A Contrarian’s View of Popular Music

I hate the 60’s, or at least the music of the 60’s.  I’m 58 years old, and started listening to the radio on my own when I was 10 in 1968.  By “on my own” I mean choosing the music I’d listen to.  Although TV was reserved for evening hours, our family always had a radio going, usually tuned to the Top-40 station in Dover, WTSN-AM.  So, I’ve heard the Doors, with that awful rhyme of “road” and “toad,” and listened to such godawful one-offs as “Patches,” “Winchester Cathedral” and “They’re Coming to Take Me Away.”  From the beginning of my listening, though, I’d been completely uninspired by one group in particular, a band that everyone else spoke of in hushed tones . . . The Beatles.  Nothing wrong with the Four Mop Tops, just nothing all that interesting about them either.  Heresy, I know, but I must state the truth I hear.

Having confessed this, I’d like to quickly offer my favorite albums by some artists who came up in the 60’s (with the exception of Bruce Springsteen who is the exception to all rules because he’s, well, you know, the Boss—and his first album was early enough in the 70’s to still have a whiff of that earlier decade).  I’m afraid these albums are not necessarily the biggest selling, most critically acclaimed or coolest—they’re the ones I like best.  To keep this from turning into a treatise, I’ll keep my comments sparse; bear in mind my opinions are much more fully fleshed and defensible.  For no particular reason, I’m going to put them in reverse alphabetical order by height.

Neil Young “Tonight’s the Night”

When this album came out in the summer of 1975, I was entering my senior year of high school, playing soccer in a college kid league, in love with Kelly Boucher and smoking a lot of weed.  Given all this happiness, I can’t really explain why the most depressing album ever released would have grabbed me by the throat, but it did.  I was so happy then I heard the suicidal anti-virtuosity of “Borrowed Tune” and “Tired Eyes” as celebrations of the life force.  In spite of everything . . . despair remains, except I thought despair was a synonym for hope.

Runner Up:  “On the Beach”  Same comments apply, except to much longer songs.

The Who “By Numbers”

In high school, if you were a girl you liked “Tommy,” if you were a partying guy you liked “Who’s Next” and if you were very, very deep you liked “Quadrophenia.”  If you were me, you liked “By Numbers,” a collection 10 perfect and unpretentious songs.  (I know, for Pete Townsend pretentiousness is a feature not a bug, but at least this album didn’t use the word “opera” any place.) “How Many Friends,” “However Much I Booze” and “Blue, Red and Grey” are very good rock songs not trying to slide into Mozart’s “Don Juan” territory.

Bruce Springsteen “Darkness on the Edge of Town”

This gets an A+.  Greetings and The River are solid A’s.  Born to Run, Nebraska, Tom Joad  and Wild are A-‘s.  Born in the USA gets an incomplete because I never bought it or listened to it as an album.  More evidence I am an infidel.

Paul Simon “Hearts and Bones”

Maybe but probably not my favorite singer/songwriter ever, Paul Simon had just finished making the movie “One-Trick Pony,” which was a mediocre film with a great score, and here returned to just music.  Every song on here but one is eminently relistenable, although I don’t think any of them was a single, or certainly not a hit single.  The one unrelistenable song is a stinker, “Cars are Cars,” which loses extra points for playing around with stereo separation.

Lou Reed “Growing Up in Public”

Yes, “New York” is great and “Magic and Loss” is even better.  The two live albums from the 1974 show—“Rock and Roll Animal” and “Lou Reed Live”—are great and 1978’s “Take No Prisoners” is even better.  I bought “Growing Up” on cassette tape in 1980 in Rolla, Missouri, when I was in love with a married woman, she was in love with me, and she was pregnant.  This album became my personal soundtrack to that love affair.  She had her baby, stayed with her husband and life went on.  I had this tape.

Grateful Dead “Wake of the Flood”

While pasta is fine, I don’t care for noodling around with music. My high-school friends were dutifully trading bootlegs of live Dead shows, but I couldn’t get past the fact that half the time I didn’t know what song the band was playing, not because I was unfamiliar with the group’s oeuvre, but because a seven-minute guitar solo tends to forget the tune in question.  This album had songs that stayed songs and sounded timeless.  It still does.

Bob Dylan “Time Out of Mind”

I love Bob Dylan, and could make a case for eight or nine other albums—but not “Blonde on Blonde,” which never grabbed me at all.  I’ll devote a future column to Dylan, so I’ll shut up for now.  Two other close candidates for favorite:  “Planet Waves” and “Street Legal.”

In the interest of shutting up Beatles fans, who include my three daughters, I’ll also include my favorite solo albums by the Liverpudlians, without any commentary.

Ringo Starr  Hmmmmm.  I suppose that album, maybe called “Ringo,” but I doubt it, that had “You’re Sixteen (You’re Beautiful and You’re Mine)”, although that particular song creeped me out when I was 14.  What was an old geezer in his 30’s doing lusting after the older girls who were my primary objects of desire?

George Harrison Maybe it was called “Living in the Material World”?  Had “Sue Me/Sue You Blues.”

Paul McCartney “Band on the Run”

John Lennon “Walls and Bridges”

Having clasted me some icons, at some point I’ll paint some new holy pictures and tell you my 10 favorite albums of all time.  Warning:  not all of them are by Tonio K., Ani DiFranco, Peter Case or Waren Zevon.

One thought on “A Contrarian’s View of Popular Music

  • WoW, WoW, WoW, I never took you for a 60s hater! I loved that decade musically & personnally but i suppose i listened to more of the djs picks and didn’t venture too far away from what was commercial. Today i am more apt to listen to and appreciate the thousands of talented artist that didn’t make it over the commercial airwaves. I knew there had to be folks like you out there. Lol

    Like

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