Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
Album #24: “The Best of Earth Wind & Fire Vol. 1” — Earth Wind & Fire (1978)
Best Of albums are usually, at best, a sign a band is done — little more than a ploy to squeeze more money out of old songs. (Even my favorite band of all, The Cars, is guilty of this; they put out five “greatest hits” records, yet only have seven albums of original material.) At worst, it is an excuse to trick listeners into buying crap that didn’t sell the first time by repackaging it with a few bone fide winners (I’m looking at you, Heart). For the casual consumer, however, the appeal is obvious: they only want the top 40 hits they heard on the radio, and this is the fastest, easiest way to get them.
Every rule has its exception, and in this case the exception is Earth Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1. It really is all that and a bag of chips, yes indeed. It was one of Lisa D’s favorite albums, and was in constant rotation the year we lived on Esch 1. (“Reasons” also ranked high on friend Darrell Smith’s list of favorites, and got a lot of play in high school.) Beyond any personal sentimentality I might have, “The Best of EWF, Vol. 1” is a perfect encapsulation of a band at the height of its powers, and a nearly flawless jem that has only become more polished over time.
Saturday, August 17th, 2013
Song #30: “Texarkana” — R.E.M. (1991)
My best friend from college died of cancer before she was in her 30s. Lisa wasn’t a fan of R.E.M. — I don’t even know if she liked them; she was always more funk and R&B than anything else — and she certainly never heard this song, as the album it appeared on (“Out of Time) dropped a month after she was buried. Yet every time I listen to Texarkana, I think of her.
Monday, February 4th, 2013
Album #48: Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (1990)
Once, driving home one night in the late ’80s, I took a wrong exit. It was in that awkward tangle of concrete known as the Eisenhower Interchange (if you’re from Harrisburg, you know exactly what I mean), and it was impossible to simply get right back on the beltway. Rather than curse the fates or take a circuitous route through town, I decided to stop for a beer at a good bar I knew was just off the exit — the G-Man. Immediately upon walking in, I ran into an old high school buddy I hadn’t seen in years, sitting on a stool right in front of the entrance. It was Carl “Chick” DeFebo. Chick had just moved back to town after — finally — graduating from college … and he was looking for a job. Curiously enough, the paper I worked for was looking for a new editor, and I encouraged him to apply.
In short order, Chick and I were working together at the CPBJ. Over the next couple of years we had some great adventures.
Carl’s dad had been our Middle School Principal, and both were jazz musicians. (His father, in fact, after retiring from teaching, would go on to buy a townie bar a couple of small towns over and turn it into a local jazz club. Whenever one of his former students came into the place for the first time, the first drink was on the house. Now that’s an awesome educator!) We brought a lot of tapes into work to listen to, and Chick introduced us to groups I might have missed — most especially Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. This band of jazz/fusion/bluegrass/funk musician’s musicians has since become a darling of the NPR crowd, but they were a revelation when they first came out and we ran that album into the ground. The boom box we had in the office would flip a cassette automatically at the end, and if we weren’t careful you’d find yourself listening to a tape a half dozen times.
I don’t know why I took the wrong exit that night, and wonder how different things might have been if I had been paying closer attention. It’s possible I would have run into Chick soon enough, but the timing of everything couldn’t have been more perfect. Kismet anyone?
Want to know what you missed? — The Album Countdown so far