Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Summer of 1966 in Music

Many of the hits of 1966 are such timeless classics that it's hard to believe they are now 50 years old!  Music of that era satisfied diverse tastes, yet many of the songs became "crossover" hits, appealing to wide audiences.   1966 was also the year that the "concept album" took hold.  Earlier albums contained unrelated songs, but in a concept album the songs are part of a whole.

Here are some of the iconic albums of 1966:

Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde was released in May of 1966 and became a double platinum hit album.  This album includes "Just Like a Woman," "Rainy Day Women," "I Want You" and "Visions of Johanna."
Compact Disc 21960

Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys is one of the first concept albums, but more than that, it explored new sonic territory with innovative engineering techniques and a large assortment of acoustical instruments.  It is preserved in the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry and is second on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.  Hits from the album include:
  • Wouldn't it be Nice
  • Sloop John B
  • God Only Knows
Pet Sounds Sessions:  This 1996 reissue includes alternate takes and backing-only tracks.
Compact Disc 9735

The Pet Sounds reissue of 2012 includes both mono and stereo tracks: Compact Disc 22647

The Beatles' "Paperback Writer" is considered a pivotal single for the band, transitioning their sound from pop to rock.  It was a hit in the Summer of 1966 as a single and was included on the 1970 album, Hey Jude.
Compact Disc 21998

The Beatles' album, Revolver, released in August, 1966, contains hits "Taxman," "Eleanor Rigby," "Here, There, and Everywhere," "Good Day Sunshine," "Got to Get You into My Life" as well as "Yellow Submarine."
Compact Disc 18338 (reissue with added goodies)
Compact Disc 1153

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention released "Freak Out!" which used unusual timbres, stretching the limits of pop sounds.  This concept album was an underground hit, exploring psychedelic sounds, avant garde techniques borrowed from jazz and classical music, and layered textures.  "In Memoriam, Edgard Varèse" references the composer who popularized musique concrète, the technique of using sounds created from objects that would not normally be considered musical instruments.
Compact Disc 15097

While rock music was evolving and pushing forward, Frank Sinatra, whose crooner career started in the Big Band era, continued to be popular.  His album, Frank Sinatra Sings for Moderns: Strangers in the Night, includes the title track, Summer Wind, and other popular songs by the then fifty-year-old superstar.
Compact Disc 11725

For more hits from 1966, check out these compilation albums:

Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits, 1966
Compact Disc 1743

Billboard Top R&B Hits, 1966
Compact Disc 114

"1966" from Time-Life Music
Compact Disc 239

1966: Shakin' All Over, from Time-Life Music
Compact Disc 240

1966, The Beat Goes On
Compact Disc 241

1966, Blowin' Your Mind
Compact Disc 358

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Music for a Relaxed Finals Week

Research has shown (See the American Psychological Association summary) that "multi-tasking" is not effective, or even possible.  What the brain really does is switch between tasks, to the detriment of all the tasks being done.

One of the most prevalent distractions for students is music: their own or their neighbor's.  If a student is used to hearing music continually, will silence be too alien to be helpful to attention?

Ever since the flawed "Mozart Effect" studies, researchers have sought to explain the seemingly positive effect of music on learning through brain studies and other methods.  In one study, researchers found that slow (lento) music reduced test anxiety, which in itself could improve test scores.  (1)  Other studies have shown that classical music can reduce blood pressure in heart patients, and there is a medical specialty called Music Therapy.

If you like having music on, but find some kinds of music distracting, perhaps music designed for meditation can help your focus during Finals Week.  In most cultures that practice meditation, its aim is to clear the mind of distracting thoughts.  Instrumental music - music without a vocal part - seems conducive to meditation, and may less distracting for study because you are only absorbing words from one place: your study materials.

The Music Collection has some music for relaxation so you can have your cake (music) and eat it too (focus on your work):

"New Age Music" as a subject often includes soothing music, but some is ethnically-oriented percussive music that could have the opposite effect!  We have selected a few albums and artists that may provide an optimal atmosphere:

Brian Eno's Discreet Music (1975) was one of the first electronic music works created for ambiance.  His album, Neroli (1993) is so calming it has been played in maternity wards.

Steven Halpern  was one of the leaders of the 1970s and 1980s "anti-frantic" music movement, with albums titled "Inner Peace" and "Effortless Relaxation."

Coyote Oldman is a duo that plays native American flutes in simple and soothing First Peoples-inspired styles.

George Winston,  a pianist, is one of the pioneers of New Age music though he also performs jazz and folk music.  He has recorded many albums for the quintessential New Age record label, Windham Hill.  His "Plains" celebrates the wide expanses of the American plains.

Yoga Lounge includes music of various tempos for yoga stretching but can be relaxing at any time.  The CD is from Putumayo, a record label that issues compilations of tracks from around the world in several series, including "Lounge" and "Playground."

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For a selection of relaxing classical music, try:
Meditations for a Quiet Night
Compact Disc 982

Some people find smooth jazz soothing.  Try CDs by Chris Botti (trumpet), Dave Koz (saxophone), Kenny G (soprano saxophone) or Brian Culbertson (piano),

(1)  Lai, H., Chen, P., Chen, C., Chang, H., Peng, T., & Chang, F. (2008). Randomized crossover trial studying the effect of music on examination anxiety. Nurse Education Today, 28(8), 909­916. doi: 10.1016/j.nedt.2008.05.011