Thrill Me to My Fingertips

Some of my co-workers and I started sharing some of our favorite music. We’ve been doing it for a while, but now we’re actually reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another.

I’m not sure what brought it up, but one of my coworkers thought it would be fun to share stuff one of our parents (biological or adopted) listened to in high school. It’s an odd way to recommend music, but whatever.

My parents both graduated in 1970. My mother’s dad was in the Air Force and he treated his kids not unlike he treated the men under his command. So my mother was a straight-shooting, over-achieving kid. She skipped a grade somewhere and graduated high school a year early. Three years later, she finished her Master’s Degree. Her Masters. By the time she was 20. When she was home, she was doing homework. And the only music I know she listened to was classical music. While I certainly love some classical music, I thought I’d share something my dad introduced to me. But first, here are the three albums that were suggested to me this week.

A note on how I rate things. One star means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.

The Crickets – The “Chirping” Crickets (1957)

I had heard Crickets songs before, but I’m not sure I had ever heard The Crickets’ versions. I listen to a lot of old rock and roll, but I went straight from Elvis’ country-rock to The Beatles, totally skipping the most influential band of the era. I can say that because The Crickets didn’t overlap with The Beatles, who were obviously influenced by Buddy Holly’s group – both in name and style.

In case you haven’t really listened to The Cricket’s either, they’re the best kind of early rock and roll. I’m a little sad to say I haven’t given them a real listen until now. And sad their career was so short. I totally get why these guys were so hot at the time, and why they’re lauded as one of the best bands of early rock and roll.

This album easily gets a 4/5, with only one real lowlight. I like my ’50s pop rock ballads, but It’s Too Late was just too much. An Empty Cup and Send Me Some Lovin’ were alright. Not my favorite, but they were better than It’s Too Late.

And the only criticism I have of the group in general is some of their background vocals. I like their “ooo”s and “aah”s and “ba ba ba ba”s, but some of their actual lines just sounded weird. I don’t know if it was the tight harmonies, if it was the mixing, or if one of the guys just can’t sing, but I wasn’t always a fan.

My favorite track, by the way, was Rock Me My Baby. It is everything I could have wanted from ‘50s rock and roll. Scooping vocals and all.

Boston’s self-titled (1976)

I have some Boston songs on my computer, but I didn’t realize I liked them as much as I do. This whole album is just great.

One of my friends in high school though all of Boston’s songs were about women (i.e., Amanda), but he was wrong. This album is a perfect example of ’70s hard pop rock.

I know I haven’t said much about this album, but it’s just great. Another 4/5. Not a bad moment across all nearly 40 minutes. My favorite is the Foreplay section of the third track, how it just builds and builds. When the drums and bass come in … most excellent. Then the guitar comes crashing in and everybody’s just rockin’ out and it’s perfect. And then they do it all over again, with a little more umph. Great. I could listen to the first two minutes of that track over and over.

Don McLean – American Pie (1971)

Let me get this out of the way, I don’t like the title track off this album. It’s musically boring and just drags on and on and on. Cat’s in the Cradle is a song I have similar feelings about. While we’re on the downsides, I don’t really like The Grave. It’s not that great of a musical composition, and I think I’m too young to appreciate the anti-Viet Nam War sentiment.

But it’s not that I don’t like Don McLean. I love Vincent. It’s one of my favorite ballads of ever. Really McLean is a great folk rock musician. In fact, I think of Don McLean as a less stoned (and so maybe less “poetic” as well) version of Simon and Garfunkel. Without the harmonies, of course.

One pleasant surprise was Babylon. It sounded like something Matisyahu would do, and that’s a good thing in my book. I don’t know if Don McLean is Jewish, but I’m impressed how Hebrew-sounding he makes his banjo.

All in all, I’d give this album a sold 3/5. What I like, I really like, and what I don’t like, I really don’t like. So it balances out.

Also, I think it’s ironic that Tim shared The Crickets, and Kari shared the most famous mention (and really naming) of their demise. Although she said it wasn’t because of Tim’s suggestion; it was the only record both of her parents named when she asked them.

The Mason Williams Phonograph Record (1968)

Until recently when both my parents got more into folk/bluegrass music, whenever I went anywhere with my dad, there was one album he always had in his car (aside from something by The Beatles). I mean, I swear he only had about a dozen non-Beatles albums, but this one was always in his car.

To be honest, I like his compilation album a little better than this one, but I still like this album. Mason Williams is a classically trained guitarist who had been making a living playing in a folk band since about 1958. And he is mostly known for one song: Classical Gas. That song is a pretty good representation of his work as a whole. It’s a little classical, a little folky, a little pop rock, and all with that peculiar influence the late ‘60s (or possibly the drugs of the late ‘60s, although I wouldn’t call any of his music psychedelic) had on music. 4/5

One of my favorite songs is Sunflower. From Williams,

In 1967, I had an idea for a film: to draw the world’s biggest sunflower. The film was to be a slow-motion aerial ballet in which an old bi-wing aeroplane skywrites “draws” the stem and leaves of a flower in the sky beneath the sun, the sun itself thereby becoming the blossom of a “Sun” flower.

The actual event took place early one morning [July 11] just after sunrise in the California desert [Apple Valley] northeast of L.A. The skywriting plan was designed by Mr. V. E. Noble of Torrance, California, who claimed to be the original inventor of skywriting back in the 1920’s. Mr. Noble, 67 years old at the time, thought this idea sufficiently crazy enough to come out of retirement. He didn’t actually fly the plane himself, but controlled the event by radio from the ground. The pilot was a guy named “Skip” who had flown fighter planes in World War II. He was right out of the movies . . . leather pilot’s helmet and goggles, bomber jacket, white silk scarf and he was the silent type, very little to say.

I hired a camera man to film the event. However, he failed to take into account the technical difficulties involved in photographing directly into the sun, so the film didn’t turn out. It cost $5,000, which was my entire life savings at the time.

The Skyflower itself, however, was spectacular. . . 2 miles wide and 3 miles high. It lasted about 40 seconds. Fortunately, my still photographer [Tony Esparza] managed to grab a couple of black & white photos before the wind blew it all away.

The song, Sunflower is a melody I wrote in the process of exploring a chance compositional concept wherein words are used to create the intervals for melodies. Sunflower is based on the word cantilever. I should have called it Cantilever, especially in light of the way the last chord hangs out in space. I ended up calling it Sunflower because I wanted to use it as the music for the film.

Anyway, here’s what my coworkers thought of Mason Williams:

“This album was interesting for me. I haven’t heard one of those songs before, but I could totally see myself listening to this on a long road trip and just getting in the zone. … I felt like the album started way stronger than it finished. At times it got odd…. But the music ability alone on this album earned it three stars for me.” 3/5 -Tim

“I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It was simultaneously less conventional, and yet more conventional than I had expected. I appreciate albums like this, and for it’s time it was a stretch and an experiment. I can’t think of any one track at the moment that stuck out, but overall an enjoyable listen.” 7.5/10 – Chris


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