Tag Archive: Rolling Stone


I am not a music teacher anymore.  I have crossed over to the “dark side” and I am now an administrator.  But back when I taught music, I always thought that harmony was the hardest thing to teach.  Rhythm tends to come pretty quickly to most people, and melody, well, most people can at least carry a simple tune.  But vocal harmony really takes a developed ear and a little knowledge of music theory to really be able create it and know where it’s going.  And actually, vocal harmony is what you hear the least of in current popular music.  In this era of solo artists and bands with single lead singers, groups that harmonize seem to have become novelty acts on bad reality music shows.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.  I only bring it up because the Mamas and the Papas were known for their harmonies.  Well, the blend of their voices might be a better term, because actually there isn’t as much vocal harmony on this record as you might expect.  More often there is call and response singing between the men and the women, or there is a lead singer with the others singing folky oos and ahs behind him or her.  And there is as surprising amount of unison singing.  But occasionally they will bust out a long chord, often with the women singing a suspension and then resolving it, and those moments are truly glorious.

I don’t really have any childhood memories of the Mamas and the Papas.  I think I was more of a Peter, Paul, and Mary kind of guy.  I do vaguely remember an episode of Scooby Doo that guest-starred Cass Elliot, but I really didn’t know who she was at the time.  And it wasn’t as good as the episode with the Globetrotters.  But in college I remember picking up a copy of their Greatest Hits cheap at Johnny Go’s House O’ Music.  I think the only song I ever listened to on that album was “California Dreamin'”, but I remember really liking that song a lot and listening to it while I was trudging around campus on cold winter days.  I think we may have even sung an arrangement of “California Dreamin'” in Statesmen, but I may be misremembering that.

I picked this album up for $7.99 on Amazon Prime.  I am glad it has the original cover, as apparently at some point the cover was censored because the record company thought the toilet was inappropriate.  So for many years the toilet was covered by a banner with the song titles on it.  Actually, I think the original vinyl pressings were pulled off the shelves because of the cover, and as such have become valuable collector’s items.  By today’s standards, a toilet seems pretty mild, but I get it.  Times were different back then.  Insert Dylan quote here.

Other lists: “California Dreamin'” ranks at #89 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up 15 spots from its original ranking at #127 on the original list.

A word from the Princess: [after listening to “Monday, Monday”] “I think I like Fridays better.  And Saturdays.”

My favorite track: “California Dreamin'”

Honorable mention: “Go Where You Wanna Go”

Quote: “You gotta go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do, with whoever you wanna do it with”

 

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#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.”

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.”

Purple Rain

Once upon a time there was a magical decade called the 80s.  Children growing up in this decade had the best toys (Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.) and got to watch the best cartoons (Smurfs, Snorks, Gummi Bears, the list goes on…).  Movies like “The Goonies” and “Back to the Future” were in the theaters, and TV shows like “Alf” and “Punky Brewster” gave us something to watch in at home in the evenings.  And most of the great video game franchises like Mario Bros., Zelda, Metroid, and Final Fantasy all had their start in the 80s on the good old Nintendo Entertainment System.  It was an amazing time to be a kid.  About the only thing that really sucked in the 80s (other than Reaganomics) was the music.  Maybe it was the debut of MTV.  Or maybe it was the development of the synthesizer.  I don’t know.  But it was a decade of total synth pop crap and hair metal.  Fortunately for all of us children of the 80s, we were able to don our flannel shirts as we came of age in the 90s (1991: the year punk broke) and the alternative rock scene was able to wash away the horror that was music in the 80s.

So this album has the 80s stamped all over it.  From the moment you see Prince on the cover with his 80s style mullet and his purple motorcycle, you know its going to be an 80s extravaganza of over the top flamboyance.  I picked this album up for $2.50 awhile ago at the Exchange in Willoughby, but I just recently go around to listening to it.  And I wanted to like it…I am almost ashamed to admit that I really did like Prince’s first two albums with the New Power Generation in the 90s (Diamonds and Pearls and the unpronounceable love-symbol album)…but yeah, I just couldn’t get into this.  Prince is an excellent musician, and actually he has quite a bit of really good guitar work on this album.  But unfortunately, he has a tendency, and it is in full effect here, to drown his music in layers of synthesizers and drum effects.  Maybe I’m being harsh…it’s not all bad.  There are some good vocal melodies, and as a singer Prince has 3 distinct registers, almost like Axl Rose (although unlike Axl’s piercing full voice upper register, Prince’s high voice is more of a controlled falsetto).  But overall this album just has too much of what I hated about most 80s music for me to actually enjoy it.

And then there is the movie.  This is the second soundtrack on the list, and like I did with Super Fly, I listened to the album and then watched the movie, and then listened to the album again.  Except this time, watching the movie didn’t help make sense of the songs at all.  Actually, it probably made me like the album a bit less, as this is possibly the worst movie ever made.  Seriously, I can’t think of a worse movie off the top of my head.  It’s the cliche musician movie formula plot: struggling musician meets girl, musician has issues with his parents, musician loses girl to rival, musician’s issues put career in jeopardy, musician gives stellar performance that wins back girl and catapults him to fame and fortune.  Yawn.  And to top it off, the acting performances are terrible (like every single actor in the movie is bad), and the non-album songs are pretty bad as well (who thought it was a good idea to write a song called “Sex Shooter” for the female lead?).  I bought the blu ray of this movie off ebay for $7.72, and I want my money back.  Yikes.

Purple Rain Blu Ray

Other lists: “When Doves Cry” is #52 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the album Purple Rain is #2 on the list of the 100 Best Albums of the 80s (how is it that this is #2 and Joshua Tree is #3 on the 80s album list, but on the all time list Joshua Tree is #27 and this is #76?  Consistency please, Rolling Stone, consistency).   The Purple One ranks #33 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists, #30 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and #27 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped four spots from #72 due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Kid AGraceland, and Star Time.

My favorite track: “Let’s Go Crazy”

Honorable mention: “The Beautiful Ones”

A word from the Princess: “I hate Prince.”

Quote: “Hey, I ain’t got no money, but honey I’m rich on personality!”

#63: “Achtung Baby” by U2

Achtung Baby

This is my favorite U2 album.  And I was surprised that in a recent Rolling Stone reader’s poll, this album actually beat out “The Joshua Tree” as the favorite among the fandom.  I guess I’m not alone.  I remember the first time I heard “Mysterious Ways” on MTV…it was just so absolutely different from anything I had heard from these guys before.  I was pretty young, and to be honest, I had always thought U2 was boring adult rock up until that point.  But “Mysterious Ways” had that cool, lurching guitar lick and that sweet drum beat and bass line, and for once Bono’s lyrics were about something a teenage boy could relate too…chasing girls.  Then a few months later “One” was released, and I was hooked.  And to this day, that song still blows me away every time I hear it.  Even with all the great songs U2 has released over the years (including some amazing deep cuts like “The First Time” and “The Wanderer” from the Zooropa album), “One ” is still probably my absolute favorite U2 song.  It’s just so dead on…pretty much the perfect description of a relationship.

I had the album on tape (or maybe it was mi madre’s or ma soeur’s…I don’t remember), and the whole thing had this cool alt rock sound that really fit in well with the music revolution that was just about to happen.  So having it on tape wasn’t good enough, and I upgraded it to CD as soon as I had the chance.  But then the revolution actually did happen (1991…the year punk broke) and I admit this album kind of got lost in the shuffle among the amazing records that started coming out from bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.  It was a few years later when I went to college that I got back into this record.  I remember a collage in some random college trash rag that had a bunch of lyrics from the 90s all mixed together, and prominent in the picture was the “every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief” line from “The Fly”.  And I remember being inspired to go back and listen to this record and analyse the lyrics the English major I probably should have been if I didn’t have a deep seeded resentment of horned rim glasses and tweed jackets.  But other people were into too, and I remember having some good coffee shop conversations about this record.

And then of course there was the Disco Bitch, and his love all things Irish, including the I.R.A. and U2.  He was a huge fan, and he was into all of their albums.  We went to see U2 live twice…the first time I talked about in “The Joshua Tree” entry.  It was in the ‘Shoe and Bono flew in on a giant lemon.  The second time was at Nationwide Arena and it was the “Elevation Tour” in support of “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”.  I remember they played “One” that night late in the set, and Bono messed up the lyrics and sang one of the verses twice…but it didn’t matter…it was still awesome.

Other lists:  “One” is #36 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  “Achtung Baby” is also ranked #4 on the list of the Best Albums of the 90s.  See “The Joshua Tree” entry for other accolades Rolling Stone has awarded U2.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original position at #62 due to the addition of CCR’s “Chronicle”.

My favourite track: “One”

Honourable mention: “Acrobat”

A Word from the Princess: “Is that Ziggy Stardust?”

Quote 1: “And I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in.  Yeah, I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in.”

Quote 2: “Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief.  All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief.”

Quote 3: “You say love is a temple…love’s a higher law.  You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl.  And I can’t be holding on to what you got, when all you got is hurt.”

Quote 4: “If you wan to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel.”