May 2017 – 50 Albums of the Last Half-Century(-ish)

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

A little while ago, someone looked at the development of heavy metal from the 1970s to the 2000s and exemplified it by listing one album per year. Of course, this was just one perspective but, more generally, I thought it might be interesting to do something similar across all modern music genres.

 

This is only my catalogue of 50 years (actually 52 years but who’s counting?) of modern musical history. It is, of course, value-laden and massively subjective, with many great artists and albums excluded by the ruthless application of selection criteria, which included:

  • Must be an original album, not an EP or single
  • Only 1 album from each year (no reissues – original release date applies)
  • Only 1 album by any artist (band or solo)
  • The album must include some guitar work (i.e. no pure electronica)
  • Albums may come from any modern music genre
  • No compilations, ‘best of’ or various artist collections
  • They must be appreciated and owned by the author (i.e. not just made up or copied from elsewhere)

 

The resulting compendium is not representative of popularity, perceived wisdom, other people’s opinion or commercial success. It is simply my choices for a timeline covering over half a century of great music.

 

Why pick these 52 years? My age makes it difficult to go back further than the mid‑1960s for a start, so there aren’t any selections from the ‘birth’ of rock ‘n’ roll in about 1954 to the ‘dawn of rock’ in about 1965 – to be honest, I don’t own and am not particularly familiar with pre-’65 albums. I’ve brought it right up to date with 2016 being the last full year at the time of writing. However, anything beyond about 2010 is probably too recent to really place any kind of enduring significance to the entries – historical retrospective can be beneficial that respect. Arguably, the longer the intervening time period, the more consolidated, reliable and credible that hindsight becomes within context (discuss…).

 

Feel free to make up your own timeline over whatever period you like, using your own criteria. This is just my perspective; I can guarantee that anyone reading it will disagree with it and would produce a VERY different route through the roadmap of time. Actually, that’s both the point and the fun of it – if we all ended up with the same journey, we would live in a very dull world.

 

So… here we go, in chronological order…

 

The 1960s(-ish):

1965 Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

1966 John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton

1967 Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced

1968 The Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat

1969 King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King

 

The 1970s:

1970 Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

1971 The Doors – L.A. Woman

1972 David Bowie – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

1973 John Martyn – Solid Air

1974 Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping

1975 Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

1976 Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

1977 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Exodus

1978 AC/DC – Powerage

1979 The Clash – London Calling

 

The 1980s:

1980 Talking Heads – Remain In Light

1981 The Cramps – Psychedelic Jungle

1982 Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

1983 ZZ Top – Eliminator

1984 Iron Maiden – Powerslave

1985 Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms

1986 Metallica – Master Of Puppets

1987 Guns n’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction

1988 Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Session

1989 The Cure – Disintegration

 

The 1990s:

1990 Megadeth – Rust In Peace

1991 Nirvana – Nevermind

1992 Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

1993 Dinosaur Jr – Where you BEEN

1994 Portishead – Dummy

1995 Sonic Youth – Washing Machine

1996 Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads

1997 Rammstein – Sehnsucht

1998 Massive Attack – Mezzanine

1999 Suede – Head Music

 

The 2000s:

2000 The White Stripes – De Stijl

2001 The Strokes – Is This It

2002 Beck – Sea Change

2003 Placebo – Sleeping With Ghosts

2004 Kasabian – Kasabian

2005 Editors – The Back Room

2006 Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways

2007 Seasick Steve – Dog House Music

2008 The Black Keys – Attack & Release

2009 The Horrors – Primary Colours

 

The 2010s (so far):

2010 Warpaint – The Fool

2011 The Kills – Blood Pressures

2012 Richard Hawley – Standing At The Sky’s Edge

2013 Savages – Silence Yourself

2014 Band Of Skulls – Himalayan

2015 Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool

2016 Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

 

So… how many of these do you own and/or like? What course would you take through the last 5 decades? I’m sure that readers will be up in arms about what’s missing.

 

As with other CRAVE Guitars’ challenges, this exercise wasn’t as easy as when it was first envisaged. Reflecting on the list and making a few observations…

 

The albums listed are not necessarily my favourites; just ones that carry some meaning within the context of the topic. See my rant of July 2016 for my suggested top 20 most influential albums, some of which also appear in this list. There were many beloved albums (and favourite guitarists – see CRAVE Guitars’ February 2017 article) that didn’t make the final list. There are some great albums by great artists that don’t appear. Some albums on the list may not be the pinnacle of achievement by the artist but they appear because of the way the selection criteria worked.

 

The widely-regarded, guitar-dependent and ‘important classics’ on the timeline tend to come from the 1960s and ‘70s. These albums have stood the test of time and still have relevance today. Some represent ground-breaking events and their appearance on the timeline will be of no great surprise. Why no Rolling Stones or The Beatles on this list? Well, I’m not a Beatles fan and the Stones came close for a number of years including 2016 but got pipped at the post elsewhere. No Pink Floyd? Surprisingly not. No watershed albums like, for instance, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’, Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ or Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’? Not on this occasion. No manufactured boy/girl bands from the formulaic TV ‘talent’ production line (or their heinous celebrity-driven ilk)? Heck no! Real music only, please.

 

While the available choice of albums seemed to increase significantly from the mid‑1990s, the quality of output seemed to become more homogenous with the increase in quantity, meaning that it was harder to pick outstanding entries and, by the time the new millennium arrived, it becomes increasingly difficult to pick out the exemplary future classics from amongst the multiplicity of also-ran material. This doesn’t mean that quality deteriorated, simply that the market became increasingly saturated and tour de forces became more difficult to define. Time will tell as to which ones (if any) will have the longevity to stand out as true masterpieces.

 

Some years were spoilt for choice and it was a VERY hard task to select just one entry from a wealth of great albums, while other years were very sparse and it was a case of selecting from the ‘best of the rest’. For some years, there was an obvious shoo-in, while for others years it was actually quite difficult to pick a ‘winner’ from an amorphous morass of uninspiring averageness.

 

Within modern western popular music, it is probably not a surprise that the majority of artists in the timeline are British or American, with a smattering from elsewhere (Canada, Jamaica, Germany and Australia). Perhaps increased globalisation and geographical dispersion may introduce new influences, especially from those areas with different musical cultures, e.g. the middle east, far east, Africa and South America. Perhaps these influences, generally categorised as ‘world music’, will become more mainstream, especially as the Internet provides greater access to hitherto niche markets.

 

In terms of diversity, certainly the older music was male/white dominated. While a few more females populate the latter years, there is still a general shortage of female musicians in the industry. Ethnicity is predominantly white, which was a bit of a surprise and it certainly wasn’t a conscious choice. Music is one of those industries where artists from diverse backgrounds have been able to succeed and influence successive generations. As in other forms of 21st century life, ensuring equality of opportunity for everyone and the music industry depends on the best talent, rather than to segregate on the basis of specific upbringings.

 

Many genres were evenly distributed. However, a number of genres were under‑represented including rap/hip-hop, reggae, dance/funk/disco, etc. Surprisingly, indie music seems to have taken more of a centre stage in the noughties and tweenies, at least in this exercise. How these albums age over time will be interesting. Bands tended to feature, rather than solo artists, which was notable.

 

There is some pretty impressive album artwork over the half-century. It is amazing how effective musical packaging design has been. We are, sadly, long past the heyday of album art integrated with popular cultural references. I can’t see that changing with current and future media delivery systems. Why should credible artists and designers stake their reputation on, say, the latest download fad?

 

The rigorous application of the selection criteria was particularly challenging and may well account for some of the more obvious anomalies. A different approach might have led to a more balanced (and perhaps more predictable) result.

 

A slight grammatical oddity; there are 3 albums on the list whose titles are clearly prima facie questions and none of them end in a ‘?’ (1967, 1993 and 2001). Weird or what?

 

A number of albums on the list were debut or sophomore albums, perhaps indicating that for many artists, the pool of inventive material is more furtive early on in the limelight and, for some, success actually seems to dilute the fire of creativity, resulting in shortened professional careers. There are relatively few who have the longevity of a lifelong career. Sadly, a large proportion of the artists are no longer with us and their potential is lost forever. We miss their imagination.

 

When thinking about future direction within the context of the past, the outlook appears healthy and increasingly disparate, despite the broadcast media’s obsession with exploitative ‘talent’ drivel. The days when a single type of music would dominate the ‘air waves’ (remember them?) looks increasingly unlikely, simply because of the volume of new music and the ways in which it is made available to the listening public.

 

What will be ‘the next big thing’ and will there be any (counter-)culturally significant new genre developments like metal, new wave, punk, rave, grunge, etc.? Major mainstream step changes are possibly unlikely; the musical landscape is now so varied that anything fundamentally new is likely to be genre-specific, for example dancehall and dubstep, rather than a mass‑market popular revolution.

 

The emergence of completely new trends becomes less likely over time, as it can also be argued that most original ideas have pretty much been used up by now. There can only be a finite number of combinations of existing musical patterns to fuel experimentation and ultimate acceptance. The number of plagiarism litigations suggests that the future will increasingly have to recycle and re-use existing ideas, rather than create new ones. Existing genre conventions, once they have become well‑established, also tend to constrain further creativity within that particular genre. Perhaps we will see more genre cross-overs in an attempt to find that spark of innovation and inspiration.

 

So there you have it. It has been another interesting little challenge that has also raised a few more peripheral questions. While it doesn’t really add anything to humanity’s collective knowledge, it passes time and the task makes one think (again).

 

Finally, seeing as CRAVE (Cool & Rare American Vintage Electric) Guitars is all about the venerable instrument, think of all the great guitars and the guitarists that wielded them that feature on not only all the albums listed above but also all the ones that have been missed out.

 

This is the final monthly article before the ‘big move’ and, hopefully, things beginning to get back on track. Proverbially, I’ll see you on the other side. Until next time…

 

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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January 2017 – Why music affects us in the way it does

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Welcome to a brand new(-sh) and shiny(-ish) 2017. One hopes that humanity comes to its senses and delivers progress towards a better, fairer, more peaceful world in the year to come. Given indications so far, I doubt it but we shall see. I hope that I’m wrong.

 

What will be different for CRAVE Guitars in 2017? Other than the complete change of lifestyle to a more modest form of living and the absence of any funds to take forward the vintage guitar business, it will be a year of contemplation and formation of thoughts about the future. I have to remain optimistic that CRAVE Guitars will metamorphose (again) and will flourish in some splendid new form.

 

Anyway… back to the present and this month’s topic, in the absence of new gear. One of the things that has fascinated me over many years is why people choose, like, and are affected by, the music they listen to. My iTunes library runs into several tens of thousands of songs, predominantly but not exclusively from the last 5 decades, so the topic is pertinent. This article tries to understand why you might like one song while I might hate it and vice versa, or why we both might like or dislike the same one. While reading, please bear in mind that my roots are completely in modern music, which comprises a massively diverse smorgasbord of contemporary music from the 1960s onwards, right up to the latest releases. While I can appreciate (some) classical or traditional music, it doesn’t impact my life in the way that ‘modern popular’ music does.

 

The cultural revolution (no, not the Chinese uprising of 1966-1976) that began in the early 20th century led up to the seemingly sudden introduction of rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1950s. However, ‘modern’ rock and pop music didn’t appear fully formed overnight and its roots in blues and jazz go much further back. What the explosion in supply and demand that has occurred over the last 6 decades has done is to open up range of musical types in such a way that defining current genres and sub-genres has become increasingly difficult. In addition, technology (for instance to facilitate composition, recording, production and distribution) provides us with convenient access to types of music that hitherto might have been difficult to reach, let alone appreciate.

 

When I was young, my parents listened predominantly to classical and traditional music. However, this background does not appear to have influenced my personal preferences. So what did shape my listening habits while growing up in a rapidly changing world? The ‘nature versus nurture’ dichotomy doesn’t appear to be a determinant of taste and passing years don’t appear to have modified my listening behaviour significantly. Certainly my musical choices have not been passed to the next generation either, which is more than capable of making up its own mind, helped no doubt by convenient availability of music like never before. Perhaps I am unusual, which may be why I posed the rhetorical question in the first place.

 

You may think that this may be a ‘heavy’ topic for the start of the year (no pics either for copyright reasons! Sorry). However, I am going to try and get inside your head a little bit, so bear with me. The focus is not only on the things we tend to like collectively but also why some of the differences in musical preference between individuals can be so profound. Exploring the foundations of musical preference a bit further provided few satisfying answers and a lot of frustrating dead ends along the way. Although he may have been biased, Beethoven said it more succinctly than I can, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”.

 

To try and get to the bottom of this particular theme and gain some greater insight, I decided to delve a bit deeper into the subject matter. There is an awful lot of pure science behind music, especially the physics and mathematics of music ‘law’. While the scientific aspects are interesting in their own right, it was the psychological impact of music that provoked my curiosity. Let’s begin by breaking it down a bit…

 

One arm of musical science is called musicology. The word stems from the Greek meaning the ‘study of music’, so this seemed like a sensible starting point. Musicology, as it turns out, is largely formed of three different areas of study:

  1. Historical musicology – which is often referred to as music history (in a similar way to art history) and looks at the way that music has developed over a significant period of time. However, while this may explain the main epochs of music, it does little to explain how we ‘feel’ about the music we listen to in the current era. However, it does tend to outline what musical styles were popular through the ages and the access that ordinary people had (or didn’t have) to experience performance music
  2. Ethnomusicology – this area of music study looks at music within a cultural and/or societal context. While this may explain a bit about musical expression described by the generally common behaviours of large groups, e.g. western or far eastern music, it is very broad and doesn’t really get to the basis of individual musical preference (except within the context of a large society)
  3. Systematic musicology – is a term that covers many aspects of music including general questions about the importance of music right through to the specifics of music theory, varying in discipline, ranging from qualitative to quantitative studies

 

There is also a branch of musicology called cognitive musicology, although this looks more at mathematical modelling to explain how the brain processes and interprets music in a similar way to how it might process language, including learning, attention, planning and memory. Empirical studies have shown that there is a correlation between musical training and intellectual growth and a whole branch of neuropsychology has developed around this area. Functional MRI scans have shown that the brain actively responds to musical stimulus – no surprise there. Neuroscience, though, focuses primarily on biological processes, rather than emotional, responses.

 

Music, like language, is an integral part of our cognitive development, which might explain why musical expression is just as important as linguistic expression to nearly everyone on the planet, and has done for thousands of years. However, examining intellectual development does not explain how we, as individuals, respond to music in such a fundamental way. It also doesn’t explain the unifying force of fandom and mass hysteria, i.e. why we congregate in large groups then react disproportionately and often very rapidly to a particular movement in taste (fads?) – anyone remember Beatlemania?

 

Our brains generally respond to sound in a similar way. The auditory cortex works in association with the cerebellum and frontal cortex, and is responsible for processing ‘organised sound’, including music and language. While music also affects many other parts of our brains, scientists have pinpointed the areas deep in our brains that are activated by and cause emotional responses to music, primarily the amygdala and nucleus accumbens. The amygdala determines whether our bodies need to take some form of conscious action according to the sounds we hear, while the latter regulates the release of the hormone dopamine as part of the brain’s ‘reward system’ and plays a part in rhythmic timing. Dopamine is important as it makes us feel arousal and pleasure so, perhaps, music is a drug after all. Medically, our wellbeing can benefit from using music to reduce anxiety or stress, as used, for instance, in music therapy. Our reaction to music may be divided into emotions that are ‘perceived’ or ‘felt’, which might explain why, for instance, why some people enjoy listening to sad music.

 

Conversely, whether consciously or unconsciously, music can also be intrusive and distracting, for instance in public places or call centre queues (e.g. ‘Muzak’), when forced to listen to music we don’t like, or exposed to music inappropriately out of context, it can be linked to production of the stress hormone cortisol within the adrenal gland. One example of cortisol production as a result of an auditory stimulus may be the brain’s reaction to fingernails scraping a blackboard causing a significant antipathetic response.

 

Our clever brains are constantly trying to predict what comes next (technically, the anticipatory response). Many musicians have exploited this characteristic over centuries to tease us and then maximise the ‘crescendo’ effect. Auditory and visual acuity is strongly linked, which perhaps partly explains why we like to go out and watch live music or are drawn to music videos. Closing our eyes while listening to music can suppress the visual stimulus and concentrate the auditory stimulus.

 

So… does a better understanding of musicology or neurology help with this particular conundrum? Unfortunately, no it doesn’t. However, it does provide a broader framework within which further questions can be asked. There are clearly links between the physical mechanics and the psyche of music, so some further delving was required. Where to look next?

 

Music psychology was my next point of call. Music psychology is a different approach that attempts to explain musical behaviour and experience, including how we perceive music (e.g. pitch, rhythm, harmony and melody) and our ability to learn, play and perform music. Why is it, for instance, that some people are content to listen to music (i.e. be affected by it), while others are driven to acquire the skills of musical technique and perform in front of audiences (i.e. to affect others through it)?

 

While the answer to the question above is beyond the scope of this article, emotion is as vital for those making music as it is to the majority of us who listen to what they create. March Bolan once said, “Emotion has to be foremost. When I feel emotional I’m equipped to express myself”, and Debbie Harry also commented, “I do know the effect that music still has on me – I’m completely vulnerable to it. I’m seduced by it”. Jimi Hendrix went a bit further by saying that,Music is my religion”. To many, musical appreciation is as strong as faith, if not synonymous with it. Suffice to say, music is a powerful medium. Keith Richards expressed music in more survivalist terms, “Music is a necessity. After food, air, water and warmth, music is the next necessity of life”. How strongly do you feel about music’s professed omnipotence?

 

Perhaps a more relevant approach is to look at what psychologists refer to as ‘affective responses to music’. An ‘affect’ in basic psychological terms is how an organism interacts with stimuli including, amongst other things, the experience of feeling or emotion. Music is one such stimulus that leads to patterns of behaviour and regulation of our emotions. When looking a bit more deeply, even this area tends to break down into a number of factors that academics have attempted to measure. For instance, in relation to emotional music, the following formula has been postulated:

 

Experienced emotion = structural features x performance features x listener features x contextual features

 

While expressing emotion as an equation cannot hope to capture the nuances, it does indicate that the way we feel about music is actually a complex interrelationship between a number of human actions and situations. Studies have, unsurprisingly, repeatedly shown that music consistently elicits emotional responses in its listeners (duh!), so what is actually going on?

 

Why does some music make the hair on the back of our necks stand up? Psychologists refer to the ‘chill’ effect as ‘arousal’, which is a non-conscious physiological response to an environmental stimulus, caused by the hormone dopamine (again). How strong this reaction is depends on, as you might have guessed by now, a number of variables.

 

The psychology of music and the way it helps shape our genre preferences, again, tease us with answers. However, all it does is to identify that there are notable differences between us but not how or why these differences occur in the first place or why the emotional responses can be so varied and profound.

 

Perhaps delving into the characteristics of personality and self‑expression may provide some insight that has so far eluded my investigations? Some psychologists point to the ‘Big Five Personality Traits’ to explain and measure our ‘personality’. The ‘Big Five’ categories that shape our personality are:

  1. Openness to experience
  2. Agreeableness
  3. Extraversion
  4. Neuroticism
  5. Conscientiousness

 

The first two are called ‘plasticity’ traits (i.e. they tend to vary according to changes in context), while the latter three are called ‘stability’ traits (i.e. they tend to be relatively unchanging in adulthood). In relation to musical genre preferences, the plasticity traits are the ones that have greatest effect on our choice of musical gratification. In particular, researchers have found a link between openness, self‑assessed intelligence and preference for more complex music such as classical or jazz. I would argue, however, that this misrepresents the picture as there is a significant sociological and circumstantial connection going on here. Openness, however, does have an affinity for emotional response from music, as does agreeableness. Openness is also associated with ‘intense and rebellious’ music (including rock, rap, alternative and heavy metal). Extroverts also tend to prefer upbeat and energetic music (including dance, reggae and electronic music). Neuroticism is linked to the use of music for emotional regulation (including slow and sad or upbeat and happy ‘pop’ music, as well as indie music). Conscientiousness tends to be associated with an affinity for up-tempo, driving, powerful and defiant music.

 

Breaking things down into just five discrete factors has been criticised as simplistic, with other sub-traits tending to be incorporated within these five personality ‘dimensions’. There are also a number of other variables that co-exist interdependently of the ‘Big Five’. Psychologists have explored how individual musical preferences are affected by, for instance, age, gender, ethnicity, seasonality, familiarity, peer influence, and self‑perception. To me, location and mood are also key factors that motivate what music I listen to at any given time. What this area of study does is link personality, rather than emotions, to genre choices.

 

As with other studies mentioned above, investigations still focus on what the variances are but not how or why they drive our listening tastes. Clearly, all of these personality, demographic and contextual factors may help to influence genre preference but it is highly unlikely that any of them will ultimately determine it. In my opinion, the various hypotheses tend to generalise, rather than differentiate.

 

Personality studies get a bit closer to the core of the issue. However, it still doesn’t explain why two individuals with a similar personality and societal circumstances can still have completely opposing tastes or respond to the same piece of music in fundamentally diverse ways. Also, does our taste in music change as we age? When I was young, I assumed that I liked popular music because it was a given as part of the prevailing youth culture at the time. I also assumed that, as I got older, my musical tastes would mature into the ‘grown up’ genres such as classical or jazz. Nope. It didn’t happen and it probably won’t now. Neither do I listen predominantly to the soundtrack of my youth, although one cannot avoid the occasional reminiscence. I listen to a lot of new music as well and crave (sic!) emerging and fresh musical experiences. The same applies to guitar playing – perhaps there is a link there. As John Cage once pointed out, “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones”.

 

In a previous article, I covered personal preference in relation to guitars. In that topic, I likened the emotional response to guitars as similar to the instinctive response that we have to attractiveness of the opposite sex. There is something about that unconscious, instantaneous and very strong, often compulsive, sensual appeal that exists but is very hard to define and articulate. To me, the same applies to music, as well as art, architecture and design. Some music has that ‘love at first sight’ written all over it and has a certain consistency of perceived aesthetic appeal, while others have a ‘grow to appreciate its deeper qualities that aren’t immediately apparent’ characteristic. Quite why some music requires multiple listens to in order to grow appreciation while other music immediately slaps you around the face is not clear. Both have their place; it isn’t a case of one is better than the other, it’s just different.

 

In addition, why does overfamiliarity sometimes reinforce affection in some situations while breeding contempt in others? Why do we sometimes just get bored by repeated exposure while there is some music we simply cannot tune into, no matter what? Why do we sometimes have extreme (positive and negative) reactions to what is, after all, just a piece of music? Why, also, do we adopt often very dogmatic defence of our personal preferences when challenged by others who feel equally strongly about theirs? I would also like to know why we have ‘guilty pleasures’, those potentially embarrassing tracks we really shouldn’t like but for some reason we do.

 

So… after all that, none of the above really gets to the root of why music evokes a strong empathetic sense of deep emotion or nostalgia (as opposed to simple familiarity). What does it say, for instance, about my personal preferences? Not a lot, actually – it’s interesting but in relation to the question in hand, it’s also a bit ‘so what?’ Where do we go from here and what more can we do to understand what makes our preferences very much our own? None of the academic disciplines or studies that I’ve looked at seem to get to the fundamentals of individual predilection.

 

As mentioned at the beginning, my amateur research provided few answers and raised a lot of frustrating questions. I would have expected some sense of surety (and reassurance) about my emotional state of mind. I also expected to discover that millennia of human learning would lead to a more satisfactory (or at least adequate) conclusion.

 

In summary, I have no easy answer in response to the title of this article. Darn it! Academia may provide a lot of informed opinion and (in my view, some refutable) evidence but it does little to satisfy my ardent curiosity. Perhaps a glib qualitative ‘because I like it’ is sufficient after all, despite its crude ambiguity and subjectivity. I therefore challenge the learned professions to come up with something better. I defy anyone to predict my preferences on the basis of the academic studies covered here. Conversely, however, it is probably relatively easy to predict my personality based on my extensive iTunes library. Perhaps we are looking through the wrong end of the proverbial telescope?

 

So, in the absence of incontrovertible proof, I tried to identify 20 tunes that constitute the playlist of my emotional existence. At the time of writing, the list comprises (in no particular order and excluding multiple songs from a single artist):

  1. The song that makes me go all warm and fluffy inside: The Cure – ‘Love Song’ (1989)
  2. The song that makes me sob uncontrollably like a girl: Death Cab For Cutie – ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ (2005)
  3. The song that makes me want to scream with hatred: Buggles – ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ (1980)
  4. The protest song that makes me feel like an angry young man (again): Rage Against The Machine – ‘Killing In The Name’ (1992)
  5. The song that makes me grin like an idiot: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘O’Malley’s Bar’ (1996)
  6. The song that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end: Ben E. King – ‘Stand By Me’ (1961)
  7. The song that makes me think profoundly: The Clash – ‘London Calling’ (1979)
  8. The song that makes me want to hope: Johnny Nash – ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ (1972)
  9. The song that makes me head bang like in Wayne’s World: Blur – ‘Song 2’ (1997)
  10. The track to play air lead guitar to: Led Zeppelin – ‘Kashmir’ (1975)
  11. The groove that makes me want to get up and boogie: Chic – ‘Le Freak’ (1978)
  12. The song that I wish I could have written: Louis Armstrong – ‘What A Wonderful World’ (1967)
  13. The song that I’d like to cover live: Rolling Stones – ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll (But I Like It)’ (1974)
  14. The best song to get stoned to: Pavement – ‘Range Life’ (1994)
  15. The song that I can chill out to: John Martyn – ‘Small Hours’ (1977)
  16. The song that makes me depressed: Sex Pistols – ‘Pretty Vacant’ (1977)
  17. The song that lifts me out of depression: The Beloved – ‘The Sun Rising’ (1990)
  18. The song that makes me long for a balmy summer’s day: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – ‘Summertime’ (1991)
  19. The chart single from my youth: T. Rex – ‘Metal Guru’ (1972)
  20. The album track from my youth: Pink Floyd – ‘One Of These Days’ (1971)

 

Like many of CRAVE’s topics, it seemed an easy task on the face of it, however, as usual it turned into anything but. While contemplating the mix, I kept changing my mind depending on how I felt, which just proves how impulsive, volatile and value‑laden the subject matter is. I am not going to divulge why these particular tracks stir my sentiments, suffice to say that they do. I must stress that these aren’t necessarily favourite songs (especially no. 3!), just ones that evoke some sort of emotive response. What would be your 20 lifestyle tunes? What about all those millions of tracks that one hasn’t even discovered yet? I am not a betting person but I would propose quite confidently that it is highly unlikely that many people would share exactly the same list, and thank heaven for that… but why?

 

In conclusion, and as a final parting shot, I will say that extensive diversity and continual evolution in music are inherently good things. Only through variety and innovation can we closely match the way we feel with the music we listen to. Frank Zappa once stated that, “Music is always a commentary on society”. Indeed, when considered in those terms, culturally, it is problematic to separate the two. While some people are happy caught in that time warp of a certain period or are captivated by a specific genre, others like me are inquisitive and intrigued by what has been as well as what is yet to come. I look forward to ‘the next big thing’. My quest for new musical experiences is prominent and my personal choice is strongly shaped by disposition and attitude at any one point in time.

 

Existentially, I believe that music is essential for the healthy sustenance of the human condition, while the music you or I like is a very, very personal thing that contributes to our overall wellbeing. Leonard Cohen observed, Music is the emotional life of most people, while Robert Plant asserted similarly, “Music is for every single person that walks the planet”. The compromise between global and individual musical engagement is relevant or we wouldn’t have anything to talk (and argue) about. The similarities and, perhaps more importantly, the differences between us continually drive musical development and invention. After all, that is what motivates us guitarists to come together and create our own interpretation of music after all.

 

Anyhoo… I’m off to plink my planks (again) as a cathartic exercise while leaving my subconscious to attempt to unravel the mysteries of personal preference (again). Yay for the former, Sigh for the latter.

 

This month, I’ll finish with a quote by the late, great Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, who said, “If you think you’re too old to rock ‘n’ roll then you are”. Until next time…

 

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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December 2016 – A Year of Gains, Change, Losses and Optimism

posted in: Observations, Opinion | 0

It’s that time of year again when it seems to be the ‘in’ thing to reflect on the departing year and look ahead to the future whatever it may hold (along with a few obligatory lists along the way). So, in the spirit of seasonal laziness, here is my take on the year just about to leave platform 2016 and to wait for the 20:17 train to who knows where.

 

A Retrospective

In the music world, the grief that ended 2015 (e.g. Lemmy) continued into 2016. Let’s begin by remembering some of those great artists and guitarists who sadly departed and left us mere mortals behind during the year. I hope they play eternally at the ‘great gig in the sky’…

  • David Bowie on 10th January, aged 69
  • Glenn Frey on 18th January, aged 67
  • Merle Haggard on 6th April, aged 79
  • Prince on 21st April, aged 57
  • Lonnie Mack on 21st April, aged 74
  • Scotty Moore on 28th June, aged 84
  • Leonard Cohen on 7th November, aged 82
  • Greg Lake on 7th December, aged 69
  • Rick Parfitt on 24th December, aged 68
  • George Michael on 25th December, aged 53

 

2016 Departures

 

Farewell and Rest In Peace cool dudes, you will be forever remembered for your tremendous legacy… and will be greatly missed for potential works not completed. Kudos. I am not looking forward to 2017 and the inevitable demise of more stalwarts of the music industry. Who will be next? We can only conjecture at this stage.

 

It has certainly been a year of change. I won’t delve into the controversial world of global politics, even though it affects our lives fundamentally every day. As English guitarist Eric Clapton said, “One of the most beneficial things I’ve ever learned is how to keep my mouth shut”. At a personal level, it has been a complete change of employment, if not lifestyle (yet). I am still working for ‘the man’ but in a different way. After 30 years as a paid employee, I was made redundant and am now self-employed. The massive drop in disposable income has affected CRAVE Guitars by forcing a, hopefully temporary, hiatus in its mission to accumulate more vintage guitars. In fact, only 3 guitars were purchased all year, but what terrific guitars they were in their different ways…

  • 1962 Gretsch 6120 Double Cutaway Chet Atkins Hollowbody (March)
  • 1964 Silvertone 1449 ‘Amp-in-Case’ (October)
  • 1981 Gibson RD Artist (January)

Bizarrely, there was not a Fender amongst them. Note to self… must try harder!

1962 Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins DC
1965 Silvertone 1449 Amp in Case
1981 Gibson RD Artist
1981 Gibson RD Artist

See CRAVE Guitars Instruments page…

 

Out of curiosity, I had a look back at my ‘most wanted list’ of guitars from this time last year and I’ve only been able to knock one off the ‘plan’ during the last 12 months (and probably not the one you’d think!). Oh well.

 

The change, however, was an opening to refocus a bit, without straying too far from the chosen path. Rather than just stop altogether, it enabled me to look at things in a fresh way. As it turned out, a more affordable and modest vintage guitar-related ‘hobby’ filled the sizeable gap. The result was that I was able to build up a modest collection of classic vintage guitar effect pedals, starting with a ‘small box’ Pro Co Rat and ending 5 months and 16 pedals later with a Made in Japan’ Boss PH-1 Phaser. I also resurrected a number of my classic owned-from-new pedals from the ‘70s. These classic pedals can still hold their own in terms of tone and, while not necessarily ergonomic, are well worth the effort.

 

This cool diversion had its pitfalls, including transit damage, missing bits and difficulty finding vintage parts to refurbish a couple of cool but ‘adapted’ player-grade effects. What I learned is that, while I’m OK at buying guitars, my knowledge of vintage stomp boxes just wasn’t as strong. At least my focus was on the lower end of the vintage market, rather than the overpriced collector end (original Ibanez TS-808s anyone? Gasp!). It will take a while to build up reliable experience and make better‑informed purchases. In total, there were 17 vintage effect pedals purchased during 2016, including (by brand)…

  • Boss (x5) – CS-1, DS-1, OC-2, OD-1, PH-1
  • Electro Harmonix (x2) – Little Big Muff pi, Doctor Q
  • Ibanez (x5) – AD9, CS9, FL301-DX, FL9, TS9
  • Jen (x1) – Cry Baby Super
  • MXR (x3) – Blue Box, Distortion +, Phase 90
  • Pro Co (x1) – RAT

 

While looking into effect pedals, I also started looking at vintage valve guitar amps again, although I only bought one very cool little loud box during 2016 (not including the Silvertone’s ’amp in case’ above)…

  • 1978 Fender Vibro Champ
Vintage Effects x 8
1978 Fender Vibro Champ
1965 Silvertone 1449 Amp in Case

See CRAVE Guitars’ Amps & Effects page….

 

What has CRAVE sold during 2016? B*gger all of any significance! I just don’t have the ‘killer instinct to sell effectively, which is why I’m not a dealer. So, the ‘collection’ continues to grow, which isn’t good news, either financially or space-wise.

 

Turning to recorded music, picking something special out from the ubiquitous, formulaic dross was a bit of a challenge. Here are some of the varied albums (whatever happened to singles?!) released and added to CRAVE Guitars’ playlists in 2016:

  • Jeff Beck – Loud Hailer
  • Blossoms – Blossoms
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • The Coral – Distance Inbetween
  • Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
  • Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
  • Daughter – Not To Disappear
  • Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
  • Garbage – Strange Little Birds
  • The Heavy – Hurt & The Merciless
  • Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression
  • The Kills – Ash & Ice
  • Megadeth – Dystopia
  • Metallica – Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  • Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome
  • Savages – Adore Life
  • Seasick Steve – Keepin’ The Horse Between Me And The Ground
  • Warpaint – Heads Up

 

One good point towards the end of 2016 was that I was able to see one of my all-time favourite bands and one that has kept me just about sane over many years. I saw The Cure at Wembley Arena, London on 1st December. It is 8 years since I last saw them live in London and New York. They were, as I’d hoped, awesome and still able to perform at the top of their game. They were supported by Scottish indie band, The Twilight Sad, who I’d also been looking forward to seeing for some time; impressive. As I was unable to make the pilgrimage to Glastonbury Festival this year, this one major gig made up for it. Long may Robert Smith and The Cure continue to inspire – thanks Bob. I can only hope that this tour may herald a new album in the near future (hint, hint!).

 

The Cure – Wembley 1-12-16

 

While on the topic of live bands, it occurred to me that it is a very ephemeral experience. On quiet reflection, if there is one band that I would have liked to have seen but didn’t and now it’s too late… The Clash. The one band that I haven’t seen yet that I would like to see before it’s too late… Rage Against the Machine. Of course there are many, many mainstream artists that could go on those particular lists. These were just ones that came to mind when I asked the rhetorical question.

 

A Prospective

Trivia fact: In English etymology, ‘prospective’ is a valid antonym for ‘retrospective’. So, I took the indulgence of looking forward through the looking glass and speculating a little on what may lie ahead.

 

Firstly, CRAVE Guitars will hopefully be relocating soon. I was hoping it was going to be before Christmas but it will now be in early 2017. Major problems and escalating costs with the new place, including somewhere to store the guitars dry, warm, safe and secure, means that even pedal purchasing has now been put on hold until further notice while some massively expensive but essential rebuilding takes place and (sadly) uses all my remaining (guitar) capital.

 

Furthermore, my self-employed work ends at Christmas, so unemployment (tactically, I prefer to call it early retirement) looms on the immediate horizon. Ironically, after years of having no time and a little cash has been turned around such that I may soon have a little time and no cash. Hey-ho, story of my life; one can’t have it all, eh?

 

If there is a way that CRAVE Guitars could be put on a different basis and become a full‑time occupation, I’d like to do it. I need to learn how to sell though (see above). It would be terrific if I could realise my long-held ambition and put all my hard work over the last few years to good use. Harsh life experiences over many years suggest that this won’t happen so, perhaps, it is about time for a meagre sprinkling of ‘good luck’ to come my way for once.

 

 

Unfortunately, the prevailing economic climate is not conducive to starting up a professional niche business with next to zero capital, no access to finance, sparse experience, and little reliable entrepreneurial advice, all within the context of political, economic and social turmoil. In the UK, we’ve had a General Election, political meltdown, crippling national debt and the insanity of ‘Brexit’ (what a stupid ‘word’ that is!). In the US we’ve had Clinton being well and truly Trumped (amid much conspiracy theory), which is a scary proposition for the whole world. Mad! Since the EU Referendum, the $USD to £GBP exchange rate has fallen through the floor, so one of CRAVE’s strengths – importing vintage guitars from homeland U.S.A. – is now next to impossible as the costs have simply become prohibitive (at least on the modest funds at my disposal). As 2017 looks to provide more surprises and yet more change, there is little point in further speculation about exactly what might transpire. I wonder what CRAVE’s December 2017 article will have to say (all other things being equal).

 

Ever the eternal optimist, or more probably just tragically deluded, 2017 HAS to be better than 2016. I suspect I may be bitterly disappointed… again. As you might imagine, I have no evidence to support this hypothesis, just a desperate but probably forlorn hope that things, both macro and micro, improve in the months to come. I also have to trust that the irrevocable life-changing events of 2016 lead to constructive and positive outcomes in 2017. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist that founded analytical psychology summed it up, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” Perhaps the old dude knew a thing or two about people’s ability to influence their own destiny.

 

I know that one shouldn’t gauge any sort of success by social media activity but CRAVE Guitars is gradually building a solid presence on the hinterweb. A huge “THANK YOU” to everyone who showed some interest in goings on at CRAVE Guitars over the last 12 months. At the time of writing, CRAVE’s Twitter followers (my favoured platform – @CRAVE_Guitars) were standing at over 1,330, which is amazing to me – a massive increase in a year. The majority of CRAVE’s Twitter followers are in the U.S.A., so much appreciation goes out to my transatlantic brethren. Equally, my gratitude extends to everyone inside and outside the UK, across the continents of our increasingly shrinking ‘global village’ for your time and consideration.

 

CRAVE Website

 

If CRAVE could buy any vintage guitar in 2017, what would it be? Actually, although unlikely to achieve either, I’m picking one from each of Fender and Gibson to keep things neutral. A 1970s Fender Starcaster has appealed for a long time but they are few and far between and prices are scarily high. As for the ‘big G’, a 1950s non‑cutaway Gibson ES‑150 has also been a longstanding aim, also rapidly increasing in price. So if Santa is listening, I have tried SO hard to be a good boy.

Fender Starcaster 1976
Gibson-ES-150 1936-1942

 

As frequently mentioned in my articles, guitars have only one purpose, as a tool to make music. Music can bring us together and help to heal the often seemingly irreconcilable schisms that inhibit mutual co‑operation and benefit. This brings me neatly onto…

 

A Hope

For what it is worth, a short Christmas message of redemption for 2017…

 

I feel that there are even greater seismic shifts ahead in every facet of our small planet. All I can hope is that for every backward step, there are many more steps in the right direction towards the panacea of world peace, ecological sustainability and, let’s face it, survival. We need to magnify the things that we all share and value, and we must strive to diminish the things that cause irreconcilable division and conflict. Ultimately, there is no choice but to work together for the sake of our enduring common humanity. We all have an obligation and a moral duty, individually and collectively, to build a better, fairer world for everyone now and for succeeding generations. As equal citizens, we must demand more from our governments if we are to achieve a viable future for life on Earth. We must respect our diversity, reject greed, protect our environment, have compassion for all living things, and rise above prejudice and hatred, if we are to stand any chance of achieving great things as a species. Strive for utopia and we may just get far enough down the road to justify the effort. It is just common sense after all and the struggle must prevail if it’s worth struggling for. We shall see. Buddha put it far more succinctly, “Better than a thousand hollow words, is one word that brings peace”. Quite right!

 

I fear that the rise of ignorant extremism under the guise of ‘populist anti‑institutionalism’ will trigger further anarchic, nihilistic and blindly destructive tendencies when, what the world really needs right now is more ‘peace and love’. Beneath the superficiality of the naïve desperation of the ‘60s hippy movement, the counter‑culture ‘uprising’ of the time had it right all along and we should seek to realise the latent potential of their philosophical idealism and belief for good and fairness. As John Lennon sang, “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” One can hope beyond hope, however unrealistic it may seem. Concerted action, though, is needed.

 

May you play guitars, or at least listen to the magical music that all guitarists – great and meek alike – create on our beloved instruments. People need the therapeutic qualities of music now, more than ever before. It is a cathartic way to deal with the harsh vagaries of our capricious, chaotic, dysfunctional world. As the German philosopher and scholar, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wisely said, “And those who were seen dancing, were thought to be insane, by those who could not hear the music.” On that final contemplative note, it is goodbye to a weird 2016 and I hope to be back in 2017. In the meantime, I’m off to ‘plink my plank(s)’. Until next time…

 

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “If I had a pound for every perfect guitar solo I’ve ever played, I’d still be stone broke.”

 

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

 

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