1000 Years of Popular Music

I’ve returned from my sojourn across half of the nation. Along the way, there were plenty of adventures: the Priceline reservation that turned out to be in a crack den, the fabulous KC barbecue, delicious and hard-to-get booze, and, of course, the disaster that ended in my being stranded in Indianapolis for an extra day. All of that will be written about in good time, once I’ve collected my thoughts.

But for today, I’d just like to share one discovery that has nothing to do with the trip other than it was an album I bought to keep me company: Richard Thompson’s 1000 Years of Popular Music

Thompson does a great job of explaining the concept, so I’ll take the liberty of quoting him here:

The idea came from Playboy Magazine – I was asked to submit a list in late 1999 of the 10 greatest songs of the Millennium. Ha! I thought, hypocrites, they don’t mean millennium, they mean 20 years – I’ll call their bluff and do a real thousand-year selection. My list was similar to the choices here…starting in about 1068, and winding slowly up to 2001.

The album is, simply, breathtaking, combining an incisive editorial sensibility with Thompson’s virtuoso guitar and willing, if not always appropriate, vocals.

I can be forgiven, I hope, if I find the earlier tracks more compelling than the more contemporary material. Everyone, it seems, is familiar with his cover of Oops… I Did It Again. For my money, the standout track is Bonnie St. Johnstone, a murder ballad whose structure will be familiar to anyone who has heard Nick Cave’s interpretation of Henry Lee.

Thompson is accompanied by Judith Owen on keyboards and Debra Dobkin on percussion, and each of those performers get a turn at the vocals on appropriate songs. The simple instrumentation works extremely well for the breadth of the album.

To give you an idea of some of the breadth of the material, here’s a brief promotional sample from YouTube:

The album is available on iTunes, but I couldn’t resist paying just a bit more to get the DVD and CD combined set. The DVD/CD set comes in a lovely little case with an integrated booklet giving a little information on each song. It’s nothing you couldn’t find on the web, but it’s a nice package in and of itself. And although I shouldn’t have to say this, given Thompson’s role as an independent artist, I’ll say it anyway: don’t steal this music. Buy it. Although as Michael Collins notes, “Thompson’s an artist who has spent most his career figuring out how to accomodate bootleggers - his major revenue stream is now a collection of authorized bootlegs (Celtschmerz, Ducknapped and the like) that are only available off the website. Looking at this disc, it’s the most “fan-friendly” thing I’ve seen”.

Most of Richard Thompson’s music can also be ordered from his web site, where he shows a wonderful degree of communication with his fans.

1000 Years of Popular Music by Richard Thompson. If more artists were creating albums like this, more people would be buying albums.