What They Say is No Surprise

One year ago this week, four of my coworkers (well, now they’re former coworkers) and I started playing a little music sharing game. In honor of this being our one-year mark, instead of sharing a complete album, I decided to share something a little different: a mix tape of songs I thought the guys who’ve been playing this game would share, or songs I’m surprised they haven’t shared yet.

In addition to the five of us that started playing a year ago, we’ve had four others play this game with us: our boss, a former colleague, my brother, and (currently still playing) a guy I’ve been in a band with since about 2005.

But of course Spencer couldn’t put together a playlist based on Tim, Chris and me, plus five other people who stopped playing before he started. So he just shared an album. And then so did Chris and Tim.

Frank Sinatra – Sinatra at the Sands (1966)

When Spencer shared this album, he also related a story that was often told to the USU jazz band by the director, Dr. Gudmundson.

Dr. G. was playing saxophone in the house band on a cruise ship through the tourist season. The drummer of the band was an incredible player, great swing feel every night. Every night after the gig, this fellow would get monstrously drunk and listen to this album on his Walkman, tears streaming down his face, bottle in hand, shouting, “Can you believe they swing this hard? This is beautiful, man!”

Dr. G would tell every one of his students to buy this album and listen to it, so we could learn to swing that hard. I never did. But Spencer did, and he claims that nobody except the Count Basie Orchestra can do it. I’m not sure I agree. They sure swing, but maybe I’m not drunk enough to think nobody else can do it. It’s all in the drummer. Not that I’m claiming to have ever played as well as the Basie band, but in my limited experience a jazz band is only as good as their drummer.

I’ve been a fan of Count Basie since I was in Junior High and started listening to jazz. I think part of it is that they aren’t boring. Like any well-balanced album or live performance, this does have some slower tracks, but I didn’t have to suffer through them. Sometimes I find someone who plays “jazz” and it’s all just soft background music. Not Basie, though. No track showcases this more than the short little One O’Clock Jump, where the band isn’t hiding behind Sinatra. Not that they usually hide behind him, but when he sings, they back him up like they’re supposed to.

Frank Sinatra is not my favorite guy from the Rat Pack. I’ve always been more of a Dean Martin guy. Although to tell the truth, I’m not a huge Rat Pack fan in general. Not to say Frank’s bad. It’s just that I prefer female vocalists on a lot of these classic jazz tunes. I will say that Frank Sinatra is a showman. By this point he had been in the business long enough that he knew how to entertain a crowd without really thinking about it. It even came through on the record. Enough that it made me want to go back in time and see one of his shows.

This is a pretty sweet album. It’s not my favorite jazz album, but it’s a classic. It’s iconic. 3/5.

Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun (1999)

Chris introduced me to Sigur Rós about 10 years ago via the music video for Glósóli, off their 2005 release, Takk….  Let me warn you, if you haven’t heard them before, they are the masters of the slow build. They have some long tracks, but they’re worth it in the end.

I would call this kind of music ambient pop. They, or their lead singer, Jónsi, have done quite a few soundtracks, which you can imagine they are well suited to. It also helps that they’re Icelandic, and nobody but the Icelandic speak their language. Plus, Sigur Rós made up their own language, Hopelandic, so even the Icelandic people have the same listening experience everyone else does. Well, it’s not so much a language as it uses the melodic and rhythmic elements of singing without the conceptual content of language.

I thought I knew what to except, but there were still a couple of tracks that threw me off. Hjartað Hamast, for one, sounded like an alt rock song played by a jazz band. I thought the music was really cool, although I didn’t really care for the verse vocals.

A majority of Sigur Rós’ stuff I have to be in the mood for, or rather, I have to be in the mood for background music. This makes them great for when I’m reading, writing, editing, etc.  However there are a few songs, like Olsen Olsen and Starálfur, which I would listen to as part of a mix of other things.

Flugufrelsarinn was also pretty good, and not quite what I expected musically.

All in all, this album had some beautiful musical texture. And this has its time and place. It’s not for everybody all the time. It’s a 3/5 background music kind of album, with a couple standout tracks.

Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz (1980)

For reasons described below (the sharing of which, I suspect, influenced Tim to share this album), I had heard most of this album before. Well, I probably heard the whole thing, but only remembered most of it.

But I was still caught off guard by Suicide Solution. It was so ’80s, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. No Bone Movies was kind of the same way, but oddly more glam. However, Dee totally makes up for it. I love how there’s a little classical guitar break in the middle of all this hard rock. Actually, I never realized it was its own track. I always thought it was the intro to Suicide Solution. On the other end, I feel like Steal Away (the Night) was also really ’80s hard rock, but it really worked.

This album has some real classic tunes, like You Looking at Me, Looking at You. I mean, that cowbell? Awesome. And Randy Rhodes’ guitar playing is just outstanding. The solo is face-melting. I think it’s some of his best stuff. But unfortunately, I feel like Randy’s guitar outshines Ozzy’s voice. Mr. Crowley is an awesome song, musically. I mean the intro is epic. But Ozzy’s vocals weaken the track. Goodbye to Romance has a similar shortcoming – it could feel so much more honest – and therefore powerful – if it didn’t have Ozzy’s frankly annoying voice. Revelation (Mother Earth) is a track I forgot how much I liked (although I do feel there’s some weird key changes going on that don’t quite work)(okay, it’s probably that they picked some chord that doesn’t fit their mode, but that’s getting a little music theory nerdy and nobody really cares), and part of it is that Ozzy’s voice fits the music. But it’s also almost prog rock in its structure and flow. It’s just a sweet song.

And don’t even get me started on Crazy Train. I really like what they did with the simple chords of the verse, and yes it does have a catchy riff, but I really think it’s just an okay song that gets overplayed.

Some of this album is just okay, but most of it really rocks. You Looking at Me, Looking at You is a 5/5. But the album as a whole I’m giving 4/5. This (and Metallica’s Ride the Lightning) was what got me into other classic metal and had a big influence on the music I wrote in high school and early college.

My mix

You can listen to this whole eight-track playlist on Spotify (UPDATE: a year later, it has 10 songs). Usually, if my friends tell me what they though, I’ll just stick it after my album suggestion. Since this is a bit different, I’ll post what they thought about each song (if they say anything at all) after that specific song, plus any overall thoughts at the end.

David Bowie – Fame (1975)

From his Young Americans album, I feel like this is a song Spencer would share. It has become classic rock, but it also has some heavy funk influences. It’s as simple as that.

“You got me, I like lots of Bowie, in a greatest hits sort of way. I’ve dug into his catalogue a bit more in the last year or so and I’m impressed with the scope of his work, but like I said, I don’t love everything David Bowie does, but “Fame” is one that I do really love. Spot on! Perhaps that means I’m too predictable…” 5/5 – Spencer

“Woah… I didn’t know this was David Bowie haha. I came into it thinking “I’ve never heard this song…” but I totally have. Just didn’t know it was him. Excellence. Bowie was so sweet. Love the funky glam he’s got going here. Hot damn. I need more Bowie in my life.” 9/10 – Chris

Black Sabbath – Iron Man (1970)

I’m not sure if it came through in the three weeks he played this game, but my brother David is into classic hard rock and metal. He’s into a lot of stuff, but if there was one genre he’s most likely to share, it would be that. He introduced me to Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Black Sabbath. To pick one album, I think he’d share Sabbath’s Paranoid album. But to pick one song? It would either be the title track or this.

“Ha ha, not bad. Although you might be interested to know that when I moved to Seattle I had to make sure I had music for the flight and the first few days on my phone. First content to go in was Led Zeppelin’s studio albums. And they haven’t come off the phone yet – four months later. Now its my daily driving music, using ear buds under my helmet.” – David

“I feel this song is kind of the Stairway to Heaven of Black Sabbath. They have more interesting stuff, and this gets overplayed. Still it is a good song. I’ve never noticed the stereo solo at the end before.” 3.6/5 – Spencer

“It’s friggin’ “Iron Man.” What else can be said? Easily one of the best hard rock songs of all time. I love the Black Sabbath songs that would change gears and juice things up like this does towards the end. Classic. Not sure what else to say. ” 10/10 – Chris

U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (1987)

Anyone who knows Phil knows he’s a bigger U2 fan than … well, anybody else I can think of. Maybe it’s too obvious of a choice, but I think The Joshua Tree is their most iconic album, and this is the most iconic track from that album. I really am amazed he never shared this. Like I said, maybe it was too obvious of a choice.

“U2 just seems really vanilla to me (like imitation vanilla, not like really delicious vanilla). An iconic song from an iconic group, but its pretty bland to me. Though I’m still trying to convince someone to pick this as their wedding song.” 2.7/5 – Spencer

“An unimpeachable classic. While this is an amazing song, it has lost some of its luster over the years, probably because of being on the radio NON STOP ever since. Nonetheless, a fantastic track.” 8/10 – Chris

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On) (2007)

Raising Sand is kind of a unique album. It’s a little bit classic rock and it’s a little bit bluegrass/folk. To me, that perfectly describes Kari’s musical tastes. At least it describes the majority of the kind of music she either shared or tended to rate highly.

“I was actually wondering what type of stuff Robert Plant did solo after Led Zep, but this doesn’t excite me much to explore further. Its well done, but it just seems way to reserved for a legendary rock voice such as he sports.” 3/5 -Spencer

“This album is flat out fantastic. It was one of my favorites the year it came out. I already loved both artists on their own, and I was floored by how well they complimented each other. Most of the songs on the album are covers (including this one), but “Gone, Gone, Gone” was a favorite. Definitely a Kari album. (Side note: Though I do love it, I’m still bitter it beat out Radiohead’s In Rainbows for Grammy Album of the Year. Ah well.)” 8.5/10 – Chris

Social Distortion – Ball and Chain (1990)

Admittedly, I don’t know how accurately I could predict Greg’s musical choices. I feel like he’s just as likely to share some surf rock as he is to share some of Johnny Cash’s more gritty stuff. But as I was making a list of possibilities, Social D just popped out as something that would be right up his alley.

“I like this song and a few other S.D. tracks. I genuinely enjoy this song.” 4.8/5 – Spencer

“I’ve never really enjoyed Social D. Part of it is the singer who always seems so bored. I know that’s their aesthetic, but it leads to a lack of energy that comes off as a negative to me. But this song wasn’t horrible. Just kind meh.” 6/10 – Chris

Maroon 5 – Sugar (2014)

Adam only shared one album in this little game, and so I cold be totally off here. But I feel like Maroon 5 is the kind of band Adam listened to 10 years ago when they first got popular, and while he’s probably not a huge regular fan, I think he’d check out this album, V, because he thought this music video was interesting, and then share it because he liked what he heard.

“Ugh. Sorry but I hate Maroon 5. I didn’t even realize it was them when the track came on but I hated it all on its own. Hate the sound, the style, the words… I should say I have a particular chip on my shoulder against maroon 5. They epitomize empty-soulless-dirty-mass-production-pop music in a way I loathe. I can usually at least superficially enjoy most pop despite being insubstantial. But for whatever reason Maroon 5, I can’t stand. This song fits right in with the rest of their catalogue that I’ve heard. Just an unspectacular simple pop rhythm, with some sexual theme put to a melody. Their singing style is obnoxious to me, the music has no redeeming character. This is an unfair bias, but one that I’m keeping, so an ignominious 1/5. Only because I don’t have a 0 on my scale.” – Spencer

“I’ve never minded Maroon 5, in fact I really enjoyed their first album, but these days they so obviously pander to typical radio fodder that they’ve lost some of their spunk. This song to me is a decent pop jam, but nothing amazing. Having said that, I like it more than I thought I would. The chorus sounds like something Michael Jackson probably would’ve done (although he would’ve done it much, much better). I dunno if this fits Adam though, he seems more like a folk rock kinda guy to me.” 6/10 – Chris

“So I have to admit, two years ago if you asked me, I would have said how much I disliked Maroon 5. But since then I’ve found a strange appreciation for their music. I’ve found that their singles are definitely money grabs, but their albums are well done. I would almost compare them to Huey Lewis and the News. Huey made music to be commercially successful, not to be relevant in the music industry, and for that fans love him and will go to his concerts forever. I think the same with Maroon 5, they are making commercially successful music, so that they can be commercially successful…and there is nothing wrong with that. Everyone wants their career and job to be successful and dreams of their love paying the bills.

All that said, I listened to the whole album (V) rather than the track. The album is pretty good once you get over them being Maroon 5. And honestly, Sugar as a song has really grown on me. It is definitely a sing-in-the-car type of song. So I give the song, and album a 4…but I might actually give each a different score if reviewed separately.” – 4/5 Tim

Bryan Adams – Summer of ’69 (1984)

I’ve told Chris a couple of times: this song just screams Tim to me. I haven’t listened to the rest of this album, Reckless, but this is straightforward classic rock. This song was really the reason I started thinking about things I’m surprised other people haven’t shared. Let’s forget for a moment that Bryan was 9-years-old in the summer of 1969, this song does have a pretty sweet solo.

“Yes, classic rock. Great. Enjoyable, but really not much to say when I’ve heard it so many times. Still, anything sounds good after Maroon 5.” 5/5 – Spencer

“Yeah, Paul and I were always waiting for Tim to share something from him. Bryan Adams just seems like a “Tim” sort of artist. I’ve never disliked this song, but I prefer his other hits.” 6.5/10 – Chris

The Flaming Lips – She Don’t Use Jelly (1993)

Chris is, I think, the hardest person for me to pick a song for. His tastes just seem to be so … random. From the king of ’80s pop to some brand new indie shoegaze rock band who only releases an album once every ten years because they only get together to play once a year because they live in different countries, but all happen to see the same dentist in some little town in France. Ok, maybe that’s a little extreme. But it gets the point across. There were a dozen things I thought about sharing that seemed like the kind of thing Chris would share. But ultimately I went with this ’90s gem. And partly because Transmissions from the Satellite Heart was kind of a weird album, from what I remember.

“I’ve heard this song before and like it, but prefer Ben Fold’s cover of it. Its interesting to hear the Lips as a traditional band, before they became basically an electronic group.” 4/5 – Spencer

“Although I haven’t heard a majority of their catalog, I do enjoy The Flaming Lips and have an album or two of theirs. I think they’re a fitting band for “my sound” on this mix haha. Every time I hear this song I remember hearing it in junior high and thinking it was a funny tune.” 8/10 – Chris

UPDATE

A year later, we added two more participants, so I added two more tunes to this list:

Tom Petty – Free Fallin’ (1989)

I’ve known Scott longer than anyone else (who isn’t family) that I regularly keep in contact with (and keep in contact with him more than much family). Back when I shared a playlist of songs that influenced me while I was playing with Stillwater (the band Scott and I were in), I somehow left off this one song we learned. So it seemed appropriate to include it here.

British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy (2013)

I have to be honest, David is the one person in this group that I didn’t know before he started playing. I still have never even met him. So all I have to go off of is what he has shared and his comments on what the rest of us have shared. Really, that’s probably how it should be. Anyway, I had never heard of these guys before, but they showed up on a radio station and they seemed like something I think David would share.

Here’s what everybody thought of the mix in general. If you have any thoughts on any of these albums, any of the tracks on the mix, the mix as a whole, or really anything else, post in the comments below.

“So I guess if this track list represents your friends on average I give your friends a 3.6/5. Above average! As for the mix, not especially contiguous, but fun as an eclectic mix. That Maroon 5 song in there though really ruins it.” – Spencer

“I really liked your song selections Paul! The enjoyed every song, and felt they aligned well with the people they were intended for. Your play order was nice too. Although, I’m surprised you didn’t pick Bon Jovi, or Queen for me. That being said, that particular Bryan Adams album has been on my list for a while now,; don’t be surprised if it joins the game in the coming weeks.” 3/5 -Tim

“…and if my math is correct (which I can’t promise it is) this mix gets an average of 7.75/10. An enjoyable collection.” – Chris

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