Discover Our Classical Music Section!

Posted by Amoebite, November 13, 2009 03:37pm | Post a Comment

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.

I’ve found the most efficient and fun way to lead folks is to learn about the other forms of music they love, and then use that to inspire selections. For every contemporary artist on the scene today, I assure you that there’s a composer in the Classical section with parallels. Beyond that, after working in record stores for over a decade, I’ve learned that people who enjoy certain acts – such as, let’s say, Black Sabbath – typically will also enjoy the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich.

It’s these interactions that led me to create the following “conversion chart.” While no means infallible, think of it as a fun way to find a starting point in your adventure into the Classical music genre. But remember – no chart can replace a living, breathing, Amoeba Music employee. Don’t be afraid to come in and ask for suggestions. We love that!

al green

IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Al Green…                    …chamber music of Claude Debussy

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 bushdelius

IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Kate Bush…                    …Frederick Delius, composer

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.

tom waitspartch

IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Tom Waits…                    …Harry Partch, composer

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.

sonic youthjohn cage

IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Sonic Youth…                    …John Cage, composer

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.


IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Morrissey…                    …Symphony #5, by Dmitri Shostakovich

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.


IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Beyoncé…                    …"Carmen” by G. Bizet

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.

elliott smithglenn gould

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Elliott Smith…                    …Glenn Gould, musician

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.

cat powerdowland

IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Cat Power…                    …John Dowland, composer

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…

metallicacarl orff

IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Metallica…                    …”Carmina Burana,” by Carl Orff

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.


       IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

CocoRosie…                    …Margaret Leng Tan, musician

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.

rolling stonesdvorak

IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

Rolling Stones…                … Slavonic Dances, by Antonin Dvo?ák

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.

pdq bach

IF YOU LOVE:                                              THEN CHECK OUT:

“Weird Al” Yankovic …            … P.D.Q. Bach, composer?

The classical world has a stuffy reputation, it’s true – but it’s not without its comics. Peter Schickele, under the silly pseudonym P.D.Q. Bach, has been producing brilliant spoofs of the normally serious world of classical music for decades. So funny, you’ll forget it’s well-crafted, too.
Even more picks below!

IF YOU LOVE:                        CHECK OUT:

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!