Ahmir Thompson, known by many as Questlove of The Roots, bobbed his head lightly as he loaded up the original and individually recorded tracks of an album from a late-night Michael Jackson recording session. He was already hearing the groove in his head. For the next 90 minutes, everyone else in the room bobbed along as Thompson dissected and discussed an early demo of “Working Day and Night” stem by stem.
That’s the attention to detail 24 students at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music have grown accustomed to since February 1 in a class called Classic Albums, taught by Thompson and Grammy-winning producer Henry Weinger. When the two decided to teach at NYU together this spring, they had a daunting task in mind: to define what makes an album “classic.”
Classic Albums uses that goal as a starting point for a discussion of works subjectively deemed classic by the instructors, including Jackson’s “Off The Wall,” Aretha Franklin’s “Lady Soul,” and the Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique.” Weinger, who is vice president of A&R for Universal Music Enterprises and has been an adjunct professor at NYU since 2009, said the purpose of the class was not to force the students to listen to these albums but to help them understand why they were deemed important.
“At nearly 60 years old, rock music has developed a particular canon: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, artists that continue to appear on Top 100 lists,” Weinger said. “What we’re looking at is how does that happen? Who makes those decisions? What patterns emerge?”
Besides facilitating discussion, Weinger and Thompson have assigned the class readings by music historians like Carys Wyn Jones and Jim Mahfood. They’ve also provided each student with a 16-gigabyte iPod filled with music relevant to the class.
“In a foolish Christmas move, I thought ‘hey, let me get them all iPods,’ and then the $5000 bill came,” Thompson said. “But I wanted the students to leave with as much information as possible, because long after this class is over, this will remain.”
Brian Rockoff, a senior in the class, said being able to break down songs track by track off influential albums like “Off The Wall” has helped him understand what it means to be a good producer.
“Hearing what was taken out of those classic songs, and hearing [producer Quincy] Jones and Michael Jackson decide what was good for the track and what wasn’t is amazing,” Rockoff said. “For people learning to be producers here, that is the single hardest thing to learn how to do.”
A version of this article appeared in Tuesday, Feb. 26 print edition. William Richling is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.
- Weekend Roam: Little Germany
- WSN Editorial Board reflects on spring semester events
- Strawberry Festival promises delicious, intergalactic fun
- Clive Davis Institute collaborates with DJ Swivel
- Best places to dine on dumplings
- 'Heroes' is not super enough for Xbox Live film program launch
- NYU SLAM sees victory through 'badidas' campaign
- Victoria Ettore elected student council president
- Hester Street Fair hosts diverse vendors, delicious food