I go to watch Brighton play football with Dave, who is about half my age. He still works at BHASVIC and, in fact, is now Head of Department. We have a lot in common – maths, beer, football, pedantry and music. I once gave him a compilation CD of my current favourite music. He gave me the look that young people give old people, thanked me very much and explained that he didn’t own a CD player. I couldn’t comprehend this but he explained that he streams all his music.
Roo and I once had a holiday in the USA and we rented a Kia Soul from Seattle airport. I had prepared 20 CDs of music to listen to and when I went to play a CD on our first day, I couldn’t find anywhere to insert the CD. That’s because there wasn’t a CD player in the car. There were lots of unnecessary luxury items such as a steering wheel but no CD player. I was aghast. I had to buy some flash drives and use a hotel computer to transfer the music.
In 2021, streaming made up about 85% of how all music was played. In recent years, vinyl sales have been increasing and are now about the same as CDs. In 2000, there were about 900 million CDs sold in the USA but by 2020 this number had fallen to about 30 million. Spotify, Amazon and Apple all use a compressed music file which results in a loss of information. Vinyl records in pristine condition probably sound better than a CD but are susceptible to scratches and imperfections.
Last year I bought about two CDs a week and reading information about music sales, I feel like a bit of an old dinosaur. One of the articles said that only “collectors” buy CDs these days. I’m partial to a box set but one article said that the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series has no future because people don’t buy CDs these days. I guess that’s what Paddy would call “progress”.
All I will say to anyone who doesn’t buy CDs and thinks I am out of date with my CD collection is this: “Try listening to “Van Lear Rose” by Loretta Lynn. It won a Grammy for Best Country Album in 2005.” And then I shall look at their face as they reply “I can’t play it. It’s not on Spotify.” And then I shall laugh. Unkindly and smugly. There is no apparent reason given for the unavailability of this album on Spotify or any other streaming service. It was withdrawn in March 2021. Luckily, you can buy the CD from Amazon for £3.89 on CD or you can pay £121 for the vinyl. Strange days.
Loretta Lynn is 89 years old and has released 46 studio albums. She wrote “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. She has been nominated 18 times for a Grammy, winning three times. She has had 24 No. 1 hit singles and 11 number one albums. In 2017, she suffered a stroke and in 2018, she broker her hip. The first time I heard of her was when Nanci Griffith explained that when she found out that Loretta Lynn was a songwriter (as well as a singer), she was inspired to write songs herself. One of her best known songs is “The Pill” which tells a story of a wife who is upset about her husband getting her pregnant year after year, but is now happy because she can control her own reproductive choices because she has the pill.
The website “Metacritic” aggregates all reviews of albums (and films, TV shows etc) from websites, newspapers, magazines . The top 4 albums of all time, according to Metacritic are (1) “Ten Freedom Summers” by Wadada Leo Smith (a jazz trumpeter) in 2012 with a score of 99/100, (2) “Fetch The Bolt Cutters” by Fiona Apple in 2020 (98/100), (3) “SMiLE” by Brian Wilson in 2004 (97/100), (4) Van Lear Rose by Loretta Lynn in 2004 (97/100).
The first verse of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is “Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler. We were poor, but we had love. That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of; he shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar.” Loretta Lynn was born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, which is a small coal mining community situated within the larger Van Lear community. The Consolidation Coal Company developed the mines in the area and one of its directors was called Van Lear Black who decided the settlement would benefit from being named after him.
“Van Lear Rose” was produced by Jack White of The White Stripes and was conceived as musical experiment, combining the astounding musical abilities of the 72 year old country singer and the 28 year old “good ole’ country boy from Detroit” (as Loretta Lynn described him). In 2004, The White Stripes'” Elephant” was just a year old and they were one of the “hottest” bands in the world. “Elephant” has sold about 4 million copies worldwide. The White Stripes’ album before “Elephant” was called “White Blood Cells” and was dedicated to Loretta Lynn – this was the start of the unlikely friendship: she invited Jack White to dinner and he found a “treasure trove” of unrecorded songs by his host. This formed the basis for the album. Jack White had watched “Coal Miner’s Daughter” when he was six years old and this inspired him to become a singer. He thinks that Loretta Lynn is the greatest female singer-songwriter of the 20th Century.
“Portland Oregon” is the only song on the album which includes some vocals by Jack White. It’s testimony to his musical purity and fan obsession that he was very honoured to appear with Loretta Lynn on the David Letterman Show. The song describes two people getting drunk in a bar and spending the night together. She had written the song many years earlier when she pretended to have had an affair with her guitarist, Cal Smith just to make her husband, Mooney Lynn jealous. The performance of Loretta Lynn and Jack White on the show is spellbinding.
“Family Tree” is sung by an estranged wife who is visited by her ex-husband along with his new lover. As they come to the house to see his children, the singer launches an attack on “the woman that’s burning down our family tree”. It’s a superb country song, similar to an earlier hit for Loretta Lynn called “Fist City”. It’s full of anger and addresses a serious issue but set to a jaunty tune. If any song could ever be described as heartbreaking, this is it and that’s down the quality of the songwriting and the deeply emotional vocal performance from Loretta Lynn. When she sings “I wouldn’t dirty my hands on trash like you“, her voice breaks with anger, frustration, sadness and resignation.
The music on this album is astonishing. “Have Mercy” includes a wonderful vocal performance from Loretta Lynn and wild electric guitar playing from Jack Black. As with every song on the album, Loretta Lynn’s vocal is a first take. Lyrically, “Have Mercy” is a desperate plea to a man who is breaking the singer’s heart by loving someone else. “She’s got you hypnotized and your brain is paralyzed. You know she’s only playing with you like a puppet on a string. Remember just one thing: she can’t love you like I do. No.”
The “60-Minutes” documentary on the album is wonderful.
If you don’t have this album and want to hear it in full, it will be the best £3.89 you’ll spend all year.