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A Few Musical Musings

On Sunday, I went to a fruit market, and heard a man playing an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and doing a very good version of the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satiin.” Rare to hear that! Unfortunately, he followed it a few minutes later with “Stairway to Heaven,” one of my least favorite songs of all time.

That is probably partly, though certainly not wholly, because that song was continually chosen by listeners on rock stations as the best song ever, for what seemed like twenty years in a row. They used to have these Top 100 countdowns, and they were fun, though my tastes do not often coincide with popular taste; but with ’60’s music, they did.

So I would listen to when the countdown would get down to 15 or so, and then by process of elimination I knew what was coming next. Stairway to Heaven was of course #1 again. Free Bird was usually #2. Layla high up there. Whole Lotta Love by “Zep,” an awful song in my view, was in the top ten. Hey Jude, a good song, usually was. probably because of the singalong chorus. A Day in the Life, a much better Beatles song, was often in the top fifteen.

Hotel California, usually in there. I was not an Eagles fan, but that is undeniably a good song, with a great lyric. Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones was in there years ago, but I don’t think it is now; similarly for House of the Rising Sun. Dream On by Aerosmith always was high up. The same ones, very often, though I have not listened to a top 100 countdown for quite a while.

I wonder, are any of the songs of today going to be on top twenty lists in ten years? Which ones? I know that it is usually the case that people prefer the music they grew up with. But though I grew up in the ’60’s, I liked a lot of ’70’s music, mostly on Independent labels: the “New Wave,” from New York, “Postpunk” from England, The “L.A. Underground, from…L.A. And a few ’80’s groups, of the indiepop variety.

And I like some ’50’s music ,at least the big hits. Doris Day, “Secret Love,” Bobby Darin, “Mack the Knife,” Andy Williams, “Moon River,” songs like that. I like early ’60’s surf, too. And while I would not want to listen to hours of it, there are many songs of the Big Band era, of Swing or lilting melodies, which I like. And for a while I was buying many albums of 1920’a music, quite listenable.

So I am not locked into my growing-up period. But can one really argue that the ’60’s did not have more great pop and rock songs than any other era? Beatles, Dylan, Mamas and Papas, Animals, Stones, Kinks. Donovan Johnny Rivers, Four Tops, Doors, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Lovin’ Spoonful, Moody Blues, Love, Association, Hollies, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Diamond, Petula Clark, and more. You could listen to the radio for two hours, and hear so many great songs, particularly in the period of 1965-1967.

But what do we have now? Oh, I know that there are some stars out there. Taylor Swift sells billions of records, and she has talent, but I cannot really like her songs The rest of it, at least to me, fluctuates between decent, mediocre, tiresome, oppressive, and awful. Anything with autotune is awful. Soon, which may actually be now, computers are going to make the songs, as they make almost everything.

Do you know the cartoon show ‘”Phineas amd Ferb”? A very clever and charming show. Phineas, who is about eleven or so, wrote a song, “Gitchy Gitchy Goo Means I Love You,” Somewhat in a doo-wop style; and as virtually all the songs written by series creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff (Swampy) Marsh, it was catchy. In the storyline, if became a big hit A record label producer wanted to sign Phineas to a big contract, but he told him that he didn’t wan to write any more songs he was satisfied with the one.

The producer said, that’s okay, he could take even one line of the song,. sample or dub with it , and make many records. A funny but actually unsettling concept, of course, because that is about what is being done now.

I love music that sounds like it is being played live.. I know that there have been “production values” for decades, but it wasn’t always that way. The incredibly great musician Artie Shaw said that the goal in ’30’s and ’40’s recording, was to do it in one take. So that if his band was doing an instrumental, and it was going well, the musicians would start playing more conservatively so as to not risk ruining the take. I have a copy of a radio show that Shaw’s band did for a couple of years, and there is a version of “Shine On Harvest Moon,” where they did just go for broke; and it is incredible, just to show how great they were.

I don’r listen to the radio now, because there is nothing good on it–for me,. Other people may well find music they like there. And I know about Sirius, where you can get dozens of stations, but the odds of finding a new song that I like, are very small. That is a shame. The last radio-friendly song I heard and liked was “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine, and that was quite a while ago.

I do have a six-disc CD player in the car, and that is what I listen to–but it somehow broke. So I will have to take it in, but do I want to spend for a new one? If, not, I guess I could buy a portable, battery powered CD player. Otherwise, I will be forced to listen to the car radio, and I know that Stairway to Heaven will be on there somewhere.

The author Stephen King posed a question, about if one were going down the elevator to Hell, which song would one want to hear? He said, “Seasons in the Sun.” but I don’t know if he was thinking about it in terms of what song he would consider fitting as he gave up all the pleasant things he had known; or what was the song he thought he would be tormented by there? I think he meant the former, but many of his readers seemed to look at it in the second way. My thought was that if it were the first question, what would it matter?, whereas with regard to the second, :”Stairway to Heaven” would probably be it, though there are several others, “My Sharona,”De Doo Doo Doo, Da Daa Daa Daa,” or any rap song, which would be just about as tormenting.


17 Responses

  1. There’s a lot of good new music out there these days but you aren’t likely to hear it on commercial radio. Try alternative radio if you have that in your neck of the woods.

    I have always loved acoustic music, maybe because I grew up listening to folk music as a little girl. Then in elementary school and middle school, I listened to Carole King, James Taylor, Melanie and Cat Stevens. I had a fling with New Wave in my late teens, but as a genre, it hasn’t worn well with me over the years. If I hear a Blondie song on oldies radio, I enjoy it, but it’s not what I gravitate toward now that I am older.

    What I listen to today is usually called ‘Americana’, ‘roots music’, ‘alt-folk’ or just plain folk. Acoustic stuff. Lots of excellent new artists of that type nowadays. It can take a bit of searching to find them, but it’s well worth the hunt, for me at least.

    On the interwebs, you can search for new music similar to artists you like. For example, Last FM’s website has lists of artists and genres (like indie pop). Try internet searching ‘Last FM similar artists The Popguns’ or whatever. Don’t join the site or listen to music on it (although I think it’s free, not sure), just make a note of artists similar to ones you like and listen to them on You Tube. It could take you down a musical rabbit hole but that’s okay. I think you’ll survive.

    I really, really hate “Seasons in the Sun”, by the way. It’s definitely one of the worst songs ever, along with “Stairway to Heaven”.

    • Thank you, and I will try those avenues, though it is very hard, if not impossible, to find what I like. Fortunately, i have many CDs from other eras. In this one, I do like the Popguns, as I often mention. I discovered Au Revoir Simone on “Twin Peaks: The Return,” and bought all their CDs, but they have apparently gone to do solo projects. I like Camera Obscura, from Scotland, and they have apparently been working on a new album, but their wonderful keyboard player died several years ago.

      Sometimes I have seen an artist on PBS’ ‘Live From the Artist’s Den,” who plays music that you like. As to Blondie, I championed them with friends when they first started; and they did some fine songs, but yes, it seems somewhat dated now. I am convinced that The Doll, who only put out one album, and then the label put out another CD of demos which were mostly very good, some 30 years after they were disbanded, could have been as good as Blondie. I wouldn’t mind a station which played only British postpunk and indiepop. and I suppose that somewhere on the internet there is one like that, but of course it would always depend on a very good curator to pick the better ones.

  2. Ack,I typed “knights instead of “nights”! I do know the song! A gratifying moment was when i played the album for my parents, who were a bit dubious about the rock music albums I was praising, and they loved it, particularly the second side.

    • Days of Future Past; In Search of the Lost Chord; On the Threshold of a Dream; Question of Balance; Every Good Boy Deserves Favor. Albums I never tire of listening to.

      • Many wonderful songs, with such distinctive melodies and voices. I don’t think my local station is doing any guest host programs now, but had I been able to do another one, I was going to play “Driftwood,” a song I remember hearing on the radio in the late ’70’s, and then did not again, until I finally located it. Such a beautiful and haunting song.”Question” is another unforgettable song, though I lack your extensive knowledge of their catalog.

        • From Days of Future past, I like Tuesday Afternoon, and Nights in White Satin. From In Search of the Lost Chord: Legend of a Mind and Voices in the Sky. From On the Threshold of a Dream: So Deep within you and Never Comes the Day. From Question of Balance: I really can’t pick I love the whole album. From Every Good Boy Deserves Favor: Procession and One More time to Live.

          My favorite group from my college years.

    • I dated a girl in college who was absolutely convinced it was “knights”. Seriously. She was mortified when she found out otherwise.

      • Aw/ Well, I think that some actually wrote it that way, but since the album has the theme of a day, the last song of course was about night.

      • I always thought it was Knights. Now that I learn it’s not, I’m enlightened. I guess it takes more than that to mortify me.

      • The album is basically the day. Starting with dawn, and ending with The Night.

        • I don’t think she ever heard the whole album – only the singles of “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights in White Satin” on the radio. It seemed like they were on all the time for awhile there.

  3. Leonard Cohen.

    Leonard Cohen may not actually *be* God, but they’re on a first-name basis.

  4. Townes Van Zandt.

    Playing poker with Cohen now. Mostly losing.

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