Over the years, I’ve made it a practice of celebrating my birthday by programming in some selected favorite recordings and musical works, as a sort of “best of the Galaxy” edition. This is really only natural, as music is a big part of my overall mindset – I enjoy nothing more than celebrating a birthday with a few “ultimate” songs. Of course, such a list would be quite expansive, and would be prohibitive to play over the course of one show. So, while we’re not going to have an absolute “best of the Galaxy” lineup tonight, I will be making a few selections that could fit into such a list.
Now, while the first band we heard tonight wouldn’t necessarily fit into an “ultimate Galaxy” list, the songwriting here is definitely top-notch, and it is something that came to mind earlier in the week. Bread was formed by David Gates with the songwriting team of James Griffin and Robb Royer in 1969 (Griffin and Royer had that year won an Oscar for a song from Love and Other Strangers; the song was eventually given a well-known treatment by the Carpenters). As a combo, the three of them (eventually adding Mike Betts on drums) wrote some really interesting songs, largely between 1970 and 1973. While they had a number of big hits, we heard a few of their songs that may not be heard as often, yet remain worthy of a good listen: Look What You’ve Done, It Don’t Matter To Me, and The Last Time.
Any “best of the Galaxy” list would have to include some Johann Sebastian Bach, most notably some of his splendid organ works. Anytime I do something like this, it is especially hard to resist the temptation to include his Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565. This is in spite of the fact that there is some scholarly dispute as to whether Bach actually wrote the work or not. As with most of his organ works, there is no surviving manuscript copy in Bach’s hand; the oldest surviving copy was copied by Johannes Ringk, who is noted for his copies of numerous famous works of the era by multiple composers; many of his copies are considered to be earliest surviving copies of numerous important works. Although this debate is interesting as far as the historical aspect, it is ultimately redundant for the purposes of this show – whether or not Bach wrote it, the music as it stands is pure brilliance, and is a sublime example of the beauty of the pipe organ (called “the King of Instruments” by some – I’m inclined to agree). We heard the great, late organist Gustav Leonhardt in a recording from ’72-’73.
After the Toccata, we also heard an absolutely splendid set of chorale partitas (song plus variations, 9 sections overall) based on the Lutheran chorale O Gott, du Frommer Gott (“Oh God, Thou Just God”), BWV 767. It is thought that Bach wrote this set during his teen years, probably from the period when he was studying at the Johanneskirche at Lünegurg. During this time period he was heavily influenced by Georg Böhm, and these partitas amply display such an influence. It is possible that Bach intended these partitas as a pedagogical exercise for himself, trying different techniques on a piece that was not intended for liturgical use. It is also possible that the piece wasn’t even intended for organ, as it does not utilize the foot pedal. However, many of Bach’s keyboard works are vague in terms of what keyboard the piece was intended for, and the piece as it stands is quite spectacular as a pipe organ piece. In any case, these are the sorts of details that are lost to time, and we are actually quite blessed that copies of these works have survived in written form (many of Bach’s known works are lost). As with the Toccata, we heard a Gustav Leonhardt recording from ’72-’73.
Consider this clip of the piece, performed here in its entirety by Gianluca Cesana.
Folks who have listened to the Galaxy regularly over the years know that I have a thing for vocal harmony. The Hollies were a group that made vocal harmony part of their calling card, both while Graham Nash was part of the group, and after he left to join David Crosby and Stephen Stills, and was replaced by Terry Sylvester. Of course, the Hollies were more than just their vocal harmonies – I find their guitar work to be compelling, and drummer Bobby Elliot ranks among my favorite drummers from that era. We heard three songs from The Hollies – Bus Stop, Dear Eloise, and The Air That I Breathe.
Any “best of the Galaxy” set would inevitably include some Rush. There are numerous Rush recordings that I could insert in here, and they just released their 20th album, Clockwork Angels, with a tour that hit St. Louis yesterday (I had wanted to go, but circumstances required otherwise). As I do not have the new album yet, we can go with the “classic Galaxy” approach with our selections: La Villa Strangiato (their legendary instrumental from Hemispheres), Natural Science (from Permanent Waves), and Cygnus X-1 (from A Farewell to Kings).
We closed the show with some Sigur Rós. As with the other things we’ve played this evening, there are a number of excellent selections that we could insert in here, making for a difficult choice. So we started with several songs from their 2005 album Takk (“thanks” in Icelandic), Takk/Glósóli(they sort of run together well), and Mílanó, before closing the show with a song from their 2002 album (), officially titled Untitled 2 (none of the songs on that album were given actual titles), but unofficially referred to as Fyrsta (Icelandic for “first”).