Saturday, January 4, 2020

One Year of Listening to Full Albums - Start to Finish

At the very beginning of January 2019 I decided I wanted to listen to full albums...from start-to-finish, as the artist intended them to be heard. In the end I listened to 92 full albums!

Why? Well many reasons:

  • I love music
  • I write and record my own music and know how much time goes into each song, and nearly as important, order of the songs on an album (at least it was important before streaming)
  • I was getting tired of all the playlists and radio covering only the popular songs.

The biggest reason? I wanted to hear the album "for the first time", all the order...the hits and the deep cuts only super-fans still listen to.

In fact, for many of these albums, I imagined myself unwrapping the vinyl record, placing it on the record player, dropping the needle...and after a few clicks and pops, hearing this music for the first time.


A few of the Beatles are in the list, along with Heart, Taylor Swift, AC/DC, and modern albums from current local artists like Dessa.

Now, some have never been on vinyl, but I still wanted to hear them as intended.

How did I pick them? I first went to The Current (local independent radio station), who a few years ago had the "893 most essential albums" and copied the top 100. I then cross referenced with Rolling Stone's top 100, and even some compilations.

Then I started listening.

First up? Nirvana's "Nevermind" (it was #1 on the "Most Essential" list). Turns out, as with other albums, while I was deeply familiar with much of the music, I never heard the album beginning to end. It was stunning to me how many hits are on a single album, but also great songs I didn't know. Similarly was Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors". ALL HITS except one beautiful piano ballad I had never heard before.

Others I only knew one or two songs before the listen (Heart, Queen, ...), and still others I really was not familiar with at all (The Clash, The Replacements, The Shins, Dessa, ...was delighted with The Replacements!)  Some albums I chose because I had a favorite song, and had NO idea what else the artist created (Weather Report's song "Birdland", Level 42's song, "Mr. Pink" are two examples).

What a fantastic set of music! Nearly everyone was a treat to listen to...except one artist: Radiohead. Just not a fan. But that's ok. Lots of people love them and that's what's awesome about music.

Of course, throughout the year there were tributaries that made me wander to other music outside of my Current list. I was discovering, letting the music lead the way. My daughters introduced me to Hayley Kioko, Lacey Sturm, Dessa, Billie Eilish, and each was outstanding. Other times I heard a song and thought "I should listen to the whole album it came from", and ended up discovering how rich the albums were (Heart's "Little Queen" is a standout).

Some months I decided to listen to whole blocks of discography from a single artist: Rush, Queen, Prince (the albums he released after I lost track of him...just after Batman soundtrack), Alter Bridge, and others. There were weeks that I found albums from friends like Sebastian who listens to artists I've never heard of (Everything everything - "Get to heaven"), and I was quite impressed!

Did I get through all the albums on my list? Nope. But it was a good list. I'll probably pick off many more but not keep track (but who knows).

PS: Thanks to The Current for the inspiration, Amazon Music for having every album, my 2016 Nissan Rogue I purchased at the end of 2018 providing seamless bluetooth to stream while driving to and from work, and my kids for my bluetooth earbuds for Christmas 2018, enabling an album per workout.


Here are the 92 albums I listened to, mostly in the order I listened to them (although I did group some from the same artist out of sequence). If they have a # by them, it's the order that The Current listed in the Most Essential countdown.

Full Albums Listened to Beginning-to-End In 2019:

#1 Nirvana - Nevermind

#2 The Clash - London Calling

#3 The Beatles - Abbey Road

#4 Prince - Purple Rain

#5 Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

#15 The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

#55 U2 - Achtung Baby

#12 The Beatles - Revolver

#13 Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

#14 The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street

#61 AC/DC - Back in Black

Taylor Swift - Reputation

#6 Radiohead - OK Computer

#7 Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks

#16 Led Zeppelin - IV

#9 The Beatles - White Album

#24 The Beatles - Rubber Soul

The Beatles - Please please Me

Weather report - Heavy Weather

Everything everything - Get to heaven

  • Queen
  • Queen 2
  • Sheer heart attack
  • #70 - Night at the opera

#10 U2 - The Joshua Tree

Bruce Springsteen:
  • #21 - Born to Run
  • Darkness on the edge of town

The shins - Port of Morrow

The Band Perry - Coordinates

#8 David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

  • Chime
  • Parts of Speech

Foals - Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Pt. 1

#17 Michael Jackson - Thriller

#18 The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Level 42 - The Early Tapes

Alter Bridge
  • One Day Remains
  • Blackbird
  • AB III
  • Fortress
  • The Last Hero
  • Walk the Sky

#20 The Replacements - Let It Be

#44 Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced

#11 Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

Phil Collins - Remix

Bryan Adams
  • Reckless
  • Bare Bones

Hayley Kiyoko - Expectations

#22 Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

  • Rush
  • Fly by Night
  • Caress of Steel
  • 2112
  • A Farewell to Kings
  • Hemispheres
  • Permanent Waves
  • Moving Pictures
  • Signals
  • Grace Under Pressure
  • Power Windows
  • Hold Your Fire

  • Graffiti Bridge
  • Diamonds and Pearls
  • Love Symbol Album
  • Come
  • N.E.W.S.
  • The Vault
  • Originals
  • One Night Alone…Live
  • Live in Madrid 1990

#19 Pearl Jam - Ten

Heart - Little Queen

Taylor Swift - Lover

Billie Eilish - When we all fall asleep

#23 Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

Aerosmith, 'Toys in the Attic'

Issues - Beautiful Oblivion (find forever)

Let it be - Beatles

#31 Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison

Meat Loaf, 'Bat Out of Hell'

Def Leppard, 'Hysteria

#28 Pixies - #Doolittle

Allman Brothers Band, 'At Fillmore East'

25 Paul Simon - Graceland

#26 Weezer - Blue Album

#27 Pink Floyd - The Wall

Lacey Sturm  - Reflect Love Back

#30 Guns N Roses - Appetite for Destruction

#60 Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Nicole Nordeman - Fragile

#33 The Replacements - Tim

Phew!  What a list.  Is your favorite on the list? If not, what is your favorite? I'll take a listen!


Friday, November 29, 2019

"Don't Look Back" - Song Insight

Urgency.   Love.   Exploration.   Adventure.   Regret.   Yearning.

"Don't Look Back" is an important song for me. Yet, for years I assumed it was lost, and while I thought I had something spectacular, I had never captured a recording of it, so the only thing left was fragments of muscle memory playing bits and pieces of the simple riff you hear at the beginning.

Take a listen:

In a way, losing my grasp on this song was an allegory of me losing my grasp on my dreams of composing music for a living. Sure I've composed dozens of songs and soundtracks over the years, had some success and am quite proud of what I created, but lets be clear:

Choosing a career in tech was not the dream.

Then, last year in 2018, I became nostalgic and wanted to "re master" a number of earlier songs I wrote and recorded between 1986 and 1991. At that time, these were the songs that were certainly going to launch my music career:

I had been in high school bands, and played off-and-on during college. But after my 3rd year of school I toured for a year with Up With People, learned a ton, got a whole lot better, and when I came home, I was ON FIRE to make it in music (if not as a touring musician, as a songwriter).

I had written a bunch of new songs and sent them out to record companies.

Most never responded.

Some did, and one in particular gave me a great critique in the middle of the "no thanks" letter. Soon after I was offered a tech job, and now I'm 28 years into that career.

But this song. This song was special to me, and captured the energy I was looking for. And while it was lost for years, now it's found. 

I found it at the end of my old 4-track masters. Never labeled, never properly archived. It was like discovering a long-lost precious gem. This song is important to me because it captures what I was looking forward to, my urgency to get into music, the love of adventure…

…and it very nearly was never to be heard.

I composed the verse and chorus in 1987, I didn't remember recording any of it. It wasn't until my recent "re mastering" work did I discover the completely recorded version from 1991, except the vocals. What I completely forgot was not only did I record the MIDI tracks in 1987 before I graduated high school, but that when I returned from Up with People in 1991, I composed the rest of the song (the bridge and ending), and finally recorded the instrumentation (including guitar) onto my 4-Track cassette recorder.

Then, in 1992, I started my job, and forgot about it. Actually, that's not true. A couple times a year I would play the riff, think about my decision of tech vs. music, and move on.

Well, now with updated technology, I was able to remaster the 4-track recording and put it into Logic Pro, and finally finish the song.

However, I couldn't find the lyrics. I can still picture a torn-away page from a spiral notebook with lyrics to this song, but no memory of the verses…just fragments of the chorus.

But as I said, this is an important song for me, and it was important to complete this song and release it. I started singing / humming to the song, and every time through, a bit of memory was uncovered, reconstructing the choruses (and eventually the pre-choruses).

I could never remember the verse lyrics, nor the melody, so I just re-wrote them.

In the end, this is a multi-decade layered song. Here's what you hear:
1987: Composed verses and chorus
1987: Recorded the drums, base, synth, and piano onto my MIDI sequencer
1991: Composed the full song (ending, b-section, …)
1991: Recorded the full instrumentation (including guitars) onto 4-track cassette recorder
2019: Remastered instruments, wrote new lyrics for verses, recorded vocals, published


Now that I listen to it, I love it. The song captures the urgency I felt, and to this day constantly feel, to keep moving, to experience new things, and how much I want the love of my life by my side for the entire ride.

I hope you enjoy it.

Greg. November 29, 2019.

P.S. The love of my life from the song in 1987? It's the same love of my life that's been by my side every day since, and continues to ride by my side, her hand wrapped in mine, as we chase our dreams.  Love you, Lady.

~~~~~~  Lyrics   ~~~~

It’s time to break away
There’s no way I can stay
it’s my life at stake
I hear it call to me
a world of “what could be”
Out where I was meant to be

And I’m never going back
No more time for yesterday
But I need you by my side
To feel alive!

and I say that we ride, into the summer night
Across the great divide, your hand wrapped in mine
We’ll be free to chase our dreams until the end of time
And baby always remember, yeah baby don’t look back
Don’t look back           just keep your heart a dreamin’
Don’t look back          just keep your faith and don’t look back,
don’t look back, don’t look back on yesterday

Ooooh, it’s been so hard
Paralyzed by what “could have been”
To you, I promise this
whatever time we have left
I will give you my best

And we’re never going back
No more worry or regrets
And with you by my side
We’ll feel alive!

and I say that we ride, into the summer night
Across the great divide, your hand wrapped in mine
We’ll be free to chase our dreams until the end of time
And baby always remember, yeah baby don’t look back
Don’t look back           our future’s what we’ll make it
Don’t look back          just keep your faith and don’t look back,
don’t look back, don’t look back on yesterday

And we’re never going back
No more time to second guess
with you my heart is full
And ready to ride!

and I say that we ride, into the summer night
Across the great divide, your hand wrapped in mine
We’ll be free to chase our dreams until the end of time
And baby always remember, yeah baby don’t look back
Don’t look back           our future’s all we need and
Don’t look back          just keep your faith and don’t look back,
don’t look back, don’t look back on yesterday

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