Monday, March 02, 2009

MY 15 MOST SIGNIFICANT LIFE ALBUMS

I tried to resist, Betty, I really did. But how could I pass up an assignment like this? Here they are, for your delectation:

1. A Hard Day’s Night /The Beatles – my first album ever, from the band that sealed my fate as a rock & roll fan. The red cover is falling apart by now, mended clumsily with masking tape; those black-and-white head shots are suspiciously smudged, especially the one of Paul, the great love of my pre-teen life. I know the UK release was all Beatles tracks, but I still prefer my US version -- when “And I Love Her” ends, the schmaltzy easy-listening instrumental of “Ringo’s Theme” MUST come next.

2. Bookends / Simon & Garfunkel – Poetry, social commentary, and Existentialism Lite – just what I needed in the spring of 1968 (meanwhile over in the UK the Kinks were recording The Village Green Preservation Society -- who knew?). I took up smoking because of the line from “America”: “Toss me a cigarette / I think there’s one in my raincoat.”

3. The White Album
/ The Beatles – Christmas vacation, 1968. I had begun to think I had outgrown the Beatles. I was wrong. I may have outgrown my teenybopper crush on Paul, but this was something Much More Important. (Not that I haven't since dog-eared the head shot of Paul that was included inside that radical bare white cover.) My copy isn’t so white anymore, and side 4 is a scratched to hell from being played backwards during the Paul Is Dead uproar. But who needs to play it anymore? I’ve got the entire thing hard-wired in my brain.

4. McCartney
– That bowl of cherries, the photo of bearded Paul with his baby inside his parka – I was in heaven. There WAS life after the Beatles! FYI, he wrote "Maybe I'm Amazed" for me, too. He just thought he'd written it for Linda.

5. Tapestry
/ Carole King // Sweet Baby James / James Taylor – Forever yoked in my heart. I saw Carole and James perform spring 1971 at the Indianapolis Coliseum, confirming my conviction that I was the hippest 17-year-old in Indy. (The rest of the audience were just extras in my head-movie.) The next fall I got to college and discovered that every freshman in my dorm owned both records. I had finally found my people.

6. Everybody’s in Show Biz
/ The Kinks – it arrived one day in my slush pile of records to review for the college newspaper. “Hmm, the Kinks – they’re still around?” One listen and I knew I had found my band for life. I went out the next day and bought every Kinks album available in Amherst, Mass. (unfortunately, a grand total of two) and became a card-carrying Kinkster forever.

7. O Lucky Man! / Alan Price – Summer of 1973, my first trip to London. As a Malcolm McDowell fan, I had to see this film in its debut run at the Leicester Square cinema. I went in a Malcolm McDowell fan, I came out an Alan Price fan. Serious, serious obsession for many years. Driven by groupie-love, I finagled my way to England for grad school; finally saw him perform live in 1975. (Saw him next 30 years later, igniting my Music Renaissance – see #11 below).

8. This Year’s Model / Elvis Costello – my first few months in New York City, my friend Craig invited me to his walkup in the East Village one afternoon to hear his new discovery. We listened all the way through in rapt silence, trying in vain to decipher all those clever lyrics, rattled off at lightning speed. Hostile wit from a skinny nerd with glasses – oh, I was so ready for New Wave.

9. More Songs About Buildings and Food
/ Talking Heads // The B-52s – The apogee of my New Wave mania: seeing these two bands on a double bill at SummerStage in Central Park, summer of 1980. Skinny little David Byrne wore a short-sleeved plaid shirt and nearly disappeared behind his tightly-clutched mic stand; the B-52s recreated an Athens frat party on stage, with Kate and Cindy in full beehive and Fred at his lounge-lizard best. Absurdist fractured lyrics delivered to a dance-party beat – priceless.

10. Get Happy!
/ Elvis Costello – My cubicle neighbor at work, Susan, was my music soul mate in 1979; we went out at lunchtime to buy this album at Sam Goody’s the day it hit the bins. Those savage R&B-drenched tracks, flung out feverishly one after another (20 tracks on one LP, nearly all of them under 3:00) – it was too good to be true. The critics panned it, but we knew better. My fave EC ever.

11. Artist’s Choice: Elvis Costello
– fast forward to March 2005. I’m in a Starbucks in Park City, Utah. After two decades in the woods, musically speaking, I am in the first throes of my Music Renaissance (see #7 above). I casually pick up this album from the cash register display, thinking, “Now what has Elvis been up to?” Track 9 is “I’m a Mess,” by Nick Lowe. I listen to it at the ski condo in front of my whole family, and pretend it’s just another song. It is not just another song. I’m a goner.

12. The Convincer
/ Nick Lowe – It’s the only Nick Lowe I could find in the record store in New York, the minute I got home. White-haired Nick doesn’t even resemble the guy I remember seeing in sloppy, raucous Rockpile, opening for Van Morrison back in 1979. Now, armed with an iPod, I can listen to this record constantly and my family won’t even know how deeply, deeply I have fallen in love.

13. Other People’s Lives
/ Ray Davies – next step in my Music Renaissance; re-connecting with the Kinks. I see a TV documentary about Ray Davies and go on-line for info about the Kinks (who have been dormant for 10 years). Six months later, I’m standing for hours in the chill November rain with my new Kinks fan club friends, waiting to see Ray preview his first solo album. It’s a masterpiece.

14. Bring the Family
/ John Hiatt – I learn that Nick Lowe was in a band called Little Village with John Hiatt. Johnny Hiatt? The fat kid who went to the Catholic school across the street from mine in Indianapolis? Can’t be. Out of curiosity, I look up Hiatt on iTunes. The song “Your Dad Did” tells me exactly what Johnny Hiatt’s been doing since the Immaculate Heart days. It's Music For Grown-Ups -- which means it really is OKAY to be a grown-up music fan.

15.
Ole Tarantula / Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3 -- On impulse, I go with my Kinks buddy Dave to see these guys play at the Knitting Factory. I haven’t heard a single song of Hitchcock’s and know nothing about him. He rambles out on stage, tosses his gray mane, and starts to free-associate on stage. I am simply gobsmacked. Might as well stand and face it -- the fangirl is back with a vengeance.

8 comments:

IƱaki said...

Great list! I'm happy to see AHDN (even if I've never heard the American version)! And also Simon & Garfunkel and Ray... About McCartney, Maybe I'm Amazed and Every Night already make it one of the best albums ever!

Mark said...

Wow, awesome list of albums! I've been thinking about what my 15 albums would be, O Lucky Man would definitely be one of them! That's a record that just blew my mind when I heard it, or rather, when I saw the movie. And for so long that was the only Alan Price CD I could find in the States! I wish Alan was putting out new stuff and touring the States like Nick Lowe is. I remember when the Convincer came out, I was in Washington, DC, and I kept seeing blow-ups of the album cover in CD stores and thinking, "Who is that cool-looking guy?" I should have just bought the CD right then, but I didn't.

Betty C. said...

Oh Holly, thank you, thank you! I loved reading this and will comment more fully when I'm not getting ready for work!

NickS said...

That's a fun meme. 15 is a lot of albums . . . definitely enough to give a range of styles and reasons for being on the list. I will have to try to come up with my list.

Holly A Hughes said...

Send us a link when you do, Nick -- it's always cool to see what other people have come up with!

frankenslade said...

Little Johnny Hiatt was fat? He always looks like he weighs about 90 lb. That's an excellent album! I never dug much by him before or after, though.

Great list. Get Happy!! is my all-time fave followed by Revolver. I don't have an entire top 15 list worked out, but at least one other Costello and Beatles album would be on it, XTC's English Settlement, The Band's second album, maybe Pere Ubu's Dub Housing... Can I include a greatest hits album? The Rolling Stones High Tide and the Green Grass singles collection was mother's milk as I got deep into music. The Who's Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy for that matter too!

Betty C. said...

frankenslade -- This isn't my blog, but I'm the one who sent Holly the idea and I would say you can include any album you want, greatest hits included. The point is "significant" not "best." I had "Singles Going Steady" by the Buzzcocks on mine.

I do think the idea should correspond to the pop/rock idea of an "album," although one of mine kind of pushes it there. Some of my friends asked about classical music, but to me those are recordings, not albums.

Have fun!

NickS said...

I've posted my list here. It was an interesting challenge to work on.