Out into the Blue and Sunny Morn

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. 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.

Boyz II Men’s self-titled album (1994)

First off, what is the name of this album? Some people call it their self-titled and other people call it II, since it’s their second studio album (if you don’t count their Christmas album, which apparently nobody does). Whatever.

Boyz II Men is one of those groups I’ve never listened to because … well, why on earth would I? Because they have good harmonies.

And that’s kind of the only reason. It’s decent music. It’s just not my thing. It’s like a blending of Rockapella and boy bands of the ’90s. When this album came out, I was listening to things like The Beatles, Elvis, Mason Williams and They Might Be Giants. So I’m not sure I could tell you how cool this was at the time. I can only tell you about how I feel it holds up today. And I think it’s just meh. 2/5

There’s one chord progression they use in Thank You I got really excited about, but mostly there aren’t many highlights for me.

Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward (1984)

Well, this certainly is different from Boyz II Men. I’ve listened to some Depeche Mode before, but I’m not sure I’ve heard anything from this album before. Phil said this when he shared it, but this is the epitome of the ’80s. And for that it’s great. But I’m not sure I could just listen to this over and over again.  It’s good, but it’s a lot of the same.

To be fair, I was only a couple of cells when this was released, so I had no real conscious perception of music. This could have been a mind-blowing album for the early ’80s. But nowadays, it’s just a stereotypical ’80s record. 3/5

There are no real lowlights for me.

The two songs that stood out to me were It Doesn’t Matter and Master and Servant. I think I like It Doesn’t Matter because most of Depeche Mode’s stuff can be a bit depressing, but this one song feels oddly positive. The album artwork fits this song. It feels like it should be in the love scene of a move. Tron, maybe?

Master and Servant I like because it is the quintessential Depeche Mode song, and therefore the quintessential ’80s song.

Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975)

I don’t know if I’m behind the curve or ahead of it, but now three of my coworkers have gone back and shared another album from an artist they’ve already shared in the last 20 or so weeks. Maybe that just means I have more music to choose from. But here we go with the Queen album with what is arguably their best known song: Bohemian Rhapsody. Ever heard of it?

The only other song I was really familiar with was You’re My Best Friend, which is rather run of the mill Queen compared to the rest of the album.

I was a bit surprised how angry the opening track was. Apparently, it’s dedicated to their former manager, who sued Queen for defamation after hearing the song the first time (despite the fact that it’s a pretty generic angry song and the band doesn’t directly mention the guy). Even though he later denied that the song is about him, it’s obvious the band and their former manager know the truth.

Another surprise was I’m in Love with My Car. I know it’s Roger Taylor singing, but it in no way sounds like Queen. It sounds like Kiss playing something written for Bob Seger. It’s weird, but I kinda like that it’s so different from the rest of the album. Or the band’s catalog.

Just like ’39, which might be my new favorite Queen song. Again, it doesn’t sound like Queen. It feels like something you would have heard at Woodstock. Or one of those allegorical Anti-Vietnam War songs. It is simply superb. The album should have ended with that. As it was, it made me not care so much for Sweet Lady, which is a fine song, but in comparison to what I just heard, it’s a bit disappointing. But by Seaside Rendezvous (which is pretty weird, but impressive for the “instrumental” break in the middle, which is just the band messing around) I was alright again.

The Prophet’s Song made start to feel like I had to rethink what I should expect from Queen. This song seems more like something by Kansas. Yup, throw some violin in there and it’s a Kansas song, although some of the vocal point/counterpoint in the middle is a bit weird. I could have done without so much of the “now I know”s.

This, like A Day at the Races, is a solid 4/5. These two albums really seem like a double album split in half and released a year apart. Queen was obviously in the zone when they wrote the songs for these albums.

The Ventures – Play Telstar, The Lonely Bull and Others (1963)

This is something I’ve been wanting to share ever since Tim shared Muse and ever since we collectively shared stuff our parents listened to in high school. This is a group my dad introduced to me, so these are some of the sounds of my childhood.

If this isn’t all covers, it’s mostly covers. But I don’t care. When I think of instrumental surf music, I think of The Ventures. They’ve written some of their own stuff, but they got popular back when copyright laws were … different. There were way more covers back before the man started cracking down on royalties and stuff. So while their song writing might not be highlighted here, I think they play this stuff better than most other bands, including the original artists. 3/5

Except Green Onions. The Ventures can’t compete with Booker T’s organ sound. My dad introduced me to Booker T’s stuff as well. In fact, the last time my whole family got together, we broke out into an impromptu jam on Booker T’s Time is Tight. My dad doesn’t play the piano much, but he does know that song. Tangent over.

And The Champs’ version of Tequila has a pretty sweet, gritty sax, so maybe that’s a draw.

But the other songs are better, so this Ventures album as a whole is pretty great. For example, let’s take a look at another version of Apache:

The music’s not bad for surf disco, I guess. But mostly it’s just Danish guys abusing drugs in 1977.

Here’s what my coworkers thought:

“I don’t know what to say about this album. The music was good, but … I never had a good grasp for where this album was going. The album seemed to last way too long, and not because it was bad…but because I kept getting bored. So unlike several of Paul’s obscure albums I have liked lately, this is one I would most likely not seek out again, or the band for that matter.” 2/5 -Tim

I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim would like this album better if it wasn’t all instrumentals. Maybe surf rock isn’t his thing, but surf rock with vocals (which most surf rock isn’t) might be more appealing.

Anyway, what do you think of The Ventures? Do you prefer The Tornados or The Shadows (side note: ’60s surf bands all had similar names, didn’t they) versions of these songs?

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