Jason Isbell is one of my favorite musicians to follow on Twitter, in part because he has a fantastic philosophy about musical guilty pleasures. He summed this doctrine up perfectly on October 1 of this year, in a tweet that read, “There should be no guilty pleasures. Feel guilty about not enjoying things. Enjoy everything you can.” Those 102 characters made me so happy (as did some similar comments he made in an interview with Hear Ya), because they encapsulated my long held conviction that music is entirely what you make of it — you can dwell all you want on a band’s faults or a record’s weaknesses, but it’s way more fun to celebrate the aspects of that band or record that bring you joy. One reason this is true is that music, in many ways, is a personal experience. Sure, concerts can double as social events, and making music is extremely interactive, but the way we react to the songs we hear through our headphones is as personal as it gets. Sounds travel down our uniquely shaped ear canals, hit our one-of-a-kind ear drums and make their way up to our beautifully peculiar brains, and no two reactions are ever the same, so why apply a collective construct like shame to such a wonderfully solipsistic phenomenon? This idea jumped to the front of my mind when I was flipping through singles at Plan 9 and found a 7-inch single that was released to promote PCU, my favorite “Oh man, I can’t wait to get to college, it’s gonna be so awesome!” movies of my adolescence. My inner 14-year-old was beyond thrilled. I have such fond memories of, and strong mental associations with, the two featured tracks — Mudhoney’s cover of Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic’s recording of “Stomp” — that I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was as if I had stumbled across the glowing contents of the Pulp Fiction briefcase in that record bin (And it was just $3!). For a moment, I felt silly for my enthusiasm, but just as quickly, I realized I had found a glowing (literally — the vinyl is red!) testament to the fact that value is in the eye, or ear, of the listener, and that even though a record may only fetch a few bucks on ebay, it can still feel like a totally priceless artifact. If you’re as crazy about PCU as I am, you can bid on your own copy of the single here, and listen below to “Pump It Up” and “Stomp.” And don’t forget, no classes before 11, and beer is your best friend, so drink a lot of it. Now, can you blow me where the pampers is?
Mudhoney — “Pump It Up” (Elvis Costello cover)
George Clinton – “Stomp“
Soooooo… got any plans for Black Friday? Gonna do a little shopping? Maybe hit up a few sales? Charge a Walmart or two? Me too! Just kidding, I’m terrified of Black Friday. Frankly, I’m pissed off I even have to capitalize the first letters of Black Friday (but Wikipedia capitalizes them, and we all know Wikipedia’s never wrong). But there is one thing happening the day after Thanksgiving that has me ready and willing to enter the fray of the biggest shopping day of the year: Record Store Day, Black Friday edition. Record Store Day is an event that encourages music lovers to head to their local independently owned record store, have some fun and buy some physical media, including hundreds of special, often limited edition, releases from bands who believe in the cause of keeping local music stores alive. While this year’s main event already happened on April 16, you can still make it to the smaller, but no less exciting, event on November 25. I’ll stay off my soapbox, except to say it was sad to see Richmond, VA fixture Plan 9 file for bankruptcy protection, though I’m optimistic this step will help them adapt so they can continue serving the community, as they have done for 30 years. So what can YOU do to help? Go out and buy some music on Black Friday! One release I’m prepared to shamelessly fight over in public is a 7″ of Ryan Adams song “Do I Wait,” from his marvelously mellow new album Ashes & Fire. If you’re not familiar with him, Adams is known as a songwriting machine, generating new material at an astonishing clip. While that may be true, it doesn’t change the fact that Ashes & Fire is a top-notch collection of soulful and earnest country rock songs that should absolutely not be missed. Have a listen to “Do I Wait” below, and if you’d like it, click here to find a locally owned store, like Plan 9, where you can pick up a copy from a nice, potentially tattooed human being working the register, who will probably tell you “Have a nice day!” when you leave. Unless you buy something by Justin Bieber. All bets are off at that point.
Ryan Adams — “Do I Wait“
Important Vinyl Update … The Artist: Radiohead. The Album: “There There” single. The Store: Plan 9. The Price: $6.
Welcome to the B-side of the discussion of B-sides! After Justin Townes Earle whet my appetite with his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets,” I poked around online for other fun B-sides. Quick side note – I’m a huge eBay tease. I tend to use my watch list not to monitor items I’d like to win in an online auction, but as a shopping list for the record store. Something about buying vinyl online is less satisfying, less eventful, and makes me feel like I’m cheating on my local record stores. That’s why I was so excited when I noticed a record behind the counter at Plan 9 that I’d seen on eBay the night before: a promotional copy of Radiohead’s “There There” – the first single off their 2003 album, Hail to the Thief. Though I’m a big fan of “There There,” I was even more intrigued by the single’s B-side, a song I’d never heard called “Paperbag Writer.” Turns out it’s a really cool and haunting bass-driven song with an creeping electronic beat and some truly creepy strings. As with a lot of Radiohead throwaways, it could really be the best song off another band’s album (or a fantastic track on a horror movie soundtrack), and the fact that it was discarded is a testament to the band’s greatness. Most of all, I love that I’m still discovering things about Hail to the Thief eight years after the album’s release. Such is the magic of B-sides! You can preview “Paperbag Writer” below, and you can buy it on iTunes as part of the There There EP, which features another B-side, “Where Bluebirds Fly.” And if you’re vinyl-inclined, keep an eye out for an upcoming series of 12″ King of Limbs remixes, with the first arriving in early July.
Important Vinyl Update … The Artist: Various. The Album: The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. The Store: Plan 9. The Price: $10.
This might be the coolest picture ever taken. I came across this album cover while flipping through records at Plan 9. My first thought: “Whatever these dudes are selling, $10 is a bargain!” What they’re selling is The Indestructible Beat of Soweto – a snapshot of the diverse urban pop music scene of early 1980’s Johannesburg. This record is totally infectious. Modern influences like jazz and blues combine with a number of African styles, and the result is a 45-minute head-bobbing, day-brightening, spontaneous-dance-inducing party, with a Ladysmith Black Mambazo cherry on top. Should I have expected anything less from an album with such a great cover? The “Unity” visor? Amazing. The red fedora? Home run. The pointing? On point. Take a listen.
Important Vinyl Update … The Artist: Johnny Otis. The Album: Rock ‘N’ Roll Revue. The Store: Plan 9 in Richmond, VA. The Price: $5.
My father-in-law recently told me about Johnny Otis, a musician, composer and band leader who was most successful in the 1940’s and 50’s. (he’s also the father of Shuggie Otis). This album is upbeat and fun – part big band, part rhythm and blues, part early rock. Well worth your $5. Johnny Otis fun fact: he once said, “As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black.” Just a Greek dude keeping it real.