Friday, March 12, 2010

Tom Moon's "1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die": Book Review

Music "can take your blues, dust them in a wicked mojo, sneak them to the crossroads where the Devil hangs out, and swap them for a veggie burrito made by a blissed-out Deadhead in a parking lot. This may not be what you ordered, but it can inspire you all the same." (xiv) As a musician and a critic, Moon's experience enriches his explanations. He loves what he urges us to try, and mixes verve with wisdom over a three-year labor of love.

To stick with only "B," and rock, you can see his range. Familiar with nearly every rock artist listed in this volume, I admit no bent for jazz, a scanty education in the classics, and hit & miss for world music and pop, so I tended to scan the rock entries, but that still meant arguably two dozen "B" artists. Given the Beatles among them, more than that of discs. (These far outnumber songs, but a few of these, as "Good Vibrations" sits next to "Pet Sounds" for example, do highlight songs that deserve attention.)

He takes on "Sgt. Pepper's" and finds he can summarize after so much previous scrutiny: "Consider whether it's grown lame and corny. Glean what truth, if any, it holds for you." (61) Of Bauhaus, "In the Flat Field": Concerning "dissatisfaction and frustration as learning opportunities," the band moves 'through' the emotional states they describe, rather than wallowing endlessly in them." (54) For The Band's debut, "It's as if itinerant old-time medicine show somehow skipped a few generations, pulled off a two-lane Arkansas highway in 1910, and woke up in 1968, with its remaining potions turned to hallucinogens." (44)

After each entry, key tracks, back catalogue choices, a "next stop" to another artist, and "after that" for more related sounds enhance the usefulness. Also, surprising connections emerge, such as "Old Hag You Have Killed Me" from the 1970s Irish trad "The Bothy Band" linking to Genesis, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," a choice I'd never have contemplated. Moon's range works well in many instances.

Inevitably, any reader-listener will argue for alternatives, but there are 108 more selections appended (too many of them too new, I think, for inclusion even there), but the joy of such a compendium is in its stimulation of your own critical juices. Listings by occasions, such as cocktail hour, parties, reflection, romance, cardio workouts, kids, morning and evening roadtrips, heroism, headphones, and "lazy Sunday morning" round this out for devoted playlist makers.

This book needed courage to make, and the effort it took Moon was worth it. "No matter how fast the download speed, music still unfolds in real time, one stanza after another." This journey, as he says, takes a while to unfold its terrors, heights, lows, and beauties. Great music may slowly sink in, but when it does, it stays there. Moon gives any music admirer much to ponder, even with familiar works, and any fan will find more here to hear than imagined before opening this inviting book. (Posted to Amazon US 4-12-10)


tamerlane said...

I instantly got the Bothy Band - early Genesis connection -- does that make me a total weirdo?

Fionnchú said...

Not at all, TL. Not being that familiar with Genesis compared to Irish trad, I was simply impressed by the genre-leaping connection Moon made. Maybe prog is not so stodgy after all? Last time I heard "Lamb Lies Down" I guess was circa 1976...

tamerlane said...

While my college friends were in trances induced by the ragas of Yes, Genesis and Manfred Mann, I was being 'pumped up' by the 2-minute hammer blows of Elvis Costello.

But I've always been an huge Peter Gabriel fan. I even own his german-language albums. His craft continued to evolve, while Genesis stagnated creatively, but thrived financially.

The short-lived Bothy Band was instrumental in making trad celtic music current and a viable option for young artists, something not achievable by the otherwise unique, lyric and wonderful Chieftains, much less by the fenian & whiskey ballads of the Clancy Bros.