Thursday, September 09, 2010

15 albums

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I got tagged with the "15 albums" meme on Facebook. It's a thing going around, virally, where you pick 15 albums you like and tag 15 other people, and so on, until everyone in the universe is declaring how goddam Revolver changed the way they think about music or John fucking Mayer helps them feel all right. Here's the opening paragraph I received when I was tagged:

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. 

I picked the first 15 albums I know that stick with me, and I'm going to list and elaborate upon them here. I'm not going to tag other people. Know why? Because I don't play by The Man's rules. "Not Playing By The Man's Rules" is my middle name. Dan Not Playing By The Man's Rules Medeiros. Which is why I have a difficult time signing checks.  If you feel like you want to do something similar on Facebook or anywhere else, go for it.

These aren't necessarily listed in any order. They're not necessarily my favorite albums, either -- just the first 15 that for reasons that will be explained are meaningful.

1. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II.  It's not Led Zeppelin's most famous album (IV) or their most eclectic (Physical Graffiti) or their most challenging (try sitting through In Through the Out Door with a straight face).  II is Led Zeppelin's rawest album, the one that captures all of their light and heavy facets, and the one I prefer to listen to most often. Most of the album has an echoey vibe -- as in, there's a lot of space and echo in the mix, which I like.  It sounds like four guys in a room playing loud music, unlike other, drier albums (Presence).  There aren't any obvious epics on II, just miniature ones ("What Is And What Should Never Be" and "Ramble On") a light ballad ("Thank You") and the rest are swinging-cock songs. [Listen]

2. The Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies. The Kinks are one of my favorite bands for a good reason: they write short stories about working- and middle-class people. I can only take so much music about love/sex/drinking/rock before I need something a little more complex. The Kinks (the one example of a band where I listen to the lyrics, see more on this below) seem to write almost exclusively about social class, or from a point of view where knowledge of and frustration with one's social class is present. It's a topic that's long fascinated me, a guy from working-class roots with an advanced degree who doesn't feel like he fits in either the working class, the middle class, or the class of people with advanced degrees. Muswell Hillbillies probably also speaks to me because it's the album where The Kinks mix their extreme Britishness with a trifle more Americanness than usual for a mix of country ("Muswell Hillbillies"), rock ("20th Century Man"), vaudeville ("Alcohol"), pop ("Complicated Life"), and blues ("Here Come the People in Grey"), sometimes all in the same song ("Skin and Bone"). [Listen]

3. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. There are going to be three Miles albums on here, and yes they all need to be here because Miles is a genius and they're all so different they may as well be from different people.  Shit, they may as well be from different planets. Years ago (I was about 17) the woman who later became my mother-in-law gave me a copy of Kind of Blue on vinyl because she knew I liked jazz. The biggest goddam jazz record in the history of jazz records had somehow escaped my stupid notice (I'd been more into Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, and hadn't really dived into Miles' work yet). I listened to it and realized there was now a major gap in my musical education filled, but now also a shit-ton of more work to do. It's one of those albums that makes me happy and depressed at the same time -- after hearing it hundreds of times, I've narrowed down it's something to do with the echo on Cannonball Adderly's saxophone. Again, go back to #1 and you'll see I like to hear the room in my music. [Listen]

4. Miles Davis, In A Silent Way. After a while I listened the shit out of Kind of Blue and his other modal and bop stuff, so I dipped a toe into Miles' fusion period, which is a whole universe of music I love and which I feel I can claim is mine since a lot of other people ignore it.  This is the album Miles made just after he gave up his post-bop phase for good and entered his fusion phase, so it's not quite as out-there into jazz-rock territory as Bitches Brew and not quite as modal as Filles de Kilimanjaro. There are only two tracks of kind and gentle music, with the first segment of each track repeated twice very lullaby-like with shimmering electric guitars and electric pianos. It's relaxing and happy and welcoming but still a challenge because it doesn't sound anything like the stuff you usually consider "jazz." It's also not as pissed-off as his other work. Easily my favorite Miles album. It cures headaches, panic, depression, sluggishness, sore throat, and abdominal pain. [Listen]

5. Miles Davis, On The Corner. Later I decided I had to tackle Miles' harder fusion stuff. On The Corner isn't my favorite of his post-Bitches Brew fusion albums (it's A Tribute to Jack Johnson), but it's the weirdest and by far the most difficult and therefore the one that most sticks with me. Essentially there are two song structures, both short funk riffs repeated over and over and over until you can't stand it anymore -- the album opens in the middle of one of them, a sort of a crash of electric street noise. Various people poke their instruments in there, making all kinds of fucked-up sounds, including a fuzzy electric guitar, some clumsy drumming, and Miles runs his trumpet through a wah-wah pedal. The second riff is more of a recognizable funk thing but with a creepy, childish sing-song vibe.  It's not everyday listening, but when I first heard it (I was in the parking lot at the Swansea Mall, having just bought the CD and wondering if my car's stereo was broken) I understood that "jazz" can mean more than the sappy smooth shit they play at uptight dinner parties. The guy who played "My Funny Valentine" for slow-dancing couples also came up with this.  Humans are strange people. [Listen]

6. Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy's Diamonds: The Best of the Verve Years. This isn't an "album" so much as a 3-disc compilation, but fuck it.  I want it here.  It collects Dizzy's material from his big-band era to his bebop period to his Afro-Cuban stuff. I'm frankly not as into the big-band disc as I am the bebop and Afro-Cuban discs, which have some of my favorite jazz of that style by one of my favorite musicians. Some of the stuff on these discs -- "Blue 'N Boogie," "I Know That You Know," "Blues After Dark," "Swing Low Sweet Cadillac," "Manteca" -- were featured on the first mixtapes I ever made for Nik, back in the days when people made mixtapes for each other as signs of affection the way more masculine members of the species used to bring home slaughtered meat. This, The Police and They Might Be Giants were our makeout soundtrack when we first started dating, and "Ool Ya Koo" was the first song we both agreed was ours. So yes. I like it. [Listen]

7. The Beatles, The Beatles (white album). I was in high school, advanced biology class. A friend -- I don't recall his name, but he was a good guy, blond, tall, thin, and if you're reading this now, thanks man -- made me a mixtape of the Beatles. This was back in the days when men also made mixtapes for other men and didn't mean anything untoward by it.  Anyway, I didn't have a lot of Beatles stuff at the time (I disliked then and I dislike now their early sappy shit), but I liked the later-era Beatles stuff he'd given me.  So he also copied the entire white album for me.  It's easily my favorite of any Beatles album because it's such a mess. Most of it sounds either like they're screwing around ("Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" "Wild Honey Pie," "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill") or they're angry ("Helter Skelter," "Sexy Sadie," "Glass Onion") or confused ("Revolution 9"). They experiment with so many genres, from '50s rock to heavy metal to musique concrète to jazz to folk, and while that annoys some people who want it to be more focused I see that as a plus. More genres per buck. [Listen]

8. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet: Savvy Show Stoppers. Like everyone else, I came to Shadowy Men via the Canadian sketch comedy show "Kids in the Hall."  All I knew was, I liked the theme song ("Having an Average Weekend") and wanted more.  When I finally got my filthy hands on more of their music -- all instrumental rock, except for the occasional yell -- I knew I'd found something that finally mixed my jazz and rock tastes, right from the opener (bass-heavy spy-rocker "Good Cop Bad Cop").  To be perfectly honest, most of the time I hate lyrics.  Particularly in modern music.  I never listen to lyrics.  I don't care what singers are actually saying. Who gives a shit? They're pitched mouth noises.  If I can dispense with the chore of having lyrics in rock music for good, so much the better. Anyway, after listening to this I had to dig out more instrumental rock to see what else was out there, and found Los Straitjackets. From there it was a quick trip over to Link Wray, The Ventures, The Chantays, Man or Astroman?, Laika and the Cosmonauts, and other surf/spy/instrumental bands that are the basis of much of my musical diet lately. [Listen]

9. Frank Zappa, Hot Rats. Hey, speaking of instrumental rock and jazz, here's another example. A few months before I acquired this jazz-rock-fusion album, I'd been introduced to Frank Zappa via a roommate's copy of "Strictly Commercial," a compilation of Zappa's more radio-friendly goofy comedy/scatological stuff.  Like when I first heard Miles Davis, I knew hearing Zappa that there was a whole universe of shit out there I now had to catch up with.  I went on to get about a dozen or so more Zappa albums before I realized I'd either have to be settle for those, or start selling blood or stealing to complete the rest of his 80- or 90-record collection. Hot Rats is almost all instrumental except for "Willie the Pimp" and even that's mostly a rock jam. The rest of it is kind of jazz fusionish ("Son of Mr. Green Genes") with occasional sax solo that bursts blood vessels in the player's temples ("The Gumbo Variations"), and is a great example of Zappa making music and not novelty records. Zappa is also a guy who hates music with lyrics, but felt he couldn't sell music any other way (or so he claims in his autobiography).  It also doesn't suffer from Zappa's over-reliance on the xylophone, which he sticks into a lot of albums later. [Listen]

10. AC/DC, Let There Be Rock. I spent a lot of years not liking AC/DC because my taste was too serious. What a sad, pathetic shit I was. Eventually I came to AC/DC the usual way, through Back in Black, and understood that it's an incredible monument to humanity's genius ("Givin' The Dog a Bone"). But Let There Be Rock is fucking better. It might be the least polished of all of AC/DC's records -- and if you've learned anything so far about my musical taste, it's that, again, I like my music a little bit messy and I want to hear the room they're playing in. Some of the songs are slightly off-key ("Bad Boy Boogie") and some have unedited false starts ("Overdose") and most of them are dripping with constant uncorrected amplifier feedback squeals and string noise. All the songs are about sex, alcohol, the triumphant majesty of rock, and boasts about genital size. [Listen]

11. Parliament, Live: P-Funk Earth Tour. Another roommate gave me this CD, because he'd played it so many times he'd worn it out. The underside was covered in scratches and wouldn't play in his CD player, but it would in mine. I played it even more and eventually had to copy it into iTunes because the CD was toast.  This album and a James Brown tape were my introductions to funk -- and this one was also my introduction to the world of Parliament-Funkadelic, a strange universe that I've tried exploring a few times but got hopelessly lost. I listened to the 15-minute version of "Dr. Funkenstein" so many times I know every bass pop and electric piano bloop. Some of the middle of the album drags a bit, and who knows why the hell there are two studio tracks slipped in there, but whatever. [Listen]

12. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Boogie-Woogie String Along For Real. Rahsaan Roland Kirk was introduced to me through a guy I used to work with who gave me three of Kirk's albums -- his last three. This one is Kirk's last, the one he had after a stroke left him paralyzed.  Kirk was a unique dude: he was blind and would play three or more instruments at the same time, or multiple saxophones and flutes at once connected by tubes and tape -- all the while using circular breathing. This album doesn't have any of that more showy stuff, but it does have his sense of humor ("Watergate Blues") and a sad gentle tone ("I Loves You, Porgy").  You can hear him having trouble working the clarinet in "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor." You think you have fucking problems? [Listen ... not from this album, though]

13. The White Stripes, Elephant. Most of the music I listen to is made by people who are dead.  There's barely anything on this goddam list from after the late '70s, and the stuff that is harks back to stuff that's old. Hell if I know why. Anyway, there's a lot of stuff on here that sounds vintage enough for me ("Ball and Biscuit") and other songs that just kick ass ("The Hardest Button to Button," "Hypnotize," "Seven Nation Army").  I don't much care for the softer, sweeter songs larding up the first half of the album. Not my thing. I much rather prefer when the Stripes are nastier, faster, riff-heavy, like the '60s frug takeoff "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine." Who knows what the hell any of it is about? Again, I don't listen to lyrics. [Listen]

14. The Upper Crust, Entitled. Not enough people know about the Upper Crust, a Boston-area band that plays AC/DC-style cock rock but in the personas of 18th century French fops. Curly powdered wigs, buckled shoes, lace and crushed velvet -- no really, they're amazing. And they sing exclusively about how fun it is to be wealthy dandies with butlers and courtesans. This is a 2-CD live album that includes all their greatest songs into one package ("Once More Into the Breeches," "Rock and Roll Butler," "We're Finished With Finishing School," "Luncheon," "Who's Who of Love"). I listen to this a bit more than their studio albums, which take the paces a bit slower. What, you have a problem with the concept? Fuck you! They're brilliant! Open your mind a little and let the coach-and-four in! [Listen]

15. Frank Sinatra, Frank Sinatra's Greatest Hits. I bought this as a teenager on cassette tape as a joke, because it was something like 4 bucks and I thought it would be funny. Then eventually I realized it was wonderful and started listening to it without irony. Other kids were out getting laid and doing doughnuts in the parking lot. I was listening to "Strangers in the Night" on my Walkman. I never said I was normal. This greatest hits compilation has been replaced by far, far better ones -- this thing is shamefully missing most of what I usually think of as Sinatra's unsurpassed songs (no "Witchcraft," no "Luck Be a Lady," no "Drinking Again," no fucking "All or Nothing at All"). To get the best of Sinatra now, you have to buy at least 2 or 3 different collections, since his greatest hits span multiple labels and decades. But it's a passable entry into his music. [Listen]


John at Hella Sound said...

holy wow—On the Corner. I've listened to that album in the say way I listened to Captain Beefheart's "Troutmask Replica"; feeling somewhat lost, but (sort of) enjoying myself nonetheless. Amazing that you'd include it in your 15. Have you listened to Henry Threadgill's "Where's Your Cup?"? I think that might be right up your alley.

thanks for playing along!

John from the Poi said...

This is why I miss the podcast so much. I understood many (perhaps not all!) of the musical interludes. Genius I tell you, genius.

Dan said...

John #1: On the Corner isn't the most fun you can have listening to music, but I still do give it a spin when I'm in a weird mood. I want to get myself a copy of the Complete On The Corner Sessions box set. The other Miles boxes (complete Jack Johnson, complete Bitches, complete Silent Way, etc) have all been great. Never heard of Henry Threadgill. Great--now I have more work to do!

John #2: Thanks! You know, come to think of it, I think I used music from all these albums at least once (except the Beatles and White Stripes)...

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