Music--What Happened?


#1

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted boring pimpages of Scott Miller here before. Scott isn’t the Scott who fronted the V-Roys in the day, nor is he the Scott Miller who does 3d gaming.

He’s “Our Scott”, as fans of his bands Game Theory and The Loud Family refer to him. He’s a fascinating fellow; his degree and job are all about computer science (he’s a programmer in the Bay Area for his “day job”). His interests and knowledge though run encyclopedic on TS Eliot, James Joyce, and popular musics of all genres from the middle of the last century onwards. He’s also a wonderful human, self-deprecating, witty, humble, and talented as all hell.

Anyhow, Scott’s in sort of semi-retirement now from music, but he’s started writing a music bloggish thing called “Music–What Happened” at the site for his last band, The Loud Family. The idea is pretty simple: pick any of 50 years from 1957 to 2006, and Scott applies his massive knowledge of pop music to give you his picks for the 20 best songs of that year, and also a lot of great stuff about why. There’s a ton of music theory going on there, along with just a lot of great rock/jazz/pop ephemera and trivia which I find fascinating. That he arranges his selections as if they were a mixtape from that year is just icing on the cake.

Here’s him discussing “Ruby Tuesday”, which appears in the 1966 year:

“Ruby Tuesday” - The Rolling Stones
Even when they seem for all appearances to be attempting a minuet, they sound like louts. The Rolling Stones are practically unique in their ability to be utterly appealing in that kind of situation. “Ruby Tuesday” is so gorgeous its status has never threatened to dip below classic, but it’s in a category of mid-sixties material like “Back Street Girl” or “2000 Man” that was once taken for lack of focus, but now reads as unexpected consistency of quality across a curious range of styles and moods.

Music–What Happened?


#2

I just bookmarked the shit outta that thing.

I agree with this...

"Naked As We Came" - Iron and Wine
It galls me that this arrangement is so utterly perfect and effective with—I think—just a single acoustic guitar. Jesus, I thought I could play pretty guitar, right? It could be the single most successful instance of that; I'd have to ponder. I can testify that this is one of the rare songs that gets me on the verge of tears. "One of us will die inside these arms" is something like a decent shot at measuring the immeasurable value of a relationship.

And this is pure awesomeness:

"Common People" - William Shatner
Maybe you have to have followed the scorn to which William Shatner's, uh, vocals, have been subjected; the Star Trek era's The Transformed Man may be the most (I would have to say justifiably) ridiculed major label release, with its overdramatized talk-singing of hipster material. With that context: the first minute of this talk-singing of the Pulp standard brings a true flood of emotion. You sense right away that it's really good. Before long, it's also obvious it can rock. Increasingly respectably; it's blowing the doors off the Pulp version. Yet, you realize, it's doing by and large just exactly what The Transformed Man did. It's like that whole sorry endeavor is being incendiarily redeemed. This is all happening too fast. By the time Joe Jackson appears out of nowhere to sing the chorus out-of-his-mind greatly, you realize all bets are off for this amazing piece of music, and perhaps for life in general.


#3

Interesting blog-thing. I just hope I had heard more of the songs he mentions. If nothing else, it seems like a good source for recommendations.

"Common People" - William Shatner
Maybe you have to have followed the scorn to which William Shatner's, uh, vocals, have been subjected; the Star Trek era's The Transformed Man may be the most (I would have to say justifiably) ridiculed major label release, with its overdramatized talk-singing of hipster material. With that context: the first minute of this talk-singing of the Pulp standard brings a true flood of emotion. You sense right away that it's really good. Before long, it's also obvious it can rock. Increasingly respectably; it's blowing the doors off the Pulp version. Yet, you realize, it's doing by and large just exactly what The Transformed Man did. It's like that whole sorry endeavor is being incendiarily redeemed. This is all happening too fast. By the time Joe Jackson appears out of nowhere to sing the chorus out-of-his-mind greatly, you realize all bets are off for this amazing piece of music, and perhaps for life in general.

Yes.


#4

Here's one of my favorite blurbs:

"Penny Lane" - The Beatles
The cheapest stance among music critics in my lifetime has been that Paul McCartney is a lightweight. Wrong, on so many levels. To start with, Paul is by all indications an actual tough guy and they aren't—if they ever have to scratch out a living among thugs and swindlers on the Reeperbahn, I don't want to watch. More importantly, though, the axiom that no one should produce good-time, populist fare seems not only wrong, but a betrayal of rock and roll. For me, "Penny Lane" is a powerful piece of music, the more so for first establishing a tone that's just whimsical. At the point of the three snare hits at "very strange," you're reminded this is a band capable of deploying a lot more power, and just that hint is enough to charge the moment with an anything-can-happen resonance.

Scott is kind of an oddball about popularity of music, in that he's a firm believer in the Marsh-ean school of thought (call it the "50 million Elvis can't be wrong" principle) that holds that sales and chart popularity can indeed be used as measuring sticks of quality, if correctly applied. In other words, one not only shouldn't ignore a song because it is popular, but in fact should maybe give a song a fair hearing precisely for that reason. It's an odd stance for a guy like Miller, who has described his most popular album, "Lolita Nation", as having taken his band Game Theory "from regional obscurity to national obscurity".

Also, a couple of folks have made Muxtapes of 1966, 1967, and 2004's songs, in order, for listening while reading. Damn that Marmalade song kicks ass.


#5

Arise, oh dead thread.

This thing that used to be a web-only thing became a book in 2011. I re-stumbled on my copy a month or two ago, and fell back in love with it. I think it might be my favorite book of music criticism ever, mostly because it’s so unafraid to be funny and self-deprecating and willing to take the pretension and piss out of most music critics.

I even recommended it for a Patreon review for Tom, since I see a lot of similarities in the way both guys review things as a subjective art: “Here’s one guy’s opinion…”

At any rate, I also need music playlists at work to keep me focused when I have to spend 5 hours on an afternoon crunching big spreadsheets of data or scripting work sessions. And I discovered that on Spotify, someone had tried to make a full playlist of every song in Music: What Happened from 1957 through 2011. Unfortunately, because of licensing issues and out of print problems, each year is missing a couple of songs. Or, there are cover versions (which suck) or live versions (hit or miss).

So…I decided to make my own version, only complete.

Here’s why I think it’s worth doing, and why something I made for me might be of interest to others.

Here’s the first set of mp3s, for 1957-1959

And 1960 - 1962…


Convey Your Musical Taste To Us
#6

Yowza! I’m going to order this book and then go on a downloading/reading/listening spree. Probably naked.


#7

Thanks for this @triggercut. I enjoy a lot of different types of music but I struggle sometimes to shake off ‘overplay fatigue’ and various other hangups to really appreciate certain tracks and genres. I’ve found in the past that some context, trivia or information can be all it takes to get me listening with ‘open ears’, as it were.


#8

Cool stuff. I will definitely give these mixes a listen. Thanks for putting them together.


#9

We’re go for Beatlemania!


#10

I just picked up the book on Amazon Kindle for $3.82. Looking forward to the read.


#11

I still have to get the book (my wife got it in her head that this would be a good Christmas present so I’m stuck waiting) but I’ve been downloading the mixes and reading the posts. This is just the coolest thing you’re doing, trig. And it seems like no small amount of work. I think Scott would be proud!

Oh, and hey… Happy birthday!


#12

Cool project! Nice work putting these together—and thanks! There are huge chunks of Miller’s picks that I don’t have, and the book is way more enjoyable with the soundtrack.

I like his idiosyncrasies a lot. Choosing “And Your Bird Can Sing” over “Tomorrow Never Knows” is wonderfully perverse, even though it really isn’t all that perverse…

The only thing I’ve found truly inexplicable so far is… damn, his 1971 is awfully freakin’ white, for a year that gave us standouts from Marvin Gaye, BB King, Isaac Hayes, and Curtis Mayfield.


#13

Yep, things transition a bit, and it’s something I’ll discuss in a blog post in the next set of years. But basically, Miller was born in 1960. So, figure his selections through about 1968-1970 are going to be set in many ways by inherited knowledge: Chet Baker is cool. Listen to James Brown, he’s the man. You gotta know your Coltrane. etc. I don’t think a kid Scott Miller was listening to Wes Montgomery or John Fahey.

But once you hit his teen years, you get to the point where music is going to start informing his own career and tastes. And the picks get a little more idiosyncratic, and while soul and r&b and even disco are going to feature (and later, rap and hip-hop) they’re going to be a little more ancillary.

I think he actually does a very good job of explaining and lamenting it in 1972, when he points out how great a song like “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” is, while noting that 1972 is about the last year you could get a slow-burning R&B song onto every rock FM radio station, because they’d start splintering into specialized formats, and as he puts it, the disco tribe won’t overlap with the heavy metal tribe.

At any rate, the cool thing I want to highlight is that as the 1970s become the 1980s, we’re going to have a guy who was becoming an important part of a scene leading a guided tour through it, and so if there are fewer “hits” and familiar songs to reconsider, now we get lost gems that Miller was aware of from being inside the scene, which is very cool too.


#14

Belated thanks!