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Thursday, February 26, A.D. 2009
The Association

The Association produced fabulously melodious hits, and I was surprised to find some of their live performances on the web. “Never My Love” is definitely my favorite song of theirs. It is simple but lovely.

They put on quite an energetic show with “Along Comes Mary” on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour:

Finally, in honor of my mother’s wretched little Shih Tzu by the same name, here is the ever cheerfully fun “Windy”:

I admit it; I like 60’s pop. Anyway, I always find the outfits of earlier performers a bit surprising. Even in the midst of the cultural revolution, these guys look like old school college chaps. I wonder when the move toward t-shirts or worse occurred.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, February 26, Anno Domini 2009
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Friday, February 20, A.D. 2009
Dust in the Wind

I must have developed a taste for nihilistic melancholy as a toddler. As early as I can remember, I loved “Dust in the Wind” from Point of Know Return by Kansas. As a child, I would play the 45 over and over again.

Except in popular music (I confess to being hopelessly lost to the filth of pop culture), the 1970’s were an aesthetically challenged decade, eh?

It is a bit sad that many of our iPod youth do not even know how record players worked. They marvel at vinyl as some artifact from a lost civilization. My mom still has thousands of records. Their spacial and care requirements make the digital age understandable, but scrolling through a list of MP3’s just does not satisy in the same way as carefully removing an album from its sleeve and placing it gently on the record player. When you move the arm over, lower it down, and hear the initial hiss before the song begins, you act out your own hieratic D.J. liturgy; joy comes in the ritual.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, February 20, Anno Domini 2009
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Saturday, February 14, A.D. 2009
Wrapped up in Books

Here is Belle & Sebastian again with “Wrapped up in Books” from Dear Catastrophe Waitress:

They really are dweeb chic. I love them.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, February 14, Anno Domini 2009
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Thursday, February 12, A.D. 2009
Instant Maple Love

It seems that I slowly absorbed most of the music that I prefer; I learnt to like it from familiarity. I cannot, for example, tell you when I began to like Fleetwood Mac, Sam Cooke, the Rolling Stones, the Drifters, or the Four Tops. I grew up listening to my mother’s playing their records. Yet, familiarity cannot account for everything. To this day, I cannot stand hearing Randy Travis and similar country music acts, though my mom played such songs all the time at home.

However, there are some musical encounters that I clearly remember when I instantly fell in love with a song the very first time that I heard it. It might be that such songs simply speak the same language as other music to which I have been accustomed, or it might be that they just trigger some psychological pleasure point. Perhaps, they are just beautiful or they proficiently speak the language of the soul. From majestic movements to simple, catchy jingles, certain tunes just take you as soon as they reach your ears.

I remember the first times that I heard Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies in their entirety. Of course, I recognized portions of them from popular culture. Who can grow up watching Looney Tunes without a fair amount of exposure to the music of high culture? Anyway, if you would pardon the cliché, I was transfixed by the symphonies. From the very first sitting, I knew without any doubt that Beethoven had been inspired by God. As Socrates might say, Beethoven beheld the beautiful itself; for his work testifies of an intimacy with the divine.

I had the same experience with Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Smetana’s Má vlast, Rachmaninov’s settings for Vespers, The Planets of Holst, and mostly everything from J.S. Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, and Rimsky-Korsakov. To hear them is to love them. Of course, we might expect that such great artists would create works to be immediately appreciated.

Yet, I have had similar though lesser experiences with some pop, as well. I liked the Chieftains, Clannad, and Enya the first time that I heard them, I became a fan of Belle & Sebastian upon hearing “The Boy with the Arab Strap” on my brother’s music list, and I also instantly liked Coldplay. Clearly, I tend to like bands that sound like other bands that I like. So, that could explain some ready acceptance, though it does not account for everything. I remember finding The Cranberries very distasteful the first time that I heard O’Riordan’s peculiar Celtic wail, though I developed quite a taste for them after a few weeks of hearing them in my friend’s car.

Please allow me to showcase one last song. In elementary school, I remember attending a school assembly that featured a musician. I always liked assemblies, as they broke up the monotony of class time’s everlasting tedium. So, I was kindly disposed to the guests out of gratitude. Regardless, when the man began to play the piano, I fell for his song. To hear it is to love Scott Joplin’s famous ragtime classic, the “Maple Leaf Rag.” It is simple joy. Well, here is what I believe to be one of Joplin’s piano rolls (perhaps processed through MIDI, though I am not sure):

If you want a better rendition of the piano roll, consider Milan Record’s’ Scott Joplin: Ragtime Piano Roll. The quality of these recordings, as well as Joplin’s genius, make the album well worth your money. In my opinion, they excel the other recordings of Joplin’s works. If you wish to listen to full versions of these tracks, request them on Rhapsody, where you get to listen to twenty-five songs for free.

The album site’s short biography on Joplin quotes the following from Allmusic: “Born in Texas in either 1867 or 1868, Joplin was raised in Texarkana, the son of a laborer and former slave. As a child, Joplin taught himself piano on an instrument belonging to a white family that granted him access to it, and ultimately studied with a local, German-born teacher who introduced Joplin to classical music.” How remarkable! Enjoy Joplin’s great gift to America.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, February 12, Anno Domini 2009
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Monday, December 22, A.D. 2008
American Carols

I like several American carols, but perhaps my favorite is “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Noël Regney was born in Alsace, but he moved to the U.S.A. and his co-writer wife Gloria Shayne Baker was an American. Here is Bing Crosby’s version:

Naturally, I also like “White Christmas”—though Irving Berlin was born in Russia. Here is Crosby, again, with Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn:

My favorite Christmas pop in general has to be from the Carpenters. Their Christmas works are wonderfully American—simple, fun, and sincere—with that necessary dose of a bit too much sentimentality. The Europeans and classicists hate us for it, but it is who we are. Besides, I love Karen Carpenter’s voice. Unfortunately, I could not find any good videos of the Carpenters’ Christmas specials from the 1970’s.

For a Christmas pop single, I think that John Lennon’s rather pacifistically deluded but nonetheless endearing and catchy “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” stands above the rest:

Coming from an Elvis-loving household, I always heard “Blue Christmas” every year during the holidays, and I eventually came to like it:

Merry Christmas!

Posted by Joseph on Monday, December 22, Anno Domini 2008
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Monday, December 8, A.D. 2008
Guess Who

One of my favorite rock bands is also perhaps the most under appreciated group in popular music—The Guess Who. Perhaps they were dogged by being Canadian, which is no slight disadvantage in life, or perhaps people got them confused with Britain’s rebellious superstar band, The Who. Maybe, Randy Bachman took all the fame to B.T.O. Regardless, they have not garnered the acclaim that they deserve.

As with many bands, I do not have a favorite song by them, though “Laughing” is a fine ditty.

I like Burton Cumming’s voice, as well as the group’s harmonization.

The Guess Who’s most well known hit is either “These Eyes”:

Or “American Woman”:

For the less charitable, there is “No Time”:

It’s misanthropic, but I find it rather catchy. The fan video is annoying, as they almost always are.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, December 8, Anno Domini 2008
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Saturday, November 29, A.D. 2008
Another Kid in the Cult

During the last few years, my nephew has developed a direct interest in rock and roll unmediated by my sister, as teenagers typically do. While I was home on break this week, he played Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” several times. He has become a fan.

The videos below simply feature album cover art, sine corny and obnoxious graphics and printed lyrics, which suits me just fine. For I usually hate fan videos; they are almost always painful or boring to watch. However, the drug addled productions before MTV often lack official videos. What else is there to embed?

The music starts about a minute into the video for some odd reason.

My own favorite Pink Floyd song is “Time”

I like Pink Floyd but find their music bleak. A lot of rock reverberates with teen angst, but Pink Floyd’s music does sound like despair. A professor of mine in a course on Plato’s Republic, when covering the modes of music discussed in the city in speech’s proposed educational program, suggested that the Lydian mode was the Pink Floyd of the day. I always think of his comment when I listen to the band.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, November 29, Anno Domini 2008
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Tuesday, November 25, A.D. 2008
Dr. Worm

If Belle and Sebastian is a soft band for indie folks mildy estranged from the demographic center, They Might Be Giants is straight hardcore for socially dysfunctional super nerds. Naturally, I love them both. One of the most fun concerts that I ever attended was with They Might Be Giants at the 9:30 Club. Geeks have more fun; it really is true, and their only drug is caffeine.

I am fond of almost all of T.M.B.G.‘s songs, but having to hear about Obama’s Clintonization this week makes me feel a bit more vermicular than usual; ergo my mood for “Doctor Worm”:

John and John, thanks for all the good times.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, November 25, Anno Domini 2008
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Monday, October 20, A.D. 2008
Rain Song Nerdiness

Earlier in the “Fun” realm, I discussed Renaissance Festivals and how they bring together the diverse demographics of American geekdom. As the Negroes say, I can pass—when it comes to geekiness. Perhaps, I have full-fledged nerd street creds, but I never really fit well in any crowd—even among the social pariahs of yesteryear who have now come into their own, as David Brooks wrote some months ago, “The Alpha Geeks” in that Graying Old Whore. Well, I am glad that the alphas now have a safe haven from the benighted epsilon-minus semi-morons. Yet, didn’t all that social ostracism give nerds the necessary time to innovate and to make America technologically superior? If potential Bill Gates get peer respect and girls, then we might as well send the White House’s keys to the Peking oligarchs now; the contest is over.

Brooks’ account of nerd ascent misses entirely the covert nerd integration into mass consciousness through the work of Led Zeppelin. What? Did I just call perhaps the greatest rock band ever a bunch of nerds? Yep! In what might be the best executed stealth maneuver in pop cultural history, Led Zeppelin succeeded in bringing geekdom to the masses in the language of rock, thus paving the way for George Lucas’ Star Wars. I know the accusations of heresy that I shall incur from the dogmatists. Yet, I stand and can do no other: “Before there was Hans, there was John Bonham.”

Should you have any doubts, consider Robert Plant’s fantasy sequence in Led Zeppelin’s movie, The Song Remains the Same:

Even without mentioning Tolkien, the defense rests.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, October 20, Anno Domini 2008
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Saturday, October 11, A.D. 2008
The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side

Adam introduced me to the Magnetic Fields some time ago—he is my indie and 1990’s music source, I suppose. As with all of his recommendations, the Magnetic Fields is a fine band with pleasant tunes.

I found this fan video of “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side,” which was a school assignment for the video creator. I think that it is rather impressive: charming, fun, and silly, just like the song:

As in all songs, I have my favorite part. With this one, it’s “Well I’m a fool.” I am not sure why I have favorite moments in songs and movies, or why such parts please more than others. It is strange.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, October 11, Anno Domini 2008
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