Saturday, February 08, 2003

Back and forth we go. Steven talked about some albums he likes. Here's what I started to write in his comments before I decided to blog about it--as we say down South--my own self.


I seem to recall that Tower Records' in-house music magazine, Pulse!, has regularly compiled lists like this supplied by music fans and music makers--Desert Island Discs, the feature was called, if memory serves.

My DID list changes all the time, and I'm glad I don't really have to decide what pop music would best help me deal with starvation and crushing loneliness. I tend to get tired of albums. And then excited again. And then tired again.

But insofar as much of the music I like the most came about before the LP era--old country, for example--I do particularly appreciate well-crafted LPs. Here are some I've come especially to appreciate in the last few years.

Charley Pride, In Person - Read my review at

George Strait, Ocean Front Property - A polished, entertaining bit of 1980s country. Some terrific songs here: the familiar and great "All My Ex's Live In Texas," the first country song I'm aware of in which the honkytonk blues are fought with transcendental meditation; the mournful title track, as powerful an evocation of denial as George Jones' "My Favorite Lies." There is effervescence here, and eroticism, and bemusement, and devilishness; above all, there is professionalism, and Strait's understated, nuanced singing. Only one unexceptional track, the Caribbean-flavored "Without You Here," mars an otherwise fine collection.

Boz Scaggs, Down Two, Then Left - I've blogged about this album before. It's one I've put on many times over the last few months. It flopped commercially, even though it was essentially a remake of Scaggs' successful Silk Degrees, with all its hits ("Lowdown," "Lido Shuffle," "We're All Alone"). Down Two continues the soul and disco musings of Silk Degrees, but the songwriting is considerably stranger, more ambitious. The album's chart performance must have spooked Scaggs, who afterward turned out less risky (if still finely wrought) material like "Love, Look What You've Done To Me".

Elvis Presley, The Memphis Record - A favorite since college. As Steven also can attest, Elvis looms large in Tennessee, and one doesn't grow up there without forming some kind of opinion about him. When I was a youth in Tennessee, in the 1980s, Elvis seemed at once ever-present yet underappreciated, a bit like a low-grade fever. It was like: yes, there exists Elvis, but what about the rest of life? I could sing a million Elvis songs when I was a child; but I didn't own any Elvis music until an obsession with "Suspicious Minds" prompted me to pick up this CD. It came out on the heels of the 1968 television special and is a masterpiece, the King at the very top of his game--the album, like Elvis himself, is stupefyingly overblown and undeniably moving, sneering, sexy, bathetic, mysterious.

The Beach Boys, Beach Boys Party! - If memory serves, this LP was a hurriedly recorded contractual obligation, and therein lies its appeal. It immediately preceded Pet Sounds, which is appropriately viewed as a masterpiece, but which has always left me a bit cold. Beach Boys Party! is the anti-Pet Sounds--where the latter is meticulous and disciplined, the former is relaxed and organic. It was ostensibly recorded live in-studio, and it does sound like a party: between songs bottles and glasses clink, girls giggle, and the Beach Boys themselves mutter druggy asides. The instrumentation is simple: acoustic guitars, bongos--and of course, one of music's most remarkable instruments, the Beach Boys' ensemble singing in 1965. As for the songs themselves: there are a few Beach Boys hits from previous years, and the single, "Barbara Ann," is rightly a classic. But most of the tracks are cover material: the Boys sing the Beatles, Dylan, the Everly Brothers and--in a truly peculiar moment--the Hollywood Argyles, whose "Alley-Oop" the Beach Boys render as part affectionate send-up, part surreal freakout.

Damn, I need to get my turntable fixed.

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