sMy music reviews for music originally released in 1958.
1. Bo Diddley (10/10)
One of the essential early rock and roll records. Read the review of the compilation Bo Diddley.
1. Miles Davis: Milestones (10/10)
Some really hard Hard Bop, combined with some of the earliest modal jazz, and some traditional blues makes for an odd combination, but it’s hard to say no.
The band is just out of sight:
- Coltrane and Cannonball are on fire. Even though Trane would soon eclipse his contemporaries like Cannonball, they sound pretty apace here (though you occasionally get hints of where Trane was going in a year). If he had died before his great innovations, he still would have been a hell of a player.
- Miles unleashes a couple of his craziest solos, in particular on “Dr. Jackle”, where he sounds like he has completely forsaken his “cool” persona.
- Garland is also a real standout. One track in particular made me say “whoa gotta get some Red Garland solo stuff” if such stuff exists.
- And I doubt I have to say anything about the rhythm section, perhaps the most famous of its day, but Chambers is better than usual on this disc.
Really, I have nothing negative to say. Awesome.
3. Miles Davis and Gil Evans: Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin (9/10)
I don’t know the opera so I can’t comment on whether this is – as the liner notes claim – the definitive version, though I highly doubt it given that, you know, there’s no singing.
But as orchestral jazz it’s first rate. It may not be the best thing Davis and Evans have done together (for my money that is Sketches of Spain) but it’s among the highlights of their collaboration.
Also, it succeeds where Gershwin regularly failed: in actually bringing jazz (or at least a jazzy enough vibe to sound like actual jazz) with orchestrated music, where everyone knows what they are going to play.
And I almost feel like it does this better than Miles Ahead, though I haven’t listened to that one in long enough to not trust myself with that comparison.
4. Buddy Holly (9/10)
What I wrote in 2015:
The overall quality of Holly’s second album is significantly better. It showcases more of his versatility – including a song that makes him sound like a far more traditional rock and roll singer, among other things – than the debut and features stronger songs. But it also features some older material that had already been released. Like so many popular music albums back then, it was just assumed that everyone would buy the same music over and over again.
I think I mostly agree with that in 2018 but the comment about it being a compilation is a little harsh, since albums were still relatively novel and putting singles on an album does make some sense.
5. Count Basie and His Orchestra: Basie (8/10)
I get why lots of people love this, I do. And, even without knowing Basie’s catalogue, I think I can see why it surprised a lot of people at the time. The arrangements are good, Basie’s playing is nothing if not note-perfect for those arrangements, and some of the soloists really show off (within these confines).
But that being said, I can’t help but hear the conservatism in this band, even in something that seemed – to some contemporaries anyway – to be something radical. Certainly Ellington was already reviving big band as something vital at this time, I’m pretty sure that others – Mingus? – were doing even more radical things with large groups, though my memory is deserting me at the moment. Maybe this sound of “conservatism” is just because I have listened to too much that came right after, but I can’t shake it.
So while I must say that this is extraordinarily well-done, I still feel like it could have been recorded half a decade, or perhaps a whole decade, earlier, and in that case I think it would be a little more noteworthy.
6. Bernard Herrmann: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (8/10)
The conductor, John Debney, would have you believe that this is one of the great film scores of all time. I don’t agree with that. It’s less inventive than many of Herrmann’s best.
But it’s still way more interesting than most Hollywood film scores of its era, and it’s also very much a piece of music that can be listened to without any knowledge of the film. It reminds me of some late 19th century Romantic programmic pieces which were supposed to suggest a plot to you through music.
It’s certainly good, it’s just not quite among Herrmann’s greatest moments. As I noted before, just a little too conventional compared to his best work.
7. Frank Sinatra: Come Fly With Me (7/10)
It is what it is. Read the review.
8. Duane Eddy: Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar, Will Travel (6/10)
In the 1950s, marketers thought they only way someone would understand slang or unfamiliar words is if quotes were around them. Read the review.
9. Buddy Holly: That’ll Be The Day (6/10)
Repackaged old hits with some “new” material (really just raiding the vaults). This is typical of the era in that the public was expected to buy the same music again. (The title track had already been released as a single and released on his debut album, less than six months earlier…)
10. Perry Como: Saturday Night with Mr. C (5/10)
Sanitized for everyone scared of African Americans. Read the review of Saturday Night with Mr. C.
1. Wanda Jackson: “Honey Bop” / “Just a Queen for a Day” (9/10)
The A-Side is Jackson’s take on the dance song craze and it works just about as well as the rest of them. It’s pretty much a classic rockabilly song.
Yet again a rockabilly song is paired with a traditional country song – another yearning, pining, mournful song about lost love.
2. Buddy Holly: “Heart Beat” b/w “Well…All Right” (8/10)
Holly adopts a vaguely tropical pop sound for the a-side and for the solo he uses some kind of device to make it sound like he’s playing a dobro. Really out of character for him.
The b-side is another change of pace, being acoustic, and features another fine vocal performance.
3. The Crickets: “It’s So Easy” (8/10)
Extremely typical Holly track, but it features him using the full range of his voice and his solo isn’t bad.
4. B.B. King: “Please Accept My Love” (8/10)
This is a weird R and B and blues fusion the features King’s playing blues fills but with vocals that belong in soul or pop. It’s a weird fusion that doesn’t quite hold as well as one might think.
5. Wanda Jackson: “Mean Mean Man” / “(Every Time They Play) Our Song” (8/10)
The A-Side is another upbeat rockabilly song with lyrics that could be interpreted as being relatively introspective for the time, I guess. The B-Side is one of Jackson’s very best super traditional country numbers.
6. Buddy Holly: “Early in the Morning” (8/10)
Holly does gospel! And aside from those brutal backing vocals, it works well.
7. The Crickets: “Think it Over” b/w “Fool’s Paradise” (7/10)
This is decent Holly stuff, but it doesn’t really distinguish itself too much from his earlier music, beyond the piano solo, which is uncharacteristic.
The b-side is a little more interesting for him, just because it sounds way less like him than normal.
8. Wanda Jackson: “Rock Your Baby” / “Sinful Heart” (7/10)
The A-Side is one of those overly simplistic, singalong early rock and roll (in this case, rockabilly) that both captures the appeal of this music but also the inanity. The drum fill at the end is at least a neat little thing. As is her want, the B-Side is another one of those country ballads. Not my favourite.
9. Billie Holiday: “You’ve Changed” (5/10)
This is a heavily orchestrated track from the end of her career. You can hear the change in her voice. There’s a choir, which is unnecessary.