Cool and Strange Music

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After writing two articles about music; one stating my firm belief that Rock music is not good for small children. And the other article stating what I think is good music by using the only objective measure that I imagine that could possibly apply; and that is, “Can you make money with the music?” Or to be more precise, “Can the music help you to create a mood in order to make more money in your business?” I received lots of e-mail — thank you. Most were in agreement. Some were berating me along the lines of, “So you think Gangsta Rap is good music?” No. I didn’t say that. I said that if playing Gangsta Rap music at your place of business will help with your sales, then I think you should play it. It is a business decision. That’s all.

I would imagine that, say, at a game-center or roller-skating rink that was filled with 15-year-olds, it would probably be wise to play Rap music today. Just as it would have been wise to play Elvis Presley at the same place of business in the late fifties or early sixties.

Some who wrote to me challenged me to tell them what I think is good music. I guess they mean that they want me to tell them what music I like. Okay, here it is:

I like “Cool and Strange Music.” I like just about anything that is interesting, funny, and “new.” By this “new,” I am not talking about Brittany Spears, or Eric Clapton, or the “new” album by Aerosmith. Those albums may be new, as in “new on sale.” But they are not “new.” They are the same old recycled, repackaged, corporate rock major label crap.

So here they are. Eight albums that I think are necessary. Now, remember, I am writing this for the LRC audience here, so the selection would be different if I were writing for a different group of people — Maybe not. I have picked here what I like. But, I figure most of you are between the age of twenty to eighty. So that makes it EXTRA tough to please everyone. But I think I can do it. Here are my top eight albums that I think just about anyone can enjoy.

Switched on Bach / Wendy Carlos

Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach is one of the very few albums that you can play that will delight children of all ages — From 2 years old to 102. This album originally came out in 1968 when Wendy was named Walter. He became a she, and with that threw the classical music world on its ear. I have played this record for many people and yet to met one who didn’t enjoy it. Great for any audience, at anytime of the day. You have heard this music before — you just didn’t know what it was.

Guitars Extraordinary / The Fabulous Jokers

This record is from a surf guitar group from Belgium. Surfers in Belgium!? Well, no actually, surf guitar sound from Belgium. But I reckon because of their European background, they cover older classics and standards like “Humoresque,” and “Down by the Riverside” which I understand is a traditional British song. Quite an enjoyable album that the kids and grandma can even tap their toes to. A difficult record to find (I have it on CD) but just look for the jacket that has four guys riding a bicycle. That’s them!

Africana & Beyond! / Chaino

After my early youth as a fan of 60′s psychedelia and then 70′s Punk rock, I got bored with music. That’s when I opened my mind and ears to different things. I started listening to my folks’ old Belafonte and Mantovani records (not to mention the Spike Jones albums!) I liked the Monkees way back when so I had an affinity for music with bongos in it. But let’s face it, bongo music is usually boring. But not Chaino. Chaino puts bongo music together with other instrumentation that will please fans of Rock to Rachmanioff. This guy plays the bongos in some parts of songs that defy human ability and description. You’ve never heard anything like this.

Essential / Perrey & Kingsley

This duo put this record out in the early sixties when kids were all going Beatles crazy. Every song on this instrumental record will make you think, “I’ve heard that somewhere before!” And you probably have. This reminds me of my childhood and holding hands with my mother as a five year old and seeing all the wonders of a toy store. I played this record for my eight-month old son, before he was born, and I still play it for him now. And you know what? I’ll bet he’ll still be listening to this record fifty years from now. After all, how many albums make you want to remember, dance, and cry tears of joy?

String Quartet Tribute to Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin!? Yes, you read right. There are many versions of these “String Quartet Tribute to this artist or that,” but this is the only good one. I am not a big Led Zeppelin fan, but that doesn’t matter. These songs are beautifully arranged and masterfully performed. The older audience won’t know the songs, but classical fans always enjoy hearing “new” classical music, right? The younger set that is into Led Zeppelin will be “blown away” that Grandma and Grandpa are so cool as to have this gem in their collection.

Best of Ace Cannon — The Hi Records Years / Ace Cannon

Very cool Saxophone! Disarmingly simple and easy to listen to. Ace Cannon had few top ten hits in his day, but he was the king of the Memphis Jukebox scene in the late 1950′s. Anytime someone wanted to slow dance around the dance floor or the living room, Ace Cannon was an excellent choice that was sure to please everyone. Ace’s sound is unmistakable. No loud, screaming, Sax solos. Just a slow peaceful groove. My kid loves this and my father-in-law thinks it’s great too, so there!

Sounds Rare / Sounds Orchestral

This album was originally released in the late 1960′s and is beautifully orchestrated covers of pop hit tunes of the time as well as some standards. I particularly enjoy listening to this kind of music when I am working or at a meeting. It calms people down. There’s no lyrics to get in the way and the sound will remind you of happier days as a child when you were running in the park.

Pianistar Hiroshi (any album)
(Your computer must have Japanese Language support to view this link.)

And finally, I’d like to introduce to you a guy named Pianistar Hiroshi. I think Pianistar is one of the great pianists alive in the world today. I’m not kidding! And, yes, my wife does drag me along to the Opera and Classical music concerts. Pianistar has flair. He is outrageous and, at the same time, he seems very fragile. He is a cross between Ziggy Stardust and Liberace.

Pianistar Hiroshi’s forte is adlib and parody. And at that the man is simply amazing. Two weeks ago I saw his show and he played Fryderyk Chopin’s “Polonaises,” and The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” and “Let it Be” — all three songs and all at the same time! It was truly indescribable! How anyone could have the imagination, skill, and talent to do this will simply make your jaw drop. Pianistar Hiroshi is well known in Europe and Japan. But I doubt that he will release records in the States. Why? I asked him and he told me that he didn’t care if he were famous. And you know what? He’s not kidding. He’s happy with his music and that’s that.

And I guess if you are happy with your music, then what else matters?

Every album I have picked here is an instrumental. I guess so. I think that singing, while it has its place, is generally an interference with the music. I think that’s one of the problems with today’s popular music and radio: Every song has to have singing in it. Why? I don’t know.

I work in the music business at a radio and TV station so when I come home, I usually don’t want to hear anything that is disturbing to me. Singing often disturbs me. I think that songs with singing require the listener to listen to lyrics and sometimes, I don’t want to do that. I want to concentrate on something else. Instrumental music allows me to do that. And since I have to hear singing — that really irritates me — in music by so-called professionals at work, I certainly don’t want to go to Karaoke and hear some out-of-key amateurs.

I like interesting, restful music at home. That isn’t to say that the music I like will put you to sleep. I don’t think it will. There’s much better music for that purpose.

Well, that’s just a few. I hope you may want to find these records and, if you do, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Make sure you play them for your friends and kids too. They’ll love them. And when the kids grow up, they’ll probably do what I did: “Borrow” my parents’ records!

I still have my parents records and treasure them today as jewels from my youth — How many kids in the next 10 or 20 years will be able to say that about their parents’ music collection?

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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