March 17, 2005



(Recommended If You Like):

20 years ago, Todd Rundgren released a true tour de force,

(Click Me)

featuring a collection of rock, gospel, pop and soul songs created soley
with one instrument: His voice.

Like most of Todd's experiments, it was ignored, a fate Todd himself more or
less predicted with this ad for his epic double album Something/Anything?:


Todd, of course, never did himself any favors; he confounded fans who loved
the pop craft of Something/Anything? by following it up with an hour-long dada-esque musical collage (A Wizard, A True Star), a Zappa-esque prog-rock album (Todd Rundgren's Utopia), an album which featured a side-long, experimental synthesizer instrumental (Initiation), an album which featured note-for-note covers of his favorite songs (Faithful), a semi-tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Beatles (Deface The Music)...the list goes on (I, along with a number of Rundgren fanatics, happened to like these experiments with the notable exception of Deface The Music). Ironically, the last time Todd wasn't ignored was when sports arenas decided his throwaway "Bang on the Drum All Day" would be perfect to get crowds pumped up. Go figure.

Anyway, I digress. 19 years after A Cappella, Bjork released this album,

(Click Me)

which also boasted an all-vocal instrumentation gimmick (although Bjork
cheated with some samples and also used guest vocalists). Bjork was hailed
for her originality, probably because most critics were either too young to
remember Todd's album or because they simply chose to ignore him once again. Personally, even though I'm a huge Bjork fan, I find most of this album to be pretty dull.

So, why am I wasting your time talking about a 20 year old Todd Rundgren album and a Bjork album that I don't even really like? I'm getting to it. Both records could easily be described as "self-indulgent." We hear that phrase a lot when it comes to music and it's more or less used as a put down. But, I often find the best music is self-indulgent, primarily because the artists are making the music to please themselves rather than the mysterious, fickle masses. Which brings us to our recommendation: It's an album that consists of vocals-only and, like Todd's, features only one person's voice. But instead of calling it "self-indulgent" I'm going to call it "selfless-indulgent."

Here's the disc:

(Click me)

The reason it's selfless is because this isn't some vanity project by Petra Haden (daughter of the legendary jazz musician Charlie Haden and formerly of the neglected that dog). Instead, Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out was created at the behest of Mike Watt, bassist for minutemen and fIREHOSE, because it was the favorite album of his and his childhood friend, minutemen bandmate d. boon who died 19 years ago in a car crash when his girlfriend fell asleep at the wheel. In the liner notes for Petra's disc, Watt explains the attraction to The Who album:
Well, it was cuz that was a record that said to us a band could do anything they want and still sound like it was them, they weren't tied to any kind of a sound or gimmick or whatever...d. boon would tell me later when we started the minutemen (we loved that Who record before we found punk; punk came to us when we graduated high school in 1976), "you hear Townshend on "Sunrise" playing his guitar? That's him trying to play jazz." And so d. boon went from the chord voicings he learned from CCR and BOC to those kind.
So Watt asked Petra (who never even heard the album) to interpret The Who Sell Out in it's entirety, using only her voice:
...I was curious as hell to see how such an endeavor would manifest itself. This is the power of music: to make ideas come alive, to breathe life in little boy daydream pasts so far removed by time...These memories of us sharing things go through my mind constantly cuz I miss him so...Please understand, it wasn't a demand, just an idea. And it was out of the goodness of Petra's heart to take it on...I know d. boon would've tripped on hearing this, too. He would've given the hugest of bear hugs for it We knew that record inside and out and Petra caught that spirit big time.
Indeed she did. Do yourself a favor and check it out (it's available at Bar/None Records). And check out the original, of course:

(Click me)


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