Kevin, in addition to being a killer guitarist, is often the catalyst of cool little band projects. Last week's homework was for each of us to follow Kevin's lead in putting together a list of records that had been important to us. Each of us approached it a little differently - some listing their 'favorite' albums, some their ideas of the 'best' albums. My take was a bit more along the lines of 'albums that made a big impact on my life or otherwise changed the way i approached music going forward'. So without further ado here's my list: (watch for the other rationales' lists over the coming days.)
Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones, 1972
the stones at their best. this album represents all of what was encompassed on their great records like beggars banquet, and let it bleed, all made a little sleazier and conveyed like it was 3am and the devil was in the next room. It became my favorite album in high school and however much i try to escape it - i always come back. I always consider exile and sticky fingers as parts of the one big album (in fact a lot of the sessions overlapped) and taken together the two records encompass all the rock and roll (with its roots on display) that i would ever need again in my life.
Document, REM 1987
i had just discovered REM when this album came out. All i recall is taking the T into harvard square softmore year of HS and wandering around in the fall air (heading to second coming records for led zepplin bootleg LPs at $40 a pop) but mostly wandering mass ave and the cambridge common listening to the jangle of Document. A great album that can rock, jangle, preach and stupify with beauty. Also it was one of those records that i knew every note top to bottom inside and out before i ever knew one thing about the band - it wasn't till i saw them live that i even knew that they guy who turned out to be bill berry wasn't the singer.
Swordfish Trombones, Tom Waits, 1982
This is a representative entry as i LOVE all Tom Waits - but Swordfish is the one i come back to most often - he had spent the 70s as a jazz fan piano man boozer - but all of a sudden - swordfish appeared. it had been coming (hints on heartattack and vine) but BAM - swordfish was killer. it started a trilogy of mid 80s albums (Raindogs, Franks Wild Years) that all but cemented Tom as the king of kings of alt.cool. There's a lot of zanyness - but a ton of heart and i never stop marveling at the images that he welds into his lyrics.
Blond on Blond, Bob Dylan, 1966
Again - somewhat representative - could easily have been highway 61, john wesley harding or even time out of mind, but again - while i seem to listen to hw61 most often in summer for its sense of fun, and john wesley harding in fall and winter for its sense of nature, - its blond on blond that has the songs that just floor me. Johanna alone is worth the price of admission - but pledging, mobile, leopard skin, obviously, etc. are dylan at his rocking best. You also get the first recordings of the band (sans levon) backing him here, and just a sense of the awesome. A note on my enjoyment of this album - i ALWAYS skip rainy day women, (and left it off my ipod) -its a nice single and a fun song. but the feel and flow of the album changes 100% for the better without it.
Kerosene Hat, Cracker, 1992
without a doubt my 'most listened to' record in my life - i believe i wore out 4 cassette copies, 3 cd copies and its tops on my itunes plays list as well. Its a bit more loosy goosy than Cracker Brand (which also deserves to be on this list) and certainly more well known. I could go song through song listing thoughts, feeling and events connected to each one. Lowery and Hickman with Farragher still aboard weave tales, yarns, rave ups and laments into this amazing record - guitars like you dream about - songwriting, sound, vibe - all while keeping the desert as a member of the band, Movie Star, Infirmary, Everything, Goodbyes, Go for a Ride, Loser, just an amazing collection. I loved this album so much that the damn B sides (whole lotta trouble, sunday train) are among my favorite songs of all time. Can't go wrong with this record and, opposite of blond on blond above, even if you hate 90s hits - you'll be amazed that in context of the record - how well Low still holds up as a valid part of the record - it's all desert and drug.
Music from Big Pink, The Band, 1968
I can't even begin. It goes so far back that I can recall trying to crawl under the 'bridge' created by my dad while he was doing pushups as a todler listening to 'the weight.' Taken together with the brown album the collection of songs and feel and musicianship and just the vibe are an amazing amazing thing. I know i've said more about the other albums and should be more eloquent here- but rest assured... from the squelch of the guitar on tears of rage to the end of the shimmer on released...i go somewhere else everytime i hear this record. as close to perfection as a band can get, the voices, the collaboration, the feeling of creation. I read recently that the weight has been covered more times than any other song - and that the society of music publishers have deemed it the last song to become a 'standard'. thats what this album feels like - something outside of business or music or scene or whatever - just something that is. as if it had always been. heartbreaking and uplifting all in one.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco, 2002
i was going to leave off things other people picked - but this one was huge for me - everything Kevin said and more. I recall when they started streaming it on their site in 2001 - i had been a tweedy fan since the earliest days of uncle tupelo - and had run my course, being done with wilco after tiring of bennett's stage antics and their run-of-the-mill mermaid setlist live shows in 2000. Then i heard those piano notes of war on war looping on the wilco site. the intro of IATTBYH - and i just connected. connected with the disconnected beauty - the sense of distance and disconnect that was palpable in every song - mixed with the beauty the feeling induced. It shook me. It was also around the time of this album that i reconnected with my love of LISTENING to music. i've always been a music guy - the years before this were a period of vorocious acquisition of cds - i would 'put on' music and i would evaluate it, i would form opinions about it, i would get excited about it - but i wasn't LISTENING. like "lie on the floor in the dark with headphones on and see the colors and the shapes in your mind" listening - really listening - and YHF hit at just about the time i realized that i wanted to start doing that again. and what a better album to do it with.
Siamese Dream, smashing pumpkins, 1993
ah, the pumpkins. blurg. never have i been so wrong about a band. I really though - pre-blow-up - that they were going to be the best thing ever. Apparently it was all butch vig i was hearing. I got turned onto gish early - it was a nice holdover after the transition out of my metal years and into more sensible rock. they had so much beauty in those songs - Billy's hushed double tracked vocals, the fury of the big rock outs, all of it - the wait for Siamese dream was so long and so when it arrived it was game changing. Its hard now to think back to pre-shaved head billy pumpkins - but up until late 93 they were just a band - who put out really good dramatically beautiful and poignant music. Before the songs got MTV'd to death - before billy became the Curt Shilling of rock, before they decided it would be fun to be vampires, basically before we got to know them - they played some damn good rock and roll... mayonnaise, sandoz, quiet, luna, ooof. i thought they would be the saviors of music. i was wrong. as soon as they broke big they went overboard and drank the wrong cool aid. i stopped listening altogether after the double album. (plus i was moving into a country thing by then)
March 16-20, 1992, Uncle Tupelo 1992
So very amazing in so many different ways. Tweedy and Farrar working together, singing in harmony, bringing it all back home. "Gun" and "if that's alright" had been a starting point on the previous record - but here is where tweedy really came into his own - black eye, wait up, fatal wound, solid writing, fun tempo changes, etc. and while no one would say he seemed adrift before- its where farrar really settled into the personal sound that carried him through trace. Again - someone could argue with me that i discount albums that are more well known and that Anodyne puts it all together a bit more completely (and that i listened to it more when it came out) but over the years - the songs i most want to hear from tupelo are all on March. ahhh sandusky.
achtung baby, U2, 1991
I spent 87 - 92 as a u2 superfan. Joshua Tree was amazing. (so many layers of sound buried in the mix - its where i learned that i always wanted to bury lots of extraneous guitars on my recordings - shimmery guitars that you could only hear with headphones on your 200th listen) Rattle and Hum rocked my world - and you could sort of feel it - that they were about to stop being moral boys and get dirty - which would be good. When The Fly debuted on MTV (during the andrea-gale-sinking-perfect-storm-Halloween-weekend-91 btw) it was astounding. Yeah i could have done without the 'personas' that Bono had on for the next few years - but they were all better than ponytail/leather vest guy. But the songs - acrobat, wild horses, end of the world, love is blindness. oooffa. amazing. nothing so much as the earth shaking Zoo Station. the guitars were everywhere and filthy. and the rhythm section - it was amazing. Achtung baby and a record by the church may have been all i listened to at all for that semester.
Let Me Come Over, Buffalo Tom, 1992
u2 were finally knocked off my cassette deck the following spring and oh my were they ever. I had been well aware of birdbrain but i'd more or less dismissed BT to this point as they had too much of the abrasive dino jr. thing going on and i wasn't so much in love with 'abrasive' at that point- of course in hindsight the first two BT records have plenty of beauty in them - but let me come over hit me out of the blue and amazed me - not unlike the feeling that i'd got from my days of listening endlessly to document - from this first bass notes and suspended chords of Staples. i was hooked. every single song was the soundtrack to my life - when i think of college one of my most pressing memories is of driving my old 78 chevy impala down route 12 in fitchburg though the snow listening to porchligh over and over. ahhh. Crutch is one of my top 10 songs ever. Listening to that as i regretfully left san francisco to come home to boston is still burned into my mind as well. all above the moon.
The Poet Game, Greg brown, 1993?
I always liked folk - started with my dad and his 70s singer songwriters. Then in college we would roadtrip up to New Hampshire to Peterborough NH to this cool restaurant folk club called the folkways. anyhow - somewhere along the line i picked up on Greg Brown. again a representative entry as i could easily pick his 'further in' 'slant 6 mind' or 'covenant' albums but poet game is such an amazing collection of songwriting, warmth, and imagery. Bo Ramsay - brown's friend/guitarist/producer (went on to make albums like car wheels on a gravel road, etc) is all over the place here. spooky, poignant, heartbreak and longing. anyone who doesn't know 'lord i have made you a place in my heart' or 'driftless' or 'the poet game' is missing out on something in life. one of my favorite records.
turning turning back, Alex Digrassi, 1978
a windahm hill acoustic instrumental album. i grew up thinking it was multitracked and it was still the most amazing display of calming, beautiful guitar music i'd ever heard - then i found out later that every song was 1 live take. holy shit. windahm hill (the label) pumped this sort of album out like cookies for 10 years - but this one stands so far above the rest - just inspiring guitar playing along the lines of Bill Frissell only more new agey.
Animals, Pink Floyd, 1978
Floyd were huge to me - everything from meddle to momentary. Animals is sort of a 'cooler than thou' pick over people who'd pick dark side or the wall - but it was the floyd album that i love the most. had all of the stuff the others had plus some really deep/dark/beautiful instramental parts. complex long songs. great gilmour guitar, great vocals, waters is full on insane but not singing about his daddy - which helps. lambasting the political/social system we live(d until last month) under. haha.
get your wings, aerosmith, 1974
no dave list would be complete without aerosmith - a goof of a band in a lot of ways but this album is above the fray of all their image baggage - their first disc had been an attempt at being a funky rock band, with rufas thomas covers, james brown ripped groove parts, etc. and was ignored at the time - but for get your wings aerosmith discovered what they did best - sleeze, evil, dark and sex, (and the abandonment of tyler's dumb experiment with closed throat singing. ) All without the cartoonish aspect that came later - this was again - like Siamese Dream - the last chance to hear a real band being a real band before they went on to get bigger and buy into their own hype. (one could argue toys in the attic falls under that umbrella too - but it was played out after the fact. and one could argue that Rocks dances circles around both of them) but on Wings you get such great moments as Seasons of wither, SOS, woman of the world, lord of the thighs, etc. sure tyler is already into the cheese and innuendo - and apparently perry was too stoned to play and a lot of the solos are actually Dick Wagner from alice coopers band - regardless - this record shaped a lot about my take on music (always underlay an acoustic track, always ask your drummer to play the beat as a drum into, sing one word backing vocals during someone else's verse) haha. i still love this album.
others that would be on my list that are on kevin's - ok computer, southern harmony/amorica
other's that are on my list but that i don't feel like writing any more right now -
Starfish - the church
Talk is Cheap - keith richards
In the Reins - Iron and Wine/Calexico
Cure for Pain - Morphine
ToyBoat-toyboat-toyboat - o-positive
Hollywood Town hall - the Jayhawks
Gentlemen - the afgan whigs
Harvest/Goldrush- Neil Young
sweetheart of the rodeo - the byrds
Fireworks on TV - Bill Janovitz & Crown Vic
important to me and where i'm coming from but not 'albums' per se for a list like this
atlantic rhythm and blues box set
harry smith's anthology of american folk
rounder bluegrass compilations circa 1990s