Arnold Böcklin, Cosmic Slop, Dido and Aeneas, Dido's Lament, Donny Hathaway, Funkadelic, Henry Purcell, Isle of the Dead, Klaus Nomi, Let Down, Prelude While the Cold Genius Rises, Radiohead, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Someday We'll All Be Free, Thanks to these lonesome vales
1. What Power Art Thou (Prelude While the Cold Genius Rises) – Henry Purcell
I would be lying if I said I was naturally exposed to Henry Purcell, I learned about him because he wrote a great deal of compositions for counter-tenors and when I was exposed to the mesmerizing Klaus Nomi, after a while I started to wonder whose songs he was always singing. With Purcell, I still find it amazing that someone who lived over 400 years ago made music that’s so stirring to me. Whether performed with a baritone or a falsetto, this is a concisely brilliant composition, but its at its best with a counter tenor, and no one did a better job than the late, great Klaus Nomi.
Every time this song reaches “let me freeze again,” I get the same chills. I could listen to it every day. (Two other compositions of Purcell nearly made the list, both from Dido and Aeneas. “When I am laid in Earth (Dido’s Lament)” is the obvious one, but I have an affinity for “Thanks to these lonesome vales.”
- Let Down – Radiohead
OK Computer is the greatest album I’ve ever heard, but for me, Let Down is the crown jewel of the whole thing. It’s a chimey track that immediately makes me think of Roger McGuinn and the Byrds, with this superimposed oddly timed Fender Rhodes lick that nicely introduces dissonance to what could have been boring verses if done by a lesser artist. It combines beauty with intrigue, and by the time Thom Yorke warbles “You know, you know where you are,” I’ve realized that I’m singing along, whether I mean to or not. I could play this song on a loop and never get tired of it.
3. Isle of the Dead – Sergei Rachmaninoff
This is difficult to support, but to me Rachmaninoff suffers from several large assumptions. It’s hard to separate Russia from Communism and our idea of Communism is more Ivan Drago, than Alexander Solzhenitsyn. To think that the slender severe-looking man we see in photographs was capable of such a passionate work seems almost alarming in its contrast. Rachmaninoff was known for his large, impossibly flexible hands, making his compositions at times difficult to play, but that technical proficiency doesn’t mean that his work was cold and distant. Isle of the Dead, is his piece based on the Arnold Böcklin painting.
Isle of the Dead is roughly 22 minutes long if I remember correctly. It does not feel that long, pretty much every time I’ve ever played it, I was surprised at how quickly it seemed to end. An orchestral line in a 5/8 time signature signifies the rowing of the oars in the water as you approach the Isle of Dead starts the song, but it builds to an incredible intensity over the next eleven minutes. I’m sure if I was an expert there are better classical pieces, but I’m not, and to me this is tremendous.
- Someday We’ll All Be Free – Donny Hathaway
Donny Hathaway is mostly forgotten in this country, internationally he has a higher profile. It’s a shame. Edward Howard wrote the lyrics for this song as encouragement to the depressed artist, and Hathaway cried when he finally recorded it. It relief was only temporary, as Hathaway eventually took his own life.
Honestly, if I was a more open person, I would cry every time I hear it too. It’s a deeply emotional song, with the idea that maybe someday the pain that we endure will stop, and somehow you can hear that it Hathaway’s voice. It has been covered many times, which is insane. No one will ever do it better.
5. Cosmic Slop (live)- Funkadelic (Hardcore Jollies album)
As a former guitar player, I thought funk was the highest form of music. Its rhythms have the complex chording of jazz ( while rock players are often exceptional if they can avoid parallel movement, use power chords properly and occasionally use an inversion or two) some of the more abstract concepts from classical music (quartal harmonies come to mind), impossible poly-rhythms that evoke African and Latin styles, the feel of soul and blues and the aggression of rock. And the leads – you can really do anything.
Cosmic Slop does it all perfectly. The raw vocals of juke joint blues, a rhythm section that carries the sound, two dueling guitars that sound fresh over thirty years later, and a deceptively unorthodox song structure. Even if we’re on an island, at some point we have to party, right?