Another year with nuthin’ to do: Best of 1969

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Everyone Knows This is Nowhere
Miles Davis – In a Silent Way
The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground
Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis
Sly and the Family Stone – Stand!
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline
The Stooges – The Stooges
Townes Van Zandt – Our Mother the Mountain
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River
The Band – The Band
The Beatles – Abbey Road
Merle Haggard – A Portrait of Merle Haggard
Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul
The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis
Leonard Cohen – Songs From a Room
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys
Aretha Franklin – Soul ’69
Dolly Parton – My Blue Ridge Mountain Home
The Temptations – Cloud Nine
Rod Stewart – The Rod Stewart Album
Johnny Cash – At San Quentin

Florida — the state with the prettiest name, Part #239!

To say that the Sunshine State has endured the stupidest primary election of my lifetime sounds precipitate, given that the state isn’t underwater yet and the Democratic Party sees no alternative to running Charlie Crist templates until Gainesville condo owners see the Atlantic lapping at their ground floor balconies; but any election in which Patrick Murphy, a turncoat who three years ago approached John Boehner about defecting and voted yea on the creation of the House Benghazi Committee, will run against the foulest offal in Florida public life is reason to hope that the tropical depression churning in the Florida Straits wipes out my state.

This means that Marco Rubio will return as a member of the legislative body he despises. If he were smarter than a dinner tray, he would stumble on the wisdom that has empowered Republicans and hoodwinked the media: the more a candidate emphasizes his contempt for lawmaking — for “Washington” — the better his credentials as an “outsider” and, in a kick in the groin to the Republic, the worse for the party that believes in governance no matter how ponderous, i.e. the Democrats. Hell, I may not even be giving Rubio enough credit; certainly Mitch McConnell stressed the importance of Rubio’s running again. Meanwhile the Florida Democratic Party, so moribund that it leaves no stink, won’t recruit candidates commensurate with the state’s demographics, parlous environmental condition, and political importance.

Look at Mother Nature on the run: Best of 1970

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Notes:

I don’t own any Black Sabbath except Paranoid but have no opinion. Leave me alone!

After years of limiting her writing to a couple tunes per album, Aretha Franklin looked over at the burgeoning singer-songwriter movement and said, “Here it is.” I love the swing of Spirit in the Dark: the cover of “The Thrill is Gone,” the cockiness of “When This Battle is Over,” the chord change precipitated by her own piano on the title track. This is what I want the limning of adult desire, one rooted in pews and transport, to sound like.

The only questionable finalist is the era’s first chart-topping triple album, recorded by a former Beatle whose considerable songwriting talent was overpraised because for thirteen years his ego swelled in the company of two great songwriters; these pent-up aching rivers would crest by the time Nixon was impeached. But I like more than half the songs, and when I pair them against Bob Dylan’s modest homespun triumph I realize why they became bros.

Aretha Franklin – Spirit in the Dark
The Stooges – Fun House
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew</e
Funkadelic – Funkadelic
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
Captain Beefheart – Lick My Decals Off, Baby
Bob Dylan – New Morning
James Brown – Sex Machine
Rod Stewart – Gasoline Alley
The Jacksons – ABC
Merle Haggard – The Fightin’ Side of Me
The Velvet Underground – Loaded
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Mardi Gras
Ray Price – For the Good Times
Nico – Desertshore
Van Morrison – Moondance
Randy Newman – 12 Songs
David Bowie – The Man Who Sold the World
James Gang – Rides Again
George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

Seconds of pleasure: Britney Spears and Lydia Loveless

Britney Spears – Glory

For readers who buy music, splurge on the deluxe edition: you need “If I’m Dancing.” Anchored by a hornet’s buzz hooked up to six thousand amps, this extra track has the star singing at the end of her register, or programmed to sound like she is; the confusion is the point and why not. After releasing the most distracted album of her career three years ago, Britney Jean commissions Justin Tranter, Robopop, and more Scandinavians than the credits to a Bergman film to write and produce a collection as protean, brazen, and sybaritic as any in her catalog. Mattman & Robin are responsible for “Do You Wanna Come Over” and presumably its flamenco guitar runs and the curious line “We use our bodies to make our own videos” in “Slumber Party,” while the NYC axis gets “Just Luv Me,” an electronic crawl through a rueful corner of Spears’ id.

Shimmering, beholden to the kinetic, Glory doesn’t commemorate the kind of good time of dancing till the world ends that distinguished 2011’s career peak Femme Fatale; Spears is on occasion rueful, if that’s possible. “Just Luv Me” explores a disused part of her id, the finger snaps and insistent sequencer accompanying her emotional availability. It has a couple of missteps: “What You Want” is Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” updated for the Spotify age, and listeners stuck for evidence that if you prick her she bleeds need listen to “Private Show” where she proves that she’s long past stripper metaphors. She also get tsk-tsks for allowing the line “Nobody should be alone if they don’t have to be” — how awesome if “coupled” had replaced “alone,” but it doesn’t scan. Proves she’s smarter than me.

Lydia Loveless – Real

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She has a sound: tough and rangy, keyed to her electric rhythm strum. Last time she had the songs; this time she has good will. “Heaven” is the best: with its thick bottom, intersecting guitars, and sun-kissed chorus it could be a Rough Trade comp selection from 1983. So are “Longer” and “Same to You.” Nice to hear a song talking shit about Midwestern guys too. But a vacation that went wrong in Bilbao could’ve taken place in Peoria, which I guess is the point: dirtbags who treat uptown girls like they’re all the same are a truth universally acknowledged. Also acknowledged: expended for the sake of hookless songs, charisma has a half life.

Gene Wilder – RIP

The eighties were so strange that watching See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Stir Crazy I thought Gene Wilder was the wild one and Richard Pryor the straight man. Wilder’s frizz perm fascinated me too – here was a man with marbles in his head in place of a cerebral lobe. Rewatching his bit in Bonnie and Clyde (for ten minutes the movie stops cold so the audience can gawk at the weird, almost sexual jolt he gives the other actors) and Young Frankenstein, another comedy I grew up with, I lament how movies and Wilder’s own body (he was a cancer survivor) could not contain his energies.

A few of the best obits:

Ronald Bergan on my second favorite Gene Wilder moment:

After his screen debut in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), in which he played the jumpy undertaker whisked off on a peril- ous joyride by the eponymous couple, Wilder’s career really took off with The Producers, in which he made hysteria hysterical: “My blanket! My blue blanket! Gimme my blue blanket! Oohhhh! Aaaahh! Mmmmmmm! Mmmmmm! Aahhhh. I’m sorry. I don’t like people touching my blue blanket. It’s not important, it’s a minor compulsion, I can deal with it if I want to,” Bloom shrieks, clinging to his handkerchief-sized piece of security blanket.

David Edelstein:

s the news of his death spreads, everyone will think of his or her favorite insane-slow-burn Gene Wilder moment. The late Pauline Kael mentioned a quintessential one, the bit in Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) in which Wilder (as a haughty aristocrat) is informed that the noble bird on his shoulder is, in fact, dead. Wilder fixes the upstart with his laser-blue stare and says, with that eerie calm-that’s-being-slowly-strangled-to-death-by-escalating rage, “Repeat that.”

My own favorite is in Young Frankenstein (1974), which Wilder conceived and co-wrote with Mel Brooks. Here, with elaborate patience, Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein poses the question to Marty Feldman’s Igor: What brain did the hunchback steal for the inexplicably brutal creature? “You won’t be mad?” asks Igor. “I. Will. Not. Be Mad.” By the time we hear, “Abby someone,” and the gentle but quivering, “Abby — who?” we are ready — eager — for the murderous explosion to come. No one built as exquisitely as Wilder from the genial, the gentle, the hopeful, to violent, no-holds-barred hysteria. At those moments, Wilder was unique — a genius.

My favorite Wilder moment? Between him and the indifferent Armenian sheep in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.

We should note that Gene Wilder will go on, existing in meme form in perpetuity.

The debts you make you have to pay: Best of 1971

“Seminal” doesn’t come close to describing this year. To consider omitting There’s a Riot Going On and Who’s Next would mean, I guess, I’m uncomfortable with a certain kind of murk-funk and the kind of halitosis confused with hyperemotionalism, respectively; but like Live-Evil, also included, There’s a Riot still fascinates me as aural object. We critics have written enough about John Cale’s organ grinding in “Sister Ray,” but Sylvester Stewart triumphs with a similar sound: as thin and sharp as a needle piercing soft skin. Even though I’d rather listen to Fresh (his best to my ears) and Stand! and will take Can and Maggot Brain‘s contemporaneous experiments, Sly Stone’s 1971 album deserves a place.

The rest — well, wow. Carole King’s natural woman voice making more out of her natural woman conceit than Aretha (and Aretha surpassing her again last December); Merle Haggard’s most concise studio statement (“Tulare Dust” vs “Hungry Eyes”? Why choose?); Bowie’s arrival as a pretty thing and threat to rock and rollers; Rod Stewart hacking phlegm on Maggie May and mandolins; Caetano Veloso with another eponymous collection of strange tales afloat on melodies I don’t even hear on John Prine’s marvelous debut (I want to know how many male songwriters have written about their sisters); a Beatle using mixing board wizardry for the equivalent of Miltonic detachment and applying it to Anne Sexton material; Joni Mitchell saying fuck all that — well, wow. I can even ignore What’s Going On.

I’ve paid scant attention to Joys of Cooking, which for many year I confused for either a cookbook or gay sex manual.

Funkadelic – Maggot Brain
Merle Haggard – Someday We’ll Look Back
John Prine – John Prine
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Miles Davis – A Tribute to Jack Johnson
Can – Tago Mago
Caetano Veloso – Caetano Veloso
Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
Led Zeppelin – IV
Harry Nilsson – Nilsson Schmilsson
Al Green – Al Green Gets Next to You
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey
John Lennon – Imagine
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate
Joni Mitchell – Blue
Carole King – Tapestry
Sly and the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On
Miles Davis – Live-Evil
Alice Cooper – Love It to Death
Gil Scott-Heron – Pieces of a Man
Loretta Lynn – Coal Miner’s Daughter
The Who – Who’s Next

Hit you with a flower: Best albums of 1972

I’m not fond of the Funkadelic and Waylon Jennings on this list, but these formative records captured the kind of aesthetic tumult that makes for compelling listening if uneven product. The rest are awesome, starting with the best singer-songwriter album on this list and it’s not recorded in America or England. Expect to see more of its kind as I travel backwards.

Roxy Music – Roxy Music
Aretha Franklin – Young, Gifted and Black
Gilberto Gil – Expresso 2222
Paul Simon – Paul Simon
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
Stevie Wonder – Talking Book
Bill Withers – Still Bill
Joni Mitchell – For the Roses
Rod Stewart – Never a Dull Moment
Van Morrison – Saint Dominic’s Preview
Al Green – I’m Still in Love with You
Nilsson – Son of Schimilsson
The Chi-Lites – A Lonely Man
Mott the Hoople – All the Young Dudes
Miles Davis – On the Corner
Lou Reed – Transformer
Waylon Jennings – Ladies Love Outlaws
Elton John – Honky Chateau
Curtis Mayfield – Superfly
Alice Cooper – School’s Out
Caetano Veloso – Neolithic Man
Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young
Steely Dan – Can’t Buy a Thrill
The Edgar Winter Group – They Only Come Out at Night
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
Neil Young – Harvest
Bonnie Raitt – Give It Up

Juan Gabriel — RIP

American audiences have no more than a passing acquaintance — I’m being kind — with the biggest international star that Mexico ever produced. This behemoth, whose talents made him his country’s Smokey Robinson, had a high, wracked balladeer’s tone and pitch that relished Juan Gabriel the Songwriter’s melodic changes. Until a documentary on Telemundo I watched with my grandmother at the beginning of the year, I paid scant attention to him. Here’s a performer whose catalog I’ll be spending time on over the next few days. So should you. Fascinating life too.

For fascinating insights into how insane some of Gabriel’s compositions could be, I direct you to Singles Jukebox colleague Jonathan Bogart’s Bilbo’s Laptop, a blog counting down every Latin #1 in the United States. In the entry for “Te Sigo Amando,” Bogart contexualizes Gabriel as a singer in the telenovela tradition:

Because it is occasionally the case that songs given exposure by movies or television shows become massive hits in Anglophone pop, it can be perilously tempting for Anglophone listeners to assume that the relationship between telenovelas and Latin pop is easily analogous. But just about any music supervisor in Hollywood would kill to have the cultural reach the most popular novelas do — far from being merely “soap operas in Spanish,” for decades they’ve combined being Event Television like HBO dramas, telling complete stories like British series, and moving propulsively, not to say trashily, forward with the gonzo pulp energy that fuels not just soap operas but superhero comics, reality television, political campaigns, and pop music. Because telenovelas don’t aspire to Art, they can share their giddy, lurid energy with the pop craftsmen who write and sing their theme songs; and if Art takes place incidentally along the way, no one really minds.

Listening to hits like “Debo Hacerlo,” his indebtedness to the overripe emotionalism of those soaps is clear. He’s one of those artists who collapsed the division between camp and sincerity; he saw camp as sincerity. He was Liberace with soul, Bryan Ferry selling millions of 45s. His fans knew.

As for Gabriel’s sexuality, Wikipedia preserved this quote:

Juan Gabriel, when he was asked about whether he was gay, replied “Lo que se ve no se pregunta, mijo. Yo no tengo por qué decirle cosas que a usted, como a muchas otras personas, no les interesa, yo pienso que soy un artista que he dado mucho con mis canciones”. (“What is seen is not asked about, young man. I have no reason to tell you, nor others, things that are none of your concern, dear. I feel I am an artist who has contributed much with my songs”).

The peculiarity of the last sentence is striking; it’s as if he accuses those curious about him of ingratitude. But his fans knew. It looks like I’m only scratching the surface with this artist.

GOP greet Clinton presidency with relief: it’s business as usual

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Should Hillary Rodham Clinton take the oath of office next January, the GOP paladins whom she’s courting will return to their most comfortable posture: hating Clinton for not being a conservative, hating Clinton because she’s a Clinton. Check this dude out:

“In any other election, the majority of national security Republicans would be going after her, and I would be enthusiastically doing so,” said Kori Schake, a veteran of George W. Bush’s National Security Council and State Department, and an adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “She wasn’t a particularly good secretary of state; the lack of judgment on emails was a shock to a lot of us. She rightly criticized the Bush administration for its failures creating stability in Iraq — and made the exact same mistake herself on Libya.”

Schake is on the long and growing list of Republicans who have said they plan to support Clinton this fall. But many of those Republicans for Hillary don’t want a vote against Trump to be confused with any newfound love for Clinton.

“A lot of us would like to hold her accountable for the failures, but we are holding our fire,” Schake said. “It’s because all of us are afraid of Trump. If she wants to maintain our support after, she’s going to have to address our policy concerns about the economy and America’s role in the world.”

I won’t link to the story. Why POLITICO thinks a Bush II hack who worked for the two departments most responsible for the fiercest and most unnecessary conflagration in Middle Eastern history deserves anything but handcuffs is a question I hope the divine spheres answer someday, but then it won’t matter because George Stephanopoulos’ green room will be underwater.

This is better:

Republican operatives on the Hill, for instance, are already planning to block Clinton’s agenda by strategically targeting individual Democratic senators who will be up for reelection in 2018. “Take Joe Manchin in West Virginia,” explained one GOP operative of the strategy. “If Hillary puts up an anti-coal, pro-EPA judge for the Supreme Court, the smart play is to start pressuring him with an advocacy campaign to vote no.” Voting with Clinton would jeopardize his reelection chances, and voting against her would rob her of a Democratic Senate vote she couldn’t afford to lose without the 60 votes needed to filibuster.

His work on gun reform aside, Joe Manchin as governor of and senator from West Virginia has demonstrated fealty to Joe Manchin and the fossil fuel industries that have turned the state into your recyling bin after a party. Granting an apparatchik anonymity to utter the world’s feeblest threat is POLITICO at its finest.

Thank you thank you thank you: Best of 1973

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Mott the Hoople – Mott
Sly and the Family Stone – Fresh
Roxy Music – Stranded
Al Green – Call Me
John Prine – Sweet Revenge
David Bowie – Aladdin Sane
The New York Dolls – The New York Dolls
John Cale – Paris 1919
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On
Bryan Ferry – These Foolish Things
Stooges – Raw Power
Willie Nelson – Shotgun Willie
James Brown – The Payback
Brian Eno – Here Come the Warm Jets
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
Yoko Ono – Approximately Infinite Universe
Steely Dan – Countdown to Ecstasy
Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
Spinners – Spinners
Isley Brothers – 3 + 3
Genesis – Selling England by the Pound
Neil Young – Time Fades Away
Merle Haggard – I Love Dixie Blues
Al Green – Livin’ for You
Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure
Daryl Hall and John Oates – Abandoned Luncheonette
Paul McCartney and Wings – Band on the Run

‘It’s never too late to learn from experience’

The GOP Master of Ceremonies has written about his latest attempt at cogitation, and in some instances words form themselves into sentences.

Lately I’ve been thinking about experience.

A lie. David Brooks doesn’t think. Besides, how does one “think about” experience?

Donald Trump lacks political experience, and the ineptitude caused by his inexperience is evident every day.

Throat clearing — the equivalent of reading, “My summer in Rome was definitely a great time” in the student narratives I assign.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is nothing if not experienced. Her ship is running smoothly, and yet as her reaction to the email scandal shows once again, there’s often a whiff of inhumanity about her campaign that inspires distrust.

The ship runs smoothly despite that whiff. Before modern times sailors couldn’t use precious fresh water on baths, hence the whiff.

So I’ve been thinking that it’s not enough to be experienced. The people in public life we really admire turn experience into graciousness.

The graciousness of Dick Cheney, the sweetness of Tom DeLay, the magnanimity of Newt Gingrich.

What follows is the usual Brooksian list of names he may have read somewhere, maybe heard about them while being driven to the NPR studios (Lincoln, MLK, Jr., Mandela, the usual). He even squeezes in a Keats quote.

Such people have a gentle strength. They are aggressive and kind, free of sharp elbows, comfortable revealing and being abashed by their transgressions.

Martin Luther King lacked for sharp elbows? Did you call LBJ for comment, David?

But back to Hillary:

Hillary Clinton has experience, but does not seem to have been transformed by it. Amid the email scandal she is repeating the same mistakes she made during the Rose Law Firm scandal two decades ago. Her posture is still brittle, stonewalling and dissembling. Clinton scandals are all the same. There’s an act of unseemly but not felonious behavior, then the futile drawn-out withholding of information, and forever after the unwillingness to ever come clean.

Clinton scandals are all the same. There’s a rush to publication of stories whose leads are buried, then the futile drawn-out presentation of both-sides-do-it and worrying about the Appearance of Illegality.

If you treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad.

A University of Chicago graduate wrote this sentence in a motley of letters for New York Times publication.

It’s tough to surrender control, but like the rest of us, Hillary Clinton gets to decide what sort of leader she wants to be. America is desperate for a little uplift, for a leader who shows that she trusts her fellow citizens. It’s never too late to learn from experience.

So facile a thinker is Brooks that he can’t figure out how Hillary’s meticulous preparation, leaden delivery, and administrative venality make her human. But it’s never too late to read your own columns.

Singles 8/26

Notes:

– As you can see, a solid week. Lady Leshurr grimes like it’s 2003, Nada Rose and Tiwa Savage spit rhymes like they just invented them. Isaiah Rasahd barely sneaked in.

– I direct P!nk fans to her Chesney collaboration, closer to a cameo, really. She up and steals the thing.

Click on links for full reviews.

Nadia Rose – Skwod (7)
Tiwa Savage ft. Dr. SID – If I Start to Talk (7)
Banks – Fuck With Myself (7)
Isaiah Rashad – Free Lunch (7)
Lady Leshurr ft. Wiley – Where Are You Now? (7)
HyunA – How’s This? (6)
Anitta ft. Maluma – Sim Ou Não (5)
Fei – Fantasy (5)
Kari Faux – Fantasy (5)
Kenny Chesney ft. P!nk – Setting the World on Fire (4)
Jagwar Ma – OB1 (4)
Biffy Clyro – Animal Style (4)
Jon Pardi – Head Over Boots (3)