Q and A

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Tom Hull.

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July 18, 2020

[Q] You said, in your most recent post, that Pere Ubu "produced one of [your] all-time favorite albums -- The Modern Dance (1978)." Same here, and Dub Housing is right up there for me, too. So I'm wondering, what are some other all-time favorites? I figure anyone who IDs The Modern Dance as an all-time favorite, and whose musical tastes generally parallel mine (but for the African music, which still, for the most part, doesn't grab me), has other all-time favorite suggestions that would be of great interest to me. -- Ronnie Ohren, Chicago [2020-07-10]

[A] I probably had a more intense personal identification with The Modern Dance than with any other album ever. For starters, I had read Alfred Jarry a decade earlier, shortly after I dropped out of high school, and readily identified the Pere Ubus in my own experience. (I imagine that reading Jarry now would just conjure up sordid visions of Donald Trump, but those were more innocent times.) I dug the pataphysics, indeed the whole absurdist gamut of surrealism and futurism, even before adding a layer of Marxist revolution -- also echoed in The Modern Dance. And sonically, its industrialism twisted punk in the right direction. I was so ready for it, I felt that if I were ever to attempt an album, that's where I'd want to see it go. Most similar album, in terms of my emotions, was probably X-Ray Spex: Germ Free Adolescents, but the mid-to-late 1970s were an intense and volatile period for me and my understanding of music.

As for other recommendations, it's been quite some time since I tried to order an all-time list. I can't even find an old one in the clutter of my website, but do recall The Velvet Underground (1969) on top, with compilations of Hank Williams and Madonna in the top five. The closest thing I have is a select but unranked list: 1,000 Albums for a Long and Happy Life. I compiled it in late 2008, as a second opinion to Tom Moon's book, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. I added several things later, expanding the list to 1,020 records, but there's nothing there past 2009 (Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You, and Leonard Cohen: Live in London -- two more favorite records). [PS: While working on this, I've added some more recent records, but have yet to remove anything. Clearly I need to give it another pass.]

A few more records of special personal import from the 1974 on (no ranking here, having skipped many albums this good -- see note below): Roxy Music: Stranded (1974); Roswell Rudd: Flexible Flyer (1974); The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwarz (1974); Ducks Deluxe: Taxi to the Terminal Zone (1975); Patti Sith: Horses (1975); Brian Eno: Another Green World (1975); Have Moicy! (1976); Ronnie Lane: One for the Road (1976); Bootsy's Rubber Band: Ahh . . . The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! (1977); Joe Ely: Honky Tonk Masquerade (1978); Nick Lowe: Pure Pop for Now People (1978); Buzzcocks: Singles Going Steady (1979); Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta (1980); Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places (1981); Ian Dury: Jukebox Dury (1981); Linton Kwesi Johnson: Making History (1984); Mekons: Fear and Whiskey (1985); New Order: Brotherhood (1986); Laurie Anderson: Strange Angels (1989); Welcome to the Beautiful South (1990); Pharoah Sanders: Welcome to Love (1990); Pet Shop Boys: Very (1993); Iris DeMent: My Life (1994); Dave Alvin: King of California (1994); Manu Chao: Clandestino (1998); Billy Bang: Vietnam: The Aftermath (2001); The Coup: Party Music (2001); Cornershop: Handcream for a New Generation (2002); DJ Shadow: The private Press (2002); Lyrics Born: Later That Day (2003); Buck 65: Talkin' Honky Blues (2003); Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (2007); Maria Muldaur: Good Time Music for Hard Times (2009). Skipped a lot here, including most African, jazz, hip-hop, major figures (most notably George Clinton, Leonard Cohen, Ornette Coleman, Al Green, Madonna, Van Morrison, Randy Newman, Prince, John Prine, Lou Reed, Todd Snider, Loudon Wainwright III, Lucinda Williams, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young) and groups (Clash, Drive-By Truckers, Public Enemy, Rolling Stones, Pavement, Sonic Youth, Steely Dan, Talking Heads).

Before 1974 my picks are less likely to vary from the consensus.

[Q] Your reviews of Hampton Hawes were very positive for the 1950's releases. For the most part the 60's releases were ignored. Did you see a fall off of quality or just lost interest? Some, such as Sťance are highly regarded. -- David Wagner, Birdsboro, PA [2020-07-02]

[A] A fall off in perceived quality would have left a trail of lower grades, which isn't the case with Hawes. At least since 2002, I write up everything I listen to, even if I offer little more than a grade. A decline in reputation could have steered me away, especially before promos and streaming reduced the cost of checking something out to near-zero (actually, to time). For the better part of a decade (1995-2005) I used to carry a 30+ page "shopping list" of well-regarded albums (including everything 3.5 stars or better in Penguin Guide), and used it while crawling through used CD shops. Penguin Guide doesn't give Hawes a 4-star album after For Real (1958, A-), or a 3.5-star album after The Green Leaves of Summer (1964, one I haven't heard). I had heard As Long as There's Music (1976, B+, PG ***), but that's filed under Charlie Haden.

I've played some more Hawes since receiving this question, and can say that he remained a consistent player to the end. He died in 1977 (at 48), but 1976's Something Special is one of his best post-1950s trios. On the other hand, nothing later quite matched his four A-list albums from 1955-58.