Early 20th century project: Some composers

Stravinsky: The Great Ballets: Firebird, Petroshka, Rite of Spring (Haitink/London Philharmonic), Apollo (Markevitch/London Symphony)

The riot was Nijinsky’s fault. Stravinsky’s work is continuous with the classical tradition — no less a populist than Disney knew this. What’s worth celebrating about Stravinsky is the way he uses rhythm. We populists are down with the beat as liberation, though Stravinsky addressed the dangers of this more than most. He makes the drama of the beat explicit.

Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande (Roger Desormiere); Orchestral Music (Haitink/van Beinum/Concertgebouw); Preludes, Books 1 & 2 (Krystian Zimerman)

Debussy was nothing if not versatile, in moods as well as forms. The Preludes show off all kinds of different ideals of beauty, cerebral and spiritual and erotic (what, you don’t think “La Fille aux cheveux de lin” is wet-dreamy?) Of the rest, my favourite is the mythology-free La Mer. How much worse would movie soundtracks be without him?

Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier highlights (Haitink/Dresden)

Strauss loved to torture tenors, but it’s better for everyone when he writes his male lead for a woman.

Bartok: The 6 String Quartets (Emerson Quartet)

Number four, with its slap-happy allegretto pizzicato, and number five, arched around the Bulgarian-timed scherzo, are the essentials.

Five (hardcore) bands that before last week I only knew a few singles from

Black Flag: The primary reason they spawned a scene was their guitar sound: dense, aggressive, dissonant. Then Greg Ginn discovered that free jazz could be dense, aggressive, and dissonant, so why not adopt free jazz technique. Which was a mistake only as much as hiring Henry Rollins was a mistake. Great songs: “TV Party”, “Six Pack”, “Louie Louie”, “Annihilate This Week”.

Dead Kennedys: Jello Biafra is full of shit, which arguably sharpened his satire of others who are full of shit, like yuppies and Jerry Brown. Unfortunately he soon convinced his band to be full of it as well. Great songs: “California Uber Alles”, “Holiday in Cambodia”.

Minor Threat: Ian MacKaye is certainly not full of shit, which his band could only put up with for so long. Eventually he formed a better, shit-free band, so happy ending. Great songs: “Think Again”, “In My Eyes”.

Bad Brains: The only one of the bands considered here whose palette expansion paid off. not a coincidence that they had the soundest rhythm section. The trick is to start from jazz, not finish there. Great songs: “Pay to Cum”, “Joshua’s Song”, “I Against I”.

Flipper: Generic enough for a whole bunch of punks (e.g. one Cobain, K.) to follow them toward metal. That metallers didn’t flock to punk in turn is regretted by no one. Great songs: “Sex Bomb”, “Ha Ha Ha”, “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”, “Life”, “Way of the World”.

Artist of the week: Todd Rundgren

While Something/Anything?, Rundgren’s one album with a hit rate high enough to accumulate goodwill, towers over everything else he ever did, that doesn’t mean it has most of his good songs. His major problem during his peak was quality control: the gems were outnumbered by the generic, and he wasn’t an original enough lyricist or singer to get away with generic.

Twenty favourites (including his pre-solo Philadephians pretending to be Londoners trying to sound American group, Nazz):

  1. I Saw the Light
  2. Couldn’t I Just Tell You
  3. Hello It’s Me (Something/Anything? version)
  4. Nazz: Open My Eyes
  5. I’m in the Clique
  6. Parole
  7. Heavy Metal Kids
  8. Love of the Common Man
  9. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference
  10. Onomatopoeia
  11. Nazz: See What You Can Be
  12. Bang the Drum All Day
  13. We Gotta Get You a Woman
  14. Piss Aaron
  15. Izzat Love?
  16. International Feel
  17. It Takes Two to Tango
  18. Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel
  19. A Dream Goes on Forever
  20. Nazz: Rain Rider

The Obligatory Spotify Playlist omits the Nazz songs.

Albums in order of preference:

  • Something/Anything?
  • (big gap)
  • (seriously, nothing else is close)
  • Todd
  • Nazz
  • A Wizard, a True Star
  • Runt
  • The Ballad of Todd Rundgren
  • Hermit of Mink Hollow
  • Faithful
  • Nazz Nazz

For further research: Synth-prog ain’t my bag, so someone else can work through Utopia’s catalog.