2. Ralph Stanley, “O Death.” [A dirge from the Appalachians. Make sure you get the version from the soundtrack to “O Brother Where Art Thou?” An astonishing acappella performance.]
3. Bruce Springsteen, “Human Touch.” [I love the instrumentation and arrangement of this song, but I love the lyrics even more. It is a most unusual love song. Instead of the typical themes (“I want to make love to you,” “you’re so hot,” Don’t leave me, baby,” “you broke my heart” and the like. It is about intimacy and the desire for intimacy not as an escape from loneliness or from something else, but as a positive good, as closeness.]
4. Loreena McKinnon, “Bonny Portmore.”
5. Johnny Cash, “Six White Horses.” [A simple arrangement, evocative lyrics, simple vocals. Emotionally powerful, especially after Sandy Hook and Charleston. It was a big hit in 1969 and is about the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy & Martin Luther King.]
6. Kyle Huval and The Dixie Club Ramblers, “Fiddlesticks / J’Ai Ete Au Bal”
7. Feufollet, “Femme L’a Dit”
8. The Tuneyards, “News” or maybe “Hatari.”
9. Tyranna, “Back Off Baby.” [A punk group from the 80s out of Toronto that had a career of maybe 18 months before it broke up.” The only reason I found out about them is that a compilation called “My Girlfriend Was A Punk” came into my possession by accident. This compilation was my first exposure to X-Ray Spex. It consisted of female punk groups from all over the world. I’ve looked for it but it is long out of print. Today it is a rather rare vinyl. From what I can tell it may have been a bootlegged compilation]
10. Frank Zappa, “Watermelon in Easter Hay” or as a fallback “The Deathless Horsie” from “Shut ‘n Play Yer Guitar Some More.” [Try to find the version of “Watermelon in Easter Hay” from “Joe’s Garage” (aka “The Original Version). These are largely instrumentals. Theres a monologue leading into “Watermelon in Easter Hay” Used to, I didn’t mind his lyrics so much. But now I find them largely puerile and lacking in substance. While I didn’t mind his lyrics so much, I had difficulty grasping much of his guitar work. Now I’m not so crazy about his lyrics, but really like his guitar work. BTW, I recommend the entirety of “Joe’s Garage.” It’s the story of a young musician and his unfortunate end. It has the form of a rock musical. It contains some of his best known and controversial songs, notably “Catholic Girls.” I vaguely recall that “Joe’s Garage” was inspired by a remark of the Ayatollah Khomeini that in a true Islamic republic there would be no music or it would be state regulated or some such. I don’t remember clearly, I could easily be wrong.]
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I’ve thought long and hard about why I generally prefer music from the 20s and 30s in particular the blues to most contemporary music (pop, blues, rock and otherwise). I remember reading some years ago that fast food over the years has required less and less effort to eat. One of the reasons that I don’t like fast food (McDonald’s and Burger King, especially) is that the food almost feels like baby food. It lacks texture and substance. It is food to be eaten but not tasted. Following this example a lot of contemporary music is largely a distraction with a soothing effect. By and large it is too easy to listen to. There are exceptions, of course. The difficulty here is that most people consider listening to be passive. But if the brain has to process and integrate sounds, in order to find words, meaning, music, etc in the sounds and vibrations acting upon the eardrum, then listening is an activity and performance. Listening is something that the brain does. Some people will be better at listening that others. Because the brain is plastic, training to listen is possible. I think this (possibly) explains my fondness for experimental music and for rough music like delta blues. The music you listen to should include material that is challenging to listen to among other things.
I came across a comment about the blues (esp. pre- rock and roll blues): that it is music for grownups with grownup themes. It’s no coincidence that rock and roll came into existence just as teenagers were beginning to have disposable income. This is why much of rock through the 60s and 70s on into the 80’s concerned itself with themes of rebellion, sex, falling in love, broken hearts, and generally the themes most likely to appeal to teenagers and twenty somethings. Considered against this background most punk very much belongs under the rubric of rock and roll. What were the predominant themes of punk in the 70s and 80s? Rebellion, rebellion against authority, rebellion against consumer culture, and rebellion for the sake of rebellion. As I’ve gotten older I find myself less concerned with falling in love, cars, rebellion, and the like. Although I do like (some) punk for a couple of reasons. It’s music that’s not always easy to listen to and the expressions of alienation and frustration with consumerism appeal to me.