You find yourself getting up earlier and earlier as the years go by. This is something old men do. (Old women have far too much sense.) You might even venture into the front yard to pull up the weeds. That’s fine - just don’t put on the white tube socks.
Anyway, you’re the only one up, and you’d like to hear some music, but don’t want to disturb anyone. You’re considerate like that. So, what to put on? The records below should be more than enough to get you to when someone else wakes up. There are definitely others that fit the bill, but these are the ones that have worked for me lately.
Really, Really Early, and Just for You: Yo Yo Ma – Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello
My nearly complete lack of knowledge about classical music doesn’t stop me from recommending this 2 CD set. I will merely attempt avoiding complete embarrassment by not trying to describe the music in any way, except to say that the title is accurate, and that it will help you feel like a civilized human being again, assuming you need a little shoring up in that department.
You don’t need to play the whole thing in one sitting. It’s just there for you when you need it.
Early, But the Neighbors Won’t Mind: Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
You’ve been telling yourself that you’d like to explore jazz a little more, because deep down you know that it can’t be that crap they play on those “quiet storm” stations.
Since I do enjoy improvisation - I was a big Grateful Dead/Allman Brothers/Cream fan - jazz should have been a natural for me, but it wasn’t. The problem was that I either didn’t like or wasn’t familiar with the songs that they were improvising from. I had totally missed the boat on the “classic American songbook”. To this day, I need the wife to name the standard we were just listening to. Since jazz musicians used these same standards as a starting point for their improvisations, I didn’t know what they were improvising from, which is what is supposed to be what makes it fun. Everything I heard just sounded like empty technique.
A jazz musician I used to know (that last phrase might sound very cool to fellow white fifty-ish middle classers, but it gets uncool real fast when he owes you rent money) recommended “Kind of Blue”.
There are no standards here, just very minimal themes that any rock and roll fan can get a handle on. They’re played in a very cool, almost laid back way, so you can take your time getting into them, and it leaves a lot of space for the musicians to stretch out. The overall quiet tone also makes it ideal early morning music, even when John Coltrane gets going.
Time for a Human Voice: Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left
Nick Drake is a not very well known British folk singer from the early seventies. What distinguishes him from many others is that it’s not just Nick strumming a guitar. And although Richard Thompson provides a perfect electric guitar accompaniment to the lead off song, “Time Has Told Me”, I think that the key instrument here is the piano. Then there are the strings which are used at just the right times, and give a jazzy or even classical, rather than a sappy, feel to the music. This may sound rather awful in your mind’s ear, but in fact, its muted tone and modest singing make it perfect for 7 or 8am.
And although Nick helped me through many a morning, he himself didn’t make it, committing suicide after recording only three albums. I’m now considering breaking my “One CD per Artist” rule in order to check out the other two.
I’m Now Ready to Confront Yesterday, and Maybe Today: Beck – Mutations
Speaking of drinking, this one is probably pretty good for a hangover.
And no, he's not Jeff Beck. Just Beck, of 1995’s “Loser”. You know the one: “I’m a loser, babe, so why don’t you kill me?” Very uplifting stuff. Actually, he’s hilarious, and for his first two albums he uses an everything-but-the-kitchen sink / hip-hop approach to rock music. There are some great moments on both albums but I don’t recommend them to us older folk because of their overall abrasiveness.
The third times a charm, though. For some reason, Beck decided to tone it down with the sound effects, pick up an acoustic guitar and write some actual songs. The results are wonderful. Folky, bluesy, elegiac (like that word? So do I. I’ll have to look it up.)