Category Archives: Podworthy

Podworthy: RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS

In addition to pop music of various kinds, I’m putting selected classical works on my iPod, and my first choice for this was some of the work of my favorite composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Incidentally, his first name is pronounced the old English way as “Rafe,” and both Vaughan and Williams are last names, he has two.

I’m not sure when I first became aware of the work of this quintessentially British composer, actively composing and presenting works from about 1900 to 1958. My high school choir did a few of his choral pieces, so that was probably it. I wasn’t in the choir in high school (something I now regret), but had several close friends who were, so I went to all their concerts and that fostered a lifelong love of choral music in general. RVW, as I’ll call him from now on, composed some fine choral music, but is better known for his orchestral works, including nine symphonies, and many concertos, songs, operas, and so on. His work is not often performed live, since it’s still copyrighted and requires royalty payments, but it’s well-recorded. I think I began exploring that in the early 70s, via library albums and purchases. My favorite versions of many of his works are the ones conducted by Sir Adrian Boult with English orchestras, though many other versions are also quite good.

Here’s a fine recording you can sample on iTunes or Amazon which includes two of his best shorter orchestral works: the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and The Lark Ascending. Both are well worth a listen, I’ve linked to mp3s below. RVW’s music is lush, romantic, and often mystical. He drew inspiration from English hymns, from whence the Tallis comes, and English folk songs, many of which he heard personally sung by traditional singers in the countryside when he and his friends would go out with early recording devices to capture them, saving some songs from being lost forever, as those traditional songs were being replaced by the pop music of the time. “Dives and Lazarus” above is one of those, but they turn up throughout his work. Some of his works are more harsh and dissonant, inspired by the two world wars he lived through, but those are the minority.

So, while I own nearly everything RVW wrote that’s been recorded, these are the works I’ve put on my iPod for now, creating a solid body of eight hours of great listening:

This Chandos 2-disc set has lots of fine music, including favorite Flos Campi. I’ve used all of it.

Another Chandos 2-disc set contains many of his concertos, including great ones for string orchestra, for oboe, and for tuba. I’ve used all of it as well.

For the symphonies, I’ve used #2 “London,” #5 (no nickname) and #7 “Antarctica.” Those are my favorites, with #5 probably at the top.

For vocal/choral I’ll probably add more later, but for now I’ve loaded On Wenlock Edge, a song cycle and Five Mystical Songs for soloist and chorus. Then a few other short orchestral works: In The Fen Country, and Norfolk Rhapsody #1.

RVW’s music is perhaps an acquired taste, but if you have any interest in classical music and are not familiar with his work, give it a try. Especially if you’re an Anglophile like me. I once put together a slide show of my favorite photos taken in England, and the “Tallis” was the perfect soundtrack.

Here are some Amazon links:

Podworthy: JAMES TAYLOR

I’ve always liked the music and the voice of James Taylor, though I’m not sure when I first became a fan. His initial album, above, was an Apple Records release in 1968, but all I remember from that is the single “Carolina On My Mind,” which I liked. Not sure I knew who James was yet then, though. I got the album quite a few years later.

His second album, Sweet Baby James, came out in 1970, and while I don’t think I bought it, I know I heard it all. I was living in Kansas City then, going to art school there, so someone I roomed with probably had it. I loved the single, “FIre and Rain,” liked all of it, really. I’m guessing that’s when I became a Taylor fan, and started following his work more. But as I poor student, probably not buying his albums yet.

By 1977, when the album JT came out I bought it right away, and it’s still my favorite, with the song “Secret O’ Life” my all time favorite Taylor song. Also in 1977 I started working at DC Comics, a division of Warner Brothers, James’ label then, and as a Warner employee, I soon learned, I could order any Warner album (as well as sub-labels like Reprise, Elektra and Asylum) for one dollar! Needless to say I bought all James’ albums to date then, as well as lots of others.

Ellen and I saw James live twice, I think first in 1988 on tour to support this album, which as lots of great songs, and again a few years later, at the Garden State Arts Center and Atlantic City, respectively. Great shows, both. Unlike some performers, James only seems to get better with age.

October Road, released in 2002, was the last with mostly Taylor-penned songs, and it has some fine ones. More recently there was an album of covers in 2008, which I haven’t yet heard…

…and a Christmas release in 2006 that I absolutely love, it quickly became my favorite Christmas album.

New last year is a live concert album with old friend Carole King, haven’t heard that one yet, either. I’ll get to it one day soon, I imagine. Meanwhile, I’ve put nearly everything from the 16 Taylor albums I have on the iPod, 190 songs. James’ voice always makes me feel fine.

Podworthy: DONOVAN

While my first entry in this series, The Beatles, is probably an easy sell, Donovan Leitch may well not be. I’ve always liked his voice, and many of his own songs, following his career through several distinct periods from the 60s to now, an enthusiastic fan through the 60s and 70s, less so after that, though finding some tracks I liked on most of his releases. I saw him live twice, once at Madison Square Garden around 1970 in front of a massive audience, once a few years later at a rock  concert theater venue on his way down in popularity, but still putting on a fine show. He largely disappeared in the 80s, but had a pretty good comeback release in 1996, “Sutras.” Since then he’s mainly redone some older tracks.

The first part of Donovan’s career he was a folksinger in small British venues, heavily influenced by Woody Guthrie and his peers, who also influence Bob Dylan, and Donovan was often called a Dylan clone, though he never actually performed any Dylan songs. His vocal style was similar at times, though Donovan’s vocal abilities were stronger and had much more range than Dylan. This period was captured in his early records for the Pye label in the U.K., released in the U.S. in a very annoying way on the Hickory label and later others. Each release had some of the same songs, usually the hits “Catch the Wind” and “Colours” with a few new tracks, so finding all the tracks became an expensive project that I gave up on after a few albums. When I was getting Donovan material together to put on my iPod, I found the “Summer Day Reflection Songs” collection online, which has all the Pye tracks plus about a dozen unreleased or alternate ones. I bought it as downloads, and loaded all but a few tracks on my iPod. Some favorites from this period, in addition to the hits, are “To Try For The Sun,” “Circus of Sour,” “Belated Forgiveness Plea,” the title track, and “Sunny Goodge Street.” The last one marked a transition to Donovan’s next period, with a smooth jazz arrangement.

Donovan next teamed with producer Mickie Most and arranger John Cameron to create some of my favorite tracks of his career. The arrangements were full of variety, some very jazz influenced, some more folky, a few rockers like “Season of the Witch,” with clever lyrics and great melodies. Donovan’s vocal style matured, often going for a breathy sound that some people don’t like but I do, while showing on other tracks that he had the pipes to rock out when needed, or the craft to make other styles work well for him too. The first album in this period was “Mellow Yellow,” then “Sunshine Superman,” the poorly titled “A Gift From a Flower to a Garden” (two discs, one aimed at children), “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Barabajagal.” Of these, the first two are my favorites, but I like all of them, and wanted nearly all the tracks on my iPod. Online I found that newly remastered versions of all but “Gift” were released a few years ago, and I decided to splurge and ordered the four CDs. I already had “Gift” on CD. All those original tracks went on the iPod, and some of the bonus tracks, which include singles not on the albums like “Lalena” and “Poor Cow,” and demos, some good some not.

Donovan’s first album after splitting with Mickie Most was “Open Road,” released around 1970, and at the time it became my favorite album. Some of the songs are a bit silly and self-indulgent, but I like them all, especially “Celtic Rock.” In fact, this was an attempt to create a Celtic Rock band, but it didn’t last long.

Donovan’s next effort was “HMS Donovan,” released only in the U.K., and because of that I didn’t find out about it until a few years ago, though I heard some of the songs on it from time to time, not knowing where they were from, like “Celia of the Seals” and “Lord of the Reedy River.” It’s a bit of an odd mixture of mostly children’s poems and songs with some originals, and I can’t say I love it, but I like it well enough to put most of the tracks on my iPod.

Donovan continued to record through the 70s, and I liked what he did then less and less as time went on. Donovan had embraced the flower child image in the 60s, and when that seemed no longer relevant he tried to become a more mainstream pop star, but it never worked well for me. Despite that, there are twelve tracks on the album “7-Tease” I like well enough to include, and eight on “Slow Down World,” with a few on each of the others that I picked up from the anthologies “Try for the Sun” and “Troubador” along with some unreleased tracks that are good.

“Sutras” from 1996, produced by Rick Rubin, was a new phase for Donovan, going back to his folk roots with very simple arrangements and sparse close-miked vocals. It’s kind of melancholy in parts, but in general I like it a lot, and included all the tracks. Some later releases I haven’t yet heard, but plan to listen to them online eventually.

So, 194 Donovan tracks on my iPod. Haven’t gotten tired of any of them yet!

Podworthy: THE BEATLES

I’m starting a new topic on the blog based on my current “free time” obsession: putting music on my new iPod. The first thing I put on was some Christmas music, since it was the season, but next was my favorite pop group, The Beatles.

The group hit the U.S. music scene when I was in grade school, and at first I was put off by rampant Beatlemania among the girls in our school. I watched their first performance on the Ed Sullivan Show early in 1964 and was more impressed by the screaming teenage girl audience than the music. I was 13, still not quite interested in girls romantically, and anything that attracted so many of them couldn’t be for boys like me.

A little later that year I visited my best friend Tim for a sleepover, and he had a Beatles record that he liked and played for me. Away from the screaming I gave it another chance, and was first drawn to “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” with vocals by George Harrison. Based on that, I’m guessing the record was “Introducing the Beatles” on the VeeJay label, a sort of pirate release before the first Capitol Records ones, unless it was the single version. Maybe Tim will remember and fill me in later…

My opinion of the group began to soften, though what really made me a fan was going to see their film “A Hard Day’s Night” in August of 1964, again with Tim and his sister. I loved it! Loved the music, loved the humor and the personalities of the fab four, loved the excitement of the performances and the madcap hustle created by their sudden fame, even if I realized some of it was staged. I enjoyed all the songs, and remember being particularly impressed with the close vocal harmonies of “This Boy.” I became a firm fan that day, and have been ever since. For the record, Paul was always my favorite, and I still follow his career and music with interest. I never saw The Beatles live, but watching them on Ed Sullivan and in their films was probably better anyway.

Incidentally, great lettering on the film poster, isn’t it?

So, getting the entire Beatles catalogue on my iPod was top priority, and it wasn’t too hard. I’ve had at least two versions of most of their songs, from albums to CDs. I was buying the U.S. albums at first, of course, but later I bought many of the U.K. releases as imports, too. For the iPod it’s much easier to load songs from a CD, and I was able to use them for nearly everything. For the early albums and singles I used the recent “Mono Masters” releases. I like the sound, it’s as they were originally mixed in the studio; the stereo versions were remixed later without the group’s direct involvement. For later albums I had almost everything on CD, needing to download only a few singles: “Hey Jude,” “Lady Madonna” and the single version of “Revolution.” (Had these on vinyl of course.) I also included the two singles from the Beatles Anthology: “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love.” “Let It Be,” their final studio album, was always a problem for me. I liked the songs, but not the heavy-handed Phil Spector overdubs, so I was delighted when “Let It Be…Naked” came out in 2003, with all the music as recorded by The Beatles without the Spector production, and I used that one.

The iPod gives you the option of choosing the tracks you want and removing those you don’t, but there were only four tracks among the Beatles studio releases that I dropped. “Mr. Moonlight” was a number I always disliked. Something about the rough vocals by John and the corny Latin arrangement. Then there are the two German language versions of “She Loves You” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Interesting, but I’ve heard them enough, and prefer the English versions. Finally, “Revolution 9.” Again, an interesting audio collage, but I’ve heard it enough, and it’s not a song. So, with those four eliminated, I was left with a total of 210 Beatles tracks. Plenty!

Later I added more from the Beatles Anthology and BBC Live CDs, but I’ll cover that in another post. So, are The Beatles on your iPod or iPhone, or whatever? What are your favorite songs or albums?