Listen to Old Music

The other day my roommate said: “You listen to a lot of old music.” It made me feel weird. I never thought about it that way.

People often say then listen to “all” kinds of music. Most are full of shit. Someone might say they listen to “many” kinds of music because they listen to rap and alternative rock, plus classic rock and even techno and then reggae on top of that.

My standard for diverse taste in music requires listening to BOTH: (A) music in different languages and (B) music across generations.

Here are some of my faves from my grandparents’ generation.

Bessie Smith – St. Louis Blues

This song didn’t make the list just because it’s from my hometown and inspired the naming of our hockey team. It’s a sad song for sad times. The singer despairs over her philandering husband. It’s been covered by all the jazz greats, including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

Billie Holiday – Stormy Weather

Lady Day was probably the best female American vocalist of the last 100 years. She was also a hard partier who never slowed down until she was dead. But she left behind some of the greatest songs of all time.

Check out Strange Fruit, which is about blacks killed by lynching. The song stands as a top cultural artifact of that horrible phenomenon in American history.

Robert Johnson – Stop Breaking Down

Robert Johnson is the godfather of blues. Blues preceded rock and roll. When you hear people say black people invented rock and roll, of course they’re talking about Chuck Berry but they’re primarily talking about southern blues. So if you dig rock, recognize and pay tribute to its grandfather.

Duke Ellington – Mood Indigo

I started listening to jazz on public radio station KUVO when I lived in Denver, CO. Jazz is great for relaxing before bed. The more I got into jazz, the more I started following the 20th century greats. Duke Ellington was also known as a great gentleman.

Miles Davis – Blue in Green

Miles Davis is the most popular jazz artist. He’s proved the most timeless.

Edith Piaf – Autumn Leaves

I just discovered Edith Piaf in the last couple years. A gringa friend gave me a bunch of new music around Christmas 2008. I was playing my entire iTunes on random one night when an Edith Piaf song came on. Her voice was so beautiful I immediately dropped everything I was doing to find all her other songs. I Googled the French singer to read about her life and career. She’s unrivaled in mastery of the voice.

This song’s my favorite because it’s in English, but most are in French. There’s a scene in Saving Private Ryan where the American GI’s are occupying a destroyed French town and they come upon an old Edith Piaf record. They all listen and admire her talent.

My gringa friend was turned on to Piaf after seeing the 2007 biopic, La Vie en Rose. The French woman who played Piaf won an Academy Award for her performance. Another English track by Piaf, very rare, is I Shouldn’t Care.

Lotte Lenya – Alabama Song

Lotte Lenya, another vocal master, is from Austria. You’d know her as the creepy little old woman in James Bond flick From Russia with Love (Sean Connery days).

The version in my iTunes is much different than the embedded video, but not on YouTube. It sounds even stranger because she does it at a super high tone.

Frank Sinatra – If You Are But a Dream

Frank Sinatra’s more than played out. But he wasn’t cool because of New York, New York. He was cool because of beauties like this one.

Django Reinhardt – Belleville

Frenchman Django Reinhardt mastered the jazz guitar. When most people think of jazz, they think of horns. But jazz bands can have anything they want. They’ll bust out the flute, clarinet, harmonica, and of course stringed instruments.

Renato Carosone – Tu Vuò Fa’ L’Americano

Renato Carosone played the Napolese style of Italian folk music. I don’t believe he’s singing in Italian here but Napolese, but I’m not sure about that. This song’s about WWII-era Italians who acted like Americans (whiskey and soda and rock and roll).

I found this through the irresistible-on-the-dance-floor techno track that sampled it, We No Speak Americano.

Carmen Miranda – South American Way

The biggest Brazilian star of her generation, Carmen Miranda sings this in English. I don’t know how Brazilian this song is but I like it.

The Moonglows – Sincerely

Doo-wop, gotta love it. I found this on the GoodFellas soundtrack.

Jerry Vale – Pretend You Don’t See Her

Jerry Vale, excellent singing and songwriting. Also from the GoodFellas soundtrack.

Bobby Darin – Mack the Knife

This is my old man’s favorite song of all time. Bobby Darin led an amazing life, which inspired biopic Beyond the Sea starring Kevin Spacey.

Peggy Lee – Fever

Peggy Lee was the first to do this song, which has been covered several times. More recently by Cristina Aguilera, but the best was by Ella Fitzgerald.

Nina Simone – Sinnerman

Nina Simone recorded all the way into the 70s, so not so old. But her style was and her influence on your favorite Soul and R&B artists immense. Half of her catalog is about civil rights and racial equality, which I’m all for but many of her songs are too intense. This is my favorite, but other must-listens are Feeling Good and I Put a Spell on You.

I once saw a color, full-nude photo of Nina Simone. She was sexy despite a completely untouched bush. Don’t know if the pic was real.

Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire

OK so Johnny Cash isn’t that old but I’m not familiar with the country music from before this time. I’m from Missouri and have generally not liked rural rednecks or their music for most of my life. But you gotta dig Johnny Cash. Check out his lesser known hit from the 90s, Hurt.

Patsy Cline

Patsy Cline was a mid-century Taylor Swift, doing country songs that captured the nation’s heart.

Junior Kimbrough – Meet Me in the City

This is actually from the 90s but it’s the kind of music people hear and say I listen to old music. Fat Possum Records discovered, signed, and recorded all these old black bluesmen from one of the poorest, countriest areas in the South: the Mississippi Delta. Some of these guys lived their entire lives with jobs like “Fisherman.” Junior Kimbrough was a John Deere salesman. Some Fat Possum bluesmen never knew they’d gain national notoriety, dying broke and unknown. Their music’s addictive, the kind of stuff that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

And you gotta love lyrics like these:

“You bett’ not let me catch you fuckin’ up. I’ma beat yo’ ass.”

That’s T Model Ford in “I’m Insane” off the album Pee Wee Get My Gun 🙂

R.L. Burnside is probably the best known for Fat Possum.

Squirrel Nut Zippers – Low Down Man

Another band inspired by old music and also makes people say I listen to old music. This is my favorite but more characteristic of their big band style is Prince Nez.

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  1. 1) Yes that’s the Napolitano dialect…

    2) “Strange Fruit” was actually written by a white middle class high school teacher from the Bronx. He went to the south, and witnessed a lynching, and was moved to write the song……


  2. Hi Colin,

    Great list! Although I like every music/musician you mentioned, as a guitarist myself, I have to highlight Django Reinhardt, who besides beeing a pioneer of the’hot’ jazz guitar, played stuff with his injured hand (third and fourth fingers of his left hand were badly burned) that are difficult playing even with a healthy hand – besides the beauty itself of the notes…

    On another matter, folks should check out:
    Mix Master Mike & Robert Johnson from Scratch (movie)

    …and the king of digging:
    DJ Shadow featured in the movie Scratch (2002)

    I think that hip hop has helped a lot to divulge and interest a younger generation in “old” music – besides maybe your parents record collection

    Greets from PT


  3. This is a fantastic list my friend. I knew you wouldn’t leave out Nina.

    Now if Led Zeppelin was on this list, it would be a little more complete for me… but I do love some of the obscure, soulful stuff. I’d regard the statement that you listen to old music as an all-out compliment. It seems the older stuff is far more artistic and genuine, and no less legit, no matter how much it fades into obscurity, just like a lost language that the younger generations abandon.


  4. Anyways, if you look at any list of the top selling artists of all time, it’s almost ALL from the 50s 60s and 70s, and NOTHING from the past 15 years or so. It just goes to show music today sucks ass….. the new stuff can’t even compete in sales!!


  5. Rubio, didn’t know that about Strange Fruit. Thanks! Also, I dig lots of new music but I don’t follow it religiously because MOST of it will never be timeless. And there’s a lot of timeless old stuff out there to know. One thing new music has going for it is the public’s increasing acceptance of taboo themes. These old timers couldn’t / didn’t do sexual content as well as they can now (see my sex playlist, all new music).

    Daniel, hip hop sampling turns people on to old stuff but apparently so does techno, as was the case with Renato Carosone.

    Samuel, Led Zepellin ain’t old music! If my grandparents wouldn’t have liked it, it ain’t old!

    Erik, Junior Kimbrough was the best. Lonesome Road is actually my favorite and it’s the song I was thinking about that’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, but that track’s not on YouTube.

    Glad y’all dig the playlist, I was wondering how this post would go over 🙂


  6. I think that the taboo subjects are what is killing music. now. Old school music had to sing about love and matters of the heart.

    So much of the new stuff is fucking and bitches and hoes and money

    I guess the old stuff was about that too… they were just far more artistic about it

    maybe a similar analogy is that sex itself is fairly forgettable… whereas making love to your beloved… is something else. Putting a bitch on the curb is nothing like the heartbreak of a real lost love.

    maybe there’s a connection…


  7. @Sam: “I guess the old stuff was about that too…”

    I think you`re right. They just packaged it differently, manners were different back then.
    For example the song “Love For Sale” by Cole Porter:

    Love for sale
    appetizing young love for sale
    love thats fresh and still unspoiled
    love thats only slightly soiled
    love for sale

    who will buy
    who would like to sample my supply
    who’s prepared to pay the price
    for a trip to paradise
    love for sale

    Put the 2nd to a heavy beat and dirty voice and voila…things get alot different!


  8. Well I will comment later, but I want to drop some new-ish hiphop here for you to lift to Colin. Sorry I know this isn’t really in place. But still…. enjoy

    *btw – I tend to be a rock n roll fan but some good hip hop I feel. I too grew up with the negros 😉

    Royce da 5’9 is one of the best MC’s at the moment. Simple as that


  9. BTW-the 2nd track is a non specific diss to the main stream rap now a days ” I got diamonds on my neck, guccis on my feet….” basically stating that this shit is played out. Same old Same old

    Oh and to non hip hop fans, notice how Royce never repeats his raps. Yes there is a chorus, but other than that this is not some gay anthem rap. Every line is unique aside from the chorus.

    this version is better btw –

    Oh and some more real Hip Hop – this is a white ass Cubano from Florida. This is rhyming.


  10. 1st music passion for me was Hip Hop – all the elements. That got lost a little bit after I picked up the guitar and Hetfield, Cobain, etc have had become my new heroes… later came electronic music and classical, also all kind of world music. Nowadays I listen to all of them and almost anything that fits right for the moment.
    But getting back to Rap/Hip Hop, here is my share:

    N.W.A- Straight Outta Compton

    “Worst Comes To Worst” Dilated Peoples

    from Germany, Hamburg my Hometown:
    Absolute Beginner – Nie Nett

    from Spain, legend:
    Chico Problematico – Nach Scratch

    Hope, y`all enjoy it!


  11. Just discovered this: Mashup artist Rench has released a free album of “gangstagrass” music — hiphop mashed with bluegrass – Actually really fresh and different…

    Put Your Hands Up High – Gangstagrass


  12. Old music was ALWAYS sexual and dirty, more so than the music of today. They just could never RECORD it that way. But old timers tell me that for example, Memphis’s Beale St. in the 1940s and 1950s had blues bands doing extremely raunchy lyrics, and women going nuts, people having sex right on the dance floor, etc..


  13. Another example of censorship is when, in 1956, ABC radio refused to play Billie Holiday’s “Love for Sale” because the lyrics are about prostitution, but “Love For Sale” would be on the radio again.
    ABC also made Cole Porter change the lyric of “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, which was a hit for Frank Sinatra. Porter’s original stated “I get no kick from cocaine”. The cleaned-up version was “I get perfume from Spain”.

    from “Censorship of music”

    Also interestinga articles

    Bellavista Social Club – rap group from Colombia

    Pasajeros – protest musicians from Colombia


  14. I agree that music from the old days can be sexual (particularly the blues and other poor black music) and even with Rock this was the case. The only difference was that it was more metaphor or suggestive instead of just blunt.

    As a kid I was listening to Led Zep – lemon song, or Whole lotta love and sure you could take that as sexual (definitely are esp in Lemon song) but its just not blunt and in your face and if you chose not to believe it was sexual you could do it. In other words I could play that song around a younger person or my parents and it wasn’t going to make me blush.

    Now with R&B and Hip Hop / pop being 90% Bullshit, its a simple “hey bitch suck my dick..” which to me is just not art. It’s boring, trite and just intelectually lazy. That is my biggest gripe between timeless old school grooves (no matter if its Zeppelin or Earth Wind and Fire) to the stuff we hear now a days with auto tuner and super boring lyrics. The new stuff is created to create a buzz in your ear for 5 minutes while they make the next auto tuned peice of garbage to pipe into your head.


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