Musical Surprises

I love to be surprised by music I didn’t know about or was convinced I would not like. As I get older, I have to fight harder to move out of my comfort zone of musical tastes.

Retracing my steps over many decades, there are some game-changers.

Although I will not likely be shouting the praises of classical, rap or gospel any time soon, life is full of odd turns. This is a very eclectic list. Here are a few:

Duran Duran, Future Past – I did not see this coming, the latest record by the 80s pop group. I was not a fan in their prime. It was only after they broke up and later reformed that their music even got my interest, but only briefly. The band has had a roller coaster career after the 1980s, with mostly poor selling records and going from label to label. This record finds four of the classic five members in the lineup. The music is very contemporary but varies in styles as reflected in the different producers. I like it.

Fiddler on the Roof, film soundtrack – Musicals are not my thing, sure I love A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, but more traditional musicals? Not so much. I have a real like for this film and the songs are wonderful. In school, we performed several of these songs in choir class. Many years later, these songs are sweet and rich in cultural emotion. I have embraced The Lion King and Singing in the Rain, but I am still not much of a “musical guy.” Tradition!

Clannad – I was never much of a fan of Celtic music, until heard this group. The “Theme from Harry’s Game” from Patriot Games introduced me to Clannad and I immediately liked what I heard. I own several of their Celtic-folk albums. Clannad leans towards a pop sound but still remains cloaked in Irish folk. From Clannad, I found a few other artists that embrace the lilting, dreamy soundscape, Nightnoise being one of my favorites.

Kris Kristofferson, Kristofferson – Admittedly, I never spent much effort listening to Kris Kristofferson, until I got older and I became interested in that era of country music. The songs on this album, his debut, are stories of the stripped-bare underbelly of life, unapologetic and red-eyed. Kristofferson helped usher in a kind of country music that didn’t have the glitz and polish, the singers looked and sounded like the rough and dog-eared life they sang about. Waylon, Willie, Merle and others shed the Nashville polish and found success on their own terms.

Yes, Fragile – This will come as a surprise to many who know me, because I am a huge progressive-rock fan. That was not always true. The music of Yes, ELP, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Styx and Kansas, I found difficult at first to digest and embrace. It took me a long time to like the synthesizer and what sounded like songs in search of structure and hooks. That soon changed as I spent more time listening and understanding the musical styles blended into the rock genre. Prog-rock represented a format that shed the confines of the traditional radio format and took the listener on a different kind of musical journey. The first prog-rock band I heard, but didn’t immediately connect with was King Crimson, who I still follow.

Pat Metheny Group, American Garage – Somewhat along the same line as progressive-rock, my venture into jazz-rock, jazz-fusion was slow. Santana and Chicago had been into this form of music since the early 1970s, but I avoided it for the more pop sound. Jeff Beck jumped into it big time in the mid 1970s. A group called Brand X was also pioneering this sound in England, utilizing a part-time drummer by the name of Phil Collins. By the late part of the decade, there was an explosion of artists blending the genres. I had not embraced Frank Zappa, Weather Report, Jean-Luc Ponty, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin or George Benson, although I would in later years. American Garage (1979) was hard to deny. This led to Spyro Gyra’s Morning Dance (1979), Roy Buchanan’s Loading Zone (1977).

Cocteau Twins, Four-Calendar Cafe – Among the indie rock groups was this ethereal sounding dreamscape-pop trio with a lush sound and heavenly singing female lead. The indie rock category is a catch-all for fresh sounding artists that do not fit in an existing sub-genre of pop-rock. This band had a brief, but influential career. I can hear shades of their music in bands like The Sundays and The Cranberries, ringing guitars and soaring female vocals.

Singles, film soundtrack – This film opened to the door for me to indie rock, grunge, alternative rock. It took me quite a few years to embrace Pearl Jam, but I immediately liked Paul Westerberg and The Replacements. Although they are not on this soundtrack, I warmed up to The Cure, The Lemonheads, The Smashing Pumpkins, Collective Soul, Matthew Sweet, Trashcan Sinatras, Johnny Marr and The Connells.

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