Sunday, July 13, 2014

Epiphany #42: Alphabet Songs

There is most certainly something about the long drive to Florida each summer that brings out the OCD in me.

This year's version:  listening to songs on the iPod, choosing by artist, and realizing after the third artist that everyone that I've listened to starts with "B."  (Reminder: in iPod world, everything is alphabetized by the first word it encounters, whether that is the first or last name of a band or musician.). And so, on the spot, I decided that I could listen to nothing but "B" bands and artists the whole way down.  Which is just as illogical and random as iPod shuffle, just in a different way.

So here's what I heard with a bit of commentary (listed alphabetically, not in the order I listened):

B.B. King--I listened to him live at the Cook County Jail.  I wonder if maybe the man has always been overrated.  Sure, the guitar work is often stunning, but the stage show seems to me to always have been a bit lacking. Many of the blues sound the same.  The call and response seems tiresome.  His approach is very positive, but his review of his early hits reminds us that maybe he was never really a blues man, but as a black man with guitar virtuosity, who was maybe pigeonholed that way.

Badfinger--Apple Records may have been a financial failure, but there is no doubt that the Beatles had good taste--Mary Hopkins, James Taylor, and, most of all, Badfinger.  The farther I get from those times,the less Badfinger sounds like a Beatles knock-off.  Pete Ham was a quality songwriter, and only his suicide derailed the potential of this band.  Listen to "Perfection."

Bash and Pop--When the Replacements broke up, all eyes went toward Paul Westerberg.  I get it.  Great songwriter.  But this record shows how much Tommy Stinson was also responsible for the 'Mats vibe.  He offers the same blend of Faces-style rockers and pretty ballads that Westerberg does.  The only problem is the first song, "Never Aim To Please," is so strong that I never gave the rest a chance until today.  Usually I just play it over and over.

Basia Bulat--it's a shame in a way that I'm working alphabetically, because songstress Bulat captures all of the power and desolation of the North that Bon Iver hasn't figured out.  Just because things suck doesn't mean you can't still rock.  Basalt knows this.  Strong songs.

Bill Morrissey--It won't be long now, if it hasn't happened already, until a terrific songwriter named Bill Morrissey will be completely forgotten.  He died a couple of years ago.  By turns put-a-gun-to-your-head depressing and whimsical, Morrissey may be the best pure songwriter I've heard in the last 20years.  Emily Dickinson once said, "Tell all the truth/ but tell it slant."  Morrissey prefers straight on with both barrels.  If there's a better adulterous dissolution of a relationship song than "The Last Day Of The Last Furlough," then I haven't heard it.

Blind Faith--I don't know why this supergroup failed after one album.  A re-listen to "Had To Cry Today" or "Presence Of The Lord" or "Can't Find My Way Home" is a reminder of how easily this band clicked.  Great stuff, all involved seemed happy with their roles, but I guess that wasn't true.

Blitzen Trapper--I have only 4 songs by these guys from four different sources, but I've never listened to those songs together.  I'm blown away by the energy and range of this band.  Every song sounds different from the others, but all are engaging and poppy and quirky.  I must investigate further.

Bob Mould--when word came out that Mould had done a synths, electronic CD called Modulate, most people fled.  Too bad.  Despite some ponderous interludes, the CD contains the same quality songs Mould always writes.  Songs like "Slay/Sway" and "The Receipt" are guitar driven, if a bit more awash in effects, while "Trade" is a pure, confident synth-pop ballad.

Bob Weir--Everything great and awful about Bob Weir is contained on his first solo album (essentially him and the Dead, plus horns).  In addition to penning future Dead classics like "Playing In The Band" and "One More Saturday Night," he also offers a set that ranges from the godawful "Looks Like Rain" to the sublime "Casady."  Every good song Bob Weir ever wrote had come out by 1974, and most of them are here, as well as the seeds of his crappy stuff.

Bobby Bare, Jr.--I have one great song by this guy ("I'll Be Around"), plus a Texas roadhouse (not the restaurant) version of the Smith's "What Difference Does It Make".  Based on that small sampling, I'd say he's got talent and taste and I'd like to hear more.

Bon Iver--Kind of sucks, at least as road music.  Downbeat and plodding.

Broken Bells--One of my favorite working bands.  The songs are crisp,layered masterpieces.  The production, by Danger Mouse, is, of course, superb.  I know this is a side project, but I hope it keeps going beyond the two CDs that exist.  "The Mall And Misery" is a modern classic.

Bruce Hornsby--I started my trip with guy.  Not sure why.  I know some people think he's a lightweight.  But every time I tap into his double-CD Spirit Trail, I find a wealth of great songs.  Try "Swan Song," with the "Song D" intro.

Buckingham Nicks--unofficially, this is the first modern Fleetwood Mac album. It remains, inexplicably, unavailable on CD, as far as I know.  "Races Are Run," "Don't Let Me Down Again," and "Long Distance Winner" are all prototypes of the later hit sound.  A gem.

Buddy and Julie Miller--I confirmed again today that there are several kinds of songs one or both of this duo typically write that I don't really like,especially anything built around the alligator swamp guitar sound Miller sometimes uses.  Too fast or too slow and I can lose interest.  Buddy and Julie hit their sweet spot at mid-tempo.  And then a song like "Chalk" comes on, probably one of the most beautiful lyric/melody combos in years.  Why everyone in Nashville isn't recording this one tells you everything that is wrong with modern country music.

Built To Spill--"Girl" is a refreshingly, busy, low-fi ditty.  It's the only song of theirs I have.

Of course, for you musicologists, it might be more interesting to see all of the choices I skipped over.  I have over 160 artists whose names start with "B," including some big names, but the odd little list above is what was calling to me on the road.


troutking said...

Agree 100% on Badfinger. I know the Raspberries and Big Star are given credit as the progenitors of power pop, but Badfinger has more great songs in that genre than those groups combined. No Matter What always causes me to turn up the radio!

Anonymous said...

As long as people like you write about him, Bill Morrissey will not be forgotten. Thanks for mentioning Bill.

Robert Berman said...

Yay, Buddy and Julie Miller! Blitzen Trapper's "Destroyer of the Void" album is a weird folk version of Queen that I enjoy, and the title song from "Furr" is dementedly interesting as well.

Jed said...

You put The Last Day on a mix tape for me circa 1994 and I am still grateful. Check out Bash & Pop on the YouTube playing on Letterman with Cathy Lee Gifford.