5/15/21: Between the headphones

Hi, I’m back. I can’t remember the last time I posted on here. Like most people, 2020 really knocked my socks off. I was definitely not motivated to write about music, even given how important it is to me.

What I did do was write music, record music, and listen to a lot of music.

One thing I’ve been listening to a lot of is classic rock, probably as a comfort measure. It’s been a part of my life pretty much since day one; I grew up listening to classic rock station WPLJ in New York City, and I have older siblings who had a lot of rock albums. It’s kind of a musical blankie at the moment.

My first band in high school was not classic rock – that was for the older kids. We played songs by the English Beat and U2. But one of the bands I was in while I was in college did do your basic rock playlist: BTO, CCR, all the initials. (We used to say that we were a “three beer band,” meaning it would take three beers to like our playing. Later, we improved to being a two beers and a shot kind of band.)

I also worked around classic rock during my first job in radio. I researched it and wrote about it and listened to lots and lots of it.

I’m really going back to basics here with what I’m listening to these days. I’m talking the Beatles and the Stones. It doesn’t get anymore fundamental then that in the classic rock pantheon.

With the Beatles, one album I’ve been deconstructing is “Let it Be: Naked,” the remix of “Let it Be.” I really like both versions of the album, and I think both should be available to the record-downloading public. “Naked” is a less Phil Spector-y version of the album, which to me means less orchestration and less reverb. Honestly, I would buy the album just for the stripped-down version of “The Long and Winding Road.”

“Let it Be” doesn’t get a lot of love – it was at the end of the Beatles’ time together and is a mix of old and new songs, live recordings and studio mixes. But some of my favorite Beatles songs are on there (“Across the Universe,” “I Me Mine,” “Get Back”). And once you scrape off all the Spector* you get a really well-recorded, engaging album.

I have to take a moment and point out that Paul McCartney is a sick bass player. All of the parts of these songs are really good, and I frequently get distracted from the bass line, but then I become aware of it again and it’s like getting splashed in the face with a bucket of awesome.

And Billy Preston. Billy Preston! Billy Preston. He’s one of the many bridges between the Beatles and the Stones, having played on albums by both bands, and having toured with the Stones. He was just so talented – a gift to either band.

I’ve been a declared Rolling Stones fan since I was 13, but can remember hearing them when I was a toddler; someone in the house owned “Hot Rocks” on 8-track. I just bought “More Hot Rocks” for myself, but not on 8-track. It covers a period of the Stones evolution that I just love, where they were doing more orchestral pop like “She’s a Rainbow” and “Out of Time.”

Songs like that remind me of another Stones greatest hits album, “Flowers,” which was the first album I ever bought. There’s a little overlap in content between the two records, but overall it’s different from what a lot of folks associate with the Rolling Stones. I can remember listening to “Flowers” while I played Atari; that’s how old I am.

By the way, I don’t only buy greatest hits albums by the Stones. But recently, I haven’t really been focusing on albums the way I have with the Beatles. With the Stones, it’s more about singles right now.

Now I will argue that “Honky Tonk Woman” is the best classic rock single of all time. The Stones were playing at their best, writing at their best, and throwing around just the right amount of sass and nasty. And they do so much more with cowbell than Blue Oyster Cult does with “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (another classic rock classic I’ve been listening to). I’d be willing to stage a cowbell-off between the two songs any time. And there are so many things great about the song that are not cowbell-oriented, like the wonderfully filthy lyrics, the rhythm guitar, and the horns. The original video’s fun, too. I couldn’t find it on YouTube, but it’s worth tracking down. For some reason Mick’s wearing a sailor suit and the whole room fills up with bubbles. Which is not what the song is about.

My happy place these days is between two headphones, listening to music that puts me in another world. It isn’t all classic rock – among other stuff, I’m really into albums by Future Islands and Lizzo and Blinky Bill right now. But it’s nice to go back to the old stuff, like curling up under a comfy and very loud afghan.

I’m actually a fan of Phil Spector’s* production, and anything with the Wall of Sound is always worth a listen. But i just don’t think his production sound matches well with “Let it Be.”

**Phil Spector died in prison, having murdered a woman at his home.

Published by Elizabeth Walsh

I love music. I listen to it, I compose it, I play it, I write about it. This is more or less a bunch of songs I really like, or dislike, or just can't get out of my head. More info about me and what I do is at www.elizabethwalsh.org.

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