I’ve been picking great albums and listening to them in their entirety for the past several Saturdays. I don’t know why, but Saturday mornings seems like an ideal time for this, and since this feels like it’s becoming a routine, I’m going to start a thread to journal about these albums. Right now, I’m listening to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?, which I picked because Rolling Stone chose it as the #1 album out of the top 500. I’ll write some thoughts in the first comment section.
(Note: I changed the title, expanding the thread to discuss albums that may not be considered great.)
98 thoughts on “Listening to Albums on a Saturday/Sunday Morning (2020-2021)”
Some quick thoughts on What’s Going On?. It’s almost suite-like or more like one long song, at least that’s how it feels for several of the songs. On one of the tracks, Gaye riffs in a way that feels like Penetcostal worship service. Overall, I liked the album. I need to go back and focus on the lyrics.
Next up: Crosby, Stills, and Nash self-titled album.
(Edit: I listened to the album, but I didn’t really pay attention to the lyrics. I enjoyed what I heard, but I’m going to refrain from commenting.)
Crosby, Stills, Nash (self-titled)
Gave this another go, since I didn’t really pay attention to the lyrics the first time. This also seemed to fit the mood on a slow, Sunday morning.
I was most familiar with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”–I even read the lyrics in the past, which increased my appreciation for the song. Checking out the lyrics and song again, I would say both hold up. This is a really good pop song, one that goes beyond the pop aesthetic, proving that a pop song can be musically interesting, lyrically substantive, without being cheesy. If someone asked for a list of pop songs that could also be considered good art, this song would make the list.
The entire album can be described as romantic–not just in the amorous sense, although most of these songs seem to be about unrequited love, but in a broader way, with a folky sensibility. Normally, this would be a turnoff for me, but for the most part this aspect didn’t turn me off. (Perhaps, “Guinnevere” came the closest.) And I did like other lyrics besides the ones in “Suite: Judy.” For example, I liked the ones in “Helplessly Hoping,” particularly the chorus:
There is also that protest element, that seemed to be so much a part of the times. I’m thinking of “Long Time Gone,” which has a similar vibe to Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” (which I believe CSN sang?), both musically and lyrically.
Yeah, Joni MItchell wrote “Woodstock” even though she didn’t attend, and CSN got a hit out of their recording of it.
I love the one-two-three-for lyric in “Helplessly Hoping,” but I’m always a little disappointed in the verses leading up to the chorus. The lyric is good but the melody bugs me for some reason.
I also love “…such a long long long long time…before the dawn…” in “Long Time Gone.”
Do you have a favorite among the three lead voices?
I don’t know who is who, so I can’t really say.
What’s Goin On is the number one all-time greatest album on the 2020 version of Rolling Stones magazine’s list. I recently listened to it, focusing on the lyrics, and if I had to give a short description of my impression of the album, I’d say, “black flower power,” a kind of soul version of Lennon’s “All We Need is Love.” In general, I don’t mean this in a good way. The sentiments are nice, but naive and superficial. Part of the superficiality stems from the quality of the lyrics in my view. The lyrics to the title song are solid, but most of the lyrics, in terms of quality, are similar, and I feel like that hurts the album.
Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life came in at #4. I recently listened to it right after listening to What’s Goin On. For me, this made SitKoL seem so much better than WGO–in terms of quality of the songs, the performance of the musicians, and even the overall cohesion of the album–particularly side one. WGO is cohesive, like a suite, in a way, but it’s a bit monotonous, especially compared to SitKoL in my opinion.
(I should note that in the last week I listened to both albums a few times. My opinion of SitKoL wasn’t very high in the first few listening sessions.)
…Nothing Like the Sun (Sting)
Some general impressions:
Maybe I’m not in the mood for this, but my reaction was a bit lukewarm.
I think I would have liked if the musicians had more space to play–i.e., longer instrumental sections.
I’m listening now to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
I like …Nothing Like the Sun (a line from a Shakespearean sonnet, but you know this), but I would expect you to like Dream of the Blue Turtles better. I have a fondness for The Soul Cages, but I think a lot of people find it a little slow.
Coincidentally, I listened to Dream of the Blue Turtles tonight, and I did like it better. But I don’t know how much of this is expectations. My expectations were lower because of my previous reaction to “…Nothing.” (I didn’t know it was a Shakespeare quote, by the way.)
One of the main things I’ve learned is to make an effort to limit my expectations before listening. It’s a really big hindrance, and it’s weird that I’m point this out, because as I write this, I know I’ve realized this before…I’m not sure why I have to re-learn this.
It helps to keep in mind, when listening to albums in their entirely, that an album with no skippable songs is rare, and an album with all good songs is super rare. Even among my top 20 albums, I think there are maybe only three or four I consider good or very good all the way through.
Writing good songs is difficult.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is one of the greats. Unlike most love sonnets, where the persona praises his lover, comparing her to beautiful things in nature, he compares her unfavorably. Her eyes are “nothing like the sun,” her breasts aren’t as white as the snow, her lips aren’t as red as coral, her hair is wiry, her cheeks aren’t rosy and her breath isn’t very sweet:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
But then the turnaound couplet at the end points out that such comparisons are superficial because he loves her beyond such everyday visions:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
I don’t think the quality of the song-writing is a factor–unless I’m expecting it–or I’m expecting all the songs to be great. Whenever I have high expectations, about any aspect of the music, I feel like I’m rarely satisfied–or at least I remember those moments far more than when the album lives up to my expectations.
One of the more satisfying listening experiences I have occur when I’m listening to randomly to songs, where I don’t know the songs or artists before hand–and I’m usually doing something else. I have very little expectations, and sometimes, something will catch my ear, and I’ll have to stop what I’m doing. “What is that?” I’ll say, out loud sometimes. I like that. I feel like in those moments it’s really the music that is impacting me—not my expectations or the opinion of others.
Do you use the radio function of your music streaming service very much? I’ve found these moments are likelier to happen when I’m listening that way.
No, but I’ll shuffle a playlist, which sometimes produces the outcome I describe.
Yeah when iTunes introduced shuffle mode it really changed music listening — it’s like hearing some familiar things a new way. I’m a lifelong (well, since 8th grade) album listener and I still prefer to listen this way, but putting things in shuffle really makes you hear stuff you never heard before.
I think you subscribe to Apple music. You should try the radio feature. Pick a song, artist, or album, and hit the radio button. The algorithms are getting better at predicting what we might like or find interesting.
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on the differences between listening to albums, in their entirety, versus random songs.
The idea of playing the radio appeals to me on some level, but there always seems to be a lot of music I want to hear. Apple Music has playlists of genres/sub-genres, and I’ll turn to that when I’m in the mood for a certain style, but want a more random approach.
I don’t think I have anything to say about listening to albums vs. listening to individual songs you wouldn’t already know by guessing.
Among the many things the Beatles did for the first time was think about the album as more than a collection of songs, but a work of art itself. The idea of a new album progressing from the sound of the album before? The Beatles invented that.
This means for most of the music I prefer, each album has its own sound and its own intentions. Styx’s “Rockin’ the Paradise” is a great song by itself, but as the opener of the Paradise Theater album, it has extra meaning. The concept is this album is the last show to be performed in a historic music venue before it closes forever. I’m sure there are people out there who listen to Paradise Theater in shuffle mode, but these people should be put on trial and sentenced to hard labor.
I remember the first time I brought Born in the U.S.A. home. By then, half the songs had already been playing on FM radio and “Dancing in the Dark” was a huge hit. Bruce’s breakout into the mainstream. There he was in the video, totally clean-shaven and handsome and poppy while dancing onstage with Courtney Cox. I was nervous Bruce had sold out.
But that first spin, from beginning to end, was kind of amazing. Bruce hadn’t changed at all. And a handful of songs, not yet played on the radio, sounded like the next chapter following Nebraska, the album before, my favorite Springsteen album even now. I passed a note to Jami in geometry the next day saying how much several of the songs reminded me of Nebraska and she said she read a bunch of them were written during the Nebraska sessions. Aha.
This stuff doesn’t mean much to most people, I guess. But it’s important in loving the music beyond just liking songs. Born in the U.S.A. IS a great collection of hit songs, but it’s more, and while that more isn’t important to everyone, it can really add to one’s appreciation for the artist and enjoyment of the album.
Pop is sort of not designed this way, and that’s okay too, although some pop musicians definitely think of albums as their own thing. Taylor Swift and Rich Mullins are two easy examples. Adele names her albums after the age she was when she recorded them, which is kind of great even if I can’t get into her music.
The downside to listening mostly like this, as I mentioned, is that you can (and apparently I do) get locked into thinking of the songs only in context, only as parts of an album, as the Xth song in a sequence, and that can take away from the brilliance of a song on its own, a little four-minute work of art on its own. This is why shuffle mode is so thrilling for me sometimes when I listen this way. As I said, it makes me hear songs differently, and it often makes me hear something different in them.
I think you said some interesting things.
Basically, some songs function as a part of a whole–basically a musical suite. When musicians write songs this way, I think this fact is important, and ideally the songs should be listened to in song order, and ideally in one sitting. That’s not to say that one can’t enjoy each song in isolation; nor do I think this approach is wrong.
But how often does this happen?
Also, there are varying degrees to which album songs are parts of a whole. For example, a musician may not write songs as parts to a whole, but they may order them to create a better flow and a pleasing effect after listening to the entire album. The songs may not be so connected lyrically, or even musically. Other musicians could make both connections a lot stronger.
With regard to that last point, I’m thinking of a symphony or suite–classical music with movements. The musical links between each movement seem very strong, although I don’t think I’ve listened to enough of them to know for sure. I wonder how common occurs in rock/pop. In jazz, I think it’s fairly uncommon. My guess is that most jazz albums are not like this.
If the songs are highly dependent on each other, I don’t think what you describe is a downside.
Not necessarily, as a suite tends to be connected by themes or whatever, sometimes actually connected with no space between songs.
The idea of an album as a work of art itself, made up of smaller pieces of art, is approached a lot of different ways. For some musicians there’s a flow or a building of moods (which I think you get at later in your response but I haven’t re-read the whole thing yet). For others there are lyrical themes or musical themes. For others it’s something else.
They sometimes do and sometimes don’t. Band members, for example, often come together for a new album, each with new songs already written, and there’s either some negotiation about which to include and in what order, or how they want to perform it as a band. Some bands create in the rehearsal studio, sometimes writing twenty songs and then chooseing the ten or fourteen for the album.
But yeah: you see what I mean. If the musicians had in mind that you would listen to the whole album in order, if you want to experience the thing they’re communicating, it makes the most sense to listen all the way through in order, and this is my preferred way, almost all the time.
Right. A lot of Pink Floyd songs work as songs by themselves, or the band wouldn’t be nearly as popular as they are. But for many of their albums, the songs are so much better in context. Or at least that’s my contention.
I think it happens most of the time. If nothing else, a conscious decision is made about the order of the songs, as you mention below (I’ve just seen it).
Or (also minimally, sometimes) the songs represent the musician’s time and place when the songs were written and recorded. This isn’t irrelevant, especially in the case of some life-changing thing. My favorite John Mellencamp album was written and recorded shortly after Mellencamp married his second wife. It’s full of love songs and joy. As a document of a musician’s artistic mind at a certain time and place, the songs take a characteristic together different from apart.
Yep. That’s why when music lovers talk about an album, they often talk specifically about song order, or at least just how albums open or close.
Maybe not, but I’d be surprised if there isn’t at least attention paid to the progression or building of moods from song to song.
In reading this, I’m coming away feeling I’m not a hardcore music fan, or not the typical hardcore music fan. I think part of this is that I grew up on the radio and not albums. I didn’t own many albums until cds came out.
But don’t you have like a hundred jazz albums memorized note-for-note from beginning to end? That was my impression.
I have a lot of jazz albums, but that’s the thing, I feel like the songs are only loosely sequenced–not parts that create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
I could be totally wrong about this, though. It would be interesting to get feedback from other jazz fans. To me, many of the songs are independent of each other, individual attempts at spontaneous composition. This doesn’t apply to all albums. Also, I’m thinking of a lot of the jazz from the 40s and 50s.
To clarify, I don’t think an album is necessarily greater than the sum of its components. I’m saying that an album itself is an artistic creation, just as its individual songs are. An album is worth evaluating as an album as well as a collection of songs.
I am also not suggesting that the songs on an album are necessarily created with an album in mind. This probably happens only a small percentage of the time. However, most artists probably have more songs than will fit on an album. How do they decide which songs to include and which not to include? They could all be completely independent of each other, but now there’s a conscious reason they are part of an album. Is it just the ten best songs? Or are there other considerations?
Let’s see if we’re on the same page–and I’m guessing you would agree with me on the following. The extent to which an album is an artistic creation by its own right varies. On the lower end of the scale, songs may be independent of each other, but the artist arranges the best flow for them. Think of a greatest hits compilation. On this end of the scale, the intention that listeners experiences the songs as a whole doesn’t seem strong. Compare this to albums on the opposite end of the scale–e.g., concept albums where the songs function like movements in a symphony.
Here’s another analogy. For some TV shows each episode is self-contained. The sequence of the episodes is not that important. For TV series, each episode is akin to a chapter in a novel–essentially the series is like a long movie. And then there are TV show (maybe most?) that lie somewhere in between the two. They may have a sub-plot or character arc that develops over a long time. Therefore, the sequence matters. Actually, I would say even at the lower end of the scale, the sequence matters.
My overall attitude has been to not care about the sequences of the albums unless the albums are on the higher end of the scale. But I’m starting to wonder if I should change that approach. (Listening to EWF albums in one sitting and comparing this to listening to their greatest hits is one reason for this. I should say, though, that I’m feeling this way because I finding more songs I like by them. That is, I’m discovering I’m liking their non-top 40 radio songs quite a bit.)
The MIseducation of Lauryn Hill
I must say this exercise is a bit of a waste, since I’m not listening carefully to the lyrics. On the other hand, if the music stands out, that would be meaningfully. Unfortunately, nothing about the music really jumped out at me. But there’s enough there to warrant going back and paying attention to the lyrics. There’s also a kind of interesting structure, specifically the use of dialogues with an older(?) male with younger(?) females, ostensibly about the themes covered in the songs.
With rappers, even rappers who step away from rap, lyrics are like second only to the groove, if not first.
Yeah, which is not surprising. This is why I said it’s almost pointless to listen to the music without focusing on the lyrics.
This album was #10 in the Rolling Stone magazine top 500 albums of all time. I liked it a lot more than what I remember a year ago. But I don’t think it’s a top 10 album of all time (and I did follow the lyrics.) I would choose Beyonce’s album, Lemonade over this one, and they have similar themes. (I do like Hill’s singing and rapping over Beyonce’s, though.)
The Police–Reggatta de Banc
This started off well, but ended up with a lukewarm reaction. I expect more from them–more interesting music and musicianship, perhaps–and that might be getting in the way.
I was interested in hearing more raw, punk, so I skimmed over some of the following:
The Clash–London Calling
Of these, I like London Calling the best. I didn’t finish it, but I would like to go back and listen to the entire album.
I like Outlandos d’Amour better but Reggatta de Blanc is good too. That second album is when they got a little more reggae (hence the white reggae title of the album).
I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a Ramones album — just made a playlist of the songs I like. London Calling is great, but Combat Rock probably has more songs you know.
If you’re looking for something that rocks, you might try some hardcore punk bands. Hardcore tends to be faster and rawer, and more energetic.
Minor Threat is one of my favorite hardcore bands. Their first EP, Minor Threat, is excellent. If you can’t find that in your streaming service look for something called First Two Seven Inches. It’s that EP plus their next. “Minor Threat” and “Straight Edge” are great songs. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the straight edge lifestyle, but it’s said to have taken its name from this song.
Minutemen are a little more experimental. You might like the rawness combined with their sense of groove. Not common with punk bands when they started doing it. I have a couple of their albums too. Check out The Punch Line or really any of their work.
I’m assuming you’ve already heard Never Mind the Bullocks Here’s the Sex Pistols, but in case you haven’t, it’s sort of a must-hear. At least hear “EMI,” “Anarchy in the U.K.,” and “God Save the Queen.”
I will give those a try.
By the way, for what it’s worth, I actually had owned a cd of Nevermind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols. I was kinda of disappointed to be honest. I was also disappointed by Sonic Youth’s (I like that name) Daydream Nation, which I also owned. I think with both of those, my expectations got in the way. I think I heard them at the time I was searching for something that combined free jazz and Hendrix. It’s not that I expected that type of hybrid from those groups (actually that’s not quite right–I thought Sonic Youth had the potential for that), but something more visceral that would musically punch me in the face.
After listening to the first couple of tracks of Minor Threat, which I thought was decent, I started pining for some Noise Rock musicians. This is not meant as a slight on Minor Threat or other punk rock groups (many of whom I haven’t heard), but I feel like the noise rockers, particularly the one from Japan, did punk better than Western punk rockers. The Japanese guys may have gone too far, pushing them to an even smaller niche audience, but the music, overall benefited, at least to my tastes.
After listening to Minor Threat, I specifically thought of and sought out the group, High Rise–specifically because I recall that had at least one foot firmly planted in rock. That is they were as avant-garde and out there like some other noise rockers and noise musicians. One could argue High Rise is a rock group. Mitchell, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the tracks below. I feel like there’s a chance you could like this.
I like the guitarist in this (can’t remember his name), especially when he tries to make the guitar sound like an industrial appliance.
(Note: I don’t think I’ve heard this album before, but it’s giving me a more favorable impression of the group than I had previously. I don’t own any cds by these guys, but I’d get this.)
I’ve Never Loved a Man Like I Love You (Aretha Franklin)
I’m loving this. The positive reaction is partly due meeting the music I’m wanting to hear now. Also, when I heard this album in the past, I had big expectations about Franklin’s voice–going in thinking she was one of the best singers. The singing never lived up to those expectations. I didn’t have any of those expectations today, and I think that helped me enjoy this a lot more.
This was #13 on the Rolling Stone list. Looking at the post, I see I was enthusiastic. Not so much this time. The album is still solid, but a part of me wondered if this was her best album. I’m not sure what I was as enthusiastic as I was initially. I think it didn’t match my mood, like it did a year ago.
The Low End Theory (1991, A Tribe Called Quest)
I think I learned about this album from a jazz magazine, which mentioned this as a good (ground-breaking?) hip-hop-jazz fusion. Since I like both genres, as well as the idea of blending the two, I checked this album. Unfortunately, the album disappointed me. I had certain general expectations about what the music would sound like, and I think that got in the way. At the same time, the blending of the two, at least early attempts in the 90s, seem pretty superficial. Essentially, they seems like hip-hop albums that sample a few riffs from jazz albums. In my mind, I felt like more could be done.
Anyway, I’m returning to this album, giving in another shot, and here are some general thoughts:
The first few tracks aren’t very interesting musically in my opinion. The raps–both in terms of the lyrics and cadence/style–seem to be the centerpiece–making it closer to a poetry reading. That description is not meant to be pejorative–I actually like the concept. Unfortunately, the raps don’t really grab me. It could be that the Tribe is breaking new ground here–the raps seem different from the first generation of hip-hoppers–but in 2020 they’re no longer groundbreaking or fresh.
(Note: I feel mostly the same about the rest of the album. Bummer.)
“Back in the days when I was a teen-ager
Before I had status and before I had a pager…”
This is a great album, keeping in mind that a hip-hop album with no skippable tracks has probably never been made.
I reeeeally wish ATCQ had opened this album with “Buggin’ Out” because the first line is one of the best lyrics in 90s rap:
“Yo! Microphone check, one-two what is this?
The five-foot assassin with the roughneck business
I float like gravity, never had a cavity
Got more rhymes than the ones that got family
No need to sweat Arsenio to gain some type of fame
No shame in my game ’cause I’ll always be the same
Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have
You wanna dis the Phifer but you still don’t know the half!”
I don’t even know what “I never half-step ’cause I’m not a half-stepper” means, but when Phife Dawg died, this line just kept going around in my head.
I love that it ends with “Scenario,” their best song. It’s such a fun song and I love how A Tribe Called Quest and Leaders of the New School perform together. That Busta Rhymes line, “Rawr! Rawr! Like a dungeon dragon!” became one of his signature lyrics. Nicki Minaj quotes it verbatim in “Roman’s Revenge.”
I heard some students singing that line once and asked how the heck they knew it, and they said it was in the Nicki Minaj song. So at the start of class one day I played them “Scenario” so they could see where it came from, and they dug it. It was a good day.
“Scenario” on the Arsenio Hall show with all the rappers from the record and a short ATCQ interview after. I remember watching this, before I knew most of the words. Looking at it now I can’t believe they didn’t edit out “bust a nut inside your eye to show you where I come from!”
Is this one of the main reasons you think highly of the album? Actually, I would assume you just like the lyrics and the music a lot, too.
Makes it easier to think highly of an album if you just assume from the beginning there will be some throwaway tracks, and most rap albums are just too long.
In this case, though, I just really like the grooves and rhyming, plus the personalities of the two rappers, Phife Dawg and Q-Tip. It’s an interesting dynamic.
This would help me enjoy the album more, and perhaps not dismiss the whole thing. But I tend to think this would preclude me from calling it a great album.
What are you listening to this Saturday? Or will you be like the rest of the nation and watch the NFL games live? 🙂
Besides the Super Bowls, I haven’t watched a live game in a long time. That’ll probably be the case going forward.
I’m not sure what I’m going to listen to. I do want to re-visit Pet Sounds, an album that disappointed me, although I suspect my expectations likely got in the way. But a lot depends on my mood.
I want to check out best albums from the 2000s and 2010s, so if you have any recommendations let me know. By the way, for what it’s worth, I really liked what I heard from Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but the language (swearing, n-word) made me stop about four songs in.
I listened to Pet Sounds, but I’m going to wait until I focus on the lyrics before commenting further. I’m also listening to the Stones’ Exile on Main Street. In the past, I never thought while the Stones were held in such high esteem, especially those who treated them as equals to the Beatles.
But I’m enjoying this album, and I think I understand the appeal a bit more–although I’m still ambivalent about their greatness. The Beatles seem more creative, and better song-writers. The Stones seem like a very good rock n’ roll band–maybe a band that epitomizes rock n’ roll, without really transcending it. It’s like how some movies are great because they are the best or greatest representation of a genre. The Stones might be the Die Hard of rock n’ roll. In a way, I kinda think of the Stones and U2 in a similar way, except U2 was more 80’s and 90’s version of rock n’ roll. U2 might have been the best band in that sub-genre.
Anyway, what I like about this album is the 70’s roots-y, old-timey feel. Perhaps, the piano creates this vibe the most. It sounds like Elton John, of that period, is playing with them.
Another thought: There’s a simplicity to their playing–there isn’t flashy musicianship–but it’s still a good tight playing by everyone. The music is well-played and accessible as well. Then again, maybe I’m overstating the simplicity of the music. They use background singers, piano, harmonic, saxophone, (I think a banjo in one song)–and they use it well, not in a flashy way. It reminds me a little of the way the bands play on Live at Daryl’s House.
I’m digging Jagger’s voice a lot more than normal. It could be that I’m just in the right mood for this music, too, though.
I’ll say more later, when I listen more carefully to the lyrics.
A question that comes to mind: Who are other groups that capture the essence of rock n’ roll? Or just do it so well? (Cheap Trick? The Cars? ) I would also like to hear about post-70’s groups, too.
We’ve been around and around on the Stones so I won’t go back to it right now. I’m encouraged by your willingness to revisit a few things, as familiarity does tend to increase one’s appreciation for generally agreed-on great art.
I will say I have yet to hear a Stones album I thought was solid all the way through. They’re one of the few bands I like whose work I prefer to hear in compilations or playlists, rather than albums.
It’s interesting that as you ponder bands who capture the essence of rock and roll, you name two bands who really have no comparisons. The Cars have such a singular sound, and Cheap Trick sort of does too, to a lesser extent. Both bands are just musically strange.
Naming a quintessential rock band, you could do a lot worse than the Stones. Maybe Aerosmith or Van Halen. Grand Funk Railroad? I have a feeling I’m answering a different question.
I don’t blame you for any opinion you have about U2 but I want to make sure I understand your opinion.
By “best band in that sub-genre,” are you talking about 80s-90s rock? Or are you talking about the new-wave/post-punk of their first four albums (Boy, October, War, and The Unforgettable Fire)? Or something else?
My hackles go up at this because honestly, I think U2 is probably the best band in the world, and not in a Die Hard kind of way. There are reasons the band keeps making good music that doesn’t all sound the same, and it has to do with the talent and personalities in the band, which I think you can hear in their playing even if you don’t know anything about the humans who write, record, and perform the music. It’s in the headphones, and it makes this a really special band.
I’m pretty sure I meant an 80’s/90’s version of rock n’ roll….but my position is a bit confusing. For example, I think the Cars are an 80’s take on rock n’ roll–but what they added moves the music quite a bit away from rock n’ roll that came before it. I feel like U2 doesn’t quite do that as much. It’s closer to the Stones, while also not be derivative or retro.
I’m not totally clear on why you think U2 is the best band, but I wouldn’t get too offended by my remark. I’m basing my opinion mainly on Joshua Tree and a few songs from Unforgettable Fire(?). So I haven’t really listened to a lot of their stuff.
The Joshua Tree is their best album for sure (okay, not for SURE, since our classmate Derek thinks it’s the Unforgettable Fire), and probably the album that best defines their sound, but I’m wondering if listening to the first 70 seconds of their next album, Achtung Baby, would make you say hmmm. 🙂
I liked the first 70 seconds, but after that I said, “Hmmm,” in a different way than I think you meant.
It’s just an utterly different sound. It would be several more albums before U2 returned to the sound of The Joshua Tree. The 90s were pretty experimental for them.
I was in the studio at KTUH the first time I heard Achtung Baby, listening with a friend (huge U2 fan) as he spun it on the air. We both didn’t know what we were listening to at first. It was weird.
He adjusted a lot more quickly than I did. And that album ended up being huge, bringing new (younger) fans I didn’t think U2 was capable of attracting anymore. It could never have been as big as The Joshua Tree, but it was huger among a certain population. I look back on it now and I’m super impressed.
We’ve talked before about the Stones, but my opinion of them is changing! I must confess something that is a little embarrassing. My opinions have often been based on a small sample size. For example, while I was familiar with several (many?) of the popular songs, I never listened to Exile on Main Street.
This brings up another point: I’m finding that I end up liking the non-hits on albums of rock/pop musicians. This has been true for Van Halen or even Al Jarreau, for example. The lesson here is that I should listen to albums in their entirety, and not judging a musician simply on their popular songs. (I might do this with groups like New Order, etc.)
I’m sure if this is correct, but I recall not liking a lot of the songs individually, but I liked them as a collection. There’s a kind diversity in texture(?) that I like…I’m not sure if that’s exactly correct, though.
It’s not that I ponder the question a lot–it just came up after listening to the music. The Cars and Cheap Trick were just possibilities that came to mind.
The Stones sound quintessentially rock n’ roll to me–and by the label, I’m pointing to the 50s. Those roots are prominent. Aerosmith and Van Halen depart from that–and I would say the latter is more hard rock, which I see in a different vein. Rock n’ roll or rock has a more pop, mainstream quality–it’s edgier in a more fun, further removed from a raw expression of the ID. Van Halen, AC/DC, Hendrix (his guitar) get close to that. Noise rockers get even closer. I also think there is a simplicity to the music, or not as innovative. By the way, I don’t mean any of this in a pejorative way. I see it more as a positive to be honest. There are times when this is what I want to hear, and that’s good to have.
Anyway, I would be interested in listening to groups like this from the 90s, 2000s, 2010s.
I noticed I enjoyed Exile on Main Street about a year ago. I think I liked it less on a recent list, partly because I listened to it in the context of its #14 position on the RS top 500 album list. It doesn’t seem worthy of that ranking in my view.
(On a side note, I think my desire for listening to the type of rock that the Stones play is pretty rare. Generally, if I’m itching to hear rock, I want something harder. Said in another way, my interest in rock n’ roll is pretty low; I’m rarely in the mood for that type of music.)
Innervisions (1973, Stevie Wonder)
Many years ago, I had heard several jazz musicians cite this album as an influence. After checking it out, I was a little disappointed by it. I liked it a lot more on this go around.
I was more in the jazz mood this morning, but then I looked for an rock/pop album (or non-jazz music). I tried Howlin’ Wolf, Portishead, and maybe one or two more before I landed on Nirvana’s Nevermind. Bingo! One song after the other, the album really hit the spot.
Man, this was a home run. A perfect alignment of music and my mood (music I wanted to hear).
I listened to this for my class on Rolling Stone magazine’s all-time great albums. This was #6. Here are some comments off the top of my head:
Every definition of Seattle grunge music from the era mentions punk, so yeah.
In Rainbows (2007)–Radiohead
(This includes the second disc.)
(Stopped commenting on individual songs)
The music matched the mood I was in, so I enjoyed it. But overall, I thought it was just OK. Maybe that’s a failure on my part.
Muddy Waters at Newport (1961)
from 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
For whatever reason, Waters never really grabbed me. I don’t really get why people really like him. It’s not that I strongly dislike his music, but he doesn’t really stand out for me. I prefer Howlin’ Wolf a lot more, if that means anything.
Unfortunately, this album does little to change that impression.
Exodus (1977) by Bob Marley and the Wailers
I don’t really have any specific comments on this. I’m loving this, though.I wasn’t really listening to the lyrics, though. I should go back and focus on the lyrics.
Happy birthday to Bob. If you were listening Saturday. A little of this music goes a long way for me, so I usually stick to Legend and add a few songs missing from it, like “Iron Lion Zion.”
Have you ever heard Peter Tosh’s Mama Africa? That may be the first reggae studio album I enjoyed all the way through without tiring of it. It’s the one with “Johnny B. Goode.” I should really check out his other albums.
I’m like you, Legend was enough for me. And in the past I did try listening to his albums, and that didn’t change my opinion. This album did–it’s something I wouldn’t mind owning and listening to. (Was it Marley’s birthday yesterday? I didn’t know that. I just saw this album on the 1001 list, and I put it on because I was in the mood.
I’ve never heard Tosh. I’m listening to Mama Africa. The music is fine, but I feel like Tosh’s vocals are fine, but lack flavor, character, and soul–compared to Marley. Other voices with this type of flavor, character, soul: Gabby, Billie Holiday. I can like vocals that don’t have these qualities, but I think I’m more in the mood for Marley’s vocals today. (I also listened to and enjoyed CCR today–Fogerty another guy with vocals that have this quality. By the way, you mentioned Hagar’s voice being the sound of rock. Fogerty would be in there for me, too.)
Johnny B. Goode was something of a minor hit when we were in ninth grade. Peter Tosh was one of the original Wailers, so you’ve heard him for sure. Just maybe not his solo material?
Yeah, I remember that version of “Johnny B. Goode.” And, yes, I didn’t hear his solo stuff.
Catch a Fire (1973) by Bob Marley and the Wailers
I don’t have much to say, but I like the songs with Marley singing more than the ones with Tosh.
I like the band, backup singers, and the music overall. I also enjoy hearing the Moog synthesizer.
(Note: I was enjoying this album–it fit my mood–but when I learned the Democrats would not be calling witnesses in the Senate trial, when an hour earlier, they decided they would, my mood changed. I think I’ll be putting on Rage Against the Machine.)
1999 (1982, 2019 remaster) by Prince
I did a quick listen of Purple Rain. I think 1999 is a better album. Off the top of my head, it might capture Prince’s sound a bit better.
Dire Straits (1978) by Dire Straits
Great album. I recommend Making Movies and Love Over Gold.
OK, I might listen to them today. (I think I’m in the mood for this type of music. But I’ll probably listen to Communique first, as I want to go through the albums chronologically.)
Communique (1979) by Dire Straits
Making Moves (1980) by Dire Straits
I don’t really have much to say about this. I didn’t really listen closely to this, especially the lyrics, but I would say this was pleasant enough, but I preferred the eponymous album more.
One thing I’ll say: I’m disappointed that Mark Knopfler’s original style isn’t really featured all that much in the songs. I’d be interested in hearing him stretch out, improvising melodies, although maybe that’s not his thing.
But since I really wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics, I’m not really fairly evaluating the albums, though
I’ve often wondered if Dire Straits would be insulted by my favoring Making Movies because it’s a great album to fall asleep to — one of my favorite. It’s so mellow and so pretty.
People have confessed to me that when they go to the symphony, they often fall asleep. I tell them that sleep is a perfectly acceptable response to great music sometimes. I’d be suprised if they did it during Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, but a Brahms lullaby or even a Brahms symphony seem wonderfully suited for relaxation.
EDIT: I take the Rhapsody in Blue comment back. Different people find different things soothing. Metal soothes me, so who am I to be surprised by Rhapsody in Blue’s soothing someone else?
If the music was designed to induce sleep (e.g., a lullaby) then that would be appropriate, but if it was not, I don’t know I would it’s “perfectly acceptable.” I mean, on some level, an individual can use music for whatever purpose they want. But it might be a fitting way to respond to the music.
Having said this, I don’t really have certain music I like falling asleep to (I’m not sure why that is), but I’ve recently like the sensation of falling asleep to movies. For some reason, Buckaroo Banzai is a movie that fits the bill. I’m not sure why that is. I think it has the right combination of making me interested enough to watch it, but also content to not complete the film.
Back to the Dire Straits–how do you like their lyrics? I ask because I haven’t really paid close attention to them.
Return to Cookie Mountain (2006) by TV on the Radio
This is generally not the type of music I usually prefer–at least not on the surface– but for some reason I like this group. (They have a good band name, too.) They seem like a group where the lyrics are critical, but I haven’t really paid attention to the lyrics. I just really like the vocalist (Tunde Adebimpe) and the music. I really need to spend time to read the lyrics.
If I had to describe their music, I’d call them alternative, with a slight punk sensibility and edginess, at least at times. I like this aspect of their music. The timbre of Adedimpe’s vocals is the of a type that generally doesn’t appeal to me, but I like it. He has a unique sound and can sing in a soaring way that I like. (I’m now listening to their album, Dear Science (2008).)
I don’t know if Mitchell is familiar with this group, but I feel like this is a group he and I could both like.
Of course I am, but I’m interested in what made you pick this up. Seems a bit out of left field for you.
I can’t remember how or why I listened to them (and it’s a little annoying). I’m going to guess they appeared as a similar artist to another artist I was listening to on apple music. Their name attracted me, I think. Also, I recall that the lead singer starred in the film Rachel Getting Married, so I might have been curious to hear the band. I liked them almost instantly, too, which is kinda weird, because, this is not the type of music that would normally appeal to me.
(Is the band well known? I have hard time gauging this.)
Here’s a song and performance I really like:
That’s funny. I was JUST about to post this video. Either Letterman or Shaffer (or both) seemed to be fans. They were on several times, I think, which is how I knew of them. They were critical darlings too, and a couple of my students were into them.
How do you like their music?
I always thought they sounded interesting, but I never found their songs very memorable. I’ve also always kind of kept them in mind for a focused deep dive someday. I respected the tastes of my students who liked them.
This is also exactly how I’ve felt about the Apples in Stereo, whom I always get them confused with.
Horses (1975) by Patti Smith
This might be a waste of time, as I’m not going to take the time to read the lyrics while listening to this. Having said that, I’m liking what I hear so far. I think “Gloria” is a really good song/performance. I especially like the way the song evolves from start to finish. I like Smith’s singing, too.
Horses is #26 on Rolling Stone magazines all-time albums list. Here’s what stood out to my recent listen:
Hounds of Love (1985)–Kate Bush
(Note: I chose this because it was one of Pitchfork’s highest rated albums.)
(Note: I didn’t complete the album. “Watching You Without Me” was the last song I listened to. I’ll try to complete the album later.)
I never thought of Bjork when I heard her, but I can totally see why someone would. Isn’t this the album with “Running up that Hill?”
Yes–“Running Up the Hill” is on that.
Bush’s vocals and the music is not really like Bjork’s, except in a more general way. Bush and Bjork have a dramatic, maybe sometimes shrill vocal quality, but beyond that their sound is really different. Also, they both seem to take advantage of technology to create a rhythmic and harmonic backdrop, rather than rely on a working band or studio musicians to do this. I’m not sure if to what degree either utilizes studio musicians, but that’s the sense I get.
Remember Tower Records’s in-store magazine Pulse? I used to love that mag. It was a chance for me to read about music I wouldn’t otherwise have heard about unless it was in the Rolling Stone or the metal publications I purchased pretty faithfully.
I think the magazine coined the term Desert Island Discs. It started out as part of the letters to the editor section, and readers submitted their lists just to share them, with the editors picking a nice assortment from what must have been hundreds every month.
I remember three artist popping up all the time whose popularity escaped me. Tears for Fears, who had a couple of hits but who seemed to be mentioned almost every month by someone. Adam Ant, ditto. I know his popularity in England for a time was enormous, so that one wasn’t as mysterious to me. And Kate Bush, about whom I knew nothing.
Then Pulse ran a short feature about her, actually mentioning that except for some Beatles and Pink Floyd albums, Kate Bush’s albums seemed to be named on more Desert Island Discs lists than anyone, a pleasant surprise to the editors.
Back then you couldn’t just ask someone in the record store to play you a sample, so it was a while before I heard any Kate Bush. When she released Hounds of Love, she (like everyone else) also made a video for “Running Up that Hill,” much to my keen interest.
Aaaaaand it didn’t do much for me. But I was still thrilled finally to hear her. And several years later I heard more of her stuff on KTUH, whose DJs seemed also to like her quite a bit.
MTV was great for this — turning us on to music our radio stations didn’t play.
I remember Pulse, but I started reading it in the 90s, mostly for the articles on jazz.
I can totally relate to this. In fact, I was just thinking about something along similar lines. Last night, I was reading an interview of Colonel Bruce Hampton from an old issue of Signal to Noise, and I thought of how I was able to find a copy of his cd at Cheapo’s. I remember feeling excited by finding it, first of all–mainly because I would get to hear what his music sounded like. Music streaming sites have all but ended those days of reading about musicians or albums, but never getting a chance to hear them. Overall, I think that’s a good thing. It’s really great to be able to listen to music you’re curious about. (I think this is one of the main reasons I’ve lost interest in reading reviews. The reviews I liked gave good descriptions of the way the music sounded. Now, I can just listen to the music–at least much of the time.)
Still, it was fun to go “treasure hunting” for musicians I only read about in magazines or hard to find cds. I kinda miss those days.
10,000 Maniacs: MTV Unplugged (1993)
I’m not really listening to the lyrics carefully, but I’m really enjoying this album.
I like Merchant’s voice, which is weird, because it has that folky quavering quality that I usually find off-putting.
“take me now baby here as i am
pull me close try and understand
desire is a hunger is the fire i breathe
love is a banquet on which we feed…”
Love this album, and especially this song, although they didn’t write this one. Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith did. But still a great interpretation.
The other reeeally good song on this is “I’m Not the Man.” Kind of the other side of a murder ballad.
I’ll go back and spend some time focusing on their lyrics, but, in general, what’s your thoughts on their lyrics.
Except for “I’m Not the Man” I never really listened to the lyrics. Her voice makes discerning lyrics difficult most of the time.
Some Girls (1978) Rolling Stones
It might be that I’m just in the mood for rock n’ roll (rock) and this really hits the spot. The songs sound really good.
I decided to listen to “Miss You,” the first track, because Kurt told me he loved the bassline–specifically the way it drove the song; he told me to check it out.
Not only did I like the bassline, but the rhythm section in general. Watts drumming may not be flashy, but it’s appealing. And I think I’ve finally appreciating Keith Richards (and Ron Wood?). To me, it’s his strumming sound. It’s not distorted or crunchy, but it has a good rock sound. Back to the bass–Bill Wyman is the bassist, and I never heard of him. I like his playing and the role of the bass in the music. He’s kinda of the star and surprise of the album for me. I’m going to seek out more of the recordings of Stones with him on bass. (The role of the bass is in line with other 70s recordings I’ve heard. The 70s and early 80s seems like a golden age for electric bass in pop/rock music.)
One last observation about rock n’ roll. I tend to feel that rock is at best when it is simple, raw, and even rough around the edges. A good electric guitar sound is also important. I should clarify: When I’m in the mood for rock/rock n’ roll, these are the attributes I’m looking for. (By the way, this is similar to what I want from hard rock, except with rock, the aggression is far more tempered and subtle–i.e., less testosterone. Sometimes, that’s what I want to hear.)
Have you listened to much R.E.M. and the Grateful Dead? Your description of the guitar sound makes me think of them. Keith Richards’s playing is often clean, maybe only slightly distorted, kind of jangly.
Not a lot.
Yeah. “Jangly” is another word that came to mind, but that doesn’t seem right. It’s kinda fuzzy–with a buzz cut–i.e., the fuzz sound is muted. Dang, I’m not describing this well. I like the sound, though.
Tattoo You (1982) The Rolling Stones
To me, this starts off fairly well, but then at some point (near the middle), the music seems to veer away from rock and the blues, and the results are fairly bland.
I never cared for this album and disliked all the songs on it when they were playing them on the radio, but one or two have grown on me over the decades.
Is the one or two songs you like among the first four or so? If so, that’s my feeling on it. The second half (or second side) of the album goes kinda downhill. They get away from rock n’ roll, and do something else, which left me cold.
The two songs that grew on me are “Start Me Up” and “Hang Fire.” I kinda thought “Emotional Rescue” was on this too but clearly I remember incorrectly. Anyway, these are the first two tracks, so yes. I really dislike “Waiting on as Friend.” I disliked it when it was on the radio every hour and I dislike it now.
OK, it sounds like our reactions are/were similar. (I can’t remember how I reacted recently to “Waiting on a Friend,” but I don’t think it was positive.)
Badmotorfinger (1991) Soundgarden
Expectations always significantly color my experience of music (or any art), and in this case, I went in with a vague negative sense of this album–specifically, I recalled not being really enthusiastic of it when I heard it. Additionally, I went in with the impression that Chris Cornell’s singing isn’t among the more aggressive and hard rock vocalists.
To my pleasant surprise, the music went against both expectations (although I’m only half way through as I write this). So far, I’m enjoying this album as much as I did Superunkown, although maybe it’ll start going downhill? And Cornell’s vocals? They’re more aggressive and appealing than I remember.
Almost to the end–if I didn’t subscribe to a streaming service, I’d go out and buy this album. I like the music, and this rocks. (I’m going to check out more of their albums. Also, I’m curious to listen to Superunknown, and see how it compares to this.)
This album is so much harder than Superunknown, as I tried to convince you several years ago. “Outshined” is their best song, and “Rusty Cage” isn’t far behind. Superunknown was a bigger hit but it was such a disappointment to me. Oh man, and “Jesus Christ Pose.” What an intense song.
Have you heard the Johnny Cash recording of “Rusty Cage?”
I don’t remember that conversation at all, but I’m listening to Superunknown now, so I’ll get back to you on that.
OK, I think I may have to give this one to you. Not only does Badmotorfinger seem harder, but the songs and/or playing seem better. I didn’t listen to Superunknown all the way through without interruptions, but my sense is there were more songs that seemed rather dull.
I listened to most of Badmotorfinger again, and I prefer it to Superunknown, at least right now. Superunknown has catchier songs like My Wave and Spoonman, to name two, and I’m guessing that’s one of the reasons I preferred it to Badmotorfinger
I can see why some people would say the songs are catchier, but I don’t think anything on Superunknown even approches “Outshined” for catchiness.
It should really be remembered whenever we talk about this album that Ten was released August 27, 1991, Nevermind was released September 24, 1991, and Madmotorfinger was released October 8, 1991. What a crazy period of something like 35 days. It was a really good year, and I think the period of 1991 through 1992 may be the best two-year period ever for rock and roll.
I don’t recall “Outshined” being really catchy–I should listen to it again to focus on this aspect. Overall, the aggressiveness and the playing stood out more, I think.
That’s interesting. Were there other really good albums that came out during this period? What are some other two-year periods that would be in contention?
On a side note, from what I recall, of the three albums you mentioned Ten is far below the other two, I think. I need to go back and listen to it, but my impression of Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder (whom I liked a lot in the past) has declined quite a bit. I prefer Nirvana/Cobain and Soundgarden/Cornell a lot more now.