Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Michael Jackson: Thriller

I take a lot of pride in the fact that I go out of my way to avoid “popular” music, but I also have to admit that sometimes an album or artist is popular because they are simply superior. Such is the case with Michael Jackson’s 1982 masterpiece, Thriller.

That album plays out like a veritable greatest hits collection and it completely saturated the musical landscape for the next couple of years after its release.

Now I will admit it gains entry onto my list for a couple of sentimental reasons, too. Eddie Van Halen’s iconic guitar solo on Beat It, and Vincent Price’s spooky cameo voice-over in Thriller (not to mention the dancing zombies in the video) are near and dear to my heart. Beyond that, Billie Jean is a nearly flawless pop song that is seemingly timeless.

Jackson’s duet with Paul McCartney on The Girl Is Mine is an amazing pairing of two musical giants. Quincy Jones provided stellar production and musical savvy, and all the background musicians and vocalists were all ingredients in the big picture, too.

Thriller won tons of awards and sold astronomical amounts of albums, but most importantly, it tore down racial barriers in pop music and united music lovers worldwide.

As a child I was a fan of Michael Jackson and his brothers in the Jackson 5. As an adult I witnessed the toll his enormous success ultimately cost him.

Thriller remains, and no matter what else happened in Michael Jackson’s life, he created something that has touched countless lives and will live on for generations.

Influences And Recollections of A Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes

I dearly love Tori Amos. She is a fearless artist who stands up for her beliefs and follows her vision no matter what the current musical climate dictates.

In 1992 Tori released her solo debut, Little Earthquakes, a treasure chest of great songwriting. Due to the unique quality of her vocals, acoustic piano based songs, and overall originality of her writing, Little Earthquakes sounds as fresh now as it did then…the mark of a true artistic statement.

The emotions and reactions that all these songs provoke have given them deep meaning to the listeners who have followed Amos with cult-like intensity throughout her career, whether they identify as outsiders, abused, misunderstood, angry, or simply as human beings with intelligence and hearts.

Some of my favorite Tori Amos songs are on this album; Silent All These Years, Leather, Precious Things, Crucify, Girl, Little Earthquakes, Winter, Tear In Your Hand, and China. A friend once said of Tori that she is probably the closest thing that humans have in actually hearing an angel sing.

He has passed over and I hope he can still hear Tori sing. R.I.P. “Cosmic” Harvey Hevenor.

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Steely Dan: Aja

Music at its best can act as a time machine, transporting us to special moments and places in our past history. Music can link us to places, people and events with a vivid mix of nostalgia and reality.

Steely Dan’s Aja (1977) always delivers me to gatherings that one of my best friends in the world would have back in our high school years.

My friend (brother) would invariably choose music from “The Dan” (particularly Aja) as the soundtrack to his parties, and Aja was perfection for this purpose.

It is almost as if the music that Donald Fagan and Walter Becker created together simply demanded a civilized and elegant gathering of kindred spirits.

Class, elegance, beauty, and a pervasive cool permeated this entire album: every note was in the proper place, and every song was an instant classic.

All these years later, Aja, and indeed Steely Dan’s entire catalog, retains an aura of excellence. I’m not even going to single out any of the 7 glorious songs on this album.

It is a work that demands to be taken in as an entire unit, and whether on vinyl, cassette, compact disc, or streamed, Aja remains a modern masterpiece…a seamless blend of pop, rock, jazz, smooth soul, and dedication to a superior vision.

Aja is timeless, and it is a time machine that always takes me to lovely destinations.

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Beck: Odelay

In music, there are no real “overnight sensations”, because artists spend years honing their craft before they become famous.

Beck had hit the public consciousness with the song Loser and, like everyone else, I heard it and enjoyed its quirky style.

In 1996 Beck expanded on his fame with Odelay, an album loaded with songs that were lapped up by alternative radio and alternative youth in alternative nation.

I don’t really have much to say, other than that I liked the diversity Beck put out on Odelay.

He played a ton of different instruments, sang and wrote the songs, and produced it with The Dust Brothers.

Odelay (and Beck himself) were different than almost everything else that was popular at that time.

I particularly liked Where It’s At, Jack-Ass, Devil’s Haircut, Sissyneck, The New Pollution, Novacaine, and Lord Only Knows. I haven’t explored Odelay in a long time. I’m going to have to revisit it and rediscover the weirdness of Beck once again.

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

Written By Braddon S. Williams

Cheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow’s self-titled 2nd album (1996) was hugely successful and Sheryl Crow deserves all the credit for that success.

She produced it, wrote or co-wrote all the songs, played a ton of different instruments, and definitely sang her heart out.

The song If It Makes You Happy was inescapable that year and remains one of her most well known songs.

I listened to this album quite a lot during that year and it was one that just hit a good time vibe for me.

In general I don’t listen to too much music straight through anymore, preferring shuffle mode to keep things interesting, but the Sheryl Crow album would usually get played all the way through back then, and that is a testament to how well it was produced and sequenced.

Sheryl Crow was an artist who knew what she wanted and knew how to make it happen. It did indeed make me happy!

Influences And Recollections of a Musical Mind

I don’t like a lot of “popular” music. I’d even go so far as to say that I seek out music that will never be popular. However, I do understand why certain music becomes gigantic and global. Sometimes a talent emerges that is simply undeniable and it reaches everyone in its path. Such an artist is Adele. I may catch hell for liking her from some of my metal and hardcore friends, but I don’t really care. I like what I like and I stand by my choices. Nobody sings like Adele, and she seems to have a lot of attitude and doesn’t appear to take too much crap from anyone…and that appeals to me. She sings with a lot of fire, emotion, and passion, and those are timeless traits in music, traits which are sorely missing in much of what I hear that is considered “popular.” I hope she continues to release music on her own schedule, for the right reasons, because when she is inspired, no-one can beat her.

Written By Braddon S. Williams

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