1.)The Chad Mitchell Trio At the Bitter End
2.) Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding Play Monterey Pops
3.) Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
4.) Tom Waits, Rain Dogs
5.) The Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God
6.) Elvis Costello, King of America
7.) Steve Earle, I Feel Alright
8.) Guy Clark, Old No. 1
9.) Kate Rusby, Hourglass
10.) Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates
A friend on Facebook sent me one of those, answer the question and select ten friends to harass with the same question, quizzes. These requests aren’t fair. Asking for a top ten list of music which has “stayed with me,” is a little like asking for my favorite bible verse. Ask me for my top fifty and I could get closer. Recently, after his passing, I read a piece by David Bowie regarding a similar theme, specifically on Vinyl. He started out saying he would forgo the obvious ones, like Sargent Peppers. I’ve done the same. It’s obvious how big The Beatles, the Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, CSNY were in my formation. I would add things my Dad listened to like Bach, Mozart, all those MHS recordings, and later he was into Scott Joplin and rediscovered Hank Williams. All that impacted me hugely. During college I was rather obsessed with Little Feat and the Grateful Dead. Over so many years there have been so many Alt. Country/Americana artists, EmmyLou Harris large among them; and new wave. The Talking heads, the Police, REM. Perhaps lists like these are conspicuous based on who one is forced by brevity, to leave out.
So: The ones I did choose.
My earliest memories of music are church hymns and my dad’s folk music. My sister pulled out the Chad Mitchell Trio from my dad’s grad school years and she and her friends and I listened to it constantly. I got a guitar for my 13th birthday and one of the first songs I could actually play and sing came from this record, The Very Unfortunate Man.
The Hendrix/Redding compilation from Monterey Pops arrived when my sister signed up for a Columbia Record Club. It began with ten records for one dollar. My sister never actually listened to this one but damn I did. Before I’d ever considered Motown or discovered Bob Dylan, I experienced Otis Redding at Monterey and listened to Hendrix cover Like a Rolling Stone. To this day, his version of that song is transformative for me.
It would be stupid for me to go on about Miles. I’m not an expert in Jazz. Kill me if you must, but I think Kind of Blue is the best jazz record ever made.
When Tom Waits made the soundtrack for Coppola’s One from the Heart, he and Crystal Gayle recorded a really beautiful set for that tragic failure of a movie. He then climbed from the wreckage of that and shook off 15 years of a career to make Swordfish Trombones, effectively redefining himself absolutely. Then came Rain Dogs. It took me a long time to give up my prejudices about his old music versus new. The new required giving in and letting go. Every time I listen to Rain Dogs, I marvel at the mastery of it, the originality and beauty of it. God bless the difficult.
If I should fall, marked the moment, in international terms, that the Pogues had made it, really made it. They had it produced by big hitter, Steve Lillywhite. It also marks the end I think, because for them success was lethal. They never got anything as right again, as they got this record. It is pure, traditional, modern and original and dangerous. That’s everything the Pogues were.
Like Miles, I can’t say much about Elvis Costello. In the middle of his endless auspicious career, he decided to make a record where every song sounded like an American hit. Many people criticized this record for that reason. It was like he was saying, “just to show you, I can do this. So there.” I like Elvis, but I love this record.
Steve Earle changed my life. I know it’s weird being a upper middle class intellectual white guy who became obsessed with an angry, drug addicted, intellectual redneck but there you have it. Earle expresses the longing, the dismay, the impatience and the restlessness of being a man. It’s very hard for me to choose this one record, but this entered my life at an intense time filled with longing and dismay. I used this record like a crutch and like a badge on my chest. In my shop at my theatre job, if I had a group come through I wanted to get out of my hair… and leave me be, I played I Feel Alright really loud. I figured it might not only hurry them along, but enrich them in spite of themselves.
During my second and third semesters of college I tried really hard to flunk out. I pretty much achieved that goal. Instead of studying, I hung out in an upper classman’s room imbibing and wondering why I was so depressed. Kid’s are so stupid. He played this perfect record by Guy Clark daily. I associated it so much with being depressed and lost that it took me until the CD era to find my way back to it. For me Guy Clark may be perhaps the most emotionally generous artist I’ve ever listened to. He stands as the artist I’ve been to hear play live the most (five times!) I know others came first, but to me Guy is the father of this entire Americana/Alternative Country movement so dear to my heart. This record is perfect, as if handed down, like the ten commandments, by God.
I included Hourglass by Kate Rusby, again, because she’s just so flawless and pure. She is completely self made, self produced (a family cottage industry, literally) and self contained within the UK. To my knowledge she does not ever tour the US. Since I first listened to this, Kate is always with me. When I think of what taste in music making is, I think of this artist.
Rickie Lee Jones came to me at an important moment in life, transitioning from college to real life. Like Joe Jackson, at that moment, she was folding a lot of Jazz into her mainstream pop music. This was the last record before she went into a well publicized alcohol rehab. She has always been about artistic purity in the face of pressure to succeed commercially. She never compromised. She only made Chuck E’s in love the one time.
SO: I did ten albums. I’m determined to do a repair list of ten songs to try and reach some of the vast ocean of what is missing in the album list.
Taxman G. Harrison/Beatles
This Magic Moment Jay and the Americans
Shelter from the Storm Dylan
Tell Me Why Neil Young/CSNY
Diamond Dogs Bowie
Sweet Carolina Ryan Adams
Three More days Ray Lamontagne
Life is a Carnival The Band
Mendocino The McGarrigle Sisters
Losing my Religion R.E.M.