So I’m sitting here getting absolutely no work done on today’s post because I can’t stop getting totally into the music I’m listening to. The problem is that I really love seven of the eleven cuts. Four of the seven rank very high in my favorites list, and one of them is on my all time favorites short list!
It’s ironic that a fairly vanilla song from a fairly vanilla singer-songwriter is such favorite, but the truth is, a good jam band can go off on anything. Maybe it’s the high degree of contrast between the original, which I think uses only five notes or so, and the mouth-watering jam.
For those who aren’t “Deadheads,” the album in question is a self-titled album from 1971 that many call the “skull and roses” album (for obvious reasons). Grateful Dead were known for many things, not all of them savory, but one of their shining traits was being one of the world’s great jam rock bands.
There are (at least) two ways to play music: As written. Or not. It’s that simple, and yet it’s actually a huge dividing line, both in reality and symbolically.
Very often musicians divide into those who, sometimes with awesome technique, turn written music into actual music. The really great ones imbue a performance with emotion that carries to the listener, but part of the criteria in judging has to do with the technical ability.
This is often true to the point where a poor technical showing is held to “ruin” the performance. (Which makes it similar to most championship sports.) A concert pianist who constantly flubs notes won’t last long — technical excellence is the point here!
For another kind of musician, the music is merely a departure point. The final destination sometimes bears little resemblance to the original. The musical form, jazz, is all about playing the music differently every time. It’s about being in the moment.
[That said, when a known jazz band plays a known favorite, they usually play it pretty close to the way people are used to hearing it. But a real delight comes when they take one of their old standards and “have some fun” with it.]
In the symbolic sense, there are people who stick close (some might even say “blindly”) to the rules, and there are those who see the rules as strongly worded suggestions (sometimes backed up with penalties). I have written before about how art almost requires breaking the rules. How one sees rules in a sense divides the technicians from the artists.
But I didn’t really intend to write about jazzing up the music or about rules and rule-breakers. I just wanted to pose the question: What albums can you name where you just love more than half the cuts on it?
I’ve already mentioned Grateful Dead (by Grateful Dead) and Me & Bobby McGee. Three other cuts rank very high on my favorite tunes list: Bertha, Johnny B. Goode (of course), and Not Fade Away. I’m also really like Mama Tried and Big Railroad Blues. I like all the other cuts; no clunkers!
When I tried to think of other albums with a high percentage of loved tunes, one sprang immediately to mind: Paul Simon‘s Graceland. This is the album that has You Can Call Me Al and Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes. But I also really love Under African Skies, Homeless, I Know What I Know, Gumboots, That Was Your Mother, All Around the World, and (of course) Graceland.
I know. Nearly every tune on the thing, right? Amazing album!
Graceland was actually the second one that sprang immediately to mind. My canonical I Love Every Song On This Album! for decades (since I bought it in vinyl) is the little-known City To City by Gerry Rafferty (the name might be familiar from the band Stealers Wheel). You may have heard the hit, Baker Street, from this album back in the day.
On this album, despite having listened to it countless times over the decades, I still love every tune on it! (For me, many of them greatly outshine Baker Street.)
As I go through my album collection I find a number of other candidates for the “Album With Lots of Great Cuts” award. Rather than spoil the fun for y’all, I’ll just name two related ones: both Bat Out Of Hell albums. There’s no part of those albums that makes me want to hit “next!”
As I leave you to consider your candidate albums, to play you out is the tune that started this post. Me & Bobby McGee by Grateful Dead:
As a bonus, here’s a cut off the Rafferty album: