One more decade. After this post that’s all I have left in the “best of” mix tape project, my own personal Mt. Everest. The pace has been noticeable slower than previous decades, I know, but such is the life of a full time graduate student turned international podcasting sensation (have said with a straight face).
No muss, no fuss with these, so let’s jump right into that sweet mix tape action.
1957 was a pretty epic year for jazz, so you’ll find names like Coltraine, Davis, Mingus, and Monk with very prominent entires on this mix. Another personal favorite was Marty Robbins A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Carnation), which was later referenced with great effect by Jimmy Buffett’s A White Sport Coat (And A Pink Crustacean) years later. Buddy Holly makes a first appearance with his fantastic Not Fade Away, later covered by many, most notably The Rolling Stones.
You may not recognize Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blue right away (or at all) by its name, but it was one of the biggest selling singles of the decade. It gained more lasting fame when performed by Dean Martin as “Volare,” but were all about giving the props to the O.G. versions her when possible. 1958 was also notable in my book for Jackie Wilson’s sweltering Lonely Teardrops, as well as the sounds like it was recorded in another, let alone another decade, Rumble by Link Wray.
1959 closes the decade out in pretty decent fashion, with great songs from Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, and the Drifters. Also included is that man Marty Robbins again, with the song El Paso, brought back to prominence recently for featuring in and giving the name to Breaking Bad’s finale episode, Felina.
So there you have it. Six decades down, and only one to go. There is a light at this end of this tunnel after all.
I’ve been absent from this space lately, but it was for a good reason. I’m happy to announce the launch of a brand new pop culture podcast with my good friend and co-host, Shawn. It’s been a blast putting this together and we’re very happy to be able to share it with you today.
In episode 1 we introduce ourselves a bit, talk about the genesis of the podcast name, name our five time capsule films, and then talk in depth about House of Cards Season 3, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Better Call Saul. We then preview three of the upcoming blockbuster movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Mad Max: Fury Road, and SPECTRE.
We hope you’ll have a listen and let us know what you think.
In the meantime, I’ll be finishing the best of the 1950s playlists this week and then tackling the final decade left, the 60s.
You may have noticed that I updated the tagline to this page. It’s a quote from one of the best movie entrances of all time, when Loki makes his appearance at the beginning of The Avengers and announces that he is “burdened with glorious purpose.”
Well, tonight I am burdened with glorious purpose, my friends, because I get to share this with you.
There’s nothing quite as thrilling, but simultaneously more detrimental to your sleep, than falling down the YouTube rabbit hole and finding something that you genuinely love and haven’t seen before or saw and forgot about. Here’s mine:
If you only know R.E.M. from their later albums and the stuff that got played on the radio, and could never quite figure out what the big deal was, THIS is what the big deal was. Four dudes playing fast, loud, sweaty, and melodic, with nary a power chord, synthesizer or lyric sheet to be found. Some of these songs had just as much in common with Buddy Holly as they did any of their contemporaries, which made them eminently danceable and just a lot of fun to listen to, even if you usually couldn’t figure out what the hell the singer was saying. It was a blast trying to figure out though.
More times than I can count I was the dude toward the end loudly and awkwardly leading the “R-E-M” chant at some increasingly crowded club or venue somewhere in the South. One of the advantages of being tall for your age in those days was being able to walk confidently past doormen checking IDs at those establishments, thinking you put one over on the proverbial man. Only later did you realize that it was an all ages show and you weren’t that special to begin with, but it was more fun to pretend you were an outlaw.
(I will neither confirm nor deny the rumor that I woke up more than one member of my family dancing along with 1,000,000, Carnival of Sorts, and Moral Kiosk while playing this video.)
Have fun falling down the rabbit hole.
I thought from the beginning that the 1950s would be the most difficult decade in the entire Best of… project, and I was not wrong about that. It took me as long to put together these three lists as it has entire past decades. There’s lots of reasons for this, but the biggest is that albums weren’t very popular yet, so most artists released multiple singles in a year, and for that reason it’s a lot more difficult to track down definitive lists of music released in each of these years.
I picked 1954 as a starting point since it is widely considered the start of the rock ‘n roll era, and it’s the first year that Elvis started releasing music, so it seems a natural starting point for the 50s. The rules for the mix tapes are basically the same, except I added one period-specific rule this go around.
- The “mix tape” has to fit on an old school Maxell 60-minute cassette. The time limit makes me appreciate simple beauty of the 3-minute pop/rock song. Some decisions will inevitably be made based on run time, so if I’m deciding between two songs, a shorter one might get the nod just because it is better fit
- Only one song from one artist per year (also known as the Michael Jackson Thriller rule). This is especially tough with somebody like Elvis in 1954, who released 3 stone classic singles that year, with B-sides that were arguably better
- Songs chosen have to be on Spotify, so that limits things a bit.
- There are certain genres of music that just aren’t my jam. In the 80s it was hair metal. In the 70s you will be find little to no “prog rock.” The 1950s were littered with “novelty songs” that I tried to avoid. I’m looking at you “Davey Crockett”
- No live albums. I added this for the 70s, since bands got into the habit of cranking out live albums (or, more horribly, double live albums). There’s only a handful of decent ones ever, so it’s just easier to eliminate them outright
- No “white wash” versions of classic R&B songs. Artists like Pat Boone made a pretty nice living releasing cover versions of recently released songs from black artists, and very often they were more popular than the originals because they were considered more appropriate for white audiences. We’ll have none of that racist nonsense here, thanks
One other difference you’ll notice is that I’m covering multiple years at once and I’m not doing individual write-ups for each year. I know a lot about music, but there’s some stuff in here that I just can’t talk too intelligently about, so I’m not going to try. I’ll do a summary for each year that covers what I consider the highlights from each.
With that settled, here’s 1954. Like I said, I could have populated about 1/3 of this list with Elvis Presley singles, but I had to pick one, and That’s All Right is a personal favorite. Quite frankly it feels weird thought not to put songs like Blue Moon of Kentucky or Good Rockin’ Tonight on a best of list though. Big Joe Turner was a victim of one of the most egregious “white washings” of all time, with Bill Haley and the Comets rising to fame on a song that Turner originally recorded, Shake, Rattle and Roll. Turner’s superior version is here, and quite frankly there’s no contest between the two. Here’s the Spotify playlist for your listening/subscribing pleasure. (Hey, this is one that my mom might even like! Bonus?).
1955 sees R&B artists like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley all started to come to prominence, which inspired guys like Keith Richards and John Lennon to take an interest in American blues and rock, with obviously seismic results later on. Another one of my very favorite artists from this era, The Platters, put out multiple great songs this year, but The Great Pretender is a great one to settle on in the end.
For me the highlights of 1956 have really nothing to do with rock, as classic jazz albums from Jimmy Smith, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis all hit that year. 1956 was, however, the year Elvis completely blew up and some guy named Johnny Cash released I Walk the Line, so rock and country were doing ok as well.
Ok, so that’s it for the first three years of the rock and roll era. Hopefully the next post won’t take quite so long to put together, but no promises. I’m eager though to get into the 60s and wrap this project up for good though.
Any favorites of yours that I missed?
This will come to no surprise to anyone who lives in or has visited the fair city of Orlando, FL, but we have the worst drivers in the world, bar none. Orlando gets a bad rap a lot of the time, but it’s actually a very cool place to live, but this driving thing is no joke. Maybe it’s the toxic mix of seasoned citizens, drunks, baffled tourists, and frazzled locals, but the list of things I’d rather do than drive in Orlando at rush hour is long and varied, including pulling out hairs in my arm one at a time, staring at paint drying, and listening to Nickelback for a week straight for charity. (Well, maybe not that last one, but seriously, some brave soul is actually doing that. The maker bless him.)
Now that you know this startling fact about my town, here’s a list of the drivers to watch out for when you are out and about town, or if you come visit to pay homage to the Mouse and the Boy Wizard, as is required by law apparently. (Not included in this list is driver that completely freaks out, slows down and turns on the hazard lights at the first sign of rain, because these folks are found throughout Florida and are not exclusive to Orlando. Watch out for them nonetheless.)
Lost tourist: These people mean well, and we love them since their tax dollars mean we don’t pay state taxes in Florida, but they are a menace. Usually seen driving shiny, white, late model American cars that can only be rental cars, looking exasperatedly for the exit to Disney, and driving the wrong way down I-4.
Jesus fish displayer: You’ve seen these people, with their Jesus fish medallions and “safe for little ears” stickers. You would think folks that advertise their love and admiration for the Prince of Peace would be a little nicer on the roads, but they drive with an abandon and confidence that only you only find from those who are sure they going to be rewarded in the next life.
Jetta owner: What the hell is it about owning a Jetta that makes people completely lose their mind on the road? You can usually find this person when two lanes of traffic are merging together, trying to go as far as possible in the lane that is ending before cutting in front of you in the next lane, thereby saving themselves 3 seconds of waiting. If you see a Jetta with a Jesus fish, just do yourself a favor and pull over to the side of the road and wait for assistance.
Seasoned citizen driver: They favor American sedans at least 300 feet long with the left blinker permanently engaged, and, like the old Seinfeld gag, no longer fear being killed in a car wreck since they have presumptively lived long and fruitful lives already. Not so much a threat if you are in a car on the road, but watch out if you are sitting on the first floor of a building near a window within 100 yards of a road, since that is their favorite parking spot.
Stick figure family van/SUV owner: These folks can be recognized by their distinctive fondness for stickers with cryptic numbers with decimals (13.1, 26.2, etc). These vehicles generally can be found within 10 feet of a Starbucks or Crossfit center at all times (admittedly, it’s pretty much impossible these days not to be these days), and driven by my old friends, the Lululemom. They are often distracted by the amount of glitter in their eyes, because they are reliving the glory days running through old cheerleading routines in their heads, and/or by the well worn Dave Matthews band cd they are jamming out to while trying to drown out Brayden, Tina, Dylan, and Heather screaming in the back seat.
Would be writing his name in snow if he could guy: You know this guy all too well, and he may be the most dangerous of the bunch. Generally drives the largest truck legally allowed on two axles, has multiple charming “Assault Life” stickers on his overly tinted back window next to silhouettes of automatic weapons, presumably says “Bro” a lot, and drives to and from the LA Fitness in the left lane going 10 miles below the speed limit, until you try to pass him, at which point he hits the red “turbo” button on the dash and drives past at 100 miles and hour, leaving only a faint whiff of Drakkar Noir and Nickelback.
Anyway, should you choose to drive in the City Beautiful, just keep your eyes out for folks and should be just fine. Just be sure to keep your insurance current.