Paul Heinz

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20 More Albums I Can't Live Without

A quick recap from my last entry: this list of albums I can’t live without is limited to rock/pop albums, no greatest hits or typical live albums are allowed, and double albums count for two picks unless only two sides are chosen. So far, I’ve chosen 10 albums, in no particular order:

Kean - Hopes and Fears
Aerosmith - Toys in the Attic
Innocence Mission - Umbrella
Jackson Browne - Standing in the Breach
Lyle Lovett - The Road to Ensenada
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (sides 1 and 2)
Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (sides 3 and 4)
Radiohead - The Bends
Company of Thieves - Ordinary Riches
Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life (sides 1 and 2)

Without further ado, here are my next twenty picks in detail:

The Pursuit of Happiness – Love Junk (1988).  Probably not a perfect choice in the midst of the #MeToo movement, as much of this album could be categorized as misogynistic or at the very least demeaning to women, but for fun, angry and edgy melodic power-pop, you can’t get much better that this gem of a debut album by this Canadian power pop group led by Moe Berg.  Pop songs like “She’s So Young” are countered nicely with the bitterness of “Hard to Laugh” and playful “I’m an Adult Now.”  Solid throughout, and a perfect selection when you’re feeling angry or joyful alike, as long as you don’t practice what the lyrics preach.

Big Country – Peace in our Time (1988).  Another release from ’88, this album produced by Peter Wolf of J. Geils fame was regarded negatively at the time.  True, the opening track “King of Emotion,” with its heavy cowbell and a cheesy chorus, has Wolf’s fingerprints all over it, but it’s still fun, and there’s plenty of deeper, socially-conscious songs that one expects from this Scottish quartet, and the musicianship is impeccable.  With sharp, clean production – as opposed to, say, the muddied sound of their sophomore effort, Steeltown – this release still sounds in the present.  The song “In this Place” absolutely kills me.

Pink Floyd – The Wall, sides 1 and 2 (1979).

Pink Floyd – The Wall, sides 3 and 4 (1979).  Funny, because I know Pink Floyd fans who shell out big money to see The Australian Pink Floyd who could take or leave The Wall.  For me, it is quite simply the greatest achievement in rock and roll history.  Yeah, you heard me.  More universal than Tommy or Quadrophenia, with its theme of isolation even more relevant today than when it was first released, it’s a moving, heart-wrenching journey.  Favorite track: “Mother” in addition to the seminal “Comfortably Numb.” Among my biggest regrets is not seeing Roger Waters’s initial arena tour of The Wall in 2010 (I also failed to see the stadium tour, but with less regret).  That’s another release 1979.  There are more to come.

Randy Newman – Little Criminals (1977).

Randy Newman – Bad Love (1999).  When reviewing top albums lists by various publications, three other Newman albums are often mentioned: 12 Songs, Sail Away and Good Old Boys, but I think the best of Newman was still to come when those early 70s albums – as good as they might be – made a splash with critics and fans alike.  Newman’s Bad Love is his masterpiece, a perfect blend of sardonic, witty, funny, poignant and heartbreaking songs (“I Miss You” absolutely kills me).  You simply can’t do better.  Likewise, Little Criminals has it all, (and even has Newman’s one and only hit, “Short People”) and sounds fresher and more urgent that his preceding albums of more notoriety.

Bad Examples – Kisses 50¢ (1995).  This Chicago band led by Ralph Covert, who later went on to quite a successful career writing music for kids, is one of those unsung power pop bands that recorded in the wrong decade, as grunge was in full-force in the 90s, when subtlety in composing and production wasn’t exactly in vogue.  The band’s second album is a great listen, full of melody, wit, changing moods and excellent guitar work.  My favorite moment is the second half of the chorus for “Trying to Prove that the Earth is Flat,” when the energy picks up a touch with a fabulous double octave guitar line, but the whole album is solid, with “Every Poet Wants to Murder Shakespeare” and “The Mask of Mona Lisa” standout tracks.

Paul Simon – Surprise (2006).  When looking back on Simon’s consistently strong output, I kept coming back to one of his lesser-known albums, Surprise, a project that gave Simon a reinvigorated sound thanks to the sonic landscapes created by Brian Eno.  This album sounds fresh, exciting and fun, and there’s so much going on here lyrically that it warrants repeated listens.  I find much of Simon’s earlier output to sounds tired these days.  Even Graceland lacks the energy I’d expected to hear upon revisiting it recently, and aside from the title track, none of the lyrics speak to me.  Simon is one of those rare artists who’s managed to put out high quality recordings even into his 70s, though I find his last two studio albums of original material to be good, not great.  If I have to pick only one Paul Simon album to listen to these days, it’s Surprise.

Off Broadway – On (1979).  Another entry from 1979, this may be the best power pop album ever, fulfilling all the requirements of the genre: captivating melodies, tight arrangements, heightened energy, crunching guitar and slick harmonies and production.  The B section of “New Little Girl,” the chorus of “Bad Indication,” the verse of “Money’s No Good,” the unique voice of Cliff Johnson (except when he channels Buddy Holly) – it’s pure pop perfection.

Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark (1974).  I like a lot of Joni Mitchell’s output between 1968 and 1976 or so.  After that, she loses me, but I know people who feel that’s when her music gets really interesting.  For me, that middle period when she became a little less folky and a little more jazzy and bluesy is the sweet spot, and Court and Spark is a perfect melding of those genres, with her lyrics still self-reflective but more universal: who hasn’t been at a party feeling a little insecure?  Who hasn’t wondered whether the rat race in the U.S. is too much and who longed for an easy life in Paris?  Side one of this album is spectacular; side two gets a little bogged down, but not enough not to choose this as my favorite Mitchell album.

Lloyd Cole – Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe (1991).  I had no clue who Lloyd Cole was when I found this cutout at Musicland, and although I’ve investigated his music before and since this release, nothing else reaches the heights of this album.  Divided into two parts – a rock side and a more romantic, melodramatic side (with orchestral parts arranged by Paul Buckmaster) – track after track offers great grooves with Cole’s infectious baritone cooing acerbic wit and melancholy, and Blair Cowan’s tasty organ parts really stand out.  My favorite track is “Pay for It,” whose riff is so simple but oh so irresistible, I could listen to this one happily for hours on end.  The intro and outro of “Half of Everything” also stand out, a beautiful blending of rock and orchestra.

Phil Collins – Hello, I Must Be Going! (1982).  Yeah, I know.  I suspect that of all the albums I pick this will be the one I get the most flack for.  This album is notable for being the very first album I ever heard on CD.  My brother set up the player in our basement in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and we watched the CD spin through the semi-transparent door with hints of a green laser reflecting off the mirrored surface, and soon began the opening tom rhythm of “I Don’t Care Anymore.”  Fantastic.  It’s this track and two other dark songs that really make the album work for me: “Do You Know, Do You Care?” and, especially, “Thru These Walls” which highlights an angry and creepy side that’s fun to explore in music as long as it’s not overbearing.  Collins does a nice job of intermixing moods, whether sinister, fun or sappy.  Yes, “Why Can’t It Wait ‘Til Morning” goes a bit over the top with its schmaltz, but it’s a well-crafted song, and I especially like “Don’t Let Him Steal Your Heart Away.”  Cheesy?  You bet!  But I’ve always been a fan of cheese, as long as it’s good.

The Who – Quadrophenia, sides 1 and 2 (1973).  This is without a doubt The Who’s magnum opus, their musicality and storytelling reaching new heights, with all four band members making stunning contributions.  The first two sides are pure perfection, with the title track and “The Punk and the Godfather” my favorites.  The second two sides never held together quite as well for me, though they certainly have their high points, but when I’m being (self) forced to limit my selections, that disc has to go.

Gabriel Kahane – Where are the Arms (2011).  A short Sunday morning segment on NPR clued me into Kahane, and it was a lovely bit of happenstance for me, because this album is utterly captivating.  Not unlike Elvis Costello’s The Juliet Letters and Rufus Wainwright’s All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu, this album builds off the heritage of classical song, but unlike Costello and Wainright (and Kahane’s more recent efforts), this collection infuses more modern elements into the songwriting and production, including some kick-ass guitar and drum performances that keep the album from getting bogged down under its own weight.  The upshot is a song cycle of moving, complicated and mysterious tunes with beautiful melodies and infection grooves.  The brass breakdown on “Calabash & Catamaran,” alternating between 7/8 and 4/4 is absolutely brilliant.

Supertramp – Crisis?  What Crisis? (1975).

Supertramp – Breakfast in America (1979).  I can’t overstate how important this band was to the young version of me, insecure and creative, the youngest child of separated parents.  Hodgson’s lyrics were the empathetic voice I craved, though I can’t say for sure that I understood them all at the time.  Listening to Supertramp nearly forty years on, the band’s output still holds up.  I’ve always loved the juxtaposition of Davies’s and Hodgson’s respective oeuvres, one cynical and cranky, one spiritual and nurturing, and together they were greater than the sum of their parts.  Crime of the Century might be their most revered album, but weak production, overexposure and a so-so second side keep this out of the top for me (for today, at least).  Crisis? What Crisis? still excites me.  Back in the day I learned the piano solo to “Another Man’s Woman” note for note, and “A Soapbox Opera” and “The Meaning” are Hodgson at his best.  Davies only has four songs on the album, but they provide just enough edge to keep the album from sounding overly saccharine.  As for Breakfast in America, Davies raises the stakes to match his writing partner’s output note for note.  “Gone Hollywood” is the perfect opener, “Child of Vision” the perfect closer, and just about everything in between reaches the same level.  Another fantastic album from 1979.

R.E.M. – Automatic for the People (1992).  One year after their enormous Out of Time, the band wisely changed directions again, releasing a quirky yet moving collection of melodic tunes with lush string arrangements provided by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.  Like other semi-experimental albums such as The White Album and Tusk, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” and “Star Me Kitten” may not be brilliant, but in the context of the album they work effectively. Then you add some dark, intriguing songs like “Monty Got a Raw Deal” and “Try Not to Breathe“ and some truly exceptional tracks like “Nightswimming,” Everybody Hurts” and “Man on the Moon,” and, well, you’ve got yourself a gem. R.E.M.’s best.

Yes – Close to the Edge (1972).  This is where things get a bit tricky, because I could easily add five Yes albums to my list, but I probably have to limit it to two.  I’ll continue to struggle to determine what else cracks my top albums list, but one I know that has to be on there is the band’s fifth studio album, the last with drummer Bill Bruford and the second effort with Rick Wakeman on keys.  Close to the Edge probably gets my vote for the best prog-rock album ever.  From the side-long title track with distinct movements, to the bombastic climax of “And You and I” and the blistering “Siberian Khatru,” you just can’t get any better.

Elton John – Madman Across the Water (1971).

Elton John – Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975).  Elton holds a special place in my memory, his music lingering in the background for much of my childhood.  When I was twelve I finally purchased his greatest hits album and a piano book of his music, and they were both life-altering, allowing me to finally start enjoying playing the piano instead of trudging through yet another Michael Aaron book.  Elton John could do little wrong from 1970 to 1976, but there are two albums that stand out.  Although I’m really tired of “Tiny Dancer,” Madman Across the Water is an excellent LP, consistent, with not a bad track to be found.  Even songs titled “Razor Face” and “Rotten Peaches” hit the mark, and the closing song, “Goodbye,” is so marvelously melancholy, it’s rivaled only by the bittersweet finale of what I consider to be Elton John’s best album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.  The highs on this album are very high – “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” “Tower of Babel” – and even the lesser tracks are excellent.  My only gripe about this autobiographical album is the insanely overpowering drum track with slap-back echo on “Better Off Dead,” an otherwise great track.  I have no idea what producer Gus Dudgeon was thinking. The last song, “Curtains,” is tear-inducing and happened to finish off season one of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Whoever chose that song for the series deserves a medal.

That’s it for now! Next week I’ll add twenty more selections.

Albums I Can't Live Without (part 1)

Ever since Rolling Stone began compiling various “best of” musical accomplishments, I’ve often thought of my artistic affinities in terms of lists, much like Nick Hornby’s character Rob in High Fidelity.  Lists are in some ways the stupidest things imaginable, but they can also be really helpful; it’s nice upon being asked about your favorite bands/albums/songs/movies/books to actually have an answer.  Yes, lists may be a bit contrived (who’s to say what my favorites will be next week), but they provide a lot better answer than “Um…I don’t know, I like a lot of stuff.” 

As long as you approach them as temporary, fickle things, then creating lists can be a healthy and enjoyable endeavor.  They may encourage you to reinvestigate that album that you remember loving, having claimed for years that you loved, but upon further review doesn’t speak to you the way it did twenty years ago.  Just recently I put on the Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes, and although I remembered it being one of my favorites, it didn’t rise to the level I expected it to.  Back in 1991 it really grabbed me; now it just calls out politely for my attention.  Paul Simon’s Graceland is another one that no longer excites me the way it once did.  Some art sounds old when it’s old.  Some art never ages. On the flip side, making lists might inspire you to recall an album you’d forgotten about.  In preparation for this blog, I became reacquainted with K.D. Lang’s fabulous 1992 album, Ingénue, and I’ve once again enjoyed listening to her caressing croon.

A few months back I decided to make a list of one hundred albums I can’t live without, but I quickly realized that picking a hundred albums was a bit too easy, allowing me to choose that 1984 Elton John release that really has no business being on anybody’s top anything, but I still kinda dig.  Ten or twenty albums would be far too restrictive, so I settled on fifty, a nice compromise that would allow me to listen and reevaluate each selection without feeling overwhelmed, yet still include a bunch of albums beyond the usual suspects.  But then I struggled with that, so I’m probably going to end up with something like seventy albums. I know, I’m failing at my own self-induced endeavor!

When compiling lists I like to abide by various rules to narrow things down and really home in on what’s important.  Here are mine for the top albums I can’t live without:

1)     I have to listen to all the albums I choose to confirm their inclusion.

2)     I’m sticking with rock and pop. Jazz and classical would be included on my all-time desert island list of records, but I don’t want to go down those rabbit holes right now. It’s hard enough just sifting through my rock records.

3)     No compilation albums of any kind are allowed unless they contain mostly previously unreleased material, which therefore excludes all greatest hits albums and most live albums.

4)     Double albums count for two picks with the following exception: I can choose only two sides if I’d like, allowing me to get dinged for only one selection. The rule is a little silly, because many single CDs released over the past thirty years are long enough to qualify as a double album (say, Rush’s Snakes & Arrows), but I’m sticking with the rule: if it was originally released as a double album, it’s a double; if it was originally released as a single CD, it’s a single.

As I go through my selections, I acknowledge the following:

1)     I’m afraid that my choices are going to be mostly male and almost exclusively white.  What can I say except that this is the narrow lens through which I’ve come to know pop music.

2)     I’m going to seek out variety to accompany me on my desert island.  So, for instance, I’m going to want to have a few angry, edgy albums, a few emotional, weepy albums, a few fun, poppy albums, etc.  I could easily pick five albums each by Yes, Genesis, Ben Folds, Elton John, Randy Newman and Joe Jackson and kinda call it a day, but what fun would that be?

3)     There are many exceptional albums that I acknowledge are among the best ever recorded, but I simply don’t need to hear anymore.  You’ll get no argument from me that Rumours, Purple Rain, Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin’s fourth are great albums.  I just never want to hear them again.  Like, ever. 

4)     There’s also a bit of a recency effect going on, where albums I was only just turned onto – even if they’re old – sound fresh and exciting to me, though they may one day sound old and stale.  Such is the capricious nature of musical taste.

So there you are.  To get the ball rolling, here are my first ten selections, in no particular order:

Keane – Hopes and Fears (2004).  Wow, what a great pickup at the used CD store.  I’d heard the track “Somewhere Only We Know” on XRT in Chicago several times and liked it, and spying the CD in the “new arrivals” rack for $5 made this purchase a no-brainer.  The album is amazing, with melody overdrive, rich production, and flawless vocals by Tom Chaplin.  The band’s second album, Under the Iron Sea, is terrific too, but the debut still wins the prize for me.  Hard to pick favorites on this one, but “She Has No Time” and “Bedshaped” are among the best.

Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic (1975).  I listened to this album recently along with Rocks and Get Your Wings just to make sure my instincts were correct, and sure enough, the band’s 1975 release continues to be their best.  I like the hits off of Rocks better (“Back in the Saddle,” “Sick as a Dog” and “Last Child” vs. “Toys in the Attic,” “Walk this Way” and “Sweet Emotion”), but the deep cuts on Toys are so damn good, this album wins by a landslide.  What allowed Aerosmith to stand out from other rock bands in the 70s – Foghat, AC/DC, etc – was their willingness to compliment a great rock riff with a significant mood or harmony change.  Case in point: on the song “Uncle Salty,” the band offers a good mid-tempo shuffle with an exciting chorus.  All good.  And then they throw in a surprise – the “ooh, it’s a sunny day outside my window” section, a hypnotic half-time feel with a very interesting sharp 11 in the melody.  This makes all the difference.  There isn’t a bad track on the album, and “You’ve Seen me Crying,” – one of those songs I was too cool to admit liking back in middle school – is a beautiful, heart-wrenching closer.

Innocence Mission – Umbrella (1991).  I fell in love with this band after seeing them on Late Night with David Letterman and attending a concert a few weeks later at the Memorial Union at the UW-Madison, and their debut album accompanied a trip to the east coast and back with my friend Todd in March of 1990.  I was really taken with the vulnerable lyrics, the rich, subtle guitar work of Donald Peris, and of course the vocals of his wife, Karen.  When I first listened to their sophomore effort, Umbrella seemed to lack the energy of the band’s debut, but oh how the tracks on this album grab me now, twenty-five years later.  Among my favorite songs ever is “Now in this Hush.”  I listened to it on repeat maybe fifteen successive times while painting my son’s room five or six years ago, and I’ve never tired of it.  Lyrically, the band’s oft-repeating themes of embracing the simple joys of life and eschewing the pursuit of wealth and status speak to me now as much as they did nearly thirty years ago.

Jackson Browne – Standing in the Breach (2014).  Running on Empty may be his biggest seller and Late for the Sky may be the critics’ darling, but after reviewing his catalog once more just in case I was off my rocker, I stand by my decision to include Browne’s latest release in my top fifty albums.  I’ve written about this album before, a gem packed with solid melodies and superb musicianship, but what makes this collection of songs stand out are the lyrics, timely and moving, desperate yet hopeful, political yet transcending politics.  I’ve listened to this album more than any other in the past four years, and it will likely be the most recent album I include in my list.

Lyle Lovett – The Road to Ensenada (1996).  This Grammy Award winner for Best Country Album is a masterpiece, one of those rare instances where voters got it right.  The musicianship on this collection is so pristine and tasty – there’s not a note out of place – that the album could have ended up sounding contrived were it not for the songwriting craftsmanship, infused with wit, humor, heartbreak and resignation that gives it universal appeal.  The final song on the album, “The Girl in the Corner,” still gives me chills.

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk, sides 1 and 2 (1979).

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk, sides 3 and 4 (1979).  You won’t get me to claim that this is a better effort than Rumours, but Tusk provides a richer listening experience for me, partially due to it not being overplayed the way its predecessor was (and is), but also because of its unique and varied content. From the opening track, a very subdued and beautiful “Over and Over,” you know this isn’t doing to be Rumours 2, a wise decision by the dramatic quintet, though I recall seeing cutouts of the double album when it didn’t sell as well as Warner Bros. expected (it still sold 4 million copies).  I’ve often compared this album to the Beatles’ White Album in that it’s experimental and quirky with some terrific pop songs and a few rockers.  My favorite is McVie’s “Brown Eyes,” a hauntingly beautiful song that’s even more hypnotic than the band’s 1973 hit, “Hypnotized.”  This will not be the last album I choose from the amazing musical year of 1979.

Radiohead – The Bends (1995).  My buddy claims that 1995 was when music went bad, but how could this be with Ben Folds Five making their debut and Radiohead releasing this masterpiece?  Critics may worship the band’s subsequent effort, OK Computer, but for my taste it’s their sophomore effort that strikes gold.  I recall exercising on my NordicTrack in fall of 1995 listening to The Bends and being completely blown away with its melodic landscapes.  It still holds up, from the emphatic opening of “Planet Telex,” the spellbinding “Fake Plastic Trees,” to the aching “Black Star,” this album is a tour de force from start to finish, unlike OK Computer, which for me loses steam 2/3rds of the way through.

Company of Thieves – Ordinary Riches (2009).  When I first heard ”Oscar Wilde” on XRT while driving down Roosevelt Avenue in Lombard, I was enthralled, and I was soon thrilled to learn that the rest of this Chicago-based band’s debut album was equally strong.  With Genevieve Schatz’s quirky and mesmerizing vocals and lyrics and Marc Walloch’s superbly tasteful guitar work – with just enough edge when warranted – their first effort really stands out.  I wasn’t the only one who took note of this band; Daryl Hall invited this relatively unknown act to appear on his show, Live from Daryl’s House, in 2009.  “Even in the Dark” gets my vote for the best track on the album.

Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life, sides 1 and 2 (1976).  Seeing Wonder in concert three years back, when he performed this album from start to finish, helped me appreciate a release that I’d forgotten about save for the amazing one-two punch of “Sir Duke” and “I Wish.”  From the opening of choral “oohs,” the album is one of those gems that deftly switches moods without sounding disjointed.  You have Stevie doing is prog-rock fusion thing in “Contusion,” social commentary (and cool sparse arrangements) in “Village Ghetto Land,” a beautiful ballad in “Knocks Me Off My Feet,” and – thanks to Coolio and, subsequently, Weird Al Yankovic – a timeless tune in “Pastime Paradise.”  The album loses steam on sides three and four, but those aren’t too shabby either.

So there you have it. Ten down, many more to go. I hope you give a some of these albums a listen, and of course, if you have any that you think I’m crazy not to include, send them my way and I’ll give them a concerted listen.

My Half-Year of Streaming Music

Denying for years to join the 21st Century, I indulged as recently as last summer in purchasing CDs, pulling the trigger on albums by Esperanza Spaulding, William Shatner, Bright Eyes, Paul McCartney and Field Music.  But last November I took the plunge and joined a streaming service – first Napster, whom I was told paid artists more but whose service I determined was inadequate, and then Spotify, a company vilified by some and praised by others.  Since then I’ve delved into scores of albums I’d never taken the time to investigate before, and for this reason alone, music streaming has a new fan.  I still love having physical CDs in the car, where I can immerse myself into an album and listen the way I used to, but for hanging out at home and investigating unexplored musical territory, streaming services can’t be beat.

I’m not much into playlists and haven’t utilized this aspect of Spotify more than a handful of times.  Instead, I’ve listened to albums and bands I hadn’t given attention to in the past.  Since November, I’ve fallen in love with the following albums:

  • Manifesto, a brilliant release by Roxy Music, surpassing what some claim to be their crowning achievement, Avalon.
  • Underneath the Colours, the debut album by an almost unrecognizable INXS.  Angry, edgy, melodic.  Fantastic.
  • Sit Down Young Stranger (or, alternatively titled, If You Could Read My Mind) by Gordon Lightfoot, heartfelt folk-rock from start to finish.
  • Odessey and Oracle by The Zombies, an amazing album recorded around the same time as St. Pepper, but – in my mind – surpassing it in some ways.
  • Grand Hotel by Procol Harum, a collection of wonderful melodies with gravitas

I've delved into so much more that I never would have done without the aid of a streaming service.  I checked out releases by Cat Stevens, Van Morrison and James Taylor.  I finally listened to the Rolling Stones of the 1960s, and concluded that aside from Beggar’s Banquet, much of it falls flat for me (and that Their Satanic Majesties Request may be among the worst albums ever recorded).  I learned that I’m not as fond of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions as I am of Lloyd Cole’s solo work, and that I'm not as fond of Jethro Tull and King Crimson as I am of other prog rock bands.  I discovered that early Chicago albums are padded with really bad, lengthy tracks, and that each of Esperanza Spaulding's releases are worth my attention.  I gave the last half-dozen releases by Elton John a chance, concluded that Aimee Mann continues to put out quality material, but without the punch of her first three releases, and that the J Geils Band is a great party band with some standout tracks, but ultimately doesn’t grab me.

I also listened to classical guitar by Ryan Walsh, Latin music by Natalia Lafourcade, Mansieur Perine, and Vicente Garcia, fusion by Snarky Puppy, jazz by Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and newer releases by Empty Pockets, Young the Giant and Lake Street Dive.

And on and on.

Now, the question remains: can artists make a living making music when people only use streaming services?  That remains to be seen, but for a guy in his 50s who sometimes has difficulty keeping up on music, streaming can’t be beat.

Of course, of the five albums I highlighted above, I’ve purchased four of them on vinyl. 

So yeah, I’ve still got the disease.

The Music of 1971

In David Hepworth’s Never a Dull Moment: 1971 – the Year that Rock Exploded, the author makes a case for why the year is “the most creative, most innovative, most interesting, and longest-resounding year of that era,” and it’s a pretty darn convincing case. Sure, we all think that the music of our pivotal years is the best. I get a kick out of reading comments on Youtube for music that was released just fifteen years ago (“This song reminds me so much of my childhood!”) and there remains a special place in my heart for the years 1978 through about 1983 (don’t make me pin down an exact year), but Hepworth claims “there’s an important difference in the case of me and 1971. The difference is this. I’m right.”

Certainly no one can deny the incredible output of 1971. Carol King: Tapestry, Yes: The Yes Album and Fragile, The Who: Who’s Next, The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers, Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story, David Bowie: Hunky Dory, Joni Mitchell: Blue, Bill Withers: Just As I Am, Van Morrison: Tupelo Honey, Pink Floyd: Meddle, Nick Drake: Bryter Layter, Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On, Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin IV, John Lennon: Imagine, Genesis: Nursery Cryme, Elton John: Madman Across the Water, Harry Nilsson: Nilsson Schmilsson, Don McLean: American Pie, The Doors: L.A. Woman, Badfinger: Sraight Up, James Taylor: Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, and on and on.

Pretty impressive stuff. Hell, I just went through the list, and even though I was only three years-old during the release of most of these records, I actually own seventeen albums from 1971, not to mention a few compilations with songs released from that year. I doubt I own that many albums from any other single year since. (Though I'd have to check. Hmmm...sounds like a fun challenge).

And this is part of the author’s case: that the releases of 1971 “have proved to have lasting appeal,” as many of the artist are still around, playing bigger venues today than they did nearly fifty years ago, and many of the songs still resonate with young listeners. The output of 1971 may not include your favorite albums of all-time, but you can’t argue against their lasting influence. My three kids and I played a mini concert in my back yard last summer, with each of us choosing one song to play. My son surprisingly picked Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” while I chose Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move.” Sure enough. Both 1971. My daughters and I saw The Who (or half of them, anyhow) last year, the concert culminating in the rousing 1971 anthem of "Baba O'Riley," and my son the drummer has familiarized himself with Bonham’s work on “Rock and Roll” and “When the Levee Breaks.” For many artists, 1971 epitomizes their peak. (The author writes, “If all we knew of David Bowie was what he did in 1971, it would be more than enough.”)

I assumed Never a Dull Moment would be little more than a month by month listing of each released album along with a few pages about the recording and popular reaction, but it’s much more in-depth than that, delving into topics such as radio marketing, record stores, record labels and management, and Hepworth even does a nice job of anchoring his prose in the world events that were happening at the time.

And the prose is excellent.  Fresh off the heels of reading music producer Glynn John’s book, Sound Man, I was pleased to return to legitimately good writing. (John’s can produce, but the guy most certainly cannot write). As an example, here’s a sentence about how in a year when a Beatles greatest hits album didn’t even exist, bands began to learn about the lure of nostalgia, most notably The Beach Boys with their album Surf’s Up, which would mark the beginning of celebrating the style that first propelled the band into stardom in the mid-60s, and which wouldn’t stop for the next forty years. “But as one unmemorable album follows another from premature acclaim to the bargain bin of history, each auspicious beginning is followed by the familiar flatness, each round of press interviews and TV appearances gives way to faint embarrassment as the new songs are dropped from the set list never to return, we in the audience increasingly identify with the line that makes a popular T-shirt slogan at festivals – ‘Play some old.’”

Nice! I don't agree with the sentiment, as I've always favored bands who've continued to create music worth listening to (Rush, Jackson Browne, Joe Jackson, James Taylor, etc.), but it's hard to argue against the massive nostalgic success of Elton John, The Rolling Stones and The Who, as they continue to tour year after year in front of more and more fans playing the same old songs. Hepworth writes: "At the time, 1971 didn't feel like a particularly exceptional year. The habit of looking back, which is now so much a part of the music media game, and of which this book is a part, hadn't been invented." But the seeds of nostalgia were sown. On the last day of 1971, Bob Dylan joined The Band on stage and announced his last song, a composition he hadn't performed in years. Hepworth writes: "Then, as he would do for the rest of his life, he launched into 'Like a Rolling Stone.'  Heritage rock was born."

An Evening Listening to Music

How much music can you listen to in one evening?  A crap-load, and some of the following songs might even be categorized as crap (Glenn Fry, anyone?).  On a recent Friday evening in Kevin’s “Wall of Sound,” five of us gathered to play music, commiserate, and ask important questions like why artists insist on talking politics during concerts (my favorite example: Rufus Wainwright in 2004 telling the audience, “We need to get rid of Bush.”  My friend turned to me and said, “Rufus isn’t even a U.S. citizen!”).

Peruse the list, and excuse and typos and errors.  I believe there was some drinking going on this particular evening, but I can’t remember.

Warren Zevon – Raspberry Beret

Henry Lee Summers – Just Another Day

Prince – Pop Life

Kodaline – Brand New Day

The Band – Ophelia

Smithereens – Crazy Mixed Up Kid

Icehouse – Nothing too Serious

Everly Brothers – Gone, Gone, Gone

Robert Hazard – Escalator of Life

Lou Reed – Satellite of Life

David Bowie – Sound and Vision

Frank Black – Calistan

Devo – Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No)

Guadalcanal Diary – Litany

Robbie Robertson – Somewhere Down that Crazy River

Robbie Robertson – It’s A Good Day to Die

Richard Thompson – 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

Cheap Trick – I Know What I Want

Silversun Pickups – The Pit

David Bowie – Soul Love

Jon Astley – Jane’s Getting Serious

Jeff Buckley – Grace

The Firm – Someone to Love

Rhythm Core – Common Ground

Warren Zevon – I was in the House When the House Burned Down

Jane’s Addiction – Standing in the Shower Naked

Al Stewart – On the Border

Glenn Frey – You Belong to the City

Off Broadway – Full Moon Turn My Head Around

Rickie Lee Jones – Last Chance Texaco

The Church – Under the Milky Way

No Doubt – Spider Web

Tom Petty – Change of Heart

A-ha – Cry Wolf

Edie Brickell – Little Miss S.

Jimi Hendrix – Bold is Love

Four Non Blondes – What’s Up

Innocence Mission – Deep in this Hush

Bob Mould – Wishing Well

The Crystal Method – Name of the Game

Jimi Hendrix – If 6 Was 9

Subdudes – Late at Night

Paul Simon – How Can You Live in the Northeast

Jail – The Stroller

Tears for Fears – Mad World

AC/DC – Long Way to the Top

Keane – Broken Toy

Jimmy Buffett – I Don’t Know (Spicoli’s Theme)

Psychedelic Furs – Ghost In You

The Doors – The Soft Parade

Supertramp – The Meaning

INXS – One Thing

Seal – Prayer for the Dying

Led Zeppelin – Custard Pie

The Cult – Rain

The Kinks – Destroyer

ELO – Do Ya

Little River Band – Lonesome Loser

Joe Jackson – Cosmopolitan

?? – ??

April Wine – Talk of the Town

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved