Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"The" Rock Music Canon

That said (see previous post), here's some good lists to use as guideposts in building a comprehensive collection...

Robert Christgau
I vehemently contend with self-appointed "Dean of Rock Critics" on, e.g. Shawn Colvin's Fat City and Patty Griffin's Flaming Red (the crudely wraught but charmingly spunky albums by his beloved New York Dolls -- which Christgau insists on touting way out of proportion to their worth or weight -- seem like endearing triflings in comparison to these deeply felt, soaringly melodic and exquisitely crafted masterpieces). However, he's still turned me on to lots of great music over the years and can do the same for you...

Christgau's Consumer Guide A+ list

A Basic Record Library: The Fifties and Sixties

The Seventies and 1980

Rock Library: Before 1980

Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the 90s (see 'the A lists")

Greil Marcus
See his list of essential recordings up through 1979 in the book Stranded: Rock and Roll For a Desert Island, and his updated version of that list here.

Rock Lists
(see especially the lists of Christgau, Dave Marsh, and Rolling Stone)
A great source for discographies and song lists and other information, even if some of the writing has an amateurish ring.

And my personal favorite (wink wink)...
T.S. Minton's Version of the Canon/Favorites/Top 10

A handful of great songs deserve special recognition, nay deification, above and beyond any place they may or may not have on my lists below: "Holy River" and "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Prince (with Rosie Gaines): dig any deeper and you'll be at the center of the earth; "Left of the Dial" and "Little Mascara" by The Replacements, which define teenage angst, yearning, and the button-bursting urge to be somewhere, anywhere but here; many of the impossibly poignant and classy selections from the Burt Bacharach tribute album One Amazing Night and The Very Best of Burt Bacharach ; "True" by Spandau Ballet; the nonsensical ecstasy of "Band on the Run" and "Jet" by Paul McCartney and Wings (Manfredd Mann's Earth Band's version of Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light" falls in this same category); and "Life in a Northern Town" by Dream Academy.

T.S. Minton's Top Ten

First off, I realize such list making is a fan-boyish thing, and there's no such thing as a "definitive" list, plus it's ever-changing. I swear however I won't jerk you around with specious nonsense like the usually urbane and sensible Greil Marcus, who in some list-making book published around 1990 was called upon to produce his list and proceeded to put Germ Free Adolescents by X-Ray Spex at #1 and other 1977-era U.K. punk classics for the other 9. Yes, those albums were all thrilling, revolutionary, ass-kicking, idol-smashing etc. -- BUT WHERE THE HELL were Layla, Abbey Road, Blonde on Blonde, Every Picture Tells a Story etc. etc., i.e. the classics that define the form (many of which Marcus himself spent many insightful pages touting)???

Anyway, here's where it stands for me now:

I could play dirty and place The Grateful Dead's live recording One From The Vault at #1, from the invitation-only performance at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco 08/13/1975. That really wouldn't be fair, though, since it was a live show not an album. It was, though, in my opinion and those of many other aficionados, the Dead's finest hour, and probably the best set of music ever played on American soil (or at least in a dead heat with the best moments of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.) So let's come down from the aery spheres and get real:

1) Blood on the Tracks (1975) - Bob Dylan.
The great troubabdor of our times, or one man wrestles with life's most bitterweet emotions, creating complex allegories and endlessly rich emotional palettes to process his wrenching divorce. Not that the songs are the most transcendent individually; as a whole, however, it's rock's best example of a supremely intelligent, sustained artistic sensibility at work.

2) Blonde on Blonde (1966) - Bob Dylan.
A snotty, acerbic, inpenetrably profound and poignant amphetamine-fueled punk-poet visionary in the thrall of his own genius.

3) Highway 61 Revisited (1965) - Bob Dylan. [Seeing a pattern here? - ed.]
"An explosion of vision and humor that forever changed pop music," says Greil Marcus. Inconsistent, yes, (i.e. not all of it is as moving as "Queen Jane Approximately") and his self-conscious word-salad absurdism can grate, but imagine an album where individual songs can stand on their own as among the greatest, most influential artworks of the 20th century: "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Desolation Row," for starters.

4) A Few Small Small Repairs (1996) - Shawn Colvin.
Sure, she lacks the edginess of early Liz Phair or the avant garde elan of PJ Harvey (nor does she need to wear her sexuality on her sleeve, or stick heroin needles in her arm to win critical cachet like Courtney Love). BFD, in a flash of inspiration she produced the greatest non-Dylan album in this catalog. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined music as endearing, nuanced and beautifully melodic as "You and the Mona Lisa" (with instrumental breaks by John Leventhal as indescribably delicious and richly textured as Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic) or "Wichita Skyline" (a satori above the clouds).

5) Fat City (1992) - Shawn Colvin.
The greatest vocal performance in rock history (although "Set the Night to Music" by Roberta Flack with Maxi Priest, the best of Smokey Robinson and Al Green, "Here and Now" by Del Amitri, and "More Than Words" by Extreme are also strong contenders). "Polaroids" is as multi-layered lyrically as a story of the memory of a dream in which photographs capture images of the deepest love, that vanished into thin air. Every second of every hiccup and heave of her richly timbred voice contains more nuance and emotion than many singers achieve in their entire careers.

6) Exile on Main Street (1972) - The Rolling Stones.
The male version of of Liz Phair's Exile in album about the limits of decadence, the peak of rock's most raucous band that also plumbs Mick's depths ("Loving Cup"). (Sorry I couldn't also squeeze in Between the Buttons, Beggar's Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Some Girls -- all among rock's best.)

7) Flaming Red (1998) - Patty Griffin.
Little would you know if you were relying solely on the likes of Christgau and Marcus (shame, shame) of rock history's great unsung masterpiece.

8) White Album (1968) - The Beatles.
Yeah, but what about Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Abbey Road?

9) Purple Rain (1984)- Prince. The one-man-band plus The Revolution, at his ecstatic, passionate best (or is it Sign O'The Times?).

10) Layla (1970) - Derek and The Dominoes.
The highest highs and the lowest lows of a man (Eric Clapton) madly in love, in peak form, dueling tit for tat -- furiously, lyrically, elegiacally -- with Duane Allman.

Rare video of Derek and The Dominoes appearing on the Johnny Cash Show in 1970. Unfortunately Duane Allman, who was never an offical member of the group, does not appear.

I realize I'm leaving lots out; Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual, Let it Be by the Replacements (the most conspicuous absence on the above list...rock stripped down to its purest expression of no bullshit vitality and poignant enough to rip your heart out of its chest), Blondie's Parallel Lines, and Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps, and many other great records mentioned below deserve a special place at the summit of any comprehensive collection. I'm derelict in my duty to leave out Elvis, Ray Charles, and other heavyweights, I know. And of course if the range of my knowledge extended much beyond rock, I would have to list the best recordings of Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson, Woodie Guthrie, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis, i.e. Kind of Blue as absolutely unsurpassed as the finest examples of their respective genres.

There's other ways of looking at "best-of" rock history list-making. We can categorize by best of breed: punk (London Calling by The Clash is surely the greatest punk album); psychedelia (Grateful Dead's Live/Dead is the peak of that particular trip); soft rock (name me a better example of soft rock than "Sailing" and "Arthur's Song: The Best That You Can Do" by Christopher Cross and I'll hit you with a wet noodle, or with James Taylor); Brian Eno defines ambient art rock with Another Green World (with mind-boggling help from Robert Fripp); Bob Dylan and Shawn Colvin are the male/female apotheosis of the singer-songwriter; nothing in heavy metal has surpassed Led Zeppelin IV/Zoso, the best hard rock has gotta be AC/DC's Back in Black, the best metal would be whatever is Metallica's best; country rock fans can do no better than Gram Parsons' Return of the Grievous Angel; and so forth. And I can't name great individual albums by the following, but it would be insanity not to include their best-ofs or greatest hits in your collection: Crosby, Still and Nash (and on occasion Young), Elton John, and to some extent Billy Joel.

Here are some more highlights by decade of what I, and many other rock historians and list-mavens consider essential, A+ level(or close) recordings that will fire off endless endorphins, open the heart, stretch the mind, and shake the booty of any discriminating listener .

I'm no expert here, except of course to mention Elvis, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly and other greats better anthologized in the Christgau links above.

Any comprehensive collection of hits by Motown, Stax/Volt and Philly soul, girl groups and Phil Spector [and Motown's 80s counterpart, the monster hits of Madonna like "Crazy For You", "Into the Groove" and "Cherish" as anthologized on The Immaculate Collection. - ed.]
Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringin' It All Back Home (1965)
Bob Dylan and The Band - The Basement Tapes (1967, released 1975)
The Band - Music From Big Pink (1967), The Band (1969)
Velvet Underground - The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967), The Velvet Underground (1969), Loaded (1970)
Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced? (1967), Axis: Bold As Love (1967), Electric Ladyland (1968)
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds (1966), "Good Vibrations"
The Beatles - Help! (1965), Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) [Rock's most over-rated album does have some great parts. - ed.], Magical Mystery Tour, 1968 (parts) The Rolling Stones - Between the Buttons (1966), Beggar's Banquet (1968), Let It Bleed (1969)
Van Morrison - Astral Weeks (1967)
Elvis Presley, "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

Elvis Presley - "Suspicious Minds" (1970)
Van Morrison - Moondance (1970), "Wavelength" (1978)
Sly and The Family Stone - Greatest Hits (1970), There's a Riot Goin' On (1971)
The Who - Who's Next (1971), "Squeeze Box," "Who Are You"
Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells A Story (1971), "Gasoline Alley," "You Wear It Well", "Tonight's The Night"
Pink Floyd - never a big fan, but can't live without "Wish You Were Here"
The Beatles - Let It Be (parts), (1970)
The Eagles Greatest Hits I and II
Steely Pretzel - Countdown To Ecstasy (1973) , Pretzel Logic (1974)
Blondie - Parallel Lines (1978)
Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run (1975), Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)
The Rolling Stone - Sticky Fingers (1971) , Some Girls (1978)
Jerry Riopelle - Take a Chance (1974?), A Little Bit at a Time (1975?) [For samples of this unsung, indelibly soulful and great performer -- a Tucson favorite from the mid-70s and piano session man who played with Ike and Tina Turner on "River Deep Mountain High" -- click here. - ed.]
Grateful Dead - Mars Hotel (except for the stinker "Money Money") (1974)
The Clash - The Clash (U.S. and U.K. versions, 1977 and 1979), Give 'Em Enough Rope (1978)
Bob Marley - Live! At the Lyceum (1976), Exodus (1977)
Jimmy Cliff et al. - The Harder They Come (1972)
Bob Seger - Night Moves (1976 ), Greatest Hits (1994)
Elvis Costello - This Year's Model (1978), Armed Forces (1979)
Neil Young - After The Gold Rush (1970), Decade (1977), Rust Never Sleeps (1979), Live Rust (1979)
Stevie Wonder - Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973 )
David Bowie - Changes One (1976), "Heroes", "Modern Love"
Jackson Browne - Running on Empty (1977)

The Clash - London Calling (1980), Sandinista! (1981)
Elvis Costello - Get Happy! (1980), Trust (1981)
Prince - Sign O' The Times (1987)
Bruce Springsteen - Born in the USA (1985)
The Replacements - Let It Be (1985), Tim
Steve Winwood - "Arc of a Diver" (1981), "While You See a Chance"
Dream Syndicate - "Life in a Northern Town"
R.E.M. - "Reckoning" (1987)
Cyndi Lauper - She's So Unusual (1983)
Foreigner - "I Want To Know What Love Is"
The Cure - Greatest Hits [released 2001, covers 80s and 90s. - ed.]
Til Tuesday - Welcome Home (1986)

Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
Sonic Youth - A Thousand Leaves (1998)
Shawn Colvin - Cover Girl (1994)
Freedy Johnston - Can You Fly (1992), "Bad Reputation"
Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
Collective Soul - "World I Know", "Shine"
Eric Clapton & Baby Face - "Change The World" on Babyface MTV Unplugged NYC (1997)
Del Amitri - Twisted (1995)
The Young Dubliners - "Black and White"
Giant Sand - "Shiver" on Selections Circa 1990 - 2000

And some (relatively) recent stuff that I consider some of the best pop music of the last 25 years...(I'll organize it better sometime soon...)

PJ Harvey - Stories From The City, Stories From the Sea (2000)

Alicia Keys - "If I Ain't Got You"

Backstreet Boys - "I Want It That Way," of which Christgau says, "I now regard as one of the great pop songs of the history of rock 'n' roll." I've come to agree with the stamement, and "Quit Playin' Games (With My Heart)" (The Concert for New York City version) is even better.

Five For Fighting - "Superman," "Easy Tonight"

Shawn Colvin - "Anywhere You Go" on Whole New You (2001)

Luca - "Sick of Love"...see MySpace.

U2 - "Stuck in a Moment"

Lisa Loeb - "I Do," "Stay"

Vanessa Carlton, "A Thousand Miles" *

And yes, the department of Guilty Pleasures...

The better songs of Bryan Adams and Journey, which as a critically minded egghead I would've once bashed as corporate "shit-rock", have come to mean a hell of a lot more to me than, say, the New York Dolls (and not to bash them in particular, but rather to show that the vaunted Christgau is occasionally wrong-headed not just in what he denies but in what he affirms).

Kelly Clarkston - "Since You Been Gone"

Plus some assorted gems from the 90s to now that deserve canonization somewhere...

Assorted tunes by The Counting Crows, Norah Jones, Wheezer, Bare Naked Ladies and John Mayer

Sixpence None the Richer, "Kiss Me"

Snow Patrol - "Chocolate"

Tori Amos - "Sleeps With Butterflies"

Sugar Ray - "Fly," "Every Morning"

Deep Blue - "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

Goo Goo Dolls, "Name"

Jack Johnson [For all his finesse and charm, he needs more deep feeling, though -- a little angst would do his art some good. -ed.]

Wallflowers - "The Beautiful Side of Somewhere"

Jet - "Look What You've Done"

Wheat - "I Met a Girl"

Carbon Leaf - "Life Less Ordinary"

Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart (with Sheryl Crow) - "Old Habits Die Hard"

Aqualung - "Brighter Than Sunshine"

Trey Anastasio - "Shine"
"How to get thousands of hours of free (and legal) music online, with free record guides to boot."

Soundz: T.S. Minton's Guides to Music...

"One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity."
"The Spirit of Radio" - Rush

"Listening for the secret, searching got the sound
But I could only hear the preacher, and the baying of his hounds."
"Unbroken Chain" - The Grateful Dead

Here's what I'm trying to accomplish with this music blog:

Goal #1:
First, just to have fun vigorously discussing the music I love and immerse myself in, with others who have similar (ahem) refined taste; to form a community of happy bloggers blissfully confirming our own biases; and occasionally, to encounter wise guys who will challenge my assumptions (fat chance changing my preferences, but sometimes it's fun to engage educated, opposing points of view), much like I will do on these blogs, from time to time, to self-appointed sacred cows of the rock critic world like Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus; and to offer a great launching pad for lots of amazing free (and legal) streaming music.

To become less long-winded. Just kidding.

Goal #3:
To strongly promote the concept of rock history canonization for a new generation which both benefits and suffers from the easy access to whatever fractionalized form of music strikes their fancy. The Wired Generation enjoys obvious conveniences: ipods, free downloads and streaming music, cheap CDs, satellite radio, etc. But I want to help ensure that this new crop of eager beaver music seekers won't go through life unaware of, e.g. those rare gems of rock music from past decades, which have achieved near universal critical consensus, but little commercial exposure: the melodic hippie heaven of Love's Forever Changes (1967) and the self-titled first album by Moby Grape (1967); the eponymous Manfred Mann's Earth Band (1972) ("Living Without You": the creme de la creme of non-pretentious art/jazz rock, an amazing feat); Steely Dan's Pretzel Logic (1974): twist your mind around lyrics soaked in the jaded despair of the Watergate era, immersed in virtuoso musicianship with every note and jazz-rock noodle logically calculated; Television's Marquee Moon (1977): strangled vocals of visionary punk poet Tom Verlaine and searing, ecstatic guitar duels with Richard Lloyd on the title track; and Freedy Johnston's indelible singer-songwriter workhorse Can You Fly (1992).

I owe my exposure to all of these sleeper classics to their canonization by list-making mavens like Marcus and Christgau. IMHO, you owe it to yourself to check them out if you haven't already. Of course different critics have different canons, but when music aficionados (of the styles I'm promoting on this blog) see overlaps, they should really take heed, and scramble off to their nearest CD store or go online to, say, the link below and buy 'em up ASAP...

I'd recommend you check out the following versions of "The Canon," compare notes and look for common denominators. There's a reason certain vaunted albums have caused so much fuss over the decades: they are uncategorically great. To go through life without hearing, say, Pet Sounds or London Calling would be, IMHO, a form of insanity. Yes, of course there can be intelligent differences of opinion and taste. But to muddle along without a visceral, gut-level appreciation for, say, the indisputable pillars of rock like Dylan, The Beatles, Motown, and The Clash is a reality-tunnel I do not care to visit, let alone live in. Some of my other faves like The Grateful Dead, Shawn Colvin, and Burt Bacharach are admitedly more acquired tastes -- but I still feel the same way toward their greatness, i.e. if you don't love 'em, what planet are you from??

First though, here's some links to more free music than you could stuff in your ears if you had nothing to do but listen...for the next decade. Note: Some require free registration.

Pinch yourself, you're not dreaming: free access to thousands of hours of "over 6,000 shows with new shows added daily" in Windows media streaming format, plus over 1500 shows of "the original SugarMegs RealAudio collection" -- decades of free concerts by The Grateful Dead (and new music by Phil and Friends and Ratdog), and free musical gems from The Allman Brothers to Frank Zappa.

Vault Radio from
"Bill Graham and his concert promotion company, Bill Graham Presents, produced more than 35,000 concerts all over the world. His first venue, the legendary Fillmore Auditorium, was home to many of rock's greatest performers - Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Prince - and the list goes on and on...Graham taped thousands of live performances and stored the tapes in the basement of the BGP headquarters. These tapes and the concerts they captured lay dormant until the Bill Graham archive was acquired by Wolfgang's Vault (Bill Graham's given first name was Wolfgang) in 2003...Vault Radio is now playing selected tracks from these concerts in an FM-quality, 128K digital radio stream. Songs will be added to and removed from the radio show on a regular basis. We will be broadcasting unaltered live performance music from many of the greatest bands of the last 40 years. The music you hear on Vault Radio has not been sweetened or polished. You'll be listening to what the band played that night - nothing more, nothing less."
Don't do it! Don't go through life without hearing 107.1 KGSR Austin, Texas: true blue community radio.
Live Music Archive or "is a community committed to providing the highest quality live concerts in a lossless, downloadable format. The Internet Archive has teamed up with to preserve and archive as many live concerts as possible for current and future generations to enjoy. All music in this Collection is from trade-friendly artists and is strictly noncommercial, both for access here and for any further distribution. Artists' commercial releases are off-limits. This collection is maintained by the community."

Yahoo Music:
"Internet radio, Music Videos, Artists, Music News, Interviews, Performances." If can deal with sitting through the annoying little ads, there's lots of good free videos available.

My latest discovery: open up a separate window to log on to You Tube and use it as a self-programmed radio...i.e. minimize the window to just hear the music (and not necessarily watch the video) while you're doing other things on the desktop and online. Most of the videos are short, so it pays to have a list of your favorites you want to hear, to keep the music flowing.
Coming up next: "The" Canon.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

T.S. Minton: "Tycoon on the Rise." Photo (C) 2002 John I. Henry.
The Swamp Gas Report:

"Strange Lights in the Tucson Sky and Buffoonish Media Reports Across the USA: Which is more mysterious?"

Photo taken 01/27/07 and (C) ,Martha McGrath, producer of the Puro Sabor community cable TV program on Access Tucson. Shot on the west side of Tucson, Arizona. For more of Martha's mysterious "encounters", click here.


Earth to so-called journalists, earth to so-called journalists: get your tongues out of your cheeks and just report the news...otherworldly though it might be.

Recent links posted on the Drudge Report (as close as we can come to a centralized source for the news in this decentralized age) offer a flurry of recent apparent UFO sightings. At the least this concentration of activity seems rather "anomalous."