1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die by Tom Moon - Read Online
1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
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The musical adventure of a lifetime. The most exciting book on music in years. A book of treasure, a book of discovery, a book to open your ears to new worlds of pleasure. Doing for music what Patricia Schultz—author of the phenomenal 1,000 Places to See Before You Die—does for travel, Tom Moon recommends 1,000 recordings guaranteed to give listeners the joy, the mystery, the revelation, the sheer fun of great music.

This is a book both broad and deep, drawing from the diverse worlds of classical, jazz, rock, pop, blues, country, folk, musicals, hip-hop, world, opera, soundtracks, and more. It's arranged alphabetically by artist to create the kind of unexpected juxtapositions that break down genre bias and broaden listeners’ horizons—it makes every listener a seeker, actively pursuing new artists and new sounds, and reconfirming the greatness of the classics. Flanking J. S. Bach and his six entries, for example, are the little-known R&B singer Baby Huey and the '80s Rastafarian hard-core punk band Bad Brains. Farther down the list: The Band, Samuel Barber, Cecelia Bartoli, Count Basie, and Afropop star Waldemer Bastos.

Each entry is passionately written, with expert listening notes, fascinating anecdotes, and the occasional perfect quote—"Your collection could be filled with nothing but music from Ray Charles," said Tom Waits, "and you'd have a completely balanced diet." Every entry identifies key tracks, additional works by the artist, and where to go next. And in the back, indexes and playlists for different moods and occasions.
Published: Workman eBooks on
ISBN: 9780761153856
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1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die - Tom Moon

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ABBA • Dimi Mint Abba and Khalifa Ould Eide • The Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra • The Abyssinian Baptist Choir • AC/DC • John Adams • Johnny Adams • Ryan Adams • The Cannonball Adderley Quintet • King Sunny Ade • Aerosmith • Mahmoud Ahmed • Air • Arthur Alexander • Alice in Chains • Mose Allison • The Allman Brothers Band • The Almanac Singers • Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass • Los Amigos Invisibles • Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis • Marian Anderson • The Animals • Aphex Twin • Fiona Apple • The Arcade Fire • Martha Argerich • Louis Armstrong • Arrested Development • Art Ensemble of Chicago • Fred Astaire • Chet Atkins and Les Paul • Albert Ayler

The Craft of the Hit Song

Gold

ABBA

An entire industry has grown up around the worship of ABBA, the two former couples from Sweden who became one of the pop powerhouses of the 1970s. There’s the long-running Broadway revue Mamma Mia!, books, anthologies, and even a museum in Stockholm, all dedicated to the glory of pop songs that can seem, to unbelievers, like lightweight, airbrushed nothingness.

Love or hate ABBA, this much is difficult to dispute: The singles this quartet released between 1974 and 1979 are models of impeccable craft, ranking with the most carefully sculpted radio fare of all time. Principal songwriters Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson started out like many in Europe circa 1970—they learned to sing in English, and tried to imitate the radiant refrains and gilded vocal harmonies of the Beatles. They got good at it right away (see Waterloo, the first worldwide hit from 1974) and grafted that stuff onto the beats of the 1970s, notably disco and Euro-style funk. Then ABBA polished everything to a blinding sheen.

Gold is one of the Top 40 bestselling albums of all time worldwide.

That gloss explains some of the success, especially considering that in terms of nuts and bolts, songs like Mamma Mia are fairly inconsequential. But some of the group’s other massive singles—SOS, Knowing Me, Knowing You, and the unstoppably buoyant, often overlooked Fernando—contain refrains so damn giddy they can’t be easily purged from the brain. These tightly scripted songs are an excellent starter kit for those wanting to investigate the DNA of post-Beatles pop.


GENREPop. RELEASED: 1992, Polar/Polydor. KEY TRACKS: SOS, Dancing Queen, Waterloo, Take a Chance on Me, Fernando. CATALOG CHOICE: Arrival. NEXT STOP: The Cardigans: Life. AFTER THAT: Duran Duran: Rio.


Severe, Stirring, Beguiling: Another Side of Africa

Moorish Music from Mauritania

Dimi Mint Abba and Khalifa Ould Eide

The traditional music of Mauritania exists between worlds. It encompasses both the devotional aspect of Islamic life in North Africa, and the rhythmic energy and group interplay of sub-Saharan black Africa. For centuries the desert republic has functioned as a crossroads, a place where various African and Arabic cultures, from Berber to Wolof and Tuareg, have met. That’s reflected in the sounds: The indigenous music combines the calm authority of the ancients—some texts are based on centuries-old Islamic poetry—with the urgent cries of modern life. When a singer of Dimi Mint Abba’s persuasive power is involved, the contrasts and irreconcilable differences fade into music of fierce, transcendent passion—songs of devotion that need no translation.

Abba and her husband, Khalifa Ould Eide, were both born into the iggawin, or griot, tradition. In Mauritania, griots are a caste apart, regarded simultaneously as truth-telling folksingers, keepers of the poetry and heritage, and wizards in possession of paranormal powers. Abba’s family is a particularly influential one: In 1960, after the Islamic African nation won independence from France, her father wrote what became the Mauritanian national anthem. He’s also credited with helping to modernize traditional music, by replacing the four-stringed instrument known as the tidinit with the six-string guitar.

On this recording, made in London in 1990, Abba’s husband provides the accompaniment (on tidinit and/or guitar), and their two daughters add percussion and chanted vocals. Abba sings and handles the percussion instruments traditionally played by women, including the ardin, which is akin to the West African cora or calabash harp. These simple settings provide Abba with a sturdy framework for her vocals, which are largely improvised. Like other Islamic singers, Abba doesn’t always stay within a given tonality—when she’s really riled up, her adlibs veer into wild quarter-tones and semitones that are manifestations of pure spirit. While everything on this set sparkles, of particular note is Sawt Elfan (Art’s Plume), which brought Abba the top prize at a 1977 competition in Tunis. Through a series of riveting verses, Abba asserts that artists make more consequential contributions to society than warriors. The fervent, resolute singing she does here pretty much ends that argument.


GENREWorld/Mauritania. RELEASED: 1990, World Circuit. KEY TRACKS: Waidalal Waidalal, Yar Allahoo, Sawt Elfan. CATALOG CHOICE: Music and Songs of Mauritania. NEXT STOP: Tinariwen: Amassakoul. AFTER THAT: Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective: Wátina.


Effortless, Unpredictable Free Jazz

Blu Blu Blu

The Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra

Outbursts of childlike joy and growling blues catcalls animate the music of Muhal Richard Abrams, the pianist and composer who is one of the stealth legends of modern jazz. A founding member of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), one of the most influential outfits dedicated to progressive jazz, Abrams was on the scene when free jazz was coalescing in the 1960s. With his debut recording as a leader in 1967 and many of the titles that followed, he expanded the toolkit of the typical jazz radical with ideas from blues and New Orleans music.

This 1990 session is one of several thrilling Abrams works for large ensemble (another is the hard-to-find Rejoicing with the Light) in which angular, inventive written material is offset by slightly unhinged solo passages. The band includes trumpeter Jack Walrath, vibraphonist Warren Smith, and a whistler named Joel Brandon, whose feature, One for the Whistler, is a suite that includes a desultory ballad and an agitated Afro-Cuban polyrhythm. (Those curious to hear what a jazz whistler sounds like when he’s got the spotlight should cue up Stretch Time, which features a spry, if short, Brandon excursion.) The spirited title track is a tribute to Muddy Waters; Abrams got his start playing blues and R&B, and this is one of a long line of originals that celebrates (and strengthens) the link between gut-level blues and the visceral expressions of the jazz avant-garde.

Abrams taught himself how to play on a small spinet piano.

Other musicians have had trouble getting those styles to mesh. Abrams, a free-jazz subversive, does it effortlessly, creating unpredictable music distinguished by a bustling big-city exuberance.


GENRE: Jazz. RELEASED: 1991, Black Saint. KEY TRACKS: Blu Blu Blu, One for the Whistler, Stretch Time. CATALOG CHOICES: Rejoicing with the Light; Sightsong; View from Within. NEXT STOP: Art Ensemble of Chicago: Urban Bushmen (see p. 28). AFTER THAT: Henry Threadgill: Too Much Sugar for a Dime.


What 120 Zealous Souls Can Do

Shakin’ the Rafters

The Abyssinian Baptist Choir

The rhythm sections that toil behind gospel choirs can usually be found way in the back of the mix, providing unobtrusive backbeats designed to send the singing higher with as little fanfare as possible. Professor Alex Bradford, a stage personality, pianist, and singer who was the music minister at Newark’s Abyssinian Baptist Church in the 1960s, alters that approach on this live recording, to thrilling effect. The musicians serve as catalysts, not accompanists—their crisp, unified attack sets the tone for the soloists. It galvanizes the choir. Runs the show.

The three mortals who make up this screaming locomotive of a rhythm section jolt the 120 Abyssinian voices out of the Sunday-services routine into near-ecstatic communication they sustain from the beginning of this disc to the end. The songs are mostly Bradford originals, expressions of faith and praise that emulate the works of legendary gospel composer Thomas A. Dorsey (see p. 233). Several of them belong alongside Dorsey’s best, including Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody, which is resolute from the opening line, and the 6/8 blues He Is Such an Understanding God. Loaded with crackling call-and-response exchanges and outbreaks of intricately contrapuntal soul-clapping jubilation, these feature hot solo singing from Calvin White and Margaret Simpson, but they’re never really solo vehicles. The choir is right there, contributing asides and shouts, blasting past doubt and despair with a contagious energy most often associated with the early days of rock and roll.


GENRE: Gospel. RELEASED: 1960, Columbia. (Reissued 1991, Sony Legacy.) KEY TRACKS: Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody, He Is Such an Understanding God. NEXT STOP: Gospel Soul Children: Gospel Soul Children of New Orleans. AFTER THAT: Various Artists: Jubilation! Great Gospel Performances, Vols. 1 and 2.


Lean Mean Arena Rock

Back in Black

AC/DC

Before he began producing his ex-wife Shania Twain’s enormously lucrative high-gloss country-pop, Robert John Mutt Lange largely defined the sound of bad-boy arena rock. His productions—particularly this career effort for Aussie rockers AC/DC, which has sold over sixteen million copies in the U.S. alone, and its Def Leppard counterpart Pyromania, which kick-started a pop-metal revolution—defined an entire strain of ’80s suburban rebellion. Even when the music itself wasn’t terribly threatening, Lange gave it a distinct whiff of badass menace.

Back in Black is one of Lange’s crowning achievements, a delicate balance of power and finesse that defined the commercial side of heavy music for years after its release. Recorded in 1980, just two months after AC/DC’s lead singer Bon Scott died (according to the coroner’s report, he’d drunk himself to death), it is a ten-song feast of tightly wound, enormously disciplined stomp rock. New singer Brian Johnson was as willing to shred the upper end of his voice as Scott had been, and Lange made sure that every walloping rhythm guitar supporting Johnson’s tales of lasciviousness (check out What Do You Do for Money Honey) weighed in at industrial strength—and was executed with surgical precision.

Back in Black was AC/DC’s most popular album, selling more than 42 million copies worldwide.

The album’s tightly wound radio songs—Shoot to Thrill, the proud peacock strut Back in Black, and the explosive You Shook Me All Night Long—share a mean streak. The rhythm section gets right near the boiling point and then hangs there, waiting for the schoolboy-uniform—wearing Angus Young to deliver demonically twisted lead guitar that pushes things over the edge. He always comes through: Every last solo here is a thrill ride.


GENRE: Rock. RELEASED: 1980, Atlantic. (Reissued 2003, Epic.) KEY TRACKS: Shoot to Thrill, What Do You Do for Money Honey, Back in Black, You Shook Me All Night Long. NEXT STOP: Def Leppard: Pyromania. AFTER THAT: Thin Lizzy: Jailbreak.


Big Chord Changes

Harmonium

John Adams

San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (Edo de Waart, cond.)

When the noted minimalist John Adams began writing this piece for chorus and large orchestra using poems by Emily Dickinson and John Donne, he confronted a paradox of poetry: Though the lines might hold hints of rhythms and reveries, or carry the forlorn tone of a cello playing alone in the distance, they can lose resonance when yoked too tightly to music. The poet’s discipline is about proportion and order; the moment a melody swells too aggressively into the forefront, the spell is broken.

Adams overcomes this by treating the text as just another element, not the center-ring attraction. Often the words take a back seat to his elaborate schemes of tension and release; Harmonium is really a study of magical chords and the many ways a resourceful composer might resolve them. Sometimes, on the setting of Donne’s Negative Love, the harmony seems static, with Adams moving massive blocks of consonant harmony around slowly, shifting tones one at a time in the manner of a dissolving shot in a film. At other times, notably on the transcendental Wild Nights, Adams creates extended passages of gathering-storm portent, building tension over several minutes until there’s an eruption. This sends orchestra and chorus lunging into an unexpected new key center, a wild frontier where new phantoms lurk.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death is even more visual. Adams follows Dickinson’s character on a journey, perhaps in a slow-moving carriage, through the things she knew in life. The fields of gazing grain and other images come outfitted with shimmering and distinct textures; by the end, as the speaker in the poem heads toward eternity, the music acquires the faint bluish luster some near-death survivors have described as the channel between life and death.

John Adams started composing at the age of 10.

This is one of two Adams pieces from roughly the same period with Harmony in the title. Harmonielehre, the caustic commentary on twelve-tone music, is more beloved by critics. It’s a big work, with brainy transitions that utilize the same types of tension/release schemes found in Harmonium, only in more animated, gee-whiz ways. Though Harmonium is less immediately gratifying and murkier, it resonates more profoundly. When Adams engineers one of his epic chord changes, you don’t merely appreciate the craft and the way the words figure in, you feel it in your gut.


GENREClassical. RELEASED: 1984, ECM New Series. KEY TRACKS: Part 1: Negative Love; Part 2: Because I Could Not Stop for Death, Wild Nights. CATALOG CHOICES: Harmonielehre, City of Birmingham Symphony (Simon Rattle, cond.); Grand Pianola Music, Solisti New York (Ransom Wilson, cond.). NEXT STOP: Steve Reich: Reich Remixed. AFTER THAT: Miles Davis: The Complete In a Silent Way Sessions (see p. 210).


An Astounding Opera, as Fresh as the News

The Death of Klinghoffer

John Adams

Christopher Maltman, Sanford Sylvan, Yvonne Howard, London Symphony Orchestra (John Adams, cond.)

In the liner notes of Earbox, a ten-CD retrospective of his work, John Adams recalls that this operatic account of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship was a magnet for controversy: "The Death of Klinghoffer started eliciting opinions even before a note of it had been heard outside my studio."

The second of Adams’s docu-operas (after Nixon in China), Klinghoffer had a difficult birth, in part because its subject reflected ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine. Leon Klinghoffer was a wheelchair-bound Jew killed during the hijacking. His murderers were Palestinians. The opera begins with two prologues contrasting the plight of impoverished Palestinians (Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians) with the middle-class comfort of American Jews (Chorus of the Exiled Jews). From there, Adams and librettist Alice Goodman use the hijacking and the graphic murder as the springboard for extended choral meditations on war, human cruelty, and the ephemerality of life. Adams said that his models were the Passions of Bach—grave, symbolic narrative poems supported by large chordal pillars—and the connection is easy to hear. Though Adams’s music pulsates with distinctly modern rhythms, he gives the choir deep, pondering melodies. Bach’s choirs express awe over spiritual mysteries; Adams’s group sings as though trying to make sense of the incomprehensible.

Many critics initially considered Klinghoffer a step backward from the brighter Nixon in China. Adams made changes, but still the opera wasn’t performed much during the 1990s; some critics dismissed it as more a hot topic curio than a serious musical work. Although there are several notable audio recordings, this innovative film adaptation, shot on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean, deserves credit for engendering a reappraisal of Klinghoffer. Unlike most filmed opera productions, there is no lip-synching; the characters are captured singing live, on camera. During the chorales, the screen fills with archival footage from the aftermath of World War II, and faux-archival footage that chronicles the backstories of various characters. These effects are stupendous; they simultaneously sharpen the specifics of the plot and connect this incident to the sorry cavalcade of human tragedy.

Adams was perhaps the most significant composer of the late twentieth century, and Klinghoffer helps explain why. The subject matter is volatile, but Adams completely avoids sensationalism. His music is as taut as the soundtrack of an adventure film, with moments of uneasy calm that gradually balloon into towering declarations. At times his overlapping themes achieve a powerful symbiosis: the beautiful, the terrifying, and the sorrowful, all swirled together.


GENREOpera. RELEASED: 2004, Philips. KEY TRACKS: Prologue: Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians; Act 1: We Are Very Sorry for You; Act 2: I’ve Never Been a Violent Man. ANOTHER INTERPRETATION: London Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon, (Kent Nagano, cond.). CATALOG CHOICE: Shaker Loops, The Wound-Dresser, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. NEXT STOP: Philip Glass: Koyaanisqatsi.


A Perfect Combination of Singer and Song

The Real Me: Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus

Johnny Adams

Doc Pomus brought knowing maturity and a strong sense of the blues to the often blithe Brill Building pop of the early ’60s. First along with his writing partner Mort Shuman, and later with any number of musicians (including, on this album, pianist Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John; see p. 237), the polio-plagued lyricist wrote about being swept up in—or strung out on—romance. His songbook includes Lonely Avenue, the monster Ray Charles hit; Teenager in Love, made famous by Dion and the Belmonts; and the Drifters classics This Magic Moment and Save the Last Dance for Me.

Not everyone has the chops to sing Pomus persuasively, and the songs he wrote when he returned to music in the late 1970s, after spending a decade as a professional gambler, are a particular challenge. These address universal emotions without glossing over life’s complexities; they’re simple odes that require a singer to provide some vulnerability, some trace of humanity, to complete them.

The largely unknown singer Johnny Adams (1932–1998) understood this. A dynamo from New Orleans whose forte was blues and R&B, Adams attacked Pomus’s songs like a boxer, mixing direct blows with evasive maneuvers. He’d been interpreting Pomus for years when, in 1990, he asked the legend to write some new songs for an album he was planning. Pomus put together several songs and then fell ill, dying of lung cancer early the next year. Adams continued the project, combining the newly penned Pomus pieces (including the positively stunning Blinded by Love and She’s Everything to Me) with songs written earlier. The result is music of unexpected subtlety: Singing of heartbreak like he’s been there too many times, Adams spins Pomus’s simple themes into potent, disarmingly casual blues confessions. His vocals are spectacular throughout, partly because he never looks for pity, and partly because he’s so completely at home in front of this hard-swinging New Orleans band, which features Dr. John and guitarist Duke Robillard. A dream pairing of singer and songwriter, this probably should have happened a decade or two sooner.

Mr. Adams can invest life and death into every song he sings, moving from shouts to quivering phrases that seem to be dripping tears.

—The New York Times


GENRE: Blues. RELEASED: 1991, Rounder. KEY TRACKS: Blinded by Love, She’s Everything to Me, Imitation of Love, There Is Always One More Time. CATALOG CHOICE: Room with a View of the Blues. NEXT STOP: Irma Thomas: True Believer. AFTER THAT: Little Milton: If Walls Could Talk.


Young, Sad, High = Songwriting Genius

Heartbreaker

Ryan Adams

In the years after this album established him as a solo performer on the rock and roll radar, Ryan Adams wrote hundreds of songs, and recorded them at a frenzied pace. In 2005 alone he issued three CDs, one of them a two-disc set. The overdrive hasn’t helped Adams much commercially or critically—a recurring theme in reviews of his work is how much he could use an editor.

This set was recorded before the deluge. Its fourteen wry, introspective tunes stand in stark contrast to everything else in Adams’s discography: It was made in a moment when every song wasn’t just an exercise, but actually held significance for him. Part of that could be attributed to the circumstances of its creation. In the six months prior to the sessions, Adams broke up with a longtime girlfriend and dissolved his much-acclaimed band, Whiskeytown, after a series of notably erratic live performances. He immediately took to the road solo, and after several tours sought the help of singer-songwriter Gillian Welch and guitarist and singer David Rawlings. The three set up in a Nashville studio and knocked out the intimate Heartbreaker in two weeks.

Starting with the wise-beyond-years, medium-tempo ramble To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High), Heartbreaker shows Adams getting comfortable in an impressive range of styles. There are country ballads that express a restless drifter’s longing for home (Oh My Sweet Carolina, a lustrous duet with Emmylou Harris), and slow rockers that express a more caustic view (Come Pick Me Up, which is anchored by an unperturbed, almost jolly banjo). There’s one brisk country fantasia (My Winding Wheel) and songs of yearning (Call Me on Your Way Back Home) that are made poignant by Adams’s blown-apart-and-not-hiding-it delivery. The intimacy of the surroundings, and the lingering, long-distance ache Welch and Rawlings bring to the tracks, help make Heartbreaker’s songs sound like unearthed classics. Though he later mastered the technical aspects of recording, Adams here communicates with a raw you-are-there urgency—he catches the essence of being young and high, sure of everything and nothing, enthralled with life’s possibilities and at the same time drowning in an ocean of conflicting feelings. In other words, his heart’s in here.

Ryan Adams performs live with raw intensity.


GENRERock. RELEASED: 2000, Bloodshot. KEY TRACKS: My Winding Wheel, Oh My Sweet Carolina, To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High). CATALOG CHOICES: Rock N Roll; Gold. NEXT STOP: The Jayhawks: Hollywood Town Hall. AFTER THAT: Grant Lee Buffalo: Fuzzy.


An Overdose of Smiling Riffs

At the Lighthouse

The Cannonball Adderley Quintet

Some jazz musicians feed on torment. Julian Cannonball Adderley (1928–1975) specialized in its opposite—a bubbly, endlessly effusive, happy jazz. Throughout his career, from an early stint in Miles Davis’s band to his own hard-grooving soul-jazz combos of the ’60s, the alto saxophonist spread sunshine wherever he went. The tune could be demanding bebop, or a sorrowful blues, but when Cannonball rolled in, the storm clouds dissolved. His collaboration with singer Nancy Wilson stands as one of the breeziest jazz vocal documents of all time. His take on bossa nova, in collaboration with Sergio Mendes on Cannonball’s Bossa Nova, is equally upbeat.

Then there’s this consistently great live album, which overflows with zesty, smiling riffs. Listen for just a few minutes, and you can’t miss the secret of the Adderley group: These guys know how much fun jazz can be, and they charge through a series of up-tempo toe-tappers as though determined to spread that joy around.

At least part of the exuberance originates with Adderley’s tone, which many regard as the quintessential sound of the alto saxophone. It’s bright and lively, tart, and at the same time thoroughly warm. There’s puppy-dog playfulness in it; at times gregarious laughter comes tumbling between the lines. When, on the opening jump Sack o’ Woe, Adderley dishes out a blue moan, he slips and slides around, creating unbroken curves of deliciously slurred pitches. Later, on a blazing fast Our Delight, he sounds like he’s bursting at the seams, alive with energy he can barely handle.

The nickname Cannonball was a childhood corruption of cannibal, describing the saxophonist’s enormous appetite.

Recorded in 1960, At the Lighthouse catches Adderley’s group—featuring his brother Nat on cornet, Victor Feldman on piano, and the perpetually underesteemed rhythm team of Sam Jones (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums)—looking back at the spangly side of hard bop, and forward to the grittier rhythms that would become the group’s signature later in the decade. Several pieces fall somewhere between those extremes, and of them, Feldman’s surging Azule Serape is the best. It moves through several different grooves, and, like all of Adderley’s greatest work, masks its formidable structural challenges beneath a vivacious, perpetually untroubled good-time veneer.


GENREJazz. RELEASED: 1960, Riverside. (Reissued 2001, Blue Note.) KEY TRACKS: Sack o’ Woe, Azule Serape, Our Delight, What Is This Thing Called Love?, Big P. CATALOG CHOICES: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!; Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson; Cannonball’s Bossa Nova. NEXT STOP: Grant Green: Solid. AFTER THAT: Elvin Jones: Live at the Lighthouse.

Juju Mojo, at Full Strength

The Best of the Classic Years

King Sunny Ade

Africa is the motherland of rhythm, and the place where music that speaks of great hardship often winds up sounding blissfully angelic. It’s also the world capital for music that unlocks the pelvis. This compilation of material the Nigerian guitarist King Sunny Ade (born Sunday Adeniyi) recorded in his homeland in the early ’70s is a shining example of all that. Juju is music of extraordinary liquidity, propelled by precisely pitched talking drums and intertwined electric guitar conversations, sometimes four at once. There are vocals, and Ade’s band, which during this period contained up to sixteen instrumentalists and singers, often gathers itself into a church choir. The prayerful themes float over isolated, sometimes hyperactive strands of guitar counterpoint, with rhythmic repetitions that lead, slowly but surely, to illumination.

These songs established Ade and his band, first known as the Green Spot Band and later the African Beats, as preeminent masters of what musicologists consider classic juju. They’re also the recordings that inspired Island Records founder Chris Blackwell to sign Ade and, using techniques that made Bob Marley a star, launch him as another global icon. Ade never reached that kind of acclaim, but that’s hardly his fault: Those later recordings are marred by goopy rock-style production. To experience the careful synchronization that makes juju go, start here. Inside these interlocking rhythms and restless conversations between guitars and drums is music of mesmerizing power.

Ade is also known as the Minister of Enjoyment.


GENREWorld/Nigeria. RELEASED: 2003, Shanachie. KEY TRACKS: Synchro System, Ibanuje mon iwon, Sunny ti de. CATALOG CHOICE: Juju Music. NEXT STOP: Commander Ebenezer Obey: Juju Jubilee. AFTER THAT: I. K. Dairo: Ashiko.


Teenage Boy Bliss

Toys in the Attic

Aerosmith

Aerosmith didn’t invent blues-rock, wasn’t the first band to dish bawdy lyrics, and really brought nothing innovative to the game—unless you count the scarves vocalist Steven Tyler tied around his microphone stand. Yet with its third album, Toys in the Attic, the Boston quintet took the basic three-chord guitar scheme, added some old-fashioned showbiz razzle-dazzle, and gave rawk a new attitude.

Toys is thirty-seven minutes of teenage-boy air-guitar bliss—all double-time peel-outs and leering talk of fast girls, with a hit of rebellion on the side. Its pulverizing backbeats and tightly wound riff boogie ooze horniness (Walk This Way, still the prototype rock strut). Its songs about drugs (Uncle Salty and Sweet Emotion, the cleverest deployment of bass marimba in rock history) are disciplined versechorus odes disguised as spacey meandering.

An instant hit that sold millions and established the band as arena headliners, Toys solidified the trick that the Toxic Twins song-writing team, vocalist Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry, would turn for decades: slightly sleazy bad-boy stuff made irresistible by fireworks-on-cue hookcraft.


GENRERock. RELEASED: 1975, Columbia. KEY TRACKS: Walk This Way, Uncle Salty. CATALOG CHOICES: Rocks; Pump. NEXT STOP: Van Halen: Van Halen. AFTER THAT: Mötley Crüe: Dr. Feelgood.


Girl Trouble, on a Lofty Plane

Éthiopiques, Vol. 7: Erè Mèla Mèla

Mahmoud Ahmed

Erè Mèla Mèla opens with questions, sung in the Amharic language of Ethiopia: When? Today or tomorrow? When will we gaze into one another’s eyes? Even if you don’t know that the song is about a faraway lover, Mahmoud Ahmed’s voice gives it away: He sounds frustrated, unwilling to accept that a long separation might be in store.

He’s like lovesick souls everywhere, with one big exception: He has a band pumping out wonderfully liquid beats behind him. The rhythms on this record are unlike anything else you’re likely to hear from Africa—or anywhere else. Moving with a snakelike grace, the Ibex band layers tightly fitted guitar parts over tumbling ritual-ceremony drum pulses. Ahmed gets inside the bubbly flow of the music and dispenses wriggling, athletic, off-the-cuff-sounding vocals. Like other vocalists from his homeland, he seeks a speaking-in-tongues type of ecstatic state. His voice often trembles, kept aloft by the gentle but steady propulsion. Drawing on the psychedelic side of Jamaican dub, the traditional Amharic five-note scale, and traces of jazz and R&B phrasing, Ahmed describes love as a deep and unending devotion. He’s one of those singers whose every chant seems to come from a spiritual place. Listen long enough, and that’s where you’ll end up too.

Erè Mèla Mèlà was originally released in Ethiopia in 1975.

GENREWorld/Ethiopia. RELEASED: 2002, Buda Musique. KEY TRACKS: Erè Mèla Mèla, Fetsum Deng Ledj Nesh. CATALOG CHOICE: Almaz. NEXT STOP: Tlahoun Gèssèssè: Éthiopiques, Vol. 17. AFTER THAT: Mulatu Astatke: Éthiopiques, Vol. 4.


The Last Whoopee Cushion Squawk Before Orthodoxy Set In

Air Lore

Air

This head-swiveling assault on jazz history was recorded in May 1979, not exactly a high time for jazz. Yet it documents a creative peak: Here are three wise and accomplished members of the free-jazz community discovering the tremendous symmetry at work inside Scott Joplin’s ragtime follies and the early blues of Jelly Roll Morton. Then, having observed and celebrated those qualities, the three—saxophonist Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Steve McCall—go toddling around like cartoon characters in a chase scene. They bash the tunes with billowing gales and squawks, short detours into thundering funk, sudden stop-time breaks, and expansive solos.

What happens two minutes into Buddy Bolden’s Blues is characteristic: As Threadgill begins his alto solo, the ambling parade rhythm evaporates, replaced by triple-fast bebop. Nobody misses a beat as Bolden is propelled a few decades into the future.

Air Lore is jazz as living breathing music, in which old ideas from sixty or more years back help to fertilize radical new approaches. Shortly after this album’s release, that recycling—which is crucial to jazz and present throughout its evolution—got twisted around by the new traditionalists. These young musicians scorned free jazz, ridiculed its practitioners, and championed a narrow definition of the music. It’s likely they never really listened to this timeline-trampling, back-to-the-future experiment, which reminds that before it became a cultural preservation project, jazz was fun.


GENREJazz. RELEASED: 1979, Arista/Novus. KEY TRACKS: The Ragtime Dance, Buddy Bolden’s Blues, Weeping Willow Rag. CATALOG CHOICE: Live Air. NEXT STOP: Charles Mingus: Blues and Roots. AFTER THAT: Henry Threadgill: Too Much Sugar for a Dime.


Call Him Lonesome

The Ultimate Arthur Alexander

Arthur Alexander

Most people who rode on the social-services bus that Arthur Alexander drove around Cleveland for much of the ’80s didn’t really know who he was. They weren’t aware of his other career—as a singer and songwriter who blended country and soul in ways no one had done before. Being a soft-spoken fellow, he didn’t talk much about why, after years on the edges of the music business, he ended up driving a bus. Some accounts say he left the music business to overcome substance abuse problems, others attribute his disappearance to a debilitating illness.

Alexander’s cover was blown in 1993, when a comeback album, Lonely Just Like Me, appeared. The album reawakened interest in his sly, genre-blurring singing, and drew new attention to his unusual track record as a songwriter. An early original, Anna (Go to Him), was covered by the Beatles, and one of his biggest hits, You Better Move On, reached number 24 on the pop charts. (It was later done by the Rolling Stones.) Alexander’s 1962 version of the latter, which is part of this collection, was the very first recording made at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama—Alexander and songwriter Rick Hall converted an old tobacco warehouse themselves—and it began a career that, despite hot flashes, never fully took off.

That lack of success is a great mystery, because there’s passion and grit inside everything Alexander recorded. His nimble, unassuming voice had a touch of George Jones in it; like Jones, he could make generic odes of lost love instantly riveting. At the same time, Alexander was a Southern soul man with Otis Redding’s ability to work a groove; one head-swiveling moment on this collection comes on the up-tempo Shot of R&B, an ebullient party song that should have been massive. Though it’s not a full-career retrospective, this compilation gathers most of Alexander’s most heart-wrenching work from the 1960s. Those enchanted by it should seek out Lonely Just like Me, the album that rescued him from the footnotes. Though he’d been gone from active performance for more than a decade, Alexander hadn’t lost a step: His plaintive vocals are nothing less than astounding. Alexander, just fifty-three, was promoting Lonely when he fell ill and died.

Arthur Alexander started his singing career with Spar Music in 1960.


GENRER&B. RELEASED: 1993, Razor & Tie. KEY TRACKS: Anna (Go to Him), You Better Move On, Shot of R&B, Call Me Lonesome. CATALOG CHOICES: Lonely Just like Me; Rainbow Road: The Warner Bros. Recordings. NEXT STOP: James Carr: You Got My Mind Messed Up (see p. 143). AFTER THAT: O. V. Wright: The Soul of O. V. Wright.


Pure Junkie Menace

Dirt

Alice in Chains

Seattle’s Alice in Chains has a reputation as a drug-plagued heavy band, purveyors of dark and stormy sludge-rock thickened by abrasive guitar dissonance. That’s only part of the story. This quartet, built around the extraordinary guitarist Jerry Cantrell and singer Layne Staley (1967–2002), was interested—during the making of Dirt, anyway—in sharp musical contrasts: Its most bludgeoning songs contain outbreaks of utterly lovely harmony singing. Its rhythm guitar attack is studded with jerky, odd-meter prog-rock riffs.

Those juxtapositions are the soul of Dirt, the second full-length Alice in Chains effort, a sweet counterpoint to the band’s relentlessly bleak imagery. You follow Staley and his crew into the dankest dungeon of junkie-existentialist despair, because there’s always at least a glimmer of light waiting at the end of the tunnel.

Dirt arrived in the fall of 1992, after the music scene in Seattle began to explode. Though much more of a hard rock band than a grunge or alternative band, Alice in Chains benefited from the media frenzy surrounding Nirvana; Dirt sold three million copies, a success that some believe hastened the band’s demise. Staley’s drug problems deepened, preventing the band from touring regularly, and hindered recording efforts as well. Subsequent records lack the extensive palette of Dirt—the lone notable effort that follows this is Jar of Flies, the first EP ever to enter at the top of Billboard’s album chart.

Alice in Chains (clockwise from left): Sean Kinney, Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, and Layne Staley.


GENRERock. RELEASED: 1992, Columbia. KEY TRACKS: Angry Chair, Down in a Hole, Would?, Rooster. CATALOG CHOICE: Jar of Flies. NEXT STOP: Temple of the Dog: Temple of the Dog. AFTER THAT: Days of the New: Days of the New.


The Musings of a Hipster Cynic

Allison Wonderland

Mose Allison

"I don’t worry about a thing ’cause I know nothin’s gonna be alright. Stop this world, let me off, there’s too many pigs in the same trough. Your mind is on vacation and your mouth is working overtime."

These and other withering assessments of the human condition are the hallmark of the Tippo, Mississippi–born pianist and singer Mose Allison, whose recordings in the 1960s found a vital middle ground between jazz and blues, hipster jive and social commentary. One part Mark Twain and one part Willie Dixon, Allison began by interpreting the blues straight—his early records, including the Back Country Suite and Parchman Farm, featured here, reveal a student of boogie and New Orleans barrelhouse who’s also familiar with more modern bebop blues derivations.

At age 5, Mose Allison realized he could play the piano by ear.

By the mid-’60s, when he signed on with Atlantic Records, Allison was in the grip of a misanthropic muse. He began writing original songs, many built on traditional outlines—anyone who’s heard a few twelve-bar blues tunes will recognize the basic formulations of his backing tracks on this career-highlights anthology. What sets him apart are the lyrics, which include eccentric rants on the evils of city life, musings on the corrupting influence of women, and fanciful mock-academic riffs on the alchemy of love (Your Molecular Structure). They’re a hipster’s wry take on what’s wrong with the world, served with a glib bounce in the step and a twinkle in the eye, and a laconic style that’s well suited to the task of lampooning assorted vanities.


GENREVocals. RELEASED: 1994, Rhino/Atlantic. KEY TRACKS: Your Mind Is on Vacation, Stop This World, Everybody Cryin’ Mercy, Ever Since I Stole the Blues. CATALOG CHOICE: Down Home Piano. NEXT STOP: Jamie Cullum: Twentysomething. AFTER THAT: Oscar Brown Jr.: Sin and Soul (see p. 122).


An Essential Live Rock Document

At Fillmore East

The Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band was just beginning to generate national attention when it pulled into Manhattan’s Fillmore East auditorium for its first headlining stand in March 1971. All four shows from the run, including a final one that was delayed for hours because of a bomb scare (and didn’t end until around 6 A.M.), were recorded. Producer Tom Dowd took the tapes, trimmed down some solos and completely edited others, and delivered At Fillmore East, the album that transformed this fast-rising curiosity from Macon, Georgia, into one of the truly great American rock bands of all time.

There were lots of wonderful live acts in rock circa 1971. But the thrashing first choruses of Statesboro Blues and Trouble No More suggest that this one is different. It’s a rock band built on a jazz notion: that the journey can be more interesting than the simple attention-grabbing refrain. Loose and free-floating solos involve the entire band, including the drum tandem of Butch Trucks and Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson). Everything develops organically and everyone’s united in search of the kind of collective musical ecstasy that’s usually found on John Coltrane records.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame called the Allman Brothers Band the principal architects of Southern Rock.

The long-haul truckers of rock, the Allmans establish a groove and keep it cranking. They’re happy as long as the boogie is scooting along and nobody’s stopping them from doing eighty-five miles an hour down the freeway. Dowd once described the Allmans’ twin-lead-guitar attack—Duane Allman playing slide and Dicky Betts on six-string—as frightening, and this album shows you why. When one finishes his climb to the mountaintop, the other begins, taking Whipping Post and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed to new frenzied plateaus. Just when that settles down, along comes organist (and vocalist) Gregg Allman, working out on a hot-sounding Hammond B3 to extend the marathon a bit further. (Check out his romp through the eight-minute Stormy Monday.)

Fillmore East, now expanded with additional performances, established the Allmans among the rock elite, but, almost immediately, the band hit hard times: In October 1971, fourteen days after the album went gold, Duane was killed on his motorcycle. The band picked up again, and its next release, Eat a Peach (so named because it was a peach truck that killed Duane), included an entire album of live music from the Fillmore date as well as sedate, beautifully contemplative studio material.

Since then, the group, led by Gregg Allman, has shown remarkable resilience: No matter who’s on stage, the band seems to recapture at will the greasy-boogie locomotion of the Fillmore recordings. That’s no small feat, given that At Fillmore East remains one of the best live albums in rock history. Ornery and loud, it’s perfect driving music for the road that goes on forever.


GENRERock. RELEASED: 1971, Mercury. KEY TRACKS: Midnight Rider, Whipping Post, Statesboro Blues. CATALOG CHOICES: Eat a Peach. Gregg Allman: Laid Back. NEXT STOP: Lynyrd Skynyrd: One More from the Road.


Folk Activism Begins Here

Complete General Recordings

The Almanac Singers

Modern folk music might have started before this—musicologist Alan Lomax once fixed the date at March 3, 1940, when Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie met at a migrant worker benefit concert. But these 1941 recordings, which feature Seeger (initially identified as Pete Bowers) and Guthrie, mark a beginning in terms of temperament: Here, typical folk fare (songs of the sea) is offset by early activist screeds on the rights of workers and American involvement in World War II.

The Almanac Singers, an avowedly leftist group that included Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Lee Hays, and Millard Lampell, flip-flopped on the war. Its first album, Songs for John Doe, which collected singles issued in 1941, was loudly against it, but within a year, the group, recognizing that pacifism was no longer a plausible platform after Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, was writing pro-war tales of bravery. One of its most celebrated later songs was Round and Round Hitler’s Grave.

Refusing to fit the mold of pop singers, the Almanac Singers often performed in their street clothes.

The group was branded for its leftist leanings; although the Almanac Singers were responsible for the term hootenanny (which it defined as an informal gathering of folk singers and listeners), when ABC-TV put together a folk show of that name in the early ’60s, Seeger was banned. But the Almanac approach—simple declarations answered by hardscrabble vocal harmonies—spread widely. The group’s sound was seized by many folk performers, and became the basic blueprint for the folk boom of the 1950s. Among the borrowers were the Weavers, the subsequent group formed by Seeger and Hays, which rerecorded Hard, Ain’t It Hard and other Almanac songs, and carried the group’s spirit into the next iteration of folk, which began in the late ’50s.


GENREFolk. RELEASED: 1941, General. (Reissued MCA.) KEY TRACKS: Hard, Ain’t It Hard, The Dodger Song. CATALOG CHOICE: Pete Seeger: If I Had a Hammer (Songs of Hope and Struggle). NEXT STOP: The Weavers: At Carnegie Hall. AFTER THAT: The Kingston Trio: College Concert.


More Songs About Food . . .

Whipped Cream and Other Delights

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

America wasn’t exactly clamoring for instrumental pop in the winter of 1965. And it’s safe to say there was little demand for an album that contained foods in all the song titles. And yet several months after its release, a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass single called A Taste of Honey ballooned into a monster hit, and this album landed in the Billboard Top 10, where it stayed for an astounding sixty-one weeks (eight of them at number one). TV’s The Dating Game pounced on the craze, using Whipped Cream to introduce the bachelorettes, and the later hit Spanish Flea to bring on the bachelors.

What explains the left-field success of the Tijuana Brass? Certainly some credit goes to the album’s cover, which features a sultry model swathed in whipped cream. (Alpert, who co-owned the creative, independent A&M Records with Jerry Moss, recalled, years later, that this was the album where he realized how important it is to be visual with instrumental music.) And the band’s general sound was decidedly unique in those early British Invasion days—no other recording act was fusing traditional Mexican music (the mariachi fanfares that herald bullfights) with jazz, Brazilian samba, and R&B, a curious but utterly workable combination that has enshrined Alpert as a patron saint of lounge exotica ever since.

The model here was actually covered in shaving cream.

While so much subsequent instrumental pop (Kenny G et al.) is just noodling indulgence, Whipped Cream works because the Brass (which, until this album erupted, was really just a bunch of L.A. studio musicians) focuses so single-mindedly on rhythm, even on such calmer selections as Tangerine. They all play as though it’s their responsibility to sustain the sense of motion—of particular note are the athletic bass lines of Pat Senatore, which respect mariachi tradition while grooving like it’s already 1969. Then, on top, the famed Brass approaches each theme as a percussive endeavor, punching out staccato phrases with militaristic precision. Hearing these tunes now, divorced from their moment, is instructive: What’s often dismissed as pure period froth turns out to have some juicy meat on the bone.


GENREPop. RELEASED: 1965, A&M. KEY TRACKS: A Taste of Honey, Tangerine, Whipped Cream. CATALOG CHOICES: Whipped Cream and Other Delights, Rewhipped; Going Places! NEXT STOP: Chuck Mangione: Feels So Good. AFTER THAT: Jim Hall: Concierto.


The Now Sound of the Latin Diaspora

Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey into Space

Los Amigos Invisibles

Despite the subtitle, there’s no space exploration on the second U.S. release from the super-inventive Venezuelan dance band Los Amigos Invisibles. There is, however, a fair bit of time travel: One minute the six-piece ensemble is chasing (and nattily embellishing) a retro ’60s mod vibe, complete with shimmering organ. Then along comes a snappy drum loop, and suddenly the pulse quickens, and we’re three hours into some Ibiza rave circa 2000, with the DJ spinning a weird mix of samba and stutter-stepping rhythm at 180 beats per minute.

Those transitions happen fast and reveal much about the intentions of this unusual outfit: Los Amigos approach music the way a globetrotting DJ would, segueing between eras and styles without ever compromising the essential Latinness of the pulse. In these grand, campy songs, hints of old-school cha-cha bump into Brazilian batucada, and grooves that echo rumbling ’70s funk magically transform into gaudy disco fantasies (one of which is titled Masturbation Session). Often music drawn from such far-flung sources feels like gimmickry. Not this stuff. Following the example of Funkadelic, an obvious inspiration, Los Amigos Invisibles start with authentic grooves, and add the nuttiness on top. The lyrics of El baile del Sobón amount to a derisive parody of the rituals of merengue; the music, meanwhile, is a totally locked-up and utterly reverent celebration of the dance style. That cheeky commingling offers a hint of what the next utopia might sound like if Los Amigos have anything to do with it: One globe under a giddy pan-Latin groove.

Lead singer Julio Briceno at the Coachella Music Festival in 2006.


GENREWorld/Venezuela. RELEASED: 2000, Luaka Bop. KEY TRACKS: Mujer policía, La vecina, Masturbation Session, No le matas mano. CATALOG CHOICE: Superpop Venezuela. NEXT STOP: Funkadelic: One Nation Under a Groove. AFTER THAT: Bloque: Bloque (see p. 100).


Talk About an Auspicious Start

The First Day

Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis

John Hammond’s Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in December 1938 (see p. 811) did more than expose groundbreaking jazz and blues musicians to New York audiences for the first time: It created demand for their services among record labels. Producer Alfred Lion was so wowed by the boogiewoogie pianists Meade Lux Lewis (1905–1964) and Albert Ammons (1907–1949) that he set up a label of his own to record them. Just two weeks later, the intrepid Lion captured eight tunes by Lewis (including a five-part original suite called The Blues), nine by Ammons, and two jovial, fast-moving duets. In a single day. The results became the very first recordings pressed by the Blue Note label.

They’re also some of the least ostentatious piano-boogie recordings of all time. The feeling throughout is loose and relaxed, as both pianists are inclined to paw through ambling themes rather than do the high-octane show-off thing. Lewis is the nuts-and-bolts guy; his pieces move at an easygoing clip, and drift out of tempo every once in a while. Ammons is the barn burner: His Boogie Woogie Stomp swings with a giddy ferociousness, like he’s dancing with the piano. His aptly titled Bass Goin’ Crazy is a series of scalelike runs with a serious wow factor.

Lots of boogie had that impact. What sets Ammons and Lewis apart is their shared insistence that there’s more going on than just dazzling look-how-fast-the-left-hand-moves demonstrations. The First Day has the expected bells and whistles—the wildcatting lines, irreverent shout choruses, and slipping and sliding mayhem that spans the length of the keyboard. But it’s also got some blues reflection in it, and moments of poignancy that are precious now, considering how showbiz-sensational boogie-woogie soon became.


GENREJazz. RELEASED: 1939, Blue Note. KEY TRACKS: Bass Goin’ Crazy, The Blues (Pts. 1–5), Boogie Woogie Stomp, Nagasaki (duet). CATALOG CHOICES: Ammons: Eight to the Bar. Lewis: The Blues Piano Artistry of Meade Lux Lewis. NEXT STOP: Pete Johnson: King of Boogie. AFTER THAT: Willie The Lion Smith: Relaxin’ After Hours.


A Voice That Challenged America

Spirituals

Marian Anderson

After hearing Marian Anderson (1897–1993) sing in Salzburg in 1935, conductor Arturo Toscanini remarked that a voice like hers is heard only once in a hundred years. Alas, it took a while for listeners in her homeland to appreciate the smooth contralto with a superb range. Like many African American artists, Anderson faced ongoing and entrenched racial discrimination. Ironically, she rose to prominence after one such incident: In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution canceled an Easter Sunday recital in Washington, D.C., because of Anderson’s color. This caused an uproar: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt renounced her DAR membership, and a free concert at the Lincoln Memorial was scheduled. Seventy-five thousand people came to hear her sing. The performance made her a star and a symbol of equal rights.

On the program that day were several spirituals, songs of faith, many of which originated during slavery. Anderson learned these songs as a child—beginning at age six, she sang in church choirs in Philadelphia, often teaching herself the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts. She later went through rigorous operatic training, but managed to retain her feeling for the austere and often haunting melodies of spirituals.

Recorded between 1936 and 1952, this collection offers an excellent introduction to spirituals, and contains some of the greatest recordings Anderson ever made. There are definitive piano-and-voice versions of well-known pieces (Go Down, Moses, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen), as well as lesser-known compositions (Soon-ah Will Be Done, Ride On, King Jesus) that Anderson helped to rehabilitate. Recognizing that typical opera-singer discipline won’t help bring these songs to life, Anderson sings with great resolve and an evangelist’s firmness, taking church singing just one step toward art song. Anderson had other career milestones after this—in 1955, she became the first African American to sing a principal role at the Metropolitan Opera—but her singing here towers above even those significant accomplishments. As she interprets these simple songs, Anderson brings listeners face-to-face with the stoic dignity and stirring melody that rose up in response to an ignoble chapter of American history.

Anderson received numerous honors and prizes during her lifetime, including Kennedy Center Honors and a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement.


GENRESGospel. RELEASED: 1953, RCA. (Reissued 1999.) KEY TRACKS: Go Down, Moses, Let Us Break Bread Together, My Lord, What a Morning, De Gospel Train. CATALOG CHOICE: Brahms Alto Rhapsody and Lieder. NEXT STOP: Jessye Norman: The Essential Jessye Norman. AFTER THAT: Archie Shepp and Horace Parlan: Goin’ Home (see p. 694).


The Ruin of Many . . .

The House of the Rising Sun

The Animals

Of the many brothels in the folklore of New Orleans, none is more legendary than the one run by Madame Marianne LeSoleil Levant from 1862 to 1874. The so-called House of the Rising Sun (from a translation of her name) inspired one of the most enduring songs in American music, a cautionary tale about what happens to a poor girl who follows a drunkard to New Orleans. (Hint: He disappears, and she becomes miserable working in the sex trade.)

Based on the tune of a traditional English ballad, the original—with lyrics folklorist Alan Lomax traced to the Kentucky duo of Georgia Turner and Bert Martin, though exact authorship is impossible to verify—is sung from the woman’s perspective. It was first recorded in 1934 by the Smoky Mountain singers Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster, and since then has been modified endlessly—Nina Simone renders it as a disconsolate moan, Bob Dylan sings it in a severe tone on his debut album. The most famous iteration of the song, the Animals’ 1964 chart-topping hit, is also one of the more radically altered: Fearing that a song about prostitution wouldn’t get on the radio, the British band changed the lyrics into a sermon about the more generic evils of drinking and gambling, sung from a male perspective.

The group was dubbed The Animals because of their raucous stage antics.

Amazingly, this doesn’t diminish the song. Surrounded by a halo of haunting reverb and the hovering chords from Alan Price’s organ, Eric Burdon winds his way through the arpeggiated guitar line as though counseling a little brother about the traps that await out in the big world. He knows he’s made a mess of things, and though there’s the hint of shame in his delivery, he won’t play the typical helpless wayward drunk. Singing sorrowfully but not in defeat, he asks for compassion the way all the great soul singers do, by making clear that what happened to him could happen to anybody.


GENRERock. RELEASED: 1964, MGM. APPEARS ON: The Animals. OTHER INTERPRETATIONS: Nina Simone: Four Women; Joan Baez: Joan Baez (see p. 39). CATALOG CHOICE: Animalism. NEXT STOP: Blind Willie Johnson: The Complete Blind Willie Johnson (see p. 400).


The Home Brew of a Genius

Selected Ambient Works 85–92

Aphex Twin

Like lots of people involved in electronic dance music, Richard D. James—operating under the nom de pop Aphex Twin—learned how to use synthesizers and beat boxes (and even sandpaper on a turntable instead of a vinyl record) to make powerful, transformative music. He created some notable stuff in the early ’90s, earning a reputation (and significant cash) as a remixer with a knack for scrumptious, detailed tracks. Meanwhile his heart was elsewhere. For his own amusement, he began exploring less frenetic pulses that pull apart the building blocks of electronica. With this measured, understated music—collected on the homemade Selected Ambient Works 85–92—James became the patriarch of ambient techno.

To most of humanity, ambient techno will seem another meaningless genre classification, and a contradiction besides—techno connotes pulse and motion, while ambient music suggests sounds that could hover in the air for hours. James reconciles these ideas brilliantly. He surrounds simple, steady beats with synthesized auras that seem to envelop the sound field, radiating calm. His settings are uncluttered. At times the sharp edges of electronica are blunted by the recording, which was allegedly made on a primitive four-track cassette machine. This turns out to be a positive: While much club music is so pristine as to be off-putting, the soundscapes on Selected Ambient Works—particularly the eerily pastoral Ageispolis and Pulsewidth—are mysterious, inviting in a fuzzy analog way.

This album is one of a small cluster of electronica records designed for listening and reflection. Incredibly, it’s also got a bit of the Ecstasy generation’s joy in it. Taking just a step away from clubland, James finds himself in a detached, desolate netherworld, yet with the energy and the lust of the club still ringing in his ears. This inspires music that aims for the scope of a symphony orchestra, and the sudden subtle emotional ripples of great piano-trio jazz. Listen on headphones to fully appreciate the bubbling and bright possibilities James found while puttering in the lab.


GENREElectronica. RELEASED: 1993, Apollo. (Reissued 2002, PIAS America.) KEY TRACKS: Ageispolis, We Are the Music Makers, Pulsewidth, Delphium. BUYER BEWARE: Volume 2 of Selected Ambient Works, issued the following year, is nothing like this—mostly oceanic washes of texture with very little rhythm. NEXT STOP: Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics. AFTER THAT: David Torn: Cloud About Mercury.


A Ninety-Word Title, and It Doesn’t Begin to Sum This Up . . .

When the Pawn . . .

Fiona Apple

Something profound happened to Fiona Apple between her debut and the making of this, her second record. When she first appeared, on the smoldering 1996 million-seller entitled Tidal, the New York singer, songwriter, and pianist seemed a competent if undistinguished student of Nina Simone and less original torch singers. Three years later, at the age of twenty-two, Apple delivered one of the great rococo leaps of the rock era, this series of dialogs with diffident, recalcitrant, or otherwise insensitive lovers set to flamboyant, tightly wound music.

Theories abound about the possible causes of the transformation. Apple herself explained at the time that she was just curious about songs and structures. I didn’t want to be trapped by a style. . . . The whole idea about music is to develop your own instincts, which is hard when the culture is telling you to sound a certain way and think a certain way. At least partial credit goes to Jon Brion, who produced When the Pawn . . . . He surrounds Apple’s impetuous poutage with oompah beats and carnival horns, stomping-feet Broadway bluster, and bits of funk. Brion created some funhouse orchestrations that are the musical equivalent of the sad clown’s painted smile. They cast Apple’s personal torments in upbeat, surprisingly accessible settings.

Brion’s schemes also offer Apple a wide range. She mewls over one verse and belts the next, and on several tracks, including the galumphing On the Bound, her eruptions come out of nowhere, as though triggered by a stray bitter memory. These outbursts fit the profile Apple creates with her lyrics: She’s unstable, difficult, maybe even damaged goods. On To Your Love, she apologizes, Please forgive me for my distance, pain is evident in my existence. A few songs later, she tells some poor man to run away Fast as You Can, before he gets himself in deeper. There’s something irresistible about that, a woman with the quintessential come-hither voice warning potential suitors to run, lest they fall.

Fiona Apple is an evocative live performer.


GENRERock. RELEASED: 1999, Epic. KEY TRACKS: Fast as You Can, On the Bound, To Your Love. F.Y.I.: When the Pawn is the shorthand name of this album; the ninety-word title begins: When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows and goes on from there. CATALOG CHOICE: Tidal. NEXT STOP: Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill