I’m pretty sure I’ve already featured this overture, under the Breathe title. But that would have been years ago, and didn’t cover the entire suite. Besides, I want an excuse to listen to Dark Side of the Moon. I’ve never done any of the rituals that come associated with the record, like syncing it up with the Wizard of Oz. That seems like something that only people who do too many psychotropic drugs would think is a good idea. Nevertheless, the record remains a touchstone and a favorite, undiminished by its omnipresent popularity among people who do too many psychotropic drugs -slash-your Boomer uncle. As for me, a person who only does a healthy amount of psychotropic drugs, I only listen to Pink Floyd for the intellectual content, the same way that discerning gentlemen subscribe to PornHub for the activism. What I’m trying to say is that one doesn’t have to be zoinked to be drawn into the heady trip of Dark Side. The record just works its magic no matter your brain-state, and that’s probably why everyone and their dog, to this day, still owns a physical copy, or at least a t-shirt or fridge magnet or a mug.
David Bowie imagines himself as the world’s weirdest lounge act, complete with a satin suit, and campy covers of decade-old pop hits. It felt like quite a novelty and it still does. There’s some suspension of disbelief required, watching a vermilion-haired alien croon about chasing some Earth-dame as if this rock messiah would stoop to the childish dating rituals the original McCoys song was referring to. Tongue-entirely-in-cheek of course.
Well, they were right. The song does remain the same. No doubt that when they wrote it, they had in mind some grand metaphor for the endless turning of the world. But, really, in the most prosaic terms, the song literally remains the same in the sense that everyone who grew up listening to Led Zeppelin is till sitting around listening to Led Zeppelin. For example, me. I am still choosing to listen to Led Zeppelin over the possibility of exploring whatever the hell is being done right now, today, by people who weren’t born when Winston Churchill was still alive. Which officially makes me an old person, I think.
Bryan Ferry knows one fundamental truth: everything in life is more beautiful when it’s on the banks of the Seine. Ferry grew up in a small mining town in the north of England, where his father cared for pit ponies. Which put young Bryan as far from the sophistication of Paris cafes as a kid growing up in Appalachia. So, although he jetted his way to the top of the class pyramid without leaving a trace of Northern yokel about himself, there’s always a touch of the outsider’s wistfulness about him. The fascination with luxury and glamour, the slight sense of irony in the way he occupies those spaces. It takes an outsider to understand that even the bad times are a savory delight when you’re having them someplace nice.
Brian Eno’s mid-70’s pop albums – before he went off into ambient noodle land – rank high in the roster of records that serve any mood. The atmospheric tone of his song-songs offers of glimpse of the path he would later explore with his non-song compositions. But there’s also a diversity of moods and tempos that keep those records from becoming too snoozy. Of course, Eno became interested in exploring the concept of snooziness itself, which is what led him to compose all those albums for looking up at the moon or floating in a boat or airports or whatever. I like the records with songs and vocals, and I also like it when music enhances the ambiance of my environment (as opposed to overwhelming it.)
Al Stewart paints a picture of an urban afternoon that I think is quite timeless. Many people are taken with the romance of the pastoral, but city life can be equally enchanting, in its own way. There’s something about the thrum of so many people peacefully going about their own lives, interacting and yet not interacting with one another. It’s not the same as the serenity of being away from so many people, but it’s appealing in its very uneasiness. It’s constantly full of the promise of an adventure – or a misadventure, or even a disaster. Anything could happen. That’s been true for as long as people have been congregating in cities. The poetry of city life may not be its own genre, the way pastoralia is its own cliche, but it’s always been fertile ground for writers and artists. There’s always inspiration, even in squalor.
I’ve been on vacation for two weeks, and that means no thinking about music the way I usually do. I need to get my brain back into running order.
So let’s come back with the four-note guitar riff that every aspiring teenage headbanger learns on their first guitar. It’s one of the most memorable intros in music history, destined to be instantly recognizable long after there’s no one left alive to remember anything else about Deep Purple or the culture they came out of. When something has been riffed so far into the popular consciousness that it’s basically become the generic shorthand for hard-rock guitar riffs, is there any point in asking what it’s about, where it came from, or even if it’s a good song? Well, if you’re a classic rock fan, you probably know the famous story of how Deep Purple’s plans to record an album in Montreux where thwarted when their recording venue burned to the ground. Based on the riff and chorus, you would imagine the kind of hammer-of-the-gods heavy metal lyrics in which hard-rocking vikings threaten to raze your civilization, but it’s actually a pretty mundane story about the inconvenience of finding a recording space for a very loud band in a very quiet Swiss town. Which, I think, is what makes it an indelibly great song. Nobody really wants to hear another poorly-researched heavy metal song about vikings, and this, at least, tells a personal story. Of course, we’re far removed from the days when cultural relevance was measured in guitar solos, and even fans of the genre have to admit that far less of 70’s hard rock culture will endure than your dad and his drinking buddies thought in 1973. But from what’s left of that moment in time, this riff will be remembered as the height of what labradoodle-looking shirtless dudes in obscenely tight jeans could achieve whilst blackout drunk on Southern Comfort.