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Stewart Copeland

The 12 records that changed Stewart Copeland's life

Copeland picks a dozen discs that deliver

Stewart Copeland is a big fan of satellite radio. The Police drumming legend and composer regularly tunes into ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s channels, and in doing so, he’s developed a newfound love for a number of groups and artists who passed him by the first time around.

The 12 records that changed Stewart Copeland's life

“The Electric Light Orchestra is a great example,” he says. “That stuff was the enemy when I was growing up, and it was the opposite of everything I was trying to do. It was slick, it was produced, it was for the masses, and it was not for me. But now Jeff Lynne is a good buddy of mine, and I’m like, ‘Dang, that guy’s got some talent!’”

Copeland has also become a convert of the early ‘70s band Hawkwind. “I did a million gigs with them when I roadied for their support acts,” says. “To be honest, they always kind of sucked live. They never got played on the radio, and I never listened to their albums. Now I listen to them, and I think they were way ahead of their time. They might have sucked on stage, but in the studio they really rocked. They had a unique sound. Hawkwind – who knew?”

As for Tom Petty’s Buried Treasure show on SiriusXM, Copeland raves, “He’s got the same tastes as me. I had no idea. And then there’s Tom’s own music, which I completely missed at the time – I guess because he was the competition. Now I think he’s incredible. I went back and checked out his records. Fuck, man, they’re great! How did I miss them?” 

“It’s always been about The Song,” he says. “Even if a band is established and popular and they put out an album that doesn’t have ‘the song,’ they’ll fade. Led Zeppelin famously never put out a single, but that was the apotheosis. After them, it went back to song culture. I don’t think the album format is a huge loss, although there is benefit to filler tracks. Sometimes that experimentation yields things you don’t get with a hit single. So hearing myself speak, I find myself learning toward album culture.” 

Among Copeland’s fleet of current projects is Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, an elaborate film-and-music presentation that he will perform with the Seattle Rock Orchestra on February 29, 2016. The origin of the production dates back several years, when Copeland was commissioned to write the music to an arena show of Ben Hur. This led to him checking out the original silent movie of Ben Hur from 1920 and eventually working on his own edit of the film.

“It took me two years to persuade Warner Brothers to let me have the movie to play with,” Copeland says. “I got the original celluloid from the deep freeze – the thing hadn’t been out of the can since the ‘60s – and I spent a year curating it, cleaning it up and restoring it. It was a meticulous process.”

Copeland trimmed the picture from two hours and 40 minutes to 90 minutes, and using his original music (which he owns), he wrote a new, 90-minute orchestral chart. “We opened at the Virginia Arts Festival with the Virginia Symphony,” he says, “and the best part of all is, I get to play drums. So we run the movie with a big-ass orchestra blasting away, and there’s me on my thundering drum set. This is true chariots of fire.”

Below, Copeland runs down his picks for the 10 records (make that 12) that changed his life.

Ravel & Debussy
Igor Stravinsky – The Right of Spring (1913)
The Kinks – Kinks (1964)
Sandy Nelson – Let There Be Drums (1961)
Buddy Rich – Swingin’ New Big Band (1966)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967)
Cream – Fresh Cream (1966)
Frank Zappa – 200 Motels (1971)
Leo Kottke – 6- and 12-String Guitar (1969)
Steve Reich – Drumming (1970-’71)
John Adams – The Chairman Dances (1985)
The Clash – The Clash (1977)

More detail on Classic Rock

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