Sunday, August 19, 2012

Whitburn Codex Intro

 Sometime last early last year, someone gave my brother a truly massive amount of mp3s, something like 50 gigabytes, called "The Whitburn Collection". My brother being my brother was less interested in the roots of the collection, which was indeed organized if haphazardly so - nor was he concerned if it had anything to do with the famous musicologist, author and record collector Joel Whitburn. My brother received parts One and Three of a four-part set, and the person he got it from couldn't adequately explain why he couldn't deliver the full set, but since he's a really good guy we don't fret much. We'd still like it, though, if anyone has any clue what I'm gibbering about here.

 Anyhow. After whittling out the relatively small number of tunes that duplicated stuff we already had and passing over other versions (single mixes, live stuff, etc.), we were left with 20 solid gigs of heretofore unknown country music. It's exciting and incredibly interesting. Not only is there so much country music I'd never heard - and I'm a man that loves him some country music - but it's a fascinating sociological snapshot of the music's time. Like all art, music - especially pop music and doubly so for country music - often acts as a mirror for the time of its creation. Some songs are timeless; some are inexorably tied to the events and opinions of the era and make little or no sense out of context.

 For me this has a deeper meaning. Though I was basically a child of the '80s, it wasn't really one John Hughes would recognize. I grew up in rural Northeast Mississippi, not far from where Elvis was born, in a dry country that bans MTV to this day. Worse, my family and neighbors in the little wooded river community I call home had little truck with popular culture and could've cared less about pop music. My brother and I both had our rock and pop likings, but our personal radios were always, always tuned to a country station. My parents were less stuck in the '70s and more unconcerned with the passage of time. Apart from the advances in baseball-watching technology, they could care less.

 So what I'm saying is this: country music, particularly from the '70s, plays a heavy role in my psychological make-up, as does dealing with and exploring the society and culture where that music grew and played. As I said, some songs are timeless, and they're just as relevant to us as when they were written. You know, everyone can relate to "Your Cheatin' Heart" and always will so long as hearts can break, that sort of thing. Some songs, however, deal with the world around them and, as often as not, fail miserably. The whole feminist thing hit country music right in the small of the back and even in today's conservative climate, the tunes dealing with "uppity gals who just need some good lovin'" is quite jarring. Lighter, as much affection as I personally have for them, songs about truckers and CB's really don't hold up.

 Which makes dealing with the Codex even more a chore. Plus, there is a whole lot of really, really bad songs on this thing. I mean, just embarrassingly bad. Some are songwriter cuts or deejay vanity projects, and hey, not everyone's Ray Price. Some are extremely poorly crafted tunes, some shooting for whatever the honky zeitgeist was and just whiffing it big-time. Some are merely examples of how the Industry has always foisted no-talent hacks upon a record-buying public that'll dutifully by the most horrific shit. *Shakes fist at uncaring sky*

 So, now and again, I take extended stabs at it. If there are enough examples of one artist, I might go that route or I might just do the ol' iPod shuffle. As often as not, if I hear anything neat it's because my brother brought it to my attention. When the mood strikes, I'm going to write about those neat moments. If I can, I'll post the video or a link to the song or something related. I'll tell a little history of the tune and the singer, how I came across it, what I found out during my research on both, and just where I think it fits into the grand tapestry. Or I may just write this one, I ain't making no promises.

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