Thursday, May 31, 2012

Electric Relaxation: In An 80's State of Mind

This year, I’ve already bought more CD’s than I did last year. It feels weird yet it symbolized my budget cutting/dissatisfaction with 2011 music.  But all the CD’s I bought now are at least 25 years old or older. Consider this my lesson for only downloading singles and having no idea of how they sound in context.

In the last two months, I’ve bought 6 CD’s. All of them between $6-10. 

•Prince’s entire output with the Revolution (1999, Purple Rain, Around the World in A Day and Parade)
•U2’s “The Joshua Tree”
•Guns N’ Roses “Appetite for Destruction”


If you follow me on Twitter or read this blog, you’d know that there’s no artist I’ve dug into more hardcore than Prince in the last year. I started digging Prince more in 2004 when I bought Musicology and then in 2005, I bought a greatest hits album and Sign O’ The Times. 

I said in 2010 that I think Prince is the greatest musical genius of the last 30 years. When I saw him last year, I was in awe of how one man and a band could move a crowd so easily. 

All credit goes to The Morning Jones for playing so much Prince during the breaks and one of my recent acquaintances for schooling me on Prince’s catalogue.  And thanks to Spotify, I’ve listened to all of Prince’s albums from 1980-1987.

Consider my shock when I saw that Purple Rain was available for $6.99 at Best Buy. I snatched that up so quickly I didn’t think twice. Then my boy told me I was stupid passing up Parade for $5 since I didn’t know any song on there besides Kiss. So the next day, I snagged that too.

After listening to all four albums, one thing is clear. The Revolution era for Prince was absolutely amazing. Just how his sound became bigger, more musical, more realized. Soon as you hear the opening sounds of “1999”, it was the sound of a new era arriving for pop music after Prince laid his foundation with “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy”

For years, I thought Sign O’ The Times was my favorite Prince album. Now it’s a tossup between that, Purple Rain and 1999. How can I turn down the dance-funk of “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” or “DMSR” from 1999? How can I not enjoy the joy of hearing “Darlin Nikki”, the pure pop bliss of “Take Me With U” and the soul-drenched hymn “Purple Rain”? It’s hard to choose.

By the way, after hearing “Lady Cab Driver”, I can never hear “Oh Sheila” by Ready for the World the same way. When you listen to both, you'll know why.

I actually really loved Around the World as a slept-on disc. The songs are tight, the grooves are amazing and it’s still got the full sound that 1999 and Purple Rain have.  “America”, “Paisley Park” and “The Ladder” are my faves in addition to the tracks I already love in “Pop Life” and “Raspberry Beret.” 

My boy told me folks were sleeping because it wasn’t Purple Rain 2. The curse of following up a classic that impacts folks – see Michael Jackson, Nas, and so many others. Yet I really enjoyed it as much as I did 1999 or Purple Rain. Not saying it's better or on par but enjoyable.  

Parade is a bit tougher for me to absorb. It’s got a more European feel, shorter songs and not as bass heavy as the other albums. You can definitely appreciate how unique “Kiss” sounds hearing the other songs. “Anotherloverholenyohead” might be the most underrated track in Prince’s catalogue for its groove and catchy hook.

Honestly, I can replay those 4 albums and Sign O’ The Times over and over instead of listen to the radio. That’s what happens when you make ish that’s timeless (word to Kanye). 

I said for years that Appetite for Destruction might be the greatest debut album ever. Little did I know how right I might be. I had already owned the singles from the album for years but nothing prepared me for hearing it on CD.

“Welcome to the Jungle” engulfed me hearing it in stereo sound. I had heard it for so many years that it felt cliché, like that great L.A. anthem that you’re used to. I know the story. I’ve seen the video. I know the 80’s culture on the Sunset Strip. I know it’s one of the greatest rocks songs ever. But it still blew me away even more. 

Hearing that howling voice of Axl Rose and the twin guitar assault of Slash/Izzy made me say YES! This was the sound of my city! A city that I wrote about in my LA Riot series as raw, dirty and not the pristine image of sun and surf. The pulsing drums of Steven Adler on the breakdown sounded like a tribal call to welcome you to a dark, but wild world.

Anyways, enough has been said on that. The rest of the album just blew me away sonically. It was loud, fast, aggressive and nonstop energy. “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” hit me right away but literally so did everything else. It’s hard to say that tracks stand out because they all do. It sounded like the five guys said, “Let’s make the hardest, rawest, dirtiest album out and kill all these soulless hair metal bands.”

Even songs for girls were aggressive. “My Michelle” and especially “Rocket Queen” described how guys back then were living fast and didn’t want to sweet talk girls but get to business. It sounds like love songs but more in love with being fast than an actual relationship. 

“Sweet Child O’Mine”, which I’ve loved since hearing it in high school, feels completely in place with the rest of the songs as a nice change of pace but not weepy or super dramatic. 

And what can you say about “Paradise City”. It’s probably my favorite Guns song and an anthem for the traveling man. I live for the breakdown where Slash and Izzy go wild on twin solos and Axl just wails with the music. 

Now that I’ve heard it, it’s not only one the greatest debuts ever, it’s one of the greatest L.A. albums ever. Just a raw, fiery sound that was a perfect capsule of that era. It proves Nirvana alone didn’t kill hair metal. Guns N Roses and Metallica put them in a coffin and Nirvana just nailed the door shut. 

Finally, I dug into Joshua Tree, another classic inspired somewhat by the Southern California desert. Another album I had heard about greatly but with the 25th anniversary this past March, it was time to dig beneath the singles. 

It was definitely softer than the 5 albums I just described but knowing how U2 is, I was expecting lyrical excellence more than fast songs. And you can’t beat the four in a row to start: “Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “With or Without You” and “Bullet the Blue Sky.”

That’s four songs that any band wishes they could’ve written at least once. “Bullet the Blue Sky” has become one of my favorite songs of the last 3 years because it doesn’t sounds like typical U2. There’s anger in the words and the music. There’s a growl in Bono’s voice that says dissatisfaction with American foreign policy and attitudes in general.  

But again, I was more curious to hear songs that I hadn’t heard before. Maybe I blame myself for saying this because the album was almost like being overwhelmed by a pillow. It’s a blow that doesn’t faze you at first, yet over time, it hits you deep as the words sink in.

I felt the urgency in “Exit” as a man with suicidal thoughts faced the end of his dream. I reveled in the joy of “One Tree Hill” and also feel the idea of “Running to Stand Still.” I really loved “Mothers of the Disappeared” since I’m familiar with the Dirty Wars in Central America. It was beautiful and sad. 

It’s so relevant in these times because I feel people are searching for answers and understanding in a world lacking substance. The one I always love about U2 is that their songs want you to see how our journeys toward finding the answers are parallel. 

If anything, listening to these 80’s classics reminded me that sometimes it’s better to look back for inspiration when the present isn’t pushing you. When Big Boi and Janelle Monae’s 2010 albums still sound as good as anything released since then, it says a lot for folks now. 

I’m grateful to own all six of these albums. Since older CD’s are getting cheaper, I’m happier to grab them and add to my listening experience. It's something I've been thinking about as I've been on Spotify as well as the lack of creativity surrounding most music. Then, when I read this piece by Dart Adams, it confirmed my state of mind.

The older I get, I’d rather listen to timeless music if I feel that music of the times isn’t speaking to me. Call me Evan McFly looking back to appreciate the future as well as inspire me. 

Besides, I’d love to see somebody debate the greatest albums of 1987. Appetite for Destruction vs. Joshua Tree vs. Bad (Michael Jackson) vs. Sign O’The Times/Black Album vs. Faith (George Michael). 


  1., took me back with this write-up. Prince, well you already know my stance. GNR, a great band with a huge sound. That album is a classic, no doubt. U2, what can you say? Just great all-around music and that's one concert I'd love to see.

  2. Back to the Future!! Yeah I gotta thank you for assisting me with the Prince too. A whole lotta goodness that made me continue to appreciate him. I'd kill to see U2 live and I know they've killed it at the Rose Bowl last few times they were out here.