Category Archives: Music

Old music was better

For a long while — decades at least, I’ve had the impression the modern popular music is not as good as it was in the 60s, and indeed when I was growing up in the 70s or even the early 80s. What do I mean by “not as good”? I mean less melody, less harmony, less lyrical invention and most of all, a growing uniformity, where every song songs increasingly the same as every other song. Continue reading

I’m going to see Paul McCartney!

The first record I ever owned was the single of Laurel and Hardy’s song The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth, so the record may as well show it. I seem to remember I was given it for Christmas 1975, but I can’t blame my parents — I’d definitely asked for it. This when Bohemian Rhapsody was at number one. Let us never speak of this again.

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What I’ve been listening to in 2014

Here is my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See previous entries for 20132012, 20112010 and 2009.)

Minimoog_11414_05

I listen much more to whole albums than to individual tracks, so each year I pick the ten albums that I listened to the most (not counting compilations), as recorded on the two computers where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or on the iPod.) I limit the selection to no more than one album per artist, and skip albums that have featured in previous years. Then from each of those ten objectively selected albums, I subjectively pick one song that I feel is representative.

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I’m leaving on a jet plane

One of the songs I sang at the Forest Folk Club tonight was John Denver’s I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane. Even though I’d not had time to learn all the words, and had to read from a printout — something that I’ve found degrades performances — it went down very well, and had lots of people singing along in the chorus.

But why does it work so well? Surely by any objective standard, the chorus is bodged.

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Sunday in the Park with George

One art-form I’ve not written about at all on this blog is the musical — which is surprising, because I do believe that it’s the greatest art-form of them all. Done well (which I admit is not often) musicals combine so much: music, poetry, visual design, drama.

Among the writers of musicals, one stands head and shoulders over all the others, and that is Stephen Sondheim. Now in his eighties, his body of work goes back to 1957’s timeless West Side Story (as a lyricist only) and includes classics like Company (1970), Sweeney Todd (1979) and Into the Woods (1987). Usually I’d pick the latter as my favourite — by a short head — and I’m very excited about the film adaptation, which opens near us in three days. But I just finished watching Sunday in the Park with George (1984) and I wonder whether it might be even better.

1024px-Georges_Seurat_-_A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte_--_1884_-_Google_Art_Project

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How to write a song (as told by someone who’s never written a song)

As long-time readers will know, I’ve been singing folk songs in pubs and clubs for a couple of years now. It’s great fun, and I highly recommend it: anyone who can strum a couple of chords and hold a tune really ought to look out what folk cubs are in their area and give it it a go.

But although I’ve built up a repertoire of more than fifty songs now, they’re all covers. (11 Beatles songs, if anyone’s interested; five Dar Williams, three Paul Simon, two traditional, two each by Richard Shindell, Joni Mitchell, Frank Sinatra, Deep Purple and Crosby, Stills and Nash. All the rest are singletons.)

So my dirty little secret is that I’ve never written a song of my own. And in fact, on reviewing what I’ve written on here before about music, I see at least three different occasions when I’ve lamented this.

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What I’ve been listening to in 2013

Here is my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See previous entries for 2012, 20112010 and 2009.) Note that this is for 2013, not 2014 — I won’t know the final 2014 tallies for another few weeks, and I want to get this out before it’s a whole year late.

drumkit04

I listen much more to whole albums than to individual tracks, so each year I pick the ten albums that I listened to the most (not counting compilations), as recorded on the two computers where I listen to most of my music. (So these counts don’t include listening in the car or on the iPod.) I limit the selection to no more than one album per artist, and skip albums that have featured in previous years. Then from each of those ten objectively selected albums, I subjectively pick one song that I feel is representative.

Continue reading