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Vinyl Love!

I’m a big fan of vinyl.  Even in the age of digital convenience, I still prefer the pops and hisses that only vinyl can provide.  There’s also a warmth and depth to the sound that is lost.  I’ve been collecting records for about 5 or 6 years now and have managed to find quite a few of my favorite albums either in record stores or by chance in thrift stores.  Some others have also been give to me by siblings an friends.  For special selections which I must have, I go to Baltimore’s Soundgarden and pick up re-issues of classic albums.

As my collection has grown I’ve ended up with about 60 records in total.  Many of them are personal favorites (Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, U2, Johnny Cash), but others are just odd and random selections (German Beer Hall Music, Eastern European Gypsy Music, the soundtrack for The Sting).

A few months back, my girlfriend and I started what we like to call Record Night, which funnily enough was inspired by a scene from the movie Easy A.   Every Wednesday night we sit down, pick a record and sit down and listen to it.  Since a lot of music listening is in the background for many listeners (in the car, on the subway, running etc) it’s refreshing to actually to be able to just listen and digest the art for what it is.

Here’s what we’ve listened to so far.

The Sounds of SilenceSimon & Garfunkel

Irish Favorites – The Best of the Mummers – “Aqua String Band

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits

This is Johnny Cash

No Jacket RequiredPhil Collins

High NoonTex Ritter;  Smash HitsThe Jimi Hendrix Experience

She’s So UnusualCyndi Lauper

Get Happy!! – Elvis Costello and The Attractions

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Songs of Summers Past (Part 1)

(Me, summer 2004.  Back when I had short hair.  It’s very strange looking at that now.)

For whatever reason, the advent of summer has bought back a lot memories.  And most of these memories somehow revolve a specific song, and are tied to a specific moment in time, which will be forever etched in my mind.  Every time I listen to The New Pornographers’ “Use It”, I’m immediately transported back to the summer of 2007.  The Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” takes me back to my teenage self when I used to listen to that dubbed cassette version of Sand in the Vaseline on my Walkman during road trips with my parents.  And some of these songs, well, I probably wouldn’t write about them otherwise.   (And for those I mention here, you know who are, though for the public domain, you shall remain nameless.)

Offspring – “Come out and Play” (Summer 1994)

The summer of 1994 was the first summer I really remember.  Not surprisingly it’s also the first summer where I could identify songs which were popular and the older kids were listening to.  That summer I was on a Swim Team with two my childhood friends (who are also still my best-friends). Even at this early age, getting up at 8 o’clock during the summer was not something I wanted to do.  As we swam laps, the lifeguards would blast music on their stereo.  I’m sure there were other songs, but the only two songs I seem to remember playing were Offspring’s “Come Out and Play” and Pearl Jam’s “Daughter”.  I really hated “Daughter” – it would be years before I actually liked the song and Pearl Jam themselves.  Even then I could sense that Eddie Vedder meant everything that he said.  “Come Out and Play” though, as much as I tried to pretend I hated it, I secretly liked its chunky rhythms and aggressiveness.  And even if you disliked the song it was hard to get away from, “you gotta keep’em separated!”.   Being 12, I was impressionable and if the 16 year old lifeguards thought it was cool, obviously it must be cool.  They knew every single word.

Years later, when I first discovered the Itunes Store in the summer of 2004 – “Come Out and Play” was one of the first songs I bought.  I’m not ashamed to admit.

Beck – “Where’s It’s At” (1996)

“Where It’s At” still remains a great song, however it remains stuck in 1996 – a song where time doesn’t apply.  It hasn’t aged, but it doesn’t seem to fit into a broader context.  Part of it probably has to do with its mesh of sounds and hook – “I got two turn tables and a microphone!” – which was inescapable in the summer of 1996.  My older brother who was 21 at the time, suggested that Beck’s Odelay was the Highway 61 Revisited of his generation.  Quite a bit of hyperbole on his part, I think.  This was the first summer when I was allowed to actually hang out with him, and we used to blast this song constantly. Its odd keyboards, bleeps, robotic voices, and stream of consciousness lyrics were unlike I ever heard.  I had previously been under the impression that songs had to have a certain sound and structure to be good – and “Where It’s At” demolished my previous ideas of what a song could actually sound like.  Oddly enough, the very things that make me critical of it now, were very appealing to my teenage self in 1996.  The windows of the car were down, the music was very loud.  Those who stared at us at we drove around, just didn’t seem to get it (whatever I thought it was at the time).

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Scar Tissue” (Summer of 1999)

“Scar Tissue” is a song that captures the sound of a hot summer evening.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a lot of good song, but this is the one that comes close to perfection.  Its melody is infectious, and John Frusciante’s guitar breaks are tasteful and full of beauty.  This song was everywhere in the summer of 1999 – the year that I was about to enter my senior year of high school.  The summer before I had gotten my driver’s license, but it was this summer that I was really able to drive around by myself and get out of the house, even if it was just driving to Borders. To me, the song represented wide open spaces and possibilities.  By being able to drive, I had achieved a sense of freedom that was previously unavailable.  “Scar Tissue” was a radio staple that summer, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

U2 – “Bad”

2001 was the summer of U2.  The previous fall they had released the fantastic All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which reaffirmed their status after the abysmal Pop a few years earlier.  When they toured the US that summer, it would be the first time I would see them after years of trying. As a live band, U2 have few rivals and “Bad” has always been the centerpiece of their show whenever they play it.  It’s also one of the few U2 songs that is different every single time they play it.   Sometimes it could be 12 or 13 minutes long with several extended endings or 7 minutes long.  Bono would often sing lines from other songs such as “Sympathy for the Devil”, “People Have the Power”, “Norwegian Wood” and U2’s own “40” before the band kicked it back into high gear.   I’ve read that the song is about heroin addiction, but it’s also much more than that – it’s about letting go and not taking life for granted.   When Bono shouts “not fade away!” as the band kicks in and The Edge repeats his delayed chords, it really is transcendent, to use a cliche term.  I spent the summer of 2001, downloading as many U2 bootlegs from that tour, simply trying to find as many variations of “Bad” as I could.  And each version is magical in its own way.

 

More to come.

 

 

 

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What’s Your Favorite Album Of The Year So Far?

Since it’s now June and we are officially about half-way through 2011, I’d thought I’d take a look at some of the albums that have been released so far.  For me, so far the best album is a tie between Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues and My Morning Jacket’s Circuital.  What do you think?  Any good ones I missed?  (And I’m not counting Gaga just for the record.)

 

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Goodbye Borders

Not that it really comes as a surprise, but Borders announced its Chapter 11 Bankruptcy and plans to close 30% of its stores.  The digital age has already taken its toll on the record industry, and now bookstores are beginning to feel the heat as well, since e-books the literary equivalent of an Ipod.

Before I moving to Baltimore, Borders was essentially the only place where there was a large selection of CDS.  It was either that or Best Buy.  But Best Buy didn’t have the back catalogues of most of their artists, and they also only displayed artists with track records of moving copies.  It was also one of the few places that I was allowed to drive to by myself when I was in high school.

I would spend hours at a time just browsing through the CDs making mental notes of which artists I needed to eventually check out.  Borders was also one of the first places I remember that had a listening station for new CDs.  Usually the description of the album was off-base, but at least you were able to actually hear what you were about to purchase.  Many of my favorite albums were purchased from Borders – London Calling, Sticky FingersZiggy StardustRaw Power, several Pearl Jam bootlegs, etc.  The bargain bin (selected albums were $7.99) was also my first introduction to Sam Cooke and Ray Charles.

When I wasn’t looking at the CDs, I would wander off to the music book section and read through many of the rock encyclopedias, and memoirs.  If you’re ever wondering where most of my knowledge of artists comes from – it’s a direct result of that.  At the time, I desperately wanted to be a rock critic (still do actually) and I figured the best way to do that would be to study up on the subject.  Before I listened to Iggy Pop, I knew of his affection for peanut-butter on stage.  It was in a Borders’ chair that I first learned about the legend of Robert Johnson making a deal with the Devil at the crossroads.

Because I was there so often, many of the cashiers knew me.  When I went to purchase a copy of The Velvet Undeground & Nico , the girl at the counter seemed genuinely interested – she had never heard of them before. When I explained to her what they sounded like – shocker – she didn’t seem as interested in anymore.

Since moving to Baltimore, I hardly ever go to Borders – Soundgarden is about two miles away from my apartment – but whenever I go back to visit my parents I almost always stop by.  The last few times I’ve been have been extremely depressing.  The CD section has all but been taken away.  There are no more back catalogues of artists – shit, even Target has a better selection of artists and albums these days.

I haven’t listened to it in a while, but perhaps I’ll break out my copy of Quadrophenia tonight.  It was one of the first albums I purchased at Borders.

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A Week Full of Hendrix: Hendrix Covers

Not much writing on this post, but check out Hendrix putting his stamp on quite a few classics.  (Note: I’m not including “All Along the Watchtower here – while great, it’s too obvious.)

“Hey Joe/Sunshine of Your Love”:

“Like a Rolling Stone”:

“Wild Thing”:

“Catfish Blues”:

“Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”:

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A Week Full of Hendrix: “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”

Like most people, my initial thought the first time I heard this song was: “what the hell is this?”   It’s there’s a song that captures everything that Jimi Hendrix did – it’s perfectly achieved on this wah-wah soaked masterpiece. 

A friend of mine remarked that even 40 years later, “Voodoo Child” is among the heaviest things anyone’s ever put to record.  What sets “Voodoo Child” apart though, is how Hendrix is able to play the blues to logical extreme, be heavy and funky all in the same song.  There’s also a few occasions in the song where he does all three at the same time. 

“Voodoo Child” is the song that is guitar heroism at its apex.  No other human being has played better than this.  A little over a year before he recorded “Voodoo Child” Hendrix famously lit his guitar on fire during his performance at Monterary Pop.  “Voodoo Child” is creating the impossible with this song, and burning it down as he goes. 

The song itself also deals with destruction and creation.  “Well I stand up next to a mountain,” Hendrix begins.  “And I chop it down with the edge of my hand.”  But there’s beauty after the mess: “I pick up all the pieces and make an island.  Maybe even raise a little sand.”   He’s sorry for taking up sweet time, but don’t worry he’ll give it back to us, “one of these days.” 

Near the end of the song, Hendrix offers a sort of goodbye: “If I don’t meet you no more in this world, I’ll meet ya in the next one.”  It’s unclear whether he meant that sincerely, or as a threat to watch out for what he was up to next – Hendrix was said to be moving in a different musical direction around the time of his death.  Either way, he wasn’t going to wait around.  “Don’t be late!” He implores. 

Check out “Voodoo Child (Slight Return”):

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