Latest Entries »

the-bends

“Anyone can play guitar and they won’t be a nothing anymore” – T. Yorke

It was the spring of 1994 and I had just finished seeing my first real rock and roll show (at least since coming of age).  It was Pearl Jam at the Cleveland State Convocation Center and the story of that life changing event will be told in full when (and if) I ever get to the entry for PJ’s Ten.  But I was there with the Artistic One, and immediately we ran into Lord Bacchus and Lightning 101 inside the arena, and after the show was over and we had all purchased our black bootleg concert T-shirts in the parking lot and had a slice at a nearby establishment, the Artistic One and I jumped in his mother’s blue Chevy Lumina mini-van (his family used to call it the Lumi), and we proceeded to have an experience not unlike the movie Judgement Night (a movie whose soundtrack is more memorable than the movie itself), minus Jeremy Piven of course (nobody died).  But we got lost driving around the east side of the Land for about two hours, which is especially idiotic of us since the freeway ramp to route 90 is literally a block from CSU campus.  But oh well, we were young and dumb and indestructible (and directionally challenged).

So we had a case full of CDs that we had just gotten from BMG and a cassette-adaptor that plugged into the tape deck and a portable CD player powered by the lighter jack, so at least we had music on this impromptu journey (C-town radio is sketchy at best).  By that point we were pretty much PJ’d out (we had listened to them all day, and then they essentially played every track off Ten and Vs plus all the b-sides at the show), and so we decided to branch out into some new material.  And the two albums I remember playing as we wound our way through the boarded up houses and abandoned factories were the Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, which is typically remembered as their best release, and Radiohead’s Pablo Honey, which was generally regarded as their worst album up until TKoL was released.  But at the time, I remember liking Pablo, even if it wasn’t that great.  It still had some really teen angsty defiance (“I am not a vegetable, I will not control myself!”) mixed with a keen sarcastic bite (“I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be Jim Morrison!”).  And I remember quipping that they need some original song titles, as Stone Temple Pilots (ugh) already had a hit with a song called “Creep” and Candlebox had a song called “You” on the charts (oh, the irony!).  But the main problem was Pablo is just kind of noisy.  Radiohead’s “three guitar attack” (remember when Radiohead used to play guitars?) essentially had strings ringing all over the place, and even though there was some Nirvanaesque crunch, it lacked Cobain’s precision.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Lord Bacchus and I had both moved down to the Bus to pursue our higher edumacations and as so often happened, we were spinning some tunes while we threw a few back on the weekend.  He was prolly living in the Briar Patch at the time.  Anyway, at some point he was like “you gotta check this out” and he put on the new Radiohead album (how he always got new tunes first, even before the days of digital file sharing, I still don’t understand).  But he put on The Bends and I just remember being blown away by the whole album.  It was totally unexepected…the little one-hit wonder Britpop band who had largely been overshadowed by Oasis and Blur had suddenly grown up and released one of the best albums I had ever heard.  The songwriting was light years ahead of where it had been on Pablo Honey, and while the lyrics were still pretty angsty, they weren’t teen angsty.  In fact, it resonated pretty well with the college life.  But I think the main thing was that the “three guitar attack” (remember when Radiohead used to play guitars?) had been refined with Thom playing acoustic rhythm, Ed playing electric rhythm, and Jonny doing leads and effects.  The ringing strings and general dissonance had been replaced (mostly) by just very focused and driven guitar work.  I liked it so much, Lord Bacchus dubbed it onto a tape for me (hey, I was a poor college student and I only bought CDs when I found them used) so I could listen to it back in my dorm room.

Eventually I must have bought it, and I must have bought it new because my copy doesn’t have a sticker on it anywhere.  And actually, there is some residue on the case from those stupid long white stickers they still put along the top spine of a new CD.  But regardless, it has remained a treasured album in my collection for 20+ years.  Personally, it is my 2nd favorite Radiohead album (most of the time, but from time to time In Rainbows sneaks up into that #2 spot) and I go back and listen to it quite frequently.  I even have the Collector’s Edition (I pretty much hate all the money grabbing re-releases aimed at my g-g-generation these days), and there are some pretty awesome b-sides and live performances on it.  And the My Iron Lung EP bears mentioning, as it also has some pretty awesome non-album tracks (and also starts the tradition of every Radiohead album having a companion EP).  Only OK Computer eclipses this album in my mind in the Radiohead catalogue, and even then the two are pretty close.  Ironically, The Bends wasn’t a commercial hit, and it didn’t have a hit single nearly as popular as “Creep”, but it’s a true masterpiece and it established Radiohead as a post-grunge force to be reckoned with.

Other lists: “Fake Plastic Trees” is #385 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  The Bends also clocks in at #21 on the list of the 100 Best Albums of the Nineties (even though it is above most of the top 20 on this list…way to be consistent Rolling Stone!).

Ch-ch-changes: The fan favorite vs. the critical darling!  Even Radiohead is affected by their own success, this album falling one spot from its original position at #110 due to the critics pushing Kid A up to #67.

My favourite track: “Just”

Honorable mention: “Fake Plastic Trees”

Show: “Street Spirit [Fade Out]”

Quote 1: “You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts is you do it to yourself, just you, you and no-one else.  You do it to yourself.”

Quote 2: “He used to do surgery for girls in the eighties, but gravity always wins, and it wears him out.”

Quote 3: “Blame it on the black star”

Quote 4: “Nice dream.”

 

 

loaded

“The whole world’s comin’ to an end, Mal!” — Mickey

It was late summer back in 1994.  I had gradiated from Olde Genevieve, but college hadn’t started yet.  I was in a dawg haus with my girlyfriend’s parents from which I was never destined to emerge.  Nevertheless, we went to the movies one night.  It was a strange crowd.  One that never really hung out together.  In addition to me and the Drama Queen, the Artistic One and Top Gear were with us.  Now, to this day the Artistic One and Top Gear remain polar opposites on the electromagnetic spectrum, so yeah, it was weird.  But we were all out to see Ollie Stone’s latest controversial flick, a little ditty named Natural Born Killers.  It was supposed to be uber-violent and edgy, kinda like a modern A Clockwork Orange.  And usually that kind of thing would have been right up the Artistic One’s alley, but for some reason he didn’t take to it and he stepped out to smoke a ciggy.  And strangely enough, so did the Drama Queen, even though she didn’t smoke.  But it kind of got my proverbial goat, ’cause I had this weird vendetta against cigs since mi padre died when I was a wee lad, so it put me in a bad mood.  And it was just me and Top Gear watching the movie, and he was pretty much hating every minute of it.  So about halfway through (right about when Mickey and Mallory go into the drugstore to get the snakebite juice) we all bailed.  Which is okay…the second half of the movie is rubbish anyway.  But it was just a strange night, and it wound up being the last movie the Drama Queen and I would ever see together.

The connection here is that the song “Sweet Jane” features very prominently in the movie and on its soundtrack.  In fact, it’s sort of Mickey and Mallory’s theme and it comes back several times in the movie when ever they have a romantic scene.  But it’s not the Lou Reed version of the song, it’s a cover done by the Cowboy Junkies.  And all through college I used to love that version of the song.  Its mellow and soothing and the slide guitar just relaxes my mind and the la la section at the end takes me to another place.  Actually, the entire NBK soundtrack is killer (forgive the pun) and features tons of really great songs.  It was pretty much hand selected by Mercer, Pennsylvania’s favorite son and was Trenton’s first foray in cinema music (he’d win an Oscar later on for The Social Network original score).  And “Burn” may be the best non-album NIN track.

But as good as the soundtrack is, the movie pretty much is crap.  Even Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. can’t save it.  And that’s despite being written by my favorite auteur, Quentin Tarantino (sort of).  As the story goes, after Tarantino had dropped out of high school and was working at the video store, he wrote three scripts: True Romance, Natural Born Killers, and Reservoir Dogs.  Well, he wanted to make Dogs himself, so he sold the other two to finance it.  True Romance wound up being made by Tony Scott (who changed the ending), and Oliver Stone picked up NBK.  The thing is, he completely rewrote it…so much so that QT asked to have his name taken off it (he still gets a story credit).  Now, I’ve read the original script, and its basically a crime drama (much like the rest of QT’s early work).  But Stone decided to make it a media statire and his transparent moralizing ruins the film.  And the 8 million cuts are bizarre and fairly obvious (“hey look, it’s Mickey’s inner demon!”).  Its sort of an attempt at 90s psychedelia, but it doesn’t work and it hasn’t aged well.

So I picked up this album a year or so ago at the east side Half Price Books that used to off Brice Road (it recently moved all the way up to McNaughten).  They were playing it over the sound system while I was browsing, and when I got up to the register I asked how much it was and the clerk said $6.99 American and I said “I’ll take it!” (probably without that much enthusiasm).  As far as the music goes, I dig the songs Lou Reed sings and not much else.  Doug Yule just really doesn’t do it for me.  But hey, at least Nico was long gone by this point.  Actually, Lou Reed was gone too by the time this was released…on to a stellar solo career (minus that one collaboration a few years ago with Metallica…ugh, that record is terrible!).

Other lists: “Sweet Jane” is #342 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: Even the Velvets are not immune to the critical darling that is Kid A and drop one spot from their original position of #109.

My favorite track: “Sweet Jane”

Honorable mention: “Rock & Roll”

Quote: “Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station, she couldn’t believe what she heard at all.  She started dancin’ to the fine fine music, you know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll.”

aftermath

About this time two years ago, the Stones announced that their Zip Code tour would be rolling through the Capitol City and that they would be playing at the holy shrine of collegiate American-style football, the Olde Horseshoe on the muddy banks of the Olentangy.  Well, I was interested in going, but the ticket prices were pretty steep, and I had half a mind to do what I did back in ’97 when the Stones came through town and sit on a hill outside the stadium and listen (Saylor Moon joined me that night).  It is an open air stadium, after all.  But then myyoungestniecia texted me because she wanted to buy a ticket to the concert for ma soeur for Mommy’s Day.  And since ma soeur was going, I decided to go too.  But then I thought I should get a ticket for mi madre too, as she is a huge Stones fan.  And then mon frere decided to tag along as well, so I became a family affair (and actually the same group that took me to Dylan, Petty, and the Dead back when I was a wee lad).

So the day of the concert was also my last day as a Cowboy, as I had recently been promoted, and we were gradiating the most recent class of cowboys and cowgirls.  And the Math Professor was retiring, and I wanted to put in an appearance at his farewell party.  Also, there was a minor monsoon hovering over the Capitol City, and it was threatening to put a damper on the evening’s festivities.  So I wound up running pretty late, and I was worried I would miss the rendezvous with my family, which was pretty important, since I had everybody’s ticket.  But it didn’t matter because my family was running late too, and when they finally arrived, I laughed to see the mon frere had duct taped ma soeur’s front bumper on after it had fallen off at a gas station in Medina.  So typical of my family!  Well, the monsoon was still raging and no-one really wanted to see Kid Rock perform as the opening act, so we hung out and had a few adult beverages before the show.  Then, miraculously, the clouds parted and the rain stopped just as we left for the ‘Shoe.

I had a tip from a friend that the parking lot by the Schottenstein Center would be free and mostly empty (a good combination), but it is quite a hike from there to the stadium.  And mi madre was in a wheelchair, but we all took turns pushing and we got there just before the Stones took the stage.  Now I had shelled out the big bucks for mi madre, ma soeur, and myself, but mon frere had opted for the cheapest ticket possible.  However, mi madre had a special ticket in the wheelchair section, and mon frere pushed her in like he belonged there and noone ever said anything to him.  So actually, he was the closest to the stage and he paid the least!  In retrospect, I gotta admit I wish I had thought of that.  Ingenious!  The concert itself was excellent.  A huge stage, three large video screens, and plenty of pyro-technics.  But all of that was just window dressing, because the band actually sounded great.  Kieth Richards actually sort of stole the show from Jagger…every strum on his guitar seemed to cut through the evening air and he had a huge smile like he was having more fun than anyone in the world.  Jagger was good too though, dancing like he was thirty years younger and generally being the archetypical leading man.  They played pretty much everything I wanted to hear, including “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, the latter of which featured the choir from the other university named after the state of Ohio.  My only complaint was they didn’t play “Dead Flowers”…it was one of four potential songs in a pre-concert online vote and it lost out, not-surprisingly, to “Paint It, Black”.  Oh, and did I mention they had a Scarlet and Gray version of the famous mouth logo!  It was practically the perfect evening.

As for this album, meh.  I hate to say it, but I don’t really dig early Stones.  This is from the 60s, before they had their epic run in the 70s.  As such, it doesn’t really have that bad boy rock and roll identy of later Stones albums.  There’s some blues (“Dontcha Bother Me”), some county (“High and Dry”), some psychedelica (“Paint It, Black”), and weirdly even a little baroque (“Lady Jane”).  It’s a hodgepodge, but it just doesn’t gel.  I bought it for $11.88 off of Amazon Prime.  It’s the American version…the British version has a vastly different track list and order, adding four songs but deleting “Paint It, Black”, about the only song I really dig on the album.  Overall, it’s not bad, it’s just not great either.

Other lists: “Paint It, Black” and its oddly placed comma rank at #176 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes:  The ripple effect of Kid A has dropped this album one spot from its original spot at #108.

My favourite track: “Paint It, Black”

Honourable mention: “Under My Thumb”

Quote: “It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black.”

 

#108: “Hunky Dory” by David Bowie

hunky-dory

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky.  He like to come and meet us, but he thinks he’d blow our minds.” — Z. Stardust

I took it pretty hard when David Bowie died back in January.  I responded by listening to Ziggy Stardust pretty much nonstop for weeks.  And of all the albums I’ve “discovered” so far by doing this blog, that one might be my favorite.  I haven’t brought myself to listen to his posthumous release, Blackstar, yet.  I guess I’m saving it for something.  I’m not sure what though.  Maybe I’m just avoiding the finality of it.  But 2016 has sadly been the year of artists passing, with Prince and Leonard Cohen among the musicians, and actors such as Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder.  And just yesterday, Carrie Fisher died.  Haven’t even really processed that one yet.  All of these celebrity deaths, along with the election results, have cast a pallor over 2016, and I hear lots of people just wanting the year to end so they can move on to 2017.  But actually, 2016 was a pretty memorable year for me: I got married, I got promoted, and the Cleveland Cavaliers ended the Land’s championship drought.  As such, despite all the other stuff, I’ll quote Tori Amos and say “well, still pretty good year”.

So I dug into Hunky Dory hoping to hear the same glam rock crunch and sing-a-long bar rock choruses of Ziggy Stardust, but I was actually a bit disappointed.  This precedes Ziggy by a year, and instead features a more art-house piano cabaret style on most of the songs.  There are a few exceptions, like “Changes” (which I reference often in this blog), “Life on Mars?”, and “Queen Bitch”, but for the most part coffee shop style poetry and odes to Andy Warhol and Robert Zimmerman.  I probably built this album up too much in my mind, and I thought it was good, but not great.  I got this in a lot with Ziggy Stardust on ebay for $10 (and I’m not proud to say I gifted the extra disc on Xmas, but hopefully Myoldestniecia is rocking out somewhere to “Suffragette City”).  I wanted this particular edition because it is the out-of-print Rykodisc version with bonus tracks, as opposed to the most recent Parlophone release with no bonus tracks and likely mp3 era remastering issues.  It lacks the lettering on the front cover (weird), but it also lacks a bar code on the back (coolio).

Other lists: “Changes” is #128 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes (ahem): Even the Starman cannot escape the power of Kid A (sounds like a comic book tagline) and drops one spot from its original position at #107.

My favourite track: “Quicksand”

Honourable mention: “Life on Mars?”

Quote: “I’m not a prophet or a stone age man, just a mortal with the potential of a superman.”

portrait-of-a-legend

Before I dug into this album, which I picked up on Amazon Prime for $9 (two day shipping baby!), the only Sam Cooke song I thought I knew was “A Change Is Gonna Come.”  And I was aware of that song mostly because we studied it as a civil rights era anthem in one of my music history classes in college.  And like most things, one can study it in a class, but it wasn’t until I became a music teacher that I realized the true power of the song, as it truly has become transcendental in that it has been passed down from generation to generation.  More than any other song, and I include Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” in this statement, “A Change is Gonna Come” has been embraced as an anthem for change and equality and human rights by the old and the young across the nation.  And sadly, Sam Cooke didn’t live long enough to see the impact his masterpiece had on people across the country, but that is another story for another time.

So anyway, when I listened to this album, which is essentially a greatest hits package, I discovered that i knew several of the songs on it.  Songs like “(What a) Wonderful World”, “Chain Gang”, “Another Saturday Night”, and “Good Times”, were radio staples when I was kid.  I just never knew those songs were sung by Sam Cooke.  And as a singer, I certainly enjoyed Sam’s voice on this record.  Stylistically, his tenor voice sits somewhere between the silky smoothness of Marvin Gaye and the raw emotional power of Otis Redding.  And he sings in a full voice, rarely, if ever, using falsetto, which is a plus to me.  But, as much as I enjoyed Sam’s voice, I felt his talent was wasted on most of the songs on this album.  For the most part, these songs sound like same trite 50s pop you would have heard on the juke box in a soda shop.  And listening to this album, I just kept yearning to hear Sam sing something more substantial.  Maybe I need to look up his gospel recordings, as I really do like the first song on this album, “Touch the Hem of His Garment” a lot.  At any rate, he was a great singer, even if the quality of these songs doesn’t quite live up to the level of his talent.  And his take on the Gershwin classic “Summertime” is pretty awesome.

Other lists: “A Change is Gonna Come” is #12, “You Send Me” is #115, “(What a) Wonderful World” is #383, and “Cupid” is #458 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Sam Cooke is ranked at #4 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and at #16 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: Like most of the albums through this section, it is one spot lower than its original ranking at #106.  Kid A!

My favorite track: “Summertime”

Honorable mention: “Another Saturday Night”

Quote: “Yeah, come on and let the good times roll.  We’re gonna stay here till we soothe our souls.”

rocket-to-russia

So the last time I wrote about the Ramones (entry #33), I actually spent most of the entry writing about the Dead Schembechlers, the “legendary” Wolverine Hate-Core band from C-bus whose first album was actually titled “Rocket to Ann Arbor” in homage to this album.  So as I sit here in the Capitol City, in the midst of *ichigan week, in anticipation of the second biggest matchup in the history of the two schools with OSU currently ranked #2 and scUM chiming in at #3 (not quite as good as #1 vs. #2 in 2006, but I’ll take it) and a potential berth in the third annual college football playoff on the line, it only seems fitting that I continue the trend by writing more about the Schembechlers.  So indulge me for a bit…

I’ve seen every Schembechlers show here in the ‘Bus (6 total), and I have tix to my 7th show this upcoming Black Friday (I missed one in C-town one year, but it was the same show they played here in Cowtown).  In terms of sheer popularity, the band peeked with the show I wrote about last time (entry #33) in 2006 when the teams were ranked #1 and #2 and Bo tragically died the day of the show.  That night they donated the proceeds from the show to Bo’s Heart of a Champion charity and promised to change their name to the “Bastard Sons of Woody”.  That name didn’t stick though, and after a two year hiatus they returned as the Dead Schembechlers.  They had the show booked for the former LC (I don’t even know what the name of the place is now), the biggest venue they had ever played.  However, the week of the show, ESPN had some sort of crappy college football tour sponsored by Samsung and headlined by the All-American Rejects come into town, and the LC bumped the Schembechers to the former House of Crave (crappy name inspired by then White Castle sponsorship…it’s now called the A&R Music Bar), a tiny rock bar next to the LC.  Ticket holders could move freely between the two venues, and ironically the House of Crave was packed to capacity and there were about 3 teenagers in the LC to see the Rejects.

After that, the shows got progressively smaller and more sporadic.  In 2010 they played a “Farewell to Rich Rodriguez” show at Skully’s Music Diner, a small rock club in the Short North.  Then there was a long hiatus (Bo Biafra was kidnapped and spent several years in a Wolverine Death Camp), until the group returned in 2014 to play a “Farewell to Brady Hoke” show at Ace of Cups, a very small rock club in the Olde North district.  This year there is no new music, but the band is playing at Ace of Cups again in anticipation of another Buckeye victory over the Big, Blue Meanies.

Ok, thanks for indulging me.  Now to the Ramones.  I picked up this album for $4.99 at the Barnes & Noble in Mentor last holiday season.  It pretty much sticks to the Ramones formula of simple verse-chorus-verse songs with witty lyrics and no guitar solos.  The subject matter is pretty much tongue-in-cheek teen angst with the occasional fake-surfer song thrown in (“Rockaway Beach”, “Surfin’ Bird”).  It has a little less energy overall than their debut, but it’s still a fun album.

Other lists: “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” is #461 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: We are still in the wake of the meteoric rise of Kid A, so this album is one spot lower than its original ranking of #105.

My favorite track: “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”

Honorable mention: “We’re a Happy Family”

Quote: “There’s no stoppin’ the cretins from hoppin'” (so true after the recent election…)

modern-sounds-in-country-and-western-music

Having been a music major in college and a music teacher for sixteen long years, I have an appreciation for just about every style of music.  But if there is one genre of music for which I truly have a distaste, its the modern pop country movement.  I dislike it so much I don’t even know the names of artists to give examples.  I think they are all named Blake anyway.  But even though I can’t stomach current pop country, I do like country western quite a bit.  You know, the classics like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, etc.  That stuff is pretty good, and it is that rich history of songwriting that Ray Charles mines for this album, while of course putting his own gospel/R&B spin on it.

I’ve always been attracted to art that defies convention and stereotypes, and this album does just that and does it well.  And I’ve always admired musicians who step outside their comfort zone to try new and different styles, and again, this is what we have here.  At the point in Ray Charles’ career when he made this album, he was an established R&B artist.  He could easily have cranked out another R&B album and it probably would have been a hit.  But instead he challenged himself and his audience by recording this country western album and it wound up not being just a hit, it became a landmark moment in an already storied career.  And I could go on about breaking racial stereotypes and challenging social norms, which this album did in fact do at the time, but the truth is this album has had longevity because it is just simply good quality music.  Despite the somewhat depressing subject matter (it is country western music after all), Brother Ray imbues a sense of joy in each song through his iconic voice and his jazz-tinged arrangements.  I remember seeing this album at the Earnest Tubb Record Shop when I was down in Nashville a few years ago, but I didn’t pick it up until I found it used for $6.99 at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue.  It is worth every penny.

Other Lists: “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is ranked #164 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See entry #54 for The Birth of Soul for other Ray Charles accolades.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original ranking at #104 on the original list.

My favorite track: “Half as Much”

Honorable mention: “It Makes No Difference Now”

Quote: “But that’s all in the past, and I’ll forget somehow.  Well, I don’t worry, ’cause it makes no difference now.”

 

Sweet Baby James

I’ve referenced it before on this blog, but when I was a wee little boy mi madre had this big wood paneled console stereo that had a turntable, an 8-track player, and a radio.  And I used to love to stand and watch the records spin for hours at a time.  But I also loved the 8-track player because it had these red lights that would indicate which track was playing, and there was always this big mechanical thunk every time it switched tracks.  Sometimes that big thunk even happened mid-song.  Well, most of mi madre’s albums were on vinyl, but JT was on 8-track.  And I remember hearing “Fire and Rain” at a very young age, and realizing it was a great song even then.

Fast forward several years to my high school days, and scamming BMG for as many free CDs as possible.  JT’s Greatest Hits package was one of those free CDs, and it made the trip with me down to Olde Columbus Towne when I started college.  The Artistic One and I were rooming together in Lincoln Tower, and despite the fact that we were trying to be tragically hipster and listening to lots of Nine Inch Nails mixed with heavy doses of The Doors and the Beastie Boys, we would frequently put JT on the stereo when we wanted to hear something soothing.  I think the Artistic One’s parents had exposed him to JT in his youth as well, and it was something that took us both back to simpler times when all hell was breaking loose around us in the dorm.

Fast forward a few more years, and in my first year of teaching in Newark, Ohio (pronounced Nerk by the locals) and there was a large section of 70s pop tunes in the choral music library.  So I found an SATB arrangement of “Fire and Rain” and I started to teach it to the 8th grade choir.  Well, it had taken awhile to win these kids over, but they had genuinely grown to like me.  But they hated this song at first.  Like truly hated it.  But then I tried to explain to them that it had meant something to me when I was younger and they gave it a shot.  And then some urban legend developed that this song reminded me of an ex-girlfriend who had died, which was totally untrue, but it motivated the kids so I never completely denied it, and the kids got real good at it and it wound up on our spring concert.  Hey, whatever works, right?

So yeah, I make fun of JT a bit for being about the only dude in the whole California folk-singer/songwriter movement of the early 70s.  And it does seem like he shoes up for guest vocals on a lot of his ex-girlfriends records from that era (and apparently Carole King wrote “You’ve Got a Friend” as a response to “Fire and Rain”).  But the truth is I dig JT, and especially this album of his, quite a bit.  He was discovered by the Beatles and was one of their first signings to the Apple music label, and if the Beatles dug it, it gots to be good, right?  I picked this album up at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue for $4.99.  The case was broken, which is a pet peeve of mine, so I switched it out, and now it sits proudly on my CD shelf.  If only I could find an 8-track copy…

Other lists: “Fire and Rain” is ranked #227 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs.  JT is ranked #74 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #84 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its initial ranking of #103 (we are still feeling the aftershocks of the meteoric rise of Kid A).

My favorite track: “Fire and Rain”

Honorable mention: “Sweet Baby James”

Quote: “People live from day to day, but they do not count the time.  They don’t see their days slippin’ by…and neither do I.”

Giant Steps

The last time John Coltrane showed up on this list, way back at #47 with A Love Supreme, I talked about how I played saxophone all the way through my senior year of high school and how it was kind of an important thing for me when I was growing up.  Well, there is a continuation to that story, and I’ll tell it here.  Back in the fall of ’94, I packed up my beat-up blue Grand Am and drove three hours south to the ‘Bus to start college at The Ohio State University.  I brought my saxophone with me, and even though I was enrolled in a pretty rigorous pre-med track of courses, I had it in my head that I was going to major in music.  I was also completely mind-fucked at the time, as bad as I’ve ever been, but that’s another story (see entry #37 Hotel California).  At any rate, the first thing they told me at the School O’ Music was that I had entirely missed the audition process and I would have to wait until next quarter to audition.  So I said fine and auditioned for the university wind bands, and I was pretty surprised when I was placed in the lowest band possible.  I thought I was a pretty decent player…I had been first chair in my high school and second chair all-county.  But this was the big time: the giant university in the big city, and it was a completely different ballgame…I just didn’t realize it yet.

So my time finally came to audition three months later, and the powers that be said “Sure kid, we will let you in provisionally: you have two quarters to prove you can hack it.” And that was my introduction to traditional saxophone studio (I was certainly not a jazz player).  And the people were cool, as you would expect saxophone players to be, and some of them I still talk with to this day.  And they were all immensely talented.  Like out of this world talented.  And honestly, I just didn’t have the chops to keep up.  And my heart just wasn’t in it either.  And by the time my jury came up (music major juries are probably the most intense and scariest thing I have ever experienced and survived in my lifetime), the panel knew it too.  Fortunately, by then I had begun to do more than just dabble in singing, and I was able to audition on voice and get into the program as a vocal music major.  And that is how I eventually wound up as a choir director for sixteen years before going the administrative route.

But enough about me.  Let’s talk about the album a bit.  I think this set is much more accessible to the typical listener than A Love Supreme was.  This is more of your standard collection of jazz tunes…like what you would hear in a smoky jazz club on the weekend in a major city.  Coltrane is at the top of his game here, and his manic runs are balanced by his more lyrical moments.  The backing band does more than just keep up…they add character to the tunes, along with an occasional piano solo.  Overall, it’s a fun set of songs that gets better with repeated listenings.  I picked this up at the Half Price Books by me on Bethel Road for $4.99, and it was worth every penny.

Other lists: n/a

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its rank of #102 on the original list.

My favorite track: “Syeeda’s Song Flute”

Honorable mention: “Naima”

Quote: n/a

Fresh Cream

Wow.  Other than playing lead on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the White Album, this is Clapton’s first true appearance on the List.  As prolific as he’s been for the last 50 years, I’m kinda surprised it took this long to run into a Clapton album.  Of course, living here in the Capitol City, there are always rumors of Eric Clapton sightings.  Supposedly his most recent girlfriend-turned-wife is from around here, and it seems like everybody but me has seen him doing laundry in the German Village or taking in a local rock show at the former Thirsty Ear.  The more recent stories say he has a large house out in Dublin where he stays when they visit family, and apparently he fancies some sushi restaurant up on that side of town.  I don’t know if any of these stories are true or not, but it is a cool urban legend to have one of the most influential guitarists of all time hanging out in your city.  Although, I wonder when he visits he feels weird being only the second greatest guitarist in Central Ohio, after the great great Willie Phoenix, of course…

I kid.  I don’t mean to take anything away from Clapton.  He is one of the all time greats.  His playing is lyric and bluesy, and he doesn’t rely on any gimmicks or effects…he just plays.  This is Cream’s first album, and I went into it expecting some phat riff rock along the lines of “Sunshine of Your Love”, but instead its a mashup of psychedelic originals and blues covers.  And honestly, I don’t really dig the psychedelic stuff (it pales in comparison to the Beatles and the Doors and other masters of the genre), but the blues stuff is really great…covers of Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters, some of the best that ever was.  Cream was one of the first supergroups, but I’m not sure they had really gelled musically yet at this point.  Ginger Baker’s drumming is powerful, Jack Bruce’s bass playing is tight and his harmonica solos are bluesy, and of course Slowhand’s leads are nearly flawless, but somehow it feels as if they are all competing against each other rather than playing together as an ensemble.  I guess I’m just being critical…it’s definitely a good listen.   I picked this up for $6.99 at the Half Price Books out on Brice Road one day after work this last school year, and it was worth the price of admission.

Other lists: Eric Clapton is ranked #2 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists and #55 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.  Ginger Baker is #3 on the recent list of the 100 Greatest Drummers, and the band Cream is #67 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists (to my knowledge, Rolling Stone has not done a list of bass players yet…nobody loves the bass player).

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original position at #101.

My favourite track: “Spoonful” (which was not actually on the original U.S. album release)

Honourable mention: “Rollin’ and Tumblin'”

Quote: “Sweet wine, hay making, sunshine day breaking.  We can wait till tomorrow.  Car speed, road calling, bird freed, leaf falling.  We can bide time.”