Thursday, February 16, 2006


Chambers Brothers, "Time Has Come Today"

We're supposed to focusing on recent releases around these parts, but I came across the long version of this song fairly recently.

For years, this was one of those songs that I knew really well but could never remember the title or the name of the band who performed it (OK, it isn't too hard to guess the title, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was simply called "Time"). It always sounded like the Rolling Stones to me, so that's how it was labelled in my mind -- "That Stones (Not Stones) Song". Even to this day, I think about the Stones when I hear it.

I guess the cowbell jokes write themselves these days ... anyway ... it wasn't until this song made a home on my hard drive (and was able to hear it through headphones anytime I wanted rather than wait for it to regularly pop up on oldies radio) that I noticed how the cowbell is consistently behind the beat throughout the entire song. I have no idea why -- I'll assume that this is something to do with the mixing process and not the way it was played live. At first, being conscious of this was a bit distracting to me but it didn't take long for this rhythmic tweak to endear itself. For a chaotic, distracting use of the cowbell I refer you to the demo version of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" (which is charming in its own special, sprawling way -- in fact, I like it better than the version they used on "Loaded" but that's a story for another time). But on "Time Has Come Today", the cowbell is metronomically late after the beat and as such, it takes very little effort for you to zone out and let it seamlessly blend right in with everything happening around it. For eleven minutes!!

Sometimes you're in the mood for the interminably long organ solo on the Doors' "Light My Fire", and sometimes you only have the patience for the shorter radio version. I've been warming up to "Time Has Come Today"'s long middle section, although I think the added playing time detracts from the song's famous slowed-down ending. And no matter how you slice it, those dub-like, watery echo FX on the cowbell is some heady stuff for 1968.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


List Overload Pt. 2

When it comes to lists, I think there's more of a love/hate dichotomy among music fanatics than you're implying. I fully agree with your take on the "Maxim-ization" of many print media -- magazines have conditioning their readers to process information in the form of bite-sized lists (essentially nothing other than an 100+ page sequence of 30-100 word blurbs, perfect for reading in 479 sittings) and I'm not particularly thrilled about that. But a lot of music fans get burned out on lists fairly quickly. 99% of them get burned out quicker than I do, so my attitude shouldn't represent anything close to the norm.

Sports fans (and sportswriters!) can never agree on what an MVP is. Is it the player with the most impressive stats? The most noteworthy player on the winningest team? The player whose team would have been lost without him or her (how can this be quantified, if at all?). Similarly, music fans can never agree on what, for example, a "Best Albums of 2005" list should represent. Composing a top ten of the year is nothing but a brief snapshot in time for some people. It's the list of the music they liked best during the week they wrote the list, with the full understanding that in the week before (or the week after), the components of that list would (and/or *should*) surely change. I try to make my lists more permanent than that. I try to evaluate, as honestly as possible, how I felt about everything I heard during the course of the year, integrated over the entire year. To me, if I looked at my top ten of 2005 one year from now and realized that I hated almost everything on that list, then I would feel that I failed myself in some way. But a lot of other fans wouldn't be bothered by that at all (with respect to their own lists).

To complicate matters, music fans are fond of pooling their lists into bigass polls, in the hope of ... what exactly? Coming up with the most objective Best Of list possible? If everybody uses different criteria in evaluating the material on their individual ballot (as discussed above), how can you attain "objectivity" by averaging all those lists into an amalgamated whole? It's like the old fable about the emperor of China's nose -- you ask a large number of people what they believe to be the length of his nose and take the average of their answers -- but nobody knows what they're supposed to be evaluating, so once you average all their responses, has anything at all been learned about the emperor's nose?

To put it another way -- suppose five people collaborate on writing an essay or newspaper article. After going through several drafts, where each contributor gets their chance to edit what everybody else has written. The final, submitted copy won't reflect any one person's writing style or opinions. It'll be a never-before-seen hybrid version of the ideas of the individual contributors and chances are, if you asked each of them in turn, they'd all say that they aren't happy with the final product and would prefer to make changes that express those ideas in a style closer to their own. Or they'd prefer to emphasis certain sections of the article more than others. And so on. In this sense, reading through five drafts written by five different people can be more illuminating than the final, hybridized product (albeit far more time consuming). The same can be true of the data gleaned from individual lists versus a generalized commentary on the full, averaged results of a large music poll.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


List Overload Pt. 1

A big part of the reason I started JVSI was because I was having a hard time find my way through all the new music, and my confusion was precipitated by all the end of year lists. For a schmoe like me, and probably for many others, if you don't KNOW what's good you figure the listmakers have done their work and all you need is a list of the top picks. But to top it off, often the descriptions that went along with the lists were of no help. On of the writers of Good Weather for Airstrikes -- a music blog which obviously has a lot of work put into it -- and i appreciate that; has this blurb to go along with the pick, which unfortunately isn't that helpful if you're trying to decide if you should commit the time to the music :

3. I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning - Bright Eyes
Key Track: "Poison Oak"

Narrowly edged out of the top two spots, Conor Oberst's folk-american record of 2005, I'm Wide Awake, is not to be overlooked, as in any other year it could easily contend for the top spot. The fact that an album of this caliber slips all the way to number 3 is a testament to the incredibly quality of 2005's releases. Though the entire album displays Oberst's finest work to date, "Poison Oak" stands out as the best track of his illustrious career and one of the most moving songs I've ever heard. I consistently get chills every time he reaches the swelling chorus for the first time, and for a while I was actually convinced this was the single best song I had ever heard.

Somehow lists are an archetype of pop music, as much as drums or bass.

I dunno how it came about -- but i assume sometime in the salad days of rocknroll some DJ or radio marketing guy realized that making a list and counting it down made for some compelling listening and it added a competitive element to music. And since all the sheep needed to be told what to like, it introduced some "measure" of quality; to something that is intrinsically sujective.

Interestingly, though there is a lot of info around about how music charts are calculated there is very little to be found about the history of music charts. All I could find (via Wikipedia) was that the first Billboard Music Popularity Chart was calculated in July, 1940, but that's it.

You can imagine some evolutionary psychology reason why humans have a need to rank and classify information as much as possible, and it's seen in the fact that people put more importance on information if it's presented as a list.

But "list thinking" has ruined a lot of things with this rush to replace real content with lists. Magazines for instance: Maxim ruined magazines when it killed off editorial content with lists and factoids, now every magazine is is collection of lists. TV channels like VH1 a almost dedicated to llists and specilize in countdown shows of the top celebrity freakouts or whatever. Even CNN now counts down their top popular news stories in the nightly news. Obviously this is a ploy to keep you watching.

I know the Jew, being the Jew, puts a lot of thought into his year end lists, and the Jew being the Jew doesn't really care if others agree with him or not, but you can be sure he has a rationale for why each entry is the list and a case for it's respective ranking.

So, I pose the question:

*why are music people obsessed with lists ?*

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?