Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Top 30 Rock Books I Own: #13 Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island

Title: Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island
Editor: Greil Marcus
Year Originally Published: 1979
Edition I Own: Da Capo Press first edition, 1996

What They Say: 1) San Francisco Chronicle: "One of the most fascinating books yet written about rock and roll ... Although Stranded in no way pretends to be a history of rock and roll, the pieces of rock that are included form enough of the puzzle." 2) The Washington Post: "Each chapter of Stranded is thoughtful, superbly focused, precisely written. There exist very comparable efforts." (Both quotes from the book's back cover.)

Tuomala's Attempt At A Take: Lester Bangs's essay on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks from this book famously appeared in the opening section of his anthology Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, which led me to pounce on Stranded when it was finally republished in the mid-nineties. The premise of the book is simple: Greil Marcus asked writers to write essays on the one album they would take with them if stranded on a desert album. Some of the selections are bizzare - the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt. (I would take 1979 Linda Ronstadt with me to a desert island, but her music would stay behind.) Probably even more baffling is that nobody picked a Beatles album. And while we get white seventies critics faves like Jackson Browne and the Ramones, nobody picked landmark black artists like Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, or James Brown.

I picked this up again a couple of weeks ago and was absolutely baffled by language like: "The Velvets compel belief in part because, given its context, what they are saying is so bold: not only do they implicitly criticize their own aesthetic stance - they risk undermining it altogether, ending up with sincere but embarrassingly banal home truths" (Ellen Willis) and "The Dolls carried to its illogical conclusion the egalitarian communalism that was one logical response of fun-filled affluence to alienation: they refused to pay their dues. So we had to pay instead" (Robert Christgau.) However, M. Mark's words on growing up in a rural area ring true: "When I lived in Iowa, my wardrobe and vocabulary were as sophisticated as possible, befitting one bound for the Big City; now that I live in New York, my wardrobe consists of jeans and my vocabulary is littered with phrases like 'real good,' befitting one reared in the heartland. I don't recall deciding to make these changes." She also chose a Van Morrison album.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Top 30 Rock Books I Own: #12 The Rolling Stone Record Guide

Title: The Rolling Stone Record Guide
Editors: Dave Marsh with John Swenson
Year Originally Published: 1979
Edition I Own: Rolling Stone Press, 1979

What They Say: I'm not even going to look for online reviews of this one, as it has existed in many editions over the years. Instead, I point you to Randall Roberts, who entered RS Guide data into Excel and came up with something he presented at the 2006 Experience Music Project. As a fellow music and numbers geek, I give him a standing ovation.

Tuomala's Attempt At A Take: I got this for Christmas from my brother one year in high school. I beat the hell out of it (that is not my cover pictured above, mine looks worse) constantly flipping through it in attempts to pick up a language to impress fellow music fans. It's strange now to think that someone thought that you could get an overview of rock 'n' roll and fit all significant record reviews into one not-that-large volume. I still get this one out every once in a while to see if a sixties or seventies artist I've come across is in it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Paul McCartney Was In A Band Before Wings?

Count me as utterly apathetic that the Beatles' albums have been remastered and reissued. No doubt it's an effort (and a successful one) to get fanatics to buy the product on compact disc once more before the CD fades out of existence. And how many buyers will in turn go and listen to their reissues as mp3s?

A great many thousands of Beatlemaniacs will shell out in the neighborhood of $600 for two box sets of extravagantly remastered records they probably already own, rip those suckers to iTunes-type computer programs, and blast them on iPod-type portable MP3 players through earbuds (overpriced at $30 or so) that render the sonic differences between the old stuff, the new stereo stuff, and the new mono stuff thoroughly negligible.

Maybe I'm just cynical because I don't own all the Beatles albums, and the ones I do have sound just fine to me. The Beatles stuff was also reissued as a mono collection (Common Man: "If you want to hear the Beatles in mono, listen to them on AM."), which attempts to replicate buying the albums as they were originally issued on vinyl.

My guess is the next step is to actually go ahead and reissue the albums on vinyl. You don't see much for Beatles stuff in the used racks, so likely most everybody is still holding onto their original LPs. Do longtime fans want new Beatles vinyl? Vinyl has been making a comeback in recent years, would younger folks with no Beatles vinyl want new LPs? With turntable owners still being a minority, maybe the first step in a vinyl reissue would be to release some sort of anthology. I'm thinking maybe two double LPs. One could cover the pre-Sgt. Pepper's years of 1962-1966. Assign the cover a bold primary color like red to signify the Beatles' brazen takeover of pop music in the early- and mid-sixties. And of course, feature a photo of them smiling in their moptops.

The other double LP could cover the years 1967-1970, after they had conquered the world. This album cover could be a softer primary color like blue to signify the experimental and more-individualistic sound the band embraced in the second half of its existence. To signify how much the band had changed since its inception, use a photo of them as longhairs. If they ever posed identically as both moptops and longhairs, those photos would be PERFECT for these two albums.

Aside from the obvious songs essential to any Beatles collection, both anthologies could throw in singles and other notable tracks not on the official Beatles LPs. Stereo or mono? I'll let the fanatics fight over that one. I'm already imagining these LPs in the stacks over by my turntable, ready to be played all weekend long.