Boomer Music Collections: Best of: The Who, ELO, Paul Simon
Baby Boomers have fun. The world continues to revolve around that post WWII population bubble. If you, like me, were born in that period roughly 1946-1964, than you are part of the prime demographic that still drives American politics and capitalism. And, of course, music. Here are three collections of music you almost certainly heard -- almost certainly couldn't avoid -- back in the days of vinyl records and broadcast radio. Yes, children, there were audio files before mp3s on your iPod.
But wait! There's less!
You don't have to buy the records just for one or two hit songs! You don't have to wade through entire albums released 1964-2000, you can listen to these three collections. You can listen to Other People's Picks of the greatest of the groups. Not all Best of... collections work, but these three do.
Too many CSI shows and I had a hankering to hear an entire Who song. I wanted to get all the songs playing behind tv shows and commercials today. Found it.
The Who: The Ultimate Collection lives up to its name. The 35 cuts over two CDs range from 1964 to 1990 but concentrate on their prime period 1965-75. From Baba O'Riley (aka Teenage Wasteland aka the Theme to CSI: NY) to Won't Get Fooled Again (aka the Theme to CSI: Miami) to Who Are You (aka the Theme to CSI) to Happy Jack (used currently in commercials for the Hummer) to Pinball Wizard to My Generation to pant Magic Bus to pant pant Long Live Rock to The Kids Are Alright pant pant pant to... it's tiring just reliving the song titles.
If you don't have any Who, this is the collection to get. If none of these songs are at all familiar you need to get this collection right away.
The music of The Who was and is quirky, angry, pretentious and unforgettable. They didn't always speak for me: "I hope I die before I get old" wasn't quite my thing. (Our generation too often phrased convictions in the negative; the previous generation would say, "live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.") On the other hand, "I don't need to fight to prove I'm right, I don't need to be forgiven" spoke to a lot of us in the neo-Beat Generation. (Unfortunately, this has been handed down to Democrats today who are right but don't feel the need to fight... perhaps we can give them different lyrics to guide them 30+ years later...) As it was for our parents trying to explain what it was like growing up in the Depression/50s, even 60s without television, unsegregated schools or stereo, it's hard to explain to our children what it was like growing up in the constantly changing environment of sight, sound, war and riots. Many of us felt like "a deaf dumb and blind kid" who could play a mean pinball but had little else going. We had to be blind to our parents' hypocrisy because the alternative was too painful. Cognitive dissonance ruled then as now.
Tommy was an early concept album, and the most successful concept. The Beach Boy's Pet Sounds and The Beatle's Abby Road were, arguably, better music. But Tommy had a concrete cohesion the others didn't and went on to become a successful play, a terrific movie and a successful revival of the play. This collection doesn't have all the songs, but does touch on the highlights.
Baba O'Riley is one of the great angry rock songs, and a defining anthem. The Baroque Rock period of the late 60s/early 70s produced several great songs from Karn Evil 9 by Emerson Lake and Palmer to Roundabout by Yes and so on. We used to call this pretentious art rock, but they learned their craft the hard way. The response to the superb musicianship of Baroque Rock groups was the neo-Dada punk movement: "Hey, we can be just as angry but we don't have to sound good. We're bad boys and bad musicians and that's what we're trying to say." Punk was fun for a few years, but left us with the Ramones and Patti Smith and precious few songs that anybody cares about now.
The extensive booklet that comes in the package is okay, and has lots of pictures of Pete smashing a guitar and the Who wearing Union Jacks and so on. The accompanying text is okay, but doesn't capture the battle between the Mods and Rockers or much of the frenetic cultural upheaval of the period.
You can view the The Who: The Ultimate Collection as the innocent rock of Chuck Berry grown up or the precursor to punk or the hard rock equivalent of Allen Ginsberg's Howl. Or don't worry about historical context and just listen to the songs: They still stand as great music, and there will be at least one that will speak to you. Highly recommended if you don't have the individual CDs.
I don't know why the Electric Light Orchestra doesn't get respect. Maybe it's just me, but I don't seem to hear about them, or hear their songs played, in proportion to their hits over the years. Maybe they came too near the end of the Baroque Rock period and get associated with their disco days. They did the music for the unfairly sneered-at 1980 movie Xanadu, but they can't be blamed for Olivia Newton-John. She was pretty good in the movie, and it was great seeing Gene Kelly, even if he didn't dance. The scene where Kelly gets talking into backing the dancehall to be named Xanadu is great. But I digress.
Jeff Lynne and company have been releasing (and rereleasing) albums since 1971 often producing hits. The Essential ELO, with digitally remastered tracks, puts their efforts on the front burner. I kept seeing Best of CD after Greatest Hits CD without the one ELO song I really wanted: Their first top-40 hit, a cover of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven from 1973. When I saw the song in this collection, I literally didn't put the CD down until the checkout counter. It was mine! I hadn't heard it in maybe thirty years, since it was on the jukebox in college, and rushed home just to hear it. Aaaaahhh...
What surprised me was the quality of the other songs. For a collection of hits, I barely recognized the names of songs that I must have heard a lot at the time... and I don't listen to commercial radio much these days. Magic, their #1 hit from Xanadu, is not on the CD, but the 15 cuts on the CD only have a couple of songs that aren't iPw. Aside from Evil Woman, most people would be hard pressed to name an ELO song. Okay, maybe Do Ya ("Do ya do ya want my love") which major hit cover of a minor hit for The Move. These competed successfully with the disco of the day, and were eminently danceable themselves. The scored another hit with Rock and Roll is King, a 1983 piece with references to all sorts of 50s tropes including Roll Over Beethoven. 1979's Don't Bring Me Down is a pounding rocker (with no strings!) that sounds like the Bee Gees channeling Queen. Similarly, Sweet Talking Woman isn't precisely disco and isn't precisely Baroque Rock.
Without their biggest hit, calling the CD The Essential Electric Light Orchestra is overplaying their hand. Still, it's a great collection from a great band that's usually overshadowed by the punk and disco movements of the same time period. Maybe they're an acquired taste I picked up at the right moment in my youth, but their durability let's me recommend ELO without restraint. Good iPod jogging/exercising music.
Paul Simon has been around forever. From his first recorded association with Art Garfunkel in 1957 (as Tom and Jerry) through Tico and the Triumphs, back to Simon and Garfunkel and then as a solo artist, Simon has been one of the most long-lasting and consistent performers in Rock and Roll history. The Paul Simon Collection only includes songs from his solo career... which means that the CD comprises cuts from 1972 to 2000.
From Mother and Child Reunion through Still Crazy After All These Years through the still astonishing Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes (with Ladysmith Black Mambazo) through Hurricane Eye... 15 songs that touch the surface of 28 years of song writing.
Unlike The Who or ELO, Simon grew as an artist. There is no signature Paul Simon sound, and even the existential angst of his S & G lyrics are in the past. His voice remains strong and instantly recognizable, but each song is a unique ballad. Like us boomers, Paul Simon grew up but never outgrew his love of music. The Paul Simon Collection is a good overview of his solo career and recommended if you only get one CD to cover the last three decades of his work.