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Monday, January 24, 2005
Today, I was in the mood to revisit the years of my misspent youth.
Let us turn the clock back, back, waay back...back before mp3's, back before compact discs even, before Live Aid, before Thriller, before Mark David Chapman, before Another Brick in the Wall.
The year is 1979. A not-very-cool 14 year old is on his way home, carrying the very first rock 'n' roll records he ever bought. He used the lunch money that was supposed to hold him for two weeks to buy them.
Clutched under his arm are The Early Beatles (The U.S. version of Please Please Me), Eat To The Beat by Blondie, Boston, and More Songs About Buildings And Food by Talking Heads. There is something almost furtive about him, and it isn't the lunch money. It is the knowledge that in the dusty, poorly lit Greenwich Village record shop where he made his purchases, something very special happened, something he didn't quite understand.
This young man walks home thinking he had undergone an initiation of sorts; a kind of passage into a new world vastly greater than the childhood pastimes of collecting baseball cards or comic books. He had tapped into something much bigger, something that signified...signified what? Community? Coolness? Maybe it was catching his first whiff of growing up in that dingy store. Maybe he was responding subconsciously to the concepts of sex and drugs, so often preceding those 2 1/2 little words: rock 'n' roll.
A quarter of a century later I sit by my computer; that 14 year old kid never dreamed every house would have one or that any house would.
And so I decided to generate a random playlist songs from 1979 in my Media Center. I set no filters, just random play of any 1979 titles in my library.
So without further ado, I bring you: 1979. Here's the first 10 tracks to be randomly played (My Media Center Rating tags, 1-5 stars, follow):
1. The Knack: (She's So) Selfish ***
For the first 54 seconds, I swore this was mis-tagged. It chugs along to a Bo-Diddley beat, sounding almost note-for-note like Quicksilver Messenger Service's version of Who Do You Love? Then the My Sharona-esque vocals kick in. Speaking strictly as a non-fan, this is a good song, one of the Knack's best.
2. Talking Heads: Mind ****
Fear of Music was a transitional album for the Talking Heads. They were firmly under the svengali-like influence of producer Brian Eno, who they'd score better with the following year with Remain In Light. This is one of the lesser cuts from Fear of Music, but the elements are all here; a little polyrhythm, the atmospheric keyboard washes, some oddball guitar riffing, and Byrne's tortured-nerd vocals, off the wall lyrics.
3. Fleetwood Mac: Walk A Thin Line ***
Tusk's production bore a $1,000,000 price tag, which was a lot even in those days, and the record company responded by jacking the cover price up an extra two dollars. The band caught most of the backlash, which was unfair since the lush, layered, super-multi-tracked production (all evident on this cut)is one of my favorites, a gem few would bother paying for at today's prices. Kind of a 50's-meets-70's sound to this one, with gorgeous vocals and backing vocals. They'd never make a good album ever again.
4. The Clash: London Calling *****
This should need no introduction to most people reading this. Here's where the Clash crossed over from British cult punk band to almost mainstream in America. Unlike anything else popular at the time, it has an enormous beat to go with the jagged guitars and anarchist lyrics, and give the bass player his due, too.
5. Lene Lovich: Lucky Number ***
Lovich was better known for her wild image than her music, kind of a proto-riot grrl. This is a likable cut, but it sounds as 1979 as you can get with its new-wave synth and quirky-punky vocal style (later mined by Missing Persons). Strictly for fans of the old scene, now.
6. Judy Collins: Hard Times For Lovers **
Self-serving ode to divorce and divorced friends, this also has 1979 writ large across it. Collins' voice --which was once considered great by people never quite hip enough to be hippies-- is surprisingly strained here; she actually misses the high notes. She also poses naked on the back cover; either she has almost no butt at all, or the record company panicked and airbrushed half of it away. Not an appealing shot at all; for butt, check out the gatefold of For The Roses by Joni Mitchell. That was a butt.
7. Aerosmith: Chiquita ****
From Night In The Ruts, marking the beginning of Aerosmith's fall over the ledge into ruin. You can almost hear the drugs in Tyler's jaded vocals, Perry's shambling, enervated rave-ups, and the off-kilter drumming. That's why I like it, in the same way I like the druggy decadent vibe of Goat's Head Soup, which this album somewhat resembles.
8. The Kinks: Low Budget ***
Low Budget made the Kinks headliners again, after a decade in the wilderness. It also is the last really satisfying album the Kinks ever made, and even some Kinks fans will tell you it isn't so great. I give it more credit than they do, but the title cut is nothing special. It sounds a little like George Thorogood before the harmonies kick in, and features Dave Davies on lead vocal.
9. Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Watching The Detectives *****
Like the Clash, but to a lesser degree, Costello gained a lot of mainstream fans with Armed Forces, from which this was taken. Good reggae beat, with Costello's trademark cynical wit. Still remains one of Costello's most played tracks on the radio.
10. George Harrison: Faster ****
A guilty pleasure. Harrison's self titled 1979 album was his best since his debut, but it didn't set the music world on fire, and is dispensable now. This mini-epic features sound effects, some nice slide guitar, chiming acoustic guitars, and a good lyric well sung about a racer, but it could also apply to my mundane life, or yours.
For a randomly generated playlist, this wasn't bad. Some genre-whiplash, but less than it looks on paper. It did select a little of everything 1979 had musically; some punk, some album rock (hard and soft variety), some new wave, some 60's survivors... It didn't quite bring me back to 1979, but it did remind me of it, which is good enough.
Note to downloaders: Remember, never trust tags, unless you set them yourself. Date tags are especially untrustworthy, aside from the usual sloppy or indifferent tagging of p2p users, many tags reflect re-issue dates or compilation dates. Fixing them is easy though, if you keep your album tags fastidiously set to original albums. If you do that, you can use YADB or whichever databse your media player uses to automatically set the dates; most will be accurate. Then, you can fine-tune.
Also, that Lene Lovich cover art wasn't in any of the usual places and required a brief hunt. So if you need it, there it is.