Tuesday, October 27, 2009

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1964

For this month's musical best-of list, I'm taking a big leap in the wayback machine. 1964 may seem like ancient history for some of you, yet it was a tipping point in American pop culture whose impact can still be felt 45 years later. Right at the center of everything was The Beatles, who churned out not one but three great albums in '64, heretofore launching the British Invasion and proving that foreign acts can be viable, profitable, and have a long-term impact in the US. That's not to say that it was a bad year for domestic hitmakers, though; Motown was a force to be reckoned with, and out on the west coast the surf sounds of The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean et al. were still pretty happenin'. Plus, it was the first full year of the post-Kennedy era; the nation's priorities were changing, and the desire to try something different was baubling in nearly every direction, especially in regard to music.

Most importantly, 1964 was the year that the rock n' roll LP came to form. Granted, the average consumer more inclined to buy 45s and most full-players were compilations of previously released music (with some filler), but the albums mentioned below slowly altered that perception. Jazz music was best absorbed at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute --another big reason why '64 was a boon year-- though a lot of top 40 acts were slowly realizing the potential of recording in that format. Without further ado...


1. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane. To declare a piece of art --or anything you've created, for that matter-- as your gift to God is a bold statement, one that suggests ambition but also arrogance and delusion. Then again, there were very few jazz musicians quite like Trane. Seven years after kicking a near-deadly heroin habit, Coltrane became a born-again Christian and a well-to-do family man, and this thought-provoking suite emcompasses his rebirth and embrace in a higher being. Nearly half a century on, Supreme is probably far more transcendant (and important) than Coltrane ever intended.
2. A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles. Easily the Fab Four's best early-period album. Not only is Night the de facto soundtrack to an equally great movie, it shows the band coming into their own. The album is a testament to the collaborative powers of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who co-wrote all 14 songs. It's peppy and propulsive, yet to this day it remains oddly fresh.
3. Getz/Gilberto, Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto. One drawback in writing these monthly montages is coming up with something favorable to say without bordering into hyperbole. Luckily, my #3 pick is another artistic milestone in the annals of music; it may not be the purest Bossa Nova album ever recorded, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better one. Simply put, Getz/Gilberto is a thing of beauty.
4. Out To Lunch!, Eric Dolphy
5. Meet The Beatles, The Beatles
6. Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan
7. Song For My Father, Horace Silver
8. Beatles For Sale, The Beatles
9. The Times They Are A-Changin', Bob Dylan
10. 12x5, The Rolling Stones. This is not your father's Stones, though it could be your grandpa's. This sophomore effort from Mick, Keith et al. is a continuation of the dilligent blues covers that dominated their debut, though you begin to see flashes of the juggernaut they would eventually become.

Honorable Mentions: Juju, Wayne Shorter; Spiritual Unity, The Albert Ayler Trio.

As I alluded to before, the individual song carried more weight than a full record around this time, which made whitting my usual favorite singles list down to ten songs an impossible feat. The list that you're about to read is so disparate in genre, form, and style compared to my album picks --and in itself-- it's almost laughable. Here's my top 20 (in no particular order) from '64:

"I Feel Fine," The Beatles
"Bits and Pieces," The Dave Clark Five
"I'm Crying," The Animals
"You Really Got Me," The Kinks
"Oh, Pretty Woman," Roy Orbison
"Money (That's What I Want)," The Kingsmen
"Rag Doll," The Four Seasons
"Where Did Our Love Go," The Supremes
"The Way You Do The Things You Do," The Temptations
"Baby I Need Your Loving," The Four Tops

"Under The Broadwalk," The Drifters
"Remember (Walking In The Sand)," The Shangri-Las
"Be My Baby," The Ronettes
"A Summer Song," Chad & Jeremy
"Surfin' Bird," The Trashmen
"GTO," Ronny and the Daytonas
"Penetration," The Pyramids
"Boss," The Rumblers
"Hey Little Cobra," The Ripchords
"Philly Dog," Herbie Mann

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Milli Tarāna

After 6 1/2 years in Iraq, American foreign policy has shifted back toward the quagmire in Afghanistan. With combat entering its ninth year, whatever success we've had in eradicating the Taliban has slowly diminished. When measured by the number of their attacks, the radical "alternative" government is stronger than at any time since American and NATO troops removed them from power in late 2001. American troops and Marines are dying at a faster rate than ever before, and domestic support for the war is diminishing. The national debate on future American involvement in this perpetually volatile country has hit fever pitch. On one hand, if we were to pull out of Afghanistan, there's little questioning that the Taliban would slowly and eventually return to power. On the other hand, American forces have proven themselves to be insensitive and oblivious to the country's mostly tribal culture, and I don't really get the sense that we're a welcome presence there.

In my opinion, the best thing we can do right now is just stay where we are and keep going with our objectives. There's also the question of whether or not a surge in troops would further the cause. President Bush's decision to expand the number of soldiers in Iraq three years ago was a Hail Mary pass that proved to be a secret success. Iraq has made great strides in becoming a self-governing body in the past couple of years, so transferring more American troops from the Arabian Peninsula could negate speculation that we're spreading our armed forces too thin. This is far from a long-term solution --Hamid Karzai and his increasingly docile government should take some blame for the uptick in terrorist activity-- though it would certainly encourage progress. Then again, the Afghani quagmire is more of a police action than a full-blown war; pardon my vagueness, but the clusters of the country that are dominated by the Taliban must be stabilized before the threat spreads even further.

Other notes:

+ I was down at Illinois State University last weekend, and I was shocked by how much the area has changed in the less than two years since I graduated. Bloomington-Normal is an economic boomtown right now --an anomoly in this day and age-- and the construction around town is apparently moving ahead of schedule. Half the buildings in downtown (Uptown?) Normal have since been razed and rebuilt, and I was surprised to discover that the new on-campus fitness center has a skyway that links to the quad. Granted, it nice to see some old classmates again, but everything else felt bewildering.

+ In spite of my moderate success with Fantasy Baseball, my Roto Football team is 2-4 for the season thus far. I don't think I anticipated so many players having all their bye weeks at the exact same time.

+ I've already stopped giving a damn about Balloon Boy. Just so you know.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Random Notes, October 2009

+ First, we learned that David Letterman was having a rendez-vous with his assistant. Then, Jimmy Kimmel comfirmed that he was dating his head writer. Now I hear that Carson Daly was caught with a box of Kleenex and an L.L. Bean catalog...

+ I'll admit that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his goals, not for his accomplishments. In his defense, it was a weak year for world peace --a vague statement, but it's true-- and the field was wide open; besides, he's not the worst pick the Nobel committee has ever made (see "Arafat, Yassir"). Nevertheless, I congratulate the president on his award, though I really hope he puts his money where his mouth is.

+ The world is not coming to an end in December 2012, so would everybody just let the topic die already?

+ Boy oh boy, I've been a terrible prognosticator this week. I predicted a Cards-Phillies NLCS and a Bosox-Yankees ALCS, and instead Boston and St. Louis put up terrible first-round performances. On top of that, I picked Jacksonville to humble Seattle in Week 5, not the other way around. On the other hand, my World Series forecast (Philadelphia over New York in 6) is still viable, and it's not like the Jags or She-Hawks are playoff contenders.

+ This Friday I'm driving down to Normal for Illinois State's Homecoming. For the third time in five years, my Redbirds (2-3 for the year) are heading home to face the Indiana State Sycamores, perhaps the worst college football program in the country (32 straight losses and counting dating to 2006). Here's hoping Da Trees make it 33 in a row... though as my previous comment implied, I won't bet the farm on it.

+ I support same-sex marriage, though when you live in a white bread, right-of-center suburb, you have to force yourself to downplay such a bold statement. Last Sunday was National Coming Out Day, and I'd like to dedicate this blog entry to anyone and everyone that has found the courage to be honest about their sexual orientation. In the wake of Prop 8 and growing opposition by the religious right, it'd be foolish to think that legalizing gay unions will happen overnight, but the progress made since the Stonewall Riots 40-plus years ago proves that such a possibility is feasible within our lifetimes. Keep searching for that rainbow!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

We're Gonna Have a Rio... Good Time

Regardless of the outcome, I was fully intent on dedicating this week's entry to the 2016 Summer Olympics. As a Chicagoan, I wasn't particularly shocked that we lost out to Rio de Janiero; all the hype and hoopla you've heard in the past few weeks steered clear of the gaping flaws that ultimately killed our Olympian dreams: our city's history of corrupt politicians, a recent uptick in racially motivated violence, the lack of independent funding for such an event, and most crucially, horrifically poor planning by a steering committee that didn't understand what it took to make it all happen. (Outsourcing certain events to Minneapolis and South Bend? Seriously?) The committee's presentation to the IOC was heavy on glitz and glammer, with endorsements from American sports legends and Chicago-bred celebrities up the ying-yang, and the powers that be saw right through it.

Conservatives will pin the blame on President Obama but the real goat is Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who spent gobs of money that the city doesn't have to foolhardily pursue a lifelong pipe dream. Though Chicago has no intent of trying again for 2020 or 2024, the money lost by Hizzoner's marketing blitz will prevent my hometown from making another serious bid for at least another 20 years. I'm not saying any of this to be anti-Chicagoan or out of spite; it's just the wrong time for an American city to host such a grandiose event.

Other notes:

+ I won my fantasy baseball league! Well, one of them, anyway. I finished 5th out of 8 in the Yahoo/TV.com league, but in my other group I hammered my opponent 9-1 for the title.

+ I don't condone what David Letterman did, but at least he 'fessed up before the blackmail attempt spiraled further out of control. He apologized to his wife, he begged forgiveness to Stephanie Birkett (and God knows who else), and he expressed remorse to anyone that ever worked for him. Some public figures screw up and spend years trying to avoid admitting fault, but Letterman's mea culpa felt honest, punctual, and legitimate. In his defense, Dave won't change the subject because the media won't stop hounding him and his staff about the extortion, and as far as I'm concerned, the most controversial aspect of all this is the defendent is a producer for "48 Hours." On the other hand, I haven't a clue as to what the future holds for him, but if the public can forgive Johnny Carson for his various failed marriages --and assumed infidelities-- why not Dave?

+ An excellent, well-researched article about last weekend's "Obama's Checklist" sketch on SNL.

+ Finally, I just thought I'd mention that last weekend I finished Improv Level B at Second City. I start Level C --the first level to culminate with actual stage performances-- on October 18th.