Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Question of Favorite Music, Part IV (in a series)...

Order. The matter of song order on an album is critically important. One of my rules, that I've applied on this site, is that an album can receive a score of 90 points out of 100 only if the songs on it are in perfect order - Which is one of the reasons that Joni Mitchell's For the Roses falls just short of ninety points.

Roses starts with Banquet, probably her least accessible song with its jazz rhythms and odd structure. Roses should have started with the welcoming and friendly See You Sometime ("Pack your suspenders, I'll come meet your plane... I just want to see you again..."), which requires no deep analysis.

But then stop and try to think of the albums you know in which the songs were arranged perfectly. Probably not more than a handful will come to mind... My mind answers with Domino by Van Morrison, The Rising by Bruce Springsteen, Straight Up by Badfinger, Abbey Road by the Beatles, and Medusa by Annie Lennox.

Medusa shows that the artist is sometimes in charge... Lennox took just a few minutes to write down a list of favorite songs she wanted to cover; she then insisted that the songs be recorded in this order... and placed on the resulting album in this order. Good for her.

But sometimes the artist is not in charge. Back in 1986, Peter Gabriel recorded the album So, which he intended to start with the reflective song Red Rain before transitioning into his great single Sledgehammer. The album was to end with the beautiful and even more reflective In Your Eyes.

When So was released, Sledgehammer - as the single - was the first track and In Your Eyes was lost in the middle of the collection... It was to be 14 long years before this placement error was corrected. Today you can buy So and hear it the way Gabriel, as the creating artist, intended you to hear it.

Then there's the matter of, as Bob Seger phrased it, "what to leave in and what to leave out." The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's album arrived in good order, but to this day seems overly short at 43 minutes long. Two songs were recorded during the time of the Pepper sessions that might have fit perfectly on the album... Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever.

Think about these two songs for a second... They both have the feel and sound, the "voice" of Pepper if you will. Adding them would not have - in my view - taken anything away from the psychedelic theme of Pepper, it would only have made the album stronger. And today's Pepper would be a respectable 51-minute or so road trip CD that would be quite fine to listen to in the car.

I know, some people see Pepper (or, to be more exact, hear it) as a 90-plus point album. To me, because of this missed opportunity, it remains an album to be scored in the realm of 80-or-so points.

Order and inclusion/exclusion. Two small issues of great import in music.

Notes: The book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles by Geoff Emerick, recording engineer, is the source for the fact that Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were recorded during the Sgt. Pepper's sessions. In fact, the first two Pepper songs took three weeks to record, and Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields also took three weeks to record. According to Emerick, "three full weeks (was) a huge amount of studio time in those days."

Also, Emerick alternately refers to the album in question as either Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pepper's or Pepper, as these different versions of the title now seem to be accepted as common usage.

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