24 May 2007

Another Musical Interlude

This ten-song playlist is unique in that every song is actually the opening song of its respective album. Explanations for each pick, and iTunes lnks when possible, appear below. As always, if you have these tunes, or decide to download them, try listening in this order and see what you find.

1) Where the Streets Have No Name— U2, The Joshua Tree: I don't normally care for superlatives, but I would back any presidential candidate who said that this is the best opening song on any album, ever. Listen on vinyl for the best experience; if you can't manage that, always listen to it LOUD.

2) Black Dog— Led Zeppelin, IV: Every time I hear this song start up, I know I'll be listening to the rest of the album. I have to schedule it so I'm not missing work. It maintains a blues form, but the riff rocks like nothing else. As for something you may not have noticed at first, try to dance to the song. Truth is, you can't.

3) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band— The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: Certainly one of the best albums I can think of, in part because of the cohesivesness brought by opening and closing it with this tune. Honestly, if you don't know why this song is great, you might not pass a standard IQ test.

4) Everything In Its Right Place— Radiohead, Kid A: When listening to this tune, I can hardly believe that everything is, in fact, in its right place. It's also the perfect opener— however ironic— for an album in which nothing seems right. So eerie and unsettling, and bordering on psycologically disturbing, the lyrics— in the context of the album— allow for a number of very interesting layers of meaning.

5) Waiting on the World to Change— John Mayer, Continuum: Yet another song that makes me want the rest of the album, I actually have a bit of on odd relationship with the tune. I like to sing along thoughtlessly to it. I love the George Harrison-esque guitar, the organ, the incidental bass fills. I hate that the lyrics reek of being this generation's "We Didn't Start the Fire," in their sentiment of non-responsibility. But, despite the emasculated idealism of the lyrics, it still made the list.

6) Black Mirror— The Arcade Fire Neon Bible: One of the most recently released albums on the list, I mention it not because I'm particularly blown away by it. Rather, I appreciate The Arcade Fire for releasing an album that works as a whole, for allowing vinyl buyers to download the album digitally, and for being at least a little risky in the direction they're headed musically. It really is a great opener, though, and at a decent volume, you can hear a lot of interesting stuff happening.

7) Blue Rondo a la Turk— Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out: I include this song because I feel it's a better introduction to quirky time signatures than Brubeck's more famous "Take Five." The song is in 9/8, which is not odd at all, except for the subdivision. Also, the solo section switches between the main feel and 12/8, which gives the song a nice variety of textures.

8) London Calling— The Clash, London Calling: As soon as I think of this song, I'm tempted to think it's one of the best songs on the album, until I recall what other songs are present. In fact, "London Calling" does exactly what it should. It introduces the listener to the remainder of the album without overshadowing it, but while avoiding feeling like a cobbled together introduction for the mere sake of having an introduction.

9) So What—Miles Davis, Kind of Blue: This is one or the more influential songs for me as a musician. I'm fascinated by the modality and, honestly, by the fact that the bass carries the main theme. But, especially compared to much of the bebop being played at the time, with it's complex and intricate chord changes, opening a "cool" album with a song whose tonality rests on a single mode is amazingly innovative.

10) Political Scientist—Ryan Adams, Love is Hell: I'm a little more confident with this Ryan Adams suggestion than my last one. It's a good tune, sets the stage well for a good album, and is a great paradigm for what Ryan Adams does best: writing depressing, but strangely alluring pseudo-pop tunes with great hooks.

13 May 2007

A Musical Interlude

The normal course of meatiocrity will resume in July. Until that time, I've decided to introduce a new and entirely non-satirical feature: 10-song playlists. The virtue of limiting the playlist to 10 songs is a subject for another time. The virtue of not intending this to include the ten best songs of all time is that I can come up with any number of different playlists, all with their own peculiarities.

Below are my current picks, with brief explanations as to why each is included and iTunes links when possible. I intend that this and each future playlist be listened to from beginning to end, and hope some of the songs will take on new meaning from their new context, either by surprising continuity or stark juxtaposition.

1) Better Git Hit In Your Soul — Mingus at Antibes, by Charles Mingus: I love Charles Mingus on the whole because he reinterpreted not only jazz music, but the way bassists play their instrument. This is what a gospel choir and a sweating preacher and a congregation of Amens sounds like as a jazz tune. On the live Antibes take, listen for Mingus' Hallelujahs and other shouts. Incidentally, John Coltrane recorded a concert at Antibes. You may remember it as "A Love Supreme."

2) Over the Hills and Far Away — Houses of the Holy, by Led Zeppelin: It's so great to hear the sound of an acoustic guitar driving a song by the band for whom the term "heavy metal" was coined. The overall structure of the tune is what gets me. I'm especially taken by the point in the bridge where the various lines click in together, as well as the subtle outro.

3) Dear Prudence — The White Album, by the Beatles: Paul McCartney was my first inspiration as a bass player, and I think Dear Prudence proves his ability. Against the repetitive rhythm guitar, McCartney provides a beautiful movement that is perfectly melodic while simultaneously maintaining a significant counter-rhythm.

4) Please — Pop, by U2: Pop, on the whole, got panned by lots of listeners as highly overproduced, even though it actually lacked many of the loops and effects present on Achtung Baby. Nevertheless, Bono's lyrics here are superb, Clayton's bass is probably at its best, everything is in its right place. The entire song speaks to the angst in the lyrics.

5) Cradle Rock — A New Day Yesterday, by Joe Bonamassa: Listen to the guitar. I mean, the rest of the band's good, but the guitar is why this tune's on the list. I especially like approximatley 2:30 in, just before the main riff returns, when Bonamassa repeats a line with a noticeable and delicious change of articulation.

6) Wading in the Velvet Sea — The Story of the Ghost, by Phish: In a different way, the reason here is the same as "Cradle Rock." listen in at the 2:30 minute mark for the guitar entrance. That tone! Plus, I like the lyrics, even though I'm not entirley sure what they mean.

7) Meadowlake Street — Cold Roses, by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: My interest in Ryan Adams has waned of late, and this is far from my favorite of his tunes. However, the lengthy build that occurs is spectacular and lifts what would otherwise be a mundane idea to a whole new place. Also, there's a great fake-out where you expect the build, but the tension holds out incredibly longer.

8) Morning Bell — Kid A, by Radiohead: Just as "Meadowlake Street" is great for the movement of the song, "Morning Bell" is great for its relative stagnation. Everything speaks to the lived-with tension of a relationship failing violently (the subject of the lyrics), and the breaks, when Thom sings "release me," take on a heart-achingly ironic meaning.

9) On the Turning Away — A Momentary Lapse of Reason, by Pink Floyd: Nearly every 80's musical cliché seems to appear here: socially-minded lyrics, the synth pad, electric guitar on the bridge, reverb on the snare, a backing choir. Yet "On the Turning Away" hardly seems cliché. On one hand, it may critique the supposed social activism of other artists of the time and the previous decade in a subtle and cynical way. On the other hand, the closing minutes of the song, entirely instrumental, express musically what I can only describe as a seeming seriousness of self-reflection.

10) Naima — Giant Steps, John Coltrane:The song feels sparse and open despite the harmonic tension that builds opposite the ostinato bass. Scientists describe concise statements about science as elegant. Hemingway wrote a story consisting of six words.* Similarly, Coltrane has written the most elegant love song, probably ever. There is no superfluous note, interval, or rhythm, and every moment seems to speak the entirety of the song.



*"For sale: baby shoes, never worn."