I was processing some of my digital collection and made it to Elton John. Of all the music Andrea and I have together, our biggest collection of CDs by any one artist or group would be a toss up between him and The Beatles. Which made me want to start reviewing his whole discography when I realized most of what we have is his stuff once he became more well-known. So I used my Apple Music subscription to go back to the beginning to his first album: Empty Sky.
The available version has nine songs from the original CD release (four on Side One, five on Side Two) and then four more added during a subsequent remastering in 1995/1996.
Songs That I Liked
Critics apparently think Skyline Pigeon is the best song from the ho-hum album and Elton John included it as one of the only songs from the album in subsequent concert tours. I wouldn’t say I love it, not even sure I like it that much, but better than the rest.
Songs That Were Filler
Pretty much the whole album except for one mentioned above that was okay and two more that are terrible.
Songs That I Didn’t Like
I have to say that any debut album that starts with an eight-minute opening better be amazing, and it really isn’t. If this was the first album I heard, I’d not only not buy it, I’d never buy anything else from the artist either. Apparently, Elton John loved the title track, but who knows what peacenik sound he was going for? I sure don’t. He apparently thought he sounded like Leonard Cohen, but to me it sounds more like CCR via the Troggs, without any pop bounce anywhere in there.
Also, don’t even ask me what Gulliver / It’s Hay-Chewed is…some sort of medley of the rest of the songs? Just plain weird.
Why am I writing “a PolyWogg guide” and why for 1943?
I have thought about a series of posts about music hits for a long time. At one point, I was envisioning the idea of “Billboard got it wrong” as the theme, the idea that listing by sales might be a good short-term measure of a hit in the year it is recorded, but ten, twenty, even fifty years later, is it still a song that holds up? Or is there some sort of historical “correction” that I could apply, albeit biased by personal subjectivity, that would be “my view of the musical hits for year x”. A PolyWogg Guide to Music, if you will.
As I started preparing for the project, a topic that interested me as far back as 17 years ago even, I was caught by the most basic question — what year would I start with? While Billboard really got going in the 50s, it had some lists as far back as ’46, and there were some other emerging lists even during the war years. I eventually decided to go with the first real list that I found with a credible methodology based on something resembling sales. That year was 1943.
Of course, one of the things that attracted me to 1943 too was the change that was happening in music. The dance music of the Roaring 20s had long faded but the sagas of the depressed 30s were still hanging on. The start of WWII, a scant 22 years after the “Great War to end all wars”, heavily influenced all aspects of life, including music.
In 1940, Winston Churchill promised to “fight them on the beaches”; Germany blitzed London; there were race riots in the U.S.; and Gone with the Wind debuted. The U.S. did its best to stay out of the war, the only time in history perhaps that it has emulated Switzerland. Yet the U.S. was arming, and the economy was booming, starting the reversal of the Great Depression. Benny Goodman and Count Basie ruled the hit parade with jazz.
In 1941, Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon ruled both the cinemas and the newly created drive-in theatres, the war was front-page news, and the Japanese threat was increasing. Right up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which changed the War, and perhaps the face of global politics, forever.
In 1942, the U.S. fully engaged in the war effort, but the feelings of optimism of a quick victory were eaten away as the year progressed. The tide in Europe started to turn although the UK was still being pummeled, and as the war in Asia heated up, 120K Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps under U.S. Executive Order 9066. Similar internments occurred in Canada and elsewhere. Women formed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and were celebrated by Douglas MacArthur as he said they worked hard, complained less, and were better disciplined than the men! Rationing kicked in, particularly for gas. Casablanca ruled the movie world, although Bambi and Road to Morocco held their own.
But while those were all important as undercurrents to the approaching year, the years’ biggest long-term contributions to music likely went unnoticed except by relevant family members:
John Lennon, Manfred Mann, Frankie Avalon, Gene Pitney, Smokey Robinson, and Ringo Starr were born in 1940;
Chubby Checker, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Pete Best, Paul Anka, Joan Baez, Mama Cass, Neil Diamond, Placido Domingo, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Percy Sledge were born in 1941; and,
Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Brian Jones, Paul McCartney, Barbara Streisand, and Tammy Wynette round out the births for 1942.
The dawn of 1943
Not surprisingly, the big news for the year remained the War. Construction of the Pentagon building in Washington was completed, rationing was expanded, Eisenhower became the head of the Allied forces. The war in Italy turned significantly, and across the various fronts, the German forces started to see less success. More importantly for pop culture, the role of women changed rapidly. They worked in factories, contributed to the war effort in the home, in the office and in the stores. And, for those who like baseball, baseball returned with the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (immortalized in the movie A League of Their Own).
Hollywood was not to be left out though…they started the Golden Globes (although not awarded until January ’44), Lassie Came Home, and they made movies like For Whom the Bell Tolls and Heaven Can Wait. Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, and the musical Oklahoma heated up the music scene.
And not that anyone else would notice for awhile, Steve Miller, Janis Joplin, John Denver, Charles Gibson, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, and Jim Morrison came into the world.
Digging into the music
When you look at the various sources of “hit lists” for 1943, there isn’t a lot of credible information with rigorous methodology, no one list to rule them all. That isn’t to say there aren’t ANY lists — some lists tracked sales, some talked about hit parades, others simply listed big hits by Frank Sinatra or Glenn Miller. But I pulled together a combined list from multiple sources (Whitburn, Your Hit Parade, and TSort, plus some iTunes lists), and I started going through my master list, song by song.
Not unexpectedly, some songs reflect the mood of the times. Others the changing social conditions. Many others clung to the jazz sounds of the 1930s, simpler days in terms of politics if not the economy. And others were just about the war. Of the 117 songs in my list, very few would stand the test of time in terms of listening to them regularly now, unless you had a specific ear for jazz, or swing, or sultry crooning.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t find ten that stood out.
#001. As Time Goes By by Dooley Wilson
This first song, and the only one that I rate at 3/5 for the year, is a bit of a gimmick for the list. I know that’s a terrible way to start, considering I’m trying to overcome old methodological problems to talk about songs with longevity. However, this version of the song is extracted from Casablanca, with original dialogue from the movie overlaying the song in places. Yet, given the song’s strong contribution to pop culture through the following years, it was almost impossible NOT to include it. When I added in the song’s ability to simply stand on its own, it had to be my first choice. Rudy Vallee, Jacques Renard, and Vera Lynn also did versions of the song during the year (a common practice for the era), and none of their versions hold up to Dooley’s version.
#002. Pistol Packin’ Mama by Bing Crosby
This song may seem like a bit of a stretch to come in at #2, but it is a pretty lively song. It isn’t jazz, it isn’t Big Band per se, it isn’t swing…it’s a bit of R&B mixed perhaps with some country twang, sung by a noted crooner. There is a new sound in there that starts to emerge about this time, not defined yet, and this is one of the earliest examples.
#003. Flash by Harry James and His Orchestra
Just as I chose the #2 song above as an example of a new sound, I chose this one as a Big Band / jazz hybrid. It’s a little up-tempo, slides back and forth between jazz and Big Band, and even manages to harken back a bit to the Roaring 20s sound. It’s not spectacular, it’s not ground-breaking, but you can listen to it easily even 70 years later.
#004. Sweet Slumber by Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra
This song is a slower one that goes in the opposite direction to Flash. It is reminiscent of Auld Lang Syne, with a jazz sound, performed by a full orchestra. Then out of nowhere, more than a minute into a 3-minute song that seems like a simple instrumental, a voice starts crooning crystal clear. It’s definitely not jazz at that point, or rather it isn’t sung in a jazz style. It is almost like the sound of a barbershop quartet and foreshadows the pop crooners of the 50s. There are a lot of songs that do this throughout the year — they start off instrumental, and then halfway through, the singer starts in. However, when Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra do the same songs, they move the lyrics to the start and spread them more evenly throughout the song. This too is a change…the old “orchestra” sound that is the foundation for many of the “hits” was starting to give way to more pure lyrics-led songs.
#005. I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Bing Crosby
I have to admit that I seriously thought of putting this song first. It is such a classic song that gets dug out every Christmas, it would be impossible to deny its longevity and contribution to pop culture. Sure, it came from a movie in ’42, not ’43, but that isn’t a reason to quibble (after all, Casablanca was from 1942 to as well). My reason for not putting it first though is that in ’43, it had a totally different mood to it than it does now. In ’43, it really was about people who would NOT be home for Christmas (except in their dreams). Yet many celebrants now don’t even realize the song means the opposite of what the title implies, the mood and sense doesn’t seem to match the words anymore. It was a truly sad song in ’43, and for some, it even meant those who would never return at all.
#006. Murder, He Says by Dinah Shore
I had never heard this song before I went through this review, and yet the song is pure 1943. So much so that it likely wouldn’t work in any other year because of its content. It is about a girl who has a boyfriend who constantly talks in the “hip” slang of the era and I was attracted to the song, partly as some people argue that the biggest indicator of change in a society is the degree of change in a language during the same era. In the song, every time they kiss, he says, “Murder” i.e., she’s an amazing kisser and it is almost like the kiss is killing him. Except he’s driving her nuts with his slang, and she’s thinking of (not really) killing him if he doesn’t start talking normally. The song has no longevity, but it is awesome as a “snapshot” of the year with lots of examples of phrases for the year. Murder.
#007. Ration Blues by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five
This song, and the next three, are really here for a very specific reason — they capture specific aspects of the “wartime” mood. Ration Blues is lamenting the experience of rationing that has expanded throughout the U.S.
#008. Silver Wings in the Moonlight by Anne Shelton
While there wasn’t a lot of great news stories coming out of Northern Africa or Europe, the war in the Pacific had the glamour that always accompanies the crisp flyboys of the Air Force with their Silver Wings.
#009. When the Lights Go On Again by Vera Lynn
Lynn had lots of airplay during the time, lots of hits. But this one captures the mood of change perfectly — looking forward to when the lights go on again all over the world, i.e., when the war is over, and things return to normal. Not the naïve “victory in weeks” sentiment that was prevalent at the start of ’42, but the cold rational belief by ’43 that it while it would still be a gruelling slog, victory would be had eventually. Vaughn Monroe also produced a version, but it was more instrumental and without the wistful hope of Lynn’s version.
#010. Why Don’t You Fall In Love With Me? by Dinah Shore
The title of the song implies little more than a simple love song, but the lyrics are about temporary nature of the war…it says “as long as you’re not already in love with someone else, why don’t you fall in love with me?” While Casablanca belittled the small concerns of two crazy people in a mixed-up world, this one tries to say, “Hey, let’s make the most of today, unless you have someone back home.” Finding comfort where comfort could be found. Dinah Shore shows up here for two in the top ten, and again at #040. Comforting, indeed.
After those ten, there are a few groupings / tiers for the rest of the songs:
#011-018 were decent enough for me to consider them for the top 10, and I ranked them accordingly, but they were mostly “B” level choices after the top ten above. I consider them all tied for the 11th spot. Some cook (Five Guys Named Moe), some are amazing instrumentals (Mission to Moscow), and others are from popular movies (Yankee Doodle Boy);
#019-032 are all essentially tied for the 19th place, and I have listed them alphabetically by song title;
#033-052 are similar, and I would consider all 20 of them tied for the 33rd spot; and,
#053-117 aka the rest of the list is “filler” for the year, with nothing exceptional in there. They represent a long slow slide from “nostalgia” in the first 50 songs above to “meh” for the rest. I consider them all tied for the 53rd spot, so I have listed them alphabetically by song title.
However, even with a lot of sludge to go through, there are some other highlights:
Taking a Chance on Love steps in at #28 on my list, farther down than I might have expected but not because it’s not a great song, rather because the 1943 version isn’t earth-shattering…many have sung it better over the years;
They’re Either Too Young or Too Old is at #29, and I like the sentiment…it’s a little light-hearted song about the girl left behind who can’t find a man because they’re all off at war. As a result, for what’s left, they’re either “too young or too old”…there are some links to themes of gender emancipation here, but the song is more cute than revolutionary;
A Slip of the Lip makes my list at #41, as it looks and sounds like a War Department-sponsored song that uses the slogan of the day — a slip of the lip sinks ships, i.e., there are spies everywhere;
Oh, What A Beautiful Morning is at #93 with Bing Crosby and Trudy Erwin. It is a truly amazing song, but this version is not up to later standards; and,
Zing! Went the String of My Heart is at #117…again, a great song but NOT this version.
I have a lot of digital music on my computer, and a subscription to Apple Music. So just about anything I want or need is available digitally. So we’re purging our CD collection. That’s a separate issue altogether, and while I’m happy to donate them wherever will take them (unfortunately the library is saying no to everything at the moment), it also gives me a small nudge to organize my digital collection.
Putting the various pieces together
Based on the various reading that I have done, having a well-organized and functional music collection involves five main pieces:
Tool(s) to manage multiple formats
Organization of the files
Playback and sharing options
Storage:As I mentioned, my storage is almost all digital at this point. We’ve kept a few CDs that we are loathe to part with, but I suspect that is more a transitional collection. Eventually, we’ll dump them too, simply as we’ll find it easier to playback the same music on devices that don’t require CDs.
When I recently upgraded my computer, I put in an extra-large hard drive, and some of that was to hold my music collection. I wouldn’t say my collection is enormous or anything, about 150GB in total. Some people literally have terabytes of music, with some files dating back to the *cough* Napster days.
I don’t judge, whatever floats your boat, man. 🙂 A former boss of mine was into classical music, a hard-core audiophile, and he spent $8K at one point on upgrades to his house to improve the quality of the playback experience in every room. $8K and that was JUST FOR THE WIRING.
Everything is stored on my harddrive, easily accessible.
Backup options:Most articles talk about having a backup option, singular, and that just seems ridiculous to me. You have an enormous collection of music, probably hundreds of hours just putting it together, and you’re relying on a single backup solution?
My backup solution starts with the word Apple. In my defence against the black arts that Apple performs on hard drives, I do NOT let Apple manage my main music collection. It thinks it does, sure, I let it have the My Music folder as it’s primary work area by default. But I have a totally separate folder called MUSIC MASTERS that has all my original files in it. If I want something added to Apple Music / iTunes, I copy it over. Apple has spent a lot of time in the last few years to stop its software from overwriting people’s original files, but it is not foolproof. While I don’t have million-dollar recordings or irreplaceable versions of anything, I am not letting Apple touch my originals. Ever.
So my first backup is actually Apple while my ORIGINALS are stored a full folder away. Then I copy the whole double set of files to my regular external hard drive regularly, and then all of my drives to external storage. While I am more worried about my photos than my music, it all gets dragged along to the big backup in the sky (although not literally the cloud, I’m mixing metaphors here, but I will have a cloud option done by the end of September too).
Tools to manage multiple formats: I looked at a lot of different music players over the years, both in terms of software on my machine as well as physical tools. Sony had some music management software that went hand-in-hand with their MD players and walkmans (called Sonic Stage/Sound and NetMD). RealPlayer was in there for awhile, as was WinAMP way back in my DOS and early Windows days. OpenMG Jukebox. A player for my Coby MP3 player. A few options, to say the least, and that doesn’t include the 1000s available for download.
But, over time, I keep coming back to Media Monkey. It isn’t the slickest of interfaces, often feeling more DOS-like than full 21st century GUI. But it handles all the file formats I use (more on that in a minute), handles playback fine, and other than a slow opening where it re-reads all the files in the sub-folder structure, I trust it well enough to let it see my MUSIC MASTERS folder. For one simple reason.
It is more of a file manager with extensive music tools than an extensive music tool with basic file management. For example, over on the left side of my screen, I have a regular file tree with all the folders shown. I can browse them like I was using File Explorer or Xplorer2 (not actually, but similar). It gives me better content viewing of the files once I get to the file structure part, and it’s not perfect, but it’s the best file-based interface I have seen. Unlike Apple Music which has the slickest interface for browsing, but almost hides the file structure behind its menus.
But there is an enormous rabbit hole that I’m almost sidestepping here — if you have a tool that will manage multiple formats, you first have to recognize that there ARE multiple formats and understand to some extent the pros and cons of each format.
I don’t pretend to do that. I get that there are huge communities out there that will debate true lossless formats, would never accept anything less than AAC or FLAC or AFLAC (wait, I think that’s the insurance company, scratch that one). But unlike my former boss, I really can’t tell the difference acoustically between an MP3 recorded at 320 bps or merely 192 bps, let alone the lossless levels of other high-end formats. I’m fine to have some in that format, but if it’s in mere 192 or even 128, I’ll take it.
So most of my music is in some form of MP3 format. Regardless, Media Monkey can handle just about anything I throw its way. It merely needs the input. And if I find something it doesn’t handle by default? I have lots of file converters that will pre-process it for me.
Playback and sharing options: I skipped over the organization heading as that is a separate rabbit hole all on its own. For playback and sharing, though, I guess I should distinguish between several layers.
The first layer is simple playback on my computer. Media Monkey can handle that, as can Apple Music or a host of other music players. Nothing complicated there.
The second layer is playback around the house, and I confess there I’m not well-equipped. I have some ideas, some devices, but I generally rely on internet playback rather than casting about the house or direct access to my computer. I have some tools to do basic upgrades in the coming month, and it will likely be sufficient. Not by an audiophile’s standards, but for my basic needs.
The third layer is playback while mobile, and that’s where things get interesting. I have Apple Music, with a full family subscription, and since all three of us have iPhones, it’s a good investment. Eventually, ALL of the music will be available on my Apple account and shared with all 3 of our accounts, but after I tried letting Apple upload everything willy-nilly, I realized what a crapfest that would be. So I deleted it all and started over. I may have to do the same with Google Music, Amazon Prime Music, and YouTube Music. Why do I have those other services running? Because I just use their free option, and sometimes things I want are not on Apple Music. So why not? All it costs me is a bit of time to share them and upload them.
My real playback challenge though is simply 20-30 feet from my main computer. I like to listen to music while I work out, preferably LOUD and distracting to put me into a zone, and I will soon have three mini-areas set up in my basement for exercise. Well, soon being in the next month, if all the phases hold. But what do I do if want to put on headphones and just dance around? I know, I know, you didn’t need that image.
I have two basic options — corded or wireless. But my wireless runs off bluetooth, and outside of my phone setup, none of the options downstairs, not my computer, not my stereo, nada has built in bluetooth connectivity. I have a tool that should help with it, and I have no idea where I put it. Alternatively, I can run something from my main stereo with headphones using a big ass jack, kicking it old school, but my stereo isn’t really set up for digital input either. Overall though, wireless would be better, I just need to set it up properly. I have good headphones I can use for the work out or going truly mobile, but if I just want to lay on the couch and veg with music on, I’d like something a bit more encompassing than wireless buds. But I’m not paying for the high-end stuff, my ears can’t tell the difference anyway. It’s just that I can’t be blasting tunes when the rest of the family is home. The floorboards are just too thin and not much of a sound barrier.
Sharing is more complicated. Generally, it is about sharing with Andrea and Jacob, and that is about sharing the digital files themselves. That will be solved through Apple Music, so not a giant challenge. But I would also like to be able to share the playlists and some music reviews on my blog, right here. I ran a test with one I did earlier this weekend for an old album, and for some reason, the playlist will not share properly. It shows 8 of the songs, but not all 10. I assume it’s the difference between sharing 8 songs that are freely available in subscription mode and 2 that are separate purchases or something, but I’d be fine if it JUST shared a preview of the songs. I’m not trying to share the actual music, just the list with some links for people.
Which takes me to those other streaming services. If in the end, it is easier to share a playlist from there or share playlists across platforms through Media Monkey, I’ll do that. Because I have a HUGE project that I started 4 years ago, and it will take me a long time to do. But it requires me to have the ability to share playlists, unless I want to do a LOT more work manually. Pass. So I still need to figure out a reliable workflow for sharing the lists, not the actual files themselves.
The rabbit hole of genres
Genres doesn’t feel like it should be a rabbit hole. The archivist in me, the analyst in me, the music lover even, all scream that order should be rather simple. And if it is something like “Christmas music”, that seems like a no-brainer. True, I might argue that “Grandma got run over by a raindeer” isn’t exactly the same genre as Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, but so what? It’s all primarily Christmas music. Or even “holiday music” if you want to be a little more inclusive and throw in the dreidel song or something.
But even in my old setup, the genres were a problem. Sure, I could have a simple folder for Classical. And a category for Movie Soundtracks. But what if a soundtrack used mostly classical music? Well, if it’s a soundtrack, that would be clearly with soundtracks to me. If the “nature” is classical and classical only, it would go there. But the main impetus for having a group of music around a movie is the soundtrack itself, tied to the movie, not a composer, so seems simple.
Then I come to someone like Alannah Myles. She’s not clearly “rock” although some might think so. Including herself at times, apparently. Clearly “pop”. Except Black Velvet is not really “pop” per se. Certainly not uptempo normal top 40 pop. Some of her other albums even go pretty close to country. Hmm.
Well, that’s an aberration, right? So what about someone like Shania Twain. She was clearly country until she went to pop country and a bunch of songs crossed over to simple pop. On the same album that had clear country ballad tunes. Sigh.
Okay, let’s start with some old 60s rock. Although a lot of 60s rock was really 60s pop, like the Beatles. But I certainly wouldn’t put the Beatles in the same genre as AC/DC or even Bob Seger. It’s all spectrum stuff, some argue. Huge swaths that are rock and roll in all its forms, and sub genres for everything else!
Oh, dear lord.
I shouldn’t despair, some of the basics are fine for me:
My collection falls heavily in the first two categories, rock or pop, from the first column. I’m not sure I’m sophisticated enough to separate out everything from R&B, Soul, Blues, Jazz and even a few types of Reggae, they blend together at times for me. Or if it even matters. I struggle with some of column 2 that a few artists are sure not pop or rock, but aren’t really folk or country, and yet they do have very strong vocal components. Column 3 goes back to normal, with some very obvious categories that seem fine.
So I reached out online to see if any of my friends were closet anal-retentives when it comes to musical genres and filing, and they fell into three giant camps.
Camp A is the “I’m not organized” category. Pretty common, lots of people have their collections stored all over the place.
Camp B is great if you want to go into a sub-genre world. One friend noted that she has sub-categories for “Surf music, British Invasion, Psychedelic rock, Glam rock, Classic Rock (70s), Hard Rock, Soft Rock, Punk Rock, New Wave, Grunge, Britpop, Indie rock” and anything after that is too narrow to need a niche. I’m not even sure I could name a band in each of those categories although I like some of it. I certainly have surf music, British invasion, soft rock. Classic would be hard to nail down evenly. Not so much the rest.
Another friend noted his genres go in a different direction. He separates his physical collection by geography, (Canada, USA, Europe/World), old school, soundtracks, comedy and compilations. It’s interesting, I have some overlap, but geography doesn’t excite me. I doubt there are many times I would think, “Hey, let’s listen to some American music” as something that would help me find it.
And that type of search is where Camp C comes in. For them, it is more about mood. So, for example, a up-tempo collection for partying or dancing, or a relaxing mellow collection for Sunday afternoon. It is a huge camp out there that does that, and I see the attraction. But to me, that is what playlists are for, not how you save your music? Dunno. Might be the archivist in me.
And therein lies the rub. Some of what I’m dealing with is the mental side of “what’s the most logical way to organize it”. First and foremost is the band, then an album, then the songs. It seems natural to me. Some might do years, but I feel the album is the proxy for year. And if I just want to find a random song, I can always search. But for backups, organizing, almost nothing seems more fundamental than the band itself.
Except, perhaps, genre. Does it make sense to have an alphabetical list of every band in a general folder or is it like my physical collections where I put all my country music together, all my pop, all my older-style rock. Which was fine when it was a handful of CDs. Now that I have a much larger digital collection, and things are more likely alphabetical, does it make sense to put the Beatles next to AC/DC? Probably not.
Is there an off-the-shelf solution?
In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to think about this. Someone else would have already solved all of this already, someone IN THE BUSINESS, who knows the difference between small shades of nuance in rock genres for example. A professional. Or a business.
Like Apple perhaps. Yes, they have default categories:
Blues / R&B
Books & Spoken
Hip Hop / Rap
R&B / Soul
Singer / Songwriter
Thirty-three default categories to arrange everything. Sounds great, right? Except it does nothing for me that I didn’t already have. It puts Blues and R&B together and then puts R&B and Soul together. Same problem I already had. It separates folk and country, sure, but doesn’t solve my “vocals” problem. Classical crossover? What the HELL is that? Popular classical, like Rachmaninov, or the classical songs that show up in movies? Or Beethoven’s Fifth, disco style?
Easy listening I guess is meant to be the non-rock, non-pop, non-folk “soft stuff”? Maybe I put the vocals in there. Or maybe it is just soft rock. I will probably never have anything in the Alternative, Books, Classical Crossover, Dance, Electronic, Holiday, House, Industrial, Karaoke, New Age, Original Score, Religious, Singer / Songwriter, Techno, or Trance. Taking me down to 18 possibles, although Easy Listening, Hip Hop / Rap, Metal, and World likely aren’t topping my list either. Say, maybe 14 categories. Is that better than just 6? Or my original 17?
It’s a start, at least. I’ll have to check out the other online streaming categories, but even they have started to go by mood in a lot of places.
When I finished my post yesterday, I said I was going to take a break for a couple of days, but that was more about not being near a computer than it was about wanting or needing a break. I’m feeling pretty good about where I’m at for things, and blogging as well. I’ve got a small milestone coming up, and I’m looking forward to writing about it in my blog. But I was going to be at the cottage, or so I thought, so I had planned a short stoppage.
Yet, morning came, and J wasn’t feeling well. I had been “off” for M/T, Andrea was feeling “off” W/Th, and the cub was “off” F and now Saturday. While lots of people would have just pushed him to “suck it up” so we could go to the cottage, I try extra hard not to do that type of pushing. If it was me, I would have been trying to decide how to stay home without disappointing everyone since I’m the driver, and pushing me just makes me feel worse. So I told him flat out that we wouldn’t push him, it was his decision, and since he really wasn’t feeling up to it, we ended up postponing the trip.
Which gave me some time for more progress on the basement, but it also left me with a bit of time to play with some of my music collection some more. And out of nowhere, an old album came to mind.
The album was called Street Hits and it was put out by CBS Records, but the distributor in Canada that created the partnership? Bata. Yep. The shoe company. There are 10 songs, 7 of them by Canadian artists I guess.
We have Apple Music, and we really don’t get our money’s worth out of it much these days. We used to play music trivia while driving to work, but that is out. I do turn it on sometimes in the basement while I’m working, although I also have to keep turning it off for conference calls and frequently forget to reach over to hit play again. But with the entire library at my disposal, could I find all the songs from Street Hits?
A walk on the dark side
My older brother (by 13 years) had Deep Purple, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Meatloaf, etc. But he was older, married, lived a few blocks away. For my brother closest to me in age (by 6 years), we were living with our parents who were mainly Top 40 listeners. One of the two local radio stations, CKPT Peterborough, was permanently on the dial in the kitchen and we weren’t allowed to change the station. Nor in the car. Not that there was much else for AM or even FM to reach the Peterborough Valley area. There was one other station, CHEX, but it wasn’t a whole lot different. CKPT had a bit of the older stuff too, CHEX seemed to be newer music. But it was relatively plain pop music.
Parts of Street Hits seemed subversive in comparison.
First up was “Hold On”, by Triumph. Nothing particularly startling there, a pretty basic ballad. “Music holds the secret, to know it can make you whole…”. It’s pretty up-tempo after a slow open, but it’s not revolutionary.
Second on the list was Loverboy, “Working for the Weekend”, with everyone trying to get it right with a new romance. Again, a nice basic up-tempo song, with a bit of backbeat.
Then you hit the third song. “Wango Tango”. Ted Nugent. And suddenly you are in the NSFW category. And you don’t get three guesses to figure out what Wango is referring to…later on, when he is describing the new dance, well, both her ankles are turned out, her belly is down, and her butt is up. You do the math. But then it goes further. There’s a bit more metaphor…she is supposed to pretend her face is a Maserati, turbo charged and he’s offering fuel injection, and the music and lyrics are done in a rhythmic fashion. See where I’m going with this? No? Are you a monk? What about when he looks for a garage to store the car?
For a 13-year-old kid, it was like finding out someone had made a porno and released it on cable. My description of the song sounds terrible, I know, but the music is decently compelling, it has a strong backbeat, and more importantly, a gravelly voice that’s almost a throw-forward to eventual rap-like lyrics with less spitting or rhyme.
That this qualified as “art”, was workable as a song, was mind-blowing. But we made sure we only listened to it when our parents were away.
Goddo followed up the porn song with “Pretty Bad Boys” singing about being, well, a pretty bad boy looking for a pretty bad girl.
And then Straight Lines took us back to a love ballad called “Letting Go”. WTF? “And the hardest part of love is letting go…”.
On to Side B
Right, an album. So after five songs, you had to flip it over. 🙂
Ozzy Osbourne kicked it off with “I Don’t Know (Live)”. He was playing for the first minute to his fan base, and honestly, I couldn’t care less. It sounds like satanic worship music, or what it was pretending to be anyway. But after that, the next four minutes is a decent song with a pretty aggressive guitar-led set of riffs. It lags a bit in the middle, but the rest? Not bad.
Judas Priest’s “Heading Out To The Highway” was next, and it wasn’t much of an addition to the album for us. If I’m honest, Ozzy wasn’t much either. It’s okay, just not very compelling.
Then you hit Rough Trade, which has a pretty aggressive band name that a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily even understand, but the song is called “All Touch”. And you could listen to its metaphors and similes for a long time and still have no idea what exactly the song is about. “Splintering fragments of conversation, Never got down to cold hard facts, All touch but no contact”. Casual sex? Missed connections? The start of a break-up? When you read the lyrics, you see it seems more like drama between lovers or a cat-fight, where the fight is all verbal (all touch but no contact). It was like something I had never heard before and it was the only reason to listen to the B side.
“Follow You There” by the Queen City Kids (who had opened for Ozzy apparently) was okay, but nothing special.
And then we close it out with Harlequin’s “Thinking of You”. Another lily-white love ballad. It sounds like something that should be sung by Billy Joel.
It was one of the weirdest albums we owned, and I don’t even know what made us want it. We made a special trip to the Bata shoe store in some mall to buy it, it was $3.99 and we asked our mother to get it for us. We had to have seen it advertised on TV, but it wasn’t like we knew the songs really. But we wanted it. And every weekend, that album was in our rotation.
But it isn’t like you make a mixtape for your Walkman and throw Wango Tango on there. Trust me, I know, because I did just that, and if you’re not sitting in a kitchen listening to music blast with your friends, but instead are walking around in the sunshine delivering papers and listening to someone’s face being a Maserati, it’s just plain out of place.
Tonight, after Jacob went to bed, I pulled up the menu and searched. All the songs are available on Apple Music, even the Queen City Kids one. Heck, I even found a picture of the album cover online (a FB page for a bunch of radio audiophiles talking about old albums had mentioned it).
I’ve been working on my basement redesign for a good part of the summer in varying forms and degrees of engagement. In particular, I’ve gone hard on the setup and redesign in the last five days, with a complete revamp, new wiring for internet connections, design hacking of Ikea designs, and even taking a jigsaw to literally hack three desks for cord management notches (thanks to Andrea for the inspiration!).
And while I’ve enjoyed the success of the new layout so far, there is still lots to do. I had hoped to finish this weekend, but that is looking unlikely at this point. Maybe by the end of next week. I was very happy to see three large pieces of furniture vacate the premises today — two large coffee tables that Jacob used to use for train setups and the old TV stand that I replaced recently. Again, thanks to Andrea.
But I’m getting close to “reorg-ed” out. I really just wanted to play with something simple tonight. I needed a palate cleanser. Something mildly interesting yet still productive.
Cleansing the palate
I checked my never-ending to do list, and Apple Music jumped out at me.
I blogged not too long ago about the fact that I uploaded all of my music to Apple Music, and I have to say, it was a complete sh** show by Apple Music. Oh, sure, the files UPLOADED. All of them, which is more than other hosting agents did (I’m glaring at you, YouTube Music!).
But the resulting library was TERRIBLE for organization. Tons of files got moved around, album information was lost, it was “mucho meh”. And totally unusable. The resulting library in Apple Music looked like file storage created by monkeys on typewriters trying for the works of Shakespeare. Heck, they might have been writing 50 Shades of Gray and got a little too excited, I don’t know, but it was messy.
So, tonight, just for fun amongst the file nerds, I reverted the uploads i.e. I deleted all of it from the iTunes upload. Sure, I kept a bunch of playlists and anything I’ve purchased directly, but the rest? Gone. I’m starting over with my separate music library, and rather than upload all of the songs at once, I’ll do a bit at a time over the next year. If your memory of earlier posts is good, you’ll recall that I do not let Apple manage my whole music library, no matter how much they promise they won’t mess it up. Instead, I keep a folder of my Music Masters that is totally separate from whatever Apple and iTunes insist on doing.
Just to get me started, I pulled up a simple Christmas Collection by Bing Crosby. All of the songs are by Bing, there is ONE song on it that includes Danny Kaye. When I uploaded the collection the first time, it separated it into four different folders. One folder under Bing’s name with about 7 songs in it, one folder under Various with about 3 songs in it, one folder under Danny Kaye (it overrode Bing) for just their one shared song, and another folder for about 5 songs where it decided the artist was White Christmas, there was no album name, and the years etc. for all of them were different.
Now, in fairness to Apple Music, I know WHY it did it. Because it isn’t a real album. It’s a collection I got from someone at some point, or maybe Andrea did, I don’t know, and it has 16 songs by Bing. About 10 of them overlap with the White Christmas soundtrack, so Apple liked matching to that album. Even for songs that WEREN’T on the soundtrack. The one with Danny Kaye was partially right. And it was perhaps random guessing on the rest.
Can I stop it from guessing? Sure. I just have to fix all the metadata fields BEFORE I upload it into the library.
Which I did. And then Apple Music decided that “Christmas Collection” was REALLY “The Christmas Collection”, an album by the same name, relabelled everything to Various Artists at the album level, kept everything at the song level to be Bing as the individual artist, and basically filed it in weird ways so that I will never find it. Grrr…again, maybe not all Apple Music’s fault. I didn’t fix ALL of the metadata first.
Okay, so I need to work the bugs out of the workflow. I deleted it from iTunes, went back to my Music Masters, opened up ALL the meta data in one box, assigned and tweaked it for the full collection of 16 songs, recopied it over to Apple’s intake folder, let Apple’s algorithm have wild monkey sex with the files, and voila, one collection safely ensconced in Apple Music. Just in time for Christmas.
Now that I know the “secret” process to do, many of the others will be able to be done in bulk. Still, a bit annoying. On the other hand, all my metadata will get cleaned up, as well it should be, right? Or at least so says the archivist in me as it rattles its cage and whispers for freedom, food and unlimited tags.
In the meantime, I wanted to also see how well things worked for downloads. I’ll have to be a bit vague or opaque here as I am not entirely sure that what I did was completely legit. There are a few extra steps involved, a few clicks here and there, and a couple of new pieces of software to help me manage the collections better, but it all worked reasonably well enough.
For some reason, I thought I would start with the album called Best of Sass Jordan. I’ve been listening to Alannah Myles’ self-titled album, and Apple Music thought I might enjoy BoSJ. I thought, “Probably not”, as my musical tastes are, umm, eclectic at best (or as my wife says, non-existent), but I actually quite like it. I wouldn’t have thought she’d have a full album of material that I would like, I’m often more about individual songs than an artist, but I can listen to it quite easily while working on other things. If anything, it is too short! I’ll have to expand my Sass Jordan repertoire.
Resetting my brain
While the above likely seems really nerdy, or anal-retentive and time consuming, it actually wasn’t. I was doing other stuff while some of the files were processing, like playing some turn-based word games with Jacob and Andrea, finishing laundry, etc. But I wanted a small puzzle to solve to just clear the cognitive pipeline and fixing my Apple Music setup was just the thing.
I even risked going down a rabbit hole to try adding some customized artwork for personal collections as I have some templates in Powerpoint that I am using for another purpose that would work great here, and Apple let me use my OWN artwork quite easily. Two clicks, done. Sweet.
Today I choose to cleanse the palate with a small puzzle to be solved to take my mind off the basement re-org that I’ve been working on for awhile.