Scientist Skip Day
Like my fellow science bloggers PZ Myers and Sean Carroll, I'll be leaving town for a little while. Unlike them, however, it's not for any scientifically valuable purpose, so you won't get any guest-blogging while I'm gone. And, of course, I'll only be gone for the weekend, to get together with some college friends in New Orleans (not my first choice for the end of July). I'll be back next week, probably with a wicked hangover...
This'll be the first field test of my spiffy new iPod. I'm up to just about 3,000 songs, adding up to just under 8 days of tunes. That ought to get me through the weekend...
Essential Pop CD's
The discussion following my earlier post about Alex Ross's list of essential classical CD's got me thinking about what a similar list for pop music would look like. This is, of course, a completely objective process, with no possibility for variation or individual bias.
The highly artificial constraints placed on the problem are as follows: 1) Albums and single-artist collections only, 2) Currently available albums and collections only (as determined by a quick look at Amazon), 3) As broad a list of artists, style-wise, as possible (within the confines of rock and rock-based pop-- rap and hip-hop need a different list, by somebody other than me), 4) An attempt made to select artists who can be connected to other artists, either by direct influence or stylistic similarity, and 5) An attempt to limit things to reasonably priced collections of reasonable length (i.e., no box sets). Also, I'm limiting this to ten records, in keeping with tradition.
This will probably get me jumped on hard by a dozen people, but it's something to do while I work my way through ripping the "H" part of my collection into MP3 format (2148 songs, 5.7 days, 11.18 GB and counting...).
- Sam Cooke, the best bet being the recent Portrait of a Legend collection. He's not the best-known soul singer out there, but he gets you a lot-- pre-Beatles ephemeral pop (leading to a lot of Motown), gospel and gospel-influenced songs (Al Green, Marvin Gaye), and plenty of later singers regard him as an influence (Van Morrison name-checks him in a few songs, and he's been covered by any number of people). Plus, I'm fond of his stuff.
- The Beatles, probably the 1962-1966 "Red Album", which covers their early albums (up through Revolver). It's almost impossible to overstate the influence of this material on basically everybody who's recorded since they hit the scene. If you want to know anything about pop music, you need to know about the early Beatles. I'm tempted to put Abbey Road on here as well, but I'm having trouble sticking to the ten-album limit.
- Bob Dylan, probably the Essential Bob Dylan collection, which is as good a single package as I've seen. Again, it's hard to overstate his influence, and he covers a lot of ground, from the folk scene of the 60's to pretty much any singer-songwriter type out there. If the lyrics matter more than the music, they're probably influenced by Dylan.
- Grateful Dead, some live album or another. Europe '72 is probably the canonical album to recommend to people who don't know the Dead, but I actually prefer the other live album I have, Hundred Year Hall, at least the first disc thereof. The whole jam-band aesthetic is fairly important to pop music (Dave Matthews, Blues Traveler, Phish), and these guys are the best place to start for that.
- The Rolling Stones. The Forty Licks collection, overhyped as it was, is as good a single package summary as is out there. These guys span a fair number of styles, from blues to country to the odd psychadelic flourish. You wouldn't have the current spate of "garage bands" without the Rolling Stones.
- Led Zeppelin. Having released a massive four-disc complete recordings set way back at the dawn of the CD box set era, these guys are kind of lacking in the "cheap compilation" area. Amazon lists a two-disc collection which isn't great, but is less of a committment than the box set. You wouldn't have had hair metal without these guys, and possibly not any kind of metal at all (it's not my thing, so I'm hazy on the origins), so they're absolutely essential, even if the dippy mystical stuff gets to be a bit much.
- The Clash. Chuck Klosterman said that the number one rule for pop music success was to rip off the Clash, and he's not far wrong. The whole pop-punk genre (and about half of the ska bands out there) is based around ripping off the Clash. The Essential Clash compilation seems to improve on The Story of the Clash (which is what I've got), so I'd go with that.
- The Cars, Complete Greatest Hits. You need something to represent the whole New Wave synth-pop 80's music scene, which has had a major influence on modern pop. You might argue that Talking Heads would be a better band for this purpose, but it's my list, and I like the Cars. So there.
- Pearl Jam, Ten. The grunge music scene pretty much blew hair metal out of the water in the early 90's, and its influence has hung on in a lot of the turgid new metal bands on the air these days (Linkin Park is just Pearl Jam with lousy rapping instead of singing). Nirvana would be the more obvious choice to represent this, but I never did like those guys, so I'll go with Pearl Jam instead.
- ... And this is where I draw a blank. I need some album to stand in for the last thirty-ish years of dance pop, and I just don't have any good ideas. It's a tough subgenre to cover both because it's more susceptible to fads and one-hit wonders than other styles, and because I'm about the least dancing-est person you're ever likely to meet, and it's just not my thing. I don't really have any solid ideas of what to put here, but suggestions are welcome. You could do worse than U2's Achtung Baby, though, which is just a fantastic album, and nods in the direction of dance and electronic music without losing the more traditional virtues that made them a great band in the 90's.
I won't attempt to pretend that this is a really comprehensive list. Omissions that are worthy of comment: 1) Elvis. Yeah, well, you can't have everything, and I'm not that big a fan. 2) Anything from the last ten years. The jury's still out on a lot of this stuff, and I deliberately went more for historically influential bands, figuring that they can be connected to newer stuff easily enough. Another route would be to use new albums to introduce older pop music, which would probably make another fun blog post. Some other time. 3) Any band involving a woman. Yeah, that's a tough one. I'd love to work a female artist in there somewhere, but I don't see anybody I'd like to replace. 4) Vanilla Ice. You'll just have to try to cope as best you can, Mike.
Anyway, that's the first list I came up with. If you have complaints or corrections, well, you know where the comments are.
Calmly and Coolly Shooting Yourself in the Foot
Boing Boing has a post about John Cornyn, and better yet, they have the Daily Show graphic used in the story. For those not up on the story, Cornyn reportedly said, while talking about gay marriage:
It does not affect your daily life very much if your neighbor marries a box turtle, but that does not mean it is right...Now you must raise you children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife.
Which is mind-blowingly stupid, but then Texan politicians say idiotic things in public all the time, particularly about cultural issues, so it wouldn't really rate a comment (not even for the graphic of a guy screwing a turtle), were it not for the correction added at a later date. This comes via Andrew Sullivan, who quotes Cornyn's press secretary explaining that:
"For what it's worth, Sen. Cornyn did not, in his speech to the Heritage Foundation, use the 'box turtles' quote. The Post was given a copy of remarks 'as prepared,' but Sen. Cornyn did not like that passage, and did not use it. The Post, which did not attend the speech, reported the quote nonetheless. Sen. Cornyn said that he did not think that statement appropriate, that's why he didn't use it.
The really amazing thing about this is, that doesn't really make the whole thing seem better in my mind. I'd actually have an easier time understanding the remark if it were an ad-lib in response to a question. If that were the case, it just comes off as vaguely addled.
Instead, we find out that this was a prepared remark, put into the speech well in advance of the actual event. That means that some political staffers and speechwriters, sitting around at leisure, in the heat of no particular moment, felt that the comparison between gay marriage and box-turtle sodomy was an appropriate simile for a public speech.
Explained that way, I think this quote says less about Sen. Cornyn's attitude toward gay marriage than it does about his attitude toward massive drug abuse among his political staff.