Monday Musicologist: Re-listening to Old Faves

[Yes, I know that Monday was yesterday, but the time change seemed to have put me in a coma, and now I’m catching up. Okay, carry on…]

Doing my best to find a silver lining in every cloud, I am a Spotify Pro user. Yes, despite the fact that it takes about four million spins on Spotify to earn an artist minimum wage, and although it may seem hypocritical, Spotify is providing me with an unparalleled opportunity, and ad free for $10 a month. (So, yes, I did go over the dark side, didn’t I?). The opportunity is that I get to listen to a lot of music. I guess that is the point, isn’t it?

For example, other than my brother’s reel-to-reel tape of the Beach Boy’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1, I had never heard any of their catalog before. Now I have, and discovered what a gem “Pet Sounds” was.

Likewise, I am “catching up” with other classic artist’s catalogs and I have made an interesting observation. Take Jethro Tull, for example. I am very familiar with two of their records, Songs From the Wood and A Passion Play. The rest of their catalog I have heard bits and pieces, but never anything all the way through. I find that I am much more critical about stuff that I am not familiar with, i.e. I think I listen to it more objectively. So, although Tull’s Thick as a Brick is regarded as one of Tull’s best works, it all seems to me to just wander aimlessly and I’m wondering how much longer before it’s over.

Both Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play are album-length multi-movement pieces, and given the constraints of the LP format, they can’t be more than about 40 minutes long. And although I got bored with Thick, when I listen to A Passion Play, I still love every note, it pushes all my happy buttons, and it seems to go by in a flash. Why is this? It makes me wonder if things were the other way round, i.e. if I was familiar with Brick but listening to Passion for the first time, would I consider Passion to be a tedious sprawling bore?

After reading Daniel Levitin’s book “This is Your Brain On Music”, there is no question why listening to Passion again is so enjoyable. It  recalls the neural pathways that were formed when I got so into it back when I was a teenager and triggers the associated emotional memory as well. It’s like comfort food.

According to Levitin, our musical tastes are mostly programmed by the time we reach adulthood. It’s not that we can’t pick up new tastes–we all do–but I wonder if we like new stuff because it contains some element of the stuff we programmed ourselves to like when we adolescents. Perhaps that’s why I typically don’t like country music–never listened to it as a kid. But when there is a rock edge to a country song, which makes it almost indistinguishable to me stylistically from some 70’s  rock, I will like it. I like a lot Keith Urban’s music because it sounds more like country-twinged rock rather than the other way around.

Anyway, food for thought, or should I say comfort food for thought?


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