Staff Picks: Music
It's not uncommon to feel a nostalgia for music of another time and place that may cast today's sounds in a less favorable light, even if the evidence doesn't justify the position. However, fans of '60's pop radio can point to any of the following 45s from the summer of 1966 - listed in no particuar order - to make a very strong case for the excellence of that era:
The Beatles: “Paperback Writer” – before the late-summer stateside furor caused by John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” interview remarks, the Fab Four ruled US airwaves with this dose of proto-psychedelia, cut during the sessions for their landmark Revolver LP. Dig the “Frere Jacques” backing harmonies in the third and fourth verses.
The Rolling Stones: “Paint It, Black” – moving further away from their R’n’B roots with this brooding Middle Eastern-flavored recording from their Aftermath sessions, the Stones released the first rock single to feature the sitar. Keith Richards remains non-plussed by the US record company’s random insertion of the comma in the song’s title.
The Supremes: “You Can’t Hurry Love” – Motown’s biggest act charted their 7th number one smash (after a couple of singles that “only” made the top 10) with this infectious Holland-Dozier-Holland production that, for many, defines the Sound of Young America today. Despite the lyrics’ recommendation for patience, the song’s insistent rhythms (laid down by the legendary Funk Brothers) guarantee body movements by anyone within earshot.
The Lovin’ Spoonful: “Summer in the City” – it’s hard to detect the Greenwich Village quartet’s jug band roots on this driving ode to urban summertime heat, the misery it causes in the minor-key verses countered by the fun it promises in the major-key choruses. This is the first rock single to feature a jackhammer.
The Beach Boys: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – the third single from the Hawthorne, CA quintet’s timeless Pet Sounds LP had such a great flipside – “God Only Knows” – that both sides made the top 40 charts. In the UK, the single sides were flipped, gaining even greater chart success.
Dusty Springfield: “Goin’ Back” – Dusty’s soulful reading of this wistful Goffin-King composition was an international smash everywhere but in the US, where, for whatever reason, Springfield’s record company declined to release the song (which eventually became a minor hit in a version by the Byrds released the following year). The yearning nostalgia of the song’s lyrics is in sharp contrast to the youthfulness of the song’s performer and composers.
Bob Dylan: “I Want You” - the third of four singles from Dylan’s epochal Blonde on Blonde double-LP charted just weeks before the artist’s extended disappearance from the public arena after a mysterious motorcycle accident. The remarkably simple chorus lyrics are quite atypical of the increasingly complex wordsmithing Dylan fans came to expect, but that seems to be the point (driven home by the singer’s repeated, excited pleas of the title) of what’s essentially a simple love (or, more accurately, lust) song.
The Troggs: “Wild Thing” – one of the most covered (to this day) hits of the ‘60’s was a make-it-or-break-it follow-up to a failed debut single by the UK act almost named the Grotty Troggs. Though the track and its performers have a reputation for being “primitive”, few cover bands could pull off the ocarina solo featured in the song’s instrumental break.
The Velvelettes: “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You” – the final ‘60’s 45 release from Kalamazoo’s very own stars of Motown, this modest R’n’B hit – loaded with classic Hitsville touches, from a finger-snappin’ intro to catchy vocal harmonies in support of an arresting lead - should have found wider airplay, but with so much competition on the airwaves in the summer of ’66, it’s no wonder that it became a buried treasure waiting for discovery, along with so many other worthy single sides from this period, by music lovers today… and forever.
I love to make music mixes for my friends. When I can get the response, “Wow I never would have listened to that song if it wasn’t on the mix you made me,” I feel like I have done my part to push good music out into the world. My seven year old daughter considers a good mix one in which you can roll down the windows and turn up the volume. Below is a playlist that consists of what I feel are the best tracks of the first six months of 2011. Mix it up and roll down your windows.
1. Weekend by Smith Westerns (Dye It Blonde)
2. Take Me Over by Cut Copy (Zonoscope)
3. Rolling In The Deep by Adele (21)
4. Sad Song by The Cars (Move Like This)
5. Discoverer by R.E.M. (Collapse Into Now)
6. Me, Me, Me by Middle Brother (Middle Brother)
7. Make Some Noise by The Beastie Boys (Hot Sauce Committee Part Two)
8. Dig A Little Deeper by Peter Bjorn and John (Gimme Some)
9. Don’t Carry It All by The Decemberists (The King Is Dead)
10. Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars (Barton Hollow)
11. Sim Sala Bim by Fleet Foxes (Helplessness Blues)
12. Shadow of Love by Sloan (The Double Cross)
13. Helena Beat by Foster the People (Foster the People)
14. If I Wanted Someone by Dawes (Nothing Is Wrong)
15. Future Starts Now by The Kills (Blood Pressures)
16. Till I Get There by Lupe Fiasco (Lasers)
17. Damn These Vampires by The Mountain Goats (All Eternals Deck)
I've discovered some of my favorite music and artists from watching television. When songs play in the background or at the start or end of a show, I often search for the lyrics online to find the name of the song and the performing artist. This has served me well. House and Fringe (as well as various commercials) have provided insight to artists and performers such as Massive Attack, Damien Rice, Editors, Langhorne Slim, and Ryan Adams.
When watching a recent episode of NCIS, Cote de Pablo's character, Ziva David, was singing Temptation--a Tom Waits creation. So, in true form, I went online to search for it to see where I could find a version of her singing it (beautiful rendition!). And, that is when I found that NCIS has two soundtracks available. I was able to easily check these two CDs out through our MeL interlibrary loan system.
While I recognized artists such as Jakob Dylan, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Keaton Simmons, Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones, I was able to add artists such as Oasis, Blue October, and Sharon Little to my list of new folks to investigate.
NCIS: The Official TV Soundtrack
If you lived in Kalamazoo during the 1970s and listened to WIDR (WMU campus radio) you undoubtedly heard a lot of Gil Scott-Heron – like others I’m sure, that was my first exposure to this highly influential musician and poet. Scott-Heron is often described as “the godfather of rap” for his sharply pointed spoken word infused jazz and soul. In his 1970 single “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” his deep soulful voice—accompanied only by a steady drum beat—brought life the hot-button issue of racial inequality; not as a radical street preacher but as an articulate street-smart professor (he held a master’s degree in creative writing). His words were riveting and immediate. “The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions. The revolution will not give you sex appeal. The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.”
He collaborated with many of the jazz heavyweights of his time – Brian Jackson, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws to name a few and his influence is acknowledged by a generation of artists, from Kanye West and Public Enemy to Eminem. His work touched on a variety of social and political issues, including addiction (“The Bottle” - 1974), slavery (“Rivers of My Fathers” - 1973) and racial oppression (“Johannesburg” - 1976). In 1979, he joined other high profile artists in Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) and contributed “We Almost Lost Detroit,” a poignant reminder of a close-by nuclear near-disaster in 1972.
In 2010, Scott-Heron released his fifteenth studio album, I’m New Here, to great critical acclaim. A track called “Where Did The Night Go” is highlighted here. Gil Scott-Heron passed away last Friday in New York after a brief illness. He was 62.
Over the past couple of years there has been a spike in retro-sounding soul musicians whose work echoes the groundbreaking sounds of early sixties Motown and Stax recordings. For starters, the soul enthusiast looking to delve into some of the newer troubadours will want to grab a copy of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings’ I Learned the Hard Way, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, Mayer Hawthorne’s A Strange Arrangement, Fitz and the Tantrum’s Pickin’ Up the Pieces, and the forthcoming Raphael Saadiq’sStone Rollin’.
I Learned the Hard Way
I cannot get the first track of Adele’s new album 21 out of my head. “Rolling in the Deep” is soulful and catchy, and one of those songs you want to sing along to while driving in the car. Adele is a British singer, who at age 22 has already made huge waves in the pop charts—it’s no wonder, her voice is amazing. The album as a whole is a little uneven; it starts out strong but loses energy in the middle due to a few slow, uninspired ballads right in a row. The end of the album picks up a bit with a unique take on the Cure’s “Lovesong.” All in all, it’s definitely worth a listen.
The music world lost some of its most talented and accomplished musicians this year. Here is a short list of several artists whose works can be found and enjoyed here at the library.
Alex Chilton (Big Star)
Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse)
Ari Up (The Slits)
Pete Quaife (The Kinks)
Doug Fieger (The Knack)
Keep an eye on the sky
I was not terribly impressed with the musical output from 2009, but after compiling my Top Ten CDs from 2010 I discovered a bunch more that were better than most of last year’s list.
Since I could only offer ten selections for the official KPL Top Ten page, I present ten more great CDs from the past twelve months.
11. Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green
12. Body Talk Pts. 1 & 2 by Robyn
13. Adrift by The Red Sea Pedestrians
14. Majesty Shredding by Superchunk
15. Of The Blue Colour of the Sky by OK Go
16. The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson
17. Transference by Spoon
18. I Learned the Hard Way by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
19. Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine by Various
20. Maya by M.I.A.
I have to say that at first listen Plastic Beach went in too many different directions for me. However, by the end I more than appreciated the analogy between the album’s title and its musical landscape. Now, I spend a little time each day soaking up the sounds of this album. Gorillaz had already established itself as an institution where pretty much anything goes, but with Plastic Beach the “band” blends about as many musical styles as it does songs on the album (16 tracks with a running time of just over 56 minutes). Not to say that each track sticks to any kind of formula whatsoever, it absolutely does not in the most refreshing ways. Damon Albarn, the Gorillaz’ driving force, is able to convince the listener to blindly accept the transition within and between each song. You almost wonder if this capacity for persuasion was necessary to convince the eclectic group of artists that make the Plastic Beach what it is. Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash, Lou Reed, Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Sinfonia Viva, Mark e Smith, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble all join the regular cast of mysterious cartoon Gorillaz to create an album that will spend a lot of time on my playlist. Take a walk along the Plastic Beach and you will pick something out of the sand that’s worth your while.
The Malian duo Amadou & Mariam have been in nearly constant rotation on my ipod and home stereo since I became aware of their music with the 2005 release of Dimanche a Bamako. I knew little of the couple’s inspiring story then, but responded immediately to the music they create. Singer Mariam Doumbia and guitarist/vocalist Amadou Bagayokothan, who are both blind, met at the Institute for Young Blind People in Bamako, the capital of Mali, 30 years ago and have been making amazing and infectious music ever since. Already huge stars in West Africa and Europe; in recent years Amadou & Mariam have gained a large following in the indie rock world where they have become a show stealing staple at large festivals, which has helped spread their popularity across the glode. The duo’s latest title, Welcome to Mali, has received almost universal, and I would say very well deserved, critical acclaim and I can't stop listening to it. Even without the faintest clue as to what the lyrics of the songs are saying (the couple sings primarily in French), it is easy to hear why the global spread of Amadou & Mariam's hypnotic sound cannot be stopped.
Welcome to Mali