Monday, September 24, 2007

A Geezer's Guide to Finding Good Music

So, I’ve convinced you that you’re missing out on something, and your pride won’t let you admit that you’re just totally out of touch. You want to think you’re kinda cool, but your running out of evidence to support this.

I’m only kidding. You love music, but you doubt that there’s been anything made in the last thirty years that measures up the 1964-75 period. But you’re willing to try something out. I’m here to help.

First, ignore commercial radio. It’s a dead end. If you hear a song you like, don’t worry, you’ll hear it again (and again and again). If you hear a second song that you like from the CD, you will probably hear that one a lot, too.

There is a remote possibility that the CD will have a lot of other songs that are just as good, but don’t count on it. There’s a reason why the songs you heard were “released as singles”, whatever that means. The artist or record company thinks they are the best things on the CD, and they want you to buy it.

And when you really get down to it, by the time the radio gets through with an actual good CD, you’ve probably heard all those good songs as many times as you need to. I’ve often made the mistake of buying an unquestionably great album, that I later realize I’ve already heard as much as I needed.

Thus, I’ve gotten to the point of using the radio to pass the time, but not to expand my horizons. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a great song on the radio that I felt compelled to rush out and buy. Such songs often don’t have a long shelf life. It’s the musical equivalent of a relationship that should have stayed as a one night stand.

There’s always “college” radio. Program a station it on your car radio and put it on every once in a while. If you like what you hear, keep it on. If you don’t, just change the channel for a while. If you don’t like what you hear for a while, this does not mean that the station sucks. It just means that it is no worse than the other crap you usually put on. Come back to it later.

Unlike commercial radio, if you hear a song you like, YOU WILL NEVER HERE IT AGAIN, so pay attention to the deejay when he announces the song and band.

If I do hear a great song on the radio, I will simply note the name of the song and the artist and bide my time. (Of course if I were thirty years younger I’d probably just download the damned song and be done with it. But I’m not, and besides I’m an album guy, not a single guy. I need to be able to hold the object in my hand. In the meantime, if the song gets played to death, I probably don’t want the CD anyway.)

If you hear about a great album from someone you trust, you might consider getting it. But let’s face it. Who do you trust? Your friends? Please. Their taste is probably even worse than yours. That’s why they’re your friend. You need to have someone you can feel smarter than. But all kidding aside, they’re your friend despite their taste not because of it.

I look into the album and artist on AMG, which is great resource for finding out more about the music that interests you. It includes band biographies, discographies, and ratings (which are somewhat less reliable).

Then there’s Metacritic, which tries to calculate an aggregate score based on numerous reviews and listener reactions.

A lot of publications have year end polls. My favorite is the Pazz and Jop (get it?) Poll in the Village Voice, which is strongest in terms of the number of critics who participate. This ensures a certain degree of variety in taste and styles of music. Check out several polls and note whether you’ve heard of any bands or not. If you’ve heard of them all, you can stick with this publication, if you like. But if you want to broaden your horizons, look at the ones that only mention a few that you recognize. This may be your jumping off point.

After having done this, note if there are any CDs that just keep popping up on various polls. You might want to check some of these out just to know what the hell is going on.

Lastly, I suggest that you read some reviews. Yes, there, I said it. Read what some critics have to say about it. This does not mean that you slavishly buy whatever they suggest and feel compelled to like it because they do. It just means that you’re listening to the opinion of someone who’s heard the album, and has had to put some thoughts together on it. I fail to see why this approach isn’t at least as valid as buying whatever your friend with the drinking problem suggests.

Some friends of mine (gotta love em!) proudly state that they don’t pay attention to critics, while blindly swallowing the blurbs plastered on movie ads whole, as though they weren’t written by quote whores, or the studio itself. At least a critic has to get up there every day, say what’s on his mind and defend it. That’s where you come in. It’s your option to agree or disagree.

But by now, you're intrigued by some of the names that keep popping up. It's time to start your list.

More later.

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