My Birthday Presents: MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC.

This week, I celebrated my 43rd birthday. No, there is nothing special about this particular birthday. As a matter of fact, I almost agree with comedian Patton Oswalt, when he specifies that only certain birthdays should be celebrated... with 43 NOT being included in that list. But, that is another story. We are here to talk about HOW I spent my birthday money.

As per my normal routine, my birthday money was spent on music. This year, it was specifically spent on CDs and digital downloads. Now, I am NOT a big fan of the whole iTunes digital download thing. MP3 downloads are, in my humble opinion, the most impersonal method of obtaining music. For me, one of my favorite things about purchasing music is being able to open a new LP or CD, and hold liner notes... smell liner notes (yeah, silly, I know)... and scour those liner notes. In my opinion, it is the lack of liner notes (even in the CD format) that has boosted the resurgence of vinyl.

I love buying vinyl, whether it be used or new, because of the simple nostalgia of it. I love that I can open up a record, hoping that inside will be some kind of glamorous artwork, complete with lyrics and personnel information. Even today, nobody seems to do it like some of the artists of yesterday. Elton John, for example, was often good enough to put an entire booklet in his records. To me, these were some of the finest examples of music as an all around art form.

However, in today's world, the entire music industry revolves around money. I guess it always has, however the actual formula has changed over the years. Back in the early days of Rock and Roll, record producers (usually who owned their own label... i.e. Sam Phillips and Sun Records) would seek out the talent, record the talent and promote the talent. Nowadays, most major label record companies only want to get involved with an artist if their organization is already in place. More and more you see talented Indie artists signing on to major labels, only after having released several albums on a small label. Yes, there are a few exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, most of the artists that interest me started someplace smaller, and were only given their major label contract AFTER proving what they were capable of.

The record industry has been on a slippery slide of decreasing record sales, and in my opinion, it all stems on how greedy they (the record labels) have become, as well as how impersonal music has become. But, need I remind myself, that is NOT why I am writing this post! Except, to explain why I bought two albums on iTunes...

First, I have been desperately wanting an old album... a compilation of sorts... by DAVID GATES, the driving force behind the 70's Pop group, BREAD. In 1973, he released his first solo album, possibly from the need to experiment a little bit (many of the songs have a real Jazz influence to them), as well as to take a break from the increasing tensions within Bread, itself. Among these tracks, he released a song that, to this day, I find to be truly a thing of beauty. The song is called "Clouds: Suite", and is an 8 minute suite, broken up into two sections... "Clouds" and "Rain". On the 2 disc BREAD ANTHOLOGY that Rhino Records released in the mid 90's, they included an edited version of "Clouds", but left off some of the most beautiful aspects of the song. The worst part for me, is that I had once owned a Japanese CD pressing of the late 70's compilation "THE GOODBYE GIRL", which also featured this beautiful song, and had been forced to sell it for financial reasons, somewhere before the era of CD burners. For many years, I have missed hearing that song in clear, pristine beauty. I do have the LP of the first Gates' solo album, however it is not in the best of quality. I am even aware that the GOODBYE GIRL CD has been reissued, and is available online, however, I just felt the need to get the song for easy listening (no pun intended) on my iPod. There were actually several songs that I needed on my iPod, including some that were later released for the GOODBYE GIRL compilation (following the release of the hit title track, which was the theme to the hit motion picture by the same name). So, here I am... the proud owner (once again) of David Gates' "THE GOODBYE GIRL".

Second up, and probably most importantly, is the digital download of the self-titled album by DIFFORD & TILLBROOK. Most people don't recognize these names, although chances are they recognize their music. Chris Difford and Glenn Tillbrook were often called the "Lennon and McCartney" of the 80's, and I would be prone to agree with such a label. These two gents were the songwriting force behind the 70's/80's band, SQUEEZE. In 1983, for whatever reason, the band split up, leaving Difford & Tillbrook to release an album of their own. What resulted was one of the catchiest collections of Pop music to be released in the 1980's. Again, this was a CD that I used to own, many years ago... one that I sold, at some point in time.

I should break in to point out that I used to work at a local CD store, and my music collection was by and large a rotating door of ownership. I would trade in CDs in order to acquire new ones, knowing that IF I ever wanted a certain title again, it was just a matter of going through the routine of buying it again... or trading in discs that I currently owned, in order to acquire the desired title. There have been titles in my CD collection that I have owned 3-4 times, on different occasions.

Difford & Tillbrook was one of those trades that turned around and bit me in the butt. This album was quickly out of print, with used copies fetching upwards of $100, at different points in time. A month or two ago, I asked my friend to check his favorite Russian music site (these Russian sites are pay-for-music sites, specializing in rare 80's music) to see if he could find Difford & Tillbrook's album. He came to me the next day stating that he was NOT able to find it on the Russian site, but that he found it on iTunes... for $8.99. Even today, has used copies of the CD for no less than $24.00, so it is equally rare today as it was 10 years ago... however, with the new digital domain, A&M Records was able to release the album with no risk. The files just needed to be put in place, and people could buy them, as needed. People like me.

As for my two PHYSICAL discs that I bought... well... these are equally as diverse as the first two listed.

First, I got the 2007 release by SHARON JONES & THE DAP KINGS, called "Dap-Dappin' with Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings". I have recently come to know Sharon Jones (by name) after seeing two magazine articles about her... one in SPIN and the other in my favorite music publication, PASTE. Truth be told, I didn't even read them. I did, however, ask a friend of mine, if she sang Gospel music. He said, no, that she actually did something in the vein of Soul music, but that it was pretty good stuff, from what he had heard... which was just a spotlight on NPR. I investigated her music, early last week, just a day before she and the Dap Kings played a free concert at Salt Lake's TWILIGHT CONCERT SERIES. I was intrigued. The article talked about how Sharon was trying to bring back the classic Soul/Funk sounds of the mid 60's to mid 70's. She wanted to bring back the sounds of Aretha Franklin and James Brown. And, my friends, I am happy to say that she and The Dap Kings HAVE done just that.

Last... and probably least... I had to get the new remix compilation by Lady Gaga. Yes, yes, yes... I know that there are those that are criticizing me for even venturing into the world of Gaga.... but, I can't help it. I am like a deer caught in headlights of an oncoming automobile. Perhaps, it is the little gay man that dwells inside my otherwise very heterosexual body (the same little gay man that loves Scissor Sisters and George Michael... he's hot, isn't he, friends?), or perhaps it is my love for the Trance/Deep House/Progressive House music of the last decade... or maybe, it is simply because I am an idiot... either way, I have enjoyed about 60% of the Gaga music that I have heard. Blame it on GLEE. Sheesh... there goes that little gay guy living inside of me, once again......