Tuesday, September 27, 2011

That Wonderful Year in Music... 1966

After nearly 36 months, I have finally reached my favorite year of the '60s. Where '67, '68, and '69 were all top-heavy in great albums, 1966 balanced the long player's arrival as an art form with a cornucopia of all-time great singles. Without belaboring their impact 45 years on, any of the top three albums of my list could've been #1 in any other year, or any other decade for that matter. On the 45 RPM front, everything seemed to be firing on all cylinders: R&B, folk-pop, Motown, bubblegum, British Invasion, primative garage rock and early psychedelic. It was also a curious yet fascinating year in jazz, as the Blue Note post-bop stalwarts of the past decade or so finally conceided to liberal improvisation and the "free" movement. In all, there was a general sense of liberation and daring-do in the sounds of '66 that just couldn't be tamped down.

(Like past lists, my albums are ranked but my favorite songs are not.)

1. Revolver, The Beatles. If Rubber Soul was the appetizer and Sgt. Pepper's the dessert, than the Fab Four's seventh album was the main course. A crucial turning point in the band's philosophy, aesthetic, and sound, Revolver is the wedge between the band's straight-ahead earlier work and the sonic exploration and restless experimenting of their late '60s output. Even though Abbey Road was his true breakout, George Harrison nearly steals the show with his three writing contributions: the cynical "Taxman," the sitar durge "Love You To," and the dissonant "I Want To Tell You." With all the risks taken on this disc, it's almost a miracle that everything holds together, which makes Revolver an absolute must-own album.
2. Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys. Very few people understand the complexities of the human mind. Even fewer understand Brian Wilson's. When it comes to melodic melancholy, nothing compares nor ever will match the lush orchestration, inherent sense of loneliness, and yearning upper-register harmonizing of Pet Sounds. As the troubled songwriter aspired to be the next Phil Spector, Wilson not only cashed in all his chips, he rendered the "Wall of Sound" guru irrelevant overnight.
3. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan. Its a testament to how deep the genius pool was in '66 that a genre-defining album would finish third on an annual list. The final act of Zimmerman's mid-decade triptych of masterpieces (see my '65 list for more details) draws the line in the sand between rock and pop; the sound is freewheeling and ramshackle, and the lyrics are so dense that you'll find a new meaning or subtext with every listen. The witty wordplay flows like water, whether it's on rockers such as "Stuck Inside of Memphis" or ballads like "Visions of Johanna." Dylan would continue to record great albums well after Blonde, but nothing has rocked as hard since.
4. Unit Structures, Cecil Taylor
5. Aftermath, The Rolling Stones

6. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel
7. Freak Out!, The Mothers of Invention
8. Adam's Apple, Wayne Shorter
9. Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield
10. Black Monk Time, The Monks. One of the most bizarre backstories in rock history also begat the album that inadvertantly invented punk. (Click here for the whole skinny.) Slashing two chords a good decade before The Ramones and voicing their radical beliefs when Dead Kennedys were still in grammar school, these American ex-pats started a revolution they had no idea was even brewing. Plus, Dave Day plays a blistering banjo.

Honorable Mentions: Got a Good Thing Goin', Big John Patton; 5th Dimension, The Byrds; Fresh Cream, Cream; If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, The Mamas and the Papas; The Monkees, The Monkees; Sounds of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel.

Best Album I Haven't Heard Yet: The Psychedelic Sounds of..., The 13th Floor Elevators. I've heard so much about this album, yet I can't find a hard copy for my dear life. Once I score this disc, I'll make the proper adjustment to the list above.

"What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," Jimmy Ruffin
"When a Man Loves a Woman," Percy Sledge
"Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly," Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels
"This Old Heart of Mine," The Isley Brothers
"Ain't Too Proud to Beg," The Temptations
"You Keep Me Hangin' On," The Supremes
"Reach Out (I'll Be There)," The Four Tops
"River Deep Mountain High," Ike & Tina Turner
"Sweet Talkin' Guy," The Chiffons
"Philly Dog," Herbie Mann

"Paperback Writer," The Beatles
"Five O'Clock World," The Vogues
"Psychotic Reaction," Count Five
"Wild Thing," The Troggs
"Good Lovin'," The Young Rascals
"Sunshine Superman," Donovan
"Black is Black," Los Bravos
"Red Rubber Ball," The Cyrkle
"Walk Away Renee," The Left Banke
"96 Tears," ? and the Mysterians

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Who's That Girl?

It's been a long week at the office, so I'll keep it short:

To anyone wondering if former Gov. Sarah Palin will enter the presidential race, I think you have your answer. The multitude of much-hyped "major speeches" that Palin has given have been little more than the same homespun anti-Obama rhetoric that she's been peddling since the '08 election. She gives her audience everything they want... except to announce her candidacy for president. The ultimate reason why Palin hasn't thrown her hat in the rang --and probably won't-- is because of Michele Bachmann. That's not to say two women can't vie for the same party's candidacy, it's just that their platforms are too similar. (The fact that Bachmann is starting to physically mimic Palin is purely coincidental.)

Sadly, this is not where the parallels end. Both women are sound-byte magnets, have love-it-or-leave-it personas, and both are wilting (wilted?) under the scrutiny of the media. Without beating a dead horse, I have always believed that a leftist media conspiracy is pure hooey; while it is highly difficult for a reporter to demonstrate complete objectivity, the perlustration flies both ways. The only difference is, conservatives complain about being treated unfairly in a louder, more strident fashion than liberals. In the right's eyes, the slightest aside is lethal, as evidenced by this recent "misquote." The recent dustup involving a seemingly unflattering photo on the cover of Newsweek begat a partisan optical illusion: some see Bachmann as the latest scapegoat by a secretive yet opaque clique bent on undermining her every move; others see a woman that just doesn't photograph well.

In a race as contested as the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, every candidate's worst enemy is themselves. On one hand, any false move can be an opponent's goldmine. On the other hand, you have to find a way to stand out in a crowded race. Rep. Bachmann's recent appearance on Jay Leno straddled that line, though the actual impact won't be felt until Iowa and/or New Hampshire. The X-factor is perspective; her supporters and defenders will say Bachmann did fine; the rest of the population saw a presidential contender bomb on network television. Either way, nothing happened on "The Tonight Show" that will alter anyone's opinion of the petite Minnesotan. She's already "convicted" in the public's eyes.

Next Week: the year in music, 1966.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Man with a Plan

"Difficult things take a long time, impossible things a little longer." --André A. Jackson

I will attest that President Obama gave a stirring speech to Congress last Thursday night, but my confidence in his economic policies and aspirations for job growth were left largely unchanged. The jobs bill that he outlined is not without its flaws, as one blogger pointed out; it's not so much built on cooperation as it is slouching on faith. It shouldn't feel last-ditch but it does. Like so much in the economic debate, I am impartial yet exasperated at the same time, and the flawed jobs bill adds to my worries. I want to give the president the reason of a doubt, but defending him can be awfully tricky.

As for Obama himself-- for some odd reason I can't get myself to take a seat on the hater bandwagon. You take away President Obama's economic pussyfooting and overall he's been halfway decent as Commander in Chief; alas, the 2012 election will be a platform on the economy and little else. There is a fair percentage of the US population that never wanted anything to do with the guy and won't give him an inch on anything, and Obama keeps chugging along in spite of their nearsighted vitriol. On one hand, the left hates him for caving into the Tea Party GOP agenda last month; on the other hand, the right hates him because he didn't cave enough. Playing to the middle and emphasizing pragmatism is the only way Obama can gain traction in a hyper-partisan environment like Washington, because taking one side or the other would merely excaberate a bad situation. I don't envy the position President Obama is in right now, but it's hard to draw sympathy, either.

Other notes:

+ For those of you that missed my Facebook rant this morning, let me reiterate my outrage at the latest frivolous fast food lawsuit. (Click here for more info.) People are born with a certain color of skin, a specific gender, certain physical abilities. However, nobody on this planet is born weighing 300 pounds. I truly, sincerely wish we were a less self-involved society and took more accountability for our actions and our mistakes. Even then, if you can't fit in the booth, sit in a damn chair.

+ Fantasy Update: both of my roto baseball teams made the playoffs... kinda. My TV.com roster finished one game out of first, while my "other" team ended the regular season 8th out of 10. This is the polar opposite of how this usually works, as my TV.com team usually languishes in the second division. Hopefully I'll end the year on two high notes.

+ Finally, a major announcement: after spending two-plus years commuting from the suburbs to hone my love and passion for improv, I'm finally moving to the city of Chicago. A ex-classmate of mine will be out of the country for four months, and I'll be subletting his apartment starting in late October. I'm still temping out in the suburbs, but this is a sacrifice that I've been sitting on for too long and needed to make sooner than later. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Remembrance

This week, most (if not all) major American news outlets will be dedicating a generous amount of airtime to the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Many will argue that this is my generation's Pearl Harbor or Kennedy assassination, that defining moment that tests --and forever changes-- the collective national psyche. It's that rare event where everybody remembers where they were when they first heard the news. I have my story and so do you. It didn't occur to me until recently that I was a junior in high school when the towers fell, my mom was a freshman in high school when JFK was slain, and my grandmother was a senior when the Japanese invaded Hawai'i. We all attended the same high school, so imagine what might happen if my children attend Downers Grove North.

A decade on, the greatest question of all is whether or not America is safer. A recent article in Slate suggests yes, our armed forces have adapted quite well to our new, terrorist-conscious mindset. Even though bin Laden is dead and al Qaida is becoming the Woolworth's of terrorist organizations, it would be highly arrogant to suggest that what happened ten years ago was an isolated incident. We have every right to stay on our toes. From a defense standpoint, Donald Rumsfeld's juggling act has become Robert Gates' semi-miraculous triumph. We may still be struggling in Afghanistan, but we're on better footing than five years ago. (That's not to say I'm not giving our troops a big chunk of the credit, though.)

Regardless, the face of extremism may be dead but the soul lives on. Whether the families and friends of the victims of the attacks have truly found closure, we'll never know. Conspiracy theories about the attacks still crawl around the internet, growing more tasteless and ridiculous with each passing day. No matter how you personally acknowledge this tragic milestone this coming Sunday will be a day of remembering, not forgetting. These horrible, selfish acts were perpetrated by a small cluster of people who vehemently hated anyone whose beliefs were not their own. Our best retaliation is to mourn together. We are more than our differences.

Meanwhile, on a far lighter note...

This year I was hoping write 32 haikus to match my baseball preview from five months ago, but my 40-hour-a-week temp job has whittled my free time down to a minimum. With that said, here are my 2011 NFL predictions in a nutshell:

NFC North: Green Bay (11-5)
NFC East: Philadelphia (12-4)
NFC South: New Orleans (11-5)
NFC West: St. Louis (9-7)

NFC Wild Cards: Atlanta (10-6), Detroit (9-7)

AFC North: Pittsburgh (12-4)
AFC East: New England (11-5)
AFC South: Indianapolis (10-6)
AFC West: San Diego (10-6)

AFC Wild Cards: NY Jets (11-5), Baltimore (10-6)

Most Improved Team: Detroit. A string of solid drafts has given the once-woeful Lions the stealthiest defense (at least, on paper) in the NFC. The ultimate X-factor is whether Matthew Stafford can stay healthy.
Most Likely to Freefall: Seattle. An otherwise solid O-line will come to realize that Tarvaris Jackson just isn't worth protecting. Plus, the pass defense can't cover on the blitz if they tried.
Owner of Next Year's First Overall Draft Pick: Cincinnati Bengals (2-14)

Super Bowl XLVI: Eagles 24, Steelers 17