Most people are aware of Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon is credited with another humorous adage; when baited in an interview with the statement: “C’mon, Ted, you’ve gotta admit, 90% of science fiction is crap!” his comeback became what is famously known as Sturgeon’s Revelation (or sometimes Sturgeon’s Law): “90% of everything is crap.”
As applied to the popular music industry, this saying implies that most popular music released since the ascent of the original rock ‘n’ rollers of the 1950s right down to what happens to be the flavor of the week here in the modern age is, well, crap. That’s a pretty harsh judgment of the recording industry and most recording artists — and even the ones that make the cut into the (good stuff) 10% club don’t get off lightly; using the same principle, one could say 90% of the work of the best 10% is crap as well.
Even assuming that this premise might be true, there are some great albums out there that contain not only great song writing, playing and production, but also successfully reflect contemporary social issues or influence further developments in music. Still … don’t you sometimes just wish you could sneak in there and dump one or two dud songs you didn’t like and replace them with a better unreleased track or single B-side?
Welcome to the modern age. Using playlists, anyone can find and manipulate any given album easily using very basic (and often free) available digital technology. We can take an album, add tracks, remove tracks, and change the running order — in short, we can test drive our own ideas and see if we could’ve done a better job of sequencing than the guy who actually got paid to do it.
As well, we can follow along and listen to possibilities an artist had temporarily pursued, and how the vision of the album changed as the work progressed. This might especially work well following an obsessive compulsive track juggler like Bruce Springsteen, but you’d be surprised how many other less than major players run the same sorts of offstage battles behind the mixing boards.
So what? Anybody can slam together a greatest hits album: That used to be called a mixtape. Agreed — but that’s not the purpose here — it has to be something that adds more than just additional parts to the whole. It has to make the album better, and it has to complement the original tracks. For instance, sometimes, another similar track helps drive home a point; sometime clarity comes with a track that stands out from the rest.
I hope to do two or three at a time, but since I used so much space on the intro, this week I’m offering only a single example. Let’s call this one …
Back in the Saddle
Rats in the Cellar
Bright Light Fright *
Chip Away the Stone**
Sick as a Dog
Get the Lead Out
Lick and a Promise
Milk Cow Blues*
Aerosmith’s Rocks is a contender for best album in their own catalog, so why mess with it? The answer is actually another question: Why does such a great rock album end on a power ballad (“Home Tonight”)? That’s easily fixed by borrowing the two best songs from the band’s 1977 exercise in excess, Draw the Line. Simply attach their cover of “Milk Cow Blues” to the end of side two of Rocks. Then, for balance, put Draw the Line’s “Bright Light Fright” (with great Joe Perry lead vocal) after “Combination,” and finish side one strong with “Chip Away the Stone” (an Aerosmith mystery tune — they never used it on an album except for greatest hits packages and the Pandora’s Box compilation set).
And there you go: Six songs per side, same production team, 46 odd minutes in total. And who said nobody listens to albums anymore?