Considering that I call this blog “On Records,” I’ve decided to take that rather literally, and attempt to write about albums that I have in my own vinyl collection. I will also use this as an opportunity/excuse to take ridiculous pictures of my bonding experience with their cardboard sleeves, like the one below. Of course, in one short month we will take a break to participate in some very fun March Madness brackets, but in the meantime we can take a look at some records that I love, and some that I am a little embarrassed by.
Foreigner’s appropriately titled fourth album is neither of these. This album is one of a handful that I inherited from my brothers when they traded their vinyl for shiny, digitally formatted, compact discs. So, because it is one of my first, it holds some nostalgic value for me, but not in the way that, say, MJ’s Thriller does. 4 is not a record I spin often, which made it perfect for this new project of listening through my collection in order of album title, regardless of artist or genre (which are the two ways I currently have my records organized).
I probably kept this album because I liked the two upbeat singles, “Jukebox Hero” and “Urgent,” and with this listen they are still the two moments I was most excited for. The album kicks off with Nightlife, and I begin to question whether I really want to spend so much time listening to all this White Dude Rock n’ Roll. That is what this is, especially in 1981. Album Oriented Rock is what the genre was (think Alternative of the 90’s, or Indie of the early 00’s), and until Michael Jackson collaborated with Eddie Van Halen for “Beat It,” radio stations wouldn’t play music made by any non-white musicians. I know this isn’t Lou Gramm or Mick Jones’ fault, but generally Foreigner isn’t representative of my go-to music. That being said, the first side of the record has been really growing on me. The tasteful use of synth from pre-solo-career Thomas Dolby highlights Foreigner’s catchy licks and riffs, and their well-used, emotionally manipulative chord progressions. Plus, they had Mutt Lange producing, which is like 1981’s version of Max Martin – he knew exactly how to clean something up and make it sell like an Apple product.
Anyway, back to the beginning. “Nightlife” is at least a good reminder of the era we’re in, and I don’t have to wait long for my favourite (that I share with most 80’s stadium crowds), “Juke Box Hero”. This song is everything that was hopeful about 80’s rock and roll. “Juke Box Hero” is the American Dream. As the song builds in energy, rhythm, and volume, we hear of an everykid, inspired (by a show he can’t even get into!) to purchase a secondhand guitar, who grows up to be a self-taught and self-made rockstar, or “juke box hero.” This is probably one of the most underrated rock anthems of the 80’s, or maybe ever. What I wouldn’t give to go back and see them perform this in the early 80’s with the massive, inflatable wurlitzer that they would blow up at the end of every concert.
But as I said, the rest of this side is pretty solid as well. “Break It Up”, although so dramatic, is exactly the kind of song I would love to lip sync to. “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” is the big ballad of the album that in part sets the tone of the decade, giving permission to other AOR bands to get in touch with their sensitive, romantic sides. “Luanne” is kind of a mix, and mostly I think it’s such an interesting choice to include here. I mean, there are a lot of feminine names that have two syllables, and I don’t know that Luanne was ever that popular a name. Who knows if this song would be more popular today if it was instead titled, “Ashley,” or “Colleen”?
Unfortunately, the best thing about the second side/half of this album is the hit single, “Urgent”. This song alone keeps me flipping the record over, if only because of Junior Walker’s guest appearance. I tried so hard to find a performance of this song with Jr., but it seems that like the video below (around 2:38), they mostly had another guy sax-sync to Walker’s brilliant solo.
I get rather bored with the two Jones’ penned, ego-centric songs, “I’m Gonna Win,” and trope-filled, “Woman in Black,” although the latter one has some great guitar riffs that remind me of Huey Lewis and the News.
The last two songs on the album return to the kind of pop I enjoy from Foreigner. Both “Girl on the Moon,” and “Don’t Let Go,” are fun, and I nod my head to them, but I can’t say that either of them are going to be the reason I decide to give this album a listen. I am not entirely sure whether this is the only Foreigner record I have, but I am quite certain that it’s the last one chronologically that’s any good. I would even venture to say that although some of their other albums have some more solid singles, 4 is arguably their best to listen to in album context.
Is it just me, or does it seem that suddenly everyone is far more aware that the end of summer is near? We have more than two weeks left until September begins, most students are back in class, and “the fall” officially kicks off a new season, and yet everyone I talk to is rather suddenly aware that the end is nigh. I for one am attempting to live in the moment of these last summer days, not only because I’m not going back to school, but because I don’t want to think about what comes next.
With that in mind, here’s what I’ve been listening to this week…
Something Old: “The Bridge” is the title track from the very first record that my redhead bought me, Sonny Rollins 1962 album, The Bridge. One of these days I will have to write about the whole album, because it’s possibly one of the most underrated jazz classics ever recorded. For now, this one track captures some of the urgency and busy-ness of the summer, trying to hurry to not miss anything, while still finding moments to appreciate the beauty around us. This video is chopped off at the beginning, but I figured posting a live performance of one of the world’s greatest improvisors might be a good idea.
Something New: My favourite thing about Toronto in the summer (so far) is free festivals and music, and right now thanks to the PanAm and ParaPanAm games, there are some especially fantastic free shows available as long as your willing to stand in a crowded square for a couple of hours. This weekend I had the pleasure of seeing two of my favourite live acts right now, The Roots and Janelle Monaé! Monaé’s Wondaland collective is set to release a compilation EP tomorrow, so consider this my plug, and don’t be surprised if I share another song or two from The Eephus in the future. For now, here is the video for “Yoga”, the infectious dance track that had all of Nathan Phillips Square grooving and singing along.
Something Borrowed: Apparently there is a loose jazz theme running through today’s post, since I feel like sharing the 90’s R&B “Rain”, in which SWV directly borrows their melody from Jaco Pastorius’s theme from “Portrait of Tracy”. The melodical bass solo has been used in a number of hip hop tracks, but likely the trend began with Ghetto Children’s “Who’s Listening?”. So you might want to check that out too.
Something Blue: Yep, I agree that it’s a little ironic to have a lesbian list a song called “I Need a Man to Love” as one of her favourite blues tracks, but it just is. I love how Janis Joplin sounds both incredibly cool and desperate at the same time. I just wish I could find a decent video of her performing it as well.
Our brackets are down to the Final 4, with only one surviving soundtrack from each quadrant left to battle into the final round. Without any further ado, let’s take a look at the contenders…
The top seed of the Featured-Artist Albums, Purple Rain, is likely no surprise to most soundtrack fans. But it did see its fair share of close calls – especially with The Bodyguard which Prince beat narrowly with just one vote. Catch Me If You Can on the other hand, was seeded in the last and 16th spot, and has consistently beaten more popular and better reviewed albums. I actually had these two in my Final Four predictions, but then changed them when I just couldn’t fathom that Catch Me would get this far, so I am pretty excited to see this match up! Once again, the choice is yours…
Though the tracks on these records are different, these two soundtracks take a similar approach of using their music to build the world in which these classic literature adaptations exist: Romeo + Juliet juxtaposes a world of guns and cell phones with a Shakespearian script, adding even more of a sense of familiar chaos with 90’s pop/rock, while O Brother, Where Art Thou paints Homer’s Odyssey in Mississippi during the Great Depression using the soulful blues and country of that period. I do find it interesting that one of the least musical-like albums won the Musicals bracket, but I think this will give us a far fairer fight here and now. Now, do what you will.
The Final Four polls will be open until midnight (EST) of Wednesday, April 15th – so vote and share quickly, and check back soon after that for our final championship!
Film scores have been around a lot longer than compilations, and they continue to be one of the most effective ways to evoke mood and emotion in a movie. The albums in this quad of the brackets are completely instrumental, with a few exceptions of soundtracks that include a theme song (such as Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On). Though the music in many of these soundtracks is chosen to create mood in their film, these albums are good enough to listen to in their own right. As usual, you can stream these by clicking the album images. Enjoy!
Clockwork Orange (1) vs. Catch Me If You Can (16)
These are both unique mixes of new material with old classics. Clockwork Orange takes classical Beethoven, Elgar, and Rossini and mixes it with electronic synthesizer and a bit of new music by Wendy Carlos that heavily borrows themes from the other pieces on the soundtrack. The first use of the vocoder in recordings is said to be on this album, which may or may not be a good thing. Catch Me If You Can is far from being John Williams’ most familiar music, but I think that works to the album’s advantage, since you can listen to it without imagining strong characters like Indiana Jones, E.T., or Harry Potter. The Williams score is interspersed with some classic smooth jazz standards.
Titanic (9) vs. Psycho (8)
Neither of these soundtracks were what the films’ directors originally intended them to be. James Horner was the second choice to Enya for the soundtrack of Titanic (which continues to be one of the highest selling instrumental scores worldwide). Bernard Herrman was Hitchcock’s first choice for Psycho, thirty-seven years before Titanic was released, but Herrman had been instructed to score the film with jazz in order to lower the budget. Instead, Bernard used a smaller orchestral string ensemble, in a score that is unforgettable whether heard with the film or without.
This is probably the most unfortunate match-up of the brackets. Though Ravi Shankar is an Indian music legend, and the music from Pather Panchali is said to have directly influenced the Beatles, it simply doesn’t have the popularity of John Williams’ Star Wars, which is beyond classic. Although it’s only seeded 5th by its critics, it has the potential to take this whole competition.
The Social Network (13) vs. Blade Runner (4)
With the exception of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, The Social Network is nearly entirely original score for the film by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Similarly the soundtrack to Blade Runner is mostly comprised of the Vangelis composed score. Though Blade Runner wasn’t officially released until a whole decade after the film came out, it is often considered a landmark for electronic music.
2001: A Space Odyssey (3) vs. The Mission (14)
A compilation of classical music from Ligeti, Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss is epic even without the long sweeping shots of a space station. Ennio Morricone’s oboe theme alone makes the soundtrack for The Mission memorable. Though sometimes haunting, this soundtrack is far less intense than the film, making it easy to return to.
The Pink Panther (11) vs. The Godfather (6)
What stands out most from both of these fantastic soundtracks/scores are their brilliant and memorable theme songs. However, there is much more to these albums than their title tracks. Mancini fills out The Pink Panther with his super cool and peppy jazz, using a whole lot of vibes and strings and hip-swinging beats. For the most-part, The Godfather has an utterly Italian folk feel (you got to keep it in the family!), and uses an operatic sense of themes and motifs, which make their way into multiple melody lines played by trumpet, clarinet, accordion and mandolin over dark and minor orchestral strings. Both of these soundtracks are renowned for the way they create a musical landscape for their films, but how do they hold up as albums? You tell me.
Drive (7) vs. Gone With The Wind (10)
I was surprised to see Drive show up as often as it did on the different critics’ best soundtracks lists, since I was previously unfamiliar with it. Drive begins with a few songs written in the same electronic/europop vein before including the score from Cliff Martinez as the rest of the album. Gone With the Wind’s soundtrack is basically the score, and is laid out in huge sweeping orchestral dramatics, and songs titled by their relationship to plot points.
Chariots of Fire (15) vs. The Piano (2)
Although a couple of decades separate them, these two soundtracks make a pretty fair matchup, as two beautiful and powerful piano-heavy instrumental scores that add depth and thoughtfulness to the stories they tell. Chariots of Fire put Vangelis on the film score map, and provided the often-referenced “Titles”, which has practically become an unofficial theme for the Olympics. The main theme from The Piano is a stunning highlight, and although less sporty, this soundtrack is more versatile, fitting diverse contexts.
On Saturday (3 More Sleeps!) I will be departing Vancouver on an epic road trip to visit my friend in Los Angeles. There is much to be excited about: Seeing Kat, More sunshine and less rain, record shopping, Mexican food, and just as certainly, preparing music for the long drive. Here are a few albums I’m excited to listen to while driving south – but I have to drive back to, so feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments below. Oh, and if you want to check out any of the albums, their picture to the right will link to a Grooveshark stream. In the order of backwards chronology, enjoy!
The Only Place – Best Coast, 2012
Reviewers everywhere raved about this record, and the truth is, I still haven’t listened to more than one or two Best Coast singles, so it seems that now is the time. Plus, we have so much in common: I’m going to L.A., via the coast – the band is from L.A. and called Best Coast; I’ll be on the road – this album was written while on tour; the bear on the cover is hugging a map – I’ll likely be doing some map hugging myself. It’s pretty much destiny.
Vows – Kimbra, 2010
Kimbra sounds like she’s having a really good time on her funky debut album, Vows, and it’s hard to imagine not having fun while it’s playing. I am planning to save this record for a much needed dance break, or perhaps as a celebration for crossing over a state line. The song I’m most looking forward to is absolutely the bonus track, called “The Warrior,” for which I just found this Luchadore-themed music video:
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes, 2008
Back when I was writing a list of what I thought were the best albums of the “ohsies” decade (2000-2009), Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut was my number 5, but I put off writing about the album because I was convinced they were best heard while on the road. This road trip seems like the perfect chance to put my own theory to the test, and maybe come home with a blog ready to publish.
Funeral – Arcade Fire, 2004
Another one of my favourite albums from that decade, I have plenty to say about it here. This was unquestionably the album I spent the most time listening to in 2005 – particularly in the first few months of moving into a basement in Vancouver and beginning a grad program. This is one of those albums that I know all the words to, but can’t remember ever trying to learn them. So, for the sake of loud singing in the car, Funeral will be my go-to. Not to mention, it will be good to have some Can-Con to remember the music of home.
At the music store that I work at, we found a copy of this in print form in the clearance bin, and ever since, we’ve had it on display right across from the tills where we take yo money. The cover art alone is enough to transport me back to high school… all of those classes so full like sardines’ tins… no just kidding. The music is nostalgic, and although I went on an early Beastie Boys kick earlier this year when Adam Yauch died, I still haven’t really returned to Hello Nasty, even thought it was one of my favourites.
Janet – Janet Jackson, 1993
Why Janet? Well, I love Janet Jackson for nearly any occasion – especially when she’s produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis – and the truth is, I came across the CD in my room and realized that it had been a while since I put it on. I rarely listen to it as a full album in iTunes because of all the interludes and whatnot that are often unchecked, so having to put it on in its compact disc format might actually have a advantage.
Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill, 1991
This road trip would be incomplete without some L.A. bred rap music. I’m considering making an L.A. Rap playlist, that will be chalk-full of Dre and Snoop and Eazy E, but this self-titled, early 90’s classic seems like the right choice for a Vancouver (which has an actual Cypress Hill) to Los Angeles drive. At the very least, I’ll be nodding my head to this one:
Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman, 1988
“Fast Car,” is on this album, and it’s a classic road trip song for obvious reasons: “Is it fast enough for us to fly away?” But instead of just moving the one track to a playlist, I thought this album might be a chill break from the tunes that are meant to keep me awake and moving. Tracy Chapman might be just what I need to reflect and rest as we watch the scenery pass by.
(IV) – Led Zeppelin, 1971
Led Zeppelin is perfect for driving to, and this technically untitled record is not only one of their best, but also has “Going to California.” As an added bonus, “Stairway to Heaven,” will take up a whole 8 minutes. I’ve had Led Zeppelin in my mind all week because of this amazing website, The Bonhamizer, where you can add John Bonham drum tracks to any song you want to upload. It’s a lot of fun, but I’d rather drive to L.A. listening to Bonham how he was intended to be heard.
Saxophone Colossus – Sonny Rollins, 1956
Bet you weren’t expecting this one? I will likely need some jazz at some point, so why not one of the best saxophone soloists who ever lived, playing some of his all-time best solos ever recorded? No biggie! I have loved this record ever since my high school band teacher gave us homework to go buy some jazz, and as a result, Saxophone Colossus was the second jazz album I ever spent my own money on (right after Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue). Anyway, it’s catchy and awesome and I like it.
So, there are 10 albums that represent some of the diverse music that will be providing soundtrack to my epic adventure. The problem is, if I count it up, this music will only last me about 8 hours, and the way there alone is roughly 25! So, feel free to let me know what albums you’d be listening to on trip along the west coast in the comments below – I’m welcoming suggestions!