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In the Wee Small Hours

I was born back in the Dark Ages in the Land Time Forgot.  Which I suppose is strange for someone who is only 40 years old, but it seems that progress seemed to hit Northeast Ohio a bit slower than the rest of the world.  Some of my earliest memories involve black and white televisions, huge console stereos, and big Chevy Impalas that ran on leaded gasoline.  But one of my fondest memories from my childhood is the day we got cable television.  I’m pretty sure it was a new thing in the area, and honestly it was totally unexpected.  But one day, my mom stopped by this tiny little office in downtown G-town and listened to a sales pitch on the benefits of cable tv.  And I think the selling point was actually a free subscription to the Disney Channel, which she thought would be edumactional for me, but I’m sure access to MTV, AMC, and the home shopping network, helped sway her decision as well.  At any rate, we went home with the little black box and my life was never the same after.

I bring it up here because cable tv was actually a major thing for me when I was a little kid.  I pretty much watched it for hours on end everyday (ironically, even though I pay three times what I should for cable nowadays, I hardly watch anything on tv except for live sporting events), and what I mostly watched were all the old movies.  And I don’t remember if it was on the Disney Channel or on American Movie Classics, but I remember seeing the musical Guys and Dolls about a hundred times, and that was my first exposure to Frank Sinatra.  Actually, I always thought Sinatra stole the show from Marlon Brando, who was technically the lead.  But Sinatra was spot on perfect with his acting and singing as Nathan Detroit, the down-on-his luck gambler trying to keep the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York” afloat. Years later, I even adopted “Luck Be a Lady” as my audition song in high school.

However, this album is far cry from carefree humor of Guys and Dolls,  even though they came out in the same year.  In the Wee Small Hours is Frankie with a touch of melancholia, depressed over a break-up with a girl (or more likely, his tumultuous marriage to Ava Gardner).  The Chairman of the Board’s singing is masterful, as you would expect from one of the all-time greatest crooners.  His phrasing and delivery are second to none, and everyone once in a while he shows a little power and range by belting out a high note.  But not often…Ol’ Blue Eyes was always known for subtlety more than showmanship.  And as a whole, the album is dripping with noir atmosphere.  My only problem with it is that it really doesn’t belong on this list.  On this album, Frankie has the blues, but he’s not singing the blues, if you get my meaning.  This is a standard pop vocal record with orchestral accompaniment, something more akin to art song and chamber music than rock and roll.  I guess you could classify Sinatra as a swing or a jazz vocalist, and argue that it belongs here that way, but this album certainly doesn’t swing.  Quite the opposite, every song is slow and depressing.  But that’s not to say that it’s bad…actually, I dig it quite a bit for what it is. Apprarently, it was one of the first true LP albums,  and I feel I got a bargain on it when I found it used at the Exchange in Westlake for $6.00 last summer when I was up in the Land.

Other lists: None.  I would think that Sinatra would make Rolling Stone’s list of the Top 100 Singers, as he is typically considered one of the all-time greats.  But not so much with the Rolling Stone list, which reinforces my point that this isn’t rock and roll or any of its many derivatives.  Frankie was a crooner, with more in common to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole than to Mick Jagger or John Lennon.  And that’s okay.

Ch-ch-changes: This album fell one spot from its original position at #100 on the 2003 list.

My favorite track: “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning”

Honorable mention “Mood Indigo”

Quote: “In the wee small hours of the morning, that’s the time when you miss her most of all.”



Odessey and Oracle

Wow.  #100.  And it’s only taken me 3 3/4 years to get this far.  At this rate, I will finish this list in 2031.  Sweet.  I wonder how many editions of the list Rolling Stone will have published by then?  Oh well, whatever, nevermind.  So yeah, the Zombies.  This was the third album on the list that made me go hmmm (after Love’s Forever Changes and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica).  I was pretty sure I had never heard of the Zombies or any of the songs on this album.  Then I listened to it, and I recognized “Time of the Season” from lite rock radio, but that was it.  And on my initial listen, I began to wonder if they called themselves the Zombies because they had no soul.  I mean there is absolutely no soul anywhere on this record.  Or put another way, perhaps the pale flesh associated with a zombie inspired them to make the whitest album ever.  Other than “Time of the Season” being a pale imitation of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” (with the accents on beats one and three, no less), this album is pretty much a Baroque dance party.  No blues scales, no blue notes, no bends, or slides.  Just pure Western harmonies straight outta “The Well-Tempered Clavier”.

All kidding aside, though, it’s a pretty good album.  It sort of reminds me of one of my favorite former-indie rock bands, The Decemberists, in as much as there are lots of story songs from the viewpoint of prison inmates, WWII soldiers, etc., as well as literary allusions to Edgar Allen Poe and William Faulkner.  The vocal harmonies are very Beatlesque, and the melodies are catchy and stick in my head.  I found myself listening to this album for about two weeks straight as I was driving to work, and somehow it always put me in a good mood.  It doesn’t seem like the Zombies made much of an impact on rock history as a whole, but this one album is definitely worth a listen.  I picked it up on Amazon for the bargain price of $2.97.

Other lists: nada

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped 20 spots from its original position of #80 on the list.  Harsh!

My favourite track: “Hung Up on a Dream”

Honourable mention: “Time of the Season”

Quote: “They spoke with soft persuading words about a living creed of gentle love, and turned me on to sounds unheard and showed me strangest clouded sights above, which gently touched my aching mind and soothed the wonderings of my troubled brain.  Sometimes I think I’ll never find such purity and peace of mind again.”

There's a Riot Goin' On

So here we have another answer to Marvin Gaye’s essential question What’s Going On?…well, apparently there’s a riot goin’ on.  And that may be a reference to riot that happened at a concert when Sly went on stage late (shades of Axl Rose there), or it could be a general statement on the racial violence gripping American in the aftermath of the civil rights movement.  Either way, this is not the fun, happy Sly Stone we met on the Greatest Hits record.  This album is much darker, and while it still grooves, it certainly isn’t the fun summertime party music he had been making previously.  For the most part, it sounds like one long, extended jam session that has been cut up into separate tracks.  Except it’s not really a jam session, nor is it really a Family Stone album, because it’s mostly just Sly doing the Prince/Trent Reznor thing (prior, of course, to Prince or Trent Reznor doing the Prince/Trent Reznor thing) and playing most of the instruments himself with a few guest artists like Billy Preston (who played with Beatles), Ike Turner, and Bobby Womack helping out.  I picked this up for $7 at the Exchange in North Olmstead this past summer when I was up in the Land for a weekend at the Princess’ alma mater.  It takes a few spins to really dig into it.  And even the remastered CD is still a little murky from all of Sly’s overdubs.

Other lists: See entry #61 on Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits.

My favorite track: “Time”

Honorable mention: “Spaced Cowboy” (nice yodel work)

Quote: “My only weapon is my pen, and the frame of mind I’m in.”

This Year's Model

“Yes he was alright, the song went on forever.” — Z. Stardust

So it’s been awhile.  Four months actually.  New job.  Grad school.  Life.  It all adds up.  But my new year’s resolution is to get back to posting.  So here we go again.  Still a little sad over the passing of the Man Who Fell To Earth a couple days ago.  But the show goes on and here we are with a British rocker who I’m sure was influenced by Bowie, Elvis Costello.  Well, some Bowie, and a lot of Buddy Holly’s personal style, and of course Elvis Presley’s first name (I suppose if my birth name was Declan Patrick MacManus, I would think about changing it too).  So the leader of the new wave is a combination of several different influences.  My first Elvis Costello album was actually given to me by ma soeur about 20 years ago…it was a CD copy of “My Aim Is True”.  I listened to it a few times, but it really wasn’t my thing at the time.  Then, when I was teaching middle school, I remember doing a unit on Costelllo in general music when he was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.  The kids hated it.  But I picked up a greatest hits album at Used Kids so I could play “Radio, Radio” in class.  And about that time it started to notice how much airplay he got, and still gets, on the local independent alternative radio station here in the Bus, CD101@102.5.

As such, I guess I would consider Costello to be one of the fathers of alternative rock.  And for that reason I dig his place in music history.  However, this album, which I picked up for $6.99 at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue, is a little too new wave for my taste.  It’s the over use of synthesizers that bugs me most, which I suppose is hypocritical of me since “Radio, Radio” and its big synthesizer hook is my favorite song on the album.  And “Pump It Up” also works with the synthesizer over a very strong “My Sharonaesque” beat (actually, I think “Pump It Up” came first, so maybe “My Sharona” is “Pump It Upesque”…and what about that Escape Club song from the late 80s “Wild, Wild West”, which pretty much rips off “Pump It Up”).  Anyhow, I wish this album were a bit punkier and more guitar driven.  But I suppose if the new wave had never happened in the 80s, alternative rock would never have happened in the 90s, and then we’d all be a bunch of angry metal heads waiting for the next Disturbed album to come out, and who really wants to be that person?

Other Lists: Elvis Costello is #80 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favourite track: “Radio, Radio” (I am still going to count it even though it was only on the American release of the album)

Honourable mention: “Pump It Up”

Quote: “I wanna bit the hand that feeds me.  I wanna bite that hand so badly.”

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

So I’m surprised I haven’t talked about it yet on this blog, but Bob Dylan was my first concert.  I guess I haven’t mentioned it yet because, unfortunately, I don’t really remember much about it.  See, I was only 10 years old in the summer of 1986 when Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and the Grateful Dead played a triple bill at the Akron Rubber Bowl.  It was a family affair that night, as mi madre is a huge Bob Dylan fan, mon soeur is a huge Tom Petty fan, and mon frere, well, he has his Dead Head moments.  So, being the youngest of the bunch, they packed me up in the family truckster (actually, I think it was a grey Impala) and we made the rare journey outside the Geneva city limits to see the show.  What I do remember is that Petty played first, then Dylan, then the Dead.  And at some point during the Dead’s set, Dylan came back out and played a few songs with them.  I’m pretty sure I fell asleep before the end of the show.

Thanks to the magic of the world wide interweb, I’ve been able to take a look at the set list from that night, and all I can say is damn, I wish I had been older and could remember it better.  Dylan played pretty much everything song of his I would want to hear live, including “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Masters of War” from this album.  Actually, I do remember all the Dead Heads singing along to “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35”.  I wonder if I can find a bootleg of this concert somewhere.  I’d love to hear it again.

As for this album, I picked it up at the Half Price Books on High Street near Worthington for $6.99.   It’s Dylan’s second record and the one that catapulted him in the national spotlight with “Blowin’ in the Wind”, possibly the greatest protest song every written.  The record it mostly folk and blues, but Dylan waxes poetic on “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fail” and he hits hard on “Masters of War” (Edward Louis Severson III and Michael McCready of Pearl Jam fame do a powerful cover of the latter on Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration).  We also get the first example of a Bob Dylan dream song, simply titled “Bob Dylan’s Dream” (although it’s not funny like “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”), and we also get his first use of the talking blues in “Talking World War III Blues” (witty, but not quite as funny as “Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues”, an outtake that got left off the album).

Other lists: “Blowin’ in the Wind” is #14 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

My favorite track: “Masters of War”

Honorable mention: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

Quote: “How much do I know, to talk out of turn?  You might say that I’m young, you might say I’m unlearned.  But there’s one thing I know, though I’m younger than you: even Jesus would never forgive what you do.”

#96: “Tommy” by The Who


I’m a Tommy junkie.  I have been since college.  How did that come about?  Well, the story kinda connects to another rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar.  Back when I was a wee little boy, mi madre used to have Superstar on an 8-track.  Later, when I was in high school, it had major revival due to the sudden popularity of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.  We even did an entire competition show devoted to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music when I was a sophomore in the marching band, and we had a commissioned arrangement of “Superstar”.  So I was into it, and the year after I graduated, the Ashtabula Arts Center was doing Superstar at their summer Straw Hat Theater.  So I auditioned…and didn’t get in.  I was bummed.  Black Cloud got in.  And some of my other friends.  But not me.  I was cast in Fiddler on the Roof, which I promptly quit.

But the next summer, I auditioned for another Andrew Lloyd Webber show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and this time I got in.  And that became my initiation into the Arts Center crowd, some of the most fun people I’ve ever hung out with, and I spent the next three summers of my life doing shows at the Arts Center, eating bread bowls (with ranch dressing) at Perkins, nightswimming at Walnut Beach, and generally living the bohemian, starving-artist lifestyle while I was home from college (I guess I pretty much lived the starving-artist lifestyle while I was in college too, but really, who doesn’t?).  So how does this connect to Tommy?  Well, the Broadway Musical version had just come out around that time, and all those budding young musical theater artists were Tommy junkies (and Rent junkies too).  Always the teacher (and historian), I was quick to point out that it was based off a concept album by the Who. This remaster had been newly released, and I remember picking it up somewhere at a local record shop (one of the rare times I have paid full-price for a CD) so that we could all listen to the original.  This was back in the days of the old Blue Bomber and the talking CD player (“HELLO-CD-PLAY”), and I have fond memories of tearing through the back streets of the Ashtabula Harbor while we all song rousing choruses of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

So there are three distinct versions of Tommy that I am familiar with: the original, the movie, and the Broadway musical.  Each one has strengths and weaknesses, but I really do enjoy all three.  There is a fourth version as well, performed with the London Symphony Orchestra and some pretty famous guest stars (Rod Stewart as the Pinball Wizard and Ringo Starr as Uncle Ernie), but it has been out of print for about 30 years and I have never heard it.  Oddly, it is being remastered and re-released on 9/11/2015, so I’ll try to check it out and update this post afterward. But anyway, the general plot of the story goes like this: Man meets woman.  Man lost at war.  Woman has baby.  Woman takes new lover.  Man returns.  Man kills lover.  Boy witnesses lover’s murder.  Boy retreats into self, essentially becoming deaf, dumb, and blind.  Conventional treatments don’t work.  Unconventional treatments don’t work.  Boy shows aptitude for pinball.  Frustrated mother smashes family mirror.  Boy suddenly cured.  Boy becomes celebrity.  Boy becomes Messianic figure.  Boy’s followers become disillusioned and leave.  Boy finds enlightenment.  End.  Not exactly Shakespearean quality storytelling, but then again, neither was Ziggy Stardust or the Wall.

Let’s start with the original.  It’s the best.  ‘Nuff said.  Moving on…just kidding.  It is the source material, and the only version entirely performed by the Who, so it is the best.  The songwriting really shines through, and of course, the Who plays extremely well together as a band.  And the remaster that I have (I think its the ’96 version) really brings out the French horn in the “Overture”.  Apparently the Who destroyed the master tapes after the initial vinyl pressing, so I was awhile before a quality CD version was released, but this one is real good.  However, the plot is really hard to follow in the original version.  Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend pretty much sing everything, but there is no distinction between the characters.  Sometimes Daltrey is Tommy, sometimes it’s Townshend.  Sometimes Townshend is the father, sometimes he’s the mother, sometimes he’s a relative like Cousin Kevin or Uncle Ernie.  And overall, the vocals are pretty bland on this recording.  Townshend’s voice is just too thin, and Daltrey hadn’t had the benefit of a million live performances to grow into the role yet.

Tommy Blu RayTommy Movie

Then there’s the movie, which is largely terrible, but the soundtrack is great.  The movie itself tries to be psychedelic, but the symbolism is painfully obvious and it comes across as campy instead.  The plot is solidified though, and they make the interesting choice to kill off Tommy’s father instead of the lover.  This changes things dramatically, as the whole movie you get to root against the sleazeball lover (well acted, but poorly sung, by Oliver Reed).  There is also a fantastic guest appearance (again well acted, but poorly sung) by Jack Nicholson as the Specialist who cannot cure Tommy (but hits on his mother).  Elton John is hilarious as the Pinball Wizard, and Tina Turner rocks the house as the Acid Queen.  Eric Clapton gives a surprisingly bland performance as the Preacher (changed from the Hawker in the original), but his guitar work is great.  The real treat, however, is Daltrey’s performance as Tommy.  By the time this movie was made in 1975, he had several years of live performances under his belt, and thus his vocals much more powerful and soaring than in the original recording.  He simply owns the second half of the movie.  And his acting is decent too.  Unfortunately, the movie used quite a few studio musicians, and instead of orchestrations it gets really synthesizer happy at times.  But Pete Townshend played on every track (except for “Pinball Wizard”…Elton used his own band) and it holds together.

Tommy Broadway

And then there’s the Broadway musical.  If you hate Broadway voices, don’t bother with it.  It you can handle a good belting mezzo or a tenor with soaring vibrato, check it out.  The Who doesn’t play anywhere on this record, but it was completely overseen by Townshend.  He even wrote a new song for it (yes, it’s easily the worst song on the album).  And the recording was produced by George Martin.  Yes, that George Martin, the studio wizard behind Saints John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to how the French horn flares shine throughout.  It’s as if Tommy grew up on Penny Lane.  Joking aside, I think it’s a pretty good rendition of the source material.  The plot is as clean and tight as it’s ever been, and Tommy’s father is restored to his rightful place as the survivor of the fight with the lover.  There is a lot of incidental music for dance numbers and scene changes that bogs it down a bit, and some extra dialog that is somewhat inane, but in the long run it’s more faithful to the original than the movie.

Other lists: See the entry for Who’s Next (#28) for the accolades Rolling Stone bestows upon the Who.

My favourite track: “Go to the Mirror”

Honourable mention: “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

Quote 1: “How can men who’ve never seen light be enlightened?”

Quote 2: “If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high, you’d laugh and say ‘Nothing’s that simple’.”

Bitches Brew

“And now I choose to recite a list: tether ball, Olympic race, sparkling, Tim Duncan, Wisconsin, a book of matches, next week, a lot of money, witches brew.” – Homestar Runner (the first one to eat a million wins!)

So I recently had this experience.  I was up in the Land for a weekend hollyday with the Princess.  We were staying in the University Circle area, which is within walking distance to Little Italy.  Right next to our boutique hotel (I say it sarcastically, but it really was a nice place to stay) was a little restaurant.  It had an Italian name.  The menu looked to be Italian.  We both like Italian food.  So we went in to give it a try…and suddenly nothing was as it seemed.  The waiter offered us a “tasting experience” that would have taken three hours (and, incidentally would have made us late for the show we were there to see).  A young, pony-tailed general manager came over and started talking to us about the “romance” that inspired each dish on the menu.  It was poetry, he said.  Art.  Expression through cuisine.  The salads had been “foraged” that morning.  The vegetable was pickled cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.  There was llama meat in the lasagna (no joke).  It was all rather bizarre.  We ate.  It tasted good.  Not great.  We declined dessert, but savored an extra glass of vino.  We left wondering exactly what had just happened (and why it had cost so much).  It certainly hadn’t fit the picture of what we had expected based on our previous experience with high end Italian restaurants (should I add a Billy Joel reference here?  bottle of red, bottle of white, etc.?).

So I tell you all this because, essential that is the same experience I had with this album.  I had not heard this record before I purchased it on Ebay for $7.17, but I’ve heard some Miles Davis before…Kind of Blue was after all #12 on this list.  And I played saxophone in my high school jazz band for two years.  And I even studied jazz a little bit in college.  So I thought I knew what I was getting into when I popped the first of the two CDs in my stereo. But, just like with the Italian restaurant above, it was completely different than I expected.  This isn’t jazz…at least not the structured jazz I know in which instrumentalists take turns soloing over a rhythm sections that plays a repeated chord progression.  No, this is free form.  Primal.  It seems like all the instrumentalists are improvising all at the same time.  There is no form.  No structure.  It’s the Kid A of jazz, released thirty years before Kid A was even conceptualized.  And does it work?  I don’t know.  I have a hard time following it.  Without a clear solo melody, my mind tends to wander, only to be brought back a few minutes later by the surge of the drums or an unexpected lick on the electric keyboard.  Is it romantic?  Is it art?  Poetry? Expression?  Sure.  It passes the time alright, but I’m not sure I feel an emotional connection to any of it.  To me it sounds more like a musical experiment than anything else.  I think I like the second disc better than the first, but overall I think I’d rather be listening to Kind of Blue.

Other lists: None, really.  Rolling Stone just isn’t a jazz magazine.

Ch-ch-changes: This was originally #94 on the 2003 list, but was bumped down one spot by the rise of Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits.  The original #95, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, was bumped completely off the list in favor of the Chronicle Vol. 1 greatest hits package which came in at #59 on the 2012 list.

My favorite track: “Sanctuary” (its the mellowest track, at least at the beginning)

Honorable mention: “Spanish Key”

40 Greatest Hits

“Are you ready for some foosball?”  Oh, wait a minute.  It’s not that Hank Williams.  It’s his father?  Ok, got it.

When I went to Nashville with the Princess last summer I kind of messed up.  She really wanted to see the Ryman Auditorium (mostly because she really likes the movie Walk the Line) and I thought it was open later than it actually was.  So on our last day in town, we showed up around 4:00 PM and they were already closing up shop for the day.  She was pretty bummed, so I made sure that when we passed through Nashville on our way to Memphis this past spring that we were early enough to tour the Ryman.  And the paid backstage tour there is actually pretty boring, but the free to the public part in the actual auditorium is pretty amazing.  For a long time it was the home of the Grand Ole Opry (before they moved to their overpriced entertainment complex on the outskirts of town) and there are relics from that period on display in the back of the auditorium.  Well, almost an entire display case was devoted to Hank Williams, and knowing this album was coming up on the list, I took the time to learn me some history.  It turns out Hank Williams auditioned for the Opry, but was originally turned down as he was notorious for missing gigs because he would get to drunk to go on stage.  Eventually though he made a guest appearance, and his performance was such a showstopper that he was called back for six encores.  After that they had to hire him, but a few years later he was fired for…you guessed it…getting drunk and missing gigs.

So after learning about Williams at the Ryman I searched high and low in Nashville and in Memphis for this album, but no record store carried it.  I got back to Columbus, and I was about to buy it online when a copy suddenly showed up for $5.99 at the Half Price Books on Bethel road just a few blocks from where I live.  What luck!  And after digging into this album, I can honestly say it’s pretty awesome.  Minimal country twang with lots of steel guitar and violin.  Clever lyrics dripping with bluesy irony.  Just about every song is in a strong country western two-step, and almost every song is between 2 minutes 22 seconds and 2 minutes 53 seconds long.  How’s that for consistency!  And you can definitely hear the influence Hank Williams had on early rockers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.  And obviously he was influential in the country world as well…anyone else hear the similarity between Williams’ “Wedding Bells” and Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose”?  It’s practically the same song.

Sadly, things didn’t end well for Williams.  He was being driven to a New Years Day gig in Canton, Ohio (another place the Princess and I visit frequently…great wineries up there) when he past away at the all too young age of 29.  Apparently the driver of the car didn’t even realize Hank Williams was dead until he stopped off for gas.  Another tragic end to a great musician.  Williams obviously had some demons, many of which were reflected in his song lyrics.  Of the 40 songs on this compilation, only 5 have an upbeat theme (one of which is the country gospel song “I Saw the Light” which always used to be a favorite of my church choir…until God laid me off last year).  The other 35, even when humorous, are about depressing subjects…but I guess that’s country music in general.  As for his son, I’ve never been a big fan of Hank Williams, Jr., but learning about Hank Sr. gives me knew respect for Jr.’s song “Family Tradition” (“Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?”).  And, well, Hank Jr. is following the family tradition by getting himself kicked off of Monday Night Football.  And I guess the grandson, Hank Williams Jr. Jr., is a punk metal rocker.  So the legacy lives on (sort of).

Other lists: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is #112 and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is #217 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Williams is ranked #27 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #74 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up 35 spots from its original position of #129 on the 2003 list.

My favorite track: “Nobody’s Lonesome for Me”

Honorable mention: “I Saw the Light”

Quote: “I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost, for a life of sin I have paid the cost.  When I pass by all the people say, ‘just another guy on the lost highway'”.

Sign o' the Times

“My name is Prince, and I am funky” – The Artist Formerly Known as Prince

So I have to admit I was struggling for something to write about in this blog post.  I wasn’t really feeling this album, and other than the two albums with the New Power Generation in the 90s, I am not much of a Prince fan.  I was going to write something about how I think Prince may have invented text message language (“Nothing Compares 2 U”? Anyone?), but then I happened to be watching the original Batman movie the other night…no, not the 1960s Adam West farce, and not the sometimes-to-clever-its-own-good Christopher Nolan trilogy either, but the 1989 Batman movie directed by Tim Burton with Michael Keaton as the Batman (still the best actor ever to don the cowl) and Jack Nicholson as the Joker (I know Heath Ledger posthumously won the Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker, but I’ll still take Jack Nicholson’s performance any day of the week)…and I realized that Prince did the entire soundtrack (not the orchestral score, which was done by long time Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman) for that movie.  And it’s largely terrible (the soundtrack, not the movie or the score), but it brought back some memories.  I was at that tender junior high school comic book reading age when that movie came out, and Batman was (and still is) by far my favorite super-hero.  No super powers, a tragic anti-hero, yada yada.  All the stuff a middle school aged boy loves.  So, anyway, the movie came out in the summer, and I remember mi madre driving me out to the little two-screen theater in Conneaut (I wonder why it wasn’t playing in Ashtabula?) so I could see the very first showing on the day it was released.  I was even wearing my Batman Chuck Taylors.  No lie.  And it may still be the best Batman movie ever made (I do like Batman Begins too though), and as for the Prince soundtrack, well I can’t imagine the Joker and his gang defacing art in a museum to any other artist.  And the “Batdance” video was all over MTV at the time too.  Apparently, Prince only did the soundtrack because his record label, Warner Bros., forced him to (later he would famously change his name and write “slave” on his face in an effort to break his contract with them) and as Batman is such a major property, he was forced to sign away all the rights to those songs.  But I guess it’s a neat little side story to the Batman movie mythos, and it all happened only two years after Sign o’ the Times.

I suppose I should say something about this album.  After all, the post is supposed to be about Sign o’ the Times.  Umm, well, I don’t really dig it.  Musically, Prince is a freak of nature.  He does the Trent Reznor thing (before Trent Reznor actually made it a thing) by playing pretty much every instrument on the record.  And he plays and sings in pretty much every popular music style imaginable, from rock to funk to R&B to soul to even a little gospel. He even invents a female alter ego, Camille, so he can sing a few songs from an, ahem, different perspective.  But the problem is he coats everything in this 80s pop veneer that makes it all sound very dated to my ears.  Let’s face it, the 80s was just not a good decade for music.  Great for action figures, cartoons, movies, and pretty much all aspects of pop culture…except for music.  I paid $8.58 for this 80s relic on Ebay.  It’s apparently completely out of print.

Other lists: Sign o’ the Times is #74 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s.  The song “Sign o’ the Times” is #304 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See the entry for Purple Rain (#76) for Prince’s other Rolling Stone accolades.

My favorite track: umm, well, if I have to pick one, it’s “U Got the Look” I guess

Honorable mention: [eyes closed, random finger lands on…] “Starfish and Coffee”

Quote: “There comes a road in every man’s journey that he’s afraid 2 walk on his own.  I’m here 2 tell u that I’m at that road, and I’d rather walk with u than walk it alone.”

20 Golden Greats

“Something touched me deep inside, the day the music died” – Don McLean (w/cheese)

“Oo-ee-oh I look just like Buddy Holly” – Rivers Cuomo (w/out cheese)

Back in the summer of ’96, the Gear Head and I were in a production of Grease at the Ashtabula Arts Center.  I had a chorus role, and I think the Gear Head was Sonny, and to get into character every night we rolled the sleeves up on our white t-shirts and slicked our hair back greaser style.  We even tried smoking the Lucky Strikes we had for props backstage (nasty things).  And even though the music from Grease is largely terrible, there was this CD of 50s songs they played for house music every night before and after the show, and during intermission.  It had all those great 50s style sock-hop hits that take you back in time to classic cars and chrome diners with cheeseburgers and milk shakes (the closest thing I’ve ever experienced in real life is Eddie’s Grill at Geneva-On-The-Lake).  Buddy Holly was the only artist with two songs on that CD (“That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”), and the Big Bopper and Richie Valens (the other victims of the fateful plane crash) were represented as well.  It was a really fun cast, and we all probably had more fun dancing backstage to the music on that CD than we had doing the actual show.  Years later, I found a copy of it at Half-Price Books: it’s called Only Rock and Roll 1955-1959.  Fitting.  I think it’s part of a series.

Anyhow, other than that goofy Weezer song (I love Weezer’s first two albums…too bad everything they’ve put out since has been crap) that came out right before I started college, that summer was my only real experience with Buddy Holly’s music.  But since I started writing this blog, I’ve gotten a much better sense of rock history, which helps me to put Buddy Holly into perspective.  If he would have lived, it seems like Buddy Holly would have rivaled Elvis for the title of King of Rock and Roll.  Holly was a prolific song writer (emphasis on song writer…he was one of the first to write his own material), churning out 3 albums and 16 singles in his brief 18 months of stardom.  Furthermore, he was the first artist to use the now standard rock band instrumentation of 2 guitars, bass, and drums.  He was a huge influence on the Beatles (in fact, they named themselves partially in honor of the Crickets) and the Rolling Stones, and a young Robert Zimmerman was in the audience at a Buddy Holly show in Duluth, Minnesota two nights before the plane crash that claimed Holly’s life.  And what is truly tragic about the plane crash was that Holly didn’t actually have to be on that plane…he had chartered the flight himself to get off of a miserable tour bus with no heat in the middle of a harsh midwest winter, and he was trying to get to the next venue early so he could wash his clothes and get a little extra sleep after the tour manager had scheduled an extra performance on an off day.  So sad.

As for this particular album, it’s out of print.  Actually, I couldn’t find a copy for a decent price here in the States, but I found a seller in Spain who sold me a copy for $2.80 (plus international shipping, ugh!) on Ebay.  As far as I know, it has all the songs you’d expect to hear on a Buddy Holly greatest hits package.  The gems are certainly “That’ll Be the Day” and “Peggy Sue”, but there are a few other great songs like “Not Fade Away” and “It’s So Easy” as well.  There are a few songs that he did with the NBC Symphony Orchestra that I really don’t care for (“It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, “Raining In My Heart”, “True Love Ways”), but the stuff he does with the Crickets as his backing band are all decent rock tunes.

Other lists: “That’ll Be the Day” is #39, “Not Fade Away” is #108, “Rave On” is #155, “Peggy Sue” is #197, and “Everyday” is #238 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Buddy Holly ranks #80 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, #48 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and #13 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favorite track: “That’ll Be the Day” (the moment in the last chorus when the drummer changes the rhythm under the line “when you make me cry” is just sooooo cool.)

Honorable mention: “Not Fade Away” (a cool variation on Bo Diddley’s famous one-two-three, one-two pattern)

Quote: “People tell me love’s for fools.  So, here I go breaking all the rules.”