Thus begins a new side-project!
Yer old pal Jerky was recently in the company of some wonderful friends both old and new, many of whom are musicologically-inclined. Their knowledgeable talk got me to feeling rather timid about my own, comparatively paltry knowledge of popular music - both historically and perhaps more especially in regards to more recent releases and bands, some of which my friends with “good ears” assure me are “essential”, despite the fact that I’d never even heard of them before, much less heard them.
And so, using the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (Robert Dimery, General Editor) as my starting block - and, at 500 pages, it can certainly serve as one - I am endeavoring to rectify this deficiency in my learning. I have acquired a copy of the book, and have begun compiling copies of all the music found therein. This is not a difficult thing to do, as some enterprising soul has taken it upon himself to transfer all 1001 CDs into MP3s and put them up in chunks of 25 or so as torrents for thieves like you and me to download.
Some of the albums I already own, or have owned, legally, with full dues, fees and royalties making their way to all and sundry via the usual channels.
I intend to go through the list chronologically – the way it was helpfully compiled – and write a few thoughts about each of the picks as they come to me, if and when they do. I will also offer up my own patented YOPJ-meter score which, when the list is viewed as a whole, should help you know whether or not you’ll like a particular album, using our comparative musical tastes as a barometer. If I don’t like a bunch of stuff that you simply adore, then it’s a fair bet that you’ll enjoy the discs that I pan, depending. For instance, I am profoundly suspicious of almost all punk rock, and have a deep, abiding, almost perverse love for early 70's prog. So caveat lector.
That’s enough introduction to this exercise. Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we, with Old Blue Eyes, himself…
Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours (1955)
Is this the first “concept album”? The preface to 1000 AYMHBYD says so, but aside from this being as relaxed and smoky a collection of late night ballads as you’re likely to find anywhere, I’m having trouble seeing it. Later politics aside, I've always enjoyed Sinatra’s “guinea charm and olive oil voice” to steal a line from Jack Woltz, and the only word you can safely use to describe the man's phrasing is perfect. The same goes for Nelson Riddle’s arrangements for this album full of odes, laments and tonics to, of and for late night loneliness. It is legendary for a reason. It sounds magnificent, with gorgeous, lush orchestration, amazing fidelity, a warmth and richness that comes through even as Satanic MP3s. I can't imagine how awesome this platter would have sounded spinning on some swinging Playboy-subscriber's thousand-dollar turntable in the early days of Mutually Assured Destruction... dropping the needle on "Ill Wind" during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that truly must have been a real stone gas, man. Dark groovy, thick as gravy.
Had I heard it before? Yes, but never all packed together like this. It makes for a potent collection.
Did I like it before? Yes.
Do I like it now? Now, more than ever. And I think that, as I grow older and gather more tragedies and failures – as I inevitably will – these songs will only speak to me with greater and more devastating force.
Am I keeping it? Yes, but I will be deploying it sparingly and with caution. I’ll keep it around like a bottle of fine, aged scotch… in a cabinet, hidden away, only to be taken out for epochal personal catastrophes and/or epic melancholy moods.
Standout Tracks? Mood Indigo, Glad To Be Unhappy, Ill Wind, Can't We Be Friends... Not a stinker in the bunch, actually.