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AdamAdministrator
(acolyte)
03/19/04 02:32 AM
LOW: Most Experimental Popular Album of the 20thC? new  

When we observe the history of Low and it's gradual rise to critical acceptance, it is not unlike another musical landmark - Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

The Rite of Spring was released to the Paris music elite in 1913 on the back of two acclaimed ballets Ė Petrouchka and The Fire Bird. Initially, the ballet was met by a critcal slandering and near riots ensued at itís premierre.

As we know, Bowieís Low was released on the back of his two most successful albums in America. Although an initial audience was guaranteed (indeed it spawned a top 5 album and single), itís critical reaction was likewise very poor.

Somewhere over the course of time, all of this changed.

20 years after The Rite of Spring, the New York Times announced that it was to the 20th century what Beethoven's 9th Symphony was to the previous one.

Now 27 years after the release of Low, it is still found ascending the lists of "top 100 albums of all time" despite thousands of other acclaimed albums being released in the interim.

Both pieces also live on in the form of other reworkings.

In 1940, Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney selected The Rite of Spring for inclusion in the animated feature, Fantasia thus securing its place in popular culture. In 1993, Philip Glass (the world's most popular and reknowned living composer) chose Low for the basis of a brand new symphony and thus securing Bowie some kind of place in classical and mimimalist music.

So my question is - what other albums from the rock era have offered such a striking experimentation and inspiration as Low? Moreover, what albums were released to such a mainstream audience that they also secured a place in the nationís top 5 album charts?

In the case of Stravinsky, questions were raised over the legitimacy of the music. Likewise, Side 2 of Low could not Ė and still cannot Ė be considered rock music.



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tonyinsf
(electric tomato)
03/19/04 02:55 AM
Re: LOW: Most Experimental Popular Album of the 20thC? new [re: Adam]  

LOW is great, but it lead the way to the more experimental album, HEROES.

Side two of HEROES is far more abstract and, I beleive, has more to do with iconic coding and redundancy more than there ever was on LOW.



--
"I don't eat meat" - Kwai Chang Caine



TheYoungDude
(wild eyed peoploid)
03/19/04 03:26 AM
Re: LOW: Most Experimental Popular Album of the 20thC? [re: tonyinsf]  

Yeah, I tend to like "Heroes" a bit more too, although Low is amazing. There just seems to be a lot more experimenting and exploration, and it just comes off better.

The sisters fell back and said "Don't that man look pretty!"

TheYoungDude
(wild eyed peoploid)
03/19/04 03:28 AM
Re: LOW: Most Experimental Popular Album of the 20thC? [re: Adam]  

In reply to:

history of Low and it's gradual rise to critical acceptance


I was recently reading a magizine called The 1001 Greatest Songs of All Time, and to my surprise, Sound & Vision was at number 32 and I remember Warsawa was in there somewhere too, around 200 I think.

The sisters fell back and said "Don't that man look pretty!"

White Prism
(electric tomato)
03/19/04 04:05 AM
Popularity's no contest [re: Adam]  

This is trickier than I thought. I've no idea about the sales figures for these guys, but I've seen them all placed above Low in popular (i.e. 'voted for') charts.

Trout Mask Replica
Kid A
Ogden's Nut Gone Flake


Actually, I suspect that looking at popularity polls for this kind of answer is misleading because, needless to say, there were many votes 'squandered' on numerous Bowie albums above these that could otherwise have been spent on Low. Anyway, the three I've mentioned sold fairly respectably. Kid A is included on the grounds that the last millennium or century or whatever didn't start until 2001. . . Erm. . . How many units did We're Only in it for the Money shift?

In reply to:

Although an initial audience [for Low] was guaranteed. . .


What was its sticking power like? An initial chart position doesn't guarantee that it was enjoyed even by the majority of its buyers (i.e. ensuring its popularity). I think I read somewhere that a fair portion of Metal Machine Music (20,000?) was shifted in pre-release orders, though I guess not so many people would have bought it had they known.

In reply to:

In 1940, Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney selected The Rite of Spring for inclusion in the animated feature, Fantasia thus securing its place in popular music


Hmm, I've often wondered about this. Mr Stravinsky didn't like the Disneyfied version (and neither do I particularly) but I wonder how much of The Rite of Spring's popularity rests on a 'false' version?

Now as for the Low vs. Rite of Spring comparison . . . I think the critical reception, although hostile to both, might have been different. Much of what happens in Low can be traced back to earlier, less accessible works by Neu, Kraftwerk, Eno and the like, while it appears that The Rite of Spring was with fewer precedents and is overall considerably more dissonant than Low. For example, Lester Bangs labelled Low as an Eno rip-off, though itís hard to make the same charge against Stravinsky (at least with my sketchy knowledge of classical 20th century compositions).

I declare Metal Machine Music the winner!

Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread


AdamAdministrator
(acolyte)
03/19/04 04:25 AM
Metal Dung [re: White Prism]  

That album failed to chart in both the US and the UK and was withdrawn by RCA in a matter of a few months. If it was indeed a genuine attempt at innovation (as opposed to being completed for contracrual reasons as legend has it), then we would have to liken it to John Cage and at that point, Reed quickly pales into musical insignificance. The aftermath: Bowie consolidated by getting "Heroes" into the UK top 5. Lou went on to create 'normal' albums which charted miserably. Metal Machine Music meanwhile failed to send a ripple through the music world.

Your other suggestions are better and will require further study. Radiohead is certainly one that sprang to mind for me....although I suspect that OK Computer was a large precedent for Kid A. I guess Tonyinsf might say that is similar to how Low was a precedent to Heroes.


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Edited by adam on 03/19/04 05:00 AM (server time).



SysiyoModerator
(thunder ocean)
03/19/04 06:19 AM
Re: LOW: Most Experimental Popular Album of the 20thC? [re: Adam]  

I have a huge urge to mention an Oldfield album or five, but it would piss off EJ too much... so I'll just say Trans-Europe Express (though I'm not sure how it charted).

KArt | Project Michelangelo | LiveJournal

AdamAdministrator
(acolyte)
03/19/04 06:38 AM
Kraftwerk [re: Sysiyo]  

According to my bible, Trans Europe Express had a turbulent chart success.

Initially it charted at US #119 in May, 1977 then 13 months later, it peaked at US #67. Strangely, it's UK peak did not occur until 1982 when it hit #49. This might be explained by the eventual single success of Computer Love/The Model which by then had became a dancefloor and airplay favourite eventually hitting UK #1.

Some of Kraftwerk's other albums faired considerably better: Autobahn (UK #11 and US #25), The Man Machine (UK #9 and US #130) and Computer World (UK #15 and US #72).

Mike EJ Oldfield had Tubular Bells which hit US #3 and UK #1. It's UK position was achieved post Hergest Ridge which it disposed from the UK #1 position three weeks after Hergest's release in 1974. It certainly outsold Low or probably any album Bowie has ever released.



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Emil
(stardust savant)
03/19/04 07:01 AM
Re: Kid A Dung [re: Adam]  

Kid A was critically acclaimed when it was released. In terms of charts I don't know but radiohead never had as many followers as Bowie, did they? Nor are they as original - in my opinion it was a deliberate attempt to ape what Bowie achieved with Low, and I foresee that the album will be largely forgotten in a matter of decades.

The obvious comparison is Sgt. Pepper. Popular, yet groundbreaking - and causing furious protests at the time.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Emil's series of famous moments in film history:
Turn back, Sarah, before it's too late!


White Prism
(electric tomato)
03/19/04 07:17 AM
Invocation & Ritual Dance Of The Young Pumpkin [re: Adam]  

Metal Machine Music wasn't a 'sensible' suggestion, silly billy, considering I knocked it earlier in the post. I'd be surprised if any of the albums I listed managed to outsell Low, since it appears that it is very rare for an experimental album to receive both popularity and critical acclaim, even if not both simultaneously.

Other channels that might be worthy of exploration:
Bjork - I've no idea which of her albums is most popular. Vespertine?
Pink Floyd - Piper at the Gates of Dawn, or maybe Wish You Were Here or Animals if you take into consideration the longer, largely instrumental tracks. The Floyd's albums seem to slowly build on each other, though.

Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread



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