Listening to the Seventies

You know, for all the classic rock I’ve listened to over the years, I haven’t really focused too closely on the 70s other than the hits.  I’ve got a decent mp3 collection that covers a lot of discographies, but I’ve always tended to limit my ‘classic’ listening to the 80s (my teen years) or the 90s (my college/post-college/HMV years).

Granted, my age was in the single digits in the seventies, so my familiarity with the music from that era comes from the listening habits of my older sisters, the records I took out of the town library, and the usual culprits you hear on classic rock stations like Springsteen, Elton John, Billy Joel and Led Zeppelin.  The rest of it tends to be filled with easy listening pop that we escaped like Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, and variety specials filled with corny humor and the same central casting guest stars.

It is kind of fascinating, though, when you realize that this song..

…and this song…

…came out in the same month, November 1977.

I’m thinking it’s time for me to do another decade overview, this time of the decade where I was the bratty little kid brother.  I mean, going past hearing “The Piano Man” for the 1,485,035,436th time.  Expanding the genres between punk and sunshine pop, prog rock and early metal.  If there’s one thing I enjoy immensely when listening to music, it’s listening to it within the context of its history.  I’m curious to hear how they all intertwined.

Writing Session Tunage: What Next?

NOTE:  HEY KIDS!  Speaking of writing, I have an e-book coming out this Friday!  The Balance of Light, the third book in the Bridgetown Trilogy, will finally get released in just a few short days!  Come on over to Smashwords and check it out!

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anime-writing-gif

Of course, you all know that I almost always have some sort of tunage going during my writing sessions, especially when they’re back here in Spare Oom.  Even as I type this, I’m listening to Elbow’s latest album, Little Fictions.

You also know that there have been certain go-to albums that I’ll play, especially if I’m working on something related to the Mendaihu Universe.

But now that that particular project is complete…now what should I listen to?  Good question.

Meet the Lidwells! is about a musical family, and once I get to the bulk of the writing of this project, I’m sure I’ll be listening to a lot of 90s alternapop to fit with the band’s sound.  I’ve got a lot of that stuff in my collection, thanks to my time at HMV, but I can also let SiriusXM’s Lithium station do the work as well.

Other than that, my project options are wide open.  I’m thinking maybe a standalone Mendaihu Universe book or two.  And for some reason, I’ve decided that I need to listen to a lot of LOUD music for those.  The plot ideas I have for these involve a lot of emotional and societal tension, so something twitchy and irritable would fit quite nicely.

Something like the alt-metal of Caspian for instance:

…or something nice and crunchy from Deftones.

I’m sure I’ll temper it with some quiet moody stuff like I always do.

Either way, it’s time to change up the writing session soundtrack big time.  I’m not sure what I’ll be listening to in particular, but I’m keeping my options open.  Some of my favorite writing session albums come to me purely by accident — an album I haven’t heard in years that just happens to fit the mood of the scene, or a new release that clicks with me right from the first listen.  I still absolutely adore Failure’s Fantastic Planet (it’s still on my gym mp3 player after all these years), but I’ve got to start listening to more than just the same things.

Streaming: Amazon Music

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Believe it or not, I’ve tried numerous streaming apps and sites, and I’ve pretty much found them all wanting.

I know, I know…I’m picky about what I listen to if it’s not my own music collection.  I’m not including streaming radio stations here, like those provided by Sirius XM or the numerous terrestrial stations out there that offer the ‘listen live!’ button at their website.  I’m talking about sites and apps that are built for streaming music: Spotify, Groove Music, Tidal, and so on.  I mean, they’re just fine for what they do best, and they have their own fans, but they’re not for me.

I know exactly why: my tastes and listening habits tend to vary widely, and most of these places just don’t offer enough music that would capture my interest.  I’ve tried many, and with each of them I find myself constantly hitting the ‘next track’ button.  [And even worse, if I have the low-end or free subscription, I have to wade through commercials every five or six songs.  Don’t get me wrong — I grew up with terrestrial radio on every waking moment of my youth, so I’m used to the ads.  It’s just that getting them after skipping too many songs pretty makes me like the app or site even less.]

Recently, however, I signed onto Amazon Music, and I think I finally found what I’ve been looking for.  It’s essentially a rebooted, much more refined version of Amazon Prime’s music streaming, and it’s well worth it.  It features streams of numerous complete albums available digitally at Amazon’s website (and where I buy most of my mp3s nowadays), across numerous labels and distributors.  I get to listen to the entire album before deciding if I want to download it.  It also offers curated playlists if I’m so inclined.  I’m not one for listening to a randomly generated playlist — for that I can just listen to a regular radio station — so this really works out well for me.

The price isn’t that bad, either.  It’s $9.99 a month ($7.99 for those already signed up for Amazon Prime), about the same as most streaming apps and sites.

Yes, yes, I know…giving more money to The Man by signing up with Amazon, but when the product provides exactly what I’ve been looking for and wanting, it does feel kind of silly to not use it on principle.  [Noted, I’m a frequent visitor of local brick and mortar stores for all kinds of things, enough that I rarely use Amazon for ordering things on the regular.  I also use other music downloading sites for my collecting.  So I don’t necessarily feel guilty for using Amazon for this sort of thing.]

Has anyone else used it yet?  What do you think?

Is That Freedom Rock, Man?

Somehow I fell down another retro rabbit hole and have been listening to the Sirius XM Classic Rock Party station over the last few days.  I’m fifteen again and listening to WAAF and WAQY in my messy bedroom, cranking up the 80s stylings of Twisted Sister, Billy Idol and Whitesnake alongside the classic 60s/70s hits of the Stones, Yes, and BROOOCE.

This was the music I grew up with.  I was too young to understand punk and post-punk back in the early 80s (at least not until that fateful evening in early 1986), and as much as I enjoyed the pop of American Top 40 and American Bandstand, it was the music of rock stations that stuck with me most. I was a nerdy, spotty kid that was completely obsessed with music and radio and would be just as happy sitting alone in front of my boombox as I would be outside roaming the neighborhood on my BMX with my buddies.  This was Diver Down and Pyromania playing on my sister’s boombox while we played touch football in the backyard.  This was me completely blown away by 90125 and Synchronicity and So.  This was my growing obsessions with other bands aside from the Beatles.  This was our state capital’s own honored rockers in the forms of Aerosmith, the J Geils Band and Boston.  This was where I learned to appreciate bands before my time like Jimi Hendrix and Cream and The Rolling Stones.

Decades later and here I am, hitting middle age and living on the opposite coast, listening to the still-epic “Born to Run”, still impressed by the guitar solo freakout of the back half of “Freebird”, still feel that “Layla” is a decent song but is about 3 minutes too long.  Living in a city where Janis and Jerry lived, where Steve Miller recorded the sound of the foghorn going past the Marina for the opening of his Sailor album, where the classic Frampton Comes Alive! was recorded just three miles away at a long-departed ballroom in Japantown.  Where Journey the Doobies and the Dead and the Airplane lived and recorded and became local heroes.

The playlist has its moments of amusing embarrassment.  All that LA glam metal of the 80s is still goofy, doofy, simplistic fun, just like I remember it.  All the prog rock of the 70s is still full of nerdy math and fantastical imagery.  All the arena rock bands are still full of that bombast.  Some of it’s kind of corny now, but you can’t help but have fun listening to it.  The playlist is also going to be a lot of the same heavy-rotation classics that you can’t escape, even after all these years.  It may even have its share of “oh, that song!” moments.

Sure, most of it’s a good three or four decades old now, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.

Around the Dial

You know already that I have music playing nearly 24/7 in my life.  While I’m working, while I’m writing, even when we’re in bed reading and falling asleep. My life has a soundtrack and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, what do I listen to, anyway?   Good question!   I’m always open to listening to stations from different parts of the globe if they’re available online, and I’ve found some really interesting stations while on vacations.  Here, though, are my usual haunts!

Internet Stations

It depends on what I’m in the mood for.  Lately I’ve been listening to Sirius XM, specifically the 1st Wave (80s alternative), Lithium (90s alternative), XMU (more obscure indie rock) and Alt Nation (current indie) stations.  These channels tend to be a bit more adventurous with their playlist, though they do tend to stick with certain heavy rotation tracks as well.

Or I might listen to RadioBDC, an internet station run by former WFNX deejays and hosted by Boston.com.  They’ve retained the commercial alternative sound that ‘FNX was known for, but they also infuse their playlist with a lot of local sounds.

 

College Stations

Yes, even after all this time, I’m still a college radio listener.  I tend to switch from one to the other to keep things interesting, as some stations are more obscure with their playlist than others.  Sadly my favorite college station of my youth, WAMH, has pretty much become an NPR feed station…but there are numerous other stations I still listen to.

KSCU out of Santa Clara University is my go-to for the local college radio sound.  [Santa Clara, as you probably know from our NFL team’s recent move, is down near San Jose.]  They keep a somewhat thin deejay schedule, but they do have some great shows (the 80s Underground is a great Wednesday afternoon treat, and they post their show as a two-part podcast later that day).  Their ‘robo-deejay’ plays an interesting mix as well when no one’s on the air.

UC Berkeley’s KALX is quite eclectic in its schedule, but there’s always something interesting playing.  Same with Stanford University’s KZSU.  I still connect with Boston College’s WZBC every now and again, for the same reason.

 

Local Sounds

Our commercial stations here in the Bay Area can sometimes be a bit thin on the excitement and thick on the heavy rotation, but that doesn’t keep me from tuning in while driving.  A number of stations have changed over the last decade since we’ve been here, but a lot of them are still fun to listen to.

Radio Alice is our Adult Alternative station, where the playlist is a bit laid back — it’s something you’d probably have playing quietly in the background at work, natch — but it’s just alternative enough that it keeps my interest.  KFOG is a bit more alternapop (and their newest deejay is a recent transplant, one Matt Pinfield) and tends to be our go-to station.  Live 105 is our most commercial alternative station, complete with nutty morning chat (which I can do with or without) but a very cool playlist.

 

Night Music

Since we moved out here, nearly every night we put on the local classical station, KDFC, and listen to a symphony or two as we read and eventually nod off.  The night deejay tends to have a bit of a silly sense of humor, as he’ll often have a theme for his show.  One night he played all string quartets and called it “there’s always room for cello”.  They also do replays of live recordings of our local symphony — sometimes playing events that we’d been at just a few days previous!  And each Christmas they’ll play SF Ballet’s wonderful performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

 

And of course, there’s my mp3 collection, which is still expanding on a somewhat weekly basis.  But that’s another post entirely…

What I’ve been listening to lately

Josh Stewart & Dan Snyder, 1850. One of the free albums I downloaded from NoiseTrade, it’s a spooky post-rock album with atmospherics that remind me of Global Communication and Boards of Canada.

Paper Lights, Great Escapes. Dan Snyder is also the man behind this band (I got one of his earlier EPs from NoiseTrade and bought this one when it dropped). I seem to really enjoy quirky one-man-band groups (Decomposure is another). This album’s quite relaxing; I often listen to it during my editing sessions.

Big Jesus, Oneiric Sampler EP. These young’uns have no right to rock this hard and melodic. Another NoiseTrade find, and I’m totes going to buy the album when it drops. They’ve got that fast grunge sound that reminds me of Helmet, balancing it with a bit of soaring guitar noodling reminiscent of POD. Expecting great things from this band.

The Avalanches, Wildflower. Apparently its de rigeur now to let a decade and a half go by between albums? Heh. A welcome return to a band that’s inventive, fun, and oftentimes a bit silly.

The Temper Trap, Thick as Thieves. A very strong third album from this Aussie band, it sounds much heavier and crunchier than their previous albums.

Garbage, Strange Little Birds. Been a fan since their first album, and this new one is just as excellent as the rest of them. I’ve been playing this one a lot during the day, but I’m sure it’ll get more play during my evening writing sessions soon enough.

Paul Draper, One EP. It’s been quite some time since we’ve heard from the former Mansun lead singer, but it’s well worth the wait. I’m really hoping he comes out with more tunes soon!

Minor Victories, Minor Victories. Rachel Goswell from Slowdive, Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai, and Justin Lockey from Editors? A cat kaiju (nekaiju?) video? HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE A BAD THING.

And one more, this from about nine years ago…

Blonde Redhead, 23. I’d been hearing the title track popping up on KSCU every now and again, and I kept forgetting how much I loved the song, so I put the album on my mp3 player. It ended up being my falling-asleep music on the plane out to Europe a few weeks back, and man, I couldn’t have picked a better album! A mix of 4AD moodiness and noise-rock hinting at Silversun Pickups. Totally worth having in your collection.

Context

I’d tweeted earlier this week that one of my favorite things about vacationing in London is hearing some of my favorite songs in their original context.  By that, I mean hearing songs that were big and important hits in the UK that may not have been even a blip on the US radar.

A year or so ago we were at a bar near Smithfield Market meeting with a friend of ours when Manic Street Preachers’ “Everything Must Go” popped up on the jukebox.  It was a top-ten hit in the UK and signaled a new direction for the band after the strange disappearance of their former lead singer months previous.

David Bowie was of course a worldwide success, and his title theme for the movie Absolute Beginners was a very minor hit in the US (hitting #55 on the Billboard chart) but hit #2 in the UK.  The movie itself is somewhat based on the British novel of the same name written by Colin MacInnes — a well-loved coming of age novel set in the hip London of the late 50s.  Heard this one in a coffee shop just outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral one rainy morning.

The Divine Comedy is well known in the UK as an ‘orchestral pop’ band in the vein of Scott Walker (another musician quite familiar there but not in the US), and they wrote a song about the oversize tour buses one sees all around London.  This track would pop into my head every time I saw one of them go by.

 

I love doing this kind of thing wherever I go, come to think of it.  It’s partly to get the feel of the local sound, and partly because I’m just a sucker for rock music history.  Whether it’s getting in touch with with Britain’s quirky rock (most of which became alternative rock here in the states), or Boston’s unique mix of collegiate and blue-collar, or San Francisco’s purposely weird sounds, I love being able to not only connect with the music itself, but the context in which it was written and recorded.  It brings me closer to the real lives behind the music…it lets me understand why the song exists.