5 thoughts that probably make me an old fogie

audio-technica+ I’m listening to 50- and 60-year-old LPs this morning and reflecting on how if you take good care of the discs and have the proper playback equipment, the technology still works. Much of the technology that was supposed to “replace” records is now obsolete; I transferred some of these albums to CD and digital files but it’s easier to access the original records than to keep moving those files to newer and newer devices.

+ I’m always puzzled when people say that paperless technology is better for the environment because it saves trees. The thing is: Trees and paper are renewable resources. Have you noticed how hard it is to recycle electronics?

+ No doubt, going digital saves space. These days you can pack hundreds if not thousands of books into a device the size of a cellphone. But you need the device. I have read books and newspapers that are 150 years old and more; what guarantee do we have that today’s paperless materials will be accessible in 2168?

+ I don’t think there is a more joyous bit of old-time country music, or bluegrass or Americana or whatever you want to call it, than Side 4 of Will The Circle Be Unbroken.

+ When I was a teenager, we listened to Top 40 music on the radio and often could often hear soul, country, big band, jazz, rock, old-time pop, Christian, and oldies music back-to-back within the same half-hour – I was specifically thinking of hit songs by James Brown, Glen Campbell, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Chuck Mangione, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Sister Janet Mead and Jerry Lee Lewis as I typed those words. I think we are for the worse that those diverse genres have been segregated into their own radio stations or playlists.

UPDATE: I had a sixth thought.

+ Our landline still has better fidelity and reliability. The only advantage our cellphones have is portability.

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Reconnected with the joy

audio-technica

I’m enjoying two new acquisitions: “Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal,” a brilliant jazz double album found while sifting the bins at an antique store, and the Audio-Technica 120 I left on my Amazon Wish List for about four years before finally pulling the trigger this week. I don’t know what took me so long.

Since my beloved vintage Dual turntable gave up the ghost a few years ago, my computer has not been connected to a source that can play vinyl, the format that comprises a huge percentage of my collection. We hooked up a turntable and sound system when we finished the basement family room a year or so ago, but I spend more time sitting at this keyboard, and I have made do with the vast array of available digital offerings.

But sometimes you want to dip into your own collection, right? After all, there’s a reason you collected that music in the first place. A lot of my stuff is stored on hard drive and CD, but most of it is not.

Anxious about the price tag on the Audio-Technica, I caved in and bought a $60 turntable from a big-box store and quickly relearned the meaning of the old adages, “You get what you pay for” and “You can’t afford to buy cheap.” Building a machine that draws the sound from these discs properly takes some craftsmanship worth paying for.

By the time I got to the end of the first track of the Jamal record, I was reunited with the joy. My work slows down when an especially memorable track rolls by, but that drawback is balanced by the harmony and speed of my work when I’m in the zone and typing to the rhythm.

I’m aware that at least one of my regular readers has lost the ability to hear music anymore. I can’t imagine what that’s like; he’s written how he hears music with his memory, which I think is good for sanity’s sake.

Music is the expression of a soul’s happiness – I suspect all creative work is. Even the darkest works bring comfort when they connect, the comfort of knowing that at some level, someone else understands.

#TBT Yellow Balloon

I associate this song with the summer of 1967, when our parents took their boys on an encore trip to California (which then was the only place in the world with a Disney theme park) and we saw firsthand how the interstate system was going to transform the USA. What had been a weeklong journey from New Jersey along mostly two-lane highways was, in a mere six years, turning into a four-lane hurdle that bypassed quaint little towns instead of strolling through them.

Somewhere around Kearney, Nebraska, we started hearing a little burst of musical sunshine by a band said to include one of TV’s My Three Sons (a fact I discovered much later). Like the sun on a rainy afternoon, it broke through without introduction, cast its light for a couple of sweet minutes, and then faded away.

When I bought the 45 rpm record (on Canterbury Records, which I previously associated only with Disney, appropriately enough), the flip side was “Noollab Wolley,” the song literally played backwards, as if they didn’t have a “proper” B-side for the single. I found (and owned for a time) a Yellow Balloon album, so I know they recorded more than one song, but maybe they liked this one so much they wanted to share it with the world before they made any more recordings.

“Yellow Balloon” never got much airplay in New York, where I heard most of my new music, so this song remains locked in my memory with that trip, along with images of my first airplane ride (Dad and Mom were NOT reliving the Mojave Dessert nightmare of ’61, so we flew from Salt Lake City), San Simeon and the Mormon Tabernacle.

10 albums in a meme

10 albums

At the end of April, I was drawn into a Facebook meme to post covers of 10 favorite album covers that are still on your playlist after years, one a day, no need for explanation. I’m a sucker for lists and, of course, I needed to explain.

I was surprised that the first one that sprang to mind was Judee Sill, but maybe not: Of all the albums I love that I wish other people loved, I think Judee’s may be the best, with Lazarus a close second, or at least the most deserving of attention.

Biggest surprise: That I could go through 10 favorite albums and not include Sgt. Pepper, which I have long considered The Best Album Ever. But everyone knows that album; I wanted the attention to go to music I would recommend to friends that maybe they’re not quite familiar with.

And so I posted, in no particular order: Continue reading →

10 favorite songs on a given day

Good Vibrations label

Every year for a while now, I’ve participated in a poll at musicradio77.com to choose the top 77 songs of all time.

The site is devoted to the memory of ABC, the dominant Top 40 radio station in New York City at 770 AM while I was growing up in what is laughingly referred to as rural New Jersey. People vote on their favorite songs, which are posted the week after Christmas.

Some of my entries are always the same, while others change from year to year. I often do it off the top of my head, knowing I’ll remember one or more as soon as I irrevocably click “Submit.” This year I realized, too late, that I’d forgotten my favorite band, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and that I had waxed poetically on several occasions recently about “Ripplin’ Waters.”

Whatever. Here is the list I submitted this year, a list of my favorite recordings on one snapshot of a day in late November 2017.

1. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys

2. The Word – Sara Groves

3. Devil With A Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly – Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels

4. Born On The Bayou – Creedence Clearwater Revival

5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles

6. (Just Like) Romeo and Juliet – The Reflections

7. Born To Run – Bruce Springsteen

8. Rockin’ Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu – Johnny Rivers

9. I Think We’re Alone Now – Tommy James & The Shondells

10. You Just May Be The One – The Monkees

The one with the Beatles comparisons

uwabnrI gave a presentation about the Beatles to the Door County Historical Society on Monday night, and I had some technical difficulties when I tried to give a couple of examples of how the mono and stereo mixes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band were different. I said I’d post the old Uncle Warren’s Attic podcast when I made the same comparisons, and so here it is!

Click here to reach Uncle Warren’s Attic #8

The Sgt. Pepper stuff is in the first 8-9 minutes. Thanks for coming tonight!

Still Circlin’ Back with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Circlin Back 2

Two years now, and the memory of that night still makes me smile.

I’ve had a handful of concert experiences that still leave me breathless remembering them – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band back in 1984, the Brian Wilson band doing “Smile” – but the most exhilarating night of them all was Sept. 14, 2015, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Friends at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The venue, the band, the performances, the crowd, all came together in the magical way that music can.

And how blessed we are to have a permanent video record – PBS turned it into an hourlong pledge drive feature with an extended DVD. Even though it’s not complete, the TV show captures the celebratory spirit of that night, when the band marked its 50th anniversary with some of the singers and songwriters they met on their journey. Continue reading →

Hey, hey, we’re still listening

pleasant valley sunday

I flicked on the oldies station and there was Micky Dolenz singing “Pleasant Valley Sunday” same as he always did. It occurred to me, as stuff like this often does, that I was listening to what Micky and his colleagues did 50 years ago.

The Monkees were criticized, and often harshly, for not being authentic because they weren’t a “real” band – they were the Pre-Fab Four, a group of young men hired to portray the band in a TV show about a mythical band.

And yet, the music has endured for 50 years. The people who created The Monkees – and that includes the four musicians who were hired to be The Monkees – perceived one important fact: If you’re going to create a fantasy about a popular band, then the band’s music ought to be good enough to be popular. How often does the suspension of disbelief fail because the “popular band” in the story just isn’t that good?

Nope, The Monkees – especially those first four albums or so – made good music. Fifty-years-later-good music. Take that, non-believers.