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Music Club: the George Sessions

During our Music Club session of October 8th 2015, the theme centered around making your personal album. What songs would you select to fit within the constaint of a CD’s 74-minute capacity. Two selections of your choice were played; however, the reasoning for each is what was really special to the experince. George did a particularly exceptional job. I asked him for his notes so that we could each have time to truly absorb all of the feeling and personal effort he put forth. Bravo, George!

A few notes. As with everyone – this could be one of a 1000 desert island discs /soundtracks to my life. On the whole, it seems much easier to put thought into making a mix-tape for someone else than for yourself (although many of the songs might be the same). This sort of divided into (given a desert island situation), bordering on the reflective/melancholy/wistful – and upbeat/joyous/hopeful. The only qualification for conclusion was that I had to own the song on physical media (preferably CD or LP) – to indicate that I had some personal investment in the song/artist/album. So many songs didn’t end up here that could have ...

Many of the songs were picked – as songs often were – back in the day, based on the time-constraints imposed by the medium. Some of them are certainly NOT my favorite songs by the artist, but they are representative of them. If my math is correct, I beat the 74:00 limit by a single second.

What did I find out from this exercise? Well ... my musical tastes are very whitebread :-). Given a choice, I like harmony rather than dissonance, and songs that – even if they may be melancholy – have an undercurrent of comfortable familiarity, or a universality to them. I have an embarrassing number of greatest hits collections ... as opposed to the full catalog, and I wish that I had the time and money to absorb them all (if you could make a drug that injected a rush of music into you ... sheesh). How great is it to be the recipient of a mix-tape? To know that someone wants to share something of themselves with you (even if they are appropriating the artists’ talents and feelings)? I feel lucky to be part of the mix-tape generation, rather than the Pandora generation – where you knew that a mixtape was a personal gift (fraught with the peril of having your musical taste judged, and the reward of a shared appreciation), rather than some sort of algorithmic judgement of your musical tastes – no matter how accurate it may be. Do kids today have the same opportunity for self-expression?

  1. t1:23
    Wasted Time (Reprise)
    The Eagles (Henley/Frey/Jim Ed Norman composers/ arrangers)
    Hotel California – Side 2, Song 1 ... The non-hit side of the album (my favorite side, except for the immediately following “Victim of Love”). HS memories – great harmonies. An ambitious album (which all great bands/musicians seem to strive for once). Mostly, the Eagles remind me of my sister’s first boyfriend ... strong teenage emotions, and a few years of close- knit/formative friendships. In a way, they were also the first group that struck me as quintessentially American, in personifying the open west, cowboy dreams that Europeans have of the States. The Eagles are an institution, so became easy to move on from after HS (omnipresent on the radio and easy to dismiss as “FM Rock” fare) – but I did buy a few Don Henley albums and see them on the Hell Freezes Over tour. I suspect most people of my time/era would have to call them part of the soundtrack of their lives.
  2. 7:19
    Tir Na Nog
    Van Morrison
    No Guru, No Method, No Teacher – Also Side 2, Song 1. This was the first Van Morrison album I bought, and my favorite – although I do not have much of his catalog (especially early). I wouldn’t say I knew anything about him but the hits before this purchase. It’s definitely one I intend to CD-ize someday (for convenience). The song is definitely in his Celtic/mystic tradition, and invokes Christianity/paganism /nature/Buddhism. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a believer – and would term myself a religious naturalist, if anything (ability to appreciate beauty and scientific order, and a mindfulness of the present – and a thankfulness for simple being in the universe). This is an album to lose yourself in – and one that I would feel obligated to share with people that I feel a closeness to in spirit.
  3. 3:36
    We Let the Stars Go
    Prefab Sprout
    A college day find (the first album I bought – Two Wheels Good/Steve McQueen bought on the basis of the NME recommendation stickers plastered to the front). That – and Jordan: The Comeback (1990) – are great 80s/90 albums, and two of my favorites Ethereal female vocals (some of my favorites), strings (to carry on from VM), nostalgia for time and opportunities lost. Speaking of lost – I have no idea where this CD ended up, so if anyone knows – please let me know! Otherwise it will be a replacement soon... This was an English charter –but I’m not sure they ever really hit it over here ... couple of songs on radio play (When Love BreaksDown, mainly)
  4. 3:42
    Magic In the Air
    Bradley Drawn Boy
    Song 12 of 18 on “The Hour of Bewilderbeast” (2000 album – bought on the strength/uniqueness of Once Around the Block). Again, a swirly song of strings and piano, with very plainspoken and hopeful/wistful vocals – simple evocation of time spent between lovers or potential lovers – of love and loss over the course of a summer day. One of my favorite 2000’s artists based on the strength of this album and the “About a Boy” soundtrack (though I have two or three others as well). Definitely an artist that peaked early, and I’m waiting for something else that captures the magic of those albums...
  5. 6:27
    Saturday Night
    The Blue Nile
    Side 2/Song 4 on the 1989 album “Hats” (an easy group to complete, with only 4 albums over the course of 30 odd years). Follows on with the synthetic strings ... Probably my middle/older age favorite band (first discovered after a review of 1996’s “Peace at Last” – which is much more organic/fuller expression of their music – as their early 80’s albums are synth-dominated, but in a very human way, like Thomas Dolby). Do you start with Paul Buchanan’s yearning/ melancholy/ weathered blue- eyed soul voice? The sparse and sketchy, haiku-graceful lyrics? The musical equivalence of impressionism. I will say their strength lies in their silence – in the gaps they leave, in the pauses inbetween the notes, in knowing what not to say as much as what to say – especially in these first two albums (Hats and a Walk Across the Rooftops). Note to self – must get Paul Buchanan’s new solo album.
  6. 4:43
    The Earlies
    Trash/Can Sinatras
    Following on the Scottish link ... very jangly/chiming guitars. Last song on the1993 album “I’ve Seen Everything” (on CD only). Belatedly introduced to 1990’s Cake in 2001 by a friend at work (missed their indie-rock radio play), and they too have become a middle-aged favorite, for their jangle-chime-pop sensibilities ... for the tightness and ebbing/flowing of the guitars, the down-at-the-pub vocals (is there a word for this?). Song is nostalgic of a certain time – one which is privy to them, but you sense the memories /feelings shared (again – a hallmark of some great music).

    earlies

    cakebrick road in summer 1981, we shared a house and garden
    at the height of all the bombing, on the run in busy, hazy london
    through t-shirt breezes walking home from work county kilburn sun
    weekends we’d just wash away the dirt of busy, hazy london
    the night grew cold, the thames is old
    found that manners count for nothing and it took a welshman in his forties
    guinness elbows rest upon a tabletop
    the two of us on earlies
    three feet of snow fell on the walnut road
    two feet trudged
    round the corner came the sound of bad dreams the flame is old. the thames is cold.
    cakebrick road in summer 1981, we left the house and garden
    on the corner boys, best of friends...
    on the corner boys
    both of us on earlies two of us on earlies
  7. 2:21
    Blackbird
    Beatles/Paul McCartney
    Between the ages of 5 and 9, the only two “pop” albums my parents (read “father”) owner were Sgt. Peppers and Yellow Submarine. The Beatles are woven into the tapestry of musical history – from father, to son, to grandson (you really don’t need to say anything more). Why Blackbird? Well – it fits into the time constraints, into the reflective nature of side 1 of my desert island CD/mix tape, it’s Paul (who is my Beatle for his ready charm, pop/harmony sensibilities, and really the only post-Beatle I really latched onto ... bought several Wings albums, but left John and George (and Ringo) alone. It is also the first song Trevor played on guitar that made me feel his love for music and appreciate the effort he put into practice. So – 40+ years after my introduction to the Beatles, my kids see Paul at Firefly Festival, my son is buying Beatles albums, and my daughter is commenting at “A Day in the Life” on the radio this morning.
  8. 2:56
    Harlequin
    Genesis
    From 1971’s Nursery Cryme (maybe the first Genesis album I bought ... not sure). Definitely one of the key bands of my HS/College years (my floor was definitely “Prog Rock central”). Started listening to them with Duke, and don’t have post AbaCab albums in my collection (although – yes, I have Phil). Funnily enough, the most Genesis solo works I have are by Anthony Phillips, who was only in there for the first two albums. Probably because several of his albums hew close to the faerie/mystic/prance-around-the-forest sound of classic Genesis, and he plays a mean 12-string. This song is kind of a throwaway on Nursery Cryme (definitely deep-track status ... track 3 side 2). The guitar sort of takes off from Blackbird ... hence placement on the disk. Also, the song is a duet between Phil and Peter (so a nice nod to both incarnations), and Mike Rutherford’s composition kept his former ex- bandmate/former writing partner (Anthony Phillips) in mind for the 12-string, and some of AP’s input is still on the album (even though he was out of the band at the time).
  9. 2:30
    From The Morning
    Nick Drake
    I first came upon Nick Drake as a mix-tape contribution from a good (my best?) – HS era friend (back in the early 80’s). Hazey Jane II ... and I think River Man. Yes, I’m ashamed to admit I only own his greatest hits, but take some comfort in being familiar with him before the VW Pink Moon commercial. I’ve often thought of “From the Morning” as a perfect funeral song (think I’ve said that before), so if I’m to die on a desert island – it would be a sin not to have this on the mix tape. From 1972’s Pink Moon (last studio album), final song, side 2 appropriately:

    And now we rise
    We are everywhere
    And now we rise from the ground See she flies
    And she is everywhere
    See she flies all around
  10. 2:07
    Little Martha
    The Allman Brothers
    Definitely a band whose individual songs I admire, but whom I never explored in depth (yes – a greatest hits band for me). According to Wikipedia, it’s apparently the only track solely written by Duane Allman and recorded a few years before his death – and the song’s namesake is from a 12 year old girl’s grave (all of which I did not know before today). Personally – I’ve included it on one mix-tape for a friend, and like it for its blend of uncertainty and optimism ... its undercurrent of melancholy, wistfulness, and hope. Mostly, I love it for the plucked notes at the end ... a sort of musical open- ended question.

SIDE ONE – FIN. Total of 37:05

  1. 3:24
    Sing a Song
    Earth Wind and Fire
    Yes – another greatest hits band (although apparently this is Side 4/Track 1 of the double-disk Gratitude live set). Their hits collection is definitely one of the all-time lifter-uppers, and definitely desert island disc worthy. Could have picked any song off it – but this is as good as any to kick off the “I’m Still Alive!!!” half of the set. From a personal perspective, my fondest memory of EWF is a dance with Cathy Maloney (first year of college unrequited object of affection) to “Reasons” ... One of those “in the moment” experiences, where the sense of smell/touch/sound – and the feeling of perfect unity - is so overwhelming that it still lives on 30 years later (at least for me, although I suspect not for her).
  2. 4:55
    Dry County
    The B-52s.
    Another all-time-picker-upper band for me, as I’ve said before. I don’t know how you can’t listen to these guys and NOT have a stupid, fat, grin on your face. Yes – they’ve been with me since HS school dances and “Rock Lobster” – and epitomize a hardworking band doing something for the LOVE of it (like NRBQ to Steve) ... carrying on despite falling in and out of fashion, never really reaching the heights of critical/commercial success, and still a going concern after 40 YEARS!!!! I always thought this should be the second major smash off 1989’s Cosmic Thing (after Love Shack), but it never was. Song 2 on the CD. Great interplay between Fred and the girls.
  3. 5:17
    Woody and Dutch take the Slow Train to Peking
    Rickie Lee Jones
    Females are obviously under-represented on this mix disk, and in my collection in general. I really love Rickie Lee Jones’ “Pirates” (her 1981 second album) – more for its reflective songs/nature, but it’s great to hear her playful Chuck E’s in Love side as well ... and the fun she’s having with the crack band just shines through in this jazzy song.
  4. 3:58
    The Mayor of Simpleton
    XTC
    A major hit for one of my favorite 80’s/90’s bands (and one which is actually fairly well represented in my collection overall). They know how to write great pop, the lyrics are consistently witty/insightful, and they too – are ambitious. Yes – they have a lot of throwaway songs (hence many of their CDs come off as a mixed bag), but there are so many startling gems thrown in. Love the jangly propulsiveness of this song, the tongue- in-cheek declaration of simplicity, and the genuine gob- smacked-enthusiasm for love (of course – just as happy to curse its dark side in songs like “Your Dictionary”). Track 2, Side 1 of Oranges and Lemons. And yes – jangly and chime-y, along with the next track (sensing a pattern)?
  5. 2:42
    There She Goes
    The Las
    Sometimes bands only catch musical magic in a bottle a single time – or may as well have (see the New Radicals “You Get What You Give”, Modern English “I Melt With You”, Freddie Jones’ “In a Daydream”). Blessing and a curse, I suppose. As far as I know, their self-titled 1990 Byrds-ishdebut wastheLa’sonlystudioalbum,and this is one of a few perfect pop songs that fall in the magic in a bottle category. Continued jangles...
  6. 3:08
    Way Behind Me
    The Primitives
    More simple, straight ahead finger-snapping, drums and guitars pop that brings a smile to my face, with a bubbly Tracy Tracy proclaiming her independence. Introduced by the same HS friend who put Nick Drake on the mix tape. Continued jangles ... initially on their 1988 release “Pure”.
  7. 2:32
    Susan Sleepwalking
    The Pooh Sticks
    Whatagreatbandname.Morefunpowerpop -this from a Welsh band that I first discovered on a promotional disk for Stoli vodka. Mines the intro to “I Melt With You” to good effect. The (somewhat mysterious) band is another of my go-tos for feel-good music. The version included in the compilation is from the tongue-in-cheek titled “Million Seller” (1993).
  8. 4:05
    The Life of Riley
    The Lightning Seeds
    Ridiculously catchy,dreamysynth-pop confection. Really no other excuse for it to be on here ... from their/Ian Broudie’s second album (1992 - Sense).
  9. 4:16
    Waiting in Vain
    Bob Marley
    What’s a desert island without some sun-splashed reggae(despitebeingrecordedindrearyLondon). Yes – another greatest hits only band for me, and this is my favorite song from it. Definitely an unrequited love anthem for those prone to it in HS and early college ... (side 2, track 2 on Exodus – which should be in the catalog).
  10. 2:39
    Walk Between Raindrops Donald Fagen
    Track 2, song 4 (last one) on his first solo album. Purchased this not too long ago to replace long-ignored vinyl copy, and had forgotten how much I truly enjoyed it. I’ve been in the pro-Steely Dan camp since HS (guess I just like slick, perfectly-produced, non-spontaneous music performed by crack musicians). This is another rain-and-sun dappled song for my desert beach. Love the Hammond organ (visualizing the Monty Python naked organist has to bring a smile to your face!), the throw-away lines (ohhhh.... Whammy!), the swinging string bass and synthesized vibe. Seems like a good ending to the whole affair...

SIDE 2 – FIN. 36:54 for a total run time of 73:59