When music was great

There were two periods of great musical creativity during the twentieth century: 1930-1945 and 1967-78. Other periods, although not devoid of great music, have tended not to be as rich, producing more “routine” music that is more interesting sociologically than musically. It may be that the best music is produced in more abundance during times of stress and unrest than in times of prosperity. Continue reading →

Concept album masterpieces

Isolated examples of concept albums appear from the 1950s on, including efforts by Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, but the idea really took off with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles in 1967 — not surprising given how it was a time of great cultural and creative experimentation. Paralleling the rise of the singer-songwriter in the 1960s, the term “concept album” became imbued with the notion of artistic purpose.

Today, that notion of artistic purpose has become so pervasive that, whether consciously or unconsciously, artists routinely infuse concepts into their albums, or feel compelled to come up with a snappy response when a reviewer asks “so what is the CD about?” I want to share four examples of especially interesting, artistically successful concept albums that stand out from the crowd. Continue reading →

The lyrics of Tori Amos

Tori uses highly personal and idiosyncratic language in her lyrics that makes the songs often difficult to decipher and open to multiple interpretations. We don’t always know exactly what she’s talking about, but her choice of words and imagery convey an underlying emotional state that we understand. The ambiguity of meaning helps keep the songs interesting and engaging. A good example of the challenge of interpretation is “Caught A Lite Sneeze” from her third solo album, “Boys for Pele.” Continue reading →