In a normal year, music fiends would be going crazy right about now.
In non-virus times, Saturday would have been Record Store Day, a worldwide celebration of independent brick-and-mortar record stores that is usually marked by in-store events, live concerts and special Record Store Day releases by newcomers (Billie Eilish), veterans (Al Green) and ghosts from vinyl’s past (Lenny Bruce).
But this is not a normal year, so Record Store Day has been moved to June 20, leaving music fans with a gap in their schedules and a hole in their collection where Alice Cooper’s RSD exclusive “Live From the Apollo Theater Glasgow Feb. 19, 1982” was supposed to be.
Fortunately, April 18, 2020, does not have to go down as the day the music died. You can honor the spirit of Record Store Day on the official website (recordstoreday.com), where you can preorder special RSD releases, watch short video profiles of indie record stores or buy a ticket for an in-home screening of the new documentary “Vinyl Nation,” with proceeds benefiting local record stores.
You can also feed your inner music geek with these in-home visits to the rabbit hole of your choice. So fire up your Bic lighter (or your flashlight app) — your obsession awaits.
TV/streaming: The “Classic Albums” documentary series
Originally airing in America on VH1, episodes from this documentary series exploring the making of benchmark albums are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and some can still be purchased on DVD. The series is also airing weekdays at 11 a.m. on the AXS TV cable channel. Whether you stream or buy, what a glorious, grainy adventure the vaults have in store for you.
From the make-or-break drama of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Damn the Torpedoes” to the underdog triumph that was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” each album has a story. And in “Classic Albums,” each story is lovingly (and thoroughly) told through extensive band interviews, old and new live performances and thoughtful, big-picture commentary from the critical likes of David Fricke and David Wild.
Whether it’s Elton John talking about effortlessly knocking out a few “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” tunes before teatime, or nattily attired session musician Herbie Flowers explaining how his indelible bass line for Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” came to be, there are nuggets galore in the interviews. You will not understand half of what Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister is saying during the “Ace of Spades” episode, and it will not matter.
As much I love a candle-lit rock-star interview, however, my favorite “Classic Albums” moments always happen at the mixing board. That’s where the musicians, their producers and/or engineers strip a song down to individual instrumental and vocal tracks (or in the case of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman,” instrumental, vocal and breaking-glass tracks), and you are reminded that the songs you love were all made of equal parts musicianship, madness and magic. And how rock ‘n’ roll is that?
Podcasts: “All Songs Considered,” “Song Exploder” and “Switched on Pop”
For an expertly curated mix of reviews, interviews and new music roundups, you can’t do better than NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” whose recent episodes include a tribute to the late John Prine, a playlist of songs to decompress by and the always instructive “New Music Friday” sprint through the week’s new releases. Complete playlists are available on the website (npr.org/sections/allsongs).
In need of a quick escape? Immerse yourself in the meditative “Song Exploder,” in which musicians ranging from FKA Twigs and Robyn to Nathaniel Rateliff and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson spend approximately 20 intimate minutes telling the story of how one song was made. Along with snippets of demos and individual musical and vocal tracks, you get a surprising amount of insight into each artist’s creative process, along with a look at the emotional backstory that sparked every song. (songexploder.net)
From geeky to geekier to geekiest, I give you “Switched on Pop,” where co-hosts Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding take you on mind-bending journeys that can start with a supposedly disposable Post Malone or 5 Seconds of Summer hit, travel through Stevie Nicks, Stravinsky and Enya, before ending in a place of appreciation for anyone who has the chops and moxie to create a memorable pop tune. The list of songs discussed on every episode is on the website. (switchedonpop.com)
Streaming radio: “Little Steven’s Underground Garage”
As I mentioned in last week’s column, the SiriusXM streaming radio service is offering free access to more than 300 channels through May 15, which gives you plenty of time to explore the vinyl-covered walls of “Little Steven’s Underground Garage.”
What can you say about a station that will play the Ramones, Wilson Pickett, Lucinda Williams and the Bombpops, all within the same genre-exploding hour? I say, “Crank it up!” I also say thanks to the rock gods for the station’s hosts, a lineup that includes “Little Steven” Van Zandt himself, along with guitarist and archivist Lenny Kaye, legendary Cleveland DJ Kid Leo, the Woggles’ Mighty Manfred and forever rocker Michael Des Barres.
Whether you want to know who produced the Who’s “My Generation” (Shel Talmy) or who wrote the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Gerry Goffin and Carole King), or you need to hear Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and the Rolling Stones go head to head with their versions of “Going to a Go-Go,” “Little Steven’s Underground Garage” is here to educate you and liberate you. Not necessarily in that order.
And with a little help from these entertainment friends, the Record Store Day vibe is as close as your TV, laptop or cellphone. As always, the groove is in your heart.