Written by Parisa Eshrati
Play It By Ear is an ongoing series by T&E writer Parisa where she shares musical discoveries along with informational tidbits, casual musings, and whatever else spills out of her brain. This Earth Day-themed installment covers music related recycling tips like how to recycle CDs, plastic sleeves, guitar strings, and more! Plus other random music recommendations from Chicago blues singers, German doom metal, and 2000s nostalgia.
Hello hello helllloooo, welcome to another hot hot edition of Play It By Ear, the casually written music blog with per-blog tendencies.
One of the many joys of working at a record store is going through someone’s collection and discovering new artists. Someone had recently traded in a collection of about 200 rare soul, funk and r&b records and we’ve been listening to at least three or four records a day from that collection since then.
One highlight has been the Soul Sister LP from Erma Franklin, Aretha Franklin’s sister. The super stylish portrait cover and the punny album name was enough to sell me on this, but the music really exceeded my expectations. Highlights include “Baby I Love You”, super groovy and tight band and love the funky little vocal deviations on the last verse:
I didn’t really know anything about Erma before listening to this album, so I was surprised to find out that she did the original version of “Piece of My Heart”, of course later popularized by Janis Joplin. Love the arrangement on this and the tone of her voice, so glad to know the real origin of this song now.
The favorite find from this collection so far was being introduced to the Chicago soul-blues music of Koko Taylor. Known for her rough-sounding vocals, she’s an absolute powerhouse of a singer. Here’s a great live clip from 1967 doing “Wang Dang Doodle” (originally recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, but popularized by Taylor):
It wasn’t just her vocal delivery that stuck out to me, though. It was the forward-thinking and surprising lyrics. The track “Pollution” from the 1972 album Basic Soul talks about environmentalism in a way that I can't recall hearing before on a ‘70s funk album (and starts off with a blaring jazz flute solo - bonus!). The real highlight, however, is the closing track “Violent Love”, a song that seems completely out of left field but also illustrates just how cheeky, bold and uncensored Koko Taylor was.
The arrangement is a standard, sweet lil' piano melody, and then Koko comes in singing:
“I want to make viiooleeennt loooove to you!”
This was definitely a moment where my co-worker and I stopped working and looked at each other…like, where did this come from?! Looking at her portrait on the front cover, you’d never expect such a kinky ass track on this album. I mean, I get that maybe “violent” is synonymous with “passionate” or something in this context, but the word chose seems very deliberate here. The best part is she sometimes swaps out saying “making love” with “making whoopie”, which really makes this track feel like you found out about your sweet old auntie’s secret love for kinky sex.
Overall, a great album, phenomenal singer, and can’t wait to drop “Violent Love” on a DJ night sometime.
Speaking of “Pollution”, today is Earth Day! One of my biggest passions outside of music is learning about sustainability, so for a ~special~ Earth Day treat I’ll combine my two loves and share some recycling tips for music lovers:
Vinyl Sleeve Recycling
Working in a record store, I see a lot of plastic outer sleeves get torn and ruined. Instead of throwing them out, you can place sleeves in a plastic film recycling receptacle. This is different from your regular recycling bin (plastic bags should never go in your regular recycling!) You can usually find these receptacles by entrance/exit doors at grocery stores, shops like Target, Home Depot, Walmart, etc. Make sure that your sleeves are clean and stickers have been removed.
Plastic film recycling is a great free resource. Check out this website to learn about other plastic films that can be recycled and the closest drop-off location near you. Remember, however, that recycling is the third resort, first we should be reducing and reusing, so it’s a good practice to not recycle your sleeves until absolutely necessary!
String Instrument Recycling
TerraCycle is a privately owned recycling business that collects items that are generally non-recyclable in your curbside pickup. They offer recycling for specialty items like cosmetic containers, chip bags (of specific brands), and also strings from musical instruments! This includes all brands of instrument strings and clippings, including nylon, steel, and orchestral strings. Read more about it here.
You can either ship your materials, or better yet, find a local business that has partnered with TerraCycle for drop-offs. Many co-ops will have at least a few TerraCycle options, and if you’re in Tucson, Cero has many drop-off options available including string recycling.
Donate, donate, donate! Go to your local record store or thrift shop to get rid of the records you no longer want in your collection. If your records are no longer in playable condition, check for community art or art therapy spaces that may be interested in using records or covers for repurposing. I’ve donated many unplayable records to artists at PopCycle or Art Awakenings to be upcycled to make canvases, notebooks, earrings, etc. Make sure to call businesses in advance to see what they are interested in taking. There are also tons of tutorials online for upcycled record crafts if you feel like getting artsy yourself!
CDs, cassettes and 8-tracks
Similar to records, the first option should be to donate or trade to your local record store or thrift shop. 8-tracks are a little more difficult as they’re not in demand, but my friend and T&E writer A. Iwasa shared with me this really great hack on how to turn an 8-track into a mini-safe! This was published in the book Making Stuff and Doing Things by Kyle Bravo.
CD and cassette recycling is a bit more difficult, but still possible. Here are a few privately owned businesses that specialize in CD and cassette recycling. These are mail-in options, and they do charge usually by the pound.
You may also be able to recycle CDs and cassettes at your local e-waste program, but these programs vary city to city. More on that in the section below.
For bulky items like broken headphones or MP3, cassette or record players, these can usually go in your city’s e-waste programs. These are specialty waste/recycling programs that deter hazardous or bulky items from filling up landfills. These items DO NOT go in your regular curb-side pickup. Rather, these city programs usually have a drop-off center or can do a home pick-up upon request. Again, what your city's e-waste program will accept varies, but a quick internet search should go the trick. Look up your local Household Hazardous Waste program for more details.
In Tucson, Household Hazardous Waste does a monthly pop-up in various locations around town where you can bring your e-waste, glass, toxic materials, and even papers that need to be shredded. Aside from this monthly pop-up, they have a drop-off location at the Los Reales landfill or you can request a pickup at your home.
Here’s a list of items that are accepted through HHW:
For more recycling resources in Tucson, Tucson Clean & Beautiful has a great directory on their website, and even a phone number you can call to ask questions:
They also offer the Master Recycler classes for free, highly recommended. Plus, you get a cool t-shirt, and a certificate that makes it legally acceptable for you to annoy people and talk to them about recycling (or at least, that’s how I understand it ;) )
Alright, back to the music. Since I’m writing this post on Easter Sunday, here’s a very fitting recommendation. Doom of the Occult (2011) by German death/doom band Necros Christos:
Recently got into this band thanks to one of my favorite metal radio shows, Grave Convulsions on Gimme Metal, hosted by Anthony Bartkewicz. It’s a great blend of sinister growls and blast beats with heavy inspiration of the occult and Eastern/Persian/Arab/Indian folklore. RIYL: Nile, blackened death metal, igniting the flames of Master Shiva, etc.
Finally, a question for you all: how does aging affect the way that you listen to music? I've found that as soon as I turned thirty years old last month, I went through this massive phase of only listening to music that I listened to in my formative tween/teen years. It’s made me think about my relationship with music over the years. As a teen, discovering my music taste was an essential part of my growth as an independent person. Music also served as the soundtrack for experiencing so many big emotions for the first time - love, heartbreak, etc.
Life, generally speaking, becomes a lot more mundane when you reach your late 20s/early 30s, and I’ve really been missing that feeling of having such a raw connection with music in that way. I don’t know if that resonates with anyone, maybe I’m just being overly nostalgic, but would be curious to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment on this post or send me a message on the Contact Form if you'd like!
Anyway, here are just a few songs/artists I've been nostalgia-ing on real hard and think are worth revisiting:
“An Honest Mistake” - The Bravery
“These Things” - She Wants Revenge
Remember this whole way of Joy Division worship/knock-off bands in the early 00’s? This was such a great introduction to post-punk as a middle school kid. Both these songs still hold up wonderfully.
Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Speaking of post-punk, I will always stand by the idea that Franz Ferdinand’s debut album was one of the best popular rock albums of the early '00s. They lured us in with that catchy ass single and then introduced a whole wave of young kids like me to art rock and post-punk revival. Every song off this album could be a hit - catchy, succinct and masterfully crafted pop music. I wonder how many people skipped this record because they thought of them as just another radio rock band, but this will always be a 10/10 for me.
Cutting myself off now before I get too deep on my early '00s music blabbing. Thanks for reading! Also, I'll be starting a new monthly series with recommendations of all new releases to coincide with PIBE posts. Stay tuned for that.
Love you all,