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Most Played Songs

The top 10 most played songs in my iTunes library, probably dating back 10 years or maybe more:

  1. “River Out of Eden” by Frameshift, from Unweaving the Rainbow (2003)
  2. “Mandelbrot World” by Jack Foster III, from Jazzraptor’s Secret (2008)
  3. “Journey’s End/The Traveller’s Lament” by Magenta, from Home (2006)
  4. “The Seventh House” by IQ, from The Seventh House (2000)
  5. “A Crack in the Ice/Pins and Needles/Double Vision” by Arena, from The Visitor (1998)
  6. “End on a High Note” by The Flower Kings, from Paradox Hotel (2006)
  7. “There Was a Time” by Spock’s Beard, from Octane (2005)
  8. “Squonk” by Genesis, from A Trick of the Tail (1976)
  9. “If The Sun” by Glass Hammer, from If (2010)
  10. “Believe/No Place For the Innocent”, by Pendragon, from Believe (2005)

This is a pretty representative list of my musical tastes over the last 10 years, largely neo-prog rock with a smattering of other proggy stuff as well. These ten are tracks which I am more inclined to just pick and listen to because I really, really like them.

This list would have looked very different in years past. In 1991 it would have been dominated by Jethro Tull and The Who, while in 1999 you probably would have seen Sonia Dada and Collective Soul. I (re-)discovered progressive rock in 2001, stopped listening to commercial radio, and prog has dominated the list every since.

Weird that Home is the only one of the ten albums not available on the iTunes Store – Magenta seems to have only a couple of albums available there, and not their best ones.

I Still Buy Compact Disks

I don’t buy many compact disks, mind you, but a pack of four just showed up today:

New CDs

These came from Kinesis, one of the progressive rock sites I’ve been buying from for years. While I do buy most of my music online these days (mainly from the iTunes Store), I still buy a few CDs for two reasons:

  1. There are a few artists whose work I have more-or-less complete on CD, and I enjoy them enough that I want to keep buying their physical albums. There aren’t many of these: Jethro Tull, IQ, Jadis, and if The Who or Pete Townshend ever release another album, I’d buy that on CD, too.
  2. There are also some albums I want which I can’t easily find online (meaning, for download from iTunes or Amazon). The Jack Yello and Landmarq albums in the picture are two of those. There are even a few albums I can’t even find domestically on CD, which is weird, especially in the case of Presto Ballet, whose whole catalog save one album is available on iTunes. Strange. I could probably hunt around and find them for legal download somewhere, but I don’t really want to kill myself, not when I know I can get the CDs from stores I’ve used before.

One of my projects for later this year is to go through my CD collection and decide what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of. I’m sure I’ll get rid of most of it in the long term, but in the short term just culling the marginal stuff is a good start. Get down from 4 boxes of CDs to 3 or even 2.

It’s a far cry from my college and grad school days, when I was buying 1-2 CDs per week. On the other hand, I have fond memories of marching through Jethro Tull‘s back catalog in 1989-90. Making mix tapes to listen to on the tape player in my car. I spent a lot of time on that stuff, but it was fun at the time. Not all wasted time is actually wasted.

Martin Orford Retired

I recently downloaded Martin Orford‘s two solo albums, Popular Music and Classical Songs and The Old Road, having enjoyed his work with IQ and Jadis in the past. Listening to them recently, I wondered when he might have a new one coming out, as I knew he’d left both bands.

A quick Web search reveals that he won’t have a new one coming out, because he’s retired:

This is the story of an artist who did something extraordinary and rather unique in the rock business: he retired.

In 2009, Martin Orford, one of Britain’s most respected keyboard players and founding member of IQ, decided to end his career in music. A few short months after he left the band, he played his final solo concert, making it very clear that he never would return to either studio or stage.

It was not the lack of new ideas or fading love for music that forced Orford to leave it all behind, but an enemy he couldnt beat: the Internet.

According to him, illegal downloading was the ‘beginning of the end’ for the music scene so he decided to make his stand – If people wouldn’t pay for music anymore, there would be just one way to teach them: don’t produce the music.

Quite a pity. I suspect we’ll see an upheaval in artists of all sorts who aren’t willing to put up with the changes in the marketplace (both legal and illegal) and retire – or, more quietly, never start their careers to begin with. For myself, I’m just sad that it means artists I enjoy (or might enjoy) will stop producing work.

By the way, I have no guilt over downloading Orford’s two albums: I downloaded them from iTunes, so I legitimately paid to get them.

You should, too. They’re quite good.

Edit: Here’s an interview with Orford about leaving the music business. One quote: “But I absolutely refuse to work with the Internet; as far as I am concerned it’s the worst invention in the history of mankind, and I consider it to be my natural enemy.”

That’s Entertainment

So most of my trip east has involved visiting Mom, taking care of Mom’s house (including doing a lot of cleaning and organizing), and working. But outside of that, I’ve been trying to keep myself entertained – mainly because otherwise I’d just be sitting in this big house by myself.

I eventually figured out that the NPR station to listen to here is WGBH, but once they finish the morning newscast I don’t find the rest of the programming that interesting. Plus, I’m spending a fair bit of time in the car, so I wanted to find a music station to listen to. Unfortunately, it seems like almost all of the music radio in Boston sucks: Faceless pop music, and endless classic rock stations playing stuff I’d listened to hundreds of times before. Very oddly, one station has a program hosted by Alice Cooper, who I’d always associated with hard rock bordering on metal, but after an hour of listening to his show I don’t think I’d heard a song harder than Boston (the epitome of AOR).

What I really wanted was a station playing current rock music, which I’m out of touch with. I eventually settled on WBOS (a.k.a. “Radio Ninety-Two Nine“), which isn’t quite what I wanted, but does play some current releases. Unfortunately they seem pretty stuck in 90s rock, with the usual assortment of bands with singers with lousy voices (R.E.M., Green Day), or who wouldn’t know a melody if it bit them on the ass (Soundgarden, Pearl Jam). Still, it’s the best I’ve found. I even heard a song that I liked enough to download from iTunes! (“Some Nights” by Fun. I’m a sucker for vocal harmonies. Alas the rest of the album isn’t more of the same, so I grabbed only the one track.)

A big part of my distracting myself has been visiting Debbi’s family: Her sisters, her brother-in-law, and their kids (and two dogs!). They have a house on the beach on the south shore, and I drove down each of the last two Sundays and on Independence Day. I got to swim in the ocean, and we all had dinner together. I contributed some food, too, since I didn’t want to just mooch off of them. It was a lot of fun.

I’ve also had dinner with Dad a few times. And Saturday we drove for my annual pilgrimage to one of the larger comics shops in the area, Web Head Enterprises in Wakefield, where I found a bunch of stuff. There was a huge accident on the freeway on the way back, so we took the longer route through Waltham where we went to The Outer Limits, where I found some more stuff.

Thursday night I got together with my friend Bruce for dinner in the North End, and this week I hope to have dinner with my friend Charley as well. It beats sitting around the house (after I’m tired of cleaning).

What’s fallen by the wayside compared to an actual vacation has been reading: I read most of a book on the flight out (mostly waiting to board due to the 2-1/2 hour delay), but only about 60 pages since. Ah well!

And the Red Sox certainly haven’t been entertaining me, as they’re having a pretty weak year.

But watching them beats silence when the sun goes down and I’m all alone in the house. All-Star Game tomorrow!

Grill Fiend

Following my half-week of getting rid of stuff, we had a pretty busy weekend.

Yesterday we went up to San Francisco for a party/concert being thrown by Genentech, Debbi’s employer, for its employees. It was a benefit concert, part of a “giving back” program they’re doing this year. They rented out the ballpark (as they did for their Christmas party a couple of years ago), and had some surprise musical guests. We had a pretty good time (hey, free ballpark food!), but the music wasn’t really either of our tastes. Following an opening act by a former employee, the acts were Natasha Bedingfield (whom I’d never heard of, and who was an okay mix of pop, soul and hip-hop), The Fray (a straight-ahead alt-rock group who played one song I’d heard), and Counting Crows (the 90s alt-rock group whose early stuff I’d enjoyed, but they’re not among my favorites). As I’m more of a prog-rock guy, and Debbi’s a country gal, it wasn’t quite our thing. But it was a nice getaway day, and it’s the thought that counts, right?

Today we went for a bike ride through Shoreline park, having lunch at the Shoreline Cafe, and then ran some errands. And this evening I cooked dinner on the new grill I bought last week (a Weber Genesis E310). I assembled it over a couple of days late this past week, and this afternoon I hooked up the gas and ran through the tests in the manual to make sure there weren’t any leaks in any of the gas connections (I wonder how many people actually do this, or read the instructions at all, when they get a new grill?). I fired it up and it worked fine, so I grilled steak, asparagus, and red bell peppers for dinner, as well as some chicken for Debbi’s lunch salads this week. It went perfectly smoothly, and tested great, too! It should be a nice upgrade over my old Weber Q (which, to be fair, did a great job for me for seven years).

Now I need to figure out what to do with the one-and-a-half small propane canisters I have left over from my old grill.

Here are a couple of pictures of the new toy:

RIP Michael Jackson

When I was a young teenager, Michael Jackson was almost inescapable: His music was on every pop radio station, and he was one of the darlings of MTV. His album Thriller was a generational advent, especially when the video for the title track showed up (it’s still influential today).

So I couldn’t help but pay attention to Michael Jackson as a teen. Despite this, I never bought any of his albums or singles. They were nice enough, but mostly not my thing. (Though to be fair, I did enjoy his music casually, especially the “Thriller” video.)

To be fair, Jackson at his best was better than dance-pop music (especially the synth-pop of the early 80s, which was largely execrable and which, unlike Jackson’s music, sounds even sillier today than it did then). It had some depth and complexity to go along with the rhythm and melody, and I think that’s what over the long haul separated him from most of his contemporaries. Jackson was also a showman, but what he brought were not just slick dance moves and a pretty face (although he brought those, too), but a sense of grown-up style atop his fundamental energy and enthusiasm. Really, all of this is perfectly captured in the cover to his album before Thriller, Off The Wall. Even in his later years, I think it’d be fair to say that Jackson was basically a big kid in an adult body.

Why do so many pop stars become so eccentric? Okay, everyone’s eccentric in their own way (look at me, for instance. No, on second thought, stop looking at me), but something about the rise to the top or the fall from the top seems to make these people nuttier than normal. Arguably Madonna and George Harrison’s eccentricities are more the result of the media coverage that they received, but consider Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, who embraced their eccentricities and ultimately crafted their images around them, and then seemed to get stuck in a feedback loop of getting weirder as they’re farther removed from their peak.

(Aside: Elvis, The Beatles and Jacko are clearly the dominant pop stars of the 50s, 60s and 80s; who was the dominant star of the 70s? The Bee Gees? Somehow they don’t seem to be in the same class.)

Jackson’s later years became more spectacle than performance (his last album was released in 2001), but his death yesterday still reverberates (even though I’m still a little surprised at the number of passionate Jackson fans out there today). I can’t yet think of the music of my teen years as “golden oldies”, but Jackson’s passing is a big step towards making it so.

(Another reminiscence at Standing on the Shoulders of Giant Midgets.)

My iPod Knows Me

Appropriately enough, on my after-lunch walk my iPod decided to play “Time” by Hootie and the Blowfish.

Laser’s Edge Christmas Sale

Progressive rock retailer The Laser’s Edge is having a Christmas sale, running from now through the end of the day tomorrow, Christmas day. (The Laser’s Edge is in New Jersey, so that’s probably midnight EST.) If progressive rock is your thing, I recommend running right over and buying some stuff.

I don’t write about my progressive rock interests as much as I’d hoped, but if you’re interested in checking out some of my favorites, I think you can’t go wrong with any of the following:

I’ve bought dozens of CDs from them over the years and have always been happy with their selection, prices, service and friendliness.

Modern Prog on iTunes

Huh. The iTunes Music Store has some introductory playlists for modern progressive rock that you can buy and download.

It’s a little strange that the lists contain no Spock’s Beard (which the iTMS does have) or Flower Kings (which it doesn’t). It seems like it focuses mainly on progressive metal. They may just be at the mercy of what’s available on the store, but it might also be the result of biases of whoever composed the list. Although to be fair there are a number of band listed with whom I’m unfamiliar, so maybe I shouldn’t talk.

All-TIME 100 Albums

TIME magazine’s list of the 100 greatest and most influential albums. At least they have the right attitude in compiling the list:

So here’s how we chose the albums for the All-TIME 100. We researched and listened and agonized until we had a list of the greatest and most influential records ever – and then everyone complained because there was no Pink Floyd on it. And that’s exactly how it should be. We hope you’ll treat the All-TIME 100 as a great musical parlor game. Read and listen to the arguments for the selections, then tell us what we missed or got wrong. Or even possibly what we got right.

One obvious objection is that there are no albums from before the 1950s, which means that the oldest (for instance) jazz album on the list is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. No Ellington or Armstrong? (It’s not a list from the last 50 years, since there are two Frank Sinatra albums on the list from before 1956.)

Rather than critique the selections, here are the albums on the list that I own:

  • Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (1977)
  • Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
  • Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)
  • Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
  • Carole King, Tapestry (1971)
  • The Who, Who’s Next (1971)
  • Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
  • The Beatles, Abbey Road (1969)
  • The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
  • The Beatles, Revolver (1966)
  • The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965)
  • John Coltrane, A Love Supreme (1964)
  • Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (1959)

No, I don’t own a copy of The Beatles (The White Album) – other than “Back in the USSR”, I don’t really like it.

As you might guess the list above is not exactly representative of my musical tastes. You can see that my tastes diverge considerably from the popular and artistic mainstream around the beginning of punk.

For other lists, there’s Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums list, or the 1987 top 100 rock ‘n’ roll albums list (the book of which I own and which turned me on to several good groups, such as Roxy Music).