Friday, 28 December 2007

2007: A Year in Music [Part 5: Musical discoveries]

Now we come to the part of my 2007 summary that I like best -- the bit where I talk about some great music from the past that I have gotten into this year. I like this best because my musical appreciation lately has been less focused on the present and more on the music of old. So any discussion of the year that was 2007 will be incomplete unless I talk about some of these discoveries.

There's quite a few albums here, so I'll try to keep my descriptions brief and let the song samples do the talking for me. But I'm not promising anything, as I do have a tendency to ramble on. It all started back in nineteen dickity six; we called it dickity because my primary school had temporarily banned use of the word eighty due to [...]

Albums that I have discovered

Spoon - Kill the moonlight

Of course I loved Ga ga ga ga ga; it was one of my top 5 albums of 2007. Before getting their latest, I started to delve into their back catalogue. Prior to picking up Kill the moonlight, I only had Gimme fiction which was one of my top 10 albums of 2005. Sensing a trend here? Three albums of theirs, two in my best of the year lists and one in a list of my musical discoveries of the year. Yep, they are a great band, and I'm excited that I still have their first three albums to discover as well. One of my new favourite bands -- The way we get by is as close to a perfect piano-based pop/rock song that I could imagine hearing.

MP3: Spoon - The way we get by [Song link removed]

Tom Waits - Orphans

Seriously people -- I hate to sound all elitist on you, but one day (mark my words) you will discover the genius that is Tom Waits. Unfortunately he'll probably have to die before he gets the recognition he deserves, which is a tragedy. Right now I'm happy for him to be a cult hero known by little but loved to death by those who appreciate his songwriting brilliance. He's an incredibly difficult artist to get into, and yes you have to get past that voice which has been described by many friends as a human incarnation of the cookie monster. But if you are open minded enough to spend time exploring his music, you too will discover one of the true musical geniuses of our time.

Orphans is a 3-CD compilation of new tracks and older rarities which have either never been released, or were scattered across movie soundtracks and other compilations. Each CD represents a different aspect to his sound: Brawlers consists of his barroom bluesy stompers, Bawlers is filled with alcohol-soaked ballads and Bastards has his more weird and surreal moments. They are 3 CDs that many lesser artists could build their entire career around, but merely a drop in time for Tom.

MP3: Tom Waits - Widow's grove [Song link removed]

Paul Simon - Surprise

In a discography which has been reaping diminishing returns for many years, Surprise certainly lives up to its title. This collaboration between Paul Simon and Brian Eno is truely a match made in heaven; combine the unique and effective vocals of Mr. Simon and the ambient electronica of Mr. Eno's soundscapes and you have an album which sounds unlike anything in Paul Simon's discography. Quirky pop (Outrageous, Sure don't feel like love), melodic gems (Father and daughter) and gorgeously epic ballads (Wartime prayers, Another galaxy) gel together to form a surprisingly (there's that word again) cohesive statement from one of pop's elder statesmen.

MP3: Paul Simon - Wartime prayers [Song link removed]

The Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic

The Exploding Hearts were a punk/pop quartet from Portland, Oregon who were relatively unknown. They released only one album (this one) before tragedy struck in 2003 when three of the four band members were killed in a car accident. After all of this, they were still relatively unknown.

On paper, this album sounds like it shouldn't be that impressive: take a band who's influences range from Ramones, Clash and Buzzcocks and release an album which builds upon these foundations and adds a power-pop twist to everything. Sounds a bit Green Day doesn't it? I don't know what it is about this album, but it's absolutely magical to me. Their influences are certainly obvious, and it would certainly be right to call them derivative, but they have also fused these influences into an album which is entirely their own and possibly even better than many of the albums made by their predecessors.

This album is a modern lost classic which deserves to be heard by many more people.

MP3: The Exploding Hearts - Sleeping aides & razorblades [Song link removed]

My Morning Jacket - At dawn

When I included Z in the list of my top 10 albums of 2005, I hadn't heard any of their previous albums. It's always exciting going backwards through a band's discography to see how their sound evolved, albeit in reverse order. I soon realised (thanks to recommendations from Pete) that they were quite a different band back when they released At dawn. A much better band with a fantastic southern reverb-based sound that owed a lot more to Lynyrd Skynyrd than the Flaming Lips of Z-era MMJ.

At dawn is an album that can only be described as epic. The opening title track takes about 2 minutes before the vocals even kick in. The way that he sings is really all he sings. What a voice. What a great band these guys were -- the downside of getting into this album is that Z seems quite poor in comparison now!

MP3: My Morning Jacket - The way that he sings [Song link removed]

Johnny Cash - At San Quentin

It's amazingly how different the common public perception of Johnny Cash is from the reality. Those who only know him by name (and not by his music) probably think of him as an old daggy country music star (who sadly passed away in 2003 at the age of 71). But the reality is a very different thing indeed -- this man was punk. Yes, his music could be classified in the country music genre (that's certainly where JB Hi-Fi file his CDs) but it's so much more. This is rock-n-roll, rockabilly, gospel, blues and too. He even throws a bit of western in there.

But these are just labels! Don't let the daggy stigma of country music put you off the genius that was Johnny Cash. This is a man who's two most famous albums were recorded in jails to an audience of convicted criminals! How punk is that? At Folsom Prison may be the more cohesive album (all the songs are about prison) but this is the better album. It has the songs, the atmosphere, the vibe and is also quite hilarious in parts -- notably the classic A boy named Sue, and the almost-title track San Quentin which he plays not once but twice, almost inciting a prison riot.

I'm not usually into live albums, but this is a special album.

MP3: Johnny Cash - A boy named Sue [Song link removed]

The Kinks - Muswell hillbillies

This album will come as a bit of surprise to those who only know the Kinks by their big hits from the 60's (e.g. You really got me, Lola, Waterloo sunset). Many probably don't realise that the Kinks continued recording from the 70's to the 90's -- technically they haven't actually broken up yet even though they don't really record together anymore.

This album from 1971 is considered their last great album, even though it is very different to their 60's work. It's a bit all over the shop musically, covering a wide variety of genres from rock (20th century man), blues (Acute schizophrenia paranoia blues), music-hall (Holiday and Alcohol), country (Muswell hillbilly) and of course no Kinks album would be complete without their trademark British whimsy (Have a cuppa tea, Complicated life). And it all works remarkably well.

They probably would have been better off calling it quits after this album, as they would have certainly ended on a high note. Better to burn out than fade away, as a wise man once said.

MP3: The Kinks - Alcohol [Song link removed]

Badfinger - Wish you were here

Before you go accusing Badfinger of stealing the album name from Pink Floyd, this album was released in 1974, a year before the Pink Floyd album. I've said many times before that I love uncovering lost classics from the days of old, and this is one of those albums.

You know the old album review cliche where the reviewer says that this is the kind of album that the Beatles could have released if they didn't break up in 1970? Well, this is seriously one of those sort of albums. It helps that their career was actually kick-started by Paul McCartney, who wrote their early single Come and get it for them. But this album is not about hits; none of the songs are well-known, but it's got an unmistakeable vibe to it and so many of the songs sound like instant classics that you wonder why it didn't receive more acclaim than it did.

Reading about what happened to the band next only adds to the mystique of this superb album (I won't go into detail here, but please check it out on their Wikipedia page).

MP3: Badfinger - You're so fine [Song link removed]

Randy Newman - Good old boys

I had a few Randy Newman albums before this one (Little criminals, Sail away and 12 songs) but this one is in a league of its own, mainly for its thematic unity. This is a great concept album about the American south, all told through Randy's warped vision. The man has a hilariously dry sense of humour and his musical arrangements are up there with the best of the 70's singer-songwriters.

This is an album which is worth your time, and I would recommend it as a great entry-point to Randy Newman's vast discography.

MP3: Randy Newman - Birmingham [Song link removed]

The Divine Comedy - Casanova

The Divine Comedy is basically the moniker for Neil Hannon, a British singer-songwriter who writes songs in an old tin pan alley style. I've heard him referred to as the Scott Walker of the 90's, which is a fairly good comparison (although the comparison only applies to 60's-70's era Scott Walker, not his more recent avant-garde material).

This is a great album of impressive melodic and lyrical depth. There's some classic material here, and you can't help but smile and tap your foot along with the great run of songs from Songs of love to Through a long and sleepless night.

An artist definitely worth exploring. I recently picked up the out-of-print Promenade album on eBay, and look forward to receiving it based on the excellent reviews I have read!

MP3: The Divine Comedy - Songs of love [Song link removed]

Compilations that I have discovered

Pet Shop Boys - Discography

Tom Petty - Greatest hits

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Chronicle

I have grouped these together, as they are all 'greatest hits' or 'best-of' compilations which are worth your time. In the past I have been against compilations, but if you are in any way interested in any of these artists, I would recommend any of the above compilations without reservation. Considering you can pick them up for around $10 each, take a risk -- you won't be disappointed.

No need to go into great detail about these artists as their hits are pretty well-known, but if I have to sum them up in a few words: Pet Shop Boys make highly-polished 80's pop music which is almost the best of their genre; Tom Petty records songs which are instant-classics even if they aren't particularly innovative; Creedence Clearwater Revival are the masters of the blues-rock genre and they released a ridiculous amount of fantastic material in the late 60's-early 70's, the best of which is perfectly documented on Chronicle.

MP3: Pet Shop Boys - It's a sin [Song link removed]
MP3: Tom Petty - You got lucky [Song link removed]
MP3: Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green river [Song link removed]

Soundtracks that I have discovered

Saturday Night Fever

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (one of the highest selling records of all time) epitomises the disco genre. It is predominantly made up of tracks by the Bee Gees, many of which are now radio staples. But it also includes other classics like Yvonne Elliman's If I can't have you (also written by the Bee Gees), Boogie shoes by K.C. & the Sunshine Band and Disco inferno by the Trammps (also known as "burn baby burn"). A great soundtrack and time capsule of the 70's.

MP3: Yvonne Elliman - If I can't have you [Song link removed]

Jackie Brown

I don't know why I didn't get this sooner. Quentin Tarantino is a master film writer and director, but he is also the master at creating the perfect movie soundtrack, and this is no exception. While Jackie Brown is definitely not one of his better movies, the soundtrack almost makes up for what the movie lacks. I love how Tarantino is able to uncover hidden gems that you have never heard but after listening to a few times feel like you have known your whole life. Across 110th street by Bobby Womack is the best of the bunch here, but the whole soundtrack is definitely worth your time.

MP3: Bobby Womack - Across 110th street [Song link removed]

Artists who I have discovered

Bruce Springsteen

Yeah, the man has been overplayed to death on the radio. But in the year that I started to make an effort to get into a lot of older music, he was an artist who I felt I had overlooked for too long. And I soon discovered that there's a lot more to him than his radio hits.

I had actually picked up his most critically acclaimed album Born to run a few years back, and while it had some fantastic songs it, I also found it frustratingly uneven. I picked up the stripped-down Nebraska shortly after, and soon discovered that this is an album which needs a lot of time invested in it before it will (hopefully) reap its rewards.

Since then, I have picked up Born in the U.S.A., The wild, the innocent & the E-Street shuffle, Darkness on the edge of town, Tunnel of love and double album The river. Each has slowly painted a bigger picture about the man who is Bruce Springsteen, and while he has a tendency to sing a helluva lot of songs about cars and girls, he really epitomises the working class rocker.

The wild, the innocent & the E-Street shuffle (his 2nd album from 1973) is the pick of the bunch for me so far, even if it's a bit of a red herring in his discography. It has a much more jazz-blues based sound, and is even a bit musically quirky in parts. A highly recommended album.

MP3: Bruce Springsteen - 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) [Song link removed]

Joe Jackson

Radio listeners may know Joe Jackson by his hits Is she really going out with him? and Steppin' out. I picked up his debut album Look sharp! (from 1979) on a whim this year, and found that he started out as an artist knee-deep in the new-wave sound of the late 70's-early 80's. An artist very similar in style to Elvis Costello in the early days, but not quite as good in the songwriting department.

Since picking up his debut, I have been lucky enough to find three more of his albums on eBay for $4 each (!) - I'm the man from 1979 (similar in style to his debut, but a bit more developed), Night and day from 1982 (where his songwriting started becoming more sophisticated) and Beat crazy from 1980 (which had a bit of a reggae influence).

Night and day is probably my favourite at this stage, as it is the best example of the more sophisticated and interesting side of his music. It's still early stages for me with all of these albums, so time will tell whether he will become an artist that I will cherish.

MP3: Joe Jackson - Real men [Song link removed]

UPDATE: Song links removed.


  1. Well Jiggy, I could always tell by the way you used your walk that you were a woman's man, or at least a Bee Gees fan!!!

    Good post, interesting to see where your tastes are moving to.

    Would be interested in getting a copy of San Quentin sometime, it should be good, and I would also be curious to hear the Kinks album that you mentioned. Do you have/or have you heard of the Kinks album "Arthur"? Someone was telling me that is a good album too.

    If you are interested, there is a similar type post on the old trivial blog ( which explains some of my music tastes in 2007.

    Feel free to leave comments bagging my musical tastes as well if you want....

  2. As discussed with you, I found a copy of San Quentin at JB for $3 (an absolute bargain), so I'll bring it when I see you next.

    I'll have to do you an offsite backup of the Kinks album as well. I don't have Arthur but I have heard that it is a good one, so I'll have to keep it in mind!

    I've read your blog post and it's a good read; will comment on it shortly.


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