Two Sides to Every LP

In this time of the resurgence of vinyl, many LP features have been noted as being superior to the compact disc’s features: warmer sound, bigger and more substantial packaging (sometimes even worthy of a frame), closer identification with an era of great popular music.  One feature that doesn’t necessarily fall into the superior-to-CDs column but that, I think, is worth mentioning is that fact that a record album has two sides.  I grew up in the LP era, and I always think in “record sides.”  I usually have a clear picture of which side of an album a particular song was on, if I played that LP myself.  The song has a particular orientation that fits in on that particular LP side.

So, some music-lovers of my generation do something that listeners of later generations may not do: they recall their favorite album sides.  Here are a few of mine.

Side 2, The Beatles—Abbey Road

This is the one that does come up most often when people talk about favorite album sides.  I probably haven’t listened to side 1 of this record since about 1971.  It’s kind of a hodgepodge of novelty songs, with one classic, George’s ultra-covered “Something,” thrown in.  The last song on that side gets my vote as the worst Beatles song title of all: “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”  Side 2, on the other hand, starts off with two of the Fab 5-minus-1’s treasures, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Because.”  Then comes the suite of songs that may or may not make cohesive sense together but continue after decades to be a fantastic aural experience, so who cares?

 

Side 2, The Clash—London Calling

All four sides of this album are wonderful (not a common characteristic of the dread double-album).  It was voted Rolling Stone’s best album of the ’80s.  There are lots of standout songs on the record, but for me, side 2 is the one I’ve kept coming back to.  “Spanish Bombs,” Lost in the Supermarket,” “The Right Profile.”  “That’s Montgomery Clift, baby!” 

 

Side 1, Charles Mingus—Mingus Ah Um

I almost hate to give preference to a particular side of this 1959 jazz classic—it’s great from beginning to end.  But side 1 begins with two of the best compositions in all of jazz, a yin and yang opening: the raucous “Better Get It in Yo’ Soul” and the plaintive “Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat” (a tribute to sax player Lester Young).  “Boogie Stop Shuffle” shakes things up again and the rest of the side completes the experience.  So, honor and adore side 1, but don’t ignore side 2’s “Fables of Faubus” and other gems. 

 

Side 1, Harry Nilsson—Nilsson Schmilsson

I’m just wild about Harry, and this breakout record is more consistently great than his later ones, but side 2 starts off with two songs, “Without You” and “The Coconut Song,” that I believe I got my lifetime quota of decades ago.  Side 1 I’ve always thought of as a sort-of “wee hours” suite, from “Gotta Get Up” and “Driving Along” through “Early in the Morning” and the ethereal “The Moonbeam Song.”  “Down” caps it off with a sense of the other end of the wee hours—reckless late-night barroom despair.

 

Side 1, Van Morrison—Moondance

This album is a high point in Van’s copious output and is good all the way through, but side 2, in comparison to the first side, is relatively lightweight and forgettable.  Side 1 contains four of his best songs of all–“And It Stoned Me,” the title song, “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic.”  Right in the middle is “Crazy Love,” which ain’t too bad either.  It’s a line-up that couldn’t be maintained on side 2 and has never been equaled by Mr. Morrison since. 


So, what’s your favorite album side?

Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.

Staff Picks: Top Ten Music Biographies

I own a lotta books. It’s a wonderful sickness (and I’m not as sick as my wife, who owns about five times as many as I do).  A pretty good number of my books are books about music.

Here’s a list of my 10 favorite music biographies, along with a playlist below:

Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow (1946)–This autobiography of minor jazz player and major hepcat Mezz Mezzrow was written entirely in hep lingo and is a real trip to read. Mezz was white but “went black” in the thirties, immersing himself in the culture and jamming with and dealing pot to some of the great jazzmen of the era.

Favorite Song: “Really the Blues”— This is the song that gave the book its name.  Mezz Mezzrow joins the great clarinetist Sidney Bechet in solos on the Tommy Ladnier & His Orchestra recording.

Last Train to Memphis (1994), Careless Love (1999) by Peter Guralnick–This two-volume bio of The King is a great story even if you aren’t an Elvis fan, because Peter Guralnick is the best music biographer out there.  (Also check out his bio of Sam Cooke, Dream Boogie.)  The books are chock full of improbable success and failure, obsession, and some really weird behavior.

Favorite Song: “Don’t Be Cruel”— Everyone (except Elvis haters) has their own King faves.  This is the one that first got me interested in music.

Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus (1971)–A third-person autobiography?  Yes, indeed.  The great jazz composer Charles Mingus takes us for a bumpy ride along his stream-of-consciousness.

Favorite Song: “Goodbye, Porkpie Hat”— Mingus is best enjoyed in the long form.  His album Mingus, Ah-Um, which features the best version of this song, is great from start to finish.  Another high point is “Better Get Hit in Your Soul.”

Bessie by Chris Albertson (1972)–What was it about Bessie Smith that makes us keep listening to her songs eighty years after they were recorded?  Who cares?  Just listen to the songs!  But to go further with it, this book is a respectful but no-holds-barred look at the blues queen’s troubled life.

Favorite Song: “My Sweetie Went Away”— You can’t go wrong with Bessie Smith.  This one I like slightly more than all of her others.

Lush Life by David Hajdu (1996)–This is the story of the unique songwriter Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s right-hand man, told by the author who went on to write the tale of Dylan and Baez’s early days, Positively 4th Street.  Out of all the music bios I’ve ever read, this one probably had the least in the way of lurid, low-life livin’, because its subject was such a nice, gentle, and much-loved guy.

Favorite Song: “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing”— Ellington’s trusty muse Billy Strayhorn wrote several of the most gorgeous songs of all time, including this one.  Any version that features Johnny Hodges, such as the one on Caravan by the Johnny Hodges All-Stars, is divine.  Or try the version by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.

Shakey by Jimmy McDonough (2002)–Here’s everything you always wanted to know about Neil Young.  OK, so maybe you really didn’t care to know anything about him.  The book was written by a cohort, often relating first-hand accounts.  A scene about recording On the Beach in a pitch-dark studio with a tripping Rusty Kershaw is a high point, so to speak.

Favorite Song: “Pocahontas”— Of the many Neil Young songs I revere, this one, from Rust Never Sleeps, is the one that always gets to me.

Hellfire by Nick Tosches (1982)–Here’s one with a wild and irreverent subject (Jerry Lee Lewis, with his cousin Jimmy Swaggart in a supporting—if not supportive—role), told by a wild and irreverent writer.

Favorite Song: “Breathless”— The Killer’s third hit is another sentimental favorite—one of the first 45s I owned.  It sounded superb on my little portable record player, but it sounds pretty good on an MP3 player, too.

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin D. G. Kelley (2009)–I have several bios of my main music hero, and couldn’t decide which was best, until this comprehensive and sensitive page-turner came along.  Nothing else needed.

Favorite Song: “Locomotive”— Monk’s my song god, so it’s so hard to choose.  But the single recording I’ve listened to more than any other is this one, from the 1967 album Straight, No Chaser.

The Nearest Faraway Place by Timothy White (1994)–This is my favorite version of the story of The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson’s wanderings, and his place in sixties West-Coast pop culture.

Favorite Song: “Wonderful”– Every version I’ve heard of this strange Brian Wilson song is mysterious and beautiful, but I’m currently most thrilled by the version on the soundtrack album for the documentary I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.

Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie (1943)–The down-home autobiography of the All-American rabble-rousing troubadour is a classic.  Read it aloud with a Okie twang for best effect.

Favorite Song: “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”— Billy Bragg and Wilco set some of Woody Guthrie’s lyrics to music for the album Mermaid Avenue in 1998.  This one was Bragg’s and he did Woody proud.

Here’s a playlist to give you inspiration as you read:

http://grooveshark.com/widget.swf

— Steve L., aka The Buy Guy