Monday, June 29, 2015

In Praise of 45

In this post:

  • Great music.
  • Reflections on the music of the 1970s.
  • A birthday request.
When I was your age, you didn't download a song off the internet. You didn't even listen to it streaming on the internet. You didn't even order it from a store on the internet. You bought it at the mall, and you took it home, and you took it out of a paper sleeve, and you put it on a record player. And a needle read that song off a disc spinning at 45 revolutions per minute.

I have today reached the age of 45, and yet I grew up in the age of 45s - a generation much like this, in which singles are king and full length albums are for suckers. The pop age of today is like the disco age of my youth, when older artists struggled to remain relevant while young, fresh faces put confection after forgettable confection in front of children and encouraged them to imbibe. Rarely can a child appreciate the full canon of an artist's work, reaching past the hits to the deep tracks that extend the listening time of the slow-spinning LP record. A child's world is pop-pop-pop, defined by the radio and (soon enough) the video. Two songs by the same artist--the A side of the 45, reserved for the officially released, radio-friendly track, and the B side, often assumed to be a throwaway just filling empty space--test the tolerance of a kid, let alone a full album's worth; 33-1/3 revolutions per minute are, with few exceptions, wasted on the young.

So, when I was a kid, I rarely listened to full-length albums, preferring instead to play the A side of a 45 and, if I were inspired or even just lazy, flipping the 45 over and listening to the B side. The two 45s seared into my memory from childhood are very different from one another, but I loved them both.

The Ballad of John and Yoko

"The Ballad of John and Yoko" is a jaunty, jaded journey through Europe. Performed by the Beatles, it's a song of a particular moment, a commentary on his current reality that would come to characterize much of John Lennon's solo work. I have no idea what John is singing at times, but I like this song a lot, particularly Paul McCartney's background harmonies and prominent bass line. On the B side was "Old Brown Shoe," written by George Harrison. More a product of its era, it sounds unlike most Beatles songs, foreshadowing again George's solo work to come. This song was a rocker, and I loved it in a way that made me more open to B sides and other deep tracks to come.
Old Brown Shoe

The other 45 I wore out as a kid featured two songs by, of all people, Nancy Sinatra. Like the Beatles 45, I inherited this from some uncle or second-cousin-once-removed; I would never have found it on my own, because even if it had graced the radio in its first release, those days were more than a decade gone. But its tracks reflect an entirely different popular genre from the Beatles. Hers was what came to be known as "incidental music," the music of camp. "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" is as American as the Beatles were British; it had a great, catchy bass line too.The boots were surely go-go boots, zipped all the way up to the thigh.

I was, frankly, less likely to flip this 45 over from the A side to the B side, but I was occasionally in the mood for "The City Never Sleeps at Night." There's a 60s-era New York sensibility to this track that I like.

These songs exiss as singular entities, but they also play off each other, A side and B side, to give a fuller portrait of the artist. We consume the A side, we discover the B side. You don't get a B side when you download a song off iTunes; music streaming services leave artists behind after one track in search of something sonically similar. The gateways between music consumption and musical discovery are no longer easily accessible to us.

For my birthday this year, I'm hoping you'll accompany me on a journey of musical discovery. I'm asking you to recommend 45s to me - two songs by artists you appreciate: a popular, released track, along with deeper tracks that are less familiar to the masses but that demonstrate why you're a fan. List them here in the comments, post links to my social media, whatever you like. I hope you'll include in your recommendations a comment on what makes these songs great for you, or a story that explains why they linger in your memory.

I'll expand my musical library based on what you recommend. And if I'm not too intimidated by the technology, I'll build a playlist of all your recommendations on Spotify, so we can discover some great music together. "A splendid time," John Lennon once promised from the B side, "is guaranteed for all."

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You, Dave Zimmerman are 45 years old - yes ?
Happy birthday Dude !
I, Mira am 64 & 1/2 years old.
I don't think I ever owned 45's
LP's yes
Beatles
Shirley Bassey
Burt Bacharach
Sinatra
I love Al Jolson
Doris Day The Windy City from Calamity Jane video clip
Roy Orbison
Song - La Paloma,
Elvis, Helmut Lotti, Nana Mouskouri sing it in English, Beniamino Gigli, Placido Domengo, La Paloma The Greek Versio of which there are 2 & both old & beautiful, Julio Inglesias - this song is precious throughout the music world.
I have the Beatles collection on cassette.
I have never heard Old Brown Shoes, their attempt at a newish sound.
I like to sing, since I was a kid, so I sing along.
I'm A Loser
I'll Follow the Sun
Norweigian Wood
Im Looking Through You
Elenor Rigby
Maxwells Silver Hammer
Anna
Mr. Moonlight
Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazewlwood song Jackson
Something Stupid because she sings with her father
Natalie Cole & her dad Unforgettable - I was working at Harold Mac nursing home when I first heard it on the TV in the day room. It was the mood of the nursing home that made this song for me.
I am bi-lingual, hey.
Sinatra Under My Skin
I could be here all morning
See ya.

Anonymous said...

Manfred Mann, the did some really great stuff
But if you gotta go, go now is kind funny. but they are much more than the popular stuff.

Anonymous said...

Dame Kiri sings Cole Porter
Kiri Te Kanawa So In Love from the musical Kiss Me Kate
William Shakespeare Taming of the Shrew
kiri awas an orphan taken in by the Catholic nuns in New Zealand
Cole Porter was the little Jewish boy made good.