Five Things Friday 11/8/2013 – The Music of 1983


OK, so last week I did 1973 … only makes sense to jump to 1983! We’re quickly running out of 2013 so I have to make the most of it, don’t you think? Once again it is a mix of pop, rock and jazz … though there is a much funkier and less ‘out there’ vibe to the proceedings, even with avant-garde jazz legends Ornette Coleman and Ronald Shannon Jackson!

Before we get to the music, I was thinking on my run today about popular music and music tastes in general. I have always had tastes that range outside the norm – and even with my more popular music tastes I tend to like songs that others ignore.

To the point where on an All-Request ‘The Who’ Weekend on WBCN back in the very early 80s I called in to hear ‘Sunrise’ from Sell Out. Nope, they hemmed and hawed but wouldn’t play it – what about ‘I can See for Miles’ they asked? So I asked about ‘Blue Red & Grey’ from ‘The Who By Numbers’. They suggested ‘Squeeze Box’. Ugh. OK, ‘Sparks’ from The Kids are Alright? How about ‘Pinball Wizard’. Finally I got them to play ‘A Quick One’ from The Kids are Alright soundtrack. So … yeah, it’s like that.

Five Thoughts on Music:

1. Like What You Like: I learned very early on that I didn’t like the same stuff as others. I tried to be a rock music fan … but it wasn’t me. Then I rebelled against rock as I immersed myself in jazz. Now I just like what I like … and there is no need to defend it. Especially in the teen years there is a strong associative effect with vocal music and lyrics, as if the singer is speaking to YOU … and even when you are older and life is very different, those songs will still resonate through your youth.

2. It is OK not to like something: I had a hard time coming to terms with not liking Face Dances from The Who in 1981, which I can now barely even listen to (tried this week … failed). Yet by 1986 after seeing Pat Metheny and then getting ‘Still Life … Talking’ and being very disappointed at the difference between what he was doing live in ’85 compared to what made the album (Albany was the last show before they hit the studio, so I was doubly surprised) … I didn’t get another Metheny Group album for more than a dozen years.

3. It isn’t about ‘winning’ I remember there was a debate on ‘who was first’ about backwards tape, distortion, feedback, and so on. As if it was like being on YouTube and being the first commenter or something. Look at it this way – is the greatness of The Beatles’ ‘I Feel Fine’ or The Who’s ‘Anyway, Anyhow Anywhere’ diminished if Robert Ashley’s experimental music ‘The Wolfman’ used feedback in a recorded setting first? No, I didn’t think so. Pioneering is important because it breaks ground for others, but ultimately it is the music that matters.

4. The stuff on pop radio was DESIGNED for you to like it … and that is OK: have you ever noticed how most of the popular songs fall in a certain tempo range, sound vaguely like another hit song from the past year or two (or recently, very much like songs from 30-40 years ago) and the vocals are often processed to where you might not immediately know the singer? That is intentional. HOWEVER … that is NOT a value statement. If you like it, you like it.

5. Your tastes in music WILL change! When I look at my kids – one is a huge rap fan, the other totally into the world of electronic dance music – I can see my imprint. Playing NWA, A Tribe Called Quest, etc started Danny down a path, and playing Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze, Bill Laswell, and others gave Chris a push into the wide world of electronica. Neither genre was a primary focus for me, but they ignited sparks in the kids that blossomed into broad explorations. But in 20 years, who knows what they will be listening to!

OK, so that was my ‘five things’, now here is a ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of great stuff from 1983!

1. Miles Davis – Time After Time: a reminder that a great song is a great song.

Immediately I am cheating … because Miles’ version is from 1985, but the original was from 1983 and won Cindy Lauper a Grammy. Here is her performance:

2. Wynton Marsalis – Knozz Mo King: at the 1983 Grammy Awards Wynton won both the Classical and Jazz Grammy, and was able to put on an extended performance that I couldn’t even imagine happening now.

3. Herbie Hancock – Rockit: this is an amazing song and video … but it is also a sad reminder of the racism of MTV – Herbie is barely shown, and only in a low-res video monitor, whereas the robots were all white. That was done so the network would show the video. For real.

4. New Order – Blue Monday: tremendous groove, and they are just in no rush to get to the vocals.

5. Ronald Shannon Jackson – Live performance: We just lost Jackson two weeks ago. I love his albums from this time period (Mandance and Barbeque Dog), and saw him live at RPI in ’86. Vernon Reid of Living Colour fame is part of the band.

6. U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday: I do prefer their earlier stuff, but they still had a few great albums left in them.

7. Police – Synchronicity: another band I was lucky to see a few times before they were gone. Imagine that in 1983 people turning on the radio could hear alternate time signatures and syncopation?!?! The horrors … thankfully we’re protected from such things today!

8. R.E.M. – Radio Free Europe: more of a college song, but these guys were awesome.

9. Violent Femmes – Blister in the Sun: yeah, another masturbation song.

10. Ornette Coleman and Prime Time – Dancing in your head: I really love Prime Time, the use of a double-trio format, the wild funky harmolodic style.

11. Derek Bailey – he released ‘Epiphany’ which I love, there is little recorded video … and you’ll know why after listening to this:

12. Jaco Pastorius – Teen Town: this is the band we saw in Boston in ’83, and looking back between Jaco and Mike Sterm I can only imagine the amount of drugs flowing through this tour. Great music, sad tragic life of Jaco.

13. Paco De Lucia, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin – who could have imagined that three sitting in folding chairs holding acoustic guitars could have your jaw on the floor for two hours. I already owned the album when I saw them live at the Opera House in Boston in ’83 … but still …

Bonus track! Pat Benetar – Invincible: OK, this isn’t even from 1983 … but she had a huge hit (Love is a Battlefield) in ’83, but when I think of Pat Benetar I think of the movie ‘The Legend of Billie Jean’ … and this is a video montage from that.

OK … tell me about YOUR 1983 playlists!

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