It Was 20 Years Ago Today…June 1997

Radiohead:  OK Computer

I’m a few days late on this, but I’ve been busy with laptop computer problems…kinda fitting given the album title i’m briefly reviewing.

OK Computer was the 3rd album released by Radiohead, one of the biggest bands of the 90s and the followup release to one of my favorite albums, The Bends.  It was a giant leap forward for a band that was attempting to get away from their status as “the band that wrote ‘Creep’ (one of three popular songs by that name in the 90s)”.  Twenty years later, the band is still exploring the sounds they first explored on this album.

I saw Radiohead at the summer festival Endfest in 1997, less than two months after this album came out.  I had yet to hear it, but was expecting that tracks such as “Street Spirit” and the aforementioned “Creep” would be performed.  What we got was “Airbag” and “Karma Police” among others.  The result was a 7 song performance that featured 3 tracks from an album I’d never heard.  I was disappointed, but looking back several years later, I really wish there were footage of the performance because in hindsight it was probably pretty good.

The premise of the album was the ubiquity of computers invading our every day interaction with the world around us.  Given that, within about 5 years after the album’s release, cell phones went from being a luxury purchase to a must have for everybody over the age of 15, the vision turned out to be pretty spot on.

This premise is most relevant on the tracks “Paranoid Android” and “Fitter Happier”.  The title of “Paranoid Android” takes itself from Marvin of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame; an android who is chronically depressed but simultaneously despises his roll in the universe.  As such, the protagonist is putting down those he comes in contact with, as evidenced in lines such as “when I am king, you will be first up against the wall” and “Gucci little piggy”.  Set as track 2 on the album, it serves as a setup for the alienation felt throughout the remainder of the songs.

The sense of alienation comes to a point on the computer-spoken, ambient noise track “Fitter Happier”, which spells out a highly organized and “perfect” life in the starkest of terms.  It features all kinds of lines about ideals within modern society such as “a safer car/baby strapped in back seat” and “fitter, happier, more productive” before ending the track with a phrase out of joint with the rest of the song “a pig in a cage on antibiotics”.  This brilliantly outlines the feeling of requirement to fit into society, while also illuminating the fact that those who do their best unthinkingly are not better than a pig in a cage awaiting their inevitable demise.

Aside:  I was actually surprised that Fitter Happier has been performed live.  Enjoy the performance at the end of Karma Police , another song from OK Computer that I am not discussing within this review.

When I finally did pick up a copy of OK Computer, I immediately understood what was being laid out before me.  The song I’ve enjoyed the most through the last 20 years has been “No Surprises”.  The track begins with the great visual representation of living in a society that values goods over human interaction “heart that’s full up like a landfill”.   The character within the song, and probably followed throughout the album, is giving off his “final bellyache” before giving in and learning to love the Computer.  I remember seeing the above video on MTV during the late 90s and was struck by how low budget it was.  Given the attitude of the song, it really makes thematic sense, seeing the lights reflected on the glass around Thom’s head, the holding his breath and accepting what’s coming, the bored look on his face, all piece together to show resignation and acceptance of what they all see coming.

The final track on the album “The Tourist” takes a line from Fahrenheit 451, specifically “it barks at no one else but me”.  The “it” of this song is the advancement of technology, something the protagonist of the song sees coming that other people are just blindly accepting the oncoming march to oblivion or obscurity.  It’s a fitting close to an album that lashes out at “acceptance” and “normalcy”.

Hailed almost immediately as a Masterpiece, OK Computer set Radiohead down the path of becoming and staying one of the biggest bands of the alternative rock scene.  It was a gigantic songwriting leap forward from “Creep” of five short years before.  Beginning with their 1997 tour, they did not play songs from Pablo Honey and it wasn’t for about a decade until they learned to embrace their early fame.  Many music critics have ranked OK Computer as one of the most influential rock albums of all time.  Given how prescient the theme of the album has become, influencing such phenomenon as The Matrix and the book Feed, it has earned it’s rightful place and deserves to be discussed and debated along side other albums that earn that moniker.

In 2016, Radiohead released A Moon Shaped Pool, hailed by many as one of the best albums of that year, if not for a little album called Lemonade…

Next year, Radiohead are eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Given the titanic status of OK Computer, I for one, am expecting that they will be inducted on their first year of eligibility.

Computer issues

So, my 2010 version Macbook stopped recognizing the power cord, and the fix looked to be in the $500 range.  it also had issues with the battery and trackpad, so I just decided to get a new Mac.

I’ve done the research about how to get my old harddrive onto my new computer, but it’s only recently that I realized that all the metadata information of my 35k+ itunes songs will not transfer to the new computer….

First world problems…

Adam West: 1928 – 2017

Among other nerdy things, I grew up watching the 1960s Batman on the early days of FX television channel.  I liked the light-hearted take on Batman, keeping the humor of many of the comics in tact, instead of making it gritty and dark, as has become the modern trend.

Adam West was my first Batman.  I also grew up with Michael Keaton’s movies, but I mostly started watching THOSE movies because I liked the TV show.

Farewell Bright Night, may Commissioner Gordon light the Bat Signal one final time in your honor…

It was 50 years ago today…June 1967

The Beatles:  Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Honestly, I’m not under any delusion that I can provide anything to the discussion of this album that hasn’t already been said, but my monthly album review postings ARE named after the title track, so I couldn’t let this anniversary pass without a mention and this seemed the most fitting tribute.

Sgt Pepper is one of those very few albums I have purchased on three separate occasions.  When I was buying up The Beatles collection, I bought the 1987 edition CD.  I then purchased the 2009 stereo remaster, which sounded like a major upgrade.  A couple years later, when the mono remastered vinyl was released, that was also a must purchase.  I now have 4 separate editions of the album on my Itunes (2009 mono remaster and 2017 super deluxe edition are the others), so yeah, I love this album.

Every track on Sgt Pepper serves its own purpose.  Sure, the concept was that they were writing as a fictional band, and that concept only sort of holds up.  What has always amazed me about the album, however, is that all of the songs on the album are about mundane, every day events.  Meter maids, traveling circus performers, reading the newspaper, getting by with help from your friends, life going on.  The Beatles used this album as their vehicle to propel past their mop-top, teeny bopper image and begin recording songs that weren’t so focused on infatuation love (even “When I’m Sixty-Four” has a more grown up feel to it than “I Want to Hold Your Hand”).

Three of the thirteen songs from this album appear on my list of 100 favorite songs.  I’ll describe them each in the order they appear on the album.  “She’s Leaving Home” tells the story of a young woman who leaves her parents house, with only a note to tell them why she left.  The story, though just over 3 minutes, tells such a rich tale of both the freedom felt by the daughter and the grieving experience by the parents.  The story also covers the fact that, despite the family being well off, “fun is the one thing that money can’t buy”.

Paul McCartney was always at his best when he was writing silly love songs.  There are few as “adult” and “grown up” as “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  Legend has it, McCartney wrote the song when he was just sixteen, but who knows if that’s a myth often enough repeated that became fact.  The song tells a heart-warming tale of knitting by the fireside, going for a ride on Sundays, scrimping and saving, and having three grandchildren on your knee.  Regular, working class lifestyle.  Regular, working class desires.  From one of the richest people in the UK at the time this was released.  Brilliant piece of work.

The album closes with “A Day in the Life”, a song about reading the newspaper and catching the bus, told in four verses (three by John, one by Paul) without a chorus and the longest note in recorded music.  By every account, this song should not work, but oh how it does.  God, listen to that crescendo from the hired orchestra, how it leads into Paul’s verse about getting ready and heading off to work.   The UK versions of the LP had the “Inner Groove”, a fact which I did not know until I bought the mono LP and expected to hear it but not finding it to have been there.

Fifty years after it’s original release, with little warning I might add, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has knocked down all contenders to perch atop many critic’s Greatest Of All Time lists.  The only real contenders have been Pet Sounds, Blonde on Blonde, Thriller and OK Computer.  Forty-seven years after they no longer existed as a band, The Beatles remain one of the essential bands in the history of music.  Not bad for a band the critics were saying were washed up after they took over a year without releasing an album after 1966’s Revolver.  Oh how wrong they were all proven to have been.

Seventy years ago today since Sgt Pepper taught the band to play.  All those years later, they’re still guaranteed to raise a smile.