(Check out the playlist at the bottom!)
A couple of months ago, I did an article about what it feels like to listen to new music by bands I have known for a long time. Now I want to talk about new music by bands I have never heard before. I want to hear something that blows me away, a sentiment likely shared by many of you. The first time I was totally taken by an album was when Van Halen’s first record came out in February 1978. I was walking into a record store and heard this sound on the album they had playing in the store and had to stop and ask the cashier what it was. She said “it’s the first album by an LA band called Van Halen”. I had never heard of them and I bought it on the spot. Soon everyone I knew was listening to Van Halen. The next time that happened was when the Guns & Roses album Appetite For
Destruction came out in August of ‘87. I was buying literally hundreds of albums a year by that time but nothing grabbed me so immediately as those two albums did. The last time it happened to me was when Pearl Jam released the Ten in September of ‘91. There has been a lot of good music since then but it hasn’t grabbed me immediately like those albums did. That was 26 years ago. I have gotten thousands of new records, cd’s, and downloads since then but haven’t experienced a revelation in music like those albums since. I wonder why? Today there is a plethora of venues to discover new music. Streaming services, internet sites, TV, retail outlets, the media in general and by word of mouth to name just a few. There are thousands of new pieces of music produced each year as well as multi-thousands of things that aren’t necessarily new but that I just have never heard. I have been known to get bummed out by the realization that there is a lot of good music that I will never experience. I want to feel that emotion of discovery again. What’s a poor boy to do?
I try to keep my ear to the ground and see if I can spot “the new big thing”, at least the new big thing to me. I read the charts and reviews, I see what is current on Spotify’s “Release Radar", I check out AllMusic’s new releases list each week, I ask people I meet what they are listening to, etc. Mind you, I am not obsessed by the thought of the new, I can listen to stuff I already have for the rest of my life and be totally satisfied. But there is something about the absolutely new that is very exciting. Whether it is a new sound, a new person, job, movie, book, food, or whatever. But, what got me on this crazy train?
When I was a child I distinctly remember hearing “Hey Jude” and “Riders on the Storm” on my mom’s car radio sometime around 1970. The thing my 6 year old brain recognized was how long those songs were. The other songs on the radio were short, those two weren’t. I liked the sing-a-long chorus to “Hey Jude” and I liked how dark and sinister The Doors’ track was as well, I still love that bass line in “Riders”. Soon after, I heard “Iron Man” and I loved it. I even convinced my parents to get me the 45 of it when I was 10. I played that single to death. I even played the 45 at 33 just to make it sound gloomier. From that point on I wanted to hear something new as often as possible (while filling out my collection with the catalog of the bands I was listening to).
It used to be a lot easier to find something that was new and exciting, there just wasn’t that many places that music came out. There was no internet, downloading or streaming. There was radio, TV, record stores and a few magazines. If something was capturing the cultural zeitgeist it was pretty apparent. The 70’s had a lot of experimentation and the record companies were willing to let bands try different things out on the audience, an audience which was receptive to the variety, which helped the label profit. My guess is that it was probable a reaction to what the Beatles had done. The 80’s had the benefit of hard rock expanding into the mainstream, the advent of the New Wave/Modern Music scene and Rap, all at roughly the same time. Good times for finding new sounds. The 90’s brought the Grunge movement and more recently there has been the rise of EDM.
But for me it has gotten harder to find a new artist or group that excites me to buy any music they have created, hunt for concert tickets and read anything I can about the group. This could be a result of there not being any music good enough to make the (really, my) grade or something much more tenuous. I personally have a hard time believing that there isn’t any good music these days. It would be arrogant and egotistical to believe that I got to live during the glory days and those who came after me are left with the scraps. I’ve known people who truly believe that what they listen to is the pinnacle of music, and these people have been from many different generations, I’m sure the same thing will be stated in the future. Plus it’s just statistically ridiculous. It’s much more likely that I have a harder time with discovery because my tastes have generally settled into a comfortable niche- I like to rock. I listen to newer stuff but it just doesn’t grab me. I just listened to Major Lazer on Spotify, I could see why it’s popular but I didn’t like it as much as the latest album by Airbourne, which I liked because it sounded like old AC/DC. I also find it hard, tedious and time consuming to dig through all the choices and detritus to find the gems. The sad part is that I want to feel that euphoria of discovering new music again, it’s in my DNA. Regardless of the effort I keep searching for the new. I ask everybody I run into what they are listening to and what they consider good. Some like to try to prove their hipster cred by suggesting something that is so obscure very few have heard it, it might even be good but that doesn’t make the grade. Some suggest things that are very popular, all the kids are listening to it (think Bieber but it doesn’t make my grade. Some come close. At least those I feel like hearing more than once (I am liking Pop Evil a lot right now). I am the only one who will recognize it when I hear it, as we all are. Recently people have suggested Rival Sons (I like them), Thee Oh Sees (OK, kind of garage-y) and Ghost (mellower than their image would suggest). All fun to listen too but just not at that level where I would listen to them over and over again. So the quest continues. Feel free to make suggestions, just because something may not fit my criteria as life altering (like Once, Paradise City or Runnin’ With The Devil) doesn’t mean I won’t like it. But man, if it is the one it will be awesome.