#259 – Janet Jackson – The Velvet Rope

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The second and final Janet Jackson appearance is her sixth studio album.  The 1997 release was heavily influenced by her emotional breakdown.  The album topped the Billboard 200 chart and was Jackson’s fourth album in a row to do so.  Jackson became the only female artist to release 18 top ten hits in a row with “I Get Lonely.”

 

Sara

It’s my first time listening to this in its entirety and I’m pumped to get more into Janet.  What jumps out right away is that this is a super-sexual punch to the face, with some brash and innovative sounds. Janet recorded this over two years and it’s deeply personal.  It follows an emotional breakdown triggered from issues that began in childhood.  She had hit rock bottom with addiction, body dysmorphia, an abusive marriage, bulimia, and even self-harm. She would regularly cancel recording sessions, sometimes for days at a time, as she struggled.

Here’s what Ms. Jackson-if-you’re-nasty had to say about ‘The Velvet Rope:

           Velvet Rope” is both the highest and lowest point. On a personal level, it was a low point, because I was going through a depression. That was a difficult time for me. At the same time it was my highest point, because I overcame the depression by talking about the crossroads I was at. There were so many things resurfacing that I’d suppressed: stuff from my childhood, stuff from all over the place. I was crazed trying to figure out where it was all coming from and how to deal with it. I could have made a wrong turn and tried to drink and drug it away. But drinking and drugs never appealed to me. I wanted it to stop. Talking it out and creating such an introspective work as “Velvet Rope” helped me do that.”[ 

If you spent the first three quarters of the 90s constantly wondering if and when Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell would team up (I mean, who didn’t?), your prayers were answered with 1997’s ‘Got Til It’s Gone.’ All kidding aside, Janet Jackson noted that what the two have in common is both being great poets, and this is why the song works. It’s much more alternative-sounding than the complex-yet-very-polished sound we often expect from Janet Jackson, and the rawness goes perfectly with the Mitchell samples. The video is also excellent, and was made way back when we loved music videos. It takes place in South Africa during apartheid and Jackson is a lounge singer. We see some of her amazing dance moves, but again, in a grittier, less choreographed presentation than what I’ve grown accustomed to from this artist. It’s a brilliant collaboration and listening while watching the video makes it feel like you’re watching some really talented friends play an open mic night.

 

If I could turn back
The hands of time I’d make you
Fall in love
In love with me again

So would you give me
Another chance to love
To love you
In the right way no games

Got ’til it’s gone

Don’t- don’t- don’t it always–, Don’t- don’t- don’t it always–

Here we go again…

Got ’til it’s gone

Don’t- don’t- don’t it always–, Don’t- don’t- don’t it always–

Joni Mitchell never lies

Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s

Gone

If I’m being honest, this wasn’t my favorite of Janet’s work. I think Rhythm Nation is far superior, but the hits on this album certainly have merit. My personal favorite is ‘Go Deep’ b/c it’s catchy as all get out. What it lacks in actual depth (it’s basically about hitting the club, picking up a dude, and bagging him) it makes up for with an infectious dance-friendly feel. Check out the remixes with Missy Elliott and Timbaland too. The non-hits didn’t get it done for me on this one. I was hoping to be a lot more impressed. Maybe I would have been if I wasn’t still rocking out to Rhythm Nation just a few albums ago.  A resounding ‘meh’ from me.

 

Steve

I actually preferred the other Janet Jackson album to this one.  There were some pretty good songs, but they were surrounded by a lot of garbage time.

“Together Again” is one of the biggest selling singles globally of all time.  You know this song.  Everyone knows this song.  It’s probably one of the most recognizable songs from the 90’s.  This is definitely not my kind of music but I love the song.  I did not know that the song was written as a tribute to one of her friends who succumbed to AIDS.

There are times
When I look above
And beyond
There are times when I feel your love
Around me baby
I’ll never forget my baby
(I’ll never forget you)

There are times when I look above and beyond
There are times when I feel your love around me baby
I’ll never forget my baby

When I feel that I don’t belong
Draw my strength
From the words when you said
Hey it’s about you baby
Look deeper inside you baby

[BRIDGE]
Dream about us together again
What I want us together again baby
I know we’ll be together again cuz

[CHORUS:]
Everywhere I go
Every smile I see
I know you are there
Smilin back at me
Dancin in moonlight
I know you are free
Cuz I can see your star
Shinin down on me

(together again, ooh)
Good times we’ll share again
(together again, ooh)
Makes me wanna dance
(together again, ooh)
Say it loud and proud
(together again, ooh)
All my love’s for you

Always been a true angel to me
Now above
I can’t wait for you to wrap your wings around me baby
Oooh wrap them around me baby

Sometimes hear you whisperin
No more pain
No worries will you ever see now baby
I’m so happy for my baby

[BRIDGE]

[CHORUS]

(together again, ooh)
Good times we’ll share again
(together again, ooh)
Ooh it makes me wanna dance
(together again, ooh)
Say it loud and proud
(together again, ooh)
All my love’s for you

There are times when I look above and beyond
There are times when I feel you smile upon me baby
I’ll never forget my baby

What I’d give just to hold you close
As on earth
In heaven we will be together baby
Together again my baby

Another guilty pleasure song is “I Get Lonely.”  This is a bit more subdued than most of the album, and less of a dance song.  The song is about being lonely and missing an old lover.

I get so lonely
Can’t let just anybody hold me
You are the one that lives in me, my dear
Want no one but you

Sittin here with my tears
All alone with my fears
I’m wonderin if I have to do
Withoutcha
But there’s no reason why

I feel asleep late last night
Cryin like a newborn child
Holdin myself close
Pretendin my arms are yours
I want no one but you

[CHORUS (2x)]

I still remember to the day
In fact is was a 3rd Monday
You came along to be the one for me
Now I’m alone

Sittin here by the phone
Call and say that you’re okay
So that I’ll have the chance
To beg you to stay
I want no one but you

[CHORUS (4x)]

Gonna break it down
Break it down, break it down
Gotta break it down
Break it down, break it down
Whoa

You know
That I know
That I get so lonely thinking of you
Oh-hooh
Noowhoahooo. . .

 

These two songs alone were enough to land this album on this list.  The rest of the album is pretty unimpressive.  This one seems a bit to highly ranked in my opinion, but that seems to be a theme with these middle albums.

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#260 – Willie Nelson – Stardust

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The first of two listed albums from Willie Nelson is his 23 (of 68) studio albums.  The “Red Headed Stranger” sure was awfully busy for a stoner.  The 1978 release topped the Billboard Country charts, and made it to 30 on the Billboard 200.  Apparently Canada has its own charts and the album did well there too, but honestly, who cares.

Sara

I don’t know much about Willie Nelson except that he’s at times homeless and seems to smoke copious amounts of weed. I see now that the album is all covers, so is he a homeless pothead who doesn’t write his own music? He reminds me of someone who’s worked at his same job for 10 years and constantly complains about his boss and all his coworkers, but does nothing to change his situation. Most of the praise of this album has come as a result of the very wide mix of genres Nelson covers, demonstrating how a true musician can present a variety of songs and make them appealing in their own way. I think it’s crap, but hey, what does he care?

The butchering of ‘Unchained Melody’ was particularly unsettling, as I love that song. Over 1500 recordings by over 670 artists are out there, but the Righteous Brothers version is the most well-known, especially because it is the theme song for the timeless film Ghost. Vito & The Salutations released a doo-wop version that was featured in the soundtrack of another amazing movie, Goodfellas. With so many great renditions out there, little Willie’s efforts fall somewhere between ‘nobody cares’ and ‘please stop talking to me’ on my ratings system.

For the sake of being nice, I’ll say that it was great to hear two classics at the end, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Etta James has versions of both that put Willie’s to shame, along with many others, but it was cool to hear other versions.

Overall this was pretty sucky for being given a spot practically in the top half.  

 

Steve

I tend to agree with Sara when it comes to covers.  Most of the time they just aren’t worth doing.  This album was kind of pointless.  There is not a single song on this album that hasn’t been done better by someone else.  Don’t get me wrong, it was not awful by any means.  Willie Nelson is a very talented guy, but this was just kind of a waste of time.  Hard to believe that in the 66 other albums he has produced there wasn’t another one better than this.

#261 – Grateful Dead – American Beauty

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The third of four Grateful Dead albums is the band’s sixth studio release.  The 1970 album reached #30 on the Billboard 200 charts.  The album continued the more Americana style the band adopted on Workingman’s Dead, although used even more folk harmonies and melodies.

Sara

You know when you run into an old friend that you haven’t talked to in years, have an amazingly good time, and leave thinking “man, how did we lose touch?!” That’s the feeling I had listening to this old pal. As I mentioned on our last Dead album, I listened to this album all the time in the 90s. The whole album is great, but I’m a fan of the more upbeat tunes “Friend of the Devil” and the closer “Truckin.’” 

‘Friend of the Devil’ has long been my favorite of their work, which is cliché but you’ll just have to live with it. Robert Hunter, who wrote the lyrics to Garcia’s music on this one, described it as “the closest we’ve come to what may be a classic song.” It’s widely covered, having been performed or recorded by such artists as Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, and even Ministry. It also includes the use of a mandolin, which we don’t hear very often.

The lyrics can at times be interpreted to be about religion or the law. It was written about Rock Scully, who was manager of The Grateful Dead, as well as playing several other key roles with the band over the twenty years he was with them. In those years, he also found several opportunities to have run-ins with the law, not to mention becoming addicted to drugs and being blamed for enabling Jerry Garcia’s addiction to cocaine and heroin. Scully was eventually fired for stealing money from the Garcia Band, which likely had to do with his addictions. Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow eulogized Scully after his death in 2014 by saying “though occasionally fraudulent, you were always the real thing.” Scully did, after struggling, find his way to sobriety and a positive relationship with the band before his death from lung cancer.          

Got two reasons why I cry 
away each lonely night 
First one’s named sweet Ann Marie 
and she’s my heart’s delight 
Second one is prison, baby 
the sheriff’s on my trail 
And if he catches up with me 
I’ll spend my life in jail

Got a wife in Cheno, babe 
And one in Cherokee 
First one says she’s got my child 
But it don’t look like me

You can borrow from the Devil 
You can borrow from a friend 
But the Devil will give you twenty 
When your friend only got ten

 The spread of talent on the Dead is amazing.   Lesh, Weir and Garcia in particular combine for a remarkable amount of skill packed into one band. Each takes turns singing lead, delivering masterful guitar solos, and backing up. On ‘Truckin,’ Bob Weir’s vocals lead, with Garcia and Lesh backing. This one is so good that it was literally deemed a national treasure by the Library of Congress in 1997. I think a big part of its success is due to the fact that it exemplifies the level of collaboration this band used. Another part is the distinct blues feel including an organ that just sticks in your brain. Here’s how Phil Lesh described the creative process that led to ‘Trucking:’ we took our experiences on the road and made it poetry. The last chorus defines the band itself.

“Truckin’” also birthed a single line that came to refer to an entire subculture for decades: What a long, strange trip it’s been.  That one’s probably a senior quote in every yearbook every year.

This album could be twice as long and I’d still love it. It leaves you wanting more, but in a good way.           

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn’t the same
Livin’ on reds, vitamin C, and cocaine,
All a friend can say is ain’t it a shame?

Truckin’, up to Buffalo. Been thinkin’, you got to mellow slow
Takes time, you pick a place to go, and just keep truckin’ on

Sittin’ and starin’ out of the hotel window
Got a tip they’re gonna kick the door in again
I’d like to get some sleep before I travel
But if you got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in

Busted, down on Bourbon Street, set up, like a bowlin’ pin
Knocked down, it get’s to wearin’ thin. They just won’t let you be

You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel
Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’
Get out of the door and light out and look all around

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been

Truckin’, I’m a goin’ home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin’ on

I’ll miss this old friend until we meet again.

Steve

What an amazing album to listen to.  In addition to the two songs Sara discusses, two of the band’s best in both our opinions, there are several lesser known gems.  This is the kind of album you can start playing and just forget to stop it…ever.

One of my long time favorites is “Sugar Magnolia.”  The song was written by Robert Hunter and Bob Weir about Weir’s long time girlfriend Frankie Azzara.  The track is a really well written expression of love.  When the Dead played the song live, they often split it into two sections, returning to the Sunshine Daydream coda at a later point in the show.  After a friend of the band Bill Graham died, the band actually split the two sections for an entire week, resuming at a later show.

Sugar magnolia, blossoms blooming, heads all empty and I don’t care,
Saw my baby down by the river, knew she’d have to come up soon for air.

Sweet blossom come on, under the willow, we can have high times if you’ll abide
We can discover the wonders of nature, rolling in the rushes down by the riverside.

She’s got everything delightful, she’s got everything I need,
Takes the wheel when I’m seeing double, pays my ticket when I speed

She comes skimmin’ through rays of violet, she can wade in a drop of dew,
She don’t come and I don’t follow, waits backstage while I sing to you.

Well, she can dance a Cajun rhythm, jump like a willys in four wheel drive.
She’s a summer love for spring, fall and winter. She can make happy any man alive.

Sugar magnolia, ringing that bluebell, caught up in sunlight, come on out singing
I’ll walk you in the sunshine, come on honey, come along with me.

She’s got everything delightful, she’s got everything I need,
A breeze in the pines and the sun and bright moonlight, lazing in the sunshine yes
indeed.

Sometimes when the cuckoo’s crying, when the moon is half way down,
Sometimes when the night is dying, I take me out and I wander around, I wander
’round.

Sunshine, daydream, walking in the tall trees, going where the wind goes
Blooming like a red rose, breathing more freely,
Ride our singin’, I’ll walk you in the morning sunshine
Sunshine, daydream. Sunshine, daydream. Walking in the sunshine.

Another song I have always enjoyed is “Ripple.”  The song was the B-side for “Truckin’.” Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics to this song on the same day that he wrote “Brokedown Palace” and “To Lay Me Down.”  Apparently drinking Greek pine resin wine is a really good boost to the old creative juices.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

If you have never listened to this album, take 42 minutes and do it.  It is a truly memorable experience.

#262 – Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby, Stills & Nash

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Next we have the debut of Crosby, Stills & Nash.  The 1969 release hit #6 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, with two top thirty charting singles.  The album also won the band the Best New Artist Grammy Award fro 1970.

Sara

I listened to this one with Athena and she told me to just put that this album was boring and move on. It’s not a bad suggestion, really. The only song I was remotely interested in on this album is the first track, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” It’s a play on words and it worked on me—I’ve always thought it was “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes.” It was written about Stephen Stills’ girlfriend Judy Collins, who is an activist and singer known for the very annoying “Send In The Clowns.” 

 
It’s getting to the point 
Where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly
I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
And you make it hard
Remember what we’ve said and done and felt 
About each other
Oh babe, have mercy
Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now
I am not dreaming.
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
And you make it hard
Tearing yourself away from me now
You are free and I am crying
This does not mean I don’t love you
I do, that’s forever, yes and for always
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
And you make it hard
Something inside is telling me that 
I’ve got your secret. Are you still listening?
Fear is the lock, and laughter the key to your heart
And I love you.
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
And you make it hard,
And you make it hard
 

This album really didn’t do it for me. The best song was fine, but the rest was pretty boring. Since it’s the debut and brought the band to fame and success, I take partial responsibility for not being enamored with it, as I was not giving this pass my all, but at the same time it didn’t really keep my attention. The vocals were the most impressive thing and I’d listen again, but wouldn’t seek it out.

Steve

This was certainly a tale of a two-sided album.  The first half of the album was decent.  “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a great song, and I was looking forward to the rest of this album.  The only other song I had heard before was “Marrakesh Express.”  Marrakesh is the second single released from the album, and reached #28 on the Billboard charts.

Graham Nash wrote “Marrakesh Express” while he was still a member of The Hollies.  Nash had traveled to Morocco and took a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh.  The song describes his experiences when he decided to leave the “boring” first class cabin and experience how the real people traveled.

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Traveling the train through clear Moroccan skies
Ducks and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they’ve led
Listen not to what’s been said to you

Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
They’re taking me to Marrakesh
All aboard the train, all aboard the train

I’ve been saving all my money just to take you there
I smell the garden in your hair

Take the train from Casablanca going south
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth
Colored cottons hang in the air
Charming cobras in the square
Striped djellebas we can wear at home Well, let me hear you now

Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
They’re taking me to Marrakesh

Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express
They’re taking me to Marrakesh
All on board the train, all on board the train
All on board

 

The next three songs are decent, but nothing special.  The second side of this album was a complete snoozefest.  Thank god I had coffee with me while I was driving and listening to this, because it instantly made me tired.  It was twenty minutes of bizarre lullabies that ran together and were frankly awful.

This album peaked after two songs, and I really expected better.

#263 – Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman

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The sole list appearance from Tracy Chapman is her debut album.  The 1988 release was produced by David Kershenbaum, after several producers turned the album down.  The album reached #1 on the US Billboard 200, as well as topping charts in Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Sara

Since I own this on vinyl and listen to it about once a week, this one wasn’t tough to find time for on my calendar. This album is truly brilliant.  Tracy Chapman was discovered at a coffeehouse where she performed at Tufts, after a protest organizer was told she’d be a great performer for an upcoming anti-apartheid rally he was planning.  His father happened to be executive producer Brian Koppelman with Elektra records, and Tracy thought he was full of it. She did not take Koppelmen’s offers to help her record an album seriously until he had attended many of her shows.  ‘Talking bout a Revolution’ had been recorded and played on a Tufts radio station but the rest was recorded for the first time when she was signed.

The first track ‘Talking bout a Revolution’ is one of my favorite two Tracy Chapman songs of all-time. Never has it resonated with me more than in these current times, but I’ve always been head over heels for this song (I also love the song ‘Head Over Heels’ by Alanis Morrissette, which appears on the biggest scorn of this whole list, ‘Jagged Little Pill’). If you’re wondering what song was most popular in radio play in Tunisia during the 2011 Tunisian Revolution, this is it.  It was also frequently played before speeches during the campaign of a popular democratic candidate from Vermont who supported Hillary Clinton when he did not win the Democratic nomination. It’s pure, it’s inspiring, and it’s to the  point. A beautiful song.

Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
While they’re standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion
Don’t you know
They’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what’s theirs
Don’t you know
You better run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run
Oh I said you better
Run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run
 

My other favorite song on this album (Yes, I obviously love ‘Fast Car’ too) is ‘Baby Can I Hold You.’  On the rare occasion that I don’t just listen to this album straight through and I’m just going to listen to one TC song real quick, it’s frequently this one. It’s a brilliant song about the key ingredient to any successful relationship, communication.

If you want to have your mind absolutely blown, listen to this duet she performed with freaking Pavarotti:

 
Sorry 
Is all that you can’t say 
Years gone by and still 
Words don’t come easily 
Like sorry like sorry
Forgive me
Is all that you can’t say 
Years gone by and still 
Words don’t come easily 
Like forgive me forgive me
But you can say baby 
Baby can I hold you tonight 
Maybe if I told you the right words 
At the right time you’d be mine
I love you 
Is all that you can’t say 
Years gone by and still
Words don’t come easily 
Like I love you I love you
But you can say baby 
Baby can I hold you tonight 
Maybe if I told you the right words 
Ooh, at the right time you’d be mine
Baby can I hold you tonight 
Maybe if I told you the right words 
Ooh, at the right time you’d be mine
You’d be mine
You’d be mine
 

It’s political. It talks about some serious issues, like poverty, racism, and domestic violence. It’s about love. It’s a window into someone’s diary. Considering it’s almost exclusively one voice and an acoustic guitar, it’s remarkable.  I’d love this one for a top 100 spot, but glad it made it on here at all given some of the glaring omissions from this era/gender/genre.

 

Steve

I had never listened to Tracy Chapman beyond her radio presence.  She has a very distinct voice, and the combination of her voice and excellent lyrics is pretty powerful.

“Fast Car” is an excellent track.  It tells the story of a poor woman trying to hitch a ride to anywhere to escape poverty.  This song still gets radio airtime on a variety of formats.  It is that kind of song, it fits into several genres, and the lyrics are pretty timeless.

You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose
Maybe we’ll make something
Me myself I got nothing to prove

You got a fast car
I got a plan to get us out of here
I been working at the convenience store
Managed to save just a little bit of money
Won’t have to drive too far
Just ‘cross the border and into the city
You and I can both get jobs
And finally see what it means to be living

See my old man’s got a problem
He live with the bottle that’s the way it is
He says his body’s too old for working
His body’s too young to look like his
My mama went off and left him
She wanted more from life than he could give
I said somebody’s got to take care of him
So I quit school and that’s what I did

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way

So remember when we were driving driving in your car
Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone

One of my favorite tracks that I had not heard before was “If Not Now.”  There is nothing ground breaking here, but I enjoyed the song.  It is about not procrastinating when it comes to love.  I’m going to try to apply the advice in this song to completing these posts.

If not now then when
If not today then
Why make your promises
A love declared for days to come
Is as good as none

You can wait ’til morning comes
You can wait for the new day
You can wait and lose this heart
You can wait and soon be sorry

Now love’s the only thing that’s free
We must take it where it’s found
Pretty soon it may be costly

If not now what then
We all must live our lives
Always feeling
Always thinking
The moment has arrived

 

My apologies for these being so sporadic lately.  It is all me, Sara has passed me by several albums, but I am going to sit down and catch up!

#264 – Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead

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The second of four Grateful Dead albums on the list is their fourth studio album.  The 1970 release was recorded in nine days at Pacific High Recording Studio in San Francisco.  The album stepped away from the band’s psychedelic roots and was recorded in a more Americana style.

Sara

Friendly reminder: my parents wouldn’t let me go to what turned out to be one of the last shows Jerry Garcia was alive.  There are many bigger Dead fans than I, but I sure do love this album.  I owned it in high school and listened to it constantly. I think “Uncle John’s Band,” which kicks off this album, is one of the Dead’s best songs. The acoustic guitar combined with beautiful harmonies form a perfect end-of-the-60s anthem. Oh, and Richard Nixon hated it because it contains the word “goddamn,” which apparently was too offensive for an altar boy like himself.

As to Uncle John’s identity, there are three theories. First, blues legend Mississippi John Hurt, nicknamed ‘Uncle John,’ was an influence on the band. Second, it may be about New Lost City Ramblers member John Cohen, who was also a photographer and filmmaker.  Cohen has called this theory a “true rumor.” Finally, some think it’s about John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus (“he’s come to take his children home).

 

When it comes to harmonizing, none are better than the Indigo Girls, and they crushed a cover of Uncle John’s Band for the tribute album Deadicated.  Check it out:

 Well the first days are hardest days
Don’t you worry any more
Cause when life looks like easy street
There is danger at the door
Think this thought of me, let me know your mind
Oh oh all I want to know is-are you kind
It’s a buck dancer choice my friend
You better take my advice
You know all the rules by now
And the fire from the ice
Will you come with me, won’t you come with me
Oh oh all I want to know, will you come with me
God Damn I declare have you seen like
Their walls are built like cannon balls
Their motto is Don’t tread on me
Come hear Uncle John’s band playing-to the tide
Come along or go alone
He’s come to take his children home
It’s the same story that the crow told me
It’s the only one he knows 
Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go
Ain’t no time to hate barely time to wait
Oh oh-all I want to know is where does the time go
 

I listened to this one straight through and was enjoying the trip down memory lane. I didn’t even read about it as I went, and instead was just soaking in the experience. I know it’s  not the best of the Grateful Dead but it’s damn good. The album keeps you interested the whole way through, but I love that it starts and ends with the two best songs. I’ll leave Casey Jones alone so Steve can have it.

Steve

Starting an album with a song as strong as “Uncle John’s Band” is never a bad thing.  Sara already talked about it, but I think the track is the perfect way to start this experience.  I tend to prefer this style of the Dead’s music.  This album and American Beauty (coming soon) are probably my two favorite Grateful Dead albums.

I let this one play through several times before I moved on to the next album.  There is some really great stuff here, and the whole thing is incredibly easy to listen to.  I like “Cumberland Blues.”  This is the tale of a worker in a company mine town.  He struggles to balance his life and his job, while worrying about losing both.

I can’t stay much longer, Melinda, The sun is getting high.
I can’t help you with your troubles, If you won’t help with mine.
I gotta get down, I gotta get down, I gotta get down to the mine.

You keep me up just one more night, I can’t sleep here no more.
Little Ben clock says quarter to eight; You kept me up ’till four.
I gotta get down, I gotta get down, Or I can’t work there no more.

A lotta poor man make a five dollar bill, Keep him happy all the time.
Some other fella’s makin nothin’ at all And you can hear him cry,
“Can I go, buddy, can I go down Take your shift at the mine?”

Gotta get down to the Cumberland Mine.
Gotta get down to the Cumberland Mine.
That’s where I mainly spend my time.
Make good money, five dollars a day. Made anymore, I might move away.

Lotta poor man got the Cumberland Blues He can’t win for losin’
Lotta poor man got to walk the line Just to pay his union dues.
I don’t know now, I just don’t know If I’m goin’ back again.

This album closes as well as it starts, with “Casey Jones,” probably one of the most recognizable Dead songs to the casual fan.  The song is about a train wreck that is about to happen.  Casey Jones is coked out of his mind and speeding down the same track as an oncoming train, due to a sleeping switchman.

Drivin’ that train
High on cocaine
Casey Jones you’d better
Watch your speed
Trouble ahead
Trouble behind
And you know that notion
Just crossed my mind

This old engine
Makes it on time
Leaves Central Station
About a quarter to nine
Hits River Junction
At seventeen to
At a quarter to ten
You know it’s trav’lin again

Trouble ahead
The Lady in Red
Take my advice
You’d be better off dead
Switchman’s sleepin
Train hundred and two
Is on the wrong track and
headed for you

Drivin’ that train
High on cocaine
Casey Jones you’d better
Watch your speed
Trouble ahead
Trouble behind
And you know that notion
Just crossed my mind

Trouble with you is
The trouble with me
Got two good eyes
But we still don’t see
Come round the bend
You know it’s the end
The fireman screams and
The engine just gleams

Drivin’ that train
High on cocaine
Casey Jones you’d better
Watch your speed
Trouble ahead
Trouble behind
And you know that notion
Just crossed my mind

We are going to see the Grateful Dead twice more in the next several albums, and I am really looking forward to it.

#265 – Ray Charles – The Genius of Ray Charles

0265

The first of three listed albums from the legendary Ray Charles is his sixth studio album.  The 1959 release reached #17 on the Billboard 200 chart.  This album was a step away from Charles’ soul roots, to reach a broader musical audience.

Sara

This is one for the ages. Ray Charles is absolutely remarkable and I could easily listen to him every day. This album contains one of my favorite Ray Charles recordings, his version of “It Had To Be You.”  This timeless song has been recorded by countless legends, including Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ginger Rogers and many more.  It’s also appeared in some of the most beloved films ever, such as Casablanca, A League of their Own, and When Harry Met Sally. It’s amazing to think that this song is almost a century old, having first been recorded in 1924. Talk about staying power

 
It had to be you, it had to be you
I wandered around and finally found, that somebody who
Could make me be true
Could make me feel blue
And even be glad just to be sad, thinking of you
Some others I’ve seen 
Might never be mean
Might never be cross, or try to be boss
But they wouldn’t do
For nobody else gave me a thrill 
With all your faults, I love you still
It had to be you, wonderful you 
It had to be you
 

The slow, melodic “You Won’t Let Me Go” is what put me over the edge for Ray Charles. His voice is just amazing and the song is something Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan should be slow-dancing to on a riverboat to close out a romantic comedy, as the camera slowly gets farther and farther away from the happy couple (ok, maybe I still have When Harry Met Sally on the brain). 

The big band arrangements get the butts shaking on the first half of this one (arranged by Quincy Jones) and side two is comprised of ballads performed with strings and woodwinds.

Steve

Ray Charles hits this list in style, starting off with the classic “Let the Good Times Roll.”  Written by Sam Theard and first recorded by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five in 1946, this song has been recorded by several artists over the years.  It is a great way to get pumped up, and the perfect upbeat way to start off this album.

Hey everybody,
Let’s have some fun
You only live but once
And when you’re dead you’re done

So let the good times roll,
I said let the good times roll,
I don’t care if you’re young or old,
You oughtta get together and let the good times roll

Don’t sit there mumbling
Talkin’ trash
If you want to have a ball,
You got to go out and spend some cash

And let the good times roll now,
I’m talkin’ ’bout the good times,
Well it makes no difference whether you’re young or old,
All you got to do is get together and let the good times roll

Hey y’all tell everybody, Ray Charles in town,
I got a dollar and a quarter and I’m just ringing the clock,
But don’t let no female, play me cheap,
I got fifty cents more than I’m gonna keep.

So let the good times roll now,
I tell y’all I’m gonna let the good times roll now,
Well it don’t make no difference if you’re young or old,
All you got to do is get together and let the good times roll

Hey no matter whether, rainy weather,
If you want to have a ball, you got to get yourself together,
Oh, get yourself under control, woah, and let the good times roll.

My favorite track on this album was “Don’t Let the Sun Catch you Cryin’.”  This is another song first done by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, although this one was written by Joe Greene.  Just like “Let the Good Times Roll,” this one has an long list of covering artists, including Paul McCartney.

Don’t let the sun catch you cryin’
Cryin’ at my front door
You done daddy dirty
He sure don’t want you no more

Don’t let the sun catch you lyin’
Lyin’ at my front door
Daddy’s done turned salty
And baby, you made him so sore

You can cry, cry, cry
Yes baby, you can wail
Beat your head on the pavement
Till the man comes and throws you in jail

Don’t let the sun catch you cryin’
Cryin’ at my front door
You done your daddy dirty
I tell you, he just don’t want you no more

Don’t let the sun catch you lyin’
Lyin’ at my front door
Daddy’s done turned salty
Baby, you made him so sore

Whoa, you know you done me dirty now
And I just don’t want you no more

This was a fun album from a truly amazing talent.  I don’t think that this showcases Ray Charles as much as some of his work, but it was a good listen.