Friday, November 27, 2020

The Wonder of Music - some musical musings

The Wonder of Music


As you should be able to tell from this blog, I love music. I think it is the single greatest entity that exists in the world. Nothing else comes close. Music can convey so much emotion and meaning and have such immense personal significance. It can transport you to another time and place, instantly bring back by-gone memories to be relived, lift you up spiritually and emotionally, bring immense joy and satisfaction, or delve into your inner soul with sadness, contemplation, or introspection. Now, I like all kinds of different music from many different genres and styles. However, I don’t necessarily like all specific pieces of music or musicians. Like everyone else, I have my own tastes and preferences for what I want to listen to and what music I personally get the most out of. We all have our own sense of aesthetics for what pleases us and what does not. Certainly, there are some stuff that I just cannot even stand to listen to. But that doesn’t mean that the music I do not care for has no value or is not ‘good’. Some I can honestly admit is great music, but it just may not be something that I want to listen to. For others, it may be difficult to see what value it has, but I know that it does have value, because it brings enjoyment to other people. All the music and musicians I feature on this blog are all music I really like, but there are lots of other great bands and musicians that I just do not personally care for or have any interest in, that will never take a place within my heart or within this blog. But you will also never hear me say that a particular band, musician, or album ‘sucks’, or is just absolutely terrible, as that just doesn’t apply. Music is a very personal thing and we all have very different tastes and preferences, and very different sounds and styles that appeal to us or does not.  There are many different reasons why we might like or not like a particular artist, or even a song from an artist that we usually do like. Sometimes music just hits us in a certain way, and even we can’t really identify what it is that is so appealing or repelling about it. Other times it may be very clear what we like about a certain song, due to its style, melodies, lyrics, arrangement, performance, or feel. We all have our favorite artists with plenty of reasons why they are the ‘best’ and others are just not as good, but those characteristics vary widely from person to person. Overall, every piece of music has value as long someone gets something out of it, if it moves someone or makes them feel something real. I may hate some (many) pop song(s) I hear on the radio, but there may be legions of fans that totally adore it, and get much enjoyment from it, and that is great for them. The very things that I may hate about the song may be precisely what others love about it, so enjoy it, groove to it, whatever works for you.

One thing that is very interesting to me is that even within a specific type of music or a specific artist, there is a vast range of tastes and preferences. Lately I have been watching a lot of the various album ‘ranking’ videos on Youtube, where they rank all the albums of a particular artist from ‘worst to best’, and it is quite amazing how different the preferences can be even among diehard fans of the same band. Of course, the classic example is The Beatles, as their albums were all great, but varied widely in style and sound over the years. And virtually every album can be found to be someone’s ‘favorite’ of all time. Some prefer the early stuff, others the later songs. Some adore the psychedelic stuff, others the love songs, more acoustic, or more rock n roll, the studio effects, or stripped-down sounds. We all have our preferences. With some other bands that released a range of albums actually considered to be really bad to really good, there may be more of a general consensus, but still usually even those considered awful by some fans will be the favorite of others. It is really very interesting to see and hear the varying opinions, even when I vigorously disagree or cannot figure out how they could possibly feel that way. But its all good, as long as we still respect each other’s tastes and opinions, as that is how they hear the music, and for them that is what is real, valuable, and meaningful. And that can’t be taken away. If a song makes you feel good, that’s real, and it doesn’t matter if someone else doesn’t agree. It’s always most interesting when people actually explain what it is that they particularly like or dislike about a song or album, rather than just saying it’s great or dismissing it as garbage. What I don’t like is when people declare their opinions as definitive, or try to tell you that what you like is crap, and that you need to like this instead. And unfortunately, you see that all the time on the internet, social media, etc., people trying to tell others they are wrong about how they feel about the music they like or dislike. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to what others have to say about their favorite music, as you may find out things that can expand your musical horizons and appreciate some music you hadn’t in the past. A good review, whether from professional critics or just regular folks, should be able to give you a good idea of whether or not that piece of music is something you might be interested in or not, regardless of whether the review was positive or negative, it should help determine whether it is something you should maybe check out for yourself.  

OK, so what am I getting at here? As Paul Simon so eloquently sang in ‘Train in the Distance’ (Hearts and Bones, 1983), “What is the point of this story? What information pertains? The thought that life could be better is woven indelibly into our hearts and our brains.” And, you know, that’s just what music does, it undoubtedly makes our lives better, whatever your situation is, if even for just a short time. And certainly now during these very trying times of isolation and quarantines, music can be even more important. I don’t know of anything else that can lift your spirits or provide such happiness and joy as quickly or readily as your favorite music, whatever it may be. And that’s true even if the music you listen to is sad or depressing, even that provides a release or solidarity to your feelings, providing a safe haven for your feelings or anxieties, and knowledge that others are going through or have gone through the same things as you. So, whether you thrive on country, pop, rock, folk, classical, jazz, blues, hip-hop, rap, or their various combinations, or more esoteric sub-genres (neo-progressive hyper-stylized power speed metal?), there is great music out there for you. And finding others out there who enjoy the same type of music, and who you can share other new bands and music with to increase your enjoyment, is a wonderful thing. So, enjoy the music you love, fully and completely, regardless of what anyone else says. But it is also great to keep your mind open to new sounds and styles of music as well, as you may find there is so much more out there to enjoy beyond what you already know and love.


Note: BTW, I may try some of those 'ranking' type columns here in the not-distant future, just for fun and to get my personal picks out there, and hopefully, start some discussion (Probably starting with, who else, The Beatles).



Friday, November 13, 2020

BB's Prog-Ends 1 - Progressive Rock Sampler Compilation: Ends, Odds, and Excerpts - Negelcted and Nearly Forgotten '70's Prog

BB's Prog Ends 1
A Progressive Rock Compilation
Mp3 @ 320 kbps
 OK, I’ve got something a bit different today. Rather than a post of unofficial live recordings, here’s an exclusive BB Chronicles Sampler Compilation album for you. A couple years ago when I did an extended feature on progressive rock, there was a whole lot of stuff I just wasn’t able to get to, as well as many bands that there just wasn’t any available unofficial content to post. So, this sampler goes back to that classic period of progressive rock in the ‘70’s and features some great tracks from some lesser-known, sadly neglected, or nearly forgotten progressive bands from that time, and, significantly, this particular compilation (possibly first in a series?) focuses primarily (with a couple exceptions) on bands from North America (U.S. and Canada) rather than the usual progressive emphasis on UK and Europe. For those interested in 70’s progressive rock, hopefully this sampler will introduce you to some different bands and music that you may not have been aware of and you can further check out on your own, or just to enjoy as a variety of different aspects of the progressive rock scene at that time. Just keep in mind that this compilation does not include any of the most popular and familiar prog bands, nor even any of the others that I have featured in previous posts, but focuses on these neglected, underrated, or somewhat passed over bands. Now, in order to keep this sampler to a manageable size (~CD-length, <80 min) and be able to feature numerous different bands, I edited down (excerpted) some of the longer tracks to give a decent representation of the music, but cut for time (sorry, but this is just a sampler). Now, I know that there are tracks on here that some will say “Hey, that’s NOT Prog!” because that’s just what they say to anything that doesn’t conform to their narrow definition. But rest assured, these are indeed all within the realm of progressive rock (or at least were at the time), as they do bring in various other influences and expand the boundaries of rock beyond the standard style and structure. So, Here goes, hope you enjoy it.

Prog-Ends 1
Tracklist: Artist – Song Title (Year – Album)
1. Ray Manzarek – He Can’t Come Today (1974 – The Golden Scarab: A Rhythm Myth)
2. Synergy – Relay Breakdown (1975 – Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra)
3. FM – One O’Clock Tomorrow (1977 – Black Noise)
4. Capability Brown – Circumstances (In Love, Past Present Future Meet) – excerpt (1973 – Voice)
5. Cathedral – Gong (1978 – Stained Glass Stories)
6. Happy The Man (1977 – Happy The Man)
7. Starcastle – Forces (1976 – Starcastle)
8. Harmonium РVert (1975 РSi On Avait Besoin d'une Cinqui̬me Saison)
9. Todd Rundgren’s Utopia – The Ikon – excerpt (1974 – Todd Rundgren’s Utopia)
10. Yezda Urfa – Boris and His 3 Verses, including Flow Guides Aren’t My Bag - excerpt (1975 – Boris)
11. Happy The Man – Service With A Smile (1978 – Crafty Hands)
12. Seventh Wave – Festival Suite (Festival-Ever So Lightly-Communication Skyways-Things To Come-1999-Dance of the Eloi) – excerpt (1974 – Things To Come

Solidfiles link - ProgEnds1 Sampler Compilation.rar

Alternate link (Mega) - ProgEnds1_Sampler Compilation.rar

I kick things off with Ray Manzarek (former keyboards-composer, The Doors). Now, Ray is certainly not someone you think of as progressive rock, but in 1974, after the demise of the Morrison-less Doors, for his first solo album, Ray went all out and released a fantastic concept album, which builds upon the blues-rock basis of the music of The Doors by exploring all kinds of riffs, rhythms, and musical styles from all over the world, as well as being steeped in various mystical and philosophical musings. Titled The Golden Scarab: A Rhythm Myth, presented here is the opening track, ‘He Can’t Come Today’, a breezy, percussion-laden existential ditty featuring what is undoubtedly the ‘World’s Greatest Cowbell Solo’ from percussionist Steve Forman (starting at ~2:35). Absolutely stunning. 

Next up is Synergy, the creation of synthesizer wizard Larry Fast, with ‘Relay Breakdown’ from the first Synergy album Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra (1975), which was a pioneering all-synthesizer rock album. An innovative and progressive breakthrough in synthesizer technology, performance, and arrangement, it created a whole new soundscape for experimentation. Larry also worked with Nektar, Peter Gabriel, Yes, and many others, but Synergy (released 9 albums between 1975 and 1987) was his crowning achievement.

FM, a trio from Toronto, Canada, made a splash with their first album, Black Noise (1977), an eclectic mix of melodic, electronic space-rock, featuring synths-vocals, violin, and drums, a great debut. Unfortunately, they could not sustain that level, and although they stuck around for several years (into the ‘80’s), their subsequent albums never quite matched their first (ranked among the Top 50 progressive Rock albums, at #49, by Rolling Stone magazine). Here is ‘One O’Clock Tomorrow’.

Capability Brown was a short-lived UK band (not from North America – oops, but they otherwise very much fit here) featuring strong multi-part harmony vocals and dynamic instrumental passages. Their first album (From Scratch, 1972) was a straight-forward pop-rock album, but their second album (Voice-1973) put them forever on the progressive rock map, mainly due to their epic 20 min, side-long masterpiece, ‘Circumstances’, which is excerpted here. For this compilation I have taken the opening section (to about 2:30), a Floyd-esque instrumental, but then cut to the final 6 minutes of the track, which features reprises of some of the previous sections, in order to give a sense of the feel of the song, but the full track is a masterful creation, and still stands today as a monumental Prog track. But not long after this album came out, the band was no more, and that was it.

Cathedral, from Long Island, NY, was another short-lived prog band (1975-1978) that never quite made it. Their one album, Stained Glass Stories (1978) was recorded and released by a small independent NY label and they were not able to go any further than that. But the album itself demonstrated their legit Prog props and chops, and slowly gained acclaim among the few who actually heard it. Eventually, renewed interest lead to a re-release by US progressive label Syn-Phonic in 1990, which eventually lead to a reunion in 2003. Presented here is ‘Gong’, a nice representation of the strength of the album. 

Happy The Man, an excellent American (from Virginia, 1972-1979) prog band, blended lush melodies, complex interplay, a jazzy touch, and only occasional vocals, for a diverse, unique, and magical sound. Although they only released 2 albums before their demise, Happy the Man (1977) and Crafty Hands (1978), those albums are gems (and there were multiple subsequent album releases consisting of previously unreleased tracks, as well as earlier material from their pre-record label days). Included here are 2 shorter tracks, one from each of the first 2 albums, ‘Hidden Moods’ and ‘Service with a Smile’, each showing different sides of the band (Since their first song was a short one, had to give them another song to give them a fair representation here.

 Starcastle, was an unlikely Midwestern progressive rock band from Champaign, IL that very much emulated the sound and style of Yes, and thus was generally dismissed as being an unoriginal Yes clone. Although this was understandable to some degree, as the band did quite often sound just like Yes, particularly their Jon Anderson-like lead vocalist, it was also unfair, in that they were a very talented band that played all their own very good original songs (they never copied actual Yes songs), but just played in a style similar to Yes. And to me, that seems to be a very good thing, especially since  these guys came along right around the time that Yes themselves were losing their progressive luster (Going For The One, Tormato, etc.), so I thoroughly welcomed and enjoyed their fresh take on the Yes style. Plus, they had many other influences that also shaped their music. Their first album (Starcastle – 1976) established their sound and reputation in this regard (and presented here is the track ‘Forces’), and they continued to grow and develop their own style over the next 2 albums (Fountains of Light-1977, Citadel-1978), but with limited commercial success, which lead them to move away from Prog towards more mainstream (and lackluster) rock for their next album, which was their last as it failed to generate much support.

Harmonium was a French Canadian progressive folk band from Montreal, Quebec that formed in 1972. They started out as a jazzy folk trio, but then delved into a more progressive form of folk music, utilizing a symphonic style and extended complex instrumental passages. They are best-known for their 2nd album (one of three they made), Si on avait besoin d'une cinquième saison (If We Needed a Fifth Season), a concept album with each song representing a season, including a mythical fifth season. This is a beautiful, joyous progressive rock album, that has ranked among the Rolling Stone Top 50 (coming in at #36). Presented here is the opening track, ‘Vert’ (Spring).  

Ok, so Todd Rundgren doesn’t quite fit the ‘lesser-known’ categorization, but his foray into progressive rock with the original Todd Rundgren’s Utopia does seem somewhat forgotten. Although later albums (by a completely different lineup) from the name-shortened Utopia abandoned progressive rock for more mainstream pop-rock, the first Todd Rundgren’s Utopia album (1974) was decidedly progressive, and here is an excerpt (the final 8 min) from the band’s LP-side-busting 30 min. epic track, ‘The Ikon’. This was the only studio album from this progressive version of the band (although an additional live album of mostly new material was released in 1975), which self-destructed in 1976, leading to many changes in personnel and musical direction. 

Yezda Urfa was another Midwestern prog band (from Chicago, IL) that never made it. Formed in 1973 and influenced by Yes, Gentle Giant, Focus, and PFM, among others, they struggled to find an audience. They recorded a self-financed Demo album, Boris, in 1975 that they shopped around to record labels, with no takers. They tried again in 1976 (self-financing again) and recording a more professional-sounding, elaborate album, Sacred Baboon, but again, could not find a label willing to take them on, release, or distribute their already recorded album, and thus broke up without ever securing a record deal. However, years later, someone picked up a demo copy of Boris at a used record store, got it into the hands of the progressive label Syn-Phonic, who managed to contact remnants of the band, and eventually released Sacred Baboon in 1989, where it began to generate acclaim as a lost Prog masterpiece, resulting in Boris also getting released, and eventually the band re-forming in 2004, and releasing a live album. Presented here is the original version of ‘Boris and his Three Verses, including Flow Guides are Not My Bag’ (which was revised and re-recorded for Sacred Baboon, but I prefer this earlier version - although I shortened it just a bit for this sampler), which shows both the more melodic as well as rowdy cacophonous aspects of the band.  

Next, second entry from Happy The Man, 'Service with A Smile', the cool instrumental opening track from Crafty Hands (1978).



Lastly, we have Seventh Wave (who also is not from North America, UK again, but fits into the themes of this sampler), which was essentially two guys (multi-layered keyboards and drums) producing symphonic electronic progressive pop-rock, with catchy melodies, synth-heavy electronic soundscapes, and percussive oddities and flourishes galore. They only made 2 albums (as they reportedly never got along), the first being the excellent Things to Come (1974) featuring a series of connected bright, bouncy, catchy electronic tunes. Presented here is the bulk of the concluding tracks from side 2 that I have banded together as the 'Festival Suite' (since it begins and ends with the same melodic theme). Again, some may consider this too ‘poppy’ to be progressive, but this ‘band’ is unique and unlike anything else, and to me this is what was especially great about progressive rock in the ‘70’s. A particular favorite of mine. Their subsequent album Psi-Fi (1975) was disappointing in comparison, but still had many unique and interesting aspects. 

So, there you have it. Hope this is of interest and many will enjoy it, as well as find some new (old) music and progressive bands worth checking out. Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you have some favorite lesser-known progressive-type bands that you’d like to share.

For more information on these and just about any other progressive rock-related band or album, The Prog Archives ( is a great resource, containing much info, reviews, ratings, etc. on all things Prog.