Unsung Soul: Iconic but obscure tracks by (mostly) famous singers

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, an episode that celebrates extraordinary vocal performances in one of our most influential and significant musical styles: American Soul. Joined by our resident vocal expert, we listen to a playlist of fantastic—but relatively obscure--recordings by mostly famous soul singers, with a couple of lesser-known artists included, too. This episode's playlist covers recordings from 1964-1976, and also captures the pivotal moment when more traditional, blues- and gospel-tinged Soul transmogrified into Funk (that most essential of styles). 

Playlist for this episode:

  1. Aretha Franklin - You’ll Lose A Good Thing (1964)
  2. Otis Redding - I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now) (1965)
  3. O. V. Wright - Motherless Child (1965)
  4. Wilson Pickett - Ninety-Nine and One-Half (Won’t Do) (1966)
  5. Betty Harris - What’d I Do Wrong (1969)
  6. Nina Simone - To Love Somebody (1969)
  7. Lee Dorsey - Yes We Can (Pt. 1) (1970)
  8. Al Green - Love and Happiness (1972)
  9. Labi Siffre - I Got The.. (1975)
  10. Bootsy Collins - I’d Rather Be With You (1976)

Organized Chaos: the art & craft of metalcore

The niche sub-genre of metalcore has quietly built a dedicated fanbase over the past 20 years. With a sound world that is complex, dense and industrial in nature, it’s often kind of impenetrable or off-putting to those who aren’t fans—but there is much worth listening to. In this episode, we listen to The Dillinger Escape Plan, whose distinctive music—replete with complex polyrhythms and dissonance—pushed metal and hardcore to a greater level of sophistication. The progression of songs in our playlist illustrates the wide range of influences and techniques that the band incorporated and developed, and serves as a great introduction to this style.

Playlist for this episode (all tracks except #7 by The Dillinger Escape Plan)

  1. Calculating Infinity - 43% Burnt (1999)
  2. Irony is a Dead Scene - When Good Dogs Do Bad Things (2002)
  3. Miss Machine - Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants (2004)
  4. Ire Works - Black Bubblegum (2007)
  5. Ire Works - When Acting as a Wave (2007)
  6. One of Us Is the Killer - Nothing's Funny (2013)
  7. Michael Gordon - Yo Shakespeare (1992) 

The Digitization of Music: Platform Wars

In this episode we check out a couple of new releases by Watsky and Weezer, and then we survey the explosion of digital music platforms over the last two decades, outlining significant events starting with the advent of Napster in 1999 and culminating in our current streaming media landscape, noting the tectonic cultural impacts we’ve experienced along the way. It all started in the late 1980s, when Karlheinz Brandenburg created the technology that enables the conversion of analog audio signal to digital information, the mp3 file format. This launched a 3-way race to capitalize on this new technology, among established music industry corporations, Silicon Valley startups, and regular folks in their bedrooms at home.

Starting in 1999, Napster enabled large-scale file sharing by using peer-to-peer software as a connective tissue between disparate individuals and musical communities, and though it was litigated out of existence within two years, Limewire and Kazaa had already emerged to take its place. Pandora merged the internet with terrestrial radio and turned playlist curation into a data science project starting in 2001, the same year that the iPod and the iTunes Store conquered the titans of a century-old industry. Listeners quickly came to expect their music libraries to fit in their pockets.

Youtube (2005), Spotify (2006), and SoundCloud (2007) have since emerged to serve the content of those libraries, and now multiple platforms exist to either sell access to a comprehensive collection of recordings; or to empower creators with the tools they need to publish, distribute, and market their own work. ByteDance (2012) represents a growing tide of listeners and creators from China, while Tidal (2014) is a cautionary of tale of musicians fighting to take back control of their recordings.

Playlist for this episode:

  1. Watsky - Welcome to the Family & Mean Ass Drunk
  2. Weezer - Can’t Knock the Hustle
  3. Combustible Edison - The Millionaire’s Holiday (1999, Sub Pop record, first label to release MP3 format albums)
  4. Metallica - I Disappear (2000, pre-release leak on Napster)
  5. Madonna - Music (2000, pre-release leak on Napster)
  6. Feist - 1234 (2001, primary music for iPod release ad campaign)
  7. Coppe’ - I Lick My Brain in Silence (2005, first music video posted on Youtube)
  8. Radiohead - 15 Step (2007, first major release as pay-what-you-want download)
  9. Gucci Gang - Lil Pump (2017, first major hit released through Soundcloud)
  10. Kanye West - Waves (2016, released as Tidal-only exclusive)

Continual Reinvention of an Old-Fashioned Machine: Hearing the 20th century through the piano

For a lot of reasons, music and music-making proliferated and diversified in many, many directions, throughout the 20th century. Not just because of ideas (i.e., Modernism) and tools (so many new technologies), but the convergence of culture, technology and mass communication enabled a creative crucible that’s unprecedented in human history. Unfortunately, this makes any comprehensive musical exploration of the past 100 years daunting for many, and challenging to the tastes and expectations of most.

In this episode, we hope to distill an amazing century of musical thought and practice into a comprehensible summary, by using a consistent, unchanging frame of reference: the piano. The piano is an instrument that existed in its present form prior to the 20th century, and remains essentially unchanged from that version through today. We hope that this familiar and constant tool for musical creation and expression will help elucidate the amazing variety of ideas and inventiveness of composers from the past century, up to and including our own decade.

Tracks & excerpts:

  1. Johannes Brahms - Six Pieces, Op. 118 (1893) - No. 2, Intermezzo in A Major 
  2. Claude Debussy - Images, Set 1 (1905) - I. Reflets dans l'eau & III. Mouvement
  3. Alban Berg - Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (1909)
  4. Charles Ives - Piano Sonata No. 2 "Concord, Mass., 1840-1860" (1915) - III. The Alcotts
  5. George Antheil - Jazz Sonata (1922)
  6. Bela Bartók - Out of Doors (1926) - With Drums and Pipes & Musettes
  7. George Gershwin - Three Preludes (1926) - Prelude 1 & Prelude 2
  8. Aaron Copland - Piano Variations (1930)
  9. John Cage - Metamorphosis (1938) - I. & IV.
  10. Olivier Messiaen - Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus (1944) -
    II. Regard de l’étoile & XV. Le baiser de l'Enfant-Jésus
  11. György Ligeti - Musica ricercata (1953) -
    I. Sostenuto - Misurato - Prestissimo & II. Mesto, rigido e cerimoniale
  12. Karlheinz Stockhausen - Klavierstück IX (1961)
  13. Morton Feldman - Piano Piece (1964)
  14. George Crumb - Makrokosmos, Volume I (1972) - 
        No. 1, Cancer. Primeval Sounds & No. 11, Gemini. Dream Images
  15. John Adams - China Gates (1977)
  16. John Corigliano - Fantasia on an Ostinato (1985)
  17. Philip Glass - Wichita Vortex Sutra (1988)
  18. Thomas Adès - Darknesse Visible (1992)
  19. John Adams - American Berserk (2001)
  20. Unsuk Chin - Piano Etudes (2003) - No. 5, Toccata
  21. Mason Bates - White Lies for Lomax (2007)
  22. Missy Mazzoli - A Map of Laughter (2015)

Additional links:


Best Music of 2018 & Other Interesting Things

Well, 2018 was maybe not the greatest year in human history, broadly speaking, but it sure was musically interesting. In this episode, we discuss a handful of the most thoughtful “best music of 2018” lists, and then listen to a few of the recordings shared by those lists, ones that are particularly outstanding and engaging (and that we haven’t already recently discussed).

We also briefly consider some paradigm-shift-type happenings in creative culture: the potential impact of new works entering the public domain for the first time since 1998, and the first Kennedy Center Honors award to a collaborative work rather than an individual artist.

Use the links below to follow your musical curiosity!  

Playlist for this episode:

  1. Robyn - Missing U from Honey
  2. Kasey Musgraves - Butterflies, Space Cowboy, and High Horse from Golden Hour
  3. Rosalía - MALAMENTE (Cap.1: Augurio) and DI MI NOMBRE (Cap.8: Éxtasis) from EL MAL QUERER
  4. Tierra Whack - Hookers and Hungry Hippo from Whack World
  5. Pusha T - The Games We Play from Daytona
  6. Royal Liverpool National Orchestra - On the Waterfront Suite, II. Adagio from Bernstein: On the Waterfront
  7. Yo Yo Ma - Unaccompanied Cello Suite #1, BWV 1007 - I. Prélude and Unaccompanied Cello Suite #6, BWV 1012 - III. Courante from Six Evolutions - Bach: Cello Suites
  8. Wet Ink - Auditory Scene Analysis, Pt. 1 from Wet Ink:20
  9. Janelle Monáe - Make Me Feel from Dirty Computer

Original Versions of Famous Tracks

A funny thing happens sometimes in music, where the original version of a song as recorded by the artist(s) who wrote it, is not the most popular or well-known version. In fact, if a cover or remake of a song is successful enough, the original version is supplanted in popular imagination.

In this episode, we give a listen to eight terrific songs, each in two versions: the famous one and the original one, and the contrasts within each pair are sometimes striking. We also discuss some recent musical finds you’ll enjoy, from all over the world.

Playlist for this episode:

  1. LP - Lost On You [Live Session] 
  2. Rei - Cocoa
  3. Jeanine De Bique - “Rejoice Greatly” from Messiah
  4. Toni Basil - Hey Mickey
  5. Racey - Kitty
  6. Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
  7. Robert Hazard - Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
  8. Soft Cell - Tainted Love
  9. Gloria Jones - Tainted Love
  10. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts - I Love Rock ’n’ Roll
  11. The Arrows - I Love Rock ’n’ Roll
  12. Bananarama - Venus
  13. Shocking Blue - Venus
  14. Quiet Riot - Cum on Feel the Noize
  15. Slade - Cum on Feel the Noize
  16. Beyonce - If I Were A Boy
  17. BC Jean - If I Were A Boy
  18. Santana - Black Magic Woman
  19. Fleetwood Mac - Black Magic Woman

Does awareness of musical structure change a listener’s experience?

In this episode, we explore an interesting question: does awareness of structure and process in music have any impact on the experience of listening to that music?

Given that music occurs in time, the ways that we choose to organize and develop musical ideas are critically important for musicians, but may not be apparent to a listener. Here we take several examples from widely different kinds of music with some before-and-after listening, so that you may explore the answer to our title’s question.

Playlist for this episode:

  1. "Dear Theodosia," from Hamilton - Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom, Jr.
  2. I Believe I'll Dust My Broom - Robert Johnson
  3. Hound Dog - Big Mama Thornton
  4. Mercy - Duffy
  5. Cherokee - Clifford Brown and the Max Roach Quartet
  6. Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578 ("Little") - J.S. Bach
  7. It's Gonna Rain, Pt. 1 - Steve Reich
  8. Piano Phase - Steve Reich
  9. Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 (IV) - Ludwig van Beethoven
  10. Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection Symphony" (III. In ruhig fliessender Bewegung) - Gustav Mahler
  11. Sinfonia (III. In ruhig fliessender Bewegung) - Luciano Berio

The Glory of Outsider Music

On this episode of the podcast, we take a look at Outsider Music, recordings by iconoclastic and unique creative voices whose naive craft channels passionate music-making. Using Songs in the Key of Z: the Curious Universe of Outsider Music by Irwin Chusid as starting point, this episode features some of the most unexpected and distinct music you'll ever hear. 

Playlist for this episode:

  1. Florence Foster Jenkins - Aria, ‘Queen of the Night’ (1944)
  2. Conlon Nancarrow - Study for Player Piano No. 21 (1961)
  3. Elva (Mrs.) Miller - A Hard Day’s Night (1966)
  4. Wild Man Fischer - Merry Go Round (1968)
  5. Legendary Stardust Cowboy - Paralyzed (1968) & Standing in a Trash Can (Thinking About You) (1989)
  6. The Shaggs - Philosophy of the World & My Pal Foot Foot (1969)
  7. Shooby Taylor - Stout Hearted Men (1972)
  8. Luie Luie - El Touchy (1974)
  9. Gary Wilson - 6.4 = Make Out & Loneliness (1977)
  10. Jandek - They Told Me I Was a Fool (1978)
  11. Daniel Johnston - Walking the Cow (1983)
  12. The Frogs - I Don’t Care If U Disrespect Me (Just So You Love Me) (1988)
  13. Wesley Willis - Rock n Roll McDonald’s (1995)
  14. Bingo Gazingo - Up Your Jurassic Park (1997)
  15. Eilert Pilarm - Jailhouse Rock (1998)

The History of Punk, Pt. 3: Rise of the Indie Label

FINALLY, the next (final?) installment of our deep dive into the history of Punk music, its main artists and cultural influence. Part 3 covers the 1980s underground scene, knitting together far-flung regional efforts where bands pioneered a DIY approach that laid the foundation for huge independent rock bands in the 1990s.

"The History of Punk, Part 1: The Velvet Underground & Nico" is available here or here

"The History of Punk, Part 2: The Stooges to the Clash" is available here or here.

Playlist for this episode:

  1. Rise Above - Black Flag
  2. Filler - Minor Threat
  3. Waiting Room - Fugazi
  4. Unsatisfied - Replacements
  5. D’s Car Jam - Minutemen
  6. Something I Learned Today - Hüsker Dü
  7. I Against I - Bad Brains
  8. Schizophrenia - Sonic Youth
  9. Sludgefeast - Dinosaur Jr.
  10. Sweat Loaf - Butthole Surfers
  11. California Über Alles - Dead Kennedys
  12. Touch Me I’m Sick - Mudhoney
  13. Bewitched - Beat Happening
  14. Jaded - Operation Ivy
  15. No Control - Bad Religion
  16. Double Dare Ya - Bikini Kill
  17. Summer Babe - Pavement
  18. New Slang - The Shins
  19. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) - Arcade Fire

More Music We Like

This episode does what it says in the title, it’s another hang out where we listen to and talk about music that we really like! Featuring music by Janelle Monaé, The Internet, Michael Jackson, Anderson .Paak, Punch Brothers, and Kamasi Washington.

We hope you discover something that you like!

Playlist for this episode:

  1. Janelle Monaé
  2. The Internet - Come Over
  3. Michael Jackson
  4. Anderson .Paak - 'Til It's Over
  5. Punch Brothers
  6. Kamasi Washington