Monday, October 15, 2012

Music that Matters, Pt 1

Some years ago you may've seen this forward viralizing Facebook:
"The So-called Life Changing Record List": Think of 15 albums, CDs, LPs (if you're over 40) that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it... etc, etc.

No true fan could refuse a taunt like that. So
with a music fanatic's sense of duty, I wrote my own version. Now five years old, this little rant would eventually become the seed for creating this modest little blog. Over time the list grew bigger and bigger until it eventually became the bloated mastodon of joyous self-indulgence it now is. The first ten are posted below with more installments to follow. 

Understanding that music is often at least as much an emotional experience as an intellectual one, often it's the context, associated memories, time of life, etc, that can make a sound archetypal for one person while only water torture for another. To wit: Had it not been for The Cars' Just What I Needed wafting up from the radio downstairs as I was losing my virginity it may've only remained the bubblegum rocker that it is to millions of others. Instead, it will always be the plaque over my gateway to awkward coital bliss. Also, the music of my generation, rock music in particular, became all the more personal for me as my unnerved Swing Era father pretty much took me to task for it my entire life. Culture through music, he was sure, was eddying its way down civilization's toilet bowl. (While some lamented society's doom with drugs and sex, for my dad it was Pepsi-cola.)

As far as the So-called Life Changing List is concerned, I strayed from the original list-of-albums concept and turned it into something more like a compilation of abrupt first kisses that grow into torrid musical love affairs.

1. The first time I heard The Doors at six years old: A hard bossa nova groovelike The Girl From Ipanema as a streetwalkerthat gives way to the hypnotic falling bombs of "break on through to the other side!" For tiny me, it was a kind of Pentecostal moment. 

See Jim lip-synching uncomfortably here.
2. The Rolling Stones, Either The Last Time's hounds of hell fade out on the "no no nononos!"–a sound not found in my parents record collection--or the guitar riff from Satisfaction, the pissiest guitar sound ever. Both sum up perfectly the sound of teenage angst which for me started somewhere around third grade. (See it performed here semi-live without the hounds-of-hell fade.)

3. Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols: All of it but especially Holidays in the Sun: Note the eruption of a break that follows the "over the Berlin waaaaaallllll." Say to yourself next time you think you've done something especially well, whatever it is: Have I thrown down a slab of my great passion as authentic as that? If the answer is yes, then you've been all you can be.

4. Radiohead, OK Computer: The slow burn of Exit Music for a Film. Sometimes a pouty, abstract, and turbercular-looking young Brit is the perfect vehicle.
5. The Beatles, moments by the megaton but especially: A Day in the Life, the "ah-ah-ahs" following "then somebody spoke and I went into a dream." Sucks you into the ether like a wind tunnel at mach III. 
6. Diamonda Galas, the banshee wails of Do You Take This Man: If you haven't heard her she's a brilliant and amazing sick puppy. If the history of female anger could be summed up in one voice, this is the one. (Not that I haven't heard enough female anger in my lifetime, but here, at least, it's interesting.)

7. Lee Hazelwood, Some Velvet Morning: I played this around the house and soon three year old daughter was singing "some velvet morning when I'm straight," most likely the greatest opening line ever. My three year old understood that line's intent about as much as the Bush men-folk do syntax, still, a broken man's lament from the mouth of a babe can be sickeningly cute.

8. 16 Horsepower, American Wheeze: A song about God–not that toga-wearing "purpose driven life" pansy, but the blinded psycho who might've had Abraham go all West Side Story on son Isaac—sung over the hardest bandoneon you'll ever hear and a slide guitar that might've been played with a pitchfork: Magic. This isn't mascara and black leggings style goth but the true demented Gothic: With torches, inbreeding, and a mania for bloody holy-vengeance. The fact that an irreligious soul like me can love this can only be proof of its inherent genius.

9. P.J. Harvey, Rid of Me: Describes wanting someone to a sick excess and then hating them for it because, as it turns out, they don't want you. And then, taking the only appropriate action under the circumstances which is to make their life a living hell. A kind of deep humiliation that requires a distorted guitar and a country girl wail from the bottom of the well for the proper goosebump. 

I don't know if this is definitive but you'll wonder how this petite Dorsett farm girl squeezes all that sound out.

Another version from her performance on Jay Leno and her famous sheep castration story.

10. House of the Rising Sun: a great song done by many but I prefer The Animals version. A little opera about blaming parents for one person's boozing, gambling and whoring mess. Pray our kids don't sing this about us one day. (Fortunately, unlike the parent in the song I'm not a gambling drunk. But then my girls aren't in high school yet. [My eldest began this year.])

11. Led Zeppelin, the fade out shrieks of Whole Lotta Love: About Plant's singing I remember my older sister complaining "This guy is so in love with his voice," like it was a bad thing. The whole outro vamp fade of the song becomes a circle jerk between Plant and Bonham to see who could swing their banana the hardest. (Page's guitar does its territorial pissing all over the rest of the song.) Plant's wail is a castrato howler monkey's from the treetops and Bonzo pounds his sticks with a methamphetamine abandon and that may be his balls hitting the kick drum. The bluesmen Zep stole from, particularly Muddy and Wolf (and Willie Dixon who successfully sued for songwriting credit), did plenty of banana swinging of their own but were loath to bare their chests for real, unlike these guys. Whole Lotta Love may be the apotheosis of the testicular form and anyone who would cover this version without understanding that should be pilloried. (The TV singing shows have provided too many egregious examples.) 

Though, I suspect both P.J. Harvey and Diamanda Galas would have the huevos to do it justice.

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