For the past year or so I’ve been telling my girlfriend I’m “refining” my record collection — weeding out stuff I don’t want anymore and replacing it with new stuff. I make it sound a lot more like zero population growth than it actually is. The truth is, I’m spending a stupid amount of money on records and using handfuls of sales as a smokescreen.
When I first started this process, I was a bit trigger-happy and got rid of some albums which I now regret. At the time, I hadn’t listened to them in years and didn’t really know why I had them at all. Life’s Rich Pageant, case in point. I don’t have any idea how I came to own this 1986 R.E.M. album. I never really liked them. About a year ago, while cataloguing my collection I found it and put it on. As it played, I couldn’t wait to get it out the door. I found it whiny, lacking melody, hooks, humour or anything cool. I think I sold it for $15. I’ve spent the past two months trying to find another one, and dropped $35 on one last week. A bird in the hand, indeed. Damned if I know what’s changed, but the album — and R.E.M. in general — sounds great to me now.
So, I got thinking about other bands and albums I used to moan about which I now quite enjoy. I took a look through some recent acquisitions. Much of this stuff falls into the category of “scalloped potatoes albums.” You know, when you were a kid and there was that food you always refused to eat at home, then decided to try it at a friend’s house and decided it was great after all.
Bo Diddley is one of these. I always had Bo down as a novelty act — an old-tyme rock-a-roller who you’d see once in a while in a ‘legends’ supergroup, wearing a tuxedo and playing the same song every time. Bo Diddley, of course. The man, the beat and the song. Then one day, about two years ago, Spotify randomly played Look At Grandma from Bo’s 1972 album Where It All Began. About 20 seconds in I hit the little heart and saved it to my favourites. Then I spent days down a Bo hole. This album is incredible, so is The Black Gladiator — I mean, how could it not be, really? The problem with Diddley is the bugger spent too much time gigging and not enough time in the studio. No wonder my impression of him was so one-dimensional. His humour, bravado and tone are just so, so so great.
Amy Winehouse. I never understood why people liked her so much. To me, she was just some British junkie with big hair who sang show tunes and had a cheeky song about not wanting to go to rehab. But both my elder daughter and my girlfriend are major fans. So, I bought some Winehouse — first, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, then the incredible Live At The BBC and finally, the essential Back To Black. I was such an ass. She was so incredibly talented. I had no idea she wrote her own material. I chalk this up to toxic masculinity, I guess. Truthfully, I feel awful about making my mind up about her without really giving it an honest listen with my own ears. It probably didn’t help that back when Winehouse was at the peak of her popularity, I was into Guided By Voices, Pavement, Sebadoh, Sonic Youth and the like. I wasn’t ready.
I also wasn’t into hip-hop. That’s changed, and is a work in progress. I was raised on guitar rock, so it took an adjustment for me before I finally woke up to the fact that hip-hop is the new punk rock. That’s not to say I wasn’t a big fan of some — Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, The Roots, Wu Tang Clan. But, I was a novice. My girlfriend Chelle got me into the late Mac Miller and I was soon besotted with Roots Manuva and J. Cole. Now my collection has Madvillan, Madlib, Dr. Dre, M.I.A., A Tribe Called Quest, Run The Jewels and Freddie Gibbs, to name a few. I’m even buying hip-hop on my own now — without Chelle’s guiding hand. The training wheels are off!
Speaking of Chelle, she also opened my world to Alabama Shakes. Their first two records, which we now own, are unimpeachable masterpieces. They rock, they have soul, they’re cool and they sound unbelievable. So well-recorded and produced. Very good songwriting — amazing guitar tones and drum sounds and Brittany Howard is a genius.
Finally, a band I never thought much about, but reconnected with on my own, is Martha And The Muffins. I liked Echo Beach; it was a minor hit when I was a kid. My brothers used to work at Loblaws when they were in high school and used to sing along to it, changing “office clerk” to “grocery clerk.” I also knew the hit Black Stations White Stations, when they shortened the name to M+M. But that’s about it. Then, one day a few months ago I found a copy of 1981’s This Is The Ice Age. The cover was cool — an out of focus photo of First Canadian Place, home to BMO and several Toronto radio stations. It was $3 and didn’t have Echo Beach on it and I was curious. Man, is it ever great. It’s post-punk pop, but I’ll point you towards a deep cut. An instrumental called Jets Seem Slower In London Skies. If you like Eno and Death Cab piano, you will love this song forever.
Next time we’ll do this in reverse — albums and artists I used to love, but now can’t stand (and not just Arcade Fire!).
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.