List, Music

STUDY TRACKS

Posts here have been few and far between lately as I find myself swamped with uni work in the face of ever looming exam season. I therefore decided to do something slightly different and share with you some of the tracks I listen to when I study, and in the process I hope I can provide some small comfort to any students who may be reading this and in a similar plight.

INSTRUMENTAL/CINEMA INSPIRED:

I find that listening to instrumental music can be effective when studying as it provides less of a distraction that can sometimes be the case when listening to lyrics (or maybe I’m the only one who is so easily distracted?). Some of my favourites include Brian Eno and the Twin Peaks theme song by Angelo Badlamenti. The latter is an excellent blend of uplifting and motivational and is a fantastic pick me up if you find yourself waning in the middle of an all nighter, just don’t let yourself get waylaid to the point of binge watching Twin Peaks, ok?

Being the cinephile that I believe myself to be, I often pick up songs from the films and TV I’ve been watching. This is how I came across Brian Eno, and two of my favourite tracks are from Me, Earl and the Dying Girl and Trainspotting respectively:

Some other cinema inspired study music includes the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, of which my personal favourite is the excellent Concerning Hobbits. But, yet again, I must warn you that opting for film based music comes paired with the temptation to watch the film it comes from, and to resist doing so takes some serious willpower.

Another fantastic track that I recently discovered from the Michael Caine starring Youth was Ceiling Gazing from Mark Kozelek and Jimmy Lavelle. It’s a fantastic, chilled tune which provides a perfect relaxed backdrop to study to.

Also consider checking out the soundtracks from Trainspotting, Trance (anything directed by Danny Boyle, really), The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Guardians of the Galaxy and Pulp Fiction.

MTV UNPLUGGED/ACOUSTIC:

I have already detailed in a past post just how much I love old MTV Unplugged performances, and I never listen to them more than when I am attempting to knuckle down with some work. Some of my favourites include Eric Clapton:

Nirvana:

Alice in Chains:

COUNTRY:

I grew up listening to country music, and my love of the genre endures. I love old school country such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Such artists are great to study to, and some of my favourite tracks include pretty much anything in Williams’ catalogue, as well as the following:

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a compilation album which saw a variety of artists complete songs left behind following the singers untimely death in 1953, is another one I frequently play as I work. Each song is brilliant in its own way, but my favourite is probably You Know That I Know. Sung by Jack White of The White Stripes, who perfectly encapsulates Williams’ spirit, it is a huge highlight:

Another song I really like is one by Chris Scruggs, an artist who came up and played at the Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival in my home of the Shetland Isles a few years ago. I bought his album, Anthem, and still listen to it regularly. Every track is fantastic, but my favourite by far is Old Souls Like You and Me: 

OTHER:

My taste in music is quite varied, but I find when I’m studying I tend to like grunge, acoustic, country and generally quite relaxed tunes, as I’ve detailed above. Here are some other songs that tend to find their way onto my study playlist:

What tunes do you like to study to? Let me know in the comments section, and happy studying folks! 

 

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List, Music

5 BEST MTV UNPLUGGED SETS:

MTV Unplugged began in 1989 and has featured countless bands and artists in its 26 year history. Regular sessions stopped in 2000, though the format has been used numerous times since then to feature a variety of modern artists. MTV Unplugged is, however, by and large considered a seminal product of the 90’s, a time which saw it produce some of the best acoustic music sets of all time. Here are my five favourite MTV Unplugged sessions, let me know what yours are in the comments section!

Honorable mention…

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (1992)

Bruce_Sringsteen_-_In_Concert_MTV_PluggedThis one doesn’t make the top five due to the fact that is slightly deviates from the traditional MTV Unplugged format, and is instead referred to as MTV Plugged. Recorded with a hired band at a time when the E Street Band was dissolved, Springsteen was reportedly unhappy with the acoustic sound and opted for a plugged in version instead. There is no doubt that the E Street Band are a huge part of the Bruce Springsteen identity, the absence is strongly felt. But the album is still strong, kicking off with an acoustic rendition of the previously unreleased Red Headed Woman before delving into a number of underrated classics including Atlantic City and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Even the more well known classics, namely Thunder Road, are played in a way that is more intense than Springsteen performances tend to be – there is a much more serious vibe than fans are generally used to. Whilst it may not be for the casual listener, this is essential listening for any serious Springsteen fans, a reminder that whilst he is always at his best with his beloved band behind him, he is still a strong solo performer.

Best track: Thunder Road – Even without the E Street Band.

5 – KISS (1995)

KISS_UnpluggedThis one makes the list not only because its fantastic in its own right, but also due to the wider significance that it held. Forming in 1973, Kiss had been around a long time by the time the 90’s hit. However, a variety of factors – most notably the release of the 70’s set film Dazed and Confused (1993) set off a wave of Kiss nostalgia and the band were met with a new wave of mainstream popularity. It was therefore no surprise that they were invited to appear on Unplugged, but the real treat came for fans when the set saw the bands original line up reunited on stage for the first time since 1980. Peter Criss and Ace Frehley joined Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on stage for the final four songs of the set, making it the only time the original line up performed together without their trademark make-up. This was the catalyst which saw the reunion take place, with Tupac introducing them on stage at the Grammys the following year, with Criss and Frehley remaining in the band again until 2000. You can feel the electricity when the foursome reunite, and it makes for an epic conclusion to a strong set. Kiss are a band which are so well known for the make-up and gigantic arena shows, making it a change of pace to see them perform in the Unplugged format. It also allows for a true appreciation of the sometimes underrated song-writing, with Beth being a particularly good example.

Best track: Rock and Roll All Nite – An epic finish that shows the original line up in all their stripped back glory.

4 – BOB DYLAN (1994):

Bob_Dylan_-_MTV_UnpluggedBy the time the 90’s rolled around Bob Dylan had been in the industry for over 30 years, providing the world with a whole wealth of versatile and popular music. Anticipation was thus at a high when he took to the stage to record his Unplugged performance over two nights. Mostly focusing on classics from his earlier albums, Dylan offers a fresh perspective by reworking his tracks for the acoustic format, with Like A Rolling Stone being a particular highlight. There is a different feel to some of the songs, with The Times They Are A-Changin’ and With God on Our Side in particular being tinged with a sadness that wasn’t present in the initial recordings – perhaps a product of Dylan’s life experience. The album plays out like a greatest hits, charting Dylan’s career from the 60’s right through, but is enhanced by the live, acoustic renditions which offer a new take on the old material.

Best track: With God on our Side – Arguably the best rendition of this song Dylan has ever done. 

3 – ERIC CLAPTON (1992):

Eric_Clapton_UnpluggedEric Clapton’s Unplugged album is one of the most wildly successful MTV ever produced, having sold over 26 million copies worldwide and winning three Grammys in 1993, totally revitalising his career. Featuring a totally reworked rendition of his well known track Layla, Clapton also opted for the fresh take on older material. Without a doubt the highlight is Tears in Heaven, which was written about the tragic death of his four year old son, and is a song that is at its most stirring here. Performed in front of a small audience in Clapton’s native England, the acoustic blues set is the perfect mix of relaxed and passionate, emotional and invigorating. Truly a work of Unplugged legend, the album has gone on to establish a whole range of myths and misconceptions, but there is one solid fact – this is Clapton at his very best.

Best track: Tears in Heaven – Puts a tear in your eye, and that’s before you know the tragic circumstances behind it.

2 – ALICE IN CHAINS (1996):

AIC_UnpluggedPart of original Seattle formation of the grunge movement in the early 90’s, Alice in Chains were a prime candidate for the Unplugged treatment. By 1996 leading man Layne Staley was struggling increasingly with substance abuse and depression, with this performance proving to be one of his last with the band before retreating into relative solidarity. This is a sad contrast to the likes of Kiss and so many other bands whom used their Unplugged performances to mark the beginning of a new era, with the Alice in Chains set instead marking the tragic end of one. Staley died in 2002, making his raw vocals even more resonant when listening with this in mind. Staley’s performance has a ragged quality that only makes it stronger, with the bands popular tracks Down in a Hole and Rooster finding new depths. The band had played together very little over the past few years by the time the Unplugged gig came along, though it would be hard to believe from the way they respond to each other. It’s far from an uplifting listen, but Alice in Chains unplugged imbues the essential traits of 90’s grunge to a tee.

Best track: Down in a Hole – Haunting and ridden with despair, made all the moreso by Staley’s passing.

1 – NIRVANA (1993):

Nirvana_mtv_unplugged_in_new_yorkNot only do I believe this to be the best Unplugged album of all time, it is in my top five albums of all time overall. 1993. New York City. Nevermind (1991) had been out for two years, In Utero (1993) for two months, Nirvana were arguably at the height of their success, and the timing is just right for this performance. Kurt Cobain reportedly asked for the set to be decorated in the manner of a funeral, and the band recorded the performance in a single take, with the almost eery atmosphere carrying into the music. Following Cobain’s death in 1994 MTV played the episode continuously, with the album being released later in the year, unsurprisingly met with critical adoration and massive sales. It is essential listening for any Nirvana fan, capturing the band in a way that only a live performance could. Stripped way back, the impact is incredible. As tends to be the case with deceased musicians, the songs take on a sadder meaning, with All Apologies and Where Did You Sleep Last Night taking on the creepy feeling of Cobain’s final goodbye. Material from all three albums are compiled into a well thought out set-list, making for just over an hour of Unplugged perfection.

Best track: Where Did You Sleep Last Night? – Whilst any track could have taken the top spot, this haunting cover will always be the winner, a perfect finale to a superb album.

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