To those of you who actually keep up with this: I thank you. This week’s interview was meant to have a ~secret~ guest, although he was unfortunately unable to make it tonight (therefore, he’ll be making his appearance on a future interview). But more importantly, I sat down with TheLongShot, fellow Beach Boys and Elton John enthusiast and talked for an ungodly amount of time (4hrs, 13mins to be exact). LongShot earned himself a one-way ticket to the frontpage with his stellar review of Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, which can be read here.
Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
So, with every interview, as redundant as it is, how did you discover Sputnik? Was it the rockin’ Web 2.0 layout or the ghost town-esque comment section at 5 A.M. that attracted you to mx’s humble abode?
Amazingly, the aesthetic was not the main draw. I had known of Sputnik for some time, but I hadn’t bothered to check it out further until about a year ago. I’m the head administrator of this other music-related website called The Range Place, and one of the primary contributors on there is a semi-frequent Sputnik poster (he goes by IhateMana on TRP and Jasdevi087 on Sputnik). After hearing him talk it up on the TRP Discord, I decided to check it out, and within one day I had made an account, posted a review for Queen’s Innuendo, and also posted a review for Queen’s Made in Heaven, which was followed by a flood of comments telling me in no uncertain terms that I was to post only one review a day. So that’s essentially how it happened. (I would like to point out that since then various other people from The Range Place have contributed to Sputnik as reviewers, including users Holsety, Baronessa, and Alex61. They are all excellent writers and I’d highly recommend checking their stuff out.)
Speaking of Queen, how do you feel about them? Favorite songs? Least favorite? (I ask this because I was a huge fan as a kid)
I used to be a huge fan of theirs when I was about 15 or so, which partially explains why my avatar is the cover of Made in Heaven. (Which isn’t anywhere close to their best album mind you, I just love the ambience of the image.) In recent years I’ve tired of them somewhat, but I’ll still jam Queen II and Innuendo from time to time because those albums hold up excellently.
Favorite songs? Hmm….”Innuendo” is probably my favorite because the gradual build-up that happens throughout the various sections of the songs is absolutely godly. “The March of the Black Queen” is also an insane track from a production standpoint, even “Bohemian Rhapsody” can’t really compare to that in terms of compositional complexity. For least favorites…”Party” from The Miracle has some of the most grating, dissonant harmonies I’ve ever heard from a rock band of their caliber, and “Body Language” is an…erm, uncomfortable track to say the least. (Although I must admit to considering about half the tracks on Hot Space to be guilty pleasures. Don’t try and argue with me about “Back Chat” and “Cool Cat” not being good songs, because I will fight back hard.)
March of the Black Queen is a great song; when people bring up some of the more dense Queen tracks, that and The Prophet’s Song instantly come to mind, You Take My Breath Away as well.
The entire second half of Queen II should be taught in classrooms along with Abbey Road as quintessential examples of excellent album flow. Not a weak moment to be found on either. As far as I’m concerned Queen II is their best album from a technical standpoint, even if the songs on A Night at the Opera might be a little more interesting overall.
A Night at the Opera is a bit on the lower end of “good” Queen albums imo, whereas if you asked me, I’d say Queen/Queen II/Sheer Heart Attack are all better albums, in my not-so humble opinion. One aspect of the band that has worn off on me is Brian May’s solos; a lot of them are very similar, and once you pick up on this, you can’t shake the feeling you’ve heard this somewhere before. I don’t know whether it’s due to the thin tone of the Red Special or his style, but it’s honestly the most grating part of some Queen tracks, especially in the 80s.
Cliche or not, it’s a reasonable example. The other choices aren’t half bad, either. For musical education, it has a particular place in the curriculum, but it all comes down to the respective districts’ funding and whether or not they really give a damn about it. Provided we are talking high school-level education, right? As for collegiate education, there’s a great variety of music-related courses varying from school to school. When I was in school, literature had a certain place and importance, although we were usually left to our devices and with a multitude of options to choose from (pre-determined, of course). Music would be a lot more difficult to work around, in my opinion.
As for the albums I’d choose: Prefab Sprout’s Jordan: The Comeback, for an example on innovation within popular music, conceptual works, and production. Gavin Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, for its astounding use of minimalism in a classical context, along with its advances in tape music and loops. I’d cap it off with Laurel Halo’s Quarantine, just because why not? It’s a record I’ve grown to really love and I want to share it with everyone, simply enough.
I can’t say I’ve listened to any of those choices before, but they all sound excellent and I expect I’ll be giving them all a spin soon enough! Though if we’re going off of pure emotional connection to albums as well, I have to give a shout-out to Cat Stevens’s Tea for the Tillerman, a classic folk album that I would assign as required listening for all music fans only because of the enormous emotional connection I have with it. (This is also a not-so-subtle rec for anybody reading this interview to listen to that album posthaste.)
I suppose the way I see it is that with the written word, we’re exposed to that in two different ways: consumption/interpretation (literature) and production (writing). With music, high schools only focus on production (band/orchestra/choir/what have you). I feel as though the interpretation part has its significance as well, considering music ties into cultural dynamics as much as literature does. Of course, in an era where even the best school band programs have difficulties receiving funding, implementing additional music curriculum would be an absolute pipe dream, but I think it’s certainly food for thought.
The best we had was a semester-long course on music theory but last time I recall, it got cut because – you guessed it – lack of funding (aka the money went towards getting the football team a new field).
Ah yes, the good old sports vs. arts debate. Personally, I’m a frequent watcher of football, but if I had to choose between the gridiron and the concert hall, I’m picking the concert hall every single time. As would most of the rest of us I’m sure.
So, the other day you told me you purchased The Beach Boys’ Summer in Paradise. As in you actually considered it something of monetary value. Are there any albums of the same caliber?
Clarification question: do you mean “are there any other albums at that level of absolute dogshit” or “are there any other dogshit albums that I would consider as having monetary value?”
Surprisingly, yes. Summer in Paradise is a pile of lazy nostalgic dreck that has no value except as a collectors’ item (and even then, I’d like to point out that I only bought it because I found it for a third of its normal asking price). Looking Back with Love, the debut solo album from Mike Love himself, doesn’t even have the collectors’ item value because it’s not extremely difficult to find on vinyl. It’s also a less interesting album because Carl Wilson and Al Jardine aren’t involved to steer Love down a path of occasional tastefulness.
Beach Boys’ records aside, I’ve had the misfortune of listening to Corey Feldman’s Angelic 2 the Core all the way through once. It was 90 minutes of pure sensual hell, mixed with a few laugh-out-loud moments here and there. Elton John’s Victim of Love and Ringo Starr’s Stop and Smell the Roses are also comparable to Summer in Paradise in their absolute uselessness. Certainly there are plenty of other albums at that level, if not even worse, but I’ve attempted to avoid them throughout my music listening career and I intend to continue doing so. No Blood on the Dance Floor for me anytime soon, thanks.
Victim of Love is interesting to me because Elton had an album’s worth of songs from his sessions with Thom Bell, which saw the light of the day (in full) toward the end of the 1980s.
Yeah, The Thom Bell Sessions is certainly one of Elton’s strongest 80s releases, though that’s not saying much at all because his 80s work can be succinctly described as “occasionally brilliant, mostly banal, sometimes dire”. Though I will heartily defend his first two 90s albums, The One and Made in England. Neither are masterpieces by any means, but I consider the songwriting to be surprisingly strong as far as his late-career material goes. Hmmm…perhaps an Elton discography review is in order…
Good luck trying to get that Diving Board review flagged (i kid, that review was 16 year-old me hyping something up hard in vain).
Lol, I like that album more than most so your hype was not entirely in vain. The piano playing on that record is top-notch.
I honestly haven’t heard it since it came out (in 2013).
A lot of people seem to prefer his most recent release Wonderful Crazy Night, but honestly I found that album to be one of the least interesting things he’s ever put out. One could argue that The Diving Board has somewhat “banal” songwriting, but at least he was going for a coherent vibe with his songs there. Wonderful Crazy Night is just a bunch of generic upbeat pop numbers that does nothing but provide explanation for why Elton was smart in going down a more subdued songwriting path over the last 20 years of his career.
While he’s had some good songs since the 90s, personally, I feel his last interesting album was Too Low for Zero. Plus, I could only imagine how difficult it’d be to sit through several albums of adult contemporary Lion King piano ballads, let’s be honest.
I don’t think Too Low for Zero has aged well at all production-wise, though it is his strongest 80s album from a songwriting standpoint. If I’m being honest, the only album that I can think of being particularly Lion King-esque in its entirety is The Big Picture, which I think is passable enough but hardly essential. Going back to the other two records I mentioned, The One is heavy on social commentary in tracks such as “Sweat It Out”, “Whitewash County” and “The Last Song”, and Made in England I find to be (shocker) a relatively diverse tribute to England, from the Ireland portrait “Belfast” to the British Invasion homage of “Please”. Plenty of adult contemporary to be found in both, but there’s a bit more substance to them than meets the eye. Fair enough if they don’t catch your interest though, I admit to my possessing rose-tinted glasses regarding Elton as much as anybody else with their favorite artists.
As long as you admit Blue Moves is a top 5 Elton John album, it’s all good.
Hmm…if we’re talking a single-disc condensing of the material on Blue Moves, then I agree 100%!
I’m talking double, twofer, gatefold and the whole shebang. Some duds but it’s mostly quality plus it has Tonight, which honestly is one of his and Bernie Taupin’s greatest triumphs.
“Tonight” is stellar, I agree. “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word” is a classic as well and I’m very partial to the Crosby-Nash collaboration “Cage the Songbird”. I think if they replaced the duds on Blue Moves with the 2-3 worthwhile tracks from Rock of the Westies and tweaked the production on those tracks a bit to match this album’s vibe, we’d be talking about classic Elton fare.
One more bit about Elton, had they put Ego on it, I’d put it over, say, Captain Fantastic. Nothing tops Madman Across the Water, however.
Lol damn, Madman is actually my least favorite classic record of his. I could do without everything on the second side except “Indian Sunset”. Captain Fantastic is my #1 though and I will definitely be reviewing it even if I don’t do the Elton discography review.
Moving on, since our guest couldn’t be with us tonight, he has one question for you that he had prepared. (He had work!) What Dr. Doolittle wanted to know (and yes, he seriously wanted to be called this, please don’t ask me) is what are your thoughts on club culture and its relevance to the popular music artform? There’s a certain correlation between the two, so I find that this question could have several “right” answers, but nothing short of definite. (Like, of course, you’re not going to hear I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself at the club, but to modern pop.)
Haha, fair observation. First off, thanks to Dr. Doolittle for his contribution, and I wish him nothing but the best with his future doctoral pursuits. As for the question itself, I’m far from an experienced clubber so I claim no authority on the matter whatsoever, but despite whatever the popular music naysayers might say about pop music’s increasing trend towards exclusively corporate-controlled content, even the most mainstream of artists get their starts at some sort of a lower level. Clubs are excellent ways of gauging what appeals to younger, more musically savvy audiences, and I’d say it’s often those sorts of independent-grown trends that eventually catch onto mainstream popularity simply because of that fact. Hell, independent music itself is a far more interesting phenomenon in the public eye these days than it was 15 years ago or so, largely because of the presence that these artists have been gaining in the underground and from live shows at clubs and other similar venues.
Corporations notice that increasing popularity, and they seek to profit from it. The end result? More independent nightclub-bred bands/solo artists gaining record deals and publicity. So in a way, one could almost argue that the club scene is more important to popular music these days than it’s been since, I don’t know, maybe the early 90s? This is my take anyways, but like I said, I am far from an aficionado. Hopefully I’m not misunderstanding the Good Doctor’s question in any way.
Not at all, I think the Doc should be satisfied with this dose of knowledge from a person such as yourself.
Well, if I can say that I’ve given someone as esteemed as Dr. Doolittle a fresh dose of knowledge, I should feel good about myself, right?
Who knows? The man himself will be none the wiser about the wisdom displayed here tonight. Onward to other questions, I must ask: are there things you fail to grasp about music? Let me clarify – are there genres/movements/sounds you don’t exactly understand? This could also be an extension of the club question.
There are always things I’m working on understanding better when it comes to music, so the answer will always be “yes”. To clarify though, I know that until recently musique concrete (and avant-garde music in general, really) was a genre that intimidated the hell out of me for ages, but I recently listened to some Zappa and Beefheart records for the first time and I didn’t feel particularly overwhelmed. The only genre that I’ve actually tried out and never understood the appeal for is mid-late 20th century atonal classical music. Certainly the pieces of that era are terrific exercises in compositional ability, but they require an excessive tolerance for avant-garde material that I’ve apparently still yet to fully develop.
On a similar note, something I’ve been doing as of late is partaking in this thing that I call the Music Deep Dive, where I essentially go through each year of Western popular music since the advent of rock-and-roll and listen to all the important and acclaimed albums from that year, as well as just albums that I have personal interest in. (Jazz and classical I want to tackle separately, so they’re not included in this one.) Using RYM and Sputnik as references for what to listen to, I’ve determined that listening to all the albums I want to listen to will take me approximately 3-4 years, but I think it will be worthwhile because it will give me context for genres that had never interested me much in the past (as well as essentially forcing me to listen to albums of those genres just so that I can grow used to them).
As such, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to gain a better grasp of all these sounds/musical trends than I had before, which will hopefully erase any biases I may have had against them. So yeah, if anyone checking my Sput profile is wondering why there are so many albums from 1968 listed in my recent ratings, now you know.
I always felt Sputnik could use a feature similar to the “similar albums/recommendations” feature on RYM (only available to subscribers iirc).
I agree with that. Also a friends list feature would be super cool so that I don’t have to go scouring the vast depths of the site just to find the few people on here who I talk to currently lol.
So you’re saying there’s always a flicker of hope…
Of course! The site has been around, both in its initial mxtabs iteration back in the aughts and for the past thirteen or so years as Sputnik.
Well, if a site as huge as RateYourMusic is supposedly going to be eventually switching to an entirely new format (Sonemic), there’s no reason why Sputnik can’t pull off a similar transition eventually.
See, that’s where it’s difficult to determine. Sputnik is handled entirely by one person on his own free time, and while there are a lot of things the site could certainly improve on, it can’t be done as easily as it seems, unfortunately. I’d love if the site had more features and a more accessible layout, but as it is, we’re kinda stuck with what we got. Not to mention, the first thing that needs fixing is the servers – we all know how bad it can get.
PREACH MY BROTHER
I think anyone would if it meant being able to post m/ on their favorite metal record at 4 in the morning.
Lol true. Also side note but idk why I’m bothering with the proper punctuation, I assume this isn’t making it into the interview lol.
That’s what you think.
Music has progressed perfectly excellently for centuries without my having any opinions on the direction it was going, why should my feelings about it be worth a damn now? As far as I’m concerned, the natural progression is fascinating to watch, and for as much dire music as we may have (and have always had, I might add), the amount of exciting new artists that we see makes up for it in droves. If I had the ability to control one thing about the progression of the music industry, though, I would ensure that this newfound mainstream appreciation for independent artistry never goes away.
As I see it, independent music has provided us with some of the most profoundly individualistic and personal music we’ve heard in years, if not ever, and that trend towards individualism strikes at the core of why music is so important to us all. Never have I engaged with an art form that is so specific with how it impacts people, whether it be the artists creating it or the listeners absorbing it. It is that special characteristic that will always draw me to music above all other arts/forms of expression in every facet, and as a musician/consumer/budding music critic myself, I’ll be damned if I’m in any way going to stand in opposition of the natural progression of things that has provided us with so much terrific material thus far. If I can contribute to the progression in a positive manner, though, I’ll be very satisfied.
So, by extension, then, would you say that there are not anything stunting the growth of today’s artist and the industry? Say, like the boogeyman known as piracy? Of course, it’s best to support the artists you like, but at this point, piracy is very much a part of the culture today than it was twenty years ago.
For sure, but I also think that piracy is just one of many things music has faced over the centuries that has threatened to disrupt its flow, yet always ends up never doing so for more than a fleeting moment. I’m taking a music history class in college right now (journalism-music double major, for anyone wondering), and the history regarding the Catholic Church’s ever-changing stances on/occasional bans of polyphonic church singing is fascinating to read about. That was one of the more severe instances of disruption, and even then society eventually moved past those archaic viewpoints. As far as piracy goes, I think it’s been made so inconvenient for the average Internet user at this point, via heavy adware on direct download sites and the legal difficulties surrounding torrent sites, that the vast majority of music consumers won’t bother with it. The huge increase in streaming service popularity over the last half-decade or so was the final nail in the coffin for music piracy being a potential threat to the industry, I feel.
Then what is the big hoopla with the whole “lowest sales in years/piracy is killing the industry,” then? Part of me feels these doomsayers are facing away from the truth of why the industry is on a downward trend.
It’s the easy (false) answer to a complex problem. As is the case with essentially every industry in existence, the music industry is having difficulties adapting to the Internet age, and a lot of the biggest problems center on the relationships between the artists, the labels they’re under, and the streaming services their music is on. Until the three of them can find some sort of common ground where everybody is satisfied, you will always have this mindset going around that the industry is being “killed” somehow. Personally, I don’t view the increased accessibility to music for listeners and the increased visibility for independent artists (and artists in general) as the signs of an industry in its death throes, but to each their own.
It’s a weird thing for executives to fall back on, especially when more and more artists are openly embracing piracy as a potential way to get their product out there. Personally, I view it as a double-edged sword – I have access to a vast amount of music, yet there is the exposure of an artist’s work without compensation. It’s hard to say, because a lot of artist’s material could potentially be out of print, obscure, or difficult to obtain.
For stuff by artists no longer living, obscure, and other factors, unless some label were to reissue the stuff, the estate or the artist wouldn’t see a single cent of royalties. Now, for piracy, the way I see it, it’s a good thing for those willing to explore music as long as they purchase the records they enjoyed. While this is highly flawed logic in my case, it’s a standard that has done me very well for several years.
Exposure is veeeeeeery important, and a lot of independent artists realize that. Like I said, piracy today is not nearly as viable an option for music listening as it was, say, ten years ago, but it’s hard to deny that in its heyday (and even now to an extent), it was a very effective way of getting your name out there. The convenience and relatively inexpensive prices of premium streaming services only help the artists more in that regard. Now it’s just a matter of making sure they get somewhat more satisfactory benefits from the services than they do now, whether it be the services giving them a larger percentage of the earnings or the labels re-working the frameworks of their deals somehow. It’ll be an interesting saga to watch unfold, without a doubt.
So, are there any people you’d like to give a shout out to? Any recommendations or anything you forgot to mention earlier?
I mentioned a lot of people and things before in this interview, so I’ll just recap them here. Shout-outs to Jasdevi087, Holsety, Baronessa, Alex61, and any other users from The Range Place who partake in this community, make sure to give any new reviews of theirs a read if you can. An additional shout-out to SoccerRiot for writing an ace review of Golden Hour himself. I’m sorry if I took away a deserved feature from you, haha. There are plenty of other cool peeps on Sputnik who I don’t know very well as of yet, but I hope to get to know you all better as time goes on.
As far as recs go, Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens is probably my favorite album of all-time at this point and so many people have never heard it, please do yourselves a favor and check it out. I wrote up a review on it which kind of summarizes my thoughts, which you don’t have to read, but basically I say that I don’t expect any of you lot to enjoy it as much as I did, but if I can get any of you to enjoy it even half as much, I’ll consider myself satisfied.
Thank you for enduring what must’ve been an onslaught of questions. We’ve been at it for 4 hours and 13 minutes, and each minute was well spent, wouldn’t you say?
Very well-spent, indeed. Thank you for doing this, this was a lot of fun and I appreciate your providing me with my first ever Sputnik feature! Now excuse me while I binge Golden Hour and Tea for the Tillerman for the rest of the night. Catch you all on the flip side.