Here is my now-traditional top-ten list of the albums I’ve listened to the most in the previous calendar year. (See this list of previous entries.)
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 the kitchen, or on my phone.) 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.
A little over two years ago, I cracked the problem of how to write a song: let go of the idea that it needs to be a perfect, precious jewel, such as Paul Simon or Joni Mitchell might produce. As I put it at the time: “write a bad song. It doesn’t matter. Just write a song.”
So, needless to say, in the intervening time, I have written absolutely no songs at all.
Back on Saturday 16 July this year, our prog-rock band Crooked End played a forty-minute set to close the Mitcheldean Festival. We played three songs — being proggers, all our songs were long, so we couldn’t fit any more in. The one we really cared about was our own composition, Dancing Through the Storm, and we finally have a (poor-quality) video of that song. Here it is!
I have tried, I really have tried, to like Bob Dylan. And I know the fault is on my side. Now, at the urging of a commenter operating under the pseudonym Robert Zimmerman, I am making another attempt: this time, listening to his acclaimed masterpiece Highway 61 Revisited, of which author Michael Gray has argued that “in an important sense the 1960s started” with this album.”
After 1973’s uncharacteristically upbeat There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Paul Simon’s next release was the enjoyable but inessential single live album Live Rhymin’ (1974). But his subsequent studio album stands among his very best work — an anthology of ten very different songs that nevertheless cohere around Simon’s underlying theme: a growing concern that, at the age of 34, he had passed his creative peak, couldn’t successfully settle in a relationship, and had tied himself into decisions that he might now make differently.
As I write this at age 48, Simon has just released Stranger to Stranger at age 74. The idea that he was once 34 seems impossibly distant; and the idea that he could have worried then about being past his prime nothing short of absurd. Yet that concern, treated in Simon’s distinctively whimsical and self-deprecatory manner, gave rise to a masterpiece.
It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve listened through The Times They Are A-Changing 1964) twice, John Wesley Harding (1967) twice, Bringing it All Back Home (1965) four times, Blood on the Tracks (1975) eight times, and Slow Train Coming (1979) maybe half a dozen times. So a decent selection of Dylan albums from most of his major periods, all given a real chance, and I have been waiting and waiting for the “Oooohhh … I get it” lightning to strike. It’s not happened, and after twenty opportunities I am beginning to despair that it ever will.
One week ago:
Dear Theresa May,
You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
Now, having seen the plan:
Dear Theresa May
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head