“I have that love for music, when you are finding either old gems that you never heard or newer stuff that perks your ear. It keeps you trying to look for new stuff to write about it.”
It seems that we live in an age when there is too much choice. There is a flavour for whatever style suits you best; from pop to dance or from rock to jazz, there are genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, each playing to a narrower and narrower niche. You can’t simply like rock – or even soft or hard rock. You can run the gauntlet from the likes of Bandana Thrash (an extreme form of thrashcore) to shoegazing (a sub-genre of indie rock) and everything in-between. Wikipedia lists dozens of different styles in this one genre alone. It’s easy, when faced with so many choices, to look back to the time when popular music seemed so much simpler. Surely a trip to the 1960s would present us with just one or two distinct styles of music in the hit parade.
In reality, as my journey through the first few years of the decade has shown, there have always been a myriad of musical genres vying for our aural attention. And while it would be easy to sigh at the variety, wondering where it will ever stop, instead I have enjoyed immersing myself into the numerous genres. Partly, it has been a case of expanding my musical knowledge as I dip my toes into the world of artists I would never have dared or even cared to listen to. Yet, more than that, there has been a joy discovering musicians who I either barely knew or had never even come across. It is these hidden gems which spurs me on (albeit sporadically) to continue with this task I have set myself and keep wading through the 1001 Albums book. Without it, I would never have found some real masterpieces; and for this, I am thankful.
True, there are still styles which allude me; genres which fail to get me excited, no matter how acclaimed the album or artist may be. Yet, I have begun to find myself at least starting to appreciate the work of musicians with a background in jazz or even county. Partly this is down to the experimentation that some of them are willing to undertake; Ray Price’s Night Life, for example, pushes back some of the Country and Western boundaries to make a much more mainstream album. But I like to think that this is also down to my own musical tastes adapting as I begin to hear more and more great albums.
It has also opened up my knowledge of world artists – the brilliant African beats of Miriam Makeba or the Latin American wonders of Stan Getz. I admit that my following of world music has been sorely lacking in the past; beyond Gracelands by Paul Simon, I barely venture away from British and American bands. Even the ones I do listen to from further afield have been so heavily influenced by the music I already hear, that it makes little difference that it is from elsewhere. It may not always be easy to hear what is being sung (step forward Jacques Brel) but it hasn’t marred my enjoyment and has made me realise that my boundaries have been far too narrow.
Of course, there has been the discovery of some true gems, and selecting a top three from the various albums I have heard for this period has proved incredibly difficult. Just missing out from my choices – but truly worth a listen again – is A Christmas Gift for You. Filled with joyous moments from an incredible selection of singers, this has now become the definitive soundtrack to my Christmas. In fact, it is the seasonal nature of the album which stopped it from making it as one of my final three; the fact it can only really be played for one month of the year means it can’t ever become a regular soundtrack to an evening in the same way that the others can.
Perhaps the obvious omissions from my final list are the two biggest artists not just of the decade but probably from the last 50-odd years of music. But I made a conscious decision not to include either Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’… or the two albums by The Beatles for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they really were nothing new to me; I had heard all three of the albums on numerous times over the years and, while it was interesting going back to them in this context, I could easily hum along to every song. Part of me wanted this to be a chance to highlight albums which I had not had the pleasure of enjoying before. The other reason (and I appreciate this may be one which could lead to fierce arguments among aficionados of both) is that they simply aren’t their best albums. Both Dylan and The Beatles would go on to produce much, much better works in the years to come. If I’m going to include them, then it will be for stronger material than they produced in the first part of the 1960s. So instead, if you’re looking for something to listen to tonight, may I suggest one of the following…
Recommended listening for 1960 to 1964:
- Jimmy Smith – Back at the Chicken Shack
- Sam Cooke – Live at the Harlem Club
- Dusty Springfield – A Girl Called Dusty
Next time: I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail by Buck Owens