Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Various Artists - Never Mind The Mainstream...The Best of MTV's 120 Minutes, Vol. 2 (1991)


I promise this won't be a whiny "remember when MTV played videos?" post (all the videos are on YouTube, go over there to watch them and quit yer bitchin' already). I'm not really qualified to speak about the 120 Minutes program because in the late '80s I rarely stayed up that late (poor me always had an 8:00 AM class) and I didn't have a VCR, so what's a broke college kid to do? But I was aware of the program, may have seen occasional bits and pieces, and many of my music-minded friends enjoyed it, so when I saw this compilation in the used bin a few weeks back, I couldn't pass it up for two reasons: 1) nostalgia, and 2) it's a Rhino compilation and those folks were doing exceptional work at the time of this CD's release.


Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks:
  1. R.E.M. - Orange Crush (from Green, 1988): This song reached #1 on both the Mainstream and Modern Rock Tracks in Billboard magazine. Green is my third favorite REM album (after Lifes Rich Pageant and Murmur), so I'm surprised I've never replaced my cassette with a CD. Easily fixed. As for the song, it's one of my favorites from the album. Producer Scott Litt certainly cleaned up their sound, huh? It just dawned on me that it's a war protest song. Stupid me in my 20's thought it was about the soda pop. D'oh!
  2. Public Image Ltd. - This Is Not A Love Song (from This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get, 1984): Can't stand John Lydon's voice, but that's the point, isn't it? The backing tracks are fantastic and remind more than a little of the backing tracks for FGTH's Relax. Too bad that voice is a deal-breaker.
  3. Ramones - Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll Radio? (from End Of The Century, 1980): Love the Ramones from this era. They're basically playing '50s rock at a faster tempo. Always brings a wry grin to my face.
    "Rock-o-Meter" from the 1979 film
    Rock 'n' Roll High School
  4.  X - Burning House Of Love (from Ain't Love Grand!, 1984): This single reached #27 on the rock chart. It's okay and fairly melodic, but despite the lyrics, it isn't as raw as their earlier stuff, which I prefer. Can't blame 'em for chasing commercial success, though. 
  5. Ministry - Stigmata (from The Land of Rape and Honey, 1988): Not my thing. The distorted vocals and the aggressive, grating tape loop literally give me a headache. Shame, because I like the rockin' groove. 
  6. Morrissey - Everyday Is Like Sunday (from Viva Hate, 1988): I was never much of a fan of The Smiths or solo Morrissey, but this tune is catchy. I really like the arrangement and production.
  7. The Jesus And Mary Chain - Head On (from Automatic, 1989): As far as I can remember, this may be the first song I've heard from this band. I like it enough to seek out a few more tunes. No idea how this group avoided my radar in the '80s. This tune peaked at #45 on the Mainstream Rock chart and #2 on the Modern Rock chart.
  8. Echo And The Bunnymen - The Killing Moon (from Ocean Rain, 1984): previously appeared on this blog on Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s. Here's what I said then: " I think I've said this before - I wish I had listened to Echo back in the '80s. Not too long ago, I was in a car with a woman who I had just met. This song came on the radio and she looked up at the night sky and said, "Yes, it IS a killing moon tonight." That made me a little uncomfortable. She turned out to be a decent person, but that was a strange first impression." Man, I really enjoy the chord changes in the chorus of this one. 
  9. Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart (single release in 1980): previously appeared on The Best of Joy Division and Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s. Kind of an obvious choice for this disc, but no matter - I like it. A couple of years back, I heard Peter Hook and his band play the New Order AND Joy Division Substance albums in full, in sequence. The first half of the show was NO and, after an intermission, the JD tunes. So this song closed the show and I wouldn't have had it any other way. 
  10. New Order - The Perfect Kiss (from Low-Life, 1985): I can't decide if this CD sequencing is intentionally ignorant or brilliant. Either way, this is a great tune from a great band.
  11. Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus (from Violator, 1990): Previously appeared on The Singles 86>98. I listened to the crap out of my Violator cassette, often subjecting my students to it. Even so, I never tire of this tune and I'll sing along with every word. Peaked at #3 on the Modern Rock chart, #12 on the Dance chart, and #28 on the Hot 100.
  12. The Sugarcubes - Birthday (from Life's Too Good, 1988): I'm fighting the urge to hit the skip button. I don't get the critical acclaim for Björk. Never have.
  13. Hüsker Dü - Could You Be The One? (from Warehouse: Songs and Stories, 1987): If Bob Mould is singing, I generally like the tunes from this group, this one included.
  14. Faith No More - We Care A Lot (from We Care A Lot, 1985): Previously appeared on Sedated in the Eighties, No. 3 and Grosse Pointe Blank Soundtrack. Didn't discover this one until 1997; wish I'd found it in '85. 
  15. Violent Femmes - Gone Daddy Gone (from Violent Femmes, 1983): Dig it, Daddy-O! Why haven't I ever purchased that eponymous album? Two xylophone solos? Yeah, dawg!
  16. Wire - Eardrum Buzz (from It's Beginning to and Back Again, 1989): I tried to get into Wire with their A Bell Is A Cup album during the infamous Lost Summer of Mark, but that album didn't have anything as good as this tune on it, so I gave up on them. Too soon, as it turns out. This single hit #2 on the Modern Rock chart.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: 120 Minutes premiered in '86, but I have memories of people watching it in '85. My mind, it goes. [shrug]

Billboard, March 29, 1986, p. 54
(click photo to enlarge)



Sunday, February 9, 2020

Various Artists - Church: Songs of Soul & Inspiration (2003)


Well this certainly is a pleasant surprise. I got this CD set in a large lot of discs a couple of years ago, glanced at the title, ignorantly figured it for a compilation of hymns or monks chanting or some such, and set it aside. It ain't that at all:

Billboard, May 24, 2003, p. 19

And it is scratching me right where I itch.

I am on record as believing that you can't have gospel music without gospel lyrics, but this stuff exists in a grey area between genres that makes me question such thoughts. But belief cannot exist in the absence of doubt, and since R&B evolved by taking gospel tunes and changing every occurrence of "Jesus" in the lyrics to "baby," I guess it can go the other way, too.

As church sermons I hear seem to be devolving into either prosperity gospel or confirmation bias statements of "God hates the same people I do," it's nice to be reminded about God's mercy, grace, and love, even if it's through Bee Gees lyrics.

Rolling Stone, May 29, 2003, p. 66

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #157
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #41
Peak on Billboard's Top Gospel Albums chart: #1

Tracks:

Sweet mama! A gospel take on Stevie Wonder's As? Please and thank you very much. Other standouts include Way Up There (Patti LaBelle) and You Gotta Be (Patti Austin).

I could listen to the late Dr. Maya Angelou read a take-out menu, but when she's reading her own writing, it's top shelf.

The only thing missing is a fast-paced shout piece by an authentic gospel chorus, complete with upbeat clapping and Mrs. Sneed singing too loudly. All the cuts are slow to mid-tempo affairs.

Also included is a second disc allegedly containing performance footage and artist interviews, but this 2003 CD-ROM is not compatible with my current operating system and I'm too lazy to chase down a work-around.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Yeah, I'm a preacher's kid, but this music bears little resemblance to the reformed, traditional hymnody I was raised on. Better late than never?

I'm also reminded of a college classmate, George, who grew up in this tradition and could play a mean gospel piano. I would sit in a practice room with George and just listen to him play. Once, I asked him how he learned to play that way - the chromaticism, the chord substitutions and inversions, etc - he shrugged and said he just picked it up.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Steely Dan - The Royal Scam (1976)


For this guy, this album plops right in the middle of the seven albums Steely Dan released during their "classic era" (1972-80), right behind Aja, Gaucho, and Katy Lied. I can't complain about any of the material (especially the white boy funk tunes that include a Clavinet part) and Larry Carlton brings his 'A' game throughout, it just doesn't grab me like the three other SD albums mentioned above. That don't mean it's bad, though. To my ears, there's only one misstep and that's the weak reggae arrangement of an otherwise decent track, Haitian Divorce. Still, that's not enough to make me skip it. And the kink-funk of The Fez is easily worth the price of admission.

Rolling Stone, July 1, 1976, p.p. 66-67

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #15
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #19

Tracks: ...and while I'm ranking Steely Dan discography:
  1. The Fez
  2. Kid Charlemagne
  3. Green Earrings
  4. Sign In Stranger
  5. Don't Take Me Alive
  6. The Caves of Altamira
  7. The Royal Scam
  8. Everything You Did
  9. Haitian Divorce

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None

Previously revisited for the blog:
Everything Must Go (2003)
Two Against Nature (2000)
Alive In America (1995)
A Decade of Steely Dan (1985)
Gaucho (1980)
Aja (1977)
Katy Lied (1975)
Pretzel Logic (1974)
Can't Buy A Thrill (1972)

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Kamasi Washington - Heaven and Earth (2018)


Three hours of wonderful genre-bending music from the mind of Kamasi Washington. If nothing else, Washington certainly is prolific. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to like it more than The Epic, but I do (maybe because of a seventies vibe I'm picking up). The writing is better (read: more melodic and structured) but the characteristic choral harmonies and instrumentations are there. This time around, though, he added trumpeter Dontae Winslow to the mix and, as a recovering trumpet player myself, that is a welcome addition indeed.

But wait - there's more! Kamasi hid a bonus 3rd CD in the packaging, a full 40 minute album entitled The Choice. Mentioned nowhere in the liner notes/credits, the only clue to its existence was a small, barely noticeable perforation at the top of the cardboard digipak sleeve:


After a precision cut with a knife, the disc (along with an accompanying credit sheet) slides right out the top:


Metacritic has the album rated at 86 out of a possible 100 ("universal acclaim"). Here's some published reviews:
  • DownBeat (★★★★½): "Extended moments of lyricism give way to warp-speed climaxes that resolve in waves of fuzzed-out sound to mollify Washington’s fiery, free solos."
  • Pitchfork (8.8 rating): "a multi-genre feast of musical ideas, his most sweeping and complete statement yet."
  • Rolling Stone (★★★): "vast, refreshingly lavish soundworld is well worth getting lost in."
  • NY Times: "This album dreams boldly; it also makes demands."
The album also appeared on numerous "best of 2018" lists, including NPR (#18), Pitchfork (#48), The Guardian (#7), Okayplayer (#17), Albumism (#48), and Stereogum (#34). In DownBeat polls, the critics ranked it at #4 for the year, readers also ranked it #4.

But I encourage you to buy a copy, set aside an evening, leave your phone in another room, put on some headphones, and judge for yourself.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #115
Peak on the US Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums chart: #1

Tracks: The title is Heaven and Earth, but the packaging suggests listening to the Earth disc first. For the opening track, Washington took the theme song to the 1972 Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury, renamed it Fists of Fury and turned it into a full-fledged political anthem. Other highlights of disc one are Can You Hear Him, Connections, and Testify. The most consistent Kamasi I've heard; don't skip any tracks.

The Heaven disc is more orchestral and stretches out a bit. My favorite tunes on this CD are the quieter Vi Lua Vi Sol (is that a vocoder??), Show Us The Way, and Journey, a plaintive waltz.

The Source disc is a slightly different animal, but a fantastic bonus. Three Washington originals, two covers - actually, they are more complete deconstructions of the two pieces, Will You Love Me Tomorrow and Ooh Child. Not surprisingly, those are my favorite cuts, most likely because of my familiarity with the source material. Of the originals, I prefer the third track, My Family. My guess is that family is what the title Source refers to, but what do I know?

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None, this isn't the kind of disc I normally throw into the car when headed out on adventures.

Previously revisited for the blog:
The Epic (2015)

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Chicago - The Heart of Chicago 1967–1998 Volume II (1998)


As the title suggests, this is a compilation CD from Chicago - there are many; this is the fifth Chicago compilation set to appear on this blog. It's pleasant enough as I usually enjoy Chicago tunes (although, admittedly, I gave up on them in the later half of the 1980's). I have all but two of these tracks on other CDs, those two mediocre tracks being recorded for this disc in a shameless attempt to have serious, completist fans to spend more money. And, to be honest, if "completist fan" described me, I would have bought this package in 1998 just for those two tracks, regardless of quality, because that's what we music junkies do.

Tracks appear to be selected and sequenced arbitrarily. You're better off with the Rhino 2 CD set, Only The Beginning: The Very Best Of Chicago.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #154

Tracks:

Song Album  Year  Hot 100  AC 
Dialogue (Part I & II)V197224-
Old DaysVIII19755 3
All Roads Lead to You-1998-14
Love Me Tomorrow161982228
Baby, What a Big SurpriseXI197748
You're Not Alone191989109
What Kind of Man Would I Be?19198952
No Tell LoverHot Streets1979145
Show Me a Sign-1998- 28
(I've Been) Searchin' So LongVII197498
Call On MeVII197461
I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love19198835
Feelin' Stronger Every DayVI197310-
Stay the Night17198416-
I'm a ManI196949 -
25 or 6 to 4II19704-

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None, IIRC, it appeared here at blog headquarters a few years back as part of a large menagerie of CDs.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Only The Beginning: The Very Best Of Chicago (2002)
Greatest Hits 1982-1989 (1989)
Chicago 17 (1984)
Chicago 16 (1982)
Greatest Hits, Vol. II (1981)
Greatest Hits (1975)
Chicago Transit Authority (1969)

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Any Trouble - Where Are All The Nice Girls? (1980)


I first heard this New Wave power pop/pub-rock group on the Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s, Vol. 6 CD where I oddly compared them to Marshall Crenshaw even though the more obvious comparison is to Stiff lable-mate Elvis Costello (hell, let's throw some Nick Lowe and Joe Jackson in the mix while we're dropping names). I was treated to a few more tracks from the band on the wonderful Big Stiff Box Set so I jumped on this CD when I recently saw in the used clearance bin for $1.99 (I can only guess the previous owner unloaded it when they purchased Cherry Red Records' The Complete Stiff Recordings 1980-1981 box set).

Musician, March 1981, p. 88

Smash Hits rated it an 8 out of 10, Robert Christgau gave it a C+, Cash Box called the band's sound "hard to resist," while Billboard stated that the album "might be Stiff's most commercial offering to AOR radio to date." The Virgin Encyclopedia of Eighties Music gave the album 3 out of 5 stars while the cover story of the July 12, 1980 edition of Melody Maker labelled the band "the most exciting rock 'n' roll group the MM has seen since The Pretenders" and this LP "the best Stiff album since Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True."


So that's your critic wrap-up from 40 years ago. Me? I dig the thing and am putting it in my truck's CD player for the foreseeable future, so if you're a co-worker and want to go grab lunch soon, you've been warned.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: So many hooks - gimme gimme! My faves are Yesterday's Love, Second Choice, The Hurt, Girls Are Always Right, and (Get You Off) The Hook. Like most albums, there's some filler tracks but they're not skippable, they simply pale in comparison to the others. The band covers Bruce Springsteen's tune Growing Up, and while the lyrics of adolescent angst fit in with the other tracks, the music does not.

At the end of the CD, tacked onto the end of track 13, they've included radio promos for WXRT Chicago and Q104 (WQBK-FM) Albany.  Could have done without those, but whatevs.


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None, although I sure wish I had known of the group in my high school days in the early '80s. We fell in love with The Knack the previous summer and it would have been a short jump from Get The Knack to Where Are All The Nice Girls.

Friday, January 3, 2020

The Music of Johnny Mathis: Your Personal Sampler (1993)


Promotional CD

The 4 disc box set is currently available for under $10 on eBay if you're interested.

Johnny Mathis was blessed with an immediately recognizable smooth voice and impeccable sense of phrasing. Over his career, he had 20 Billboard Top 40 hits, 18 of those between the years 1957-1963, so chances are slim that this career-spanning compilation focuses exclusively on the hits. At least it includes his two chart-toppers, Chances Are and Too Much Too Little Too Late, a 1978 duet with Deniece Williams (I can sing both parts to the latter if you'd like to hit the karaoke bar later). I like those two mellow hits, along with his take on the standard Misty. Based on a sample size of my immediate family, I'll conclude that Mathis is mainly known to audiences today as a crooner of Christmas tunes, so I'm glad they included a couple of those. The most interesting find, however, is track 10, The Island. It was recorded in 1989 as part of a unreleased yachty Brazilian album produced by Sergio Mendes. I wouldn't mind hearing more tracks from that album.

Even if you could come across this CD, I wouldn't recommend it as a definitive Mathis compilation. Too few tracks, not enough hits. You'd think they would have included at least one disco track from his 1979 album, Mathis Magic.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Promo only; did not chart

Tracks:

SongYearBillboardCash Box
Wonderful! Wonderful!19571412
Chances Are195711
You'll Never Know1959

Misty19591214
Maria19607850
Long Ago and Far Away1971

Life is a Song Worth Singing19735464
Too Much, Too Little, Too Late1978112
99 Miles from L.A. (Live)1975

The Island1989

Sleigh Ride1958

It's a Marshmallow World1963


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None.