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Chaos of Memories – Unpacking 60 essential LPs

Chaos of Memories has been on hiatus since our first post…so in order to get the juices flowing, and to finish unfinished posts on Leonard Cohen and Little Feat, plus a planned post on Frank Sinatra and Mob-baiting as Red-baiting….I present to you, in no particular order and selected randomly by scanning my shelves and crates (so usually one or two per crate then back ot the beginning til I get to 60 – thus not repeating artists except for one occurrence) – these are the 60 records that are on the heaviest rotation in the Chaos of Memories household – hopefully each of these will become a post as I have time to update the blog now and again. – Note, this blogger’s taste is not completely covered by this list – for example there may be an album here that is not my favorite by a given artist, but the pressing I own is the best, or I don’t own the album on vinyl – often CD or what not..Also, for some I posted the whole album because individual songs weren’t available… Note: I will be adding to this as I go through my collection…this post can be revisited. I have noticed that there is all of one album from the last 10 years.

1) Willie Nelson “Stardust”

2) Taj Mahal “Natch’l Blues”

3) The Band “Rock of Ages” (live)

4) Bob Dylan “Blood on the Tracks” (Dylan has been wiped from Youtube, sorry comrades)

5) Grateful Dead “Live Dead”

6) Jennifer Warnes “Famous Blue Raincoat: Songs of Leonard Cohen”

7) David Bowie “Hunky Dory”

8) Bruce Springsteen “The Wild, The Innocent and the  E-Street Shuffle”

9) Brian Eno (Eno) “Here Come the Warm Jets”

10) Patti Smith “Horses”

11) Beach Boys “Smile/the Smile Sessions”

12) Genesis “Foxtrot”

13) Led Zeppelin “Presence”

14) Television “Marquee Moon”

15) Dire Straits “Brothers in Arms” (yup)

16) Simon and Garfunkel “Greatest Hits” (Japanese Pressing with different tracklisting)

17) The Replacements “Let it Be”

18) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Southern Accents”

19) Chet Baker “My Funny Valentine” 

20) Cannonball Adderley/Miles Davis “Something Else”

21) John Coltrane “Blue Train”

22) Ornette Coleman “Shapes of Jazz to Come”

23) Curtis Fuller “The Opener”

24) De La Soul “De La Soul is Dead”

25) Talking Heads “Talking Heads 77”

26) Queen “Sheer Heart Attack”

27) Magnolia Soundtrack (Aimee Mann/Supertramp)

28) Natural Born Killers Soundtrack (compiled by Trent Reznor, best soundtrack/mix ever – and first vinyl record I bought which went unplayed for years – I just loved the movie and album cover) –

29) The Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street” (since we’ve already covered Beggar’s Banquet)

30) The Kinks “Muswell Hillbillies”

31) The Beatles “Revolver” (Not the shitty digitally mastered re-issue, original pressing, scratchy and lovely)

32) Gang of Four “Entertainment”

33) Rod Stewart (Yeah, that guy, his first few albums are brilliant) “Every Picture Tells a Story” (for real this is a masterpiece)

34) Guns ‘n Roses “Appetite for Destruction”

35) Flaming Lips “Soft Bulletin”

36) MGMT “Oracular Spectacular” (only good pop music of the last 5 years that I own on vinyl)

37) Mercury Rev “Deserter’s Songs”

38) Neil Young “On the Beach”

39) The Pixies “Doolittle” (Mobile Fidelity)

40) Ween “White Pepper” (Check this classic Trey Parker/Matt Stone directed video)

41) Pavement “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”

42) Beck “Odelay”

43) Little Feat “Dixie Chicken”

44) Leonard Cohen “The Future”

45) Jimi Hendrix “Axis: Bold as Love” (MONO)

46) Elvis Costello “Armed Forces”

47) The Who “Direct Hits” (B-sides/Rarities Compilation)

48) Kate Bush “Hounds of Love” (out of left field?)

49) Van Morrison “Astral Weeks”

50) Sly and the Family Stone “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”

51) Funkadelic “Maggot Brain”

52) Bert Jansch “L.A. Turnaround”

53) Velvet Underground “Loaded”

54) Lou Reed “New York”

55) Wu Tang Clan “Wu Tang Forever” (Chaos of Memories prefers this to 36 chambers for its elegance and pretension, remembers buying it and thinking to myself – the Pink Floyd of Hip Hop)

56) Frank Sinatra “The Concert Sinatra”

57) Nina Simone “Nina Simone in Concert”

58) Roy Orbison “The All Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison”

59) Joni Mitchell “Court and Spark”

60) Creedence Clearwater Revival “Willie & the Poor Boys”

Perry Anderson meets the Rolling Stones

“The album as a whole suppresses any vestige of the liberal category of ‘Protest’ music” – Perry Anderson on the Rolling Stones’ Beggars’ Banquet

In 1968 and again in 1970, a certain “Richard Merton”, AKA Perry Anderson, known for his “frenetic dancing” according to Tariq Ali’s memoir – wrote two spectacular essays in the New Left Review on the Rolling Stones.  These essays stand as perhaps the most rigorously theorized, insightful works written on popular music.  The first of the two, in early 1968 (when perhaps not coincidentally, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were fellow travelers of the IMG) is all the more impressive in that it was written – in my opinion – before the Stones’ “Greatness” and concentrates mostly on the transitional material from records like Aftermath and Behind the Buttons, on themes like sexual exploitation (“Backstreet Girl, “Yesterday’s Paper”), mental illness (“Mother’s Little Helper”, “Paint it Black”) and the will (and inability) to orgasm (“Satisfaction, “Going Home”.)  “Merton” is worth quoting at length

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The kind of person you meet at certain dismal dull affairs

It is incorrect to say that the Stones are ‘not major innovators’. Perhaps a polarization Stones-Beatles such as Adorno constructed between Schoenberg and Stravinsky (evoked by Beckett) might actually be a fruitful exercise. Suffice it to say here that, for all their intelligence and refinement, the Beatles have never strayed much beyond the strict limits of romantic convention: central moments of their oeuvre are nostalgia and whimsy, both eminently consecrated traditions of middle-class England. Lukács’s pejorative category of the Angenehme—the ‘pleasant’ which dulls and pacifies—fits much of their work with deadly accuracy. By contrast, the Stones have refused the given orthodoxy of pop music; their work is a dark and veridical negation of it. It is an astonishing fact that there is virtually not one Jagger-Richards composition which is conventionally about a ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’ personal relationship. Love, jealousy and lament—the substance of 85 per cent of traditional pop music—are missing. Sexual exploitation, mental disintegration and physical immersion are their substitutes.

In the 1970 piece, Anderson is taking part in discussions as the very possibility of a “rock aesthetic” and also writes beautifully on The Band (to whom I’ll return in a subsequent post).  But the main focus is the Stones, and in particular, Beggar’s Banquet.  Now since this is a blog mainly focused on the music itself (or at least that’s the plan), let me offer a few words on this near-perfect record.  It is 1968 rolled into one, from the standpoint of the relative lack of a real social movement in England. It is explicitly proletarian with a hint of aristocratic satire, encapsulated by the photo of the Stones “banquet”, found on the inside of the original gatefold LP cover.  Image

Starting with the now-familiar but still jarring percussion, followed by primal yelps, we are brought into the Stones’ layer with “Sympathy for the Devil” – itself such a historically specific – yet in its own way universal – song that JL Goddard made a film of its recording.  The narrator, Lucifer, a “man of wealth and taste” stands in for the demiurge of neccessity, who “stuck around St. Petersburg” to be a participant in the Bolshevik revolution, vividly recalling “Anastasia screaming in pain”.  Yet this revolutionary role allowed him to ride a tank and hold a general’s rank when the blitzgrieg raged and the fighters stank.  Before that he had “watched with glee” while kings and queens fought for a century in the name of this or that deity.  Evoking the very recent assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the listener is placed on the hook for “killing the Kennedies”. Finally a declaration that “every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners, saints.” All of this is accompanied very sparsely by Nicky Hopkins’ piano, around five or six percussionists and one of Keith Richards’ best recorded guitar solos.

Having entered the banquet, we come to “No Expectations”, ostensibly about a failed romance, but also on one level of generality, the eclipse of Brian Jones as a Rolling Stone (his slide guitar on this song has a sadness that is hard to quantify) – and also about the repeated theme on the record – the lack of fighting capacity among the English at the time. It is a foreboding song of defeat, but not completely hopeless, just melancholy. Side one continues with the jaunty “Dear Doctor”, a country send-up and “Parachute Woman”, a Chicago-blues style song.  The culmination of the first side comes with “Jigsaw Puzzle” with another mournful slide guitar performance from Jones.  The song is the most direct statement of how the Stones – perhaps millionaires, but exploited cultural producers targeted by police and intelligence services – saw themselves.  Introducing a series of Dylanesque characters who have been outcasts all their lives. Embedded in this is a description of a band that by description seem remarkably like the Stones, before the song ends with a sardonic verse about a popular uprising of “Grandmas” who have had their pensions frittered way, get attacked by a regiment of soldiers under the watchful eye of the queen, who the dying grandmothers don’t hesitate to thank. .

Side two starts with one of the most recognizable guitar riffs ever recorded, that of “Street Fighting FightingmanstonesMan”.  Technically, this song is quite novel – as “hard” as the guitar sounds, it is actually a layering of a number of recordings of the riff itself played by Richards on an acoustic guitar – there is no electric guitar at all on the track, save a lick at the end that may or may not actually be a mellotron. “The time is right for palace revolution,” sings Jagger, “but where I am, the game that’s played is compromised solutions…so what can a poor boy do but to sing in a rock and roll band”. Perhaps defeatist, but with an optimism of the will, the song was reportedly dedicated to Tariq Ali. It’s impossible to overstate how scared this song made the authorities – it was banned from radio stations all over the world, on both sides of the “iron curtain”. One must recall that however overly optimistic, in 1968 millions of people felt the world was on the brink of revolutionary change. Ironically, as noted, the song expresses pessimism (like with the Grandmas of “Jigsaw Puzzle”) as to the capacities of the English in sleepy London town, compared with Prague, Paris or Chicago, Anderson/Merton is again worth quoting at length..

The most obvious track here is, of course, Street Fighting Man. Released virtually simultaneously with the Beatles’ lamentable petty bourgeois cry of fear Revolution, its ideological credentials were certified by Mayor Daley in person. For our purposes, the most important element of the record, which situates it well beyond even, say, the Doors—is the nonequation of music and politics in it, and the parallel non-assimilation of the usa and Britain. All facility is here rejected (rock = revolution: Doors/Airplane). The theme of the number is precisely the lack of revolutionary traditions in England (In sleepy London town, the game to play is compromise solution) and the necessarily surrogate role rock may play in the absence of them (What can a poor boy do/except play in a rockand-roll band?). The composition is thus an exact musical statement of the destiny of music in a society which blocks any political prolongation of the people’s art..

The rest of the second side, as opposed to the melancholy jauntiness of side one, replicates the narrative in a delving into the muck of proletarian life in “sleepy London town”, the milieu in which rock stars want to drink “to the Salt of the Earth” while fearing the “faceless crowd”.  A cover of Robert Johnson’s “Prodigal Son” is followed by the problematic, disturbing and captivating “Stray Cat Blues”, a song that if made today could very well land the band in legal trouble, given the frank depiction of teenaged sexuality and the business-like, even aristocratic guitar crunch. This finds its antithesis in “Factory Girl”, a fantasy of meeting an archetypal working class woman. Thirty years before Pulp, Jagger wanted to sleep with Common People.  We come to a finale with the aforementioned “Salt of the Earth”, with a final twang of the slide guitar from Brian Jones and Keith Richards first solo lead vocal on the first verse, doing his best Chet Baker imitation, drinking to the good and the evil. The limitations offered in British society are laid bare…

Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
His empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio

This is all followed by a gospel choir coming in, the drums becoming double-time and the song exploding into a cacophony.  A fitting close to what still stands today as the record of its’ times.

Unpacking my Record Collection

For quite some time now, I’ve considered starting a blog about my record collection. I’ve been collecting vinyl records for about a decade or so now, and before that CDs. I have been known to not buy new clothing or even kitchen-ware for years on end, but spend money I don’t have on a rare Japanese pressing of this or that record. Yes, it is a passion, a passion of chaos. Indeed, one of my favorite aesthetes, Walter Benjamin has a lively piece on book-collecting, the spirit of which animates how I see my record collecting.  “Every passion borders on the chaotic,” writes Walt, “but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories” – hence the name of the blog.

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Japanese Pressing of Zeppelin II.

Aesthetic objects – books, pieces of music and so forth hold a two-fold value, as Benjamin points out. There is the pure use value, the delivery of creative labour through the means of the page or the disc. But then there is what Benjamin calls “profound enchantment”, implying something quite different from the mystification of most commodities,  A record’s embodied labour, its engineering/pressing as well as the craft of the music itself is right on the surface, discernible without effort, like those classic Blue Note jazz records with an essay by Nat Hentoff or Studs Terkel on the craft of the musician, the emotion behind the vicissitudes of using a trombone instead of a cornet. “For a true collector, the whole background of an item adds up to a magic encyclopedia.”

Lest I come off as too high-theoretical, this blog is not a space in which I will be theorizing my record collection. What I plan on doing is, as often as time permits, taking a record out and explaining why it’s important to me. I may go off on a theoretical tangent, or I may simply give some historical context, on a macro-level, or even on a purely technical level. As someone whose hobby means a great deal to me, I see this as in many ways a process of clarification, of why I like what I like, put simply.  I also may post essays or articles I’ve written over the years. And I hope I can illuminate all of that for other music lovers out there on the interwebz.  Watch this space for a post on one record or another I’ve been listening to as of late.  These days I’ve been moving between an obsessive rediscovery of Leonard Cohen (plus I can’t stop listening to Jenffier Warnes’ record of Cohen songs); free jazz and the transition from post-bop to free jazz (laughing at how I worked in a “transition” theory), smatterings of Zappa for the first time in a long time; roots and Americana and so forth.  And then there are records to which I keep going back….So you never know.  But I promise you you will learn something obscure and useless, but perhaps profound.