Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Music roundtable

Jess: We're doing a music roundtable this edition.  We're focusing primarily on these features "50 essential albums of the '10s," "Kat's Korner: The decade in music,"  "50 essential albums of the 00s," "50 essential albums of the 90s," "50 essential albums of the 80s," "50 Essential Albums of the 70s" and "50 essential albums of the 60s."  Participating in our roundtable are  The Third Estate Sunday Review's Ty, Ava and me, Jess; Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude; Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man; C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review; Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills); Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix; Mike of Mikey Likes It!; Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz); Ruth of Ruth's Report; Trina of Trina's Kitchen; Wally of The Daily Jot; Marcia of SICKOFITRDLZ; Stan of Oh Boy It Never Ends;  and Ann of Ann's Mega Dub. Betty's kids did the illustration. You are reading a rush transcript.  Let's start with a musical note.  One of the greatest singers of the 20th century was Judy Garland.  She never won a competitive Academy Award but was given one, an Academy Juvenile Award, for her performances in BABES IN ARMS and THE WIZARD OF OZ.  Last night, Renee Zellwigger won an Academy Award for playing Judy Garland in the film JUDY.  Kat, you reviewed Judy Garland's ALONE last year.  Talk about that.

judy garland alone

Kat: Sure and I hope we can use the album cover as an illustration for this piece because it's a great album cover.  So I knew Judy from the movies, of course.  Every kid knows THE WIZARD OF OZ.  I also had a big crush on Gene Kelly growing up so I knew his movies -- including his three with Judy: SUMMER STOCK, THE PIRATE and FOR ME AND MY GAL.  Then there's MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS -- where she sings "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."  Most of her films were musicals so we all knew she could sing.  I found ALONE in a used bookstore.  I loved the cover and I'd never owned any Judy albums so, of course, I grabbed it.  But what I found out after buying it and doing some research was two-fold.  First, Judy, an incredible recording artist, only recorded six studio albums.  When she started out, the format was 78s.  That's what they recorded and that's what she recorded.  Later on, as Frank Sinatra revolutionized the 33 and 1/3 lp, what we call vinyl today, she would begin recording studio albums.  Her best selling album, of course, is a live album, JUDY AT CARNEGIE HALL.  But the second surprise for me about her recording career was how little it was noted.  There are very few reviews of her studio albums online.  That really surprised me.  I'm glad I reviewed ALONE for many reasons but, among the reasons, it's because she's certainly an artist who deserves serious attention.

Ruth: ALONE came out in 1957.  I love the album today but I only listened after Kat's review last year.  I was probably 11 or 12 when the album came out.  I don't remember my parents having it though I do remember them playing Frank Sinatra's IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS OF THE MORNING (1955).  I'm sure they had some Doris Day as well, I remember "Que Sera, Sera," and they had some Sarah Vaughn including AT MR. KELLY'S.  They were Judy fans, they saw her live twice, but I don't remember them having her records.  And that year, my big record was my 45 of The Everly Brothers' "Wake Up Little Susie."

Rebecca: Possibly because she was considered such a one-of-a-kind performance artist, her studio work wasn't as appreciated or embraced?

Kat: That could be.  I'm going to make an effort to review Judy's studio albums, maybe not all of them, but a few more.  She does deserve more than that, much more than that.

Jess: Okay, the features I noted at the start of the roundtable, have resulted in tons of e-mails.  Ty?

Ty: There's a lot of agreement with the albums selected and there's a lot of disagreement.  The e-mails run the gamut.

Elaine: Well these lists, first off, are a snapshot of time.  So factor that in.

Jess: Also, they are a pain in the ass, as you noted in "Books and coming up with the best albums of the la..."

Elaine: Exactly.  Anyone who knows me knows that two of my all time favorite albums are Joni Mitchell's FOR THE ROSES and the Beatles' ABBEY ROAD.  Neither of which made the lists.

Cedric: I agree but I also agree with a point Kat made recently in "Elvis Costello makes his list of 500 best albums" which is: "Part of the fun of these lists is agreeing and disagreeing with the lists."  So with that standard, the lists were effective.

Marcia: They're supposed to inspire debate and discussion.

Ty: Some e-mails noted Heart and felt Heart was being punished. 

Marcia: Heart didn't have an album make the lists?

Ty: No, DREAMBOAT ANNIE made the list.  And BRIGADE made the list.

Wally: Then why the complaint?  For the first set of lists, the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, there was one rule -- you could only have one album on each decade's list.  So they got one in the 70s review.  What's the problem?  They got one on the 90s review of albums.  I don't get the problem?

Ty: Among other things, some of Kat's reviews of their recent work have been posted on Heart's Facebook page and people are asking why those albums didn't make the lists?

Betty: Oh, I can answer that.  The little hissy fit Ann and Nancy Wilson had over one of their songs being used by Sarah Palin in 2008.  I didn't vote for Sarah.  I wouldn't vote for Sarah.  But there's this notion of political speech.  And the notion that the Wilson sisters were going to glom on the don't-use-my-song movement?  It was offensive.  When they did that, I lost interest in their albums. I know they've tried to clarify their actions on that but I really don't care.  When they did that, I thought, "So they'd do the same to Cynthia McKinney?"  She was running for president that year.  If they had said, "You know what, we're voting for Barack Obama but if anyone wants to use the song, have at it," I would've been fine with it.  But I honestly lost interest in Heart over that.  There are albums I've lived with, albums by Heart, over the years and they're favorites of mine.  But the newer stuff? JUPITERS DARLING and RED VELVET CAR didn't get the time they needed to permeate and that's the fault of the Wilsons having made their political statement.  I think any campaign should be able to use a song.  That's part of free speech and political speech.  I also think that Heart has a number of Republican fans that the Wilson sisters apparently never knew of.

Jess: And we're used to these hissy fits with Jackson Browne, for example.  But the standard prior to 2008 would be Bruce Springsteen in 1984, with Ronald Reagan using his songs and Bruce saying he wasn't sure Reagan had understood the lyrics.  That was it. Not, "Stop using my songs!!!!"

Ann: And as Elaine said, it's a snapshot of the moment.  And, yes, more than just the music comes into play when we're making our choices.  I do think we made some strong choices, however.  And I thank C.I. and Betty for leading on diversity.  They didn't go with the standards.  They repeatedly proposed albums -- not all of which made the lists -- that were incredibly strong albums but not the obvious choices you'd get from, say, ROLLING STONE.

Stan: What were some of the complaints besides Heart?

Ty: One of the biggest was limiting each decade through the '00s to an artist appearing only once on the top 50.

Stan: And if we hadn't done that, a move Elaine suggested, then there would have been a ton more e-mails complaining.

Marcia: Exactly.  And if we hadn't put in the one album by an artist on each list, what would have happened, with the sixties, for example, we would have had a list of Beatles albums and a list of Rolling Stones albums and not much else.

Trina: Right.  And if I could get back to Betty's point, regarding Heart.  I also don't think the Wilson sisters get that most Americans choose not to vote.  So they're really not interested in these sort of squabbles to begin with.  I'd think the average person buying a ticket to see Heart today, the last thing they're thinking about is politicians or elections. 

Wally: I'd think the fans going to see Heart perform "Crazy On You," "Alone," "Beautiful Broken," "All I Want To Do Is Make Love To You," "What About Love," "Magic Man," etc, are going for the music and I really would hope the Wilson sisters would be about bringing their tribe together regardless of partisan differences.

Jess: Don't we want artists to speak out?

C.I.: Yes and no.  It's a career killer.  Seriously.  The industry applauds you but the fans go away.  You've got a year or two of admiration and then you seem like a know it all or bossy and dour.  I'm not joking.  Look at various celebs and watch the arc.  Nobody likes a know it all and most adults don't need to be told who to vote for.  If you're Jessica Lange or John Mellencamp advocating for the American farmer, that's one thing.  If you've got one issue that you advocate, that's one thing.  But if you show up every election to tell people who to vote for, the audience tires of you quickly.

Ava: And everyone has the right to use their voice but that doesn't mean everyone should use their voice -- especially not for elections.  It's a real shame that they can't speak out against the never-ending Iraq War, for example.  I'd respect that.  But I don't need to be told who to vote for.  And when they become -- in their mind -- an expert on every issue --

Rebecca: Like a Debra Messing or an Alyssa Milano.

Ava (Con't): Yes.  When you become an expert on every issue -- or pretend to be -- the audience is even more bored with you.

Stan: And more than anything, we want artists to serve their purpose which is art.  I like Heart, I like the Wilsons, but they haven't made a BLUE or an ABBEY ROAD.  Maybe they need to work a little harder on the music and spend a little less time worrying about politics?  Or partisanship?

C.I.: I need to jump in because I'm uncomfortable.  Ava and I are taking notes for this piece so I'm looking at it differently, possibly.  But I could see this, after it's typed up and posted, as being seen as an anti-Heart piece.  I don't think that's anyone's point -- see Stan's remarks about how he likes Heart.  But it was a shock that the Wilsons would play into that 2008 moment.  And that has hurt them.  But it's also true that they've done some great work.  That includes some brilliant songs that none but their most devoted fans know.  Songs like "Nobody Home," for example.  Maybe they should do an album of deep album cuts like "Nobody Home"?  We're engaging with them, in this piece, on the politics and that's more than fair.  I'm not saying that it isn't.  If they want us to focus on the music, they really need to focus on it as well.  Ann and Nancy -- with longterm collaborator Sue Ennis and without her -- are important songwriters who have made an impact on music.

Jess: Agreed.  And no one here wants a slam piece on Heart so let's use Jackson Browne or someone else as an example as we continue this conversation.  Perfect world what would you like to see from these lists?

Kat: Perfect world, I'd like to see, in 2030, us revisit these lists.  And that was C.I. and Ava groaning when I said that.  They're done.  They're ready to retire online.  But I would like, if we're still around in ten years -- in any form -- for us to review the lists for the 2010s decade in music.  If you look at the '00s, you will see A BIGGER BANG on that list.  I love that album.  Somehow, it didn't make my list for the best of its decade.  It was an oversight.  But in the time since that list was made by me, I have listened to it over and over -- lived with it -- and so it did make the list of the '00s that we did here because I argued for it.  I think there are albums on that list of 50 that wouldn't be on the list in ten years and some that would make the list in ten years that didn't make it now.

Jess: Good point.  Anybody want to add anything to the list that's not currently on it, the '00s list?  Groans all around.

Stan: I'll note that I'm glad Joss Stone's LP1 made the list.  It wasn't one I pushed for when we were voting.  But after we made the list, I noticed I was still listening to it repeatedly.  To keep listening to an album years after it's been released it a testament to how strong it is.

Betty: I'd be more inclined to revist the 80s list, for example.  I'd want Ashford & Simpson's LOVE OR PHYSICAL to be added.  I agree that STREET OPERA was stronger but I really do love LOVE OR PHYSICAL so that would be the one change I'd make.

Rebecca: My favorite sixties album didn't make the list so I'd add it, OTIS/BLUE OTIS REDDING SINGS SOUL.  I've been noting that album at my site forever and a day -- including as a cure to the flu.

Trina: I would probably go with Elton John's DON'T SHOOT ME I'M ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER.

Cedric: THE FAT BOYS ARE BACK.  That was my go-to album in elementary school.

Marcia: Anita Baker's RAPTURE.

Wally:  Norah Jones' COME AWAY WITH ME.

Elaine:  In addition to the two I've already named in this roundtable?  Jack Johnson's SLEEP THROUGH THE STATIC.

Stan:  I know he turned out to be a one hit wonder, but I'd go with Terrence Trent D'Arby's INTRODUCING THE HARDLINE ACCORDING TO TERRENCE TRENT D'ARBY.

Ruth:  I'll make a left field piece, Vanilla Fudge's RENAISSANCE.


C.I.:  I don't know.  Cher's 3614 JACKSON STREET or Tracy Chapman's CROSSROADS?  Both are strong albums that generally don't get the credit that they deserve.  I love music.  I could easily name 150 greats for each decade.  In terms of live albums, Heart's THE ROAD HOME is a classic -- "Up On Cherry Blossom Road," for example, is a must-hear.

Jess: Okay and that's how we're going to wind down this roundtable.

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