Monday, August 28, 2017

Best Years for Music: Making a Case

Every decade or so there is one pivotal year for music that defines the decade and becomes a watershed of influence. I plan on making the case for the best year in music for each of the last few decades. I'll start with the 60's and work my way up.

1967 - Summer of Love

The 1960s are remembered fondly as the age of psychedelics, and hippies, but the decade was important for all genres of music. In the age of sexual liberation, political rebellion, and the civil rights movement, music had its own period of exploration, which saw folk, blues, soul and r&b, reggae, country and rock develop from earlier forms into what we recognize today as major genres. 1967 was the high point for this incubation period and saw major debuts, and great follow up records from soon to be great artists. Many of the records I will list in this post are considered by many to be among the top records of all time, genre definers, influential pieces, or at the very least one of the best in that particular artist's discography.

The Doors (debut)
Miles Davis - Miles Smiles
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
Byrds - Younger than Yesterday
Dolly Parton - Hello, I'm Dolly (debut)
Mamas and the Papas - Deliver
Velvet Underground and Nico
Donovan - Mellow Yellow
Electric Prunes (debut)
Gordon Lightfoot - The Way I Feel
Tim Hardin - 2
Country Joe and the Fish - Electric Music for the Mind and Body (debut)
Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
Mothers of Invention - Absolutely Free
Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Willie Nelson - Make Way for Willie Nelson
David Bowie (debut)
Booker T and the MGs - Hip Hug-Her
Moby Grape (debut)
Canned Heat (debut)
Aretha Franklin - Arrives
Pink Floyd - Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Bee Gees - Bee Gees' 1st
Merle Haggard - Branded Man
Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign
Waylon Jennings - Love of the Common Man
Kinks - Something Else by the Kinks
Doors - Strange Days
Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant
Gladys Knight and the Pips - Everybody Needs Love (debut)
Vanilla Fudge (debut)
Cream - Disraeli Gears
Moody Blues - Days of Future Past
Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
Love - Forever Changes
Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold as Love
The Who - Sell Out
Miles Davis - Sorcerer

1971- Rock's Greatest Year

To be fair, this idea is not new. There are plenty of music nerds out there who have played this same game. David Hepworth wrote about 1971 as being special in Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year that Rock Exploded (2016). So close to the close of the '60s, 1971 piggybacks on 1967, sharing common themes. Due to a variety of circumstances, 1971 saw a massive output of talent, older bands coming out with some of their best material, new groups putting together fresh sounds, an overarching idea that creativity wont last forever and there is no point in overworking something when usually the first ideas are the best.

In addition to the albums released in 1971, The Eagles, New York Dolls, Foghat, Earth Wind and Fire, Manfred Man, and Wings were all founded this year.

Some of the 1971 releases are below for your consideration:

Carol King - Tapestry
Jethro Tull - Aqualung
James Taylor - Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon
Carly Simon (debut)
The Doors - LA Woman
Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
Paul and Linda McCartney - Ram
The Carpenters
Marvin Gaye - What's Goin On
Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story
Emerson Lake and Palmer - Tarkus
Joni Mitchell - Blue
Hot Tuna - First Pull Up, then Pull Down
Funkadelic - Maggot Brain
Black Sabbath - Master of Reality
Moody Blues - Every Good Boy Deserves Favor
The Who - Who's Next
Al Green Gets Next to You
John Lennon - Imagine
Santana III
Bee Gees - Trafalgar
Cat Stevens - Teaser and the Firecat
Frank Zappa - 200 Motels
Don McLean - American Pie (debut)
The Who - Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy
Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey
Curtis Mayfield - Roots
Led Zeppelin IV
Elton John - Madman Across the Water
Genesis - Nursery Cryme
Alice Cooper - Killer (debut)
Sly and the Family Stone - There's a Riot Goin On
David Bowie - Hunky Dory
Badfinger - Straight Up
John Prine (debut)

1987- Goddammit I hate the '80s!

Even though the 1980s is probably the worst decade for music (although 2000-2010 is pretty terrible too), it still had a bright spot, and 1987 seems to be the year, even though Bruce Willis released the Return of Bruno. Things start to get interesting in 1987, just as electronic sounds and drum machines appear to have taken over pop music, hip hop is gearing up to be taken more seriously, and punk/grunge/garage rock is poised to destroy glam metal once and for all. Below is a little look into some of those releases, and once again, if the record isn't considered a top 100 record, it is still probably considered to be a huge influence on one or more genres in the future. The Smiths and Pixies records are good examples. In addition, Alice in Chains, Danzig, Fugazi, Gin Blossoms, Kid N Play, Nirvana, and Operation Ivy were all founded.

The Smiths - The World Wont Listen (debut)
The Smiths - Louder than Bombs
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - Rock the House (debut)
Anthrax - Among the Living
Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician (debut)
U2 - Joshua Tree
Prince - Sign O the Times
the Cult - Electric
Public Enemy - Yo, Bum Rush the Show (debut)
Whitney Houston- Whitney (debut)
the Cure - Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me
LL Cool J - B.A.D (debut)
Heart - Bad Animals
Sonic Youth - Sister
the Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me (debut)
Boy George - Sold
Echo and the Bunnymen (debut)
Grateful Dead - In the Dark
Eric B and Rakim - Paid in Full (debut)
Guns N Roses - Appetite for Destruction (debut)
Tom Waits - Frank's Wild Years
Michael Jackson - Bad
George Michael - Faith (debut)
Pixies - Come on Pilgrim
Ice T - Rhyme Pays (debut)

1994 - The Beginning of the End

The 1990s has been revered by many now between their 30s and 40s, mostly due to nostalgia. Children's programming on television was bonkers. Everything got pierced or tattooed. The internet, laptops and cell phones were very new things. Music hit a turning point from the innovations made in the late 80s to the industry-led, cookie cutter, pop factory made sounds that ultimately killed rock and roll and country and drove hip hop back underground. Everything became digitized, recording studios became smaller, more efficient, cleaner.

1994 was the pivot year. Kurt Cobain died, Green Day debuted, and the grunge/alternative revelation of the past few years crumbled and gave way to a wave of pop-surfer-emo punk rock that would hang around in mediocrity for the next 10 years. Nas happened, Biggie and Tupac happened, The Wu-Tang Clan was huge, which spurred another golden age for hip hop. The next generation of the British Invasion kicked off too this year. Jam bands, a second generation of 60's inspired rock groups, took off in a major way. 1994 was also the year of Girl Power, the careers of Liz Phair, Tori Amos, Veruca Salt, and Hole all took off. There are a few strong debuts from groups who would make large footprints in the next decade and a half, including one of the best albums of all time, Jeff Buckley's Grace.

Alice in Chains - Jar of Flies
Tori Amos - Under the Pink
Green Day - Dookie
Ben Harper - Welcome to the Cruel World (debut)
Cake - Motorcade of Generosity (debut)
Pavement - Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Beck - Mellow Gold
Elvis Costello - Brutal Youth
Nine Inch Nails - Downward Spiral
Soundgarden - SuperUnknown
Phish - Hoist
Pink Floyd - The Division Bell
Offspring - Smash
Hole - Live Through This
Nas - Illmatic (debut)
Blur - Parklife
Johnny Cash - American Recordings
Outkast - southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (debut)
Sonic Youth - Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star
Weezer (debut)
Beastie Boys - Ill Communication
Seal II
Purple - Stone Temple Pilots
Warren G - Regulate: G Funk Era (debut)
Aaliyah - Age Aint Nothin but a Number (debut)
Da Brat - Funkdafied (debut)
Hootie and the Blowfish - Cracked Rear View (debut)
Live - Throwing Copper
Coolio - It Takes a Thief (debut)
Marilyn Manson - Portrait of an American Family (debut)
NoFX - Punk in Drublic
Jeff Buckley - Grace (debut)
Rusted Root - When I Woke
Oasis - Definitely Maybe (debut)
Boys II Men - II
Usher (debut)
Bad Religion - Stranger than Fiction
Eric Clapton - From the Cradle
Notorious BIG - Ready to Die (debut)
Blues Traveler - 4
Liz Phair - Whip Smart
2 Pac - Thug Life: Volume 1
Veruca Salt - American Thighs (debut)
REM - Monster
Dave Matthews Band - Under the Table and Dreaming (debut)
The Cranberries - No Need to Argue
Korn (debut)
Jamiroquai - Return of the Space Cowboy
Black Crowes - Amorica
Nirvana - MTV Unplugged in New York
Tom Petty - Wildflowers
Guster - Parachute (debut)
TLC - CrazySexyCool
Mary J Blige - My Life
Pearl Jam - Vitalogy
Bush - Sixteen Stone (debut)

2007 - We Wont Go Quietly

Sometime between now and the close of the 90's, the corporate music model sucked the soul out of rock and roll. Music enthusiasts starting looking elsewhere for good music, and the rise of internet sharing gave us a marketplace. The first decade of the new millennium may be seen as a musical void, but 2007 is a bright spot. Indie music finally hit its stride, flourishing in the void. Our collective love of nostalgia created an opening for older acts to resurface for reunions. And occasionally, in the midst of formulaic genres like pop-punk, and whatever genre Nickelback created, there could still be some surprisingly good bands. There are always islands of good music, in even the face of an innovative decline in a genre.

The Smithereens - Meet the Smithereens!
Radiohead - Rainbows
Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
Kanye West - Graduation
Timbaland - Shock Value
Feist - the Reminder
Jay Z - American Gangster
Kittie - Funeral for Yesterday
Modest Mouse - We were Dead even Before the Ship Sank
Norah Jones - Not Too Late
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Bjork - Volta
Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
the National - the Boxer
Paramore - Riot
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
White Stripes - Icky Thump
MIA - Kala
Metric - Grow Up and Blow Away
Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad
Spoon - GaGaGaGaGaGa
Talib Kweli - Eardrum
Teagan and Sara - the Con
St. Vincent - Marry Me
Linkin Park - Minutes to Midnight
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
the Weakerthans - Reunion Tour
Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight

I think, after all has been considered, 1994 would be my choice as best year in music, all time. This is not to say that there haven't been major influential albums produced in other years, or artists from other decades who didn't leave very important footprints. But I do think 1994 was the last (so far) watershed year for several genres and subgenres, rock in particular, but also country music, and hip hop. Since then there has been very little innovation within genres. Corporate music making has killed country and rock as genres. And hip hop, while it continues to redefine itself, had an explosive year in 1994.

Please leave comments (no one reads anyway) challenging my opinion, I welcome the discussion. But please, be cordial, and come with some good arguments for why I'm wrong and your choice is better.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

RIP: Ray Beez

Fight for Justice
1997, Victory
produced by Tony Brummel

Raymond "Ray Beez" Barbieri - vocals
Jason "J-Sin" Lehrhoff - guitars
"Vinnie Value" Verga - drums
Todd "the Kidd" Hamilton - bass

Warzone started in New York in the early '80s, and along with Agnostic Front, brought the hardcore scenes of Washington and LA to the Big Apple. Not only was Ray Beez and Warzone at the forefront of the scene, but they helped to mentor younger bands well into the '90s. Tragically, this record was their last, as Ray Beez passed away from pneumonia at age 35.

Ray Beez is remembered for being a leader in the scene, a mentor to younger talent, a US Navy veteran, an advocate for at-risk youth, and an opponent of racism, classism, and misogyny. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Political Science for Beginners as Taught by a Beginner

The political/social climate in the United States has taken a turn in the last 20 years to a very strange and dangerous place. I have come to a few conclusions about this whole mess, and have posted about a few things awhile ago that I realize, looking back at it now, foreshadowed what was to happen in our 2016 election. 

I find myself having discussions with people in bars, or on the Facebook (I can't help it) and have come to the conclusion that Trump supporters either A: have attempted to place Trump into a political box where he doesn't fit, or B: behave like politics is a sport like football. 

I understand Republicans who voted with the party and expected Trump to align with party platforms and agendas and at least attempt to be a competent administrator. After all, he ran a campaign based on the incompetency of government while holding up a record of business success as proof he could do better than everyone else. However, based on what I have seen from this guy, his public appearances, speeches, tweets, I see no evidence that he knows or understands his job requirements. Attempting to pin any sort of political strategy to this guy seems like a folly. As Occum's Razor states, the simplest explanation is probably the truth, and based on everything we've seen since Trump started campaigning should lead us to believe he, in fact, is not some kind of political mastermind with any sort of plan, strategy, or anything resembling competence.

There are some very smart conservative economics, political science, and business people out there who have attempted to explain their support for the guy, but it all sounds like they're talking about a different guy. This isn't Nixon, or Reagan, or even Barry Goldwater, he is singularly unique, and we should probably frame him as such, instead of trying to box him up in any sort of political/economic/social platform. 

Recently, I, like many people, have attempted to understand rabid Trump supporters who refuse to take in all of what has happened since the election campaigns began, and form the seemingly obvious opinion that this dude was not fit for office. I think I have some kind of grasp on it, and it comes down to two things: 

1: Not having a clear understanding of what government does and how it operates. Government, contrary to what Fox News says, does not and should not operate like a business. But I hear many people make comments about how the private sector runs similar government ventures far more smoothly. Trying to run a government like a business, however, becomes a problem when tax money is seen as available profit to be reaped by private contractors, instead of money to be used to budget for what the taxpayers need. As an example, read all about private prisons. 

2: Treating politics like a competition. I figured out, while trying and failing to use reason with Trump supporters, that they are not interested at all in eventual outcomes due to Trump-led policies. Actually, they don't seem interested in politics. This is partly due to a disillusionment with modern politics, but also a short-term historic memory, ignorance of political history, and probably just an inability to understand politics in general. But they understand winning a competition, and an election sure looks like a competition. It appears that winning an election is more important than the consequences of that win.

I think, because of an inability to grasp what politics is, how government works, and what the political parties stand for has led these people to just pick a side. The liberal Left has been seen as this elitist, out of touch group of know-it-all arrogant rich kids, who all seem to be Democrats. If one feels like they have to pick a side, and the Democrats are all snobs, perhaps picking the party which appears to be all about the hard working, no nonsense, proud patriot bible carrying Americans is a good choice. And so, instead of a Trump victory signifying more of the same graft and corruption with a lean towards Facism, it signifies to these people as a win over the arrogant Left.

This attitude of glorifying success and reveling in the other side's demise reminds me so very much of athletic competition. Trump supporters talk about the election in the same way American hockey fans talk about the 1980 Olympics, or Red Sox fans talk about the 2004 ALCS and World Series. It isn't about the policies and legislation Trump will bring to American politics, but more about defeating the Evil Empire of Obama/Hillary Democrats. 

That all aside, I think this country needs to revisit civics. Professor Murdaco posted a very lengthy lecture on The American Political System. It's very well done.

I do think it is very interesting how people perceive our system, and how very easily the terms Left and Right get interchanged with Democrat and Republican. Above is a graphic that illuminates the political spectrum, and has laid American political groups along that line.

According to Marx, the spectrum goes from the Radical Left, to the Reactionary Right, those being the two extremes. Lately the term Reactionary has fallen out of favor and Radical is used to describe both extremes. Ideally, the middle of the spectrum is where the Independents lie. I find this to be disingenuous. Technically, an Independent voter doesn't subscribe to either major political party, but is more often than not allied politically along the spectrum, not truly balanced in the middle. For example, I am registered as an Independent, but politically I lean to the Left. I know others that are also Independent voters but are far more conservative.

The terms Liberal and Conservative come to mean a few things. Liberal can mean using resources generously. It also can mean a progressive view open to new ideas, behaviors, and changes. Liberal, then, in a nutshell, is the idea that we have new information that can show us how to change to be better.

In contrast, conservative can mean preserving, saving, and protecting resources, cautiously using them over time in planned, deliberate ways. It can also mean preserving traditional values, and the status quo. Conservative, then, in a nutshell, is the idea that we already know how to do things, it's all been working well, why change?

In addition, our political party system is not mutually exclusive to the political spectrum. The Democratic Party has not always been on the Left of center. Dixiecrats, a southern sect of the Democratic Party, are responsible for seceding from the Union, Jim Crow, the Klan, and a host of other racially charged legislation. Republicans also have not always been where they lie now on the political spectrum. Lincoln was a Republican, and a Progressive.

It becomes apparent, from this last election, and going forward, the people all want change, and the status quo just is not working for anyone except large GOP donors. The Democrats tried to run a conventional campaign in a country that is fed up with convention. The GOP was unprepared for Trump hijacking their primary and running on Nationalism wrapped up in a false promise of political change.

Perhaps, if we all start to educate each other on what this all means, as Americans, and stop trying to pick sides, we'll be able to all get the change we want.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Crossmarketing for Pictures

I realized today that I used to do blogposts here about stuff I would see and take pictures of while working. I don't really do that anymore, mostly because I started using the 'gram. So, I'll link that shit here, and you can follow me there, for all my nature, food, nature food, and stupid selfie pics.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Symbols Mean Things

As human beings, I think personal identity is an important thing. It is why religion is so important and why we create exclusive clubs, and put so much importance in professional sports and local high school athletics. In the United States, this idea of personal identity, answering the question "who am I?" is wound up in the dual question of "what is America?"

We tend to answer these questions with a variety of easily accessible categories with easily displayable symbols and themes. For example, an Irish Catholic American hockey fan from Boston may display shamrocks, rosaries and crosses, Boston Bruins logos, and American flags to show pride in his identity. The definition of a person, therefore, can be displayed in a series of recognizable logos, designs, colors, and symbols.

The one problem with summing up personal identity through symbols is when anti-intellectualism begins to blur the lines between what the signifier wants to say about himself, and what the symbols are actually signifying. A very good example is the redneck culture clinging to the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of freedom, good ole boy country living, and Southern Pride, when in fact it is a symbol of armed treason against the United States in response to northern states pushing for an end to slavery.

In response to this, I often find myself saying things like "that doesn't mean what you think it means", mostly to myself when I see stupid memes, or bumper stickers and flags hung from houses (or the backs of pick-ups). Here are some other examples...

Before I start, and before I get a large amount of hate mail from keyboard cowboys, I do understand how difficult being a police officer can be, or any public authority figure, for that matter. Most police officers are good people, I'm sure. Realistically, not every cop out there is a terrible person. Generalizations are indefensible. This isn't a police-bashing post.

This particular flag is used, presumably, to show support for law enforcement. Lately, it has been popping up probably in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. I personally do not see why it would be necessary unless you feel the need to show how much you don't support Black Lives Matter. But, let's just assume the person flying this flag really does support the police with no other agenda or desire to signify something else entirely.

The symbol, as shown above, is a combination of the flag of the United States of America, and the Thin Blue Line. The Blue Line is an analogy coined in the UK. Specifically, the police are the thin blue line separating civilization from anarchy.

On the surface, combining the two symbols together appears to be an homage to American law enforcement. However, I would argue it is a symbol advocating for martial law, one nation under the thin blue line. The American flag is a symbol of the Republic. and the Thin Blue Line is a symbol of Law and Order. Put them together and you have a symbol for a Law and Order Republic.

The emergence of the popularity of this symbol in conjunction with the Black Lives Matter movement aimed at police reform, ending racial profiling, and holding the police accountable seems more than mere coincidence. If the response to the goals of Black Lives Matter is to throw blind support behind law enforcement, the only conclusion that can be made is they support an untethered, self regulating law and order establishment, in short, an America ruled by an overbearing authority.

It's either that, or just plain old American racism.

I hate this symbol. I have a problem with any home made sign or bumper sticker telling me what to do. But this one I find extremely problematic. Perhaps it is just a cute way for parents to show everyone else driving behind them that they just had a baby, and they're super proud of it. I suppose that is a weird way to show narcissism. 

What I see, though, is a yellow street sign. Diamond shaped yellow traffic signs designate caution. They are posted to give warning to drivers with the expectation of slower, more cautious driving. So, this placard then would mean "there is a baby in my backseat, you all need to drive more careful". 

I call bullshit. First of all, don't tell me what to do, you aren't the traffic commision. Second of all, I didn't decide to have a kid, you did. it's your responsibility to keep it safe, not everyone else's. No one should be expected to modify their lives because you wanted a family. Third, your choice to procreate is a terrible reason for me to want to drive safe. I already figured out while driving I can only control my own driving, and no one else's. I have my own reasons to not drive like an idiot, I don't need your reasons also. 

Just as an aside, I also hate those "drive like your kids live here" signs, or those neon plastic children that look like they're about to jump into traffic. I am driving like your kids live there, like a normal driver not worrying about stupid little people running into traffic. Be a parent, keep them out of the street. Also, those plastic children are a distraction. 

This is a pile of poo. Let's get that out of the way real quick. It's not whipped chocolate frosting, or soft serve ice cream. This emoji is the shit. Literally. Like all things seized by pop culture, this thing has been put on all sorts of merchandise, including plush hats. I don't just mean the emoji is embroidered or reproduced on a hat. The hat is a giant poop that you can put on your head. I've seen kids wearing them. This means they probably got them from their parents, who either don't know what it is (plausible), or are okay with their kids walking around as literal shit-heads (actually, that is pretty hilarious). 

As a recap, conclusion, closing, or whatever, I'd like to see more people take time to understand the things they are trying to say, or advertising with the symbols they choose to promote, as unambiguously as possible. It's probably too much to ask at this point, but a little time and research into things could save a few dirty looks from the public. We don't all have to be Professor Langdon to understand symbolism, just take a few minutes to Google some things.