Archive for the ‘The Jam’ Category

Fun, but frustrating. That, in a nutshell, summarizes my reaction to the Facebook challenge of naming 10 all-time favorite albums over the course of 10 days. I have far more than 10 all-time favorites, many of which are equally weighted on the scale I employ to rate records. (Among my measurements: “wondrous,” “wow. just wow,” “sublime,” “mesmerizing,” “transcendent” and “it takes you there, wherever there is.”)

Selecting them also meant adopting a different mindset than when choosing my ballyhooed Album of the Year honor. There, I look back at what I’ve bought and played most often during the previous 12 months, and gauge what resonated with my soul at such a deep level that I know, just know, I’ll be listening to it for the rest of my life. (Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong.)

Memes weren’t created to be fair, however, but to entertain. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 10 All-Time Favorite Albums, Part 2. (Part 1 can be found here.)

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Day 6: Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo. I’ve yet to feature this album in my “Essentials” series, but will at some point. It’s one of Juliana’s best albums – and her second to nab my esteemed Album of the Year honor.

Day 7: Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ’n Roll. It may not be Joan’s best album (her debut, Bad Reputation, is likely that), but it’s her most important – and, in my estimation, one of the most important albums in rock history. Thus, its “Essential” status. 

Day 8: 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden. As perfect an album ever released, in my opinion. And another “Essentials” pick.

Day 9: Stephen Stills – Manassas. A two-LP (now one-CD) gem. Another “Essentials” pick.

Day 10: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Darkness on the Edge of Town. This 1978 album is one of the greatest albums of all time. What’s amazing about it, to me, is that the themes that Springsteen explores, both lyrically and musically, speak to their time and to all times. (It’s a future “Essentials” pick, in other words.)

And a three non-Facebook bonuses…

Day 11: Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis. Another perfect record. And another “Essentials” pick.

Day 12: The Jam – Snap!. One of the greatest best-of compilations to be released on vinyl, and a set I’ve listened to as much in the past year as I did in the first year I bought it. It never grows old. (It’s an “Essential,” in other words.)

Day 13: Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life. It may be a relatively recent album, and as such doesn’t qualify for “essential” status just yet (my homegrown rule is an album has to be at least five years old for that), but it shot to the top of my internal charts the moment I heard it, and hasn’t left. It’s everything good about music. 

(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.)

On back-to-back days in November 1983, I bought two double-LP compilations by two paradigm-shifting British bands: the Who’s The Kids Are Alright and the Jam’s Snap! I thoroughly enjoyed both right from the start. The Who’s set is, obviously, the odds-and-sods soundtrack to the 1979 documentary film about Messrs Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle & Moon. The comprehensive Jam collection, which was released the previous month, contains 29 of the then-recently disbanded group’s songs, including their 16 U.K. singles, b-sides and the “That’s Entertainment” demo.

Both sets are great, but only one – in my estimation, at least – is essential: The Jam’s Snap! It’s one of the greatest best-of collections ever released, and remains my go-to choice when in the mood to crank the Jam.

If you’re curious about Paul Weller’s first group, it’s the best place to start. If you’re a longtime fan, it’s still the best way to experience the taut trio’s top tracks in rapid-fire succession. Even in the streaming age, where “new-and-improved” compilations and playlists are a mere mouse-click away, it’s the only such set that matters.

About it’s only competition: Compact Snap!, released in 1984, which trims eight songs from the set (so that it could fit onto one CD). I picked it up a few years after that, in late 1987 or early ’88, at a now-defunct CD-only store in Jenkintown, Pa., that was called (if my memory is right) 21st Century Sound. The excised songs were “Away from the Numbers,” “Billy Hunt,” “English Rose,” “Mr. Clean,” “The Butterfly Collector,” “Thick As Thieves,” “Man in the Corner Shop” and “Tales from the Riverbank.”

The original Snap! eventually made its way to CD in 2006, and both the original and “compact” versions are available on most streaming outlets. Give it a go.

The track list:

Every Monday, we rolled out of bed, ate breakfast while scanning the sports section of the morning newspaper, and headed to the bus stop, where we waited with a motley crew of kids from the neighborhood. At school, we navigated the halls on the way to and fro’ class, and fled at day’s end unless we had an after-school activity of some kind. The next morn, we did it again. And again after that, times three, until summer break came.

After school, depending on weather and mood, we played in the street or the park, rode our bikes or walked to independently owned music and book stores in our small town’s business district, or hiked the long hill to the Village Mall, where we browsed the chain-store versions of the same. The main difference: the folks behind the counter at those independent stores knew my name. At the chain stores? They only knew my cash.

In 1982, social media would have meant talk radio. Cable TV was around, but channels weren’t many. In the Philly area, the most important to get was PRISM, an HBO-like premium channel that, in addition to movies and specials, carried the home games of the Flyers.

In some respects, life was less hectic. The news cycle played out in drips and drabs via the newspapers and evening newscasts, not the incessant drumbeat of disagreements that fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds. But, make no mistake, life was no less difficult then as now. June 1982, for example, saw America stuck in a wretched recession: Inflation clocked in at 7.2 percent while unemployment was 9.8 percent.

I was 16, going on 17.

New movies released this month include Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T., Grease 2 and Blade Runner. True story: one day later this month, after school had let out for the summer, a friend and I trekked to the Village Mall, which was home to an two-screen Eric movie theater. He took in Poltergeist. I took in…Grease 2. That’s just how I rolled.

The top TV shows for the just-concluded 1981-82 season included Dallas, 60 Minutes, The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, Alice, The Dukes of Hazzard, Too Close for Comfort, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. (Of those, I only watched the last two on a regular basis.)

In the world of music, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were atop the charts with “Ebony and Ivory” – a 45 I still own – for all of June. Other hot hits included Rick Springfield’s “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ cover of “Crimson & Clover.” (As always with all things charts, I rely on Weekly Top 40.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: June 1982 via Creem. Joan Jett graces the front cover of the issue and, via an ad, the back.

1) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “I Love Rock ’n Roll.” The Iman Lababedi-penned cover article chronicles Joan Jett’s ascent from the generally ignored Runaways to this point in time, when she was on a roll, having finished a seven-week run at No. 1 with “I Love Rock ’n Roll” on May 1st, and then cracking the Top 10 again this month with “Crimson & Clover,” to say nothing of her platinum-selling I Love  Rock ’n Roll album.

2) Quarterflash – “Harden My Heart.” “In the United States, statistics show, a girl is walking out on her no-good man every 15 minutes. Statistics also show that 15 minutes later they’re going out and buying the Quarterflash record.” So begins music journalist Sylvie Simmons in this in-depth profile of the Portland, Oregon, band, which – to my ears – always sounded somewhat like Pat Benatar. Interestingly, the songs weren’t written by singer (and saxophonist) Rindy Ross, but her husband, guitarist Marv Ross.

3) The Jam – “A Town Called Malice.” Penny Valentine checks in from Britain with a good piece on the Jam. “Not since the Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ has a record so well captured an urban mood and sent out its own warning: ‘Better stop dreaming of the quiet life/‘Cause it’s the one we’ll never know/And quit running for that runaway bus/‘Cause those rosy days are few.’”

She also delves into the album the song springs from. “So ‘Gift,’ an indecisive, incomplete, somewhat directionless collection musically and a set which reflects Weller’s own confusion between a salvation that lies with love and individualism or collective action, somewhat accidentally reflects exactly the political climate at the moment.”

4) Van Morrison – “Cleaning Windows.” Richard Riegel has the lead review, of Van Morrison’s Beautiful Vision, in the Records section. Of this song, he writes that “‘Cleaning Windows,’ which opens Side Two of Beautiful Vision, picks up some of the threads of ‘Summertime in England,” and is the most interesting song on the new set as a result. ‘Cleaning Windows’ stars Van Morrison as a repatriated Belfast window washer, who measures his life in the number of sparkling panes he’s left behind…”

He also laments that “nowhere else on Beautiful Vision does Van Morrison allow us such crystalline metaphors for his life. All 10 cuts have his trademark beautiful-vision melodies but lyrically too many of the other songs celebrate those vague bromides favorited by Bob Dylan in recent years, songs in which the satisfaction of the singer’s belief is supposed to substitute for acute lyric detail.”

5) The Call – “War-Weary World.” Riegel also contributes his take on the Call’s eponymous debut to the Rock-a-Rama roundup: “Clenched-jaw, urban-melodrama-verging-on-paranoia, a la Talking Heads, but far icier and more detached music than David Byrne would ever allow his disciplined-to-funk urban soul to express.”

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).