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The Freedom of Music

September 14th, 2008

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio

I changed the name of this feature for a reason. It has always been my little celebration of music, but with a title like This Week in My i-pod I always felt constrained by what I heard through ear buds. Ear buds, however, are not the only way to listen to music. There’s always, for example, the car. It has always been a great place for listening and many an artist has road tested a new album pre-release by going for a drive. How does it work in the car? It can be a defining test for a good rock and roll album.

There’s also concerts, and I attend a few – although at today’s prices not nearly as many as I would like. But concerts are valid area of listening and not unworthy of mention. It should be added that a lot of music gets heard while out in public or on TV, possibly even something worthy of mention.

Then there’s the record player. I’m one of those guys who believe a record on a turntable is the best way to listen to, and absorb music. But there are caveats: a good turntable, a large space and decent speakers are required. I have a lot of records and have always had a working turntable. But it’s always been in a small space. For a while my turntable was in the closet where I keep my records. My son and I used to sit on the floor, close the door and listen for ages. But I’m 45, sitting on the floot of a closet isn’t as easy as it used to be. Then I put it in my office, but it to is a small skinny space, completely devoid of any real comfort. Last winter I put a projector in the basement, painted a screen on the wall and hooked up a 5.1 surround sound system. This summer it occurred to me I had a free input, so a couple of clicks to phonopreamps.com, and I have proper turntable sound with couch seating. Perfect.

Once the turntable is hooked up, then what? I have a few thousand LPs, now I’m supposed to pick one over all others? It turns out I had one in mind. In July they re-released a couple of early Elton John albums: his first, Elton John and a later release, Tumbleweed Connection . They reminded me how good some of Elton John’s very early material is, why he stood out above the crowd from early on. And it put me to mind of an all time favourite album, John’s fourth studio album, Madman Across the Water.

One of the great things about LPs is sides. A side of a record was 17 – 25 minutes long, usually coming in around 20. Both sides combined rarely exceeded 45 minutes. If an artist could piece together 4 – 5 good songs, they had a good side, consequently a good record. By this standard, Madman Across the Water is an excellent album. Here’s side one:

Tiny Dance
Razor Face
Madman Across he Water

We can ignore Razor face, because it’s the unknown, average not bad not great song that almost every album has. But look at those other three.

Remember when I said turntable is the best way to listen to music? Tiny Dancer is an excellent example. All that orchestration on CD, or MP3, or FM Stereo (I have listened to all three many times) give a nice song. On LP, the song is so warm. The orchestration wraps around you like a blanket, it has depth and, here’s the real key, dynamics. Dynamics in music are the basic: louder softer. But they are so much more, and any good musician gets this. It’s a change in the energy. And Tiny Dancer, LP version, has that: energy that comes in, and goes out, that charges the song with motion, and feeling and warmth. It’s not just a pretty song, it’s a moving song.

The same can be said for the rest of the album, Levon being another good example. Madman Across the Water deserves mention as one of Elton John’s less known underrated songs. What a marvellous piece of music and writing, yet its an unknown in the Elton John canon simply because it gets overwhelmed by the music he was writing at the time.

It’s hard to discuss Elton John and album sides, without discussing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, side one. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was John’s double album, with three big hits, Bennie and the Jets, the title track, and Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting, as well as a later hit, Candle in the Wind. Here’s side one:

Funeral For a Friend
Love Lies Bleeding
Candle in the Wind
Bennie and the Jets

Top it off with side two sing one: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and you may have one the best starting five in any album. An amazing listen, and one of the few times it’s worth turning the album over for just one song. It’s hard to imagine that Elton John was ever a serious musical artist, but he truly was. Sides one of Madman Across the Water and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road prove it, and prove he’s worthy of fame, even if we he seems to be famous for much of the wrong reasons.

The Freedom of Music, This Week on my I-Pod

  1. August
    September 24th, 2008 at 16:18 | #1

    For Elton John listening i prefer
    “Tumbleweed Connection” from start to finish not a weak track in it and today still sounds fresh. By the way i enjoy your look at music, we seem to have similar tastes[good that is]. Maybe i will have to do a little more writing on my blog about music. After all imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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