May 222013

Something’s been bugging me the last 24 hours—well, a number of things have been bugging me, but one in particular that’s worth sharing here in the Halls of Rock. Before I share, let me note that the ire I’m about to express toward an old friend and key musical mentor is not to be expressed without tremendous respect and acute self-awareness of my own tendency to do exactly what my friend did to get under my skin.

Yesterday, this friend—a should-be Townsman who has resisted all efforts at recruitment into our daily bull sessions since Day 1 of our original listserv origins—tipped me off on my Facebook page, in case I wasn’t aware of them, of videos of Big Dipper at JC Dobbs, an old-time Philadelphia club where my music friends and I (most of whom, this particular friend excluded, patrol these halls on a regular basis) saw the band every time they came through town. I was long aware of these videos, which I didn’t bother to throw back in his face, rock-snob style, as your slightly younger, less-gentle Moderator was wont to do. Kinder, wiser Moderator that I am I merely thanked him; confirmed that our extended crew was in the crowd the night this video was shot, as was always the case among the 40 people in Philadelphia who could be counted on to come out and see Big Dipper; and asked him if he’d heard the band’s latest album, which I mentioned was “very good” and very much in the vein of Heavens-era Dipper.

My friend’s response, in the sort of rock-snob tone that’s too well known to my own voice?

I watched the video for that Robert Pollard song. It was OK, though I didn’t enjoy it as much as that unreleased album on the Merge triple CD.

I know where my friend’s coming friend. I’m sure I’ve said similar things countless times. Yeah, I was disappointed to get such a lukewarm response as we reached to high five over an overlooked gem of our lifetime, but what really bugs me, as I look in my own rock-snob mirror, is my friend’s conflating the single from the album with his opinion of the entire album, which I bought and have listened to regularly for the last couple of months. Again, I know I’ve done what my friend has done countless times. I’ve probably turned my nose up at a new release by an old favorite over way less evidence than a 3-minute single, especially one entitled after and paying tribute to an artist I’m personally on the fence about and, therefore, prone to squirm over. (I do wholeheartedly like this single, “Robert Pollard,” by the way, although at first I squirmed over my mixed feelings of the song’s titular subject.)

I’m done beating up on this minor quibble with my friend’s tepid ending to our high five. I feel a whole lot better for sharing. What I’d like to discuss with you is times we’ve made a snap judgment on an album, for better or for worse, on the strength (or weakness) of the album’s first single.

An example that immediately comes to mind for me, for instance, is The Jam‘s “A Town Called Malice” single relative to the eventual album that followed, The Gift. I was stoked as a result of the single, which I snatched up upon its release. The album, aside from maybe 2 other good songs, was a mess.

I’m sure I’ll think of examples of the flipside, which my old friend has experienced, times where I was not that impressed by the first single (or video) and, as a result, overlooked the strength of the entire album.

Meanwhile, here’s an album track I dig a lot from Big Dipper’s new album, Crashes on the Platinum Planet. The song simply makes me happy and makes me think of all the good times I’ve spent with this band. It also torments me to an extent: every time I listen to this song I try to figure out what the opening melody reminds me of. I’m still stuck. Maybe you can help me identify the lift.

Big Dipper_Crashes On the Platinum Planet_04_Hurricane Bill

PS – I hadn’t seen the video for “Robert Pollard” until completing this post. It’s awesome. Now I’m getting pissed at my old friend again.


  14 Responses to “A Singular Impression”

  1. Afternoon Delight by Starland Vocal Band. I don’t think it struck us until long after we finished the song!

  2. RIGHT! Thank you for clearing that up…once and for all. I’m relieved. I actually have a soft spot for “Afternoon Delight.” I’m glad it wasn’t something I couldn’t stand, like a Journey song.

  3. Well, we all have a certain, er, soft spot for afternoon delight.

  4. Here is one example that I was with Mr Mod & Townsman Sethro while we listened (in Sethro’s bedroom)

    Everyday I write The Book/Night Time – I thought it was going to be a much better album based on the single than it came out to me

  5. machinery

    Hell man, I do this all the time! Read about some band, go online to hear the single and realize for one reason or another that it’s not worth my 9.99 to download the whole thing. I won’t even download the one song that was good because I hate junking up my ipod with one-offs.

    That’s the general problem with the digital age — so easy to make snap decisions.

    I bought one of the last Replacement albums based on one song (and a recommendation from several Townsmen on post a few months ago.) I listened to about half of the album and deleted the whole thing off my itunes. Petulant? Yes. Impatient? Certainly.

    Plus when a band you love has such a radically different sound, it’s hard for me to overcome the memories, if you know what I mean. That’s the reason I can’t listen to Weller’s Wild Weed (?). It’s just not MY Paul.

  6. YES, I was right beside you, thinking the same thing.

  7. When Wilco’s “Box Full of Letters” single came out I really didn’t like the song right away, stayed away from the A.M. album for years, but damn, if I haven’t come around on that record — I love it now. Great sloppy songs like Casino Queen, Passenger Side, Pick Up the Change — due for a critical upgrade.

    A recent example going the other way for me was The Strokes new one — the single Tap Out got my hopes up, so I got it when it came out — but after the first three songs — Comedown Machine is a bit of a bummer. I should know better.

  8. 2000 Man

    AM doesn’t need a critical upgrade, the rest of their catalog deserves a downgrade.

  9. cliff sovinsanity

    Summerteeth is the high point for me with Being There and YHF one star below. After that it’s all about the unbearable life of Tweedy.

  10. Bronzed Nordic God

    My biggest snap judgement was not bothering to listen to More Songs About Buildings and Food for over 25 years simply because “Take Me To The River” was always a snooze for me. Not a bad song, but nothing to get terribly excited about. I figured if the highlight of that record was a bunch of white art students doing a pedestrian cover of a soul song, how good can the rest of the record be? Turns out the answer was “pretty damn good”.

  11. jeangray

    Yeouch! Tough crowd.

  12. diskojoe

    Compared to the album that came after it, it was a masterpiece!

  13. ladymisskirroyale

    Alas, this happens to me all the time. I’ve been trying to mitigate the monetary drain by attempting to hear as much of the album as possible before buying, but some things just slip through the net. I try to let them mellow and then come back to them a year or more later, hoping that perhaps I didn’t hear something that first time around. I’d say I’m at a 50/50 split with that practice. Invariably, they get added to the “sellback” pile.

    Let’s just say that I’m very happy that we streamed the new Daft Punk. That first single, “Get Lucky” is so great, and we were tempted to buy the album on it’s strength, but now am VERY happy we didn’t. That Paul Williams track showed just where they jumped the shark.

  14. jeangray

    I recall that when “Wild Wood” was released some folks were really up in arms at the stylistic change in Weller’s sound. And then he had to go & make matters worse by sighting acts like Traffic, Chicago & the Soft Machine as big influences in interviews.

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