The Thinking Man’s Take On: The ABC’s

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I’m having some major writer’s block this week here at The Thinking Man Headquarters (TTMHQ), and although I have a list of things to write about, I don’t think I have the energy to devote to one of those topics. So instead, I’m going to take inspiration from a commercial I just saw that said something about making things as easy as A-B-C, and make a little listy-list.

And by that, I mean I’m going to write what has turned out to be a very time-intensive article that made me think a lot. Phew. So much for writer’s block. To keep a long story long, here is my totally complete, not missing anything or leaving anything out, A to Z list of my favorite things about music. Yes, X will be Xylophones.

A is for All Ages Shows
All Ages Shows are the best. They celebrate the fact that you don’t need to be wasted to enjoy music, and they help music fans in high school discover bands outside of top 40 radio. I’m talking especially about shows in places with names so obscure that they have to list “All Ages” on the show poster. Places where everyone’s allowed to rock out, whether they have a PBR in both hands, or two big black X’s on the backs of them. All shows should be All Ages. Period.

B is for Blogs
Like it or not (and since you’re here, I’ll assume “like it”) blogs have become bigtime players in today’s music world. They give a voice to everyday music lovers, and help bands get their starts. Blogs break news, leak tracks, create ridiculous fan art, and put together some sweet podcasts. And they give us fans an outlet for our passions.

C is for Covers
Covers bring out the best in some songs and the best in some artists. What more can you ask for, really? I’ve previously extolled my love for covers, and that still holds. Covers, although they probably get an overly large share of facetime in the blogosphere, are a quick way to my heart.

D is for Disc Jockeys
Better known as DJs, Disc Jockeys are so named because orginally all DJs were tiny men who rode horseys and played Frisbee. There’s nothing better than being out at a party/bar/show, talking to a friend and – over the course of an hour – realizing that the DJ completely rocks. The kind of creeping up feeling that whatever has been providing the soundtrack to your conversation has actually been the result of someone who knows music well and knows how to put it together. There have been a few nights where I’ve woken up the next morning with the only thought in my mind being – MAN. That DJ was GREAT.

E is for Elephant Six
The Elephant Six Recording Company – better known as the Elephant 6 Collective, or simply Elephant 6 – was a collective of musicians that singlehandedly produced some of the most incredible musical groups of all of our lifetimes, notably Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Apples In Stereo, and Of Montreal. Elephant 6 groups capture a raw energy and passion for music, mixed with a thirst for experimentation. I dare say an afternoon listening to any or all of these artists is an afternoon in which you will learn something about music.

F is for the First Unitarian in Philly
Without a doubt, the best place in the world to see a show. The First Unitarian is the friendliest, sweatiest, most legitimate place to see a show that I have ever visited. If you are ever in Philadelphia, please venture to the basement (or the sanctuary!) of 2125 Chestnut Street for a show. They’re all All Ages (huzzah!), usually under $15, and full of the best artists of music present and future. I lost about 4 gallons of sweat at an appropriately headlined Hot Hot Heat show, and seeing TV On The Radio there probably changed my life. Go.

G is for Garageband
Probably the coolest thing I have on my computer. Garageband lets normal people pretend they’re rockstars. And occasionally turns those people into actual rockstars (see: Justice). Many of my late night hours have been spent turning digital knobs to perfect songs that no one will ever hear. Which is pretty much perfect.

H is for Handclaps
If there’s one thing that pretty much guarantees that I’ll like a song, it’s handclaps. I have multiple full-length mixtapes consisting of only tracks featuring handclaps. Make It Clap Vols. I, II, and III. My favorite percussion instrument is hands. My friends and I at TSRE have an unhealthily documented obsession with handclaps. I often clap along with songs in the car. I’m getting excited just writing about handclaps. Moving on.

I is for Independent Music
Reminding us that there are still thousands of artists who make music because they love making music, not because they want to be rich and famous. Well, maybe famous. But independent music genuinely rewards originality and creativity, and allows more experimental bands to find a niche and rock that niche hard. My life would be totally different without indie rock.

J is for Jazz
I wish I knew more about Jazz, I really do. If there’s one thing I regret about College, it’s not taking The History of Jazz. I love curling up with some tea, a book, and Charlie Parker or Miles Davis. I wish I could talk more about the Jazz greats and their styles, but I would feel like a phony. But the fact that Jazz still gets me weak in the knees, despite my ignorance, is a testament to how freakin’ cool it is.

K is for Kriss Kross and other wacky spellings!
Music lets us completely forget about correct spellings, in a great way. Outcast becomes OutKast, Corn becomes Korn, Kids Bop, becomes Kidz Bop. What a ridiculous trend. Next thing you know a bunch of rappers are going to be prancing around with “Lil’” in front of their names.

L is for Leaks
I debated this one for a while. On the one hand, I love leaks – catching a couple tracks off of an upcoming LP to whet your appetite or getting to hear an album before any of your friends is indubitably sweet. On the other hand, I do miss the days of waiting until Tuesday to get that new CD so you could be the first one on the block to have it. But then I remembered that I once bought a Jet CD for $17 because I really liked “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”, and I decided that leaks, which lead to informed decisions, are a good thing.

M is for Mixtapes
Both kinds! What is there not to like about A) The best rappers in the world giving away slick rhymes over hot beats, and B) someone making you a mix of songs they think you’ll like? Answer: There is nothing not to like. Mixtapes are pretty much the best invention of all time.

N is for N*Sync
Has anything ever gone from SO BAD in middle school to SO GOOD in retrospect? Justin Timberlake has proven to be an unstoppable pop star, and N*SYNC tunes turn out to be the most recognizable, universally sing-along-able songs in since The Beatles. I would feel guilty for putting this on the list, except that I’ve come to accept my N*Sync love. Also, I can’t think of many other things for “N”.

O is for OMG
The alphabet is longer than it seems.

P is for Paul Simon
Paul Simon is a golden god. He created the best album of all time (Graceland), was in one of the most influential vocal duos of all time (Simon and Garfunkel), and he once played Still Crazy After All These Years wearing a chicken suit (on SNL). Also, he’s like 5’2” and really cute. Like “awww, look at that little guy” cute. Paul Simon = Baller.

Q is for Queen
After a brief scuffle with Queens of the Stone Age, Queen came out on top in the category of Bands I Like That Start With The Letter Q. In all seriousness, though, Freddie Mercury is one of the best musical frontmen of all time. He has a crazy impressive vocal range and writes some pretty damn good songs. Throw Bohemian Rhapsody into the mix, and Queen definitely is one of my favorite things about music.

R is for Remixes
Another genre that gets a ton of blog facetime, Remixes are a great way to rework and revisit great tunes. They are like re-enactments, except with fewer civil war weirdos and more synthesizers. Double points here for Ratatat Remixes, if we were playing Scattergories.

S is for Strings
Any hip hop song that has strings in it is an instant winner in my book. Yo Yo Ma playing Bach’s 6 Cello Suites tugs on my heartstrings more than any other recording I’ve ever heard. Black Violin is one of my favorite albums of all time. I spent almost an hour playing cello every day of my young adult life, and have an undying love of classical music as a result. The fusion of modern and classical music is one of the most underutilized techniques, and completely wins me over. When sampling 70’s Funk and Soul gets played out, here’s hoping artists switch to Mozart and Beethoven.

T is for Torrents
Couldn’t leave this one off the list. Torrents, love them or hate them, bring music to people who might otherwise never hear it. They increase music knowledge, and in many cases increase album, merchandise, and ticket sales. As more and more artists embrace new distribution methods and acknowledge the community, hopefully they’ll find a method of music-sharing that is both legal and fair to all parties involved. Maybe next time T will stand for Twitter.

U is for Unplugged.
Acoustic songs account for about 98% of crappy love songs. They also account for about 90% of the most meaningful or honest songs out there. From Johnny Cash covering “Hurt” to Jay Z performing on MTV’s Unplugged, acoustic songs are often more real, more personal, and more haunting than their electric counterparts.

V is for Vinyl
There’s something really great about vinyl records – something that 8 tracks and cassette tapes don’t have. Vinyl has great sound, but it’s more than that. It’s the tactile pleasure of a vinyl record, it’s the large-format album art that adorns so many college dorm rooms, it’s the subversion of a medium by turntablists. It’s the resurgence of phonographs at the hands of high schools, and the return to a time where owning music really meant something. Vinyl is pretty cool, I dig it.

W is for the Wu Tang Clan
Wu Tang was popular when I didn’t appreciate them, and for that I am sorry. Which isn’t to say they’re not popular now, but they are a shadow of the rap force that they used to be. A supergroup of amazingly talented rappers and hip hop artists, the Wu Tang Clan definitely earns a spot on this list. Not only that, but they gave birth to a bunch of good solo careers, were integral to one of the funniest Dave Chappelle skits ever, and have a pretty cool logo. Here’s hoping their new stuff lives up to the hype.

X is for Xylophones
Toldja.

Y is for Youtube
From Toldja to Soulja Boy. YouTube is an unmistakable force in the music world. YouTube is solely responsible for keeping the music video alive. It creates a medium in which techno remixes of Christian Bale ranting at a lights guy can thrive. YouTube is home to an entire community of people that make music videos for their favorite songs using Sims characters (this is not a lie. Look it up if you have an hour or so to waste). YouTube is home to this guy and these kids. What more could you ask for?

Z is for Zwan. Ha. Just kidding. Z is for ZShare.
I hate ZShare. Just to get that out there. But it starts with a Z and is an important tool in the music blog scene. Sure, it might have bouncing ads of girls in bikinis, but it also brings some of the hottest and freshest tracks straight to listeners, without miles of red tape and record labels. More often than not, ZShare is used legitimately by artists hoping to share their music, and for that it deserves some props.

Just as a side note, the alphabet really sucks for lists like this. What’s going on at the end there? UVWXYZ? What a horrible run of letters to try to start words with. Blah. Really started strong, alphabet makers, but you kind of faded toward the end. I give the alphabet a B+

Hope you like the list – feel free to add any of your own. Particularly for K or N. I had a hard time with those. Any I forgot?

Chris Barth writes a weekly Thinking Man feature here at Pretty Much Amazing.  You can read his more succinct daily entries at his blog, The Stu Reid Experiment.  He desperately hopes he didn’t skip any letters.

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