Music Isn’t Getting Worse, You’re Getting Older: Top 10 Comps and Reissues of 2013

boy-with-headphones-hi

 

 

Christ, what was I doing all year when I was supposed to be listening to popular music? Every night, my mom would put a plate in front of me at dinner and say, “Don’t even think of leaving this table until you’ve finished your popular music songs, young man.” And every night, as soon as she turned her back, I’d be scraping those songs off my plate to the dog waiting patiently beneath the table.

What did I like this year? I liked reading the work of Dan Chaon and Dana Spiotta. I liked sitting on deserted beaches and feeling the sun set behind me. I liked watching my kids do really well in school. The records released in 2013 that I played all year included Tomorrow’s Harvest from Boards of Canada, mbv from My Bloody Valentine, and Open by The Necks. Those and the movie soundtracks to The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers. Spring Breakers was probably the best movie I saw all year. Oh, and I finally pulled Underworld by Don DeLillo out of my “to read” pile (where it had rested comfortably for 15 years) and finished it. It was well worth the effort. For some reason, I’ve been listening to an old Neil Young boot a lot, a Bottom Line show in 1974 that includes live renditions of “Ambulance Blues,” “On The Beach,” and “Motion Pictures.”

When I finally got around to compiling my favorite 15 tracks of 2013 (as always, based on the number of plays each track had accrued in my iTunes player), I found that my system had broken down. The songs I liked most were either so long they defied large numbers of plays (Open, by the Necks, consists of one track clocking in at 68:00) or were buried interchangeably within vast ambient soundscapes (what’s the best song on Tomorrow’s Harvest?). In the past, I used to crib outliers out of the competition, but this year I just threw the whole system out. And then I threw 2013 out, too. No one has ever come to this space looking to take the pulse of the current music scene. (If you were, you should check out my friend Duncan’s essential Lazer Guided Melody and specifically his 2013 Top Ten, here and here.)

At any rate, enough with the present and future of music. Let’s draw up the comfy quilt of reflection and look ever backward into the reassuring past. Here are my favorite compilations and reissues released in 2013. YouTube clips are featured below the title, an assortment of album tracks can be found in the Spotify playlist at the bottom.

 

Primal Scream, Jesus And Mary Chain, Josef K, Stone Roses, Aztec CameraScared To Get Happy:
A Story of Indie-Pop 1980-1989

The Lost And The Lonely: The Higsons

If CDs are hopelessly archaic in this era of Spotify and Bandcamp and retro cassette-only exclusives, what are we to make of this 5-CD hardback-bound set released on London’s Cherry Red Records label? Just holding the thing in my hands makes me feel all 1994. I’ve been listening to this overview of ’80s indie British guitar-pop since it arrived in July. The best box sets take a story you think you know very well and tell it in a completely different way. I bought records fanatically all through the ’80s and early ’90s (including stacks of Rough Trade, Creation, and Factory imports) and most of what’s here is a revelation to me. For every band I remember well (The Wedding Present, Inspiral Carpets, That Petrol Emotion, Primal Scream, The Primitives, The Boo Radleys) there are three I never heard of (June Brides, Hepburns, Rosemary’s Children, Boy Hairdressers, Bachelor Pad). For all but a few of these bands, getting to London was the dream, America an impossibility. All in all, 134 songs from 134 bands, representing every Anglo scene (twee-pop, pub rock, folk pop, reggae pop, paisley underground, post-post-punk) ever worthy of its own 8-page photocopied, folded, and stapled  ‘zine.

New Morning, Nashville Skyline, John Wesley HardingBob Dylan: Another Self Portrait
The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (1969-71)

This is a promotional clip because NOBODY hates YouTube like Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.

The critical outrage and controversy that greeted the 1970 release of Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait seems preposterous today. A person with no knowledge of Dylan at all might identify Self Portrait as the work of an amiable country/folk artist, heavy on covers of traditional folk/blues standards, with some instrumentals and live cuts thrown in. If your knowledge of Bob Dylan was expanded to include his Wikipedia entry, you might recognize Self Portrait as the sound of a man backpedaling away from a rabid fanbase obsessively parsing his every phrase (and the contents of his trash cans) for cosmic significance. You might see Self Portrait as the work of a man who has learned the hard way that being the “voice of a generation” is a bum gig, and who’s media-savvy enough to do a little hype-deflating damage control. All of which is not to say that Self Portrait isn’t consistently charming in its emphasis on melody and tradition over lyric content. Maybe it was the Gordon Lightfoot and Paul Simon covers that made everyone mad. There’s nothing on Self Portrait that’s nearly as weird as the studio chatter, botched takes, stoner musing, and sawmill accompaniment collected on another “self portrait” of the era, Neil Young’s long-deleted Bizarro World Journey Through The Past. I’m no Dylanophile. Until this year, the only cut on Self Portrait I was familiar with was “Wigwam,” which is used to great effect on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Dylan first started to grow on me when my sister bought me the first officially sanctioned volumes (5 LPs in a box set) of the Dylan Bootleg Series for Christmas in 1985. I like the records most people like (Highway 61 Revisited, Blood On The Tracks), dislike the ones most people hate (Desire, Knocked Out Loaded), and I have a special affinity for 1989’s Oh Mercy. At any rate, leave it to Bob to have two hours of utterly beguiling outtakes and alternate versions of Self Portrait-era songs sitting around in a can somewhere for forty years. There isn’t anything here that isn’t at least as good as the best of Bob’s post-Benzedrine years. Continue reading

Learn a Hot New Dance Step in Minutes: Top 15 Songs of 2012

 

 

Top 15 Songs of 2012

 

This summer, I spent a lot of time driving my daughter and her friends to summer camp. The trip took about thirty minutes.

On day one, I had a CD in the player. I know I picked something simple and bouncy and upbeat to appeal to the kids, but I can’t remember what it was. It might have been the Cars or the Dandy Warhols.

And, oh good lord, you’d have thought I had passed out frosty refreshing bottles of vinegar laced with ant poison. The kids were absolutely stricken with loathing. I think my daughter apologized for my very existence. It was like everyone’s puppy died.

Needless to say, we switched right on over to 92.3 hot hit radio and those kids were just pleased as punch. All of them (two twelve-year-olds, a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old) sang right along with every song. They were little divas and knew every line, especially the ones with lewd content. They expressed great interest in the half-hourly “Dirty on the 30” scandal-sheet gossip update and knew every celebrity referenced therein. (I had to switch away from that feature about twice a week when the content would cross the PG-13 threshold.)

As the summer progressed, I came to enjoy my 30-minute daily exposure to pure, unadulterated pop-hit, Top-10 radio. I grew to enjoy that song about the girl giving her number to a guy in a club (even though it might be crazy) and that other song about the guy hoping to get his whistle blown. Yes, the songs are fairly simple and assembled from a limited toolbox of melodic effects and beats. But they’re catchy anyway and derive much of their energy from the sheer over-the-top enthusiasm the vocal performers bring to the songs. I guess I enjoyed more than anything else the kids’ uninhibited joy in hearing them.

Those songs aren’t here (with one exception) because I didn’t buy them and put them on my iPod. I didn’t need to; I heard them every morning in the car. But the experience served as a handy reminder of how narrow and regimented my supposedly eclectic listening habits are. Music doesn’t necessarily have to be comprised of one dour recluse pushing a piano off a ledge and boom-miking the result. When it comes to music, the kids are usually right. That’s what I remembered this year.

Anyway, here’s the list. Most of the songs have YouTube links. The Spotify playlist is at the bottom (minus the Windy and Carl song, which isn’t on Spotify. Click the YouTube link for that one.). As in previous years, placement on the list is governed strictly by the number of plays it got on my iPod. If it got a lot, it’s here; if it didn’t, it’s not.

 

Chromatics Italians Do It BetterKill For Love / Chromatics

The last time I bought sunglasses, a few years ago, I was in a Sunglass Hut in the Monmouth Mall, looking at Ray-Bans. Most sunglasses look stupid on my head, so I had to search awhile before I finally found a pair of aviators that I liked. I turned to the clerk in the store, put the sunglasses on, and said, “What do you think?” She was probably eighteen years old. She smirked at me and said, “They’re very ’80s.” “Honey,” I replied, “That was my decade.”

Death Dreams, First ContactFirst Contact / PS I Love You

I have this thing about the last song on a record. Sometimes otherwise terrific artists just put too much thought into songs. You’re listening to that second track on a record and you can tell you’re listening to the 12th take of a song that sounded much better on the first take. And there’s some weird production touches on it, too. And then along comes the tenth song on a ten-track record and all that mannered preciousness drops out. The last song on the record is often the longest track and it’s sometimes a shambolic mess. That one’s the keeper. PS I Love You is Paul Saulnier. He seems to have been around a long time without putting much out. I’ve had a song of his from a Rocket Girl Records comp, “I Want You,” on various iPods for a decade. And now there’s this one. Continue reading

Old People Just Want To Have Fun: The Top 15 Tracks of 2011

Hey, where’d the year go? As previously, the songs here are presented in no particular order and are selected by referring solely to the digit in the “Plays” column in My iTunes library. Thus, if I played it a lot on my iPod in 2011, it’s here. If I didn’t, it’s not. No ringers, no false aspirations to what I “should” have been listening to. All ice cream, no broccoli. Also, as previously, the song title next to the album cover is a YouTube link to the song.

Oh, and here’s the entire playlist, compiled for your listening pleasure,
now playing @Spotify: http://spoti.fi/rzUNJa

 

Slave Ambient, Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring For My Halo, KraftwerkBest Night / The War On Drugs

The genius of The War On Drugs lies in the rural-urban esthetic of taking an earnest, observant, heartland-evocative vocal (provided by bandleader and Bob Dylan fanboy Adam Granduciel) and harnessing it to a precision-machined motorik synthbeat worthy of Trans-Europe Express. It’s been done before, of course, most notably on Grandaddy’s 2000 opus  The Sophtware Slump, but here you really get that wide-open-spaces sensation without the luxury-class travel vibe. “Best Night,” the first track on the record, is the ideal soundtrack for watching the countryside clip by through a bus window, even if the bus is just the shuttle from the Rutgers Athletic Center to High Point Solutions Stadium.

Blank Mass, Fuck Buttons, Land Disasters, Benjamin John PowerLand Disasters / Blanck Mass

Blanck Mass is the solo side project of Benjamin John Power from Fuck Buttons. This song has been a staple of my evening runs along the Jersey Shore, at Sandy Hook and Island Beach, ever since it appeared in June. Everything on the self-titled debut from Blanck Mass is amazing, but “Land Disasters,” which booms into being at 0:01 in full skyward trajectory and then soars ecstatically upward in vast cathedrals of sound from there, may be the greatest song ever recorded for running along the sea as the sun slips below the horizon.
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20 Songs for the End of Summer

So I was out at the beach locker in the pavilion at Spring Lake the other day, pulling out chairs and sand toys and body boards in preparation for our trip to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks. It was a gray rainy Monday; the boardwalk was silent and the building was unoccupied but for the elderly woman who checks badges at the entrance.

I carted out the first load of stuff to the car and then returned for more.  As I was climbing the steps out of the bowels of the pavilion with the second load, the woman looked up from her book.

“Moving out?” she said.

I was about to say, “Oh, no, we’ll be back.” But then I paused and counted the days and realized that, at best, we wouldn’t be back until the few days before Labor Day. The lockers close on the day after Labor Day. They’re tearing this old pavilion down in the fall, this outmoded edifice of ancient yellow brick, warped wood, and flaking paint by the Jersey Shore, and building a new one.

“Well,” I said, instead, “We might bring a chair or two back.” And then I humped the last of the beach stuff out to the car.

That’s the way summer is. One day you’re sitting on the beach in a swimsuit and sweatshirt, marveling as your children frolic in Memorial Day surf that’s still too cold for you to even dip a toe in. And then comes another day when you sense something, the quality of the light or a damp clammy breeze off the dunes at your back, and you think “Oh, right, autumn.” No matter how vigilant you are, the end always sneaks up on you.

At any rate, here’s twenty songs for the end of summer. Because you need these kinds of songs, when the days grow shorter and the shadows lengthen. Text-linked You Tube audio in each entry.

Nick DrakeNick Drake: Saturday Sun

Saturday Sun

The elegiac piano, the retreating sun, remembrances of people in their season and time, Sunday weeping for a day gone by. It’s all there.

 

Paul Simon Art GarfunkelSimon & Garfunkel: April Come She Will

April Come She Will

The whole damned arc of the season, framed in terms of an intimate relationship, in just a few choice phrases, over the space of a minute-fifty. Man, that’s economy.

 

The ClienteleThe Clientele: The Violet Hour

The Violet Hour

How could I have written the original incarnation of this column and not included The Clientele? Every song in The Clientele canon is specifically about those hours at the end of the day, at the end of the summer, when you’re looking back in regret and forward in trepidation. Every whispered word mustered by front guy Alisdair McLean, every brushed drum and gently plucked string, is meant to evoke the last, lingering sunset moments of summer. Here, he remembers a lost love for two minutes, and then chucks that in favor of singing over and over “So that summer came and went and I became cold,” for two minutes plus.

 

wild nothing shoegazeWild Nothing: Summer Holiday

Summer Holiday

What? Too melancholy for ya? Slap this slice of up-tempo guitar chime and yearning vocals from wistful fuzz-poppers Wild Nothing onto the turntable. Here, from last year’s Gemini, it’s all about memories of summer holiday at your lover’s parents’ house and sneaking out of your separate rooms in the middle of the night for some quality time. In short, it’s what being eighteen is all about.

 

shelley fabares annette funicelloShelley Fabares: Lost Summer Love

Lost Summer Love

Fabares had a #1 single in February of 1962 with “Johnny Angel.” Later that same year, she released a second LP on the Colpix label, The Things We Did Last Summer, that includes a number of “summer’s past” laments (the title track, “See You In September,” a cover of the Brian Hyland summer weeper “Sealed With A Kiss”), none of which appeals to me much. Two years later, transplanted to the Vee-Jay label, she released a non-charting single, “I Know You’ll Be There,” that features “Lost Summer Love” on the flip. I originally encountered it on a Varese Sarabande compilation. “Summer is over/ And we have parted/ Nothing is left of, oh/ The dreams we started.” An almost martial drum beat, ethereal vocals, nifty horn break. What else do you want? (Not on Spotify. Enjoy the link above.)

 

frank sinatra dean martin rat packFrank Sinatra: The September Of My Years

September Of My Years

The great grandaddy of them all in the Autumnal Reminiscences Canon. Sinatra was turning 50 in December of 1965, the season when this LP appeared. Virtually anything here (the title song, “Last Night When We Were Young,” “It Was a Very Good Year,” “When The Wind Was Green”) could fit in this slot on your playlist. This song, with its opening stanza, “One day you turn around and it’s summer/ Next day you turn around and it’s fall/ And all the winters and springs of a lifetime/ Whatever happened to them all?” will do just fine.

 

the cure robert smith U2The Cure: The Last Day of Summer

The Last Day Of Summer

Robert Smith in high melancholy mode. Lyrics self-explanatory. No longer on Spotify. Enjoy the YouTube link above.

 

Lee HazlewoodLee Hazlewood: My Autumn’s Done Come

My Autumn’s Done Come

I skipped this one the first time around, despite its perfect obviousness, for the entirely sensible reason that it wasn’t available on Spotify. And now, 3 years later, it’s still not available on Spotify, but you can listen to it in the YouTube link above. Lee’s voice is really made for that end-of-summer ennui. “Let those ‘I don’t care’ days begin.” Indeed.

 

terry jacks one hit wonderTerry Jacks: Seasons In The Sun

Seasons In The Sun

Yeah, what’s your point? Damn right, it’s hard to die “when all the birds are singing in the sky.” I cry everytime I hear this song. Technically, “spring is in the air,” but not for Rod McKuen, the wordsmith here.

belle sebastianBelle & Sebastian: A Summer Wasting

A Summer Wasting

Not everyone’s regretting lost opportunities and good times slipped away. Twee-poppers Belle & Sebastian know the values of loafing, and they’re perfectly okay with “Seven weeks of river walkways/ Seven weeks of reading papers/ Seven weeks of feeling guilty/ Seven weeks of staying up all night.” “I Know Where The Summer Goes,” from one of the early B&S EPs, would also fit nicely here.

 

The Summer EndsAmerican Football: The Summer Ends

The Summer Ends

I never heard of these guys until their only LP was reissued by Polyvinyl Records this year, and now it’s been in my car CD player all summer. Each one of the nine songs on the record stubbornly refuses to cohere into anything remotely like a chorus or catharsis. Sometimes the guitarists seem to playing two different songs before finding their way back to each other. And yet, each song manages to evoke a kind of free-floating sadness without ever quite landing anywhere specific. “The Summer Ends” is a goodbye song with a lovely trumpet. “We’ve been so unhappy, so let’s just see what happens when the summer ends.”

 

Dave Alvin Blasters XDave Alvin: Fourth Of July

Fourth Of July

Dave Alvin replaced Billy Zoom in X just in time to participate in sessions for the lackluster See How We Are LP in 1986. Dave brought “Fourth Of July” with him, however, and it was easily the best song on the record. Even better was the version he cut for Romeo’s Escape, the solo album he released in the same year. And don’t be deceived by the date, this one’s definitely about the end of everything.

 

Bruce springsteen e street bandBruce Springsteen: 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) (Live)

Spanish Johnny’s slipping out the window, Kitty left with Big Pretty, the circus is pulling out of town, and the boardwalk life for Bruce is through. Everybody’s leaving in Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent, and the E- Street Shuffle. Even the album itself came out at the end of summer. September 11th, 1973. Time to roll down the security gates on the Asbury Park arcades, and drag the lifeguard chairs under the boardwalk. Season’s over.

 

doors jim morrisonThe Doors: Summer’s Almost Gone

Summer’s Almost Gone

Dig that tinkly chamber pop electric piano from Ray Manzarek on the intro. Wistful, eh? Then Robby Krieger starts twisting guitar notes into yearning shapes, and we’re good to go.

 

Palma violets, last of the summer winePalma Violets: Last Of The Summer Wine

Last Of The Summer Wine

Suggested by my friend Linda. The “end of summer” theme here is pretty much confined to the title, but I especially like Peter Mayhew’s trancy, churchy organ sound and Sam Fryer’s guitar, which calls to mind the chimey, yearning sound of Galaxie 500-era Dean Wareham. Also, the video clip for this song (see the link above) looks like every Labor Day in New Jersey. It might be 80 degrees through most of October in New Jersey, but you always know you’ll be huddling in a sweater, under an umbrella, on Labor Day, when it’s a perversely unseasonable 50 degrees with cold showers.

 

 

tom waitsTom Waits: Town With No Cheer

Town With No Cheer

Here’s one to send your Labor Day Party guests scrambling for the exits. March 21st is the last gasp of summer in Southern Australia, in some dusty nowhere station between Melbourne and Adelaide.

 

bob dylanBob Dylan: Summer Days

Summer Days

“Summer days and summer nights are gone,” but Bob Dylan “know[s] a place where there’s still somethin’ going on.” His Bobness has been engaged in his Never Ending Tour for more than twenty years now (appearing at every minor league ballpark, state fair, bowling alley, and laundromat across America) and he’s got no quit in him.  He’s “standing on the table,” he’s “spending every dime,” he’s “got [his} hammer ringin’,” he’s “got eight carburetors … and [he’s] usin’ ’em all.” Probably scare Belle & Sebastian half to death.

 

Indian SummerBeat Happening: Indian Summer

Indian Summer

Everybody thinks they can improve on Calvin Johnson’s robot vocal and dinky one-note synth riff, and, though seemingly dozens of bands have tried, no one ever has. (Luna probably came closest.) As for the song, well, “Breakfast in cemetery/ Boy tastin’ wild cherry/ Touch girl, apple blossom/ Just a boy playin’ possum/ We’ll come back for Indian summer.”

 

casiotone painfully aloneCasiotone for the Painfully Alone: Green Cotton Sweater

Green Cotton Sweater

They say you can find anything on the Internet, and here’s your proof. The 15th and last track on the Town Topic EP, buried behind a list of B-sides, instrumental versions, and unlikely ringtones, “Green Cotton Sweater” is an archetypal tale of a summer’s romance ended.

 

dusty springfieldDusty Springfield: Summer Is Over

Summer Is Over

And, finally, Dusty. I’m writing this on the breezy porch of an Ocracoke Island house in late August. There’s a flock of ducks waddling across the street to drink from the air conditioner run-off beside the back stairs, the wife and kids have walked off to get some ice cream at the harbor store; it’s time to fire up the grill for dinner; and the living is good.

Related: Songs For Old People To Dance To: Top 15 Tracks of 2010

Related: It’s Your Top 10 Hit Parade From the Summer of 1980

 

Songs For Old People To Dance To: Top 15 Tracks of 2010

Why 15? Because I couldn’t cut five from this list. I’m told that my blog entries are too long, and this is another long one. (I just can’t shut up.) In the old days, when I’d compose year-end mix tapes for whomever I was dating at the time, it was easy to selectively forget tracks that I’d tired of by year’s end and sub them out for edgier, less immediately accessible things that portrayed my musical taste in a more flattering light. Today, however, the iPod is a strictly literal indicator of what its user is REALLY listening to. In compiling this list, (presented here in no particular order), I’ve relied heavily on that last column in the iTunes playlist program under the subhead “Plays.” In other words, it’s all ice cream and french fries this time around. No broccoli.

The Suburbs / Arcade Fire

The Suburbs (YouTube)

I was a long time coming around to Arcade Fire (in fact, I may be walking in the front door just as everyone else is slipping out the back door), but the first single and title track off their 3rd album grabbed me by the ears and wouldn’t let go. A roadhouse piano stomper about some kind of disaster witnessed from afar by emotionally numb lovers on the run, “The Suburbs” kicks off a cycle of insightful, nuanced takes on contemporary suburban living. No small feat.

Little Wig / Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Little Wig (YouTube)

Critical darling Ariel Pink spends most of his time on Before Today coming on like a roughed-up, lo-fi Roxy Music or (dare I say it) 10cc. So it comes as quite a surprise when the chunky guitar blare of “Little Wig,” an extended pop-rock nugget that sounds like the Kinks, circa 1966, suddenly booms out of the speakers. I get the rest of the record, with its violins, synths, saxes, and faux-lux sheen, but I’m pretty partial to chunky guitar blare, too. Especially British Explosion chunky guitar blare that gives GBV’s Robert Pollard a run for his money.
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It’s Your Top 10 Hit Parade from the Summer of 1980

I remember the summer of 1980 as a season of eerie silence. I lived in an empty house that season; I was in full retreat from the world. I was waiting for September, waiting for my freshman year of college to begin. It was the season of the Long Wait.

The Up Escalator: Graham Parker
Released: May, 1980

Like many kids in 1980, I first encountered Parker by way of Arista Records’ promotional push for him in 1980. A video for “Stupefaction” appeared on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert and the musician himself performed on Fridays, a short-lived ABC sketch-comedy SNL knockoff. I didn’t know it at the time, but Parker had just jettisoned his long-time band, the Rumour, and his horn section in an attempt to transition from blue-eyed soul and R&B to a more mainstream “rock” sound. I bought Parker’s records for years and saw him in concert at least twice, but my infatuation with him is a mystery to me now. I suppose his sneering contempt for everything must have appealed to me. All of his 80s records come off today as wordy, keyboard-heavy, and marred by self pity. Later, he would write bad fiction.

Self-pity and a sense of being under-appreciated in a nowhere house in a nowhere town were my primary states of mind in the summer of 1980. My father had taken an apartment in North Bergen, forty miles to the east of us. His infrequent return visits only served to remind us that there were bad things going on in his new life, things we didn’t want to know about. My mother worked in an insurance office during the day and went out to church bingo every night, a different parish each night, seven nights a week. She would come home at eleven at night, watch the local news, and fall asleep in her chair.

Jackrabbit Slim: Steve Forbert
Released: October 1979

Steve Forbert was probably the last breakout singer/songwriter to be foiled by an overt “New Dylan” record-label campaign. Forbert’s willingness to include a song titled “Sadly Sorta Like a Soap Opera” on his debut suggests he wasn’t exactly an unwitting dupe in the plot. I liked this record when it came out—“Romeo’s Tune” was a Top 10 Billboard hit in the spring of 1980—though I don’t remember ever buying another Steve Forbert record. I guess nobody else did, either. After re-visiting a number of 1980 albums for this entry, I found the production here to be a relief. No dorky synths, no saxophones, no “big drum” sound, no portentous vocal overdubs. Just Forbert’s insightful and understated lyrics, set to humble, uncluttered arrangements of guitar, drums, and the occasional harmonica. Surprising.

I should clarify, by the way, that I wasn’t purchasing “records” in 1980. I was buying pre-recorded cassettes to play on my Soundesign stereo. The Soundesign was what they called a “shelf system”—tuner, built-in cassette deck, and two speakers. I kept it on a shelf that had previously held Revell models of aircraft and military vehicles, the kind you assembled with Testors plastic cement and painted with Testors paints that came in tiny bottles. My brother and I officially shared a bedroom for all of the 17 years we lived under the same roof, but by 1980 we were heartily sick of each other and I was sleeping on the couch in the living room. My brother, sister, and I avoided each other completely in the months before I left for college. We had nothing left to say to each other. I had a little one-speaker cassette player that I kept beside the couch. At night, after my midnight run and an hour or two of the CBS Late Movie, I would put a cassette in the player on low volume and let it lull me off into sleep.
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