Friday, February 8, 2019

"Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" by Yoko Ono (150 Albums By Women #136)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Last time I announced that my next album would be #137, Ofra Haza's "Fifty Gates of Wisdom." Well, halfway through my survivor playlist listen of that, it was actually removed from Spotify. Sheesh. So I moved onto Yoko Ono's "Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band" album instead, which I anticipated would be the most challenging listen of the entire project so far.

It's only six songs long on the original version (I opted not to include bonus tracks that got added later), but avant-garde music is so not my thing that I found myself completely at a loss after the first listen to find anything positive about it, but I kept chugging along. And then, on the last two songs... it somehow clicked? I was astonished, but I actually kind of dug these last two by the fifth listen.

A top 5 is ridiculous for an album with only six tracks, but I will share my thoughts on those top two. So here we go.

2. Greenfield Morning I Pushed an Empty Baby Carriage All Over the City
This apparently has lyrics going on (the title lyrics, it appears) but the sound of this is pretty intriguing to me. It's one of the more musical pieces, and definitely an atmospheric one. The title apparently references a miscarriage, and there's a very empty melancholy feel to this one. Ono's voice is not as abrasive as it is in some of the other pieces, making it easier to lapse into the emotional tone of it.

1. Why
And everything I just said about the previous track doesn't apply to this. This IS abrasive and busy and obnoxious, with Ono wailing what I believe is the word "Why" over and over again in various vocal styles. John Lennon is on guitar here, and the guitar sounds great -- providing a much-needed musical foundation for Ono to essentially riff all over. One review I read called this track "primal," and that's absolutely the right feel here. I'm so fascinated by it.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. The Breeders - Last Splash
  5. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
  8. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  9. The Bangles - All Over the Place
  10. Yoko Ono - Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
  11. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  12. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Cast Album Discoveries: Newsies

I've been alternating the albums in my Top 150 Albums By Women project with cast albums, so I'll share my favorite five from these as I listen to them as well. 

This is a very specific discovery of a cast album -- the original Broadway cast version of Newsies. I grew up on the original movie, loving so many of those songs, but had never given the cast album much of a shot. Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, my top songs were mostly the ones that were written for the original movie as well. The only original song that came close to cracking the top five was "That's Rich," a song written for a character whose songs in the movie were terrible. "That's Rich" is a huge improvement, but still not quite enough to win when up against some of the truly great songs carried over from the film.

So here are my top five.

5. Santa Fe. I love the ending piece of this song, and I love that they changed that really dumb lyric from "I want space, not just air" to "I want space and fresh air." (Like... what did that even mean before? Did he have an overabundance of air in New York City?) My issue here is that despite loving Jeremy Jordan overall, I do not like him in this show, and certainly not in this song. He's not pleasant to listen to nor does his attempt at an emotional portrayal works for me. It comes around by the end, but it's a rough enough listen at the beginning that it's leaving now.

4. Seize the Day. This was never one of my favorite songs, but the reason it stuck around through #4 out of 17 songs is because of its new intro. The original version is very repetitive and goes on for a very long time, and its intro was just a slowed-down version of the rest of the song. But I absolutely love this new intro. I love the line, "Say to all the others who cannot follow through / You're still our brothers and we will fight for you." I love, "And a prayer becomes a vow." I love so much of it. Oddly, it flags for me once it gets going in the rest of the song -- but this has always been a dance-heavy song more than anything, and that loses something when just listened to.

3. The World Will Know. The final three songs on this list are all so good. There's such a delightful anthemic marching feel to this one. I don't even really have much else to say it, I just love it a lot.

2. Once and For All. This one comes into its own in the Broadway cast recording in a way that it didn't in the movie. It always felt like a kind of half-song there, while here it definitely stands out here -- obviously, since it made it to #2. The harmonies on "All of these guys who are sick of the lies getting ready to rise to the call" are stunning.

1. Carrying the Banner. It was unlikely anything other than this was ever going to win, unless the cast album version super messed it up, but they did not. It's such a delightful upbeat song, one of my favorite "wake up and go to work" songs. The last minute or so where the chorus all comes together in one giant amazing power sound is just fantastic.

Next up, I return to the Top 150 Albums by Women. I'll be listening to Ofra Haza's "Fifty Gates of Wisdom," which is on Spotify, if you would like to join me!