While I’m most often associated with fancypants stuff like opera, I do listen to more than my share of popular stuff. Here are ten recommendations I make for your desert island. You’re welcome.
Rush – Moving Pictures
In the circle of friends I had during most of high school, there were only three acceptable kinds of music you could listen to: classic rock, prog rock and metal. And, being a Canadian male born after 1970, I was (and am) contractually obligated to promote this prog rock power trio. Here you can listen to Geddy Lee sing in his characteristically chipmunk voice about sf dystopias where driving is illegal, how hard it is to be a rock-star, and, of course, Tom Sawyer. Essential listening for the acne-ridden fifteen year old boy inside of you.
Of course, as you might guess, dance music was something of a horrifying abomination to my teenage circle. Disco, hip hop, whatever: it was anathema. Which makes this album perhaps my greatest rebellion from my
rebellious obnoxious teenage years. C’est Chic is perhaps the most powerful distillation of 70s disco on the planet. The perfect repellant against stoned metalheads and rock critics.
But back to prog rock. This album contains only three tracks, two of which are divided up into individual sections called things like, “The Solid Time of Change”, “Seasons of Man” and “Cord of Life.” That alone should indicate whether you’ll like it or not. Everything in here is kinda pretentious self-indulgence, but it is such immaculately composed pretentiousness that you too can ponder The Solid Time of Change.
Speaking of self-indulgence, this is what happens when you give an 80s synth pop band an artistic carte blanche, and they decide that they’d rather be making a moody, proto-post rock album. Like Close to the Edge, it’s an incredible piece of construction. But Spirit of Eden actually feels kinda heartfelt in its gnomic ruminations. I’m still not entirely sure what it’s all about, but I’ll roll with it.
No, it’s not even a guilty pleasure at this point.
Unlike the disco entries above, this conceptual jazz-ballet suite is perhaps undanceable. It’s composed to the point of barely even being jazz, making extensive use of overdubbing to weave dense layers of counterpoint, exaggerating the aesthetic laid down by Duke Ellington into a sort of hallucinogenic nightmare noir. The liner notes actually includes an analysis by the dude’s shrink. He says things like, “One feels deeply for the tears of Mr. Mingus that fall for himself and man. There can be no question that he is the Black Saint who suffers for his sins and those of mankind as he reflects his deeply religious philosophy.” Well, regardless, Mingus had his share of demons to wrestle with, and this is one of the most interesting psychodramas that managed to get recorded.
On the other side of the spectrum, this album is exactly what it says on the tin. The eccentric pianist has great fun giving a set of solo performances in his inimitable, wistfully angular style. “There’s Danger in Your Eyes, Cherie.”
For whatever reason, solo female artists have never taken up a substantial amount of my listening, and Kate Bush in particular is an artist that I never crossed paths with until recently. And now I regret that. The Dreaming is weird, but not in the annoying sense of being an affectation; underlying it is an aesthetic vision which is fundamentally eccentric, and kinda beautiful. The songs, telling stories of bank heists and Houdini’s wife, feel like funhouse reflections of pop, music hall, rock, etc. The typically 80s production sound only adds to the surrealism.
In a curious inversion to 90% of the listening population, I find the famous album cover to be slightly obnoxious, but actually enjoy the extended atonal noodling found in “Moonchild.” In a way, this album, the Helen that launched a thousand prog-rockers, really contains the entire prog rock landscape in miniature.
Aside from being able to play several horns simultaneously, this guy sure is good at bebop, or hard-bop, or post-bop, or musique-concrete-bop, or whatever this album is. My jazz credentials are not all they could be.