Category Archives: music

Home taping is no longer killing music

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After thinking I had given in to reason, age and obsolescence and had actually tossed a number of my oldest homemade cassette tapes, I found a secret cache of them. Now I’ve been busily transferring them onto the computer, reasoning that I will never get around to putting all this varied vinyl into digital form, and finally accepting that if I was happy enough with the sound quality on cheap magnetic tape for all those years, I should be happy enough with it now. So direct into the computer it goes.

These tapes are mostly from about the time I was 19 and got seriously into avoiding my schoolwork by making compilation tapes until about the time I was 28 and got seriously into . . . well, you know the rest. The early tapes fed our daily music fix and were played incessantly on those early Walkmans. (High kudos to TDK for making tape that didn’t break and really didn’t deteriorate too badly over time.) They’re so familiar to me that if I hear a song from one of them in any other context, I expect the next song on the tape to follow. And yet, there were still songs and even groups that I had essentially forgotten about. For instance, there was a time when there was much more Laughing Dogs and Herman’s Hermits in my daily listening, not to mention The Vapors and The Undertones. Now some of it is still good, some has nostalgia value only, and some of it I wish would go away — which is convenient when I have to edit down a 90-minute tape (timed to the second, I assure you) to fit on a CD.

Not that I’m really playing CDs anymore. I have literally hundreds of them, but these days most of my music is played from the computer (low-fi sound and all), or on satellite radio. Sometimes I play them in the truck, but otherwise they’re basically a storage medium now. As soon as I get done recording these cassette tapes, both the tape deck and the minidisc player (do not laugh) are going into storage, and I think the CD collection may leave the living room.

Embarrassing playlists from the past are likely to follow. Stay tuned.

It’s a piano!!!

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It's a Piano!Even dogs couldn’t hear the noise she made when she found out that what we had been disguising as a FUFU (for us, from us) gift of some non-specific piece of furniture was, in fact, a piano. And I learned that there is no feeling that compares to giving someone a piano.

Musical Phases

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The Underground Garage’s decision to put Small Faces’ brilliant “Tin Soldier,” absolutely one of the top ten rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, into its rotation, coupled with a project to digitize many of my tapes from the ’80s and the attendant further exposure to the band’s tremendous work caused me to declare at dinner last night that I am officially moving into a Small Faces Phase. When I had my first Small Faces Phase, something like 27 years ago, a certain roommate let it be known that she had really preferred my Raspberries phase. I couldn’t blame her, but it was a weird time in my life and the rough production, edgy noise and hard beat suited me perfectly at the time.

I announced this last night, and my wife replied that that was too bad, because she was about to get into a Rolling Stones Phase. Everyone around here, especially she, knows that I just had a Rolling Stones Phase, which has lasted for months. Nevertheless, she wanted it to continue.

So Rebekah suggested that that could be her Christmas present, that I should give my wife a Rolling Stones Phase for Christmas. Which isn’t a bad idea, when it comes right down to it.

In the meantime, it takes my children to inform me that one of my favorite songs of all time is referencing a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Listen, I just sing along.

Shine A Light

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Well, something was likely to shake me out of my Joe Cocker phase — turns out it would be The Stones. Finally got to see Scorsese’s new Rolling Stones concert movie “Shine A Light,” and it is brilliant. I hereby promise to throttle anyone who says anything about the Stones performing with walkers — I’ve got fewer years under the belt than Mick, and I couldn’t begin to do what he does on stage (and definitely couldn’t walk the next day if I did). The filming is excellent — wonderful color, great use of depth of field — just beautiful work. The sound is unbelievable, with some very sly editing to match the visuals. And the boys — well, they really seem like they’re having the time of their lives up there. It’s hard not to like a band that likes to play as much as they do, and that does it so well. It’s a shame not to see Bill Wyman up there anymore — leaving just the three original Stones (Mick, Keith and Charlie) and long-timer Ronnie Wood as the focus of the film, but what a show they put on. The interplay between Keith and Ron is fascinating, and really reveals things about their sound you just don’t get from the records. I’ll be busy ripping the DVD into iTunes all morning. I just regret that I didn’t get to see it in Imax — that would have been unbelievable.

A stroke of genius?

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Apple has added a “Genius” selection to its newest version of iTunes, largely similar to Amazon’s recommendations (though years later), designed to drive you to the Apple store and buy music that’s similar to or related to what’s already in your library. Fair enough, and you never know what you might discover, so I’m cool with it. It also offers you the ability to build a playlist from a single song in your library — it’ll pick out songs that, based on only Apple knows what, somehow relate to the song you’ve chosen and build a new playlist. Might be interesting, might be odd.

So I picked the song that is pretty much the only song I’ve been playing lately, Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady” from “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” just to see what the “Genius” recommended. Here’s the playlist it came up with:

  • Heart Full of Soul (sitar version) The Yardbirds — okay, interesting.
  • Border Song Elton John — Hmm, must be because it’s the ’70s.
  • I Saw Her Again The Mamas and the Papas — lotsa vocals? Is that the connection?
  • Look Through Any Window The Hollies — No clue.
  • World Turning Fleetwood Mac — I barely even knew this song, and it’s kinda like the Peter Green style, so, yes, okay.
  • With a Little Help from my Friends Joe Cocker — well, duh.
  • Celluloid Heroes The Kinks — wha?
  • I Can’t Explain The Who — double wha??
  • Out of Time The Rolling Stones — something just a little more funky.
  • Pleasant Valley Sunday The Monkees — total WTF.
  • Born Under a Bad Sign Cream — okay, yes.
  • What Is Life George Harrison — Definitely. Very similar sound.
  • The Letter Joe Cocker — Can’t go wrong picking songs from the same album.
  • Roll Over Beethoven ELO — One I would never have picked to go with “Delta Lady,” but you know what? It works.
  • Country Road James Taylor — Now the Genius is just screwing with me.
  • San Franciscan Nights Eric Burdon & The Animals — sorta.
  • Spill The Wine Eric Burdon & War — well, of course.
  • Every Picture Tells A Story Rod Stewart — Definitely, the connection between Stewart and Cocker is clear.
  • Polk Salad Annie Tony Joe White — in fairness, this song is always a great WTF. But a great one.
  • Kicks Paul Revere & The Raiders — Hmmm. Well, an interesting choice.
  • It’s All Over Now The Rolling Stones — yeah, kinda, yeah.
  • Ride My See-Saw The Moody Blues — A natural follower to the Stones, it turns out.
  • Carrie Anne The Hollies — um, no.
  • Guinevere Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — yes, but: this can NEVER be the last song on a playlist. Way too down. What is the Genius thinking?

Rock ‘n’ roll bios

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Having gotten through the sublime and voluminous The Beatles, it seemed only fair to give equal time to a group that I’ve never really given equal time to, and I’ve tucked into Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. Other than having a title longer than most Beach Boys’ albums, and suffering from some of the omniscience that somehow Bob Spitz avoided in his work on The Beatles, it’s a pretty good read. Turns out the Boys, all of them, were a bit of a mess. Brian was just the biggest mess. And if it suffers from a certain speed in the early parts (by page 30 or so, they’ve already released a record — the backstory is a tad slim) and there’s some chronological jumpiness that’s probably unavoidable in a good narrative, it paints a compelling, believable picture of a guy with some serious head problems. I had never really known how the Beach Boys had come to separate their studio formation from their road formation, and this paints the clearest picture ever of Charlie Manson’s scary little tangent to the group. Would I buy it? No, but that’s what libraries are for.

In pulling up that Amazon link for the book, I tripped across a book I’d never heard of but may have to wade through just for the title: Hotel California: The True-life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends. Reminds me of the old Flo & Eddie impression of Joni Mitchell: “I’ve had Stephen and Graham and Neil and Jackson, and the Eagles, too! How ’bout you?”

And trying to get that lyric right led me to what every Joni-obsessed fan would need: a listing of songs mentioning Joni. And, no, they didn’t miss Blotto’s “We Are The Nowtones.” Now, that’s completeness.

iTunes thinks I want what?!!

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iTunes thinks I want WHAT?!

Amazon started this thing several years ago where based on your purchases and some questionnaires, it would make recommendations for things you might like. And most of the time, it wasn’t bad at all — though it was very important to immediately get certain gift items (like, say, a Britney Spears CD that was a gift for a daughter) out of the listing in order to prevent some really bad offers. But in general, whatever algorithm they were using wasn’t bad.

Now iTunes has been doing the same thing for a few months. Well, I’ll buy a single of something that I would never consider buying an entire CD of, so the offerings are a bit more oddly skewed. And so here you have my current offerings from iTunes’ “Just For You”.

  • Elvis Costello and Marian McPartland? Yes, I’m a huge Elvis fan. I’ve bought everything, everything he has put out. But I’ll be passing on this, thank you very much. It’s jazz.
  • The New Pornographers? No. I’m not ready to explain to my daughters what a pornographer is.
  • Elliott Smith? I know I’m supposed to love his stuff. I don’t. Not even slightly.
  • Keren Ann? Never heard of her. The review says she’s been compared to Dido and Portishead. Have barely heard of them.
  • “My Generation” — I’m insulted that iTunes would assume that I don’t already have about 12 copies of “My Generation” lying around.
  • Duncan Sheik? You’re kidding, right? He opened for Aimee Mann a couple of years back. It was excruciating. (Though he did a credible Noel Gallagher imitation on “Wonderwall.”)
  • Modest Mouse? In a year, they will have been forgotten.
  • Romeo Void? Please. I don’t even like it, and I still already have it.
  • Green Day’s “I Fought the Law”? Listen, even The Clash had no room to improve Bobby Fuller’s version, so I can’t imagine these guys bring anything to the table.
  • “I Melt With You,” a song just about ruined by its rampant commercial use and endless play in movie soundtracks, and yes, of course I already have it.
  • Can someone please explain what I did to deserve a Thin Lizzy song in my recommendations?
  • Ditto for Simple Plan.
  • The Buckinghams? Well, all right. I could get into that.
  • “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone? This is where I pay for all those ’70s songs I bought last summer to put together a summertime CD.

So, if I don’t want any of that crap, what am I listening to? My most recent additions are

  • Coach Said Not To
  • The brilliant “Pretty Girls Go Insane” by Outrageous Cherry — and you can pick up some of their earlier MP3s here.
  • “Dr. Evil: Doctor of Evil,” by The Minus 5, first heard on the Underground Garage. Gotta love the keyboard work in this, just dripping ’60s garage band.
  • “Hotel California (Spanish Mix)” by the Gipsy Kings, which I just really heard for the first time in “The Big Lebowski.” My collection is filled with covers of Hotel California, though not the original item itself.

True musical confessions

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1 You know that scene in “High Fidelity” where Dick and Barry are sitting in the record store, listening to a song, with these pained, sad, difficult expressions because they can’t believe that the shoplifting skatepunks could make something that good? “I know . . . it’s really good.” Well, that’s how I feel about “Has Been,” the stunning collaboration between William Shatner and Ben Folds, with support from the likes of Joe Jackson and Aimee Mann. I was originally bemused that Shatner, whose rendition of “Rocket Man” is so classically awful, would venture back into the musical world, even with the little bit of cred he saved up from the Priceline commercials. And while not a major fan by any means, I do get that Ben Folds does some interesting stuff. But I still couldn’t imagine how anyone could take such a collaboration seriously. Then I heard a couple of the tracks on WEQX, the true alternative station that I rediscover every couple of years, and I was intrigued. Then I got “Common People” stuck in my head, and it was all over. Downloaded the whole thing from the Apple Music Store, and I’m sorry to report, it’s truly some kind of masterpiece. Scorching, funny, intensely personal (hey, you sing about your wife who drowned and the children you abandoned, and do it without getting even a little maudlin). It’s really good. Sort of like a “Songs for ‘Drella,” something you’ll have to listen to a few times a year, just because it exists. Damn. Who knew he could do that?

2 Came home with an intense need to hear “Come On Eileen,” and I don’t mean the original, but instead the No Doubt version. The “confession” part is that I have it in my library.

3 I love Morrissey’s “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” which would be a typical Morrissey dirge — but somehow it’s not, and it’s not just that it’s a touch sacrilegious. Though that never hurts, to my way of thinking.