, sung by The Ronettes. And for any of you Springsteen fans (don’t worry – I won’t Bruce-bash), his recording of “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town” took some inspiration from The Crystals recording on this album. Pretty great!
Its a nice Christmas album because its got that warm, classic sound, which might be partly due to the “wall of sound” Spector is so-well known for. If so, then now I know why I love records like this so much!
If you don’t think you’re ready to listen to this album now, don’t worry. I understand. But put a reminder in your calendar on December 1st so that when Christmas rolls around, you can have a listen to this classic album with a glass of eggnog or a hot chocolate. I think you’ll enjoy it.

#148 – Deja Vu (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)

In 150-125, Top 150 on March 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm
Cover of "Deja Vu"

Cover of Deja Vu

So here’s the interesting thing about this project for me so far, aside from listening to all this great music, clearly.

First off, I’m moving through the albums much slower than I anticipated. I’m only on 147! What the deuce!? But to be honest, I’m okay with that. Although right now I’ve listened to one album and written something about once per month. At that rate, it will take me 12 years and 2 months to finish this project. I should probably pick up the pace, eh? Alas. I will go as I please and enjoy.

So number 147…here we are!

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I am loving this project already so much because I am making a ton of connections with different bands and understanding so much about the development and restructuring of different artists and groups, and how it leads to other groups and legendary records. Very cool. For one (and I feel ridiculous saying this), I had no CLUE that “Young” in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is Neil Young. What the hell!? How did I miss that! Wild. Anyway, now I do. So long story short, The four members of this group decided to use their last names to identify their group for a few reasons. One, to keep identification with their own individuality, and make sure that people knew them as their own artist as well. And the second (which is partially what caused the first reason) is that two members of the band were part of The Byrds and The Hollies, and when they left their respective groups, the bands continued performing without them. So to use CSNY to identify themselves meant that if one of them left (which, of course, did happen later on down the road) then they were still always known by the names of the musicians in the band. Makes sense to me!

My immediate thought when I put on this album is Flower Power! This has got such a 60s-70s rock sound to it, whatever that means. I guess lots of raging, experimental, sometimes ethereal rock-guitar riffs mixed with exasperated vocals. And that early classic-rock effect on the guitar. I have no clue what it is, but its so distinct.

The vocal harmonies on this album definitely stick out as well. But how could they not, I guess. Especially after listening to the Springsteen album (OH GOD, here he goes again, talking about how much he hates The Boss).

Side note: I was running yesterday and a Springsteen song came on my iPod, and I actually thought to myself, “You know, this Bruce Springsteen guy is growing on me”. So there.

Here’s the track listing for this radical album called Deja Vu, released in March 1970 (after their second-ever live performance at the infamous Woodstock festival).

Side One

  1. Carry On
  2. Teach Your Children
  3. Almost Cut My Hair
  4. Helpless
  5. Woodstock

Side Two

  1. Deja Vu
  2. Our House
  3. 4+20
  4. Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill, Down, Down, Down, Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty)
  5. Everybody I Love

When I first listened to this album, I remember a friend here on Jeju wrote me a message on Facebook and said something along the lines of “This is my favourite album!” and I was, admittedly, a bit shocked. I didn’t appreciate this album nearly enough. The more I’ve listened to this disc, the more I appreciate CSNY.

Favourite tracks? Carry On, Teach Your Children, Woodstock, Our House, Everybody I Love You. I don’t know why, to be honest. But they’re great.

Track One, Carry On. There’s a great intro to this album at the beginning of this track. The guitar sets a driving beat and adds momentum to the track, and then 10 seconds in, the great vocals start. The recording sounds really controlled and precise, which I love about it as well. I don’t want to say constrained, because I don’t think it is, but its almost as if the first track is a teaser for something bigger and better to come.  And I would say that the first side of the album ends a bit grittier, a bit more relaxed, and more wild with “Woodstock” (Track 5).

So overall: new appreciation for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, definitely. And its awesome! I’m loving all these connections I’m making while I listen to these albums. This is exactly what I wanted to get out of this experience, so I’m pretty pleased.

Onwards to the next album!!


Beginning

In musings on December 2, 2010 at 1:52 am
Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Tim...

Image via Wikipedia

In the past, I’ve been amazed at some of my friends’ knowledge about music. I am a passionate listener, but I couldn’t tell you much about records before the 90s. I don’t know much about the Stones, or Led Zeppelin, or Santana, or Otis Redding, or any of the great musicians from the past 60 years.

Yesterday, I was listening to my iPod and walking to the bus stop, on my way to work, and had an idea. In order to satisfy my own cravings to discover more about the evolution of music from the 50s onwards, I need to listen to the greatest albums of all time, sit with them, enjoy them, whatever…and then record my observations, whatever they end up being. My immediate response was excitement. The inspiration actually came from a few sources.

As many people know, and many people don’t, iTunes does not allow artists to request full album only sales of their music. In other words, they can’t restrict people from buying single tracks. Some musicians boycott iTunes for this reason, saying that their music is created as an album and not as singles. Two days ago, I listened to the new Arcade Fire album (The Suburbs) and was inspired. It struck me that their album had a sound that didn’t seem to sit quite right unless you listened to the record from start to finish. I don’t know what their intentions were, but that’s the way the record came across to me. So between The Suburbs, and being reminded about the idea of a complete album, I decided that for me to get a better understanding of music, I need to listen to as many ‘essential’ albums as possible from start to finish.

I checked online to find that Rolling Stone magazine has a list of the top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time posted on their website. Now, 500 seems insanely daunting. Especially if I want to be able to do a bit of research and have time to sit with each album, if I need, to let it digest. So I’ve decided that I will start at 150 and work my way down to the number 1 greatest album of all time.

I’m excited for this project and don’t want to shape it too much ahead of time. Instead, I want to get started and clarify the process as it happens, answering any questions from myself or others along the way. One of my questions right now is how Rolling Stone came up with this list, so I’ll work on figuring that out.

In the meantime, the first album I’m going to listen to is Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’, released in 1978 and also number 150 on the list of  Greatest Albums of All Time.

Here we go.

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