15 albums in 15 minutes
Pulled from my off-site blog, a rather pointless way to procrastinate. Still, of some interest to me — and maybe to you, too.
Yes, a meme. Yoinked from KT.
The Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you've heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me, because I'm interested in seeing what albums my friends choose. (Quoth KT, and I agree: I'm not tagging anyone... if you wanna do it, do it!)
1. The Beatles — Rubber Soul/Revolver: I didn't grow up in a family in which music played a significant role. My mum had a few records but during those years when I might have been developing my nascent tastes, why didn't have any electricity to speak of, so listening to them was a non-starter.
Came a time, though, when both electricity and a record player were at hand, and I had just seen Yellow Submarine on television (in black and white, but whaddya gonna do?). And my mother had copies of not one — but two! different records by the same group. "Let's try it!"
Well, holy moly. That wasn't my first exposure to popular music, but it was arguably my first conscious exposure, and to say I started out near the top is no understatement. Rubber Soul and Revolver marked The Beatles' transition from brilliant pop music to a long exploration of the possibilities of Art within rock 'n roll. Experiments that were also wonderful records to listen to, experiments not just for other musicians.
2. The Weavers — Reunion at Carnegie Hall: Before The Beatles for me, came the Weavers, a folk group nearly out of the dustbowl. Peter Seeger was its most famous member, and that the band had been black-listed during the McCarthy period, only made them more intriguing to me. (You didn't know I was preternaturally interested in politics and history? You must be new here. Welcome, please pull up a chair and set a spell.)
The songs, in retrospect, are primitive and the playing and singing arguably less than la crème de la crème, but I did and do love them and their playing. For the joy, the energy and the passionate commitment. I suspect my preference for live over recorded music stems from listening these songs over and over again.
3. Tom Lehrer — Songs by Tom Lehrer: Actually, this record wasn't live, and it's far from Lehrer's satirical best, but it nevertheless hit me a lot the way I think the 1950s version of Mad Magazine hit a generation or two of future cartoonists. Ludicrous football fight songs; songs about homicidal daughters, boy-scouts and hunters; about plagiaristic Russian mathematicians — Songs by Tom Lehrer was funny and had catchy tunes (naturally, since he stole most of them whole cloth from established standards). And of course it later led me to his masterpiece, That Was the Year that Was.
4. The Beatles — Abbey Road: What can I say about this album that hasn't been said a thousand times before. One side of the record didn't have a break in it! There were mysterious crickets chirping through the intro to one of the songs ...
And what songs!. The Beatles' last album was (arguably) their best. Certainly it was their most polished. And for two or three years, I listened it at least once a night, and usually twice. I destroyed two copies of the cassette, simply by playing them to death.
5. The Beatles — The White Album: Last Beatles record, I promise. When I was 12, "Revolution No. 9" was a bizarre revelation. All nine minutes of it, by turns creepy, exhilarating and always just plain strange. I got a friend in Quebec in some trouble because I played him the entire song on during a long-distance call. (Ian Pavelko, where are you now?)
6. Beethoven — 9th Symphony: The vocal parts in the third or fourth movement. My lord, what a powerful piece of music (when it's sung right; I've heard one version that turned the entire symphony to mush).
7. Neil Young and Crazy Horse — Rust Never Sleeps: I'm kinda cheating with this one; I'm talking about the movie, not the album. I was maybe 15 years old when I went to Toronto's original rep theatre, the Bloor Cinema with friends to see it. At the time I knew only the gentle Neil Young of Harvest, the wistful Neil Young of "Old Man" and "Helpless".
I think I sat through about 15 minutes of Crazy Horse's feedback and wailing guitars, pounding bass and ear-splitting drums before I rose in all of my teenage dudgeon and stomped back to the box-office, where, insisting this was a fraud! a sham!, I demanded my $0.99 back.
Quite rightly, the ticket-taker told me I was out of luck.
I love hard Neil now, but at the time, my goodness I was appalled!
8. The Grateful Dead — The Grateful Dead Movie: I know, another concert film. Another cheat. I don't care.
I was 15 or 15 when I saw this one. Some friends had scored some acid and I was going to have my first trip. We were going to see Kubrick's 2001 at the Cinesphere, but it was sold out and someone hit on seeing the Dead film at the Bloor instead.
I hadn't much liked the Dead by this point, but I was already starting to giggle maniacally, so I wasn't going to argue. I couldn't have argued.
This two was a revelation. The Grateful Dead in concert were an entirely different animal from the Grateful Dead in the studio. Sloppy, meandering ... and utterly alive and unpredictable!
There's little doubt the acid helped open that particular door for me. I've been a sucker for 20-minute versions of three-minute songs ever since (and I'm listening to a live Dead show as I type this). But I'll never forget the sheer joy I felt for hours and hours after the movie ended, as "Casey Jones" looped enlessly through my head.
9. Ricky Lee Jones — Rickie Lee Jones: I first heard this in my friend Vern's room. It was a recent discovery of his and I was so pleased he shared it with me. Jones' whispery and knowing (and so, sexy) voice over top of jazz-tinged pop or soft-rock was a melodic wonder and a more or less new form of music to me — or so I thought at the time. Looking back, I see it on a continuum with the folk/jazz side of pop music which seems to be my primary interest.
10. Prince — Sign 'O the Times: Prince has made a lot of brilliant music, but he's on this list in particular for "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man", seven minutes of carefully-structured studio magic that sounds utterly, thoroughly, as if it was a lucky recording of live spontaneity.
11. Ani Difranco — Living in Clip: Speaking of live music, my introduction to Ani Difranco was through this record and what it record it was! Political, confidently feminist and with a sense of humour, I though for a while that Difranco was the second coming of Bob Dylan. I've backed off on that (and in fact have sold almost my entire collection of CDs, holding on only to this one), but this record remains a brilliant piece of music. If you don't know Difranco, start here; if you do and haven't heard it — my god! — remedy that deficiency now!
12. Bob Dylan — Slow Train Coming: Speaking of Dylan, how in the hell has it taken me until number 12 to get to him? And why Slow Train Coming? I mean, Christian Dylan, really?
Really. It's not his best record by any stretch of the imagination (that would be Another Side of Bob Dylan, or maybe Desire or Bringing It All Back Home or Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks), but it's a damned good one. And it's one I won't soon forget because my friend, then called Paul, pointed out through his nearly apoplectic laughter, that even a Christian Dylan had a sense of humour. "Man Gave Names to all the Animals" is one of the goofiest pieces of faith ever etched into vinyl.
13. The Indigo Girls — Back on the Bus, Y'all: I don't care what anybody says. They write great songs, they're good players and one of the two has a voice that gives me the shivers. "Closer to Fine" is (excuse the pun) one of the finest pop songs around.
14. The Grateful Dead — Reckoning: Another record whose cassette version I literally played to death. Live and acoustic Dead. What's not to love?
15. John Lennon — Plastic Ono Band: Lennon's best solo record, and in some ways maybe the best Beatles or Beatles-related album of them all. Lennon stripped away almost all of the extras that had come to characterize The Beatles, leaving only the raw power of his words and music, his naked voice and the heartbreaking songs themselves.
This is the record that every angsty teenager tries to make; but only Lennon managed to also make a record that is not only worth listening to, but that is in fact, one of the best 30 or 40 minutes in the history of rock and roll.
Well, that took a "bit" more than 15 minutes and I missed all sorts of records that should be here, but it was fun nonetheless. You might want to give it a try yourself.