Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Love Is Blue (and a bit blind)

I can't tell you how many times I've heard someone say something along the lines of "music used to be so much better." I've heard old people say it, I've heard young people say it. I remember hearing it back in the 80s, for pete's sake, and music was pretty freakin' spectacular in the 1980s.

Don't get me wrong, I love the old stuff too. And, yeah, it's hard to argue that the 1960s weren't an insanely fertile time for music. That pretty much goes without saying but, hey, we'll say it anyway. And if the shadow it's cast over subsequent decades is somewhat unfair and obscures the fact that the 1970s and 1980s each have solid claims to be at least as good, in terms of output, as 60s, well, that doesn't change how great the 60s really were.

But if you want to rebut the whole "things were better back in ye olden days," take a look at 1967.

So 1967 was, by pretty much any measure, a darn good year for music. Here are just a small handful of the fine songs from that fine year:

“Respect,” “Light My Fire,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Purple Haze,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “Somebody to Love,” “Soul Man,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Nights in White Satin,” “The Letter,” “Waterloo Sunset,” “I Can See for Miles,” “My Back Pages,” “White Rabbit,” “Dance to the Music,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Happy Together,” “Tears of a Clown,” “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” “Penny Lane,” “The Dark End of the Street,” “I Second That Emotion,” “You Keep Me Hangin' On,” “Cold Sweat,” “Get Together,” “Different Drum,” “Chain of Fools,” “I Never Loved a Man,” “Sweet Soul Music,” “All You Need Is Love,” “The Letter,” “I'm A Believer,” “Ain't No Mountain High Enough,” “I Can See for Miles,” Let's Live for Today,” “Soul Man,” “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Happy Together ,” “Hello Goodbye,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You,” “Carrie-Anne,” “Ruby Tuesday,” and even a little song called “A Day in the Life.”

And there are at least a handful of other songs from most of those artists which could just as easily have made the list.

And yet. Know what the second-best selling single of the entire year was? Thanks to Tom Breihan's The Number Ones, his amazing column exploring every #1 single, I now know it  was this gem:

Don't get me, that's a very likable tune. I've always been fond of it and can hardly imagine getting tired of it. But...I mean...not exactly "Waterloo Sunset" or "Purple Haze" or “Strawberry Fields Forever” or "I'm Waiting for the Man," now is it? And yet it not only went to #1, it stayed there for five weeks. "Ruby Tuesday"? One week. "Penny Lane?" One week. "Respect?" Two weeks. "All You Need Is Love?" One week. "Love Is Blue?" Five weeks. Five damn weeks.

So, yeah, the good old days could be awfully good. But not always, and that part gets overlooked far too often.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue no. 17 in A-flat Major

I am gobsmacked and beyond delighted to find one of my favorite YouTube channels, the utterly delightful smalin, has a new video out—its first to feature not only the greatest of Soviet composers, Dmitri Shostakovich, but a piece from my absolute favorite work of his, 24 Preludes and Fugues, op 87, performed by the greatest of Soviet pianists, the brilliant Sviatoslav Richter.

Monday, October 8, 2018

96 Tears

Of the oh so many amazing things about Aretha Frankin, one of the most astonishing is that it took nearly six years of making records before she really hit the big-time. Six years and 10 albums before the world at large took notice of the Queen of Soul. And the incredible thing about it is that all the record companies really had to do was get the hell out of the way and let her do her thing—rather than try to shoehorn her into some updated version of Judy Garland, simply let Aretha be Aretha.

As though any proof of her greatness is needed, her she is taking that garage band proto-punk classic, "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians and indelibly stamping it with her own genius.

Obviously, having the likes of Spooner Oldham and Roger Hawkins behind you doesn't exactly hurt. But while the bass of the great Tommy Cogbill can only help, in the end—and the beginning and the middle—it's all about Lady Soul.