Friday, January 02, 2004

Sixty Six to Timbuktu 

So, I had a pretty remarkable experience yesterday. I was flipping through channels and decided to stop on VH1 Classic. First, I have to say that I've been kind of impressed with that channel in general. Having been born in '78, the first half of my life was spent in the 80s. However, at that point I was mostly watching cartoons and Nickelodeon and not any music videos. I heard various stuff on the radio, but not really in a concerted way. So, most of the stuff from that time was already filtered down before I got to see it. Obviously they showed stuff from the 80s on VH1 and MTV throughout the 90s, mixed in with videos and as part of countdowns.

For VH1 Classic, I expected it to just be more of the same, but I was rather shocked by the sheer number of stuff I'd never seen before (or perhaps seen just once). Some of it is lesser-known songs or artists (some of which can be quite interesting and/or insane), and some are well-known songs they just never show the videos to anymore. An example might be Little Lies from Fleetwood Mac. I've always liked that song, but I never saw the video. Basically the four of the band walking around a farm. Normally that'd be dull and/or cheesy, but it managed to be pretty creepy (probably through a combination of the twisted song itself, and that the band members had all kinds of issues going on that showed through)...

Anyway.. that's all way off track. The thing that happened yesterday was they decided to play an entire two-disc album on air! It was Sixty Six to Timbuktu by Robert Plant, his new "not a greatest hits but has a lot of hits on it" type thing. Pretty much what they did was have this constant loop of footage from various videos and concerts and stuff of Plant with a picture of the label and text at the bottom. Between each song, it'd blow up the album cover full-screen and then it'd go back. I'm not sure how much I missed at the beginner, but I only saw like one really short commercial break in the whole 2 hours or so I was watching it. Very impressive.. The video loop got boring/annoying after I realized what was going on, so I just shut my eyes and listened.

OK, here is where I admit that I know like nothing about Robert Plant. Or I should saw I knew nothing until I read a short bio a couple of minutes ago..heh. I mean I knew what he looked like and I heard a song or two of Zepplin (maybe one of the unplugged things in the 90s?) to know what his voice sounded like (or so I thought), but that was about it. When it comes to music, I have huge huge huge gaps of knowledge.

The only two where I have any kind of profeciant knowledge would be basic pop music and well-known hits (basically from watching VH1 and MTV or many years in the 90s) and the classic MOD file demo scene. For those that don't know, the MOD stuff came out of Amigas and then spread to the PCs. MIDI on PCs were limited for a long time because of a lack of good sound cards, and there was never any consistancy of sound. No telling how a piano would sound on one or another computer. A MOD (the original file format) was a file which contained both wave file samples of a sound, and the collections of notes and effects. Lots of parties and contests happened in europe and interesting stuff emerged. For that I was able to download tons of it due to it being perfectly free, and so that was something I listened to quite a bit, like Necros and Skaven and many others. More on that another time...

When I was really young and tapes were still big, I was mostly listening to stuff like Billy Joel and the Ghostbusters sound track. When CDs got big, for whatever reason I just never got very many of them. I guess money was a big factore. With money tight and prices high, seemed better to spend on something practical, or something like a video game. At this point I probably own around a total of 20 music cds collected over my whole life, three of which were somewhat recent.

So, I'm still getting off track, but I guess you see where I'm going. If all I have to go on is music tv, occationally the radio, and a dozen CDs, I am very lacking when it comes to classic rock and many other genres.

So, that's why it was such a treat to hear so much stuff in one place, and it turns out that Plant seems to be one of the more versatile people around. The range he has with his voice is really impressive, not just of pitch, but of the whole way his voice sounds. You get used to people using particular quirks and such and I expected all this stuff to sound like what I had in my head was the "sound of Plant". But seriously, it'd go into another song and it'd sound like someone else was singing. After reading some reviews, it sounds like this is an especially eclectic collection with lots of different b-sides on the end and such, but as it was happening I had no bearings at all. I wasn't even sure at first if it was new material or not since I hadn't really heard any of it before, or wasn't sure if I had. When one song ended, you had no idea what was coming next, and that was a good thing. It'd go from an 80s ballad to a rock song, to 50s? crooning, to belting out the blues like Joplin. And when he went to one of these styles he sounded totally natural and in control of that style. Like he could have been known as a crooner or a bluesman if that's what he wanted his big thing to be. Seriously, there was enough stuff going on in here that if he started rapping on one of the tracks, I wouldn't have been that thrown off.

Some stuff didn't hit me as well as others, and a couple of spots felt like maybe he was experimenting in a way that didn't quite work, but even the styles that I'd usually find annoying I felt were done much better than usual, and I had this feeling throughout that he was loving experimenting with all these different styles and using his voice in different ways. So, it was a really interesting and involving body of work. It makes me see why people always talk so highly of Plant, and I'll have to seek out more of his work and actually listen to some Led Zepplin music...

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