6
May
2011
My Year in Lists
Week Eighteen
Jordan
My Year in Lists chronicles one blogger's quest to understand why music matters to us and what makes it a lasting aspect of our existence. To facilitate this examination, three music fans have contributed a list of 52 essential albums. Each week this year, one album off of each list will be analyzed in an attempt to understand why some music sticks with us and what it means for our lives.

"That Seventies stuff, the Journey, Boston, Foreigner stuff, it was lame. If it weren't for those types of bands, we would never have had the nerve to be a band. But I guess you need bad things to make good things. It's like with farming"”if you want to grow a good crop, you need a lot of manure."-Mike Watt of The Minutemen

"Bollocks to Morrissey at Wolverhampton, to The Sundays at The Falcon, to PWEI at Brixton"”I'm already drafting a letter to my grandchildren telling them that I saw The Stone Roses at The Hacienda."-Andrew Collins, NME

Music, like most of life, is really a series of reactions to what came before. The conservativism of the 1950's post-war era begat the counterculture that grew into the hippie, free love movement of the "˜60s, which in turn created the conservative backlash of the Reagan-era "˜80s. Similarly, rock and roll grew out of opposition to be crooners and big band that dominated the airwaves at the time. Opposition to rock and roll created first the experimental and psychedelic movements (the latter of which was helped by the insane amount of drugs everyone was taking at the time), and then punk rock. Punk bisected, as punk bands either lost their edge and became post-punk New Wavers or just got angrier and became hardcore bands out to show punk rockers that they could push things even further. Most of culture is in some way a reaction to the things we like or hate about what came before. Sometimes we get nostalgic for what came before (remember when swing music was a thing for a bit in the late "˜90s? I wish I didn't) and create retro sounds that hearken back to what we loved about the past and maybe attempt to improve on it. And sometimes we hate what came before and our anger drives us to try to subvert it as much as possible. Either way, as the good book says, we may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us (for those of you worried I'm waxing religious, that's a Magnolia quote there. I haven't gone crazy since last week).

When Tom Scholz started writing music while attending MIT in 1969, I don't think he was too angry about anything. Scholz has never been the type of guy to create a movement or to innovate anything in the musical spectrum. Mostly, I think Tom Scholz liked rock and roll. I think he liked it a lot. I think he liked it so much, he decided to go out there and make some for himself. While at MIT he joined the band Freehold, where he met guitarist Barry Goudreau and drummer Jim Masdea. In 1970 vocalist Brad Delp was added. In 1974, after Freehold had fallen apart, Scholz worked with Masdea and Delp to produce demos for a new project. Scholz played all of the instruments on each of the demos. By the time the band got around to recording anything, Jim Masdea had been fired at the request of the band's prospective label epic (though he was allowed to play drums on one track, entitled "Rock and Roll Band") and Goudreau had joined the band as a second guitarist, a necessity to play Scholz' music live. The band didn't have to look far for a name, settling on just calling themselves after the town in which they formed. And with that complete lack of thought or originality, Boston was born.

The band's self-titled debut, and Collin's pick this week, has become the second best selling debut of all time in the United States, behind Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction. Almost all of the tracks on the album were recorded alone by Scholz in his home recording studio, while the rest of the band "created a diversion" and recorded in a real studio, again per Epic's request. I don't want to impugn the talent of Scholz when I spend the next several paragraphs talking about how Boston isn't very good (in fact, they're pretty terrible)"”the man plays multiple instruments, all well enough to be in a prominent rock band, and is responsible for almost every sound heard on Boston. He just needed a band because he couldn't do it all himself live. Yet the simple ability to play a bunch of instruments does not a rock and roll star make. There is something else, something far more elusive, that makes a rock and roll star. Ability is one thing, but being a real musician involves a level of artistry that I just don't think Scholz has ever had in him. It seems to me (and to be fair, I've never met the man, so this is just speculation) that Tom Scholz loved rock and roll so much, he wanted to make some. But his love just isn't enough.

The opening track of the album, "More Than A Feeling," is really the apex of the band's entire career. To my mind, it was all downhill from there. "More Than A Feeling" really is a pretty good rock song, an ode to love that is about a thousand miles ahead of anything else the band ever did. The problem with the song, and really, with the whole band, is that it feels completely hollow. Boston sounds like rock and roll with the soul sapped out; all of the elements are in place, but something feels wrong about the whole thing. The band's second best song, "Peace of Mind" is a commentary on the growing materialism of the baby boomer generation, a concept the band rejects. That is allegedly the case, but honestly, the less thought you put into "Peace of Mind" and Boston in general, the more likely you are to enjoy them. Boston is sort of the anti-idea band, if you buy the concept I introduced a while back when discussing Devo [WEEK TWO LINK HERE]. There isn't much thought put into this music at all; its mostly just "I want to make a rock song."





"Rock and Roll Band" is ostensibly an origin story for the band, telling of their hardscrabble early days and their road to success. But for some reason, whether it's the overbearing electric guitar, the shockingly cliché lyrics, or the fact that the band met at MIT (which doesn't exactl scream "hardscrabble" to me), I don't buy a second of it. "Rock and Roll Band" is the type of song that real rock bands write all the time. Hell, just last week we were talking about "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out," a Bruce Springsteen song about the origins of the E Street Band, and I was raving about it. Yet when Boston does it, it feels like they wrote the song because they felt like they needed to write an origin story about how they made it to the top and then did it, not because they wanted to but because they felt it was something they should want to do.



If, as Lester Bangs once said, rock and roll died in the 1970's, it was bands like Boston, Styx, and Foreigner that killed it. These were bands that knew what rock and roll required and so did that and called themselves rock and roll. These were zombies, going through the motions of making music without putting any thought or feeling into it. These were bands that did what just a few years earlier would have seemed impossible: they made rock and roll uncool. In that way, and ONLY in that way, I guess Boston is an important band. As Mike Watt said above, "if you want to grow a good crop, you need a lot of manure," and Boston provided plenty of shit to fuel the growth of the punk movement.

At the center of the reaction to the husk of rock and roll that Boston and associated acts were rolling out was Wire, who as we discussed last week started out at the beginning of the punk movement and began fairly quickly to move toward post-punk. Wire's third album, and one of Tab's picks this week, 154, was named after the number of gigs the band had played at the time and released in 1979. The album is a departure from the band's punk roots and continues their movement towards post-punk. The opening track "I Should Have Known Better" is a dark, New Wave-y discursion that sounds almost like Joy Division.



"The 15th" is an upbeat, melody driven composition, a clear departure from their earlier vocally focused work. At this point, the guys in Wire actually sing their songs instead of utilizing the speak-singing techniques and punk howls that often showed up on their first two albums. "A Touching Display," a shockingly long song by the band's standards at nearly 7 minutes, mixes sounds in a very experimental way before descending into a prog-rock sound that wouldn't feel out of place on a Pink Floyd album from the mid-"˜70s. "Map Ref. 41N 93W" is a reference to the town of Centerville, Iowa. The album's closing track, "40 Versions" sounds as if it is ushering in the sound of the "˜80s, a song about identity confusion that plays like a sonic forebear of a lot of the post-punk New Wave bands we've been listening to with Ashley this year.







The Ideal Copy is the band's fourth album, released after a seven year hiatus. While Wire had used electronic instruments on Chairs Missing and 154, the return of the band openly embraces synthesizers, sequencers and drum machines, prompting comparisons of the band to New Order. This is ironic, as Wire's early work was a huge influence on New Order, thus the band's new work was in a way being compared to work the band itself had inspired.

The opening track "The Point of Collapse" is a heavily synthesized return for the band, maintaining their sound while indicating that the band recognized the music world had changed while they were away. The Ideal Copy sounds much more electronic than any of its predecessors, especially in tracks like "Ahead" and "Madman's Honey." The song "Cheeking Tongues" is actually most similar to the band's initial style in length, tempo and message, though the electronic sound and the band's singing style indicate a permanent change had occurred, as the band had ushered in post-punk and now reveled in the sounds of the genre they had helped create.







Wire is one of those bands that has never attained huge success but is loved by musicians and has caused bands inspired by their work to spring up for decades. In the late "˜60s it was said that not many people heard The Velvet Underground & Nico , but everyone who did formed a band, and a similar statement seems to apply to the effect Wire has had on the development of music over the past 30 years. Bands like The Urinals, The Minutemen, Minor Threat, Black Flag, R.E.M., The Cure, Guided By Voices, My Bloody Valentine, Fischerspooner, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, and Blur all cite Wire as a major influence and the band quickly went from one of the forefathers of punk rock to one of the founding fathers of the post-punk movement, excelling at both and paving the way for what was to come in the process.

Not much is ever made of the reaction to the post-punk movement (at least not until we get to grunge in a few weeks), but there was a movement in the late "˜80s and early "˜90s in Manchester, England known as Madchester. Formed in 1983 by Ian Brown on vocals, John Squire on guitar, Gary "Mani" Mounfield on bass and Allan "Reni" Wren on drums, The Stone Roses formed the center of this scene. They released their self-titled debut album, and Ashley's pick this week, in 1989. The album is arguably a thesis statement for the Madchester movement, which was known for mixing alternative rock, psychedelic rock, and dance music in an attempt to create something that is at once familiar and new.

Having released several singles prior to recording the album, the band went into the studio with producer John Leckie, who had worked with Pink Floyd on Meddle. The opening track "I Wanna Be Adored" is an atmospheric bass driven song, using hushed and minimal vocals throughout. "Waterfall" is about a girl who manages to make it through the worst of situations, an upbeat ode to a lady that is almost guaranteed to put a smile on your face.





"Made of Stone" references Jackson Pollock, an important influence on John Squire, who did all of the band's artwork, including this album's cover. As Squire describes it, ""˜Made of Stone' is about making a wish and watching it happen. Like scoring a goal in a cup final"¦on a Harley Electra Glide"¦dressed as Spider-Man." The album's closing track, "I am the Resurrection" is an 8 minute long epic, featuring a four minute outro and foreshadowing the title of their follow-up album, Second Coming.





The Stone Roses is a completely self-assured debut, an album that knows what it wants to do and pulls it off with nary a misstep. The album is fun, contemplative, and imminently listenable, one of the rare records that comes to an end and leaves you wanting to replay it immediately. Though the band only made one more album before disbanding, and the Madchester movement never became as prominent as others, the band has left their mark on music, and The Stone Roses is still considered one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

Much of music is at least somewhat reactionary, but that shouldn't take any of the power away from it. Most of culture is about a search for something meaningful that we can all share, and in a world as diverse as ours, that can often seem like an effort in vain. Yet when an aspect of culture alienates some part of our population, there is often a reaction against that culture, and a new form of expression is created that can allow the alienated to feel like they belong again. As our world grows ever more complicated and culture becomes increasingly niche, these reactions may shape a smaller portion of our society, but they can rock those smaller groups even more profoundly as a result, offering a safe harbor for people who have long felt adrift at sea, searching for that one song or that one band that makes them feel, at least for a few minutes, like someone else understands.

Read more My Year in Lists here

Next week on My Year in Lists:
Fleetwood Mac spreads some Rumors, we hear D.o.A.: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle, and The Pixies Doolittle.


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