Category Archives: 2010

Today’s Top 5: Mixdisc 2010

I currently have not one, not two, but eight external hard drives on my desk, a network drive plugged into our router, plus my rarely used HP desktop. Most contain the result of the Great Undertaking of 2007, when I invested in a then-pricey external HD and began ripping our CDs. It was a six month-long endeavor born from frustration: We owned thousands upon thousands of discs, but had run out of space for them in our over-stuffed apartment. Stacks of jewel boxes took up residence here, there and everywhere.

After those six months, I bought a second external HD, copied everything over, and then plugged it into Diane’s computer. Presto, we had matching libraries – and more room in the apartment, as I boxed up the CDs. Whatever we wanted to listen to was, quite literally, a mouse click away, and because our library was so expansive…well, it was a bit like our own private Spotify or Apple Music. Then, in theory, if either of us bought an album, be it physical or digital, we’d copy it to the other’s drive.

But theories don’t always play out in real life the way they do on paper. Over time, our libraries took on slightly different hues. Sometimes Diane would procure a disc or download and not tell me. And vice versa. But, regardless, I routinely backed up my library. At one point, before I switched from the HP to a MacBook, I had two external desktop HDs plugged in at all times, and a third that I employed as a backup for the first two. Whenever I ripped a CD to the internal HD, I then copied it over to the externals. And, every month or so, I’d plug in the third external and do it again.

It’s just the way it was.

There’s more on those HDs, of course. One holds most of my high-res music. A few include now-ancient Super 8 home movies that I had digitalized, plus various versions of my own Long Medley – all those home movies edited into one long film and accented by a letter-perfect soundtrack. There’s also photos, photos, and more photos; my digital art, which wasn’t much in the way of art (as the example to the left demonstrates), that I played around with for more than a decade, and short animations that never came out as envisioned; the last iteration of the original Old Grey Cat website; umpteen versions of an unfinished novel; Word documents galore, including old TV GUIDE essays; and old mix-CD covers, such as the one below (and this one for a Juliana collection).

I may be wrong, but I believe it’s the last mix I made, as a Christmas gift (along with, I believe, a bottle of wine) for my brother and his wife in 2010. The cover art was an original, but something that I didn’t take much time with. I created it in an hour, rendered it, and was done.

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Mixdisc 2010…as in, songs from that very mix.

1) Tift Merritt – “Mixtape.” What better song to start a mix than this, a song about mixtapes? (And, too, it was from my Album of the Year for 2010.)

2) Mazzy Star – “Fade Into You.” If you listened to that Tift song, you’ll hear her mention Mazzy Star in the lyrics. So what better song to bat second?

3) Diane Birch – “Heavy Cross.” Yeah, I just featured this song in my Diane Birch roundup; and have featured it a few times before that, too. Back in 2010, however, it was relatively new – and totally unavailable anywhere but on YouTube. (That’s still true.) My sister-in-law liked Diane Birch, so it seemed a good idea to include it. (I used one of those crappy ad-heavy sites to strip away the video and save the audio as an MP3.) Also, on a more practical note, after the languid “Fade Into You,” the tempo needed a jolt, and “Heavy Cross” is like a double espresso…

4) Natalie Merchant – “maggie and milly and molly and mae.” Another hypnotic song, this time from one of my 2010 Album of the Year runners-up.

5) Rachel and Kurt (aka Lea Michele and Chris Colfer) – “Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy.” Yeah, yeah, not everyone liked Glee. But I did, and always enjoyed the episodes that showcased Lea Michele, as her voice was (and is) magical. (I still wish they’d spun off Rachel into her own series. But c’est la vie.) It’s also a performance that, divorced from the TV, stands on its own. (And, yes, I’m aware it’s a knockoff of the Barbra Streisand-Judy Garland rendition. I still love it.)

And a few bonuses…

6) Kim Wilde – “Kids in America.” A classic new-wave entry from the dawn of MTV. Who doesn’t love this tune?

7) The Jam – “Stoned out of My Mind.” Paul Weller & Co. tackle the classic Chi-Lites tune. And it’s absolutely fantastic – one of my favorite Jam tunes, actually.

10) The Lemonheads – “It’s About Time.” Jumping down a few tracks to No. 10 brings us to this, my favorite song from the Lemonheads.

11) Juliana Hatfield – “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” This was a free download from the Daytrotter site back in 2009. It’s an absolutely brilliant, stripped-down rendition (and is a perfect followup to Evan Dando & Co.’s “It’s About Time” due to Juliana’s guest vocal on that tune).

Today’s Top 5: Natalie Merchant

Life. It’s sweet. Every day is a gift, every moment a treasure, despite the pain and misery we sometimes endure. Those are cliches, I know, but I believe them – especially while listening to The Natalie Merchant Collection, which I’m doing as I write. The set, for the uninitiated, features her seven studio albums alongside one disc of new and old songs performed with a string quartet, and another disc of, as the press release states, “rare and previously unreleased tracks recorded between 1998 and 2017.” It’s due out on July 14th, but those of us who preordered received it early.

Much has and will be written about the collection, I’m sure, and I plan to write about it myself this weekend, after I’ve had time to digest the new material and contemplate what the set, writ large, means in the scheme of things. I will say, however, that if you had told me back in 1986, when I first heard Natalie with the 10,000 Maniacs, that I’d still be listening to her all these years later…well, I’m not sure how I would have responded. But I’m glad she’s still making music, and glad to still be a fan.

Anyway, for now, here’s today’s Top 5: Natalie Merchant. Not necessarily her greatest songs (though some are), but great songs and performances, nonetheless.

1) “Carnival.” (From Tigerlily.)

2) “Life Is Sweet.” (From Ophelia.)

3) “Break Your Heart.” (From Ophelia.)

4) “I’m Not Gonna Beg.” (From Motherland.)

5) “Space Oddity.” (From 1999’s Live in Concert, which isn’t included in the collection.)

And three bonus tracks:

6) “Maggie and Milly and Molly and May.” (From Leave Your Sleep,)

7) “Ladybird.” (From Natalie Merchant.)

8) “Frozen Charlotte.” (From Butterfly, the collection’s disc of new and old material recorded with a string quartet.)

The Essentials: Rumer’s Seasons of My Soul

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Last night, I listened anew to one of my all-time favorite albums – the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was just released with a “3-D mono” mix orchestrated by the son of the late George Martin, Giles Martin. I first heard it in…late 1978, I imagine, though I can’t say for sure, and have returned to it hundreds, if not thousands, of times through the decades.

But is it, as the marketing campaign for this reissue claims, the greatest album of all time? According to numerous critic polls, the answer is yes – but some say no. Pet Sounds has edged it a time or two, I believe, as has – if my memory is correct – the Beatles’ own Revolver. It’s what happens when you solicit opinions from dozens or hundreds of people, as few of us are totally in sync on any matter, let alone music. And, too, there’s this: I honestly don’t know where it falls in the pantheon of my top picks. Aside from the not-so-arduous process I employ for my annual Album of the Year exercise, I’ve never contemplated all that long on where an album (or single, for that matter) falls in the scheme of things. Is it better than What’s Going On? Pet Sounds? Abbey Road? Dusty in Memphis, Late for the Sky or Born to Run? Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere? Bridge Over Troubled Water? Blue? Seasons of My Soul? How can one judge such things?

And even with the jeweled trophies I dole out to the winner and runners-up at my year-end Album of the Year fete, which is now in its 39th year (!), the reality – as I explain in the intro to my running tally – is that the honorees are as much a reflection of my mindset as anything. Which, really, is what makes a great album great: It speaks to and for us in ways that, often, we aren’t aware we want or need.

Such is the case with Seasons of My Soul, the 2010 debut album from British singer-songwriter and pop chanteuse Rumer, which would easily rank among my Top 10 Albums of All Time – if I had such a list, that is. It’s my most played album of the past seven years, easy; and likely one of my most played albums, ever. As I wrote in my first blog post (which first appeared on the Hatboro-Horsham Patch in February 2012), it’s “an atmospheric song cycle that’s teeming with soulful, knowing lyrics and melodies that wrap themselves around the heart, to say nothing of Rumer’s emotive, pitch-perfect vocals. It echoes the classic pop of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters, yet moves past those inspirations by tackling themes not always associated with pop music. ‘On My Way Home,’ for example, is about the grieving process, and several other songs echo loss of one sort or another. ‘Come to Me High,’ on the other hand, is a lush, romantic ode, as is ‘Slow.’ The intoxicating ‘Take Me As I Am’ is about pushing people away when you need them the most. Add in … ‘Aretha’ and such songs as ‘Thankful’ and ‘Blackbird’ and, to my mind, the album is a must for everyone’s collection.”

Here she is in 2011 performing “On My Way Home” in Philadelphia:

I’ve written about the album here, as well, and elsewhere on this blog. To my ears, it’s a timeless song cycle that captures the nuances of life and love in a way that’s both personal and universal. It’s my definition of “essential,” in other words.

Here’s a YouTube playlist I created of the album as nature intended, aka in the order of the original British release. It features several of the original videos plus official and unofficial uploads of individual tracks:

The songs:

  1. Am I Forgiven?
  2. Come to Me High
  3. Slow
  4. Take Me As I Am
  5. Aretha
  6. Saving Grace
  7. Thankful
  8. Healer
  9. Blackbird
  10. On My Way Home
  11. Goodbye Girl

(Warner Bros. saw fit to re-arrange the order of the tracks for its download-only version when they released it in the U.S. in 2012. The songs remain brilliant, of course, but the album’s ebb-and-flow is dammed, at times.)