Tag: Album

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

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This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 958: Day One Of Peace & Music

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“I have come to lose the smog

And I feel to be a cog in something turning.”

I have been trying to reconcile my relationship with the Woodstock festival for more than 20 years. “These are your grandparents,” I told my daughter as the movie played in our living room this week. But Woodstock reached further than its generation, even beyond the magnificence of its music. It was the temporary realization of pure Utopia – or at least that’s how its legend trickled down to me, some schmuck born 2400 miles away, five years after the last gnarly raindrop had voiced its opinion that the festival ground should be mud.

Perhaps the images of a groovy, grubby, smoky paradise are merely the false concoctions of media (in this case, the documentary film Woodstock) and reputation, but this is the image that tickles my imagination and tilts my longing toward that sensation of community, of parity, and of that shared experience of being billion-year-old carbon in the same cosmic stew with a few hundred thousand friends.

2014 not only boasts the 45th anniversary of the decade-defining event, it also features an aligned calendar, allowing for the three days of the original festival (August 15, 16 and 17) to land once again on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Today I’ll be exploring what built Woodstock from the sloppy ground up; tomorrow I’ll delve into the music and on Sunday the potent culture – real or imagined.

To begin among the festival’s roots, one simply must start with the sitcom.

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In 1967, lawyer Joel Rosenman (pictured above) and his friend John Roberts decided they wanted to write a sitcom about two entrepreneurs who fall into wacky weekly hijinks as they try to bring their business plans to fruition. For research they plopped an ad into The Wall Street Journal, claiming to be “young men with unlimited capital” looking for investment opportunities. Two of the men who responded, concert promoter Michael Lang and “Dead Man’s Curve” co-author Artie Kornfeld, intrigued the would-be comedy writers so much they abandoned their plans for television stardom and became the very entrepreneurs they’d planned to depict. Read more…

Day 936: Number One With An Irreverent Bullet

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Here’s the part where the guy twitching in the hungry crosshairs of 40 tells you how the music topping the charts these days won’t inspire so much as a quiver of his trigger finger. But really, who cares? The purveyors of popular song have no interest in capturing my iTunes money. Just as my parents wondered desperately who on earth would want anyone to Rock Them Amadeus, I can’t fathom why Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, a piece of simplistic monotony with a Clueless rip-off video, spent a month this summer at #1.

Ever since the end of the halcyon days of 80’s pop, the soundtrack that flipped the pages of my childhood, I have paid scant attention to the Billboard Hot 100 chart. While MC Hammer’s parachute pants flapped in the raucous wind of his success, my high school friends and I were discovering the mystical quests within the grooves of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd records. So I guess I haven’t been hip in about twenty-five years. I’m okay with that.

I’d always been a trifle suspicious of this chart anyway. What is it counting? Sales? Radio airplay? Likelihood of ending up as a parody on Weird Al’s next album? There is actually some math to this madness, and it’s far too complex for my mid-week brain to tabulate without a nap under its belt. But I’ll do my best.

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For almost two decades prior to the Hot 100’s debut in the pages of Billboard (yes kids, Billboard was and is an actual magazine. A magazine is kind of like Buzzfeed.com made out of trees), the chart tabulators kept track of three separate stats: the best-sellers, the songs most played by disc jockeys and the songs most played in jukeboxes. That last one was key, as a disgraceful clump of radio stations were refusing to play rock ‘n roll in the mid-1950’s. Billboard had to track what was big with the kids. Read more…

Day 872: Here Come Ol’ Levy, He Come Groovin’ Up Slowly

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A survey of music lovers who possess even so much as a passing interest in the Beatles’ music will undoubtedly reveal “Come Together” to be one of the most universally beloved bullets in their melodic clip. From its swampy bass, its percussive “Shoot me” refrain to its absurdist and almost comically weird lyrics, the song righteously opens the gates to the magnificent Abbey Road album, tantalizing and gratifying most every pair of ears it meets.

It’s almost shocking to imagine the pretzel of nefarious backlash it provoked. “Come Together” may have begun its life as John Lennon’s attempt to pen a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s quest to unseat Ronald Reagan as governor of California, but it wound up inadvertently connecting Lennon with one of the most insidious corners of the music industry.

If only it were as simple as Lennon scribbling a new idea then slapping it onto vinyl with his buddies through the immaculate channel of producer George Martin. For the origin story of the madness that would follow, we need to travel back to 1956, back to when songs about cars were a veritable genre unto themselves. To a little single by rock ‘n roll’s illustrious grandpa, Chuck Berry.

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In 1956, Chuck released a song called “You Can’t Catch Me”. Lennon’s song boasts a similar vocal melody and a set of lyrics (“Here come old flattop, he come goovin’ up slowly” to “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me”). The similarity ends there – Berry’s song is about driving quickly whereas Lennon’s is about something called ‘toe-jam football’ and some guy with feet below his knees. But it was enough to snag the ear of music publisher Morris Levy, who owned the rights to Berry’s song and promptly launched an infringement lawsuit against Lennon. Read more…

Day 574: The Big Box O’ Juke – 60s Edition

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The day after writing about someone’s horribly-botched circumcision and subsequent medical torture, I really need to punch that gearshift into a new socket and spend this gloriously overcast day in a happier, more uplifting place.

It is for this reason that we order up a shake, pull out that roll of quarters from our pocket that proves we’re not happy to see anybody, and saunter back over to the Big ol’ Box O’ Juke for another mini-binge on some of the great songs in history. Having jumped through the 70’s, the 80’s and the 90’s, I’m going to point my Flux Capacitor at the decade which produced the greatest classics-to-pap ratio in modern music history: the 1960’s.

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We may as well start at the beginning, with this attractive group who were known for deeply admiring mysterious things to their immediate left. That is, of course, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and the single that smashed its bubbly Dom over the hull of Motown, christening the label and launching it into the Billboard stratosphere was called “Shop Around.”

Smokey wrote the song with Motown honcho Barry Gordy, recording a slower, bluesier version that found itself dispatched through Detroit airwaves, receiving a fairly solid response from the locals. But Gordy had his sights set on conquering the world, so one night at 3:00AM he brought the Miracles in to record the more upbeat pop number we all know. Presumably members of the Funk Brothers, the Motown house band that never received any credit from the Motown PR corps, despite their performances having truly defined the label’s signature sound, were also called in to the session. Read more…

Day 408: A Half-Century of Beatles Gold

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First off, I’d like to apologize in advance to all members of the baby boomer generation. This article may assist in making you feel old. That said, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that every significant cultural accomplishment of the 1960’s is going to turn 50 soon, and that begins today.

When the Beatles woke up in the morning of February 11, 1963, they had two British singles under their belt: “Love Me Do”, which had barely cracked the top 20, and “Please Please Me”, which was threatening to do the same. They reported to EMI Studios on Abbey Road around 10:00am, with a plan to devote the next thirteen hours to recording the entirety of their first album. It was the 60’s. They had too much to conquer; there was no time to waste.

They even wore suits, but no jackets. They were in a hurry.

They even wore suits, but no jackets. They were in a hurry.

British pop albums traditionally came bundled with 14 songs, because songs were generally less than three minutes long, and prog-rock/jam-band/one-song-a-side albums hadn’t been invented yet. The Beatles had two A-sides and two B-sides ready, but ten vacancies that needed to be filled. Read more…

Day 297: The Ultimate Best Of Greatest Hits Gold Collection

As a young aspiring music snob, I was taught to shun the Greatest Hits album. I was told to aspire to find the brilliant album tracks, to let the unwashed masses scramble over each other to merely settle for hearing the radio hits. I might have dismissed such blatant snootery, but the Beatles ruined it for me. Once I learned that they had album tracks like “And Your Bird Can Sing” or “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” that put hits like “Yellow Submarine” and “Eight Days A Week” to shame, I tossed my Red & Blue compilation double-records into the fire and went hunting for the proper albums.

So when Ms. Wiki dropped the idea of Compilation Albums by Artist onto today’s playlist, I was skeptical. I’d spent so many years wanting nothing to do with compilation albums. There were some I needed to buy of course – when jerk-ass Tom Petty released his Greatest Hits album in 1994, it was the only way to own the song “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, and I’d developed an unhealthy addiction to that tune through its radio airplay and cleverly necrophilic video. So that meant I owned two copies of “Free Fallin’”, “Refugee” and all those other songs. Thanks a lot, Petty.

Oh, I could never stay mad at you.

There are 398 artists listed as having compilation albums. Seems like a great way to do some quick investigating into the phenomenon.

The beautiful thing about Greatest Hits albums is that you can release entirely new ones every few years, and no one will notice. Some will become monster hits – the Eagles’ Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is certified at 29x multi-platinum, and was the greatest selling album of all time for a while. But most of the time people will fail to notice if the collections get replaced by new ones. Some 70s artist released an album of new material in 1996? Okay, let’s put out a new greatest hits album with the one single (that no one liked) from the new album. People will still buy it, even if they just want the old hits that were actually good. Read more…