There is a type of customer at Amoeba Music that remains one of my favorites. Those brave souls who sheepishly make their way to the deepest, most remote area of the store: The Classical Section. They look vulnerable but hopeful, curious but intimidated. They come, knowing they want Classical music, but unsure how to find something they’ll like.
There is little that connects these two artists at first glance, but one thing they have in common is a very smooth, seductive sound. Rich, complex textures that evoke sunlight, nature, and love-making. When in need of a sonic massage, both will do wonders.
Kate Bush’s ground-breaking, third album Never For Ever has a song dedicated to eccentric composer Frederick Delius. Both artists are known for eclectic, esoteric music, heavily influenced – though not obviously so – by African-American music, yet both remain quintessentially British. Both are challenging and rewarding.
These two gems of American music share a love of the common man and the seedy underbelly of U.S. society. Glorifying drunkards, hoboes and madmen, each bring a youthful exuberance to their music. While both are undoubtedly “experimental,” each remain somehow joyfully accessible.
One of Sonic Youth’s major influences is avant-garde composer John Cage. Each has managed to secure worshipful adoration in their respective genres, while making careers out of rebelling against these genres. Both fearlessly explore the limits of music with intelligence, wit and almost cocky confidence.
Morrissey’s album Southpaw Grammar opens with a swelling sample of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Both created music celebrating the country that raised them, rose to stardom, then were villainized for perceptions of their politics. Each has humor tempered by depression and wry, Narcissistic streaks – and both rock.
Forget her role in the often criticized Carmen: A Hip-Hopera – if you love Beyoncé’s voice, with its pitch-perfect, soaring belts and deft employment of melisma – always with a flair for the dramatic – check out Bizet’s opera. You’ll be surprised how much of it you know already.
Here we have two loners who created music that breathed new life into otherwise well-charted compositional territory. Keen insight and serious tone pervade much of each musicians’ recordings. Both are perfect for sitting alone with your coffee and thinking long and hard about life.
If a perfect day for you is sitting beneath a weeping willow and daydreaming about love, both lost and found (but mostly lost), while scribbling in your journal and listening to Cat Power, try switching to lute songs by John Dowland, and flow your tears…
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Metallica, yes, but most all you metal fans should be aware of this famous piece by Bavarian composer Carl Orff. You may recognize it from the many, many film previews that feature an ultimate battle between good and evil. Perfect music to conquer mortals by.
Margaret Leng Tan, the first woman to earn a Doctorate in Musical Arts at Juilliard, is a virtuoso of toy pianos, and offers an eerie, childlike whimsy to the normally austere classical world’s repertoire. She does for the classical genre what CocoRosie does for folk/pop.
Rockers love the East-European Romantics. Perhaps it’s their mutual appreciation of, and inspiration by, traditional folk roots. Whatever the reason, if you turn to the Stones for their vibrant, rollicking, macho sound, try blasting these pieces by Czech composer, Antonin Dvo?ák. Drinks optional.
“Weird Al” Yankovic … … P.D.Q. Bach, composer?
ABBA… …symphonies of Luigi Boccherini
Joanna Newsom… …Ruth Crawford-Seeger, composer
Of Montreal… …Scott Joplin, composer
Amy Winehouse… …violin sonatas of J.S. Bach
Laura Nyro… …Toru Takemitsu, composer
Scott Walker… …”The Ring Cycle,” by Richard Wagner
Leonard Cohen… …Nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin
Dead Can Dance… … Arvo Pärt
PJ Harvey… …Kurt Weill, composer
Joni Mitchell… …piano sonatas of Ludwig Van Beethoven
Queen… …”Bolero,” by Maurice Ravel
David Bowie… …”Heroes,” by Philip Glass
Donovan… …Georg Philipp Telemann, composer
Antony & The Johnsons… …The Hilliard Emsemble, music group
T.Rex… …”Hungarian Rhapsody,” by Franz Liszt
The above list is obviously extremely limited in scope, and the parallels are subjective, but if you gain nothing else from this concept let it be: The world of Classical music embodies hundreds of years of music as diverse, and perhaps more so, than any genre of music you already enjoy. Certainly within such a rich and broad expanse of music you can find something that will delight you.
And once you’ve made the brave trek into discovering the Classical music section at Amoeba, and as you slowly learn the difference between Baroque chamber music and neo-Romanticism, you’ll be hooked!
Just remember that Amoeba employees are there to guide you. Use us!