Allen Clapp recently graced our website when we featured new track “Friend Collector” on our daily MP3 At 3PM column, but we wanted to make sure you didn’t forget about the approaching November 11 release date of Clapp’s new EP, Six Seasons. So Mr. Clapp has been so kind as to carefully collect a group of songs that will wonderfully soundtrack your transition into autumn. Press play, and read along below.
Into Dorkness: Allen Clapp’s Autumn Mix Tape
Watching Stranger Things this summer has reacquainted me with my 15-year-old, uncool early-’80s self. In a big way. Not in a mopey, Smiths-induced, black-and-white dream sequence, but in a tremendous, Middle-Earth kind of celebration of life. It’s been a chance to rejoice in those awkward early teen years when my friends and I were unfettered by the larger social structure of coolness. Like Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tells 15-year-old Rolling Stone writer William Miller in Almost Famous: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”
If that’s true, we built up quite a stock load of currency. It would be a couple years until we discovered R.E.M., the Three O’Clock and Camper Van Beethoven, and we were on a journey into the heart of dorkness.
Like thousands (OK, tens) of other disillusioned ‘80s kids, I had a revelation the first time I heard Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon in its full analog glory. Beaming out of the console stereo in the green-carpeted living room of Dan Jewett’s house, I sat transfixed as a story unfolded and minds were opened.
Sure, it was the music of the previous decade, but hey, that was the point. We were burned out on drum machines and Fairlights, our eyes fatigued by the bright neon blast of MTV. Maybe we were looking for something deeper, less in-your-face, more organic. So here we were gathered for a listening party in preparation for a visit to the laser light show at the planetarium in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
It was the beginning of a period of exploration for all of us. Not one of us ended up in exactly the same place but we started there in that living room that afternoon, and none of us would ever be the same. For me, it was the first step on a path that took me to the roots of the music I loved—discovering what came before, and what came before that—until I finally ended up at the very beginning of music history: Gregorian chant, chanson, madrigals and motets.
But that wouldn’t happen until my college years. Connecting the dots between the modern music we loved and the deep sources of its inspirations is a neverending story. All we knew is that there was a new school year, new friends to make, new experiences to discover, and we felt like the world was at our feet. And we were uncool. So, here’s my autumn mix tape. From my 15-year-old self to you. —Allen Clapp
One of the most fascinating things about the ‘80s was that many of the decade’s biggest hits were made by artists who had lived an entirely separate existence in the experimental ‘70s. Anyone who bothered to scrape just a little below the surface could find strange and unlikely connections and intertwined root systems. Genesis was one of the most bizarre and unlikely bands to have risen to such heights in the ‘80s. Both the Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins-led versions of the band had deep roots in evocative progressive, theatrical rock that bore little resemblance to “Sledgehammer” or “Invisible Touch.” Winding back to the very beginnings of the band catches them weaving a kind of pastoral magic that’s equal parts English folk revival and a foreshadowing of mid-‘70s prog rock. It took hold in my teenage brain, and never let go. Misty, autumnal melancholy has a soundtrack, and it’s this song. Video
Anthony Phillips, “God, If I Saw Her Now”
It took a while to sort through all the personnel changes, arrivals and departures of early Genesis. But once I fell in love with “Dusk,” I got really fascinated by why the band kind of stopped sounding like that after its first record. Then I found out that one of the driving forces behind Genesis had been Anthony Phillips. He was there from the start, along with Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, and he was responsible for the immaculate 12-string acoustic guitars that graced the Trespass album. When I first heard Phillips’ solo work, it was like finding the missing link. It made me so happy to discover a whole world of this kind of music, but it also made me wish for an alternate universe in which he never left the band, and they just continued making dreamy, wistful songs like this one here. In another strange connection, Phillips had become good friends with Phil Collins even though the two had never played together in a version of Genesis. So early Phil does a guest vocal here (and on a handful of other Phillips songs), duetting with the amazing Viv McCaulffe. Listening to this song, I could imagine myself being an adult. With a girlfriend. Oh, the drama. Video
Pink Floyd, “The Scarecrow”
When I first heard the Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd, my first impression was disbelief. How could this possibly be the same band that made Dark Side Of The Moon? It wasn’t too long before this became my preferred version of the Floyd. Even in the context of swinging ’60s London, the band makes very little sense. Aside from the psychedelic freakouts of “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine,” their debut album offers up a surprisingly sparse and imaginative take on British folk-song melody and mythology. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn soon became one of my favorite albums of all time. There’s a raw, fiery will o’ the wisp creativity on display here that is as courageous as it is brilliant. The album also came out the same day I did: Aug. 5, 1967. Video link to archival video footage with no sound.
Yes, “And You And I”
All you really had to do was turn the radio dial a couple times to find another example of this prog-rock-to-top-40 transformation. One of the most surprising was Yes. “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” was such a huge smash in the ‘80s. It was literally everywhere. Ice-skating rinks. Video-game arcades. Mervyn’s. Miller’s Outpost. But this was not the Yes of yesterday, or the Yes of really anybody. It was a flukey, technology driven hit produced and polished to high degree by Trevor Horn who had not only produced mega albums by ABC and his own band the Buggles, but had been a member of Yes on the transitional Drama album a few years earlier. Strange bedfellows. Again, delving back into the past, you find this same band at the height of its creative powers on 1972’s Close To The Edge. If you even give this stuff half a chance, it could sweep you away into fantasy dream realms to accompany the most extended D&D campaign. 12-string magic courtesy of Steve Howe, Moogs and Mellotrons via Rick Wakeman, and angelic Jon Anderson vocals are anchored by the late Chris Squire on bass and the simultaneously tight-and-loose Bill Bruford on drums. Video
The Moody Blues, “Candle Of Life”
So there was a thing that started happening when all these rejuvenated prog-rock bands with huge hits on the ‘80s charts came around on tour. Of course, they’d play their hits, but since this new ‘80s hit thing was such a recent development, their new-wavey electronic catalogs were pretty darn shallow. So it became known that if you wanted to see a band like Genesis or Yes or Peter Gabriel, they were still gonna do a whole lot of stuff you actually wanted to hear. So, the thing that started happening, was that you could go to these concerts and actually see people your own age who you could tell were probably not there to see the band play their big hit. You could tell because they’d be wearing concert T-shirts from all the other bands you liked. This was kind of an early dork internet: communication via T-shirt. This meant you could potentially meet girls who would actually like the music that you had to kind of secretly like. Of course, this never actually occurred. But there was the possibility, and at age 15, that was good enough. There was a girl in a Moody Blues T-shirt that I saw at a Yes concert … Even the Moody Blues were able to lurch into the ‘80s with a substantial top-40 presence. First with “The Voice,” and “Gemini Dream” from Long Distance Voyager, and then with the enormo “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,” type stuff they did in the middle of the decade. I just wanted to hear them play space rock from To Our Children’s Children’s Children. Thank God for Justin Hayward. In the journey to the roots of my favorite music, the discovery of the early Moodies’ catalog was one of the most surprising things. Many think they created not just the concept album, but progressive rock itself on second album Days Of Future Passed. Half orchestral, half band-driven, the record is a childlike psychedelic romp through a day—dawn to dusk. The song I’m putting on my mix tape is an example of the quintessential orchestral, choral rock sound they pioneered. Melancholia has never sounded so pretty. I discovered this stuff when my friend Mike Winther gave me To Our Children’s Children’s Children and On The Threshold Of A Dream one day after school. He presented the albums with the explanation: “Hey Allen, I got these thinking I might like them, but I think you’d like them more.” Thanks Mike. I’ll never forget that day. Video
King Crimson, “The Court Of The Crimson King”
So, if the Moody Blues didn’t invent prog rock, it was King Crimson. Ominous, stately, brooding, melancholic and too pretentious for words, they embodied for many the transition from the ‘60s to the ‘70s. This album was the end of flower power. It was music about death, treachery and corrosion. And it was beautiful. Even Crimson put together a hit song or two in the ’80s. So you could conceivably see the “Sleepless” video on MTV and then go to the used record store and pick up a copy of Larks Tongues In Aspic in the same afternoon and wonder aloud at what the hell was going on. The more I learned about KC driving force Robert Fripp, the deeper into the whole journey I went. His connections with prog rock, electronic music and ambient music just took me further into the web of music I was discovering. This song has it all. Blasts of acoustic guitars the size of Helm’s Deep, freak-jazz drumming, purple pipers, fire witches and glorious Mellotrons that were most likely recorded in the darkest depths of Mordor. It sounds like it’s sung by subterranean monks who, upon realizing their civilization is doomed, rally the troops for one last party. And oh, how they danced. Video
Peter Gabriel, “The Intruder”
Peter was one of the few prog-rock gods to transition into the 1980s with grace and style. His outsider perspective, continuous musical experimentation and relentless creativity actually can be said to have contributed greatly the ‘80s sound. Having left his Genesis bandmates after the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour in 1975, Peter began a five-year push into the future. The third of his solo albums titled Peter Gabriel (the one with the melting face) came out in May 1980 and introduced the world to a dystopian electronic world with an enormous drum sound (courtesy of former bandmate Phil Collins and producer Steve Lillywhite). This was my first clue that music could be new and interesting. Who knew? Video
As much as I was digging the new Peter Gabriel (and, by now, Ultravox, Devo, Flock Of Seagulls, Tears For Fears, Prince and U2), I was still captivated by the eclecticism of the ‘70s. I mean, you could have anything happening on an album. By the ‘80s, everything was being codified, streamlined, digitized and market-researched. The Peter Gabriel of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is painting with a broad brush. Nothing is off limits. He’s writing pop songs about Freudian complexes, and he’s just killing it. I have a feeling other people like this song too, but just a vague sense. Teenage Fanclub closes out Bandwagonesque with an instrumental called “Is This Music?” that has a very similar guitar hook, and the same kind of feel, even going so far as to use harmonized guitars that could have been played by Steve Hackett. “It” is the last song on the double album, closing out the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis. It’s full of witty wordplay and this tangible, elusive Maslowian hope. It is hope for the dope. It is only knock and know-all, but I like it. Video
David Bowie, “Moss Garden”
Not long after discovering the Robert Fripp/Brian Eno connection, I started listening to some of their collaborations and found myself increasingly drawn to ambient sounsdscapes. Maybe it was because it was good background music for reading geeky fantasy novels? Whatever the reason, I read about Eno and Bowie and had to find out what that all sounded like. I went to my favorite used record store on 25th Avenue in San Mateo and dug up a copy of Heroes. I went home and skipped all the bombastic art rock and went straight to “Moss Garden.” I was hooked. From that moment on, anything with Eno involved rose to a special level of importance for me. Luckily, just around the corner was one of my favorite collaborations of that decade: Eno and Daniel Lanois producing U2 on The Unforgettable Fire. Around this time, it also occurred that my older brother’s friend Marvin gave me an old analog synthesizer and a tape delay unit in which he’d lost interest or patience. I was never the same. The Yamaha CS-50 and the Roland Space Echo RE 201 have been with me ever since. Video
U2, “Elvis Presley And America”
So, armed with a synthesizer, a Space Echo and a mission, my transition out of dorkdom was beginning to seem possible. I could suddenly see a place for myself in the outside world. I would make music—hopefully—and that would be my lifeline. The next school year started, and I made a bold move. I signed up to be on the high-school newspaper. Over the course of the next academic year, I would write concert and album reviews as well as pen an advice column of dubious value: “Ask Al.” But it was the music writing that really helped me form my ideas about the music I liked, and how I thought it all historically intertwined with current trends. I think the first piece of music writing I ever did was a review of U2’s fourth album, The Unforgettable Fire. It had everything I wanted in a collection of songs: bold exploration, anthemic pop songs and an undeniable ambient feel. To me, it wasn’t all that far removed from the music I’d spent the last couple years getting into. In fact, it seemed like a natural extension of it. All of a sudden, I wasn’t living in the past anymore. I was in the here and now, and music had brought me there. Video