Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Year In Music: 2015

(By Richard Goodman, January & February 2016)

As 2015 started, I was still fiddling around with my list of songs from 1979.  This idea popped into my head, which was “If someone held a gun to your head and you had to pick only one year’s worth of music to listen to for the rest of your life, which year would it be?”   My immediate reaction to this thought was “Why is someone holding a gun to my head about such a silly topic?   Shouldn’t they be asking for my wallet or car keys, or something financially lucrative enough to justify assault charges?  I’d give them a discussion about music for free, no firearms necessary.”  Then I thought how “gun to your head” is just a way to say “Answer the question directly- no hedging your answers with a ‘That’s so hard to say!’ (I also wondered how the question was posed before firearms were invented.  Knife to the throat?  Spear to the ear?) 
I hedged my bet at first, saying that my favorite music year was “1978.  Or 1983.  Or maybe 1979 or 1985.  Definitely something in the 1970’s or 1980’s.  Certainly not something in the 1990’s or the two-aughts.”  Finally I answered my own hypothetical by saying 1979.  Then came the hard part- I decided to justify my answer to myself.  I Googled “1979 songs” and of course got a million hits, literally.  Some sites, like this one , had a decent list of songs from that year since they were cribbing from Billboard Magazine’s year end list of the top 100 songs.  A majority of other sites though had a ten biggest/best of the year list.  How can any list be worthwhile if it only selected 10 songs worth listening to out of the hundreds released?  I did find a cool article that also determined that 1979 was a great year for music (,56187/?mobile=true ) so I figured I was not totally off base.

I also tried Wikipedia but their lists had just the songs on the main page.  No artist names were listed, and have you ever tried looking at a list of just song titles before?  There are a lot of generic titles out there.  If I told you I liked the song “Hold On”, would you be able to tell me who sings it?  No, because that is a very common song title ( ).  It could be almost anyone.  And is Hell On Wheels a heavy metal or Southern rock song from 1979?  Or is it a re-release of a Paul McCartney song.   Neither (and McCartney’s song is ‘Helen Wheels’).  It turns out it is a disco song from Cher.  I’m sure you hadn’t heard of it before either.
So, I needed a list of songs AND artists from 1979 to prove to myself that it was a great year for music, at least of the type I liked.  Most of the lists I found were too short or even wrong about what year a song came out.  For example, Funkytown is a really fun dance-pop song but it was released as a single in March of 1980 so it doesn’t count as a 1970’s song.  Just because a song sounds like classic disco doesn’t mean it can go on a 1970’s playlist.  Not if you are a purist.  Which I am (said in an Inigo Montoya voice in my head.) 

I think you might be able to see where this was going.  Yes, I decided to come up with my own list.  I culled songs and artists from dozens of other lists and various printed sources and then I cleaned them up so that the list only had songs that charted in 1979, not things from 1975 that some stoned blogger remembered still being played on the radio a couple years later.  I ended up with a list of 283 songs that also listed the artist without having to click on a song title.  I know I am missing some other things from that year, and I did buy a book that reprints every weekly Billboard music chart from the 1970’s but I was getting brain cramps as it was so I stopped with my list of almost 300 songs ( before I went down a rabbit hole and disappeared for good.  I had proved to myself that there was a ton of good music from 1979.  A bunch of songs I loved and played again and again throughout the years since. 
As I was basking in my accomplishment, I noticed a few of my favorite songs from the late 1970’s weren’t on the list.  It was missing Steely Dan’s ‘Deacon Blues’ and Samantha Sang’s ‘Emotion’ and Player’s ‘Baby Come Back’ and Jay Ferguson’s ‘Thunder Island’ and Dolly Parton’s ‘Here You Come Again’.  Worst of all, it didn’t have one of my all-time favorite songs- Nicolette Larson’s ‘Lotta Love’.  I made the mistake of second guessing myself and wondering what a 1978 list would be like.  The whole process started over again, ending with a list of 399 songs from 1978 (  I made myself stop at that point before I went and looked at 1983 too. 

The reason I bring this up is because I started the year immersed in the past and appreciating that era’s music which, depending on the song, emphasized strong melody, heavy beats or raw emotion.  Frequently all three were present on the best songs.  A lot of those elements are lacking today’s music and I was in the mood for more of this type of music.  While compiling these lists, I naturally played some of the songs and I noticed one of the songs from my list, Rainbow’s ‘Since You Been Gone’ still sounded pretty good (and, oddly, a little bit like Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since You’ve been Gone’) so I went and listened to a few other things they did.  This meant I pulled out one of my favorite CDs, Youth Gone Wild: Hair Metals Favorites Vol 1 because it had some other Rainbow songs on it plus a lot of the hard rock songs I liked from the early 1980’s,  (For example, it has Rock You Like A Hurricane by the Scorpions, The Last In Line – Dio, Lay It Down – Ratt, Balls To The Wall – Accept, Street Of Dreams – Rainbow, Screaming In The Night – Krokus, We're Not Gonna Take It - Twisted Sister, Cum On Feel The Noize - Quiet Riot.) 
From there, I played some new stuff from Tragedy, my favorite heavy metal Bee Gee’s tribute band.  (Yes, I described that correctly.)  It was pretty cool but I felt like I was missing part of the joke.  I recognized some of the opening riffs they used before segueing into the Bee Gee’s or disco covers, like a Led Zeppelin riff, or an AC/DC style but there were others that I‘m sure were metal homages that I just thought sound good.  I wanted to learn more about the source material.  I figured it was time to try some hard rock and metal bands that I’d never bothered with before.  I decided to explore hair metal.

Even though I enjoyed some hard rock songs, I never got into hair metal back in the day because I thought many of the bands looked ridiculous and some of the music was really stupid.  In college, the first time I saw a picture of the bands Cinderella and Poison, I thought the bands were made up of ugly girls playing guitars, when really it was ugly guys in makeup and wigs that were playing the guitars.  Then there were the lyrics.  I mean, I’m not generally infatuated with lyrics or bothered by vulgarity but I am very opposed to stupid lyrics.  When Motley Crue sang a whole song about leering at “Girls, Girls, Girls”, Poison requested that girls “Talk Dirty To Me”, Warrant wanted some “Cherry Pie”, and Ozzy Osbourne croaked “Close My Eyes Forever”, I got turned off.  For every awesome Whitesnake song, there was a stupid Whitesnake song.  For every crunchy riff in Winger’s “Seventeen” there was the off-settingly stupid and vaguely creepy lyrics.  Lita Ford had cool two albums, with some great sounding songs but they had lyrics about blueberries and going back to the cave, whatever that means
Then there were the power ballads, like Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home”, Guns & Roses “November Rain”, Skid Row’s “I Remember You” and the ridiculous and ridiculously punctuated “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” by Poison.  I blame Kiss, because “Beth” was such a big hit that everyone tried to imitate them by mostly rocking hard but still having some big ballad that was a stadium lighter moment that earned them lots of sell-out cash.  At that point I couldn’t take hair metal seriously, and stopped trying, despite liking some of the songs from some of the artists.

Fast forward to now, and I decided to tiptoe back into hair metal.  After listening to the Youth Gone Wild CD again, I wanted some more songs like those so I pulled out Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood CD because I always liked “Kickstart My Heart” and “Dr. Feelgood”.  That didn’t fully satisfy my appetite either so I started listening to the “Hair Nation” channel on Sirius XM.  I heard many of the old standby’s mentioned above but I also heard a bunch of new-to-me things that were pretty good.  How had I never heard Motley Crue’s “Too Young To Fall In Love” before and why wasn’t it a huge hit?  How did Cinderella write a song (“Push Push”) I could enjoy despite stupid double entendre lyrics?  I not know about Dio?  Why did no one tell me how good Kix was? 
I played the heck out of SiriusXM’s channel 39 for the next two months.  I bought several digital singles from various bands, rediscovered AC/DC, and bought a double CD greatest hits from Motley Crue because I wanted more of their good stuff.  I bought all six Kix albums and was amazed they never made a big splash nationwide.  Of course, their biggest and only real hit was their power ballad, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”.  Damn you “Beth”!!  Twenty years after everyone else had stopped paying attention to it, I was entranced with hair metal. 

This is a roundabout way of explaining why I have several old pop metal songs on my yearly compilation CD.  You might not recognize them, aside from the AC/DC track, but they are still quality songs.  I don’t claim to only have recent stuff running around in my head.  A good song is a good song, regardless of when it was released.  For example, after I tapered off from my hair metal kick, I went further back.  I had heard about Glen Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s Disease so I played a few of his things, and discovered he wasn’t the first  person to perform “Southern Nights”, so I listened to the original by Allen Toussaint.  Then I went back into other Glen Campbell songs (there is an excellent collection of them on Spotify.) 
That’s when I came across “Wichita Lineman”, which I don’t recall ever hearing before.  It’s a very nice song.  Then I moved forward to “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”, the last song he recorded before going into an extended care facility to live out the remainder of his life.  That song was also very good, but incredibly emotional when you know the story behind it.  He had such a hard time remembering things at that point that the producer had to record him singing a single line at a time and had to keep getting his attention before each new take because Campbell forget why he was there or what line he was supposed to sing.  The session took all day to get that one song recorded.  Then all those single lines were merged together to make a complete song.  Lyrically, it is devastating when you know the subject.  The video is pretty intense too ( ).  Both the old and new song are on the compilation.

To lighten the mood after that, I went to Tom Jones.  I had gotten 5 of his older albums plus his newest one and went through a Tom Jones binge.  I put a couple older songs on this year’s mix although they are things I hadn’t heard before so they are likely new to you too.  From there, I started moving back into the present but I was noticing lots of albums and songs being released that had a strong influence from the past, which is why a lot of this year’s playlist has older artists even though they are releasing new material.  Boz Scaggs, Billy Idol, Simply Red, Duran Duran, New Order, Stone Temple Pilots- all their songs on the compilation are new songs, but they are older artists who still have it and are worth listening to.  Interestingly, the “Back To The Future” movie celebrated its’ 30th anniversary and everyone still loves that movie.  October 21, 2015 was the date Marty McFly visited in the future so the future is now.  Or more accurately, it is the past since this is now 2016.  So where are the hoverboards?  No, the real ones, not the ones with wheels and that blow up when the engine overheats.   
There is a whole bunch of new stuff on my mix as well.  Some are new songs are by artists I have liked for a long time, like Modest Mouse,  Kylie Minogue, Mark Ronson, and St. Vincent.  I participated in a Pledge Music campaign for Anya Marina since I liked her previous stuff.  Adam Lambert, Demi Lovato and Maroon 5 were all from listening to the radio and getting captivated by song from an artist I barely paid attention to previously.  Liz Phair’s song is a result of hearing her play it at an Aimee Mann Christmas concert I went to.  I like picking up at least one new favorite Christmas song every year.  I can’t play just “Do You Hear What I Hear” all through the holiday season.  Then there are some odd discoveries by people I had never heard of.  I was listening to Alt Nation on SiriusXM and heard “Southern Sun” by Boy & Bear.  The underlying motif was so catchy, I immediately bought it and then played it over and over again.  Escala was a gamble- they do pop classical music and I sometimes like that, so I got their album and greatly enjoyed it.  It looks like that was the only one they did though, so now I’m disappointed.  You will remember that U2 “gave” everyone an album by adding it into their Apple iTunes account without asking if it is okay.  I was fine with the concept- give me all the free music you like.  It’s not like Apple is violating my privacy by exposing my information to everyone.  They won’t even give the Justice Department info about a terrorist’s iPhone. 

U2’s “Crystal Ballroom” was a bonus cut on the physical album they released a few months later.  Since the free digital album was so disappointing for a U2 album, I didn’t pay attention to the physical CD for at least a year afterwards.  If they had put out more songs like this one though, I might have been less critical of the work.  I think U2 and I have different ideas of what the fans like.  I loved this song, and they thought it was only a bonus track on a physical CD no one was going to buy since they got a free one already. 
The Ian Thomas song, “Painted Ladies”, is an odd find.  The song came out in 1973 and you may think you recognize it, but you don’t.  It only went to # 34 and he never hit the American charts again.  I had Shazamed it because I couldn’t recognize the song on a 70’s radio channel even though it felt like I should.  The song is an obscurity but it sounds like a 1970’s light rock classic though.  The Knock’s “Classic” was something I Shazam-ed from a commercial because it was catchy.   Terrence Howard’s song is something he did on the Empire television show and it just appealed to me, unlike most of the other songs on the show.  I like the show, a ridiculously plotted soap opera, but I don’t generally like the music.  It’s weak pop or soft rap.  This one hooked me though. 

Then there is Belle & Sebastian.  I had heard of them years again but figured they were some twee pop Scottish band.  Or maybe Welsh.  Or Irish.  Some British type folkie band that sang depressing songs and had emo lyrics.  Then I heard this song, “The Party Line”.  And loved it.  And bought the album.  Which was a dance album!  Then I listened to some others on Spotify.  Yes, they have some folkie stuff but they are also more pop than I thought, kind of like Simple Minds, who also put out an album I got this year but none of their songs were as good as Belle & Sebastian’s so I left them off my mix.  I was impressed by this album, including the cover and the title “Girls Like to Dance In Peacetime”. 
So there you have my reasons for including what I did on my compilation CD this year.  Although I didn’t put on any songs from 1978 or 1979 (but I’m considering sending people a separate highlights/favorites CD from those two years), I went from listening to a specific year in the 1970’s to the whole hair metal genre in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, then to a single performer in the 1960’s (Tom Jones), and back to the future with old artists with new material and new artists with new material.  Anyone reading this either was sent the two CD compilation I made or they are welcome to get in touch with me and I’ll send them one.  This is why I like to explore music, even if it is twenty or thirty years after the fact.  I might find a gem that sticks with me and implants itself in my brain forever.  I hope the same might happen to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment