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A Musical Interlude

Musical taste is a vast and complicated topic; I have always believed that there was a part of the brain (perhaps the Medulla Obligato) that controls the part of an individual’s idiosyncratic preferences, as well as external influences, including family, generation, geography, ethnicity and the recording and broadcasting industries that effect when we change the station and when we are crank it up and sing along.

People tend to define themselves, with serious resolve, based sometimes on the music they like, but just as often on the music they “hate.” For many years I would tell anyone within earshot that I “hated” opera; once I actually listened to some operas all the way through, and saw them performed, I was asking for complete recordings of “Carmen,” “La Boheme” and “The Flying Dutchman” as Christmas gifts. I also “hated” country music for many years, having heard nothing other than corny, twangy and ancient recordings by Tammy Wynette and Conway Twitty. Country music represented to me the polar opposite of my urban, Eastern, cool persona; it was the populist choice of hayseeds who saved up their loose change to visit Gaitlinburg. I was fortunate enough to have a good friend who loved country music (and always had it on in her car), and I came to appreciate the quality of the song writing, the vocal skills, and, honestly, the unabashed sentimentality. The detached and ironic music of the 1980s coolly informed us that we could “dance if we want to;” country music openly hoped we danced. The degree to which people vehemently express their dislike for entire genres is always interesting to me; I always wonder to what extent they are genuinely put off by country twang or head-banging metal, and to what extent they are expressing unexamined attempts to portray themselves in the way in which they desperately hope to be seen.

The external influences on my musical taste were led off by my parents, who had a wide selection of music in the house. Classical was preferred, but they also had a lot of hippie-liberal-folk music like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and Peter, Paul & Mary. My father had Clancy Brothers records, my mother had some Theodore Bikel, and they had musicals – “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Westside Story,” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” to name a few. There was a small smattering of pop music, a Beatles album or two, Simon and Garfunkel and Roger Miller, but mostly it was classical. Most popular music was quickly dismissed as garbage; my grandmother described the entire body of music on the radio during the 70s as being capable of reduction to “baby, baby, wah, wah, wah.” My brother and I were not permitted to play “pop” music in the car with either parent, or in the main part of the house when they were home. What we did with our own radios, stereos and headphones was our own business.

As I grew older, my friends provided me with new music to consider. The most notable of these was my friend Tammy, who introduced me to James Taylor, Carly Simon, Carol King, Don McLean, Joni Mitchell, and the “B” side of the Beatles “Yellow Submarine.” Her influence can be seen to this day; I still listen to all of the things she played for me, or spoke of enthusiastically, and I have a strong predilection for the singer-songwriter from Leonard Cohen to Rufus Wainright.  I also have, in a dresser drawer, three mix tapes made in the 1980s (although I haven’t had a cassette player for at least 10 years).  Two of them were made for me by my college friend Lisa, who mixed everything from The Everly Brothers to The Cramps with great finesse. The other mix was made by someone I never met, for someone I barely knew, but I heard it once and begged for a copy. Those ancient tapes were played and replayed on Walkmen and car stereos for years, and I’ve never found some of the songs in any other form.

More recently, my husband has taught me to appreciate Metallica and Rush, and clued me in that “All the Young Dudes” was not, as I had always believed, the Beatles, but Mott the Hoople, thus opening a new musical door.  My son listens to a lot of hip hop and contemporary R & B, and has led me to The Black-Eyed Peas, Beyonce and various other artists whose names I mix up due to my advanced age. Suffice it to say that he can turn on “his music” in the car, and I give it a try. (Unless I’m in a Very Bad Mood, in which case I control the playlist to ensure the safety of all passengers). I continue to seek out music recommended by friends , magazine reviews and NPR stories; sometimes I don’t love it, but sometimes I do, and there is always a certain sense that life has gotten a better flavor when I find something new to add to my rotation.

Since we are offered music not only by family and friends, but by a steady stream of music on radios, commercials and in the grocery store, it’s impossible to evaluate preferences without giving some consideration to the Music of the Times.  Although I have bought, and listened to the music “everybody” was loving, I find that a lot of it was chosen out of peer pressure and habit rather than real love. I do not really like The Eagles or Bob Seger (heresy for a suburban child of the 70s) and although I liked Billy Joel for a long time (and still think he has a beautiful voice) it wasn’t a real relationship. I really love old Bruce Springsteen, but feel complete indifference towards everything from “Born to Run” to the present.  I also admire U2, and will sing along to “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” on the radio, but it is not, honestly, the music of my heart. There is nothing objectively “bad” about any of those artists or their work; I just found that I was increasingly not choosing to listen to them. I have also accepted and then rejected Styx, Sarah Mc Lachlan,  Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army, Meatloaf, The Dixie Chicks, and En Vogue. I will even admit to having purchased recordings by Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Creed. Nothing remains but vestigial shame, but every one of those choices seemed predestined by the aura of acclaim and popularity surrounding the artist. A person just had to love them. (But I didn’t).

Finally, there is the matter of internal wiring, of what music trips a trigger and what leaves us cold or anxious or just kind of jangled. There are genres, and specific songs that just plain bother me in ways that cannot be explained away by my history or vital statistics. I have tried, and tried to like jazz, and many earnest young men have spent hours playing me one thing after another, urging me to pay attention, and to hear what they heard. The spark did not ignite, and apart from a vague appreciation for Thelonius Monk and a fondness for the New Orleans/Preservation Hall style of jazz, it all makes me feel an unpleasant combination of irritation, boredom and sensory overload. I am also not a great fan of drippy ballads (“Islands in the Stream), modern R & B with one of those lengthy, loopy roller coaster a capella rides at the end (Christina Aguilera), or hard-core rap. All of these things make me feel agitation, discomfort, boredom, or some other menacing and negative emotion.

Since I am old enough to stop pretending that I like things I don’t actually like, I am perfectly comfortable looking back over the musical landscape of my life and choosing to listen only to what I want to hear, with frequent assays into undiscovered territory. In closing, I will leave you with a list of my favorite songs, and a list of the songs that make me cringe and spin the dial; I am secretly hoping that this post will generate a little controversy, and that you’ll stand up for whatever floats your boat, even if I have “disappeared” it from my own aural life.  If you tell me, tell me why; that’s the best part.

Annie’s Favorites

  1. Hallelujah , performed by Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainright or k.d. Lang. There is no more perfect song when you are feeling torn apart. I am in awe of the fact that a human being could write it.
  2. More Than This by Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music. It’s lush, melodic, melancholy, and I loved it the first time I heard it. It moves me, and I cry every time Bill Murray sings the karaoke version in “Lost in Translation.”
  3. Nightswimming, be REM. Beautiful, evocative lyrics and the loveliest use of acoustic strings.
  4. Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk, by Rufus Wainright. It makes me smile, it makes me think, and I love his voice.
  5. I’m Sticking with You by The Velvet Underground. I love all VU that I have ever heard, but this is perfect – child-like innocence, no accompaniment but a piano, dramatic interludes, and a love song at the end. Who could ask for anything more?
  6. Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell. If you’re a thinking person with a tendency towards melancholy (which I am) this is the theme song for life. I’m still not sure what it all means, but it makes more sense every year.
  7. Piece of my Heart by Janis Joplin. (NOT by Faith Hill). Ah, Janis, you spoke for every broken-hearted, shell-shocked, obsessed and constant lover ever burned by an infidel. Nothing is held back, and everything is real.
  8. You Are My World by the Communards. Sometimes, you need to celebrate.
  9. If I had a Hammer by Peter Paul and Mary. This got me through law school, which may, in retrospect, may not be a compliment. I may not be making much use of my “hammer of justice” these days, but I still believe in the cause.
  10. Werewolves of London, by Warren Zevon. Could he have been any smarter or funnier? All that, and a hummable tune.
  11. Twelve Thirty by The Mamas and the Papas. I don’t want to think  about what John Phillips may have done. It’s a beautiful song.
  12. Let it Be by the Beatles. I have spent more time than you will ever know picking just one Beatles song. This song is my ring tone, and my mantra.
  13. Imagine by John Lennon. Because I do.
  14. Feel Flows by The Beach Boys. No one else seems to know this song, but I think it’s worth all of the better-known Beach Boys songs put together (although I like them, too). This is something completely different from the earnest goodwill of “Barbara Ann” and “California Girls;” atmospheric, psychedelic…intriguing.
  15. End of the Line by The Traveling Wilburys. George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. Seriously? Better than “alright.”

Annie’sList of Icky Songs

  1. “Muskrat Love” by The Captain and Tenille. They were so damned cute, and I love “Love Will Keep Us Together,” but this song is creepy and it just doesn’t make any sense. Why not moles or possums?
  2. “A Horse with No Name” by America. I know lots of people like this, but I find it dull and pretentious. Symbolism should be subtle.
  3. “Afternoon Delight” by The Starland Vocal Band. Okay, so we were in 8th grade, singing along to this song about people having sex in the afternoon? Eeeeeew.
  4. “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” by Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. So leave, already.
  5. “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton. I don’t get it.
  6. “Let ‘Em In” by Paul McCartney & Wings. This man wrote and sang some of my favorite songs in the history of music; I guess anyone can have a bad day.
  7. “Baby I’m a Want You” by Bread. Perhaps he needs her to give him some instruction in grammar.
  8. “Precious and Few” by Climax. Why?! Is she far away? Married? In quarantine?
  9. “Delta Dawn” by Helen Reddy. Another case of “great artist, unfortunate song.” (I do kind of like the Tanya Tucker version, for some reason). This kind of maudlin, Miss Havesham theme seems to have been very popular around this time. (“Drusilla Penny,” “Eleanor Rigby,” et al).
  10. “Touch Me in the Morning” by Diana Ross. Amazing, amazing voice, but again, who are we kidding. “Touch me in the morning/then just walk away” and its fine with her? See #5,above.
  11. “Wildfire” by Michael Murphy. See #2, above.
  12. “Reunited” by Peaches & Herb.
  13. “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone.I will readily admit that this is a song that appeals to the weepy, crush-prone soul of an adolescent girl.  Apparently, though, the song was about God not Robbie Benson. I personally think God prefers it sung by Patti Smith.
  14. “Sometimes When We Touch” by Dan Hill. This has a kind of creepy, intense, unhealthy relationship vibe. Is he saying that he loves her, or that he doesn’t? Don’t they ever just read the paper and eat bagels?
  15. “Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Muldaur. I don’t get it. It’s basically “Afternoon Delight” in the desert.
  16. “Loving You” by Minnie Ripperton. Beautiful voice, but then she, well, she screams like she’s falling down a mine shaft, and keeps on singing like nothing happened. Wierd.

About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

49 responses »

  1. ooooh, am I first to comment? Ok I HATE country music. I dislike the country music that invades the top 20 airwaves of pop music also. I am not a huge huge music fan and mostly when I’m alone in my house (as I am now) I have it silent. (too much noise in my head already) I, however lean toward the music of your son’s liking. I grew up going to schools that were much more ahem, “urban” and early rap music and breakdancing were huge there, before it spread across the country. I probably know every single Prince song ever and he’s one of the few I’ve seen in concert. I went through the techo late 80’s in college but have gone back to my roots with r and b and rap. I like music that makes you want to move. Country does NOT. I appreciate symphonys and would love to attend and listen but I’m not going to put it on in my car or home (although Daniel would). I do not understand what the attraction is to the Beatles. Never will. I like some of the 60’s and 70’s but that is mostly because of the memories it brings back to me singing in the car with my parents not having a care in the world. Of the more modern music, I’ll go for Justin Timberlake (in more ways than one!), Pink, Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, and any of the fly by night rappers, Madonna is always good and I admire her ability to keep reinventing herself. I don’t know if there will be controversy. People just like what they like. It doesn’t make anyone wrong or right.

    • I think that it makes a difference whether one is, or is not “a huge music fan.” You probably can’t imagine controversy over such a thing; I have had conversations about the relative quality of performances or artists in which I thought somebody might end up being punched. For those of us who are really intense about it, preferences can be hotly defended. I do like a lot of what you like, but i have to point out that there is country music you can dance to – that’s what all those line dancers are doing. I don’t love it (!) just keeping you honest. 🙂 I am loving Pink right now (in her “angry period”), and I wish I could make you love the Beatles, but, as you point out, it’s not right or wrong. (But it’s WRONG Michelle, it’s so wrong!!!!!)

  2. “Beautiful voice, but then she, well, she screams like she’s falling down a mine shaft, and keeps on singing like nothing happened. Wierd.”

    I am laughing so hard at this, tears are actually rolling down my face right now. HILARIOUS, Ann.

    I’m with you on Country music–I, as you know, was a Classical music snob. However, one of my top favorite CD’s ever was the soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain. I love every single song and instrumental on that CD and practically wore it out during the run-up to the Oscar’s the year Brokeback Mt was up for Best Picture. Ah, Rufus…I love thee.

    • But you know what I mean about that, right? It’s bothered me since I was, like, ten.

      Ah, Brokeback Mountain. It is a beautiful soundtrack, and I can’t listen to “A Love That Will Never Grow Old” without tearing up. As for Rufus, if I were a man….

  3. Hi Ann – Great post. Just a quick fact and an observtion. David Bowie wrote ‘All the Young Dudes,’ but let Mott the Hoople covet it, as he was a bit obscure at the time. I can also see that your ‘icky’ list is mostly crap recorded in the 70’s that we all had to suffer through before being relegated to format fm easy listening stations. Your ‘icky’ list is missing a couple of horrific hits, however, including Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs and the all time worst — Paul Anka’s You’re Having My Baby. I would replace Horse with No Name & Muscrat Love (which is also originally by America) with these two monstrousities if it were my list. Also, don’t give up on the jazz. The pianist Brad Mehldau is a good place to start again, as he infuses so many elements from classical to 90’s grunge, and does some wonderful covers from West Side Story & the entire Rogers & Hammerstein catalogue. 🙂 Kirsten

    • Kirsten, my musically encyclopedic friend Ted told me that Bowie wrote the song – I’d actually like to hear him sing it, too. I just like to hear it in general.

      Those are indeed horrific hits, but I would vote to amend the list rather than cutting anything out. I can’t think about “Muskrat Suzy, Muskrat Sam” without waves of acute nausea.

      I will look for some Mehldau to try. I kind of used to like Pat Metheny, and there was a guy whose name I can’t remember – he was blind, and self-taught, and played these long, amazing beautiful things on the piano – that I liked a lot in college.

  4. Good observations.

    As for the icky stuff, you’ve managed to remind me of long forgotten songs that should have been long forgotten. Perhaps those eight-tracks tossed down that mine shaft forever. I can add a few dozen more to my own list…. and still make me cringe after decades. A few that still torment my mind: Dream Weaver, Lonesome Loser, Put the Lime in the Coconut, Slip Slidin’ Away, Sylvia’s Mother, Wreck of the Edmund FitzGerald….

    I’m unfamiliar with the majority of your favorite songs, but I will take your word for it. There is nothing like a really good song, especially the ones we’ve heard for years that have aged gracefully like a fine wine.

    – Dan

    • Thanks, Dan. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is TRULY awful, and the fact that you even made me think about it at all is viciously unkind. The others, I’ll give you, are ridiculous, but The Wreck is…a wreck.

      Take my word for it. 🙂 I really will try most things musical, but there only some things are are real keepers.

  5. Well, I’m going to have to re-read this in the morning, and perhaps comment again, but I already wanted to say (in addition to saying, “omg!…we Hhhhate some of the same songs!”…and “I Hhhhate “Afternoon Delight”!):

    First, I’d like to include some of Kirsten’s most hated songs on the list, too (as well as most things Rupert Holmes ever thought of writing, or…HELLO: *anything* by ABBA!), but to also make sure that you both know who wrote one of the stupidest, most pointless songs ever, and to share a story about him…

    Willis Alan Ramsey, who wrote “Muskrat Love”, was one of my judges in a fairly prestigious songwriting contest once… He told the group of us semi-finalists, before we took to the stage, “I just want y’all to know to know that I don’t really listen to the lyrics…I just kinda let the song wash over me…”…I knew right then that I was in trouble…(and, no, I didn’t win.)

    And, secondly: I’m honored to have influenced your tastes (however, Carole asked me to tell you she spells her name with an “e”)…

    Once, a long time ago, Marty and I were listening to the radio and heard a song we’d never heard before… The refrain rang out: “…but you’re myyyy angel baby/yes, you’re myyyy angel baby/oh, you’re myyyy angel baby/for the rest of the night…”

    We looked at each other and said, in stereo: “I thought they were going to say: ‘for the rest of my life!'”

    (I have no idea if I did the quote marks right…not having majored in English!)

    I’ve got so much reading to catch up on here…(whew!)

    • I think the Ramsay story is horrifying. Nothing supports carefully crafted art quite like saying…that you don’t pay any attention to it.

      Please tell Carole I apologize; if I’d just looked at iTunes i would have gotten that right.

      I actually remember the “angel baby” song. Perhaps a lifetime commitment wasn’t part of the agenda. 🙂

      • I left something out…this truly horrifying: my husband thinks (gag) that Ramsey is a (choke, gag, gag)…genius…

        His comment was, “tell her the original version is a lot better”.

        I here to tell you, “NO, IT’S NOT!”

        He, and many of his peers (he’s my older man), as well as many critics, believe fervently that Ramsey’s first cd (and only one he recorded in 20 years time), is a “classic”…

  6. (And many more typos to make before I sleep…gah!!!!)

    • (Could anyone ever make more typos than me?!? Why am I so hasty to post?!? But, more importantly, why aren’t we given the option to delete and repost here??)

  7. Yes, I’m back to say that I read your “icky” songs list out-loud to my husband this morning, and by the time I got to your comment on “Midnight at the Oasis”, I was laughing so hard I couldn’t choke out the words!

    I find myself feeling the need to make you a cuts cd or two or three…how to catch up on 30 years worth of things I hope you’ve had a chance to hear(?)…

    (I trust that you do have Rufus W.’s debut cd, too, right? Love at first listen…so rich with influences from all over the map. I dare say he’s the most musically gifted one in his family…and I’ve been listening to both of his parents since before he was born.)

    • Well you have to admit that “take your camel to bed” is a somewhat disturbing premise.

      Please, please, please make me a cd! The best music I ever find is hand – picked by other people. Often, those people are you.

      i have all the Rufus there is. The first is my favorite, but I love it all. He does have pretty amazing genes, that guy.

      • Is it too late to add “Solid as a rock” to the icky list?

        (“and we’re still hot hot hot hot hot”…eeeeww, TMI!)

  8. Tammy:

    1. Please tell Stan that I respect his expertise, but since I hate the lyrics themselves, there is no way that any version including them could be “better.”

    2. I associate “Solid as a Rock” with an aerobics class I took in the 80s. It was in the sequence right after Van Halen’s “Jump” and before “Nobody’s Gonna Break-a My Stride.” We hate it.

    • Let’s go back to The Capt. & Tennille for a second…yes, Neil Sedaka’s catchy “Love will keep us togethers” was infectious and harmless hit for them, too, but Toni Tennille’s own writing was (ugh!) TMI, too…deserving a spot on its own on the “icky” songs list…”Do that to me one more time, once is never enough, with a man like you…” (GAH! Don’t make me imagine it! Not with, or without the hat…!)

      • “Love Will Keep Us Together” is be-boppy fun; I remember playing the 45 of that into the ground. As for “Do That To Me One More Time,” it is icky. TMI is a perfect summary. (I prefer to think he took his hat off).

  9. I like…i’m a soul/ R&B lover myself- but i think it’s mostly because it was the music i heard the most when i grew up. It’s funny that I have a category called “white music”(music played by white people- i grew up in apartheid South Africa- so go figure!) and it was there for years as i was growing up. as i grew up tho, it became more about the music rather than the genre- now- altho my collection is still predominantly Jazz, R&B and Soul- i have some of the most surprising additions to my collection over the years- when i finally noticed that it’s really all about the feeling was when i bought Janis Joplin’s White socks and enjoyed it thouroughly! then Gary moore, Climie Fisher, Sting, etc. I even had the Corrs and wilson phillips (two CD’s!). I have some really good country music- i mean even country music by black artists- but it was always country music with soul- Willie Nelson, Dobie Gray, Dolly Parton…i’m sure I forget others. So i am sensing that it’s about that part of your soul that the music speaks to, since the genre categories are all but man made!

    • It is “all about the feeling.” That’s why I like the jazz I like, and a lot of the R & B my son listens to, even though they aren’t my usual genres. And yes, genres are man-made, and no one can “make” our responses to music, although they sure try. i am very intrigued by your thoughts…thanks for commenting!

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