Which Album to Stick On?

If you’re over forty, in the “prime of life” as it were, and are into music in a big way, then I bet you any money you’ll identify with this…

About ten years ago, I found myself going through my CD rack (I wasn’t fully mp3’d up at that point) and was unable to find a single thing I wanted to listen to. Led Zep IV? Nah… Still Got the Blues? Hmmm… not what I fancy just now. How about some Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon? Well… maybe later. And so it went on. Every album I pulled off the rack just didn’t excite me at the prospect of a listen.

This happened more & more frequently and I was beginning to think I was falling out of love with music – an alarming prospect for a musician. Even when I got my first mp3 player and had the novelty factor of being able to carry a suitcase full of CDs around in my pocket on a device no larger than a bar of chocolate, the same basic problem soon resurfaced: I was bored with all the albums I owned…

I’d heard the guitar solo in Sultans of Swing too many times for Mark Knopfler’s laid back, lyrical fretwork to move me any more; the acerbic wit of Frank Zappa had lost it’s razor edge; that breathtaking long high “E” note in the middle of Parisienne Walkways, which once would have turned my knees to jelly, now left me cold; albums that I’d queued in the rain outside HMV to buy on the day they came out felt like they belonged to a part of my life that was no longer connected to me. What was I to do?

The answer was quite obvious… listen to some new stuff. There was a whole world of music out there that I’d spent my whole life ignoring. On a whim, I sent off for a cheap compilation box-set of classical music. It was a bargain price and I was curious to see if the music I’d been force fed at school, and as a result had ignored ever since, had any merit to me as an adult. The answer was yes, it did. Not all of it by any stretch, to this day I suffer from what I call a “Baroque Block” (something to do with all the overly regimented sounding twiddly bits, I think). But give me a bit of Elgar or Holst or Debussy, and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck like they used to when I first heard Gary Moore play The Loner all those years ago.

It wasn’t just classical music I explored. I took the same approach to jazz, and found there was a whole world of great, expressive, tuneful (yes… tuneful jazz – it does exist) music just waiting to be discovered. Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley & John Coltrane are all on regular rotation on my ipod now. None of these artists would have occurred to me if it weren’t for my fatigue with the classic rock stuff I’d listened to for decades.

Thinking back to my 17yr old self, part of the joy of listening to Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple was the sense of discovery involved – “the piecing it all together”, if you like. Figuring out that Led Zep were born out of the ashes of The Yardbirds, and that Rainbow & Whitesnake were branches off the Deep Purple family tree, or that David Bowie played the sax break on Walk on the Wild Side, to say nothing of the finishing school that was John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (alumni including Eric Clapton, Peter Green & John McVie, the nucleus of Fleetwood Mac to name but a few)… it allowed me to put the music these, and other, bands/artists made into some sort of context and helped me understand it all the better. I now find myself on a similar journey of discovery… Understanding that Debussy was influenced by Javanese Gamelan music; Getting my head around the difference between a concerto & a symphony; Learning that Miles Davis & Cannonball Adderley played on each other’s albums etc. etc.

To some this may not seem relevant to whether the music is appealing or not. And to an extent I’d agree, but knowing the background to the artists, bands & composers who appeal to you can definitely help you better appreciate the music you like anyway. Plus, this kind of insight can spark that sense of curiosity to find out about even more “new” music (even stuff that’s been around for years, that you’ve never taken any notice of).

An the best bit is that I now I DO get excited about going and listening to my “old faithful” classic rock & blues again. I just needed some time away from it to discover something which provides a little contrast, that’s all. Music is a bit like food to me: For example, I love a good pizza (ham & mushroom, please). But just imagine how jaded you’d get with pizza if that was all you ate for 20+ years, steadfastly ignoring all other food stuffs on the grounds that “they’re not what I’m into”.

I now enjoy a rich and varied musical diet and I have no difficulty nowadays finding an album to stick on. I also make a point of trying to discover at least one new thing to listen to each month, be it jazz, rock, orchestral, folk, blues or anything else which defies classification.

So if you’re feeling a little out of sorts, musically, then try doing what I did. Go off on a tangent; check out that band everyone raved about years ago, but just seemed to pass you by; take a gamble on a musical genre you’ve never listened to before – even if you don’t like it, at least you’ll be able to say you’re making an INFORMED choice. I guarantee that sooner or later you’ll find something to re-ignite your musical fire. Also, you’ll find some wonderful juxtapositions every time you put your mp3 player on random shuffle: as I was typing this post I’ve been treated to Sweet Home Alabama segued with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor, into Bobby Darrin’s wonderful version of Beyond the Sea which has just given way to Iron Man by Black Sabbath. Who could possibly get bored when there’s that kind of variety on offer?

 

John Robson Guitar Tuition & Musicianship Coaching

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