437. The Weeknd’s ‘House of Balloons’

One day I’d like to interview the person who decides the covers of bootleg vinyl editions of albums because who in their right mind would decide to put this Maxim cover as the cover of House of Balloons? Is it that the original cover has full arieola that they couldn’t just use the original? Or are they that worried about copyright infringement, even though they’re literally selling a bootleg vinyl copy? And why add the fake signature? 

All I know is is that I carried this album through the Philadelphia airport, and I had to turn the cover inwards because I was too embarrassed to be having this out. Shouts to having a weird sense of shame that doesn’t prevent me from buying this, just being embarrassed about holding it in public. 

436. George Strait’s ‘#7’

I’m not sure when I first heard George Strait, but I know that I danced with a girl in 6th grade at a dance to “Check Yes or No,” and by then everyone knew George Strait, and the kids who only listened to country would call George Strait “the best ever” and things like that. He was another artist that my mom listened to extensively, but I’m not sure she had anything other than a greatest hits album. 

So with that in mind, I bought this sealed copy of #7 for, hilariously, 7 bucks, at my local shop this weekend. This apparently isn’t considered one of his best albums; it’s agreed that his first 6 albums are the classics. I haven’t listened to any of those, or a full George Strait album at all till now, and let me tell you: the kids who said he was great in 1997 were totally right. 

His voice is so lilting, so hurt, so full of yearning. His songs can sometimes veer towards the saccharine, but stuff like “It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You” and “My Old Flame Is Burnin’ Another Honky Tonk Down” are such perfectly constructed odes to different points on the love spectrum. This album made me listen to only George Strait for the last 3 hours, so I guess there’s that. Peace to George Strait. I’m gonna go listen to “Honky Tonk Crazy” for the 20th time today.  

435. Steely Dan’s ‘Greatest Hits’

1. A year and 146 albums ago, I briefly wrote about Steely Dan’s Aja, an album I had heard my entire childhood from a laying down position in the backseat of my parents’ minivan. After my mom read that post, she told me they never had Aja at all; they only had the Steely Dan greatest hits album, the CD version of this vinyl copy I bought here. And that makes sense; I know my sister Hannah and I used to know all the words to “My Old School,” and that’s not on Aja at all. 

Steely Dan is a band that I suspect I’ll be listening to until I die. I’ve been listening to them for the better part of 25 years, and I have too many sense memories tied up in shit like “Deacon Blues” and “Reeling In The Years” to stop now.

2. I for one hope that the soft rock revival that seems like it could pop off actually happens, because I feel like I’m well-suited for a reappraisal of stuff like the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Crowded House, Simply Red; all the music my parents listened to on car rides for my entire youth. It’s music I’ve been re-listening to lately; there’s something security blanket esque about listening to stuff that soundtracked different periods of your life. Now I know what it’s like to be one of those people that only listens to the Beatles.

3. Steely Dan are playing a huge show at the performing arts center 4 blocks from my house in August. I wanted to buy tickets for my mom, dad and I, but they were $95 each for the literal last row of the theater. This had me feeling two types of way: 1. I can’t fucking believe people would pay that much money to see Steely Dan. 2. I really wish I had enough money to see Steely Dan and get my parents nice things.    

434. V/A: ‘A Christmas Gift For You From Philles Records’

I know it’s “cool” to pretend like you hate Christmas music and how it’s “the worst” and “OMG I CANT BELIEVE THEYRE PLAYING CHRISTMAS MUSIC IN OCTOBER ALREADY” but I feel like if you can’t acknowledge that this, the Phil Spector produced Christmas album, is one of the best albums of the ’60s, any genre, you are playing yourself. The production is perfect, and it’s harder than 70% of metal. The version of “Sleigh Ride” on here by the Ronettes is one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s flawless. I once made a CD-R that had this on it, and I listened to “Sleigh Ride” 30 times in a row while delivering pizzas. I bought this at the end of May, and I listened to it 3 times in a row even though it was 80 degrees out. I am looking forward to being able to spin this at Christmas.  

433. Will Smith’s ‘Willenium’

This story is technically about Big Willie Style, but this is my blog and I make the rules. I feel like I may have written briefly about this before, but again, this is my blog homie, you decide yours:  

When I was in sixth grade, we learned how to write letters, which is a hilarious thing now, because I don’t think I’ve written more than 3 letters my whole life. My 6th grade english teacher did not see e-mail coming, and none of us did, really. Anyways: they taught us how to teach letters in 6th grade. As part of this, our teacher had us write letters to a celebrity of our choice. It didn’t matter who; basically all that mattered was us finding an address of a celebrity to mail a letter to. 

We worked on these letters for like 3 weeks, and we worked in pairs with the person we were randomly seated next to in pairs. My partner was a girl named Adita Ringwala, a striving 4.0 student, and one of only two Indian girls in my Wisconsin middle school (her cousin was the other). Adita stressed out like crazy over the letter; she took two weeks to decide who to write to, because she didn’t really “know who she liked enough to mail a letter to.” During the third week, we had to have our partner edit our letter, which meant that, unlike every other pair in the class that fantasized about what would happen when they’d send their letter to their celebrity, and imagine free trips and free stuff, I’d be finding out who Adita was sending her letter to for the first time. 

It was to Will Smith.

And in the letter, Adita wrote a super long letter (it was like 3 pages) about how inspiring Will Smith was to her, and how he was her favorite musician (Big Willie Style had just come out), and how he was the greatest actor alive on earth. She talked about how she felt when she saw Independence Day, and how many times she called into the radio to request “Men In Black.” I didn’t know what to say about her letter, because unlike everyone else, she went way over the minimum letter of one page. I remember just being shocked that she’d be so open with a celebrity, and write something meaningful; she was one of those over-achiever kids that seemed like they didn’t have much of an internal life other than “I have to get straight A’s.” But she did. And she spent a lot of time thinking about what Will Smith meant to her.

I often wonder if she even remembers writing that letter (I haven’t seen her since 8th grade when her and her parents moved away), because I know I can’t consider anything Will Smith related without thinking about how I once had to copy edit a letter a sixth grade girl from Wisconsin sent to Will Smith. I don’t even know if she got anything back from him. I just know that it feels weird to mock anything Will Smith related, even this ridiculous album I bought for $12 at the record store because it was too unreal to pass up, because I remember what Adita wrote in that letter.  

Postscript: I ended up sending mine to George Lucas, and mostly I asked if Chewbacca was going to be in the yet-to-be released prequel movies. His assistant sent me back a letter and said she couldn’t tell me. But she sent me 3 Chewbacca trading cards, so it was cool.  

432. The Rolling Stones’ ‘More Sticky Fingers’

My best friend Matt went to Europe with his girlfriend Danielle last month as a “Hey, it’s probably the last time we can both take off for 2 weeks together for a while” trip, and when he was there, he proposed to her on a mountain in Austria. They’ve been dating for like 7 years—four of which I lived with them—and yet she was still totally surprised.

The lead up to the proposal was probably more stressful for my mans Matt than anything he’d ever done. I had to be his sounding board for basically every idea he had—I nixed the getting married in Europe because Dani’s mom would have been pissed—and to calm him down when he started having doubts about if Danielle would say yes or not (I mean, they’ve lived together for 5 years, if she said no, he would have needed a new place to live). Before I knew it, I was thrust into best man duties, and then I realized I am suddenly the age where I could be having to plan bachelor parties and talk to two of my friends about wedding venues. It’s something I’ve expected, of course; Matt and I have been best friends since the first day of first grade. There was no way anyone else COULD be helping him pick out a ring or who would be the first person he messaged after he proposed. But still; it feels like yesterday we were being dorks and playing Halo in my teenage bedroom. Now tomorrow Matt and I are going to convince Danielle she doesn’t need to let her mom have any say in the wedding at all. Getting older is weird.  

At any rate, as my best man gift, Matt bought me some records at a tiny store in Innsbruck, Austria, including the Earth Wind and Fire record from earlier, and this, what he thought was the original version of Sticky Fingers but since Matt doesn’t actually know how to tell a rarities European bootleg from the real deal, he copped me this. The fact that I can tell the subtle differences between 10 different things that say Sticky Fingers on the cover, and he cannot, and he can spend hours thinking about wedding rings and planning the perfect proposal while I roll my eyes I think is sort of indicative of our relationship. We are both obsessives, but never about the same thing. But we’re the kind of friends who will lug records around the globe for each other, and for that I am grateful. 

431. Tom Petty’s ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ (Written By Susannah Young)

Hey y’all, I have a guest writer #onhere again this week, and it’s Susannah Young, who was previously on this here Tumblr writing about Harry Nilsson last October. I had an unwritten law about wanting to have my e-friends only contribute once here, but I knew that when I bought a Tom Petty record Susannah would write an incredible piece on it, and on Petty in general. And she did. Someone needs to hire her to write essays about Tom Petty as a job. 

Listen up, naysayers, non-dads, people who have never tasted Mountain Dew: Tom Petty is one of the greatest songwriters in human history.  If you think otherwise, I promise I’ll try to respect you as a person but I will never truly trust your opinions from this point forward.

Tom Petty is the kind of Florida Man who might brag about how one time he poked a sleeping alligator with his toe but you know he’s lying because he still eats dinner with his mama every Sunday.

Tom Petty is your uncle at your graduation party getting sorta drunk and spouting nuggets of wisdom that absolutely floored you at the time but later you saw everything he said printed on the inside of a greeting card at Dollar Tree.  

Tom Petty didn’t front when the Strokes admitted to ripping off “American Girl” to write “Last Nite”  because he doesn’t need to snatch your trust fund cash to feel secure about his place in the rock pantheon.  Tom Petty can write circles around all of you, forever and ever amen.

And the characteristics that comprise Tom Petty’s brand of low-key genius are, fittingly, nothing crazy.  They’re the same set of skills that make ALL great writers great writers: the discipline to write concisely, the ability to make the few words you choose paint complete — and completely evocative — pictures.  

Consider “Free Fallin’”’s bridge, the point in the song where Petty dives headlong into his inability to love a #basic lady (you like horses AND America?  wow, tell me more) the way she deserves to be loved: “I wanna glide down/ Over Mullholland/ I wanna write her/ Name in the sky.”  Such a concise, expressive and immediately relatable way to convey exactly how it feels to be stupidly in love with no proper way to show it.  See, even using other words to describe that bridge sounds dumb.  I mean, what would you rather hear from the person who loves you?  “I am stupidly in love and have no proper way to show it?”  Or a passionate plea to scrawl your name in 50 ft. letters above the city?

Even when Petty’s lyrics get simple to the point of sounding generic or reductive, he has a knack for using music to snare the sentiment and lift it to a higher plane.  My favorite Petty song, “Shadow of a Doubt (Complex Kid),” is a great example: too-simplistic language reduces the object of his unrequited love to a series of kinda boring/played out Hard To Get Lady tropes: She likes to keep him guessing!  She’s got him on defense!  She’s a little bit of mystery!, etc.  The arrangement ACTUALLY lends the song — and by proxy, the song’s subject — complexity.  It has loud-soft dynamics that DO keep you guessing; the bassline snakes through the background, content to be noticed or ignored; guitars peal like church bells to break the tension.  It’s bare bones and intricate at the same time.  It’s the perfect complement to an ode to a flighty heartbreaker.  It’s perfect.

Tom Petty’s ability to find the shortest route between Point A and Point B also lends him the extremely #rare gift of waxing nostalgic without sounding disingenuous, emotionally manipulative, or muddying the water with too many specifics and details. The latter always feels especially out of place in songs that look backwards.  We rarely have the presence of mind to mine the moments of our life for significance as they’re happening to us; thus, memories of our past experiences tend to be rendered using broader brushstrokes.  So while part of the ache you feel in moments of reflection stems from the knowledge that you’ll never again be in that exact same place feeling the exact same way, a lot of that ache comes from knowing there are aspects of even your most cherished memories that you’ll one day forget.  That there’s nothing you can do halt the process of loosening your grip on your past.  That a little detail about you and your history slips away with each passing minute.  

The way Tom Petty writes about nostalgia captures all of that, all of what it actually feels like to yearn for the past:  hazy impressions punctuated with moments of real clarity, a blend of recollection, reflection and a desire for reinvention.  “Even the Losers” is maybe the best example of Tom Petty’s ability to write memories the way they appear in your mind’s eye: enough detail to paint a complete picture if you rely on your imagination to fill in the gaps that exist between when you lit that cigarette, when you looked up at the stars, when you parked your car on that overpass.   

Which brings me to my last point: that great art always make you feel unstuck in time as you’re experiencing it.  When I hear Tom Petty, I’m never fully present.  In my mind, I’m listening to these songs the same way I first heard them: winding through the mountains in my dad’s ancient 5-speed Accord that gained but never lost its wet dog smell, Full Moon Fever in the cassette deck, it’s sunny and hot and humid and I’m listening and hoping one day I have lived life in such a way that I have a similar backlog of experience and memories to reflect upon, and that I’m one day gifted enough with words to share my experiences with people in a way that makes them care.

Susannah Young is probably listening to Tom Petty and drinking a Dew with your dad right now. She’s on Twitter—@susannahyoung


430. N.E.R.D.’s ‘In Search Of…’

1. There’s a moment, somewhere in the split second between the first “dum bum” of the synths of “Lapdance,” where I can remember what it was like to be 16. I remember the feeling of being independent, but feeling utterly helpless. I remember the thrill that came with doing stupid shit with my friends. I remember peeling out of my parents’ driveway, pushing their green Plymouth Voyager to the max, blasting “Lapdance” at irresponsible levels, and driving off to engage in whatever light vandalism and criminality an 11 p.m. curfew could foster. I remember working a bullshit job in the kitchen at a bar/driving range, and what it was like to learn that “adults” could get high while at work and still function, and that food you steal from a kitchen you are working in will always taste the best. And that your favorite song when you are 16 seems like it will be your favorite song forever. 

"Lapdance" was the first song I listened to alone in my parents’ van when I got my drivers license almost exactly 12 years ago(!), and I can’t listen to In Search Of without remembering that day: my dad tossed me the van keys the Saturday after I got my license, and told me to go have fun. I went and picked up Nick, and we went and saw the first Spider-Man movie. We listened to “Lapdance” on repeat the whole way there and back. 

2. Whatever happened to Lee Harvey?

3. I think it took me two months after buying In Search Of… to actually listen to the whole album; a lot of CDs were like that for me back then. Since then the album has had a preferred place in my personal canon; a perfect album full of music that still sounds like the future, even now that Pharrell is finally accepted as one of the top 5 biggest musical entities on earth, since he started making music for moms. Part of me wonders what would have happened if this had blown up way bigger than to an audience of weird kids—shouts to Odd Future—like, if “Brain” had been the “Happy” of 2002. Would Pharrell be getting this second wind? Would N.E.R.D. have tried again and again to make a huge record but come up short every time? I think that’s part of why this got reissued on vinyl recently; it brings up a lot of interesting career arc questions.  

4. I really hope that the “vinyl resurgence” leads to a bunch of popular albums from the early-mid 00’s like this getting reissued. I can’t even imagine what I’d pay for a vinyl Word of Mouf. And I can’t imagine finding them at stores; I about fainted when I saw this, as I didn’t know the rumored reissue had actually already happened. Thankfully, people in my hometown weren’t into buying this as I was. 

429. Nelly’s ‘Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention’

1. When I introduce myself to people who are vaguely aware that I sometimes get paid to write content for the Internet, I have taken to introducing myself as “The Internet’s Nelly Expert,” owing to the fact that I wrote two 1500-word plus thinkpieces about him last year, and also that’s the dumbest thing I can think of to call myself. But a part of me is also sort of proud that I was able to convince my guys at Noisey to let me make three figures writing about a rapper no one thinks of critically anymore. My new goal for my music-writing career is to write as many articles as I can that draw Facebook comments like “Who fucking cares?” and “Why are you guys writing about this?” I think that’s been going well in 2014.

2. Even though I am “The Internet’s Nelly Expert,” I’ll admit I had never heard Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention in full, because I am of the opinion that Nellyville and Country Grammar are unfuckwithable classics, and Nelly was doing unnecessary facelifts on his music as he was trying to win back street-level rap fans who saw him as a pop star first, rapper second. I was unsure if this “street” remix album even existed in a physical form; I’ve only heard it on the Internet. So imagine my surprise at visiting the record store in my hometown this past weekend, and seeing a vinyl copy for the absurd price of $9.99. I felt like I just robbed the store blind. A rare-ish Nelly album for under 10 bucks? Sometimes I can be convinced in the existence of a benevolent god. God is at the very least a City Spud fan.

3. This album is almost too crazy to explain. There is a remix of “Country Grammar” that is basically just “Country Grammar” with an E-40 verse. There’s a terrible remix of “Hot In Herre” that basically just triples the sound of the strumming instrumentation. There’s an insane version of “Ride Wit Me” that samples John Mayer, and one of the original tracks here—“Iz U”—samples the People’s Court theme music. Clipse are on a version of “#1” and Ronald Isley is on a version of “Pimp Juice.” “Batter’s Up” is here, too.

Which is to say, I think this album is incredible. The idea that Nelly went to a studio to try to make his music appeal to hardcore rap fans again, and failing so miserably, is so Nelly. It’s one of the reasons I find him compelling; even when he was on top, he was worried about what his fame would ultimately mean for him down the line. More or less, it meant him being the mid-level headliner at fairs, and opening for Florida Georgia Line this summer.

Nelly stays being the most tragic pop figure of the last 15 years to me.