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What do you listen to? part two

Earlier this summer, my students asked what music I listen to. Since they were not satisfied with almost everything, I agreed to write about my musical preferences. In part one, I wrote about the development of my popular musical tastes. In this part, I write about some of the music that Michelle and I listened to in the early years of marriage, from marriage through right before moving to Grinnell.

When Michelle and I got married, I added a wonderful person to my life and she added, um, a pack rat. Even at that time, I had too many books, too many albums, too much ephemera, and more. We also got to attempt to share and develop our musical tastes. There are some things that I listened to [1] that she did not like. When we saw X, she found it too loud, but she was amused by Exene Cervenka and John Doe fight on stage. She said Phillip Glass sounded like tinkle tinkle tinkle [2]. I can’t remember whether or not she attended Hüsker Dü with me [3], but, if she did, she didn’t like it. In contrast, I found some of her music a bit, shall we say, treacly. If I never hear Cats in the Cradle again, my life will be better [4].

But we also found a reasonably large amount of music that we enjoyed in tandem and listened to together in the car (traveling between Hyde Park and Oak Park, or between Chicagoland to Boston, or between Hanover and Waterville, or wherever). We didn’t see a lot of concerts together, but we saw some, and I think they helped influence her taste. We saw both the Blasters and Joe Ely [5] at Fitzgerald’s. If I recall correctly, one of the highlights of the Joe Ely concert was Ely and one of his band vying for who got to sing what verse of West Texas Waltz. We were already listening to Michelle Shocked by the Captain Swing tour, but seeing her solidified our enjoyment of her music.

But a lot of our taste formed from tapes and CDs I bought and taped for travelling [6]. These days, when we play songs from some of these albums, Eldest and Middle note that they are vaguely familiar, but they can’t remember why. Others, we continued playing with them.

Romeo’s Escape by Dave Alvin. We already loved the Blasters (see below). So I picked up Dave Alvin’s solo album when it came out. While brother Phil’s voice is an incredible instrument, Dave Alvin’s take on his own songs, particular Fourth of July (which he’d done with X) and Border Radio, which is wonderfully world weary.

Bad is Beautiful by the Bad Examples. I picked this up from the $2 bin from some used record store in Harvard Square. It quickly became a favorite. Thoughtful and varied power pop. We continued listening to this even after the kids were born, even though the lyrics are rarely appropriate for children. When I took the kids to the Bad Examples’ 25th anniversary show, folks assumed they were there because of Ralph Covert’s kids music, but they loved his real rock.

Cheap Beer Night by the Bad Examples. A great live album by the group. Contains Hey St. Peter, which may be the kids’ favorite (and least appropriate) song. The chorus goes Hey St. Peter, won’t you open up your gate? I hear the devil calling. Now please don’t make me late. He’s got loud guitars, alcohol, cheap Jamaican whores. I don’t want to stay in Heaven no more. We’re great parents, aren’t we?

Gordon by Barenaked Ladies. Joyful and silly music. I’d say If I had $1,000,000 and Brian Wilson were favorites, but we loved the whole album. When we did a vacation in Toronto, I made sure to track down their legendary Yellow Tape, which we listened to repeatedly on the way home.

The Blasters by The Blasters. Roots rock, before roots rock was big. Dave Alvin is an amazing songwriter. Phil Alvin is a great singer. The core band is strong, and when they include Gene Taylor and Steve Berlin, they are transcendent. American Music remains one of the great tributes to the wide variety of music. Marie, Marie recalls fifties girl name rockabilly, and Border Radio is one or the great songs about the experience of American (or Mexican) radio.

Non Fiction by The Blasters. Not quite as great, but still contains a wonderful range of songs. Jubilee Train and Long White Cadillac are probably my favorites, but Bus Station continues to reveal Dave Alvin’s skills as a storyteller.

Hard Line by The Blasters. Common Man remains one of the great political songs of our time. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but Rock & Roll Will Stand makes a great bookend to American Music.

My I’m Large by the Bobs. Fun and funny a cappella.

Peter Case by Peter Case. I love Case from his work with The Plimsouls - A Million Miles Away is a classic of power pop, but there are so many other Plimsouls songs I love, too. In any case, like many musicians of the time, Case broke away from his band to make more folky music. I’m not sure that there are particular songs that stand out from his solo debut, but it’s an album that lived in the car with us.

Marshall Crenshaw by Marshall Crenshaw. Great pop by a Beatles devotee. If I recall correctly, we also had a tape recorded live from the radio, and liked many songs from there, too. We saw him live a few years ago, and it wasn’t the same.

Honky Tonk Masquerade by Joe Ely. His breakout album. Not quite country, not quite rock, certainly not Eagles-style country-rock. An amazing variety of songs that bring together what makes country great (lyrics that reflect the likely experience of everyman) with some of the best songs by Butch Hancock, particularly West Texas Waltz and Boxcars. But Fingernails, by Ely, is an awesome rocker, with some of the absurdities that you’d expect from, say, Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis (e.g., I keep my fingernails long so they click when I play the piano.).

Lord of the Highway by Joe Ely. Harder songs, but the same great variety. Me and Billy the Kid is a great revenge song. Row of Dominoes is probably my second favorite song on the album, and has one of the great opening lines I’ve heard: Carmen must have been the devil’s daughter. At least he taught her how to wear her clothes.

Love is a Strange Hotel by Clive Gregson and Christine Collister. Another $2 bin favorite, which I picked up because I’m a sucker for cover albums. Amazing versions of songs both famous (The Things We Do For Love by 10cc, For a Dancer by Jackson Browne) and less so (the title tune, by Boo Hewerdine and Darden Smith [7].

Walking on a Wire by Lowen and Navarro. Yet another $2 bin find. Lowen and Navarro were songwriters - their We Belong was a great hit for Pat Benetar. This album shows their strengths singing their own songs. Michelle and I have taken the kids to see Dan Navarro a few times. He’s been thoughtful and gracious when the kids tell him how much they love his songs (and he seems to remember us from show to show).

Poi Dog Pondering by Poi Dog Pondering. We let a random Internet acquaintance couch surf at our house and he convince dus to go see them. Their concert was joyful and fun, and their music is the same. A wide variety of instrumentation contributes to the overall sound.

Jonathan Sings by Jonathan Richman. I’ve listed this one already, but it’s certainly a shared favorite. Not Yet Three is a song that will always be special to us, and it’s something we sang to all of our kids. But That Summer Feeling, Those Conga Drums, This Kind of Music, and Stop This Car bring such thoughtfulness and joy that I couldn’t do without them. And I love Ellie Marshall on The Neighbors.

Texas Campfire Tapes by Michelle Shocked. Released without her permission, and at the wrong speed, this is still an awesome set of songs by an amazing songwriter with just her guitar.

The Mercury Trilogy: Short Sharp Shocked, Captain Swing, and Arkansas Traveller by Michelle Shocked. I think of Michelle Shocked as a folkie, but on this trilogy she explored a variety of American musical genres. I think Anchorage was Michelle (Rebelsky)’s favorite from Short Sharp Shocked but we also sang along to Memories of East Texas. I love her version of Jean Ritchie’s The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore. We listened to the other two albums less, but (Don’t You Mess Around With) My Little Sister is a great response to Elvis and Strawberry Jam is a wonderful exploration of the joy of making music.

This is Now by Jon Svetkey. Jon Strymish, my best friend (other than Michelle) took my mother to see Svetkey. Mom bought his tape and sent it to us. Dead and Streets and A Way of Praying are my favorites, but we love the whole album. Michelle and I have managed to see Svetkey’s band, The Loomers, a few times. I think we own all of their albums and all of Svetkey’s solo albums.

And then there were the individual songs that ended up on mix tapes or that seemed to come up again and again when we spun the dial on the radio. Here’s a selection.

  • Lake Shore Drive by Aliotta Haynes Jerimiah.
  • Don’t Pay the Ferryman by Chris De Burgh (the version from the Live for Ireland anthology)
  • Independence Day by Martina McBride
  • Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile) by Van Morrison
  • Barrett’s Privateers by Stan Rogers
  • Rock and Roll Lullaby by B. J. Thomas

Am I done with these musical musings? Nope. I have at least one more to write about the things I listen to, but that Michelle does not.

[1] And still listen to.

[2] She’s not wrong.

[3] That concert is preserved on some bonus CD somewhere.

[4] It’s not that I hate all Harry Chapin songs; just the ones that are overplayed. I could certainly listen to The Parade’s Still Passing By, his tribute to Phil Ochs, many times.

[5] Separate concerns.

[6] I did, of course, tape traditional favorites like the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen. But this musing focuses more on the new things we (mostly) discovered together.

[7] I’ll write about Darden Smith in another musing.

Version 1.0.2 of 2017-07-08.