When I was asked to contribute this article to Couch Crunchers growing number of “Quarantine Top Ten” lists, my mind went in 20 different directions at once. Do I keep it at rock, if so just modern rock? But I listen to some pretty bizarre stuff, do I include some of that as well? Will people begin throwing rotten produce at my house? But ultimately I came to the conclusion to just include the music that I delight in. All of it, regardless of class, genera, or public opinion. This is the music that I can immerse myself in and almost, almost forget that society is on the verge of cracking. I know not everyone will be able to do the same, I just hope that I can provide perhaps a different avenue of distraction. Something you never tried before but are willing to? There’s never been a better time to explore new music. With Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, brand new things are at your fingertips. You no longer have to venture into a record store and worry about the snide snickering of a hipster clerk or worry about dropping your hard-earned cash hoping you get the “right” album of a particular artist’s monstrous, decades spanning discography. I implore you to go forth, be bold and listen to not just music from around the world, but music from times long past. There’s a reason why it’s still around. So here’s my ten picks of things I’ve enjoyed so far in self quarantine and in no particular order.
In the mid 1960’s America was slapped upside their fedora wearing noggins (yes I watch too much Mad Men) with shame. Here were these floppy haired kids from England playing music so obviously influenced by American made sounds like Blues, R&B, and Soul. Music that at this point most Americans had tossed over their shoulder and disregarded for whatever reason. These bands took these sounds, revved it up and serving it back to us with a style that was perhaps a bit more palatable to American youth at the time, and they ate it up! One of these kids was my mom who was at prime age for Fab Four frenzy back then. These were some of her favorite bands that she introduced me to. You can’t go wrong with these stunning classics – The Beatles’ A Hard Days Night, The Who’s Sings My Generation, The Rolling Stone’s December’s Children, and of course The Kink’s Kink Kontroversy.
Nothing can whisk you away from a bad day quicker than the sweeping epic score from your favorite movie! I don’t think there’s a man, woman, or child alive (and if there is THERE SHOULDN’T BE. Parents do your job!) that can’t hum John William’s theme to Star Wars, Raiders of The Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter or even the old Christopher Reeves Superman movies. Some of my favorite movie scores besides the ones listed above that I listen to regularly are Howard Shore’s absolutely epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Hans Zimmer’s artful Interstellar (Thanks Max!), Zimmer’s and Lisa Gerrard’s other worldly score for Gladiator, and of course Danny Elfman’s delightfully creepy music from the 1989 Batman and Sleepy Hallow films. Not only do these pieces of music stand on their own but when listened to, they bring back the same feelings of awe and wonder as the memorable scenes they accompany on screen.
There’s nothing like it, some have even said it’s even better than Rock N Roll. It soothes and simultaneously grooves with the raw emotion. Starlord said it best in Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2: “Same Cooke, one of Earth’s greatest singers of all time.” Man wasn’t lying. I’m a big fan of the early stuff like Sam Cooke’s Twistin’ The Night Away, Aretha Franklin’s Aretha Now, Otis Redding’s Pain In My Heart, Wilson Pickett’s Wicked Pickett, James Brown’s I Got The Feelin’ and of course I can’t leave out Al Green’s 1972 classic Let’s Stay Together. Another of my mom’s favorites. There are actually way too many more artists to name here but I would also encourage you to also seek out select recordings by Marvin Gaye, Solomon Burke, and Dusty Springfield.
When I first heard late 1970’s Punk in the late 1980’s it sounded raw, real and yet somehow refreshing to me. It cut through all the BS of the music that was popular at the time. Before so many took it, bastardized it and made it safe for mass consumption, it had a swagger and an edge that burned with a frightening contempt for society at large. Yeah, you can go and listen to those punk bands wearing baggy shorts and sideways baseball caps, but you can’t go wrong with these classics: The Clash’s Self-Titled first record, The Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bullocks, The Ramone’s Rocket To Russia, The Boys, The Damned and The Jam’s first Self-Titled LP’s as well. Plus some more stateside stuff like Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreaker’s L.A.M.F. and The Dead Boy’s classic second record We Have Come For Your Children. These should blow out your eardrums pretty thoroughly.
I remember the first time I heard the great jazz pianist Bill Evans play his song “Lucky To Be Me” on the KJZZ radio station in Phoenix. I was driving to work and I had to pull over on to the side of the freeway because it commanded my full attention. I had never heard anyone play any instrument so delicately and so full of warmth and sentiment before. It was truly enchanting, and it overcame me like few things had done prior. I not only sought out more of Bill Evan’s music but along the way discovered other remarkable musicians like Art Pepper, Red Garland, Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderley and the others that made up the 1950’s West Coast/Cool sound I have grown to love. I’m not a big fan of Bebop, Acid or Hard Bop jazz at all though. Listening to music by Miles Davis, Coltrane, Monk, and Stan Getz will make you stop and wonder why everyone is in such a damn hurry.
Left of the Dial!
I still remember sneaking out of my room and straight to the living room TV on Sunday nights at 10:00 PM to quietly watch 120 Minutes on MTV. It was a school night after all! To this day I still wish 120 Minutes was on Saturday nights instead of Headbanger Ball. 120 Minutes played the music that helped define some of my early adolescents. I love it not just for nostalgic reasons, but this music still stands the test of time and I feel lucky to have grown up with it. I guess every generation says that. This is another marvelous collection put out by Rhino Records that totally encapsulates the 80’s Alternative/College rock. Bands like R.E.M., The Cure, The Replacements, The Smiths, Jesus & Mary Chain, Violent Femmes and the parade of greats doesn’t end there. Yeah, some of these songs you’ve heard before but putting these 4 CD’s on is like listening to the best Alternative Rock radio station ever created by man.
Loud, Fast and Out of Control!
I’m just going to say this right out of the gate, I usually hate “Box Sets.” They’re filled with useless out takes, badly recorded live songs and cutting room floor fodder that frankly should have stayed there. I have no use for unfinished works, it seems pretentious to even offer such regurgitated table scraps to fans. There are exceptions to this of course and this is most certainly one of them. This is one of my favorite box compilations out there. It’s made up of all 50’s Rock N Roll and pretty much every song on this 4 CD set KILLS! This is the music that started it all, the blueprint if you will. All the heavyweights are here, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, Buddy Holly and so on. But so are a bunch of lesser known cats that had some great tunes back in the day as well. Have you ever heard Johnny Burnette? Joe Turner & His Blue Kings? Billy Lee Riley? If not, then that’s why you need this!
I originally started listening to classical music as a tool to control my road rage. Sounds funny but it worked. Turns out that listening to furious music like punk and metal during rush hour traffic actually does have an effect on ones demeaner. But not opera, that actually has the opposite effect in which it puts me in a Kamikaze frenzy where I want to take out as many motorists as possible before going over a freeway overpass in flames. I started listening to KBAQ, again a radio station in Phoenix that plays classical music exclusively. The BEST radio station in Phoenix I will boldly add. Their DJ’s actually like the music they’re playing and know a great deal about it! Wow what a concept! And you rarely hear the same piece played twice which means no corporate mandated play lists either! Through them I have discovered my favorite composers from the Romantic and Baroque eras such as Brahms, Bach, Vivaldi, Mahler, Verdi and Tchaikovsky.
My son asked me why I was listening to Christmas music the other day when I had Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours on while doing dishes. I feel like that’s the kind of emotional response some have when hearing Rat Pack stuff or Tony Bennett. It brings forth a similar joy and jubilation as listening to Christmas music. Just not that “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” nonsense. I try to stay away from “greatest hits” packages when it comes to music like this because they’re full of those corny staples like “Love and Marriage“ and “That’s Amore.” Sure Frank and Deano’s music is fun and boisterous but it can also be quite moving. Put on Sinatra’s September of My Years or Tony Bennet’s duets with Bill Evans and I dare you to keep a dry eye. On top of everything else, when Dean Martin sings “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head” his voice’s got more charisma than any new disposable crap around today.
Early 90’s Hip Hop!
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Hip Hop at all, because I’m far from it. But I do know that in the late 80’s/early 90’s my friends and I discovered it was way more fun to skate to Hip Hop than it was to punk like we had been doing. We loved groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, Fu-schnickens (Thanks Orren!), The Goats, Del the Funky Homosapien and of course The Beastie Boys. These acts were so cool because they didn’t’ take themselves too seriously, they had a great laid back, melodic flow, and they were trying to spin something positive, contrary to all the gangster stuff that was popping up all over the place. Consequently because of this it became known as “Alternative Hip-Hop”. All those records still hold up, especially Tribe’s The Low End Theory, Fu’s Don’t Take It Personal, De La’s 3 Feet High and Rising, Del’s I Wish My Brother George Was Here, Pharcyde’s Bizarre Ride II, and The Goat’s Tricks of The Shade.