Sunday, February 26, 2012

1976 - A Lowpoint for the Mojo Collection

The Mojo Collection is a book with a page devoted to each of 700+ records that the Mojo hive mind thinks you ought to own.  I decided to use it to test my theory that 1976 was a low point in music.  In the 3rd Edition (Canongate 2003), which is the one on my book shelf, here are the number of records, not counting compilations, for each year of the 70s.

Year - Records in Mojo Collection
1970 - 36
1971 - 34
1972 - 35
1973 - 25
1974 - 18
1975 - 18
1976 - 13
1977 - 25
1978 - 19
1979 - 20

The 13 records from 1970 were records by June Tabor, Thin Lizzy, Kiss, Steve Miller Band, Ramones, Aerosmith, Parliament, Rush, Boz Scaggs, Stevie Wonder, Abba, The Eagles, and Johnny 'Guitar' Watson.  It's a list that may illustrate the point I was trying to make a few posts ago a little better than the list I chose for that post.

I think it's quite proper that the count bounced back strongly in 1977, but I was surprised 1978 and 1979 didn't compete more successfully with the early 70s.  I suppose almost all rock critics have a bias towards the 60s and early 70s, but it may also be an appropriate indication that the golden age of the album had come and gone by the mid 70s and never really came back strong.  There were definitely good punk albums, good new wave albums, and to a lesser extent good disco albums, but all three genres were stronger singles genres than album genres.

2002, the last year covered in full by the 3rd edition of the Mojo Collection contributes 24 records (i.e. CDs).  I find it hard to believe that 2002 was really a better year than 1978, particularly when they left off Neko Case's Blacklisted, which I think was the best record of 2002.  They do include Calexico, who played with Neko on that record, in the short partial list for 2003.  Whether the format is records, CDs, or digital downloads, I guess we've bounced back from 1976.  I feel like last year (2011) was something of a lull as well, and I expect we'll bounce back from that too.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pitchfork's 5-10-15-20

Pitchfork has a cool feature that's been going for a while now, but I just learned about it today.  Artists share their favorite songs from when they were 5, 10, 15, 20, etc.  The lists are shorter or longer depending on the age of the artist.  Like Scott Miller's new book, which I've also commented upon recently, it provides a list of great songs as well as some personal perspective on what made them great at that point in their lives.  Sometimes they go on a bit longer than I'd prefer about each song, but it's still quite interesting.  It's definitely better than the non-contextual artist top 10s in the Rolling Stones best 500 songs issue.

For example, TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek liked Free to Be You and Me when he was 5, Blondie when he was 10, Bad Brains when he was 15, Pharoah Sanders at 20, and Aphex Twins at 25.  TV On The Radio makes a lot more sense now, doesn't it?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

1976 - A Musical Lowpoint and Turning Point

When I made my best songs of the 70s list, the mid-70s ('74 to '76) contributed the fewest tracks, so I was especially interested in Scott Miller's picks for those years in his book Music: What Happened.  Here's his countdown for 1976.

The Damned - Neat Neat Neat
Flamin' Groovies - You Tore Me Down
Bob Dylan - Sara
The Rolling Stones - Hand of Fate
David Bowie - Station to Station (edit)
Abba - Knowing Me, Knowing You
Electric Light Orchestra - Tightrope
Todd Rundgren - Cliche
Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
Joni Mitchell - Song for Sharon
The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner
Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop
Sneakers - Condition Red
Pere Ubu - Final Solution
Blue Oyster Cult - Don't Fear the Reaper
Murray Head - Say It Ain't So, Joe
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - American Girl

You need to buy the book yourself to read his insightful comments about these tracks, and I do recommend that.  For now, though, you'll have to settle for my free commentary.

1) He lists about 20 tracks for most years.  I don't know how much I can read into the fact that 1976 only has 17 tracks listed, but I don't think it was accidental.

2) What makes this a turning point year is that it's the first year with real punk songs (I say real punk songs to distinguish from the proto-punk of The New York Dolls, The Stooges, etc).  As the year that punk hit the US and UK with the Ramones and Sex Pistols respectively, it's a turning point, but it's also easy to detect the bloated excess that rock and roll had become making punk rock necessary as a response.

3) I'm pleased to see Final Solution near the top of the list.  Pere Ubu appeared on vinyl before 1976 and I think their 70s incarnation could be called real punk rock in spite of their avant-garde proclivities, but they didn't generate the press or sales of The Ramones or Sex Pistols, so that's why I say 1976 was the first year of real punk rock.

4) The Ramones and Sex Pistols don't make the top 5 in spite of their obvious importance.  Important is different from good.  The first Ramones record was really good, particularly for 1976, but for regular listening I prefer later punk rock.  Same goes for the Sex Pistols who haven't aged as well as the Ramones in my opinion.  Good for you if you got to see one of their shows - I'm talking about their recorded music here.

5) Murray Head, huh?  I guess I'll need to track down that song and hear it.  This is one of those little oddities Scott Miller throws in that make the book more interesting to me.

6) Yes Abba!  More importantly, yes Knowing Me Knowing You!  Rolling Stone Magazine includes "Dancing Queen" from the same record in their top 500 songs of all time, but it really wasn't the best song on that album.

7) No Eagles, no Thin Lizzy, and no Peter Frampton.  I think if you're going to let Blue Oyster Cult join the party at #3 and if you're going to let in any mid-70s Stones whatsoever, you have to consider giving a nod to the rest of what the arena brought us in 1976.  I won't try to make the case for Kansas's "Carry On My Wayward Son".  Parts of that song hold up great, but other parts not as much.

8) Soul and R&B was similarly in transition in 1976 and that doesn't show up on this list at all.  I can see how the Ohio Players "Love Rollercoaster", Heatwave's "Boogie Nights", and Lou Rawls "Love Rollercoaster" wouldn't make any sense of Scott Miller's list, but they made sense to me on mine.