1001 Albums: The Who Sell Out

Bosco's Modern Life

#90

Album_90_Original.jpg

Artist: The Who

Album: The Who Sell Out

Year: 1967

Length: 38:46

Genre: Psychedelic Pop / Power Pop

“If you think that I don’t know about the little tricks you’ve played
And never see you when deliberately you put things in my way”

Those cheeky bastards are at it again.

After a long, long, long hiatus (probably the longest one I’ve ever had) I have returned and boy have I returned with a doozy of an album. I have to admit so far I do think this is one of the best albums I’ve heard so far, and if not my favourite, it definitely has a spot in the top 5 thus far. I always liked The Who and remember listening to this album over a year ago. But back then I was kind of just listening without listening, going through the discography and the motions and ending each…

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1001 Albums: Headquarters

Bosco's Modern Life

#85

Album_85_Original

Artist: The Monkees

Album: Headquarters

Year: 1967

Length: 31:10

Genre: Pop Rock

“Love is understanding
Don’t you know that this is true?
Love is understanding
It’s in everything we do

In this generation (in this generation)
In this lovin’ time (in this lovin’ time)
In this generation (in this generation)
We will make the world shine”

Well, I’m happy I’m getting a little break from psychedelic music. Unfortunately that little break is The Monkees, also known as a poor man’s Beatles. If I had known I’d be getting some straightforward mushy pop rock in place of psych music I would have never made that wish… but what can you do?

It’s not that The Monkees are bad… they’re just listenable as a whole. Another easily digestible and accessible band for the masses to enjoy ad nauseum. I wouldn’t have expected to see The Monkees on this list at all…

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1001 Albums: Freak Out!

I wish I could write like this

Bosco's Modern Life

#69

Album_69_Original

Artist: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

Album: Freak Out!

Year: 1966

Length: 60:55

Genre: Experimental Rock

“Mr. America, walk on by your schools that do not teach
Mr. America, walk on by the minds that won’t be reached
Mr. america try to hide the emptiness that’s you inside
But once you find that the way you lied
And all the corny tricks you tried
Will not forestall the rising tide of hungry freaks daddy”

After a long delay, I finally decided to crank this one out. I had been pushing it for far too long and figured it’s better late than never. There’s quite a few reasons why but the main one was I really wanted to do this album justice. You see, I really love Frank Zappa, he’s one of my all-time favourite musicians. His album Sheik Yerbouti is in my top 5 and his vast…

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RYM Top Singles, Entry #2

SINGLE:                    Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out / Take It Right Back

ARTIST:                    Bessie Smith

YEAR:                        1929

RYM RANK:             #587

RYM RATING:          3.98 (average of 118 ratings)

A-side:

The era of the 1920s, oh so romantically labelled as the “Roaring Twenties”, was a prosperous period for the many few; a freshly mobilized workforce and a laissez-faire mode of economics created conditions whereby the American dream of achieving unimaginable wealth and happiness was more feasible than ever before. Consequently, a new breed of affluent socialites was born, consisting of seemingly self-achieved men and women (though mostly just men) who could spend the merry days of post-Great War living as if it was heaven on Earth.

However, beneath the celebration were inklings of pessimism and one modest example would be a little blues standard called “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, written by Jimmy Cox in 1923. The song is a stark, foreboding morality tale about a Gatsby-esque player whose life goes from riches to rags, recalling early fortunes only to lament about a despairing, mysterious fall from grace. Considering how monetary success was a growing phenomenon at the time rather than a dwindling one, it is difficult to surmise the relevancy that this sad ballad would have had upon its conception.

But times change, and so does context.

When the stocks collapsed in 1929, the American dream turned into a nightmare. The crippled financial market, in combination with horrid drought and disastrous austerity measures, gave rise to the Great Depression and almost overnight, the razzle-dazzle of the Roaring Twenties became a bygone era. Appropriately, it was during this harsh turn-of-the-decade that blues music started to break into the mainstream. White listeners were now better able to emphasize with the type of somber, brittle music that Black Americans had been perfecting for the past few decades and one of the genre’s earliest divas was hefty diva by the name of Bessie Smith.

Having gotten her start on Broadway during the 1910s, Bessie’s boisterous contralto and uniquely ragtime-tinted manner of blues caught the eye of producers around the mid-1920s, allowing her to release a series of singles that would transcend racial boundaries and earn her near-universal acclaim across the United States before her tragic death in ‘37. Her cover of Cox’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” – presciently recorded and released several months before the market crash – is a stellar demonstration of her gentle style, hitting a note of bittersweetness that was painfully true to the grim realities of the billowing recession while also being mellow and pleasant enough in composition to remain easy on the bitter moods of the struggling masses.

From an artistic standpoint, the track offers few surprises but I suppose therein lies the reliable charm of classic blues. Perhaps the sole standout element of the song that has not been eroded by the disciplines of time is Bessie’s booming, limitless voice – showing off a control and emotiveness that would perhaps remain unrivaled among her female counterparts until the arrival of Aretha Franklin. So indeed, while I may struggle to fully appreciate the objective qualities of this tamer vaudeville derivative of early blues, I write this review with a hopefully proper understanding of what Bessie meant to all the lonely, defeated Gatsbys of her time.

B-side:

Though not nearly as fondly cherished as it’s A-side, “Take It Right Back” is my personal favorite among the two songs. Accompanied by a modest but pleasantly bluesy chord progression played on a lonely piano, Bessie sings a daringly feminist testament about her purported displeasures over the vices of her male partner(?). Her delivery is sharp as always but what’s impressive is the registry of aggression and anger that manages to seep through the intimate production. Bessie effectively communicates a brutally sincere message from the all-too-ignored perspective of battered African-American women who have encountered particularly high hurdles on their long fought and sadly still incomplete journey towards respect and equality. Realizing the unfavourable circumstances of many Black women of her time gives one an even greater appreciation of Bessie’s short-lived but long-loved career.