Sunday, January 29, 2012

Best Songs of 1967

Scott Miller, of Game Theory and the Loud Family, has a new book with a short blurb on each of his favorite 20-or-so songs from each year from 1957 to 2010.  I highly recommend the book, which I bought at, where I'm able to take advantage of the internet while still paying state taxes that support my schools and road and firefighters and so many other things that Amazon apparently thinks are unimportant.

The 1967 countdown is:

The Marmalade - I See The Rain
The Beatles - Penny Lane
Lulu - To Sir With Love
Cream - Sunshine of Your Love
The Kaleidoscope - If The Night
Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade of Pale
Scott McKenzie - San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)
The Beach Boys - Wonderful
The Hollies - Carrie Anne
The Rolling Stones - Citadel
The Association - Windy
Love - Alone Again Or
The Doors - The Crystal Ship
Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You
Nico - Fairest of the Seasons
The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset
Jefferson Airplane - Somebody to Love
The Monkees - Daydream Believer
The Velvet Underground - Venus in Furs
Pink Floyd - Lucifer Sam
Jimi Hendrix Experience - Manic Depression
The Beatles - A Day in the Life

There's just a whole lot to love about this book.  Obviously, there's the selection of the best songs of each year, which is why I'm writing about it here, but, as Aimee Mann sarcastically writes on the back cover in reference to the web site that preceded the book, "you're thinking: it's not everyday that someone writes about music on the internet"  She goes on... "especially to pick favorite pop music; we can all thank Scott for troweling that wide cultural gap.  But really - this is a new and lively style of music writing that you just keep wanting to read more of."

The blurb describing each song has more of an essay feel than a review feel, but they're all just one paragraph long, so they never drag the way I find actual essays on music drag.  They never drift into talking-about-music-is-like-dancing-about architecture irrelevance.  For instance, as much as I like Nick Hornby's fiction, his book "31 songs" was a complete snore for me.

Scott Miller (no relation, by the way) mostly, and very intentionally, follows my own rules about limiting repetition of artists.  The Beatles show up twice in 1967, but it's hard to make too much of a fuss about that.  There's a very nice mix of stuff you've almost definitely heard and stuff you almost definitely haven't, and the descriptions are good enough for you to make an informed decision about whether or not to search out the stuff you haven't heard.

His 2010 list unexpectedly included the Taio Cruz hit "Dynamite" and I was pleased to learn he has a kid about the same age as mine who apparently loves that current pop hit as much as my kids do.  That song is almost completely uncharacteristic of the rest of the songs on the lists, but what is not uncharacteristic is the way he explains how the song fits into his life and what's happening in popular culture in that year.  That's part of what makes the book actually readable as a whole, but it's also fun to leaf through in no particular order.  And forget Aimee Mann's snide comments - lists for lists' sake are great too.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What No Wave Apparently Was Not

I used to think I knew what No Wave meant.  I thought, for example, that Talking Heads were a No Wave band.  I said as much in an earlier blog post.  I was right that it was basically a New York phenomenon, but I thought it encompassed some reasonably popular bands like Talking Heads and Blondie who weren't exactly new wave, but weren't really punk either.  It turns out that every source I can find now describes No Wave as limited to the noisier, more obscure far-from-the-mainstream artists that were on the 1978 No New York compilation.

I still wonder if maybe No Wave once meant something more like what I thought it meant.  The only evidence I can find is a 1978 A&M compilation called "No Wave".  See the full track list here.  The album included songs by Joe Jackson (Sunday Papers), The Police (Roxanne), and Squeeze (Take Me I'm Yours) among others.  Can we agree that the Talking Heads would have fit perfectly well on that record in 1978 even though they weren't on it?  These are artists that all could be lumped into New Wave, but they don't fit what became the 1980s archetype of new wave.

I looked up both no wave and new wave on wikipedia.  The no wave piece isn't worth much, but the new wave piece was interesting and well done.  I thought the section on Reception in the United States was particularly well-written and informative.  It is, for example, much better done than the entry in my 1991 hardcover edition of the Oxford Companion to Popular Music by Peter Gammond.  That entry, which is about a quarter the length of the entry for Randy Newman, says among other things "..while in the USA it became, on the one hand, even more vaguely used to cover anything that was not obviously punk, on the other a label for avant-garde groups like Taking Heads."

I like books (real physical books) a lot, but score one for the internet on this one.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The best of the best of 2011 lists

Stererogum has provided a fine public service by not only posting their own top 50, but also posting links to the top 10, top 40, or top 50 for Paste, Q, Uncut, Decibel, MOJO, FACT, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, NME, Spin, and Pitchfork.  Find it all right here.  The Pitchfork and Paste lists probably have the most overlap with my own sensibilities, but I've decided to wait a year to make my own list (I explain why here).

eMusic's best albums of 2011

I like eMusic as a source for downloading mp3s.  I like to pay for digital downloads because I'm old-fashioned that way, but I don't like to pay extra at iTunes for a format that isn't used outside of the Apple biosphere.  I often find the eMusic site clunky, but I suppose you get what you pay for.  I do like it that they post charts and a year-end best of list.  Here's a link to their top 100 albums of 2011.  If you just go to the eMusic website without the help of this link, good luck trying to find it - I don't think you will.

One of the annoying things about eMusic is that if you just want to download a couple of tracks from a record you've never heard, it's hard to figure out which tracks might be the ones you'd want. You can read the reviews, but usually it's just a critic tossing out whichever tracks were the easiest for them to describe on first listen. If you take a peek at the record on iTunes, you can sort by popularity and then go back to eMusic to download the most popular or 3 most popular or whatever. It's a cumbersome and slightly time-consuming process, but it's less time consuming than weeding through it all on your iPod or computer after having downloaded to much garbage.

Then again, maybe you'd like that info, but you don't like the process.  Here's the eMusic list with the iTunes top track (as of Jan15 2012).

The eMusic top 20 in descending order (with iTunes top track in parentheses) are:

20. We Are Augustines (Chapel Song)
19. Zola Jesus (Skin)
18. Tom Waits (Bad as Me)
17. Liturgy (Generation)
16. Drake (The Motto)
15. Fleet Foxes (Helplessness Blues)
14. Dum Dum Girls (Coming Down)
13. John Maus (Hey Moon)
12. Nicolas Jaar (Space is Only Noise if You Can See)
11. Youth Lagoon (Cannons)
10. Craig Taborn (The Broad Day King)
9. Cut Copy (Need You Now)
8. EMA (California)
7. Bon Iver (Holocene)
6. Beyonce (Love On Top)
5. Yuck (Get Away)
4. James Blake (The Wilhelm Scream)
3. The War on Drugs (Baby Missiles)
2. M83 (Midnight City)
1. P.J. Harvey (On Battleship Hill)

Don't be fooled by Beyonce at #6 or P.J. Harvey and Tom Waits at #1 and #18.  This is mostly a great list for discovering new artists.  Also, P.J. Harvey ended up at or near the top of a lot of year-end lists, so maybe I need to give P.J. Harvey a new fresh listen.  Or maybe you just want to check out Yuck.  It's up to you.