One CEO’s 50 (or so) favorite pop albums

seal1

Inspired by Brad’s fascinating and very New Wave-ish post “My 49 Favorite Pop Albums”, I decided to try my hand at listing the same. One difficulty, it turns out, is defining “pop”. Brad didn’t list Radiohead’s “OK Computer” (one of my Top 10 pop/rock albums) because he figured it was too proggy, which is hard to disagree with. But I have it in my list, and also included a couple more albums that are certainly in the realm of prog: “Queen II”, “Point of Know Return”, and “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”. But, on the whole, I think most everything here fits on the “pop” spectrum, even if it veers into rocky territory (Muse, Journey, Soundgarden) on occasion.

Also, I could have easily included several more albums by Sinatra and Torme, and I feel a bit guilty to not have anything by, say, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, Rosemary Clooney, or Nat King Cole. But I’ve tried to capture a certain breadth chronologically while being true to what I like and return to. And that is a key criteria: all of these are albums I revisit and never tire of.  Finally, it might be surprising that the only artist who shows up here three times is Seal. But no Beatles? Rolling Stones? Simon and Garfunkel? Lady GaGa? Go figure!

1950s-60s:
Frank Sinatra: IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS (1955)
Frank Sinatra: SONGS FOR SWINGIN’ LOVERS! (1956)
Mel Tormé: IT’S A BLUE WORLD (1956)
Roy Orbison: IN DREAMS (1963)
Mel Tormé: THAT’S ALL (1965)

1970s:
Van Morrison: MOONDANCE (1970)
Elton John: ELTON JOHN (1970)
Queen: QUEEN II (1974)
Queen: NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1975)
Kansas: POINT OF KNOW RETURN (1977)
Electric Light Orchestra: OUT OF THE BLUE (1977)

1980s:
Journey: ESCAPE (1981)
ABBA: THE VISITORS (1981)
Asia: ASIA (1982)
The Police: SYNCHRONICITY (1983)
Big Country: THE CROSSING (1983)
Mr. Mister: WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD (1985)
John Fogerty: CENTERFIELD (1985)
The Moody Blues: THE OTHER SIDE OF LIFE (1986)
Sting: NOTHING LIKE THE SUN (1987)
Pink Floyd: A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON (1987)
Sam Phillips: THE INDESCRIBABLE WOW (1988)
Kate Bush: THE SENSUAL WORLD (1989)
Van Morrison: AVALON SUNSET (1989)

1990s:
The Choir: CIRCLE SLIDE (1990)
George Michael: LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE, VOL. 1 (1990)
U2: ACHTUNG BABY (1991)
Seal: SEAL (1991)
Tori Amos: LITTLE EARTHQUAKES (1992)
Maria McKee: YOU GOTTA SIN TO GET SAVED (1993)
Chris Isaak: SAN FRANCISCO DAYS (1993)
The Cranberries: EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT, SO WHY CAN’T WE? (1993)
Sarah McLachlan: FUMBLING TOWARDS ECSTASY (1993)
Seal: SEAL (1994)
Portishead: DUMMY (1994)
Soundgarden: SUPERUNKNOWN (1994)
Jeff Buckley: GRACE (1994)
Jars of Clay: JARS OF CLAY (1995)
The Mavericks: MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS (1995)
Duncan Sheik: DUNCAN SHEIK (1996)
Radiohead: OK COMPUTER (1997)
Seal: HUMAN BEING (1998)
Burlap to Cashmere: ANYBODY OUT THERE? (1998)
Moby: PLAY (1999)

2000 on:
Martin Sexton: LIVE WIDE OPEN (2002)
Muse: BLACK HOLES AND REVELATIONS (2006)
Brandi Carlile: THE STORY (2007)
A Fine Frenzy: ONE CELL IN THE SEA (2007)
Sia: SOME PEOPLE HAVE REAL PROBLEMS (2008)
Sara Bareilles: KALEIDOSCOPE HEART (2010)
Lake Street Dive: BAD SELF PORTRAITS (2014)
Kevin Max: BROKEN TEMPLES (2015)

Queen — “We Will Rock You” (Fast version)

It’s been on live albums before, but here’s a version from Queen’s last BBC sessions of the 70s: “We Will Rock You” done faster than usual.

Queen on Air: The Complete BBC Sessions will be released on Nov. 4 in a double-disc CD edition, triple-disc vinyl, digital or a deluxe six-disc package with extra performances and interviews.

CD1
Session 1:
1. My Fairy King
2. Keep Yourself Alive
3. Doing All Right
4. Liar
Session 2:
5. See What A Fool I’ve Been
6. Keep Yourself Alive
7. Liar
8. Son And Daughter
Session 3:
9. Ogre Battle
10. Modern Times Rock’n’Roll
11. Great King Rat
12. Son And Daughter

CD 2
Session 4:
1. Modern Times Rock’n’Roll
2. Nevermore
3. White Queen (As It Began)
Session 5:
4. Now I’m Here
5. Stone Cold Crazy
6. Flick Of The Wrist
7. Tenement Funster
Session 6:
8. We Will Rock You
9. We Will Rock You (Fast)
10. Spread Your Wings
11. It’s Late
12. My Melancholy Blues

An asteroid named after Freddie Mercury to mark 70th anniversary of singer’s birth

Farrokh Bulsara was born on this day in 1946; he died on November 24, 1991. Freddie Mercury would have been 70 years old if still alive today. From RollingStone.com:

To mark what would have been Freddie Mercury’s 70th birthday, Queen guitarist and actual astrophysicist Brian May announced that an asteroid orbiting around Mars and Jupiter has been named after the singer.

“I’m happy to be able to announce that the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center has today designated Asteroid 17473, discovered 1991, in Freddie’s name, timed to honor his 70th Birthday,” May said in a statement. “Henceforth this object will be known as Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury.”

Not content with the Queen singer sharing his last name with a planet, May teamed with the International Astronomical Union to reveal Mercury’s asteroid at a Montreux, Switzerland celebration for Mercury, who died in November 1991, roughly around the time Belgian astronomer Henri Debehogne first discovered the asteroid.

Early Queen, especially “Queen II” (my favorite Queen album as a whole), incorporated many elements of progressive rock, featuring all sorts of interesting chords, time changes, and wild lyrical material. A perfect example is “Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”, penned by Mercury, which is based on the singer’s obsession with the mid-19th century painting of the same name by English artist Richard Dadd:

“Innuendo”, the group’s final album prior to Mercury’s death, had some prog-gish moments, notably on the lengthy and adventuresome title cut, which featured a stunning flamenco guitar solo by the great Steve Howe:

Although Mercury was flamboyant and extroverted on stage, he was quite shy in private (and rarely did interviews), and some of his reflective nature is found in a large number of songs, including the rather gut-wrenching cut “Who Wants To Live Forever?”, from the 1986 album “A Kind of Magic”:

Science Fiction, Prog, and Prog Metal: A Lecture

Arjen, Lego Style
Arjen, Lego Style

I had the great privilege of lecturing for John J. Miller’s college course, Hon252, THE GOOD, THE TRUE, AND IRON MAIDEN.  If you’re interested, here’s my lecture on “To Tame a Land,” and the connection between science fiction and progressive music.  From Yes and ELP to Cosmograf and Aryeon.

iron miller

LSD and the best cover ever of “Bohemian Rhapsody”

LSD = Lake Street Dive.

This is totally hilarious and completely awesome. One of the greatest covers I have ever seen and heard! Hat tip to Carl for alerting us to this.

A few comments from Carl:

I discovered Lake Street Dive via the work of lead singer Rachael Price, who is a fabulously gifted jazz singer. While still in a teen, in 2003, Price received an honorable mention at the Montreux Jazz Festival’s International Jazz Vocal Competition and the following year she was a semi-finalist and the youngest competitor in the history of the Thelonious Monk Institute Vocal Competition. Despite her impeccable jazz chops, she never received the sort of adulation heaped upon female jazz singers such as Diane Krall. In 2004 she began performing in Lake Street Dive, consisting of classmates from New England Conservatory of Music in Boston: Mike “McDuck” Olson (trumpet, guitar), Bridget Kearney (upright bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums). The band was the brain child of Olson and was originally envisioned to be a “free country band” (!). All four members have a deep background in both classical and jazz music, and all four have made known their love for 1960s R&B, soul, rock, and related music. And, in fact, the band first started to gain traction when a self-shot video of their performance of Michael Jackson’s “I Want You Back” went viral.

So, hardly a prog band! But anyone who prefers their pop to be quirky, smart, occasionally edgy, often fun, and always played with impeccable chops and taste, Lake Street Dive is the band for you. And they do have fun taste in cover songs, ranging from ABBA to Fleetwood Mac to Hall & Oates (their version of “Rich Girl” is smokin’, as they say) and Paul McCartney.

Their cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is part of a series of Halloween vidoes they’ve produced in recent years. On one hand, it is quite campy (perfectly fitting for a Freddie Mercury classic) and quite fun, but also impressively sang and played, with some rather brilliant instrumentation. At the heart of it all, as always, are the harmonies and the lead vocals of Price. (Anyone interested in 3:30 of vocal bliss should watch her sing “What Am I Doing Here”).

60 Years, Twelve Albums, One Man’s Favorites

(us.fotolia.com | Zarya Maxim)
(us.fotolia.com | Zarya Maxim)

I began writing this post several months ago, in January, carried along on the brief rush of excitement that comes with a new year. “2015! How about noting a bunch of anniversaries of great albums?” And, in fact, one of the great strengths of Progarchy.com is the sense of music history and the awareness of anniversaries: “Forty year ago….thirty years ago….twenty-five years ago…twenty years ago…”, as opposed to the dominant model out there, which is “Forty minutes ago…thirty seconds ago…twenty tweets ago…” But then life overwhelmed me and the burst of focused energy dissipated for a while. Now it’s back. Best strike while the vinyl is hot—or something along those lines.

The idea here is very simple: I listen to hundreds of new albums every year, along with hundreds of older albums that I come back to for various reasons; but how much of that music has real staying power? And what, in the end, makes a person return repeatedly to This Album rather than That Album? Sure, of course it is because of impeccable taste and a rare instinct for timeless music. (Duh.) But there is a wonderful mystery to it all, for so much of what resonates in a particular album comes from accidental things: the time, the place, the event, the moment. Certain songs bring back great memories; certain songs make you want to jump off a cliff (yes, I’m looking at you, Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”).

But it isn’t simply a matter of nostalgia, which can only go so far; it is, I hope, more often a matter of discovery, of hearing something new—or, in some cases, hearing something old and suddenly hearing it. Really hearing it.

My criteria is this: what albums from 60, 50, 40, 30, 25, 20, and 10 years ago do I still listen to now on a regular basis? And never tire of hearing? And why? With that, here goes!

sinatra_torme1955: In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra and It’s a Blue World by Mel Tormé. I was not raised on Sinatra’s music; quite the contrary—I was raised on decent hymns and mediocre to rotten “Christian” music; I hardly paid attention to Top 40 pop and rock until I was in junior high. And I didn’t really listen to Sinatra or Tormé until a dozen years ago. Prior to that, I simply didn’t “get it”. Then I did. Why? I’m not sure. But since then, I’ve collected some 1300 Sinatra songs. The Chairman of the Board produced many classic albums, but this one is my personal favorite: dark, lush, aching, beautiful, gut-wrenching, perfect. I sometimes fall to sleep listening to it, especially when it’s 2:00 in the morning and I’m wide awake. Sinatra had the rare gift of making you, the listener, believe The Voice was singing only to and for you. It’s impossible to describe; it simply has to be heard and experienced. And don’t forget: Sinatra is the God Father of Prog. Really. Sinatra, by the way, was born a hundred years ago this year.

Tormé did not have the edge or darkness of Sinatra, nor did he ever plumb the depths of emotional despair as did  the legend ten years his senior. But Tormé had range, talent, and genius to burn, not just as one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century, but also as an accomplished songsmith (he penned 250 songs or so), fabulous arranger, top-notch drummer (and decent pianist), novelist, biographer, author, actor, screen writer, consummate showman, and collector (guns, cars, movies, etc.). It’s a Blue World is a lush, impeccable set of songs, likely influenced by Sinatra’s Wee Small Hours. While Sinatra packs an emotional punch, Tormé thrills with pure beauty and dazzling musicality, all delivered with an effortless ease that reminds me of watching Roger Federer play tennis at Wimbledon. Bing Crosby, asked late in life to name his favorite musicians, named only one vocalist–Tormé–saying, “Any singer that goes to hear this guy sing has got to go and cut his throat.” For a taste, check out Tormé singing Duke Ellington’s “I’ve Got It Bad, And That Ain’t Good”. Continue reading “60 Years, Twelve Albums, One Man’s Favorites”

From Carl’s Critical Kitchen: A Baker’s Dozen of Tasty Prog/Rock from 2014

guitar-and-music-paper-1927
“Guitar and Music Paper” (1927) by Juan Gris

In the process of putting together an end-of-the-year book list for CWR, I came upon my 2004 post on my favorite books and music of 2004. The music list is quite interesting, with just one overtly prog album (Pain of Salvation’s “Be,” which is, in hindsight, one of my least favorite POS releases), and a fair amount of jazz (no surprise) and country (some surprise). I’m glad to say I still listen to much of the music on that list.

This year, I’ve decided to break my music picks from 2014 into three categories: prog/rock, jazz, and the kitchen sink (country, electronica, weirdness). I want to emphasize “favorite” here because there were so many releases I simply didn’t get to, despite uploading over 6500 songs in the past 12 months. Ah well!

And I’m going to try to keep it short and simple, with the exception of my thoughts on my #1 pick in prog, which is also my Favorite Album of the Year. What is it? Read on!

Favorite Prog and Rock Albums of 2014:

12. “Live at Rome Olympic Stadium” by Muse and “Tales from the Netherlands” by Mystery. Muse is about as proggy as a mega-selling, world-famous band can be, known for putting on live performances that are equally energetic and well played. This July 2013 performance is no exception, with the trio ripping through nineteen of their eclectic songs, ranging from from electro-tinged funk (“Panic Station”) to Queen-ish pomp (“Knights of Cydonia”) to Floyd-ish slyness (“Animals”). The DVD is very impressive, not only because it was filmed with HD/4K cameras but also because the band is at the top of their game.

Mystery is fronted by Benoit David, who was lead singer for Yes for a short time a few years ago, before illness led to his firing. David never seemed comfortable with Yes, but his work with Mystery is of the highest caliber. The Montreal-based group is lead by multi-instrumentalist Michel St-Père  (guitars, keyboards, bass, production) and has an epic, soaring sound built on fabulous melodies and exquisitely structured songs. The production, for a live album, is excellent, and David (who has since left the group) is in top form; this is not easy music to navigate vocally, yet he nails it at every twist and turn.

11. “Magnolia” by Pineapple Thief. Bruce Soord has more talent in his toes than most alt-bands have in their entirety, whether it be as a writer, producer, player, or singer. I’ve enjoyed everything from Pineapple Thief, but this collection of incisive, beautifully burnished tunes is Soord’s best work yet, the sort of intelligent, catchy, and detailed modern rock that deserves to be all over the airwaves. Classic Rock magazine sums it nicely: “Small but perfectly formed pockets of 21st century prog.”

10. “The Ocean At the End” by Tea Party. I was thrilled that this Canadian trio (now based in Australia) got together again after several years apart; I still listen to their early albums (“Splendor Solis”, “Edges of Twilight”) which feature an overt Led Zep vibe with a brooding, even epic, melancholy, rooted in Jeff Martin’s powerful voice and bluesy guitar playing. The latter quality is more in evidence here, and the rocking cuts (“Brazil” and “The Cass Corridor”) are the least enjoyable for me. The highlights are the dark cover of “The Maker,” the aching “Black Roses”, and the tour de force “The Ocean at the End”. Distinctive, powerful, emotive rock.

9. “Beyond the Visable Light” by Ovrfwrd. This album made a late charge on my playlist, as each listen revealed deeper layers of detail, melody, and interplay. The four-man group from Minneapolis is instrumental only, with an emphasis on group dynamics and song structures that are complex but very accessible. There is a lot of territory covered in the 5-song, 48-minute-long album, with grungy, propulsive passages melting into subtle, jazz-ish sections, and then giving way to Deep Purple-ish organ, and so forth. Great use of piano throughout, which brings a distinctive detail to the entire, enjoyable affair. Continue reading “From Carl’s Critical Kitchen: A Baker’s Dozen of Tasty Prog/Rock from 2014”