Monday, November 17, 2008

The Return of Sunday Music (on a Monday, of course): Classic Rock?

Saturday saw me on a long car ride with several people from the SAIU (report forthcoming). Before we'd even left campus, my mp3 player shuffled its way to a track from the Afro Samurai soundtrack by RZA, and I was immediately asked whether it represented my musical taste. (I think I replied offhandedly that "everyone likes the RZA".) The person asking said something about how she figured I was a classic rock fan. I said of all the music out there, that's probably what I like the least.

And, of course, I thought about that statement through the day and about how idiosyncratic taste can be. I might have forgotten the exchange altogether if I hadn't woken up in the mood to listen to Bat Out of Hell the following day.

"Bat Out of Hell." Meat Loaf. Live.

I've only recently been persuaded to re-listen to Meat Loaf, and as yet, this is the only album of his that I listen to non-ironically. (Bat Out of Hell II earns a few 90s dance party plays on occasion.) Despite the years of punkdom telling me that I should consider it overproduced and bloated, it's actually those operatic and prog aspects of the album that attract me.

I can easily do without Led Zeppelin, The Who, Aerosmith, and most of the other bands that get spun on classic rock format stations. I have no desire to hear George Thorogood ever again. (Seriously.) Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Yes, and others I remain undecided on mostly because I've listened to so little.

In fact, to no small degree, it's seems to be blues rock which turns me off the most,despite my liking the blues (at least up until the 40s). The groups I like from the 60s and 70s tend to move away from the blues roots of their music: King Crimson, Hawkwind, David Bowie, Sparks, Can, Kraftwerk.

A portion of "The Golden Void." Hawkwind.

This song would be right at home sitting next to an allegedly post-rock track like "East Hastings" by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

But blues influence is an arbitrary line as the likes of Jethro Tull are no strangers to my stereo (not to mention the oodles of soul, neosoul and R&B on my hard drive). Sometimes I think it's the overly "masculine" approach of many classic rock bands. Balls to the wall sound, straightforward lyrics, and lack of introspection (intellectual or musical) is what tends to determine which 80s punk groups I prefer (Husker Du over Black Flag, for example). And yet I can tolerate Iron Maiden and Journey.

As stated in my post on Feist last spring, I think my tastes can be summed up as liking music that is 1) the adventurous and/or 2) well-crafted. On occasion, I'll listen to the best of early Hall and Oates for the latter. On other occasions, I'll listen to the best and worst of Devo for the former. And in an act like the Eurythmics, the two are sometimes joined (though they also had their greatest misses). When it comes to a great deal of classic rock, adventurousness is tossed out with rock conservatism. A group like AC/DC never had to change their basic formula. And well-crafted? Perhaps that's where the infamous guitar noodling on top of a simple three-chord blues patterns removes points: I'd much rather listen to Muddy Waters explore in the 40s than listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd tread water.

This still leaves out an explanation for why I dislike some groups (notably Zeppelin and The Who), but perhaps asking for a complete explanation is too much.

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