When I started my blog I originally had a Music tab, but it fell into disuse – not that I stopped listening to music by any means – it was just that I listened at work, or running, but not so much at home, so I never felt inspired to write about what I was listening to all that much. Then this book came up on the Amazon Daily Deals, and for $.99 I figured “what the hell”: 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die by Tom Moon. Maybe it’ll keep me alive until I listen to everything in there. Joke!
Two structural rules of the book are that the recordings are “albums” and not songs and that the 1,000 recordings are laid out in alphabetical order by artist. There are a few minor exceptions, but no need to go into that. I have a subscription music service that allows listening and downloading of their entire inventory, which is fairly extensive. As I go through it, I’ll note if I’m listening to a version of what’s in the book, or the exact referenced work. I haven’t yet looked beyond the introduction, so I’ll just play it by ear (get it?). I’m just gonna plow right through with no particular schedule. So let’s get started. A is up.
ABBA, Gold Released 1992. This is one of the 40 bestselling albums of all time. God, have I ever actually listened to Abba? But they are ubiquitous, especially with the coming of Broadway’s’ Mama Mia. What I’m listening to is not the “original” 1992 release, but the 2008 “Super Jewel Box Version”, a typical subtitle for re-releases. It’s the exact same track line-up however, so I’m listening to the ‘intended’ album. ABBA is an acronym for the quintet’s first names. Did you know that? Do you care?
The album kicks off with “Dancing Queen”, the first chorus being almost background to the rousing opening. Ok, fuck it. I’m chair dancing. It’s hard to resist it – because it’s so hooky and polished. Which probably explains my attitude toward them. Too polished. Too obviously hook filled. “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is a break-up song and there’s someone whispering in my freakin’ ear here. “Take a Chance on Me” is the first one that started out direct to the vocals without a signature ABBA instrumentation of at least a few bars as intro. Ricky-ticky “Mama Mia” is no better listening on my ear buds than the ever-present (thankfully since subsided) television commercials for the Broadway Musical. Forever associated with! “Lay All Your Love On Me” gets back to the original formulaic opening. “Super Trouper” reverses the formula: singers first then the ABBA signature for several bars. “I Have A Dream” is not the MLK anthem. Nevertheless the song is a holding hands-raise your voice anthem. A stoopid anthem. “I believe in angels, something good in everything I see”. Sigh. Ok, I’m half-way through. I can do this.
A piano (electric) opening. 32-seconds worth. A plaintive solo voice comes in. Chills runs down my spine. My chick side is coming out. The pace picks-up with a back beat. “The Gods may throw their dice, their minds as cold as ice”. A great ‘I’ve been dumped song’ actually. I can see the appeal. “Money, Money, Money” – ricky-ticky again. Get me a wealthy man? “S.O.S” (track 9), ah…whatever happened to our love? Beats me. How can I carry on? Beats me. I should not make fun of raw emotions. What is pop or rock music if not a salve for our very real human emotions? Again, I can see the appeal. I can see those in pain from broken relationships falling in love with a song like this one. “Chiquitita” tells a gf that “I feel your pain” and you can rely on me. A nice placement on the album, following as it does the rather painful “S.O.S”. Moon describes “Fernando” as “unstoppably buoyant”, and it is, with a snare drum start. This fucker just builds and builds and builds. No regrets. With its “crossing the Rio Grande”, not sure of this is a Santa Ana deal. “Voulez-Vous” is another anthem, but of the casual club scene hook-up variety. Ho-hum. The album closes with a kind of wretched song of loneliness: “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”. A disco beat, but no buoyancy here.
That’s it. Not as painful as I thought it might be, though (and I’m ducking out of the way here) thoroughly chick music!
Dimi Mint Abba and Khalifa Ould Eide, Moorish Music from Mauritania Released 1990. I’ve always been a little bit familiar with African music. Mostly sub-Saharan, with my initial exposure having been the great King Sunny Ade. Dance music supreme. Paul Simon, I have to say, introduced me to other sounds as well. I’d never really been introduced to Saharan styles, Islamic music, North African style. Plaintive, spiritual, call and response music. But it frequently kicks into another gear, led by the drums. The percussion is interestingly enough, traditionally handled by the females. And this group is a family affair, husband and wife and their two daughters accompanying them on background vocals, sort of an Islamic chorus. Lots of improve on the vocal end too. As I listen there is mostly, as part of the singing, a time signature change, which must indicate something or other.
As I was listening to these tracks, the Tortoise song came on (Track 5) and I said to myself, that’s like the name of an Incredible String Band tune – and then it dawned on me. The vocals in this Moorish music really recalled the same wavering, never have the note straight-on style of ISB. How odd.
Moon pointed to a song called Art’s Plume (Track 7) as the highlight, so I paid particular attention to this one – and still didn’t understand a damn word (just kidding!). The performance of this tune brought Abba the top prize at a 1977 competition in Tunis. It sounds different from most of the preceding songs, which are probably from traditional sources. This one (and in fact all the tracks staring with Track 6) seem more modern in origin and intent: Independence, Oh Lord Bring Apartheid Crashing, Mauritania My Beloved Country. Art’s plume posits the theory that Artists contribute more to society than warriors. Amen, Sister!
A social observation: Although Tom Moon’s listing has Dimi Mint Abba listed first, the album itself reverses this order. Hmm
The Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra, Blu Blu Blu, Released 1991. Unfortunately, I had no access to this album – although Amazon had it for sale. So here I listened to the group’s 2001 release, The Visibility of Thought. Billed as “free jazz” by Moon. Oh, I guess it is. But it’s not of the Pharaoh Saunders or Ornette Coleman variety. Abrams piano playing is similar to Monk’s, yet different enough to readily distinguish the two.
I listened to a nice “Duet for Contrabass and Piano” and a “Duet for Violin and Piano”. The latter starts out in the rarely heard, very low register of the piano (except when I used to play!), with the violin way up top. Fascinating listening. Very classical oriented. This album is but 10 years later, but I suspect that the gap of ten years represents a maturation that is a far cry from the free jazz of the earlier selected disc.
The Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir, Shakin’ the Rafters, Released 1960. Hey, it’s Sunday so I just had to listen to this one. Reminds me of the Gospel Sunday Brunches at the old Hard Rock Café. Rousing stuff.
AC/DC, Back in Black, Released 1980. This and nearly no other AC/DC is available on my service. I suspect that they are among those artists that just don’t make their music available this way. Me, I’ll just move on. A strange transition though – to move from the head banging of AC/DC to
John Adams, Harmonium, the suggested version would have been Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. No dice. Listened to a Nonesuch recording released in 2000. This is poetic music. In fact, it’s based on poetry from John Donne (“Negative Love”) and Emily Dickinson (“Because I Could not Stop for Death” and “Wild Nights”). Wild Nights. Oh La La. John Adams, who is entirely new to me, is a local boy out Worcester way. His music, at least here, is dense, hitting all the emotions, but very accessible.
It turns out that I had heard his music before, though. The soundtrack to the film I Am Love starring the great Tilda Swinton is entirely his work. I remembered it immediately.
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
John Adams, The Death of Klinghoffer, London Symphony Orchestra, Released 2004. Not available. I listened to a Nonesuch recording with Kent Nagano conducting The Opera de Lyon. Or I tried to listen. I can think of no musical genre that I can’t get into either easily or with some patience. I’m afraid opera is the exception. I know that opera excites a high level of passion in some and I can appreciate their fervor. I just can’t generate it within myself.
Here’s an opera that is musically moving, but the message to be communicated here is through the marriage of music and words. And I can never understand the words, even in this one which is sung in English. What is the point of singing words if they are unintelligible? He asked. I tried to find a libretto on-line, but only came up with a few (three or four) of the scenes.
This is after all an ambitious undertaking: an opera of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This one is centered on the horrific act of a cruise ship hijacking (Achille Lauro) and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer. As you may recall, Leon Klinghoffer was shot and thrown overboard in his wheelchair. The opera starts off with scenes of virtually the same length (a little less than 9 minutes): “Chorus of Exiled Palestinians” followed by “Chorus of Exiled Jews”. Then The Captain sets the scene. Following through the rest of Act 1 and following through to the end (Act 2), there are scenes from different perspectives (Austrian Woman, Swiss Grandmother, Mamoud, Molqui, Leon as well as Marilyn Klinghoffer). If only I could have followed along, I just may have come away with an appreciation of, if not opera per se, then this one at least.
The Real Me: Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus, Released 1991.This was available at Amazon but I had many, many other albums of Johnny Adams’ that I could listen to, so that I felt satisfied – including these on the album suggested that I gave a listen to from other albums. I’ve listed the tracks as the appeared on the Adams-Pomus album:
- Track 3, “She’s Everything To Me” from The Great Johnny Adams R&B Album
- Track 4, “Imitation of Love” from the same album
- Track 5, “My Baby’s Quit Me” from The Great Johnny Adams Blues Album
- Track 6, “Still In Love” from The Great Johnny Adams R&B Album again
- Track 8, “There is Always One More Time” from the same album
- Track 12, “Real Live Hurtin’ Man” from Reconsider Me
Then I listened to some others from the Johnny Adams’ 5-Track Maxi-Single “You Can Depend On Me”: “Release Me” (an old 1946 Eddie Miller country tune) that has Adams in an ultra-high register. Soul country, baby! This was a huge hit for Little Esther Phillips. “Reconsider Me”, “I won’t Cry” and “I Can’t Be All Bad”, keepers all. I struck gold with this name which was new to me.
Continuing, I delved into the Doc Pomus songbook with Ray Charles’ “Lonely Avenue” from Pure Genius: The Atlantic Recordings 1952-1960; Dion and the Belmonts “Teenager in Love” from I Wonder Why; The Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance for Me” and “This Magic Moment”. Pomus was a major songwriter.
I’ve been into Ryan Adams since I discovered him about 6-7 years ago. He’s really a very fine songwriter, and prolific just doesn’t do him justice. He can crank them out seemingly at will. Heartbreaker, released in 2000 was his first solo album after the breakup of Whiskeytown. And it’s a doozy.
“To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” starts out as a rock-a-billy hurricane but quickly turns into a lament, then circles back around again. Just when you think you’ve got the drift there’s a change-up. “My Winding Wheel” (one of my very favorite Ryan Adams tunes) channels Bob Dylan, but so what?. “Further North than South” is not a favorite of mine, but interesting for the echo effect he gets by laying down two tracks and singing along with himself. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” includes some sweet, sweet harmonies with Emmylou Harris (I thought it was Gillian Welch).
Many of these songs are painful to listen to in a good way: painful breakups, missing lost loves. When that harmonica checks in to lead out “Call Me On Your Way Back Home”, it’s almost too much to bear. Heartbreaker is a spare album, but that’s probably not so unusual for a first solo release I don’t think.
“Shakedown on 9th Street” goes up-tempo again – really for the first time since the first (song) track. This Eddie Cochran influenced rocker misses the mark. All is forgiven though with the next cut, a truly great song: “Don’t Ask For The Water”. I’m hearing more Mr. Zimmerman here. “In My Time Of Need” is a lament of growing old together and wondering where the times have gone, now that there’s time for each other, will they both be there in their time of need?
My opinion is that Tom Moon praises this album a bit too much and criticizes the rest of Adams’ repertoire undeservedly.
Ah man! Cannonball. First I had the listen to “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” from the live album of the same name. I wore that baby OUT in college! Then I had to lend a quick ear to Brother Cannonball and Sister Nancy Wilson from their 1993 collaboration. Sublime. Although I ultimately gravitated to tenor sax, Cannonball’s alto was always so pure.
Then on to the “task” at hand. The Cannonball Adderley Quintet At The Lighthouse, 1960. Cannonball always had one foot firmly on jazz ground and one foot in the groove-funk arena, and it’s all evident here. The 6-song set starts with the longest of the bunch, “Sack O’ Woe” which features a simple low-register chord change from pianist Victor Feldman to kick it off, then first Cannonball, then brother Nat make their presence known. Next up is bassist Sam Jones. My father (a bassist himself) loved a good charging bass, and this is one of those.
“Big ‘P’”, written for Percy Heath, showcases Cannonball’s versatility and be-bop chops. Adderley’s Quintets always seemed to have one rule, have fun up there. And they have fun with a “waltz”, a take-off on The Blue Danube, called “Blue Daniel”.
“Azule Serape” is just a great nod your head for 9 minutes groove. Lose yourself in the music. Which is why I’ve always loved jazz so much. It clears your head like a good nasal decongestant. Did I say that? “Exodus” have the Adderley brothers in ‘close concert’ so to speak.
This live album (and the best jazz albums are always live ones) closes out with the old standard “What is This Thing Called Love?” and “Our Delight”. And (can you see this coming?), it was my delight to spend an hour with this music.
When starting to read and listen to 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, I had decided to just start from the beginning (“A”) and move through the book in order (to “Z”), not even looking ahead. I break that rule with the death of the great Etta James. I had seen Etta several years ago at the Sculler’s Jazz Club, a bar high above the Charles River in Boston. Even then she was somewhat frail and sick, sitting for most of the performance. We didn’t begrudge her this. Yet her voice was still capable and strong as she belted out song after song after song in the beautifully pure yet gritty voice she had.
I had heard reports in mid-December that she was dying, but she hung on until mid January. Ironically, her death was preceded by just a few days with the death of Johnny Otis (he of ”Willie and the Hand Jive” fame) , a blues and rock pioneer who was inextricably linked to James as well as other greats. In fact Otis discovered Etta James (as well as Big Mama Thornton). James, despite some recordings of his own (I assume you never heard of the group “Snatch and the Poontangs”) is not in Tom Moon’s book.
ETTA JAMES, Tell Mama, 1968. Moon’s book recommends her 1968 release Tell Mama since it shows off her kick-ass R&B side to best advantage. I agree. I listened to the 2001 remastered and reissued version (the Complete Muscle Shoals Sessions) that added 20 more songs. The title track showcases those relentless Muscle Shoals horns that you can just see swinging back and forth, either inspired by James vocals, or vice-versa. Moon sez that you can actually hear the great backing band struggling to keep up with her, and that’s just about right. She takes no prisoners. No matter. This is some can’t sit down music. Following that rousing opening is a song that is most associated with her (after “At Last”), the soulful “I’d Rather Go Blind” - and baby, baby, I’d rather be blind boy, than to see you, than to see you walk away from me. Goose bumps. On a song like “I’m Gonna Take What He’s Got” you can hear her influence on Aretha. That’s a good thang. On “Just a Little Bit” you don’t belive her for a minute. The tune also features a trombone punctuation mark throughout (“just a teeny bit of your love” baaa-rump!). Etta kicks a “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (there are two version here) that rivals Aretha’s. Ok. Almost rivals!
“You Took It” is a hand waving dance-dance-dance that features those fiery horns again. And “I’ve Got You Babe” raises the question: Sonny and Who? Not to mention her jazzy, crazy version of “Misty” that raises an even more critical question: Johnny who? Etta is anything but helpless as a kitten up a tree, I can assure you! Then there’s “Almost Persuaded”, a lovely, yearning song of just resisted temptation. A great, great song.
There’s but three of the 22 cuts that nudge above three-tight minutes. I’d say be prepared to have songs fade out before you get into them, but you get into them instantaneously. No worries. The album contains one of the great mother-in-law smack-downs (“My Mother-In Law”) you’ll likely hear as well as a torrid you’ll-miss-me-when-I’m-gone, you-don’t-miss-your-water-till-your-well-runs-dry warning ever recorded. You can see many James performances on You Tube. Suggest you take advantage to listen to some great soulful R&B. The heavenly choir just got stronger, nastier and more worldly by dint of James’ ascension. RIP Ms. James and Mr. Otis.
The first thing you need to understand is that this is the ultimate dance music for people who can’t dance. This is get out on the floor and cut loose music. Watch those elbows, though your arms will most probably be above your head the whole time you’re out there. What separates this music from other “dance” music is that before you know it, you’re in a trance. On a first night in Boston back in the late 80′s I had the memorable experience of seeing the King perform with his full band. Now I had been listening to juju for a few years (it was a fairly new phenomenon over here at that time) so I was thrilled to catch him live (and it was free). I didn’t do much of the festivities that year, just the total Ade thing. And when Sunny performs, her performs until the lights flash: Time to shut it down. In a real Juju concert this does not happen. The sun comes up.
The album features his most widely known tune, “Synchro System” (subtitled on the album version, ‘Complete Original Version’). One suspects that the complete original version was several hours long. As with many of his albums, the cuts are hard to come by – one tune flows into the next without missing a beat. This was before the days of digital downloads. One of my favorites tunes is not included on this album however: The incantatory “Ja Funmi” from his 1982 Juju Music.
Juju is an irresistible melding of African drums and western style guitars, along with singing band members. Everyone sings.
Aerosmith, Teenage Boy Bliss, Toys in the Attic, Released, 1975
When I started this (posting about 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die) I had every intention of doing more of these posts. Then, up came Aerosmith. I’ve had a long standing bias against this contemporary of Foghat, and a Rolling Stone knock-off to boot. Steven Tyler is a caricature of a caricature. For many years I was convinced that he was a “local” phenomenon – at best a New England Band. I guess I was all wrong about that, but I’ve never had any appreciation for their music.
But that’s not all. I retired last Thursday and one of the going away gifts that I received was a 2 terabyte hard drive full of music. I say full, but that’s not literally true: there’s still 645 Gb of available space, which means I have 1.36 Tb of music there. How much is that? Over 5,00 artists, a little less than 15,000 albums and – get this – nearly 84,000 songs. By one estimate I’d have to stay up and listen to this 24-hours a day for 233 days – give or take – to get through it all. 1,000 recordings? Shee-it!
Toys in the Attic is one of 40 Aerosmith recordings in my collection. You’d think I was a huge Aerosmith fan, (I should say that by albums, that is defined here as either Aerosmith albums, or collections that an Aerosmith song appears on). It’s interesting to note that Tom Moon (the author of this book) has this to say about the band:
Aerosmith didn’t invent blues-rock, wasn’t the first band to dish bawdy lyrics, and really brought nothing innovative to the game…[emphasis added].
You can say that again, and more or less what I’ve felt all along. I’ve always had little respect for imitators - which, at the risk of offending the legions of Aerosmith fans, is just what they were/are. Check out the Bull Moose Jackson recording of “Big Ten Inch” to hear how its done. Even the classic ”Walk This Way”, which had the most potential to get me up and grooving, had me only slightly nodding my head. Thank God that’s behind me.
It’s a bit after you start listening to this unusual music that you realize it’s trance inducing. This is different from the more familiar “trance-like”, which this music is not. This trance sneaks up on you, takes you unawares. There’s a repetition of voice and rhythm that engenders this effect. The music itself has a definite middle eastern sound, yet it is heavily jazz-influenced. The Ibex band is tight! In Mahmoud Ahmed’s native Ethiopia, the form is called “eskuesta”, ecstasy.
To get the full flavor of how this music can affect you, check out this you tube rendition of Ere Mela Mela. Note the elderly Mahmoud Ahmed – he’s still got it. You can also find a very old one when he was much younger.
from 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before you Die
“Weeping Willow Rag” starts out with a strong drum intro (Steve McCall) before it moves along into a very playful alto turn by Henry Threadgill. Then – but of course – the bass (Fred Hopkins) has his stab at it.
“The Ragtime Dance” keeps slipping into a double time mode that should not be missed.
FROM 1,000 RECORDINGS TO HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
The album is The Ultimate Arthur Alexander (Released 1993), but he was a 60′s R&B singer whose biggest hit you may or may not remember (it was instantly recognizable to me): 1962′s “You Better Move On”, a great original and later covered by the Rolling Stones. As the author points out, the recording was the first ever at now legendary Muscle Shoals studios, a distinction in and of itself.
Another original from the same year was later covered by The Beatles, with Lennon singing lead: “Anna (Go To Him)”.
Lotsa Aleander’s stuff on YouTube. Check it out