Sunday, December 6, 2020



As I have previously talked about here, here, and here, I cannot leave the house without my Sony Walkman, and I still buy Compact Discs. I may still listen to music online, but if I find myself coming back to the same songs, either by MP3 or on YouTube, it is time to buy them on CD so I can hear them with better sound quality, preserving that in FLAC format on my Walkman without losing a single note – well, it makes sense to me anyway.

I have a number of CDs I need to transfer, and once that’s done, I can spend the rest of the day listening to them:

Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO): “Yellow Magic Orchestra” / “Solid State Survivor” / “X∞Multiplies” / “BGM” / “Technodelic” / “Naughty Boys”

After uncovering the story behind the song “Behind the Mask” [link], I continued listening to Yellow Magic Orchestra, and I have come to the conclusion that YMO may possibly be one of the greatest bands ever, and that the history of electronic pop music in the Western world cannot be properly understood without them. Their original self-titled album may have been intended as a one-off critique of Western interpretations of Eastern culture, but what they did to Martin Denny’s exotica piece “Firecracker” appears to have kick-started the use of sampling in hip-hop, while their second album, 1979’s “Solid State Survivor,” is a progenitor of both techno and the cyberpunk genre. When the iconic Roland TR-808 drum machine was released in 1980, YMO used it first. Since coming across the band, I have been overcome by the sheer infectiousness of their use of electronic sounds, their driving bass, the tight rhythm, and relentless pace, and their humour: one song starts with what sounds like a rubber duck being squeezed, before the rhythm and a pub piano comes in, and it just happens to be called “Absolute Ego Dance” as well. Of course, I have bought their first six studio albums, because it was inevitable.

Adam Lambert: “Velvet”

I was a fan of Adam Lambert before I heard him sing, but I prefer him singing his own songs than those of Queen. That said, UK radio never plays his songs, as far as I know, so I have only ever heard him on CD, and his latest album made this more difficult. “Velvet,” harking back to funk, rock and glam, was first released as an EP in September 2019, subtitled “Side A,” so I thought I would wait until “Side B,” or a whole album, came along. Six months later, it arrived, but so did Covid-19, and I forgot about it until August 2020. In short, the funkier sound on “Velvet,” and the more forthright lyrics, is what Lambert has needed: his voice now has the more mature, fully realised sound, and songs that no longer have to allude to anything.

The Edge of the 80s

This is another of those cheap £5 CD compilations that you find in a supermarket (which I previously talked about here) that turns out to have very good mastering, while also being another chance for me to mop up any new-wave and pop tunes I might be missing from my Walkman, like “I Know What Boys Like” by The Waitresses, “Mexican Radio” by Wall of Voodoo, and “Icing on the Cake” by Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy – I’m not likely to have come across these songs unless I already knew of them, so the ability to surprise ifs worth the cost of admission.

You Are Awful... (Showbiz Comedy Titbits of the 60s and 70s)

The only second-hand CD I have bought recently, I sought it initially for two songs seemingly only found here: “Freezin’ Cold in 89 Twoso” by Mike Reid (discussed when I talked about the “CheapShow” podcast [link]), and “Boiled Beef and Carrots” by Lenny Henry. Comedy songs are miscategorised as novelty songs these days, a fault that can be laid at the feet of Hilda Baker & Arthur Mullard’s version of “You’re the One That I Want,” but then there are songs that defy categorisation altogether, like “Dance with Me,” by the ITN newsreader Reginald Bosanquet.

All Time Greats: Quincy Jones / Bill Haley & His Comets

Universal Music have released a number of albums compiling 1950s and 60s artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Tommy Steele and Billy Fury, under the “His Master’s Voice” label. If I come across any of these, I will look for them, especially if they were as cheap as I found these collections - £5 for Quincy Jones, and only £3 for Bill Haley, perhaps a symptom of fewer people buying CDs, the comparative ease of releasing pressed pieces of plastic, and a need to keep making money from your back catalogue through a continuous process of remastering and rereleasing. The Bill Haley collection was worth buying for historical interest – they helped popularise rock and roll, but they were surpassed by Elvis Presley, Little Richard and many more – while Quincy Jones’s work as an arranger and producer is wide-ranging and does not disappoint, so the chance to hear more of his big-band recordings could not be missed. Jones was also the producer that alerted Michael Jackson to YMO’s “Behind the Mask,” which is where we came in.

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