“And you’re a prima ballerina on a Spring afternoon
Change on into the wolfman, howlin’ at the moon…”
– New York Dolls
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I’m sure most of you have been introduced to the ’10 Albums In 10 Days’ meme that has been running through Faceplant for the past couple of months. This challenge of ‘life-altering’ music influences is designed to tell others all about you through your choices, I suppose, to generate some insight into your personality through your musical tastes. My issue with the whole ‘challenge’ is I’ve never really adopted ‘albums,’ per se, as a yardstick for my music appreciation. Songs, yes; individual songs from albums, usually the ones that weren’t released as singles, as it turns out. For this reason, I didn’t accept the multitude of challenges offered to me over the past months (sorry). And history has borne me out. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by…” and all that.
When Audio Dynamics released the Accutrac 4000 turntable in the late 1970s, I bought one and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was the first programmable record player. Attached to the turntable by a long cable was a silver globe marketed as a ‘wireless remote unit’ that worked in concert with its own handheld remote control. You could not only program which cuts you wanted to listen to and skip those you didn’t, but you could also play them in any order and even replay your entire ‘personal’ song list. The only feature missing was its inability to turn the record over!
Along comes Napster in 1999, and the world of cherry-picking what you wanted had arrived. This web app was crazy controversial, not least because stealing copy-written material – which is how it was viewed by many – was illegal. Regardless, millions upon millions of songs were downloaded to hard drives all over the world. Like it or not, Napster, and other ‘media services,’ increased sales in home computers and escalated the R&D into broadband technology exponentially. Only pornography had a more significant impact! MP3 players were soon all the rage. Consumers were impressed. Steve Jobs certainly was.
Two years later, Apple debuted the iPod and iTunes, with a purchase plan that allowed individual songs (or entire albums) to be downloaded for 99¢ a song. (Remember “Rip. Mix. Burn”…?) Artists like Metallica and others were incensed that their record production and sales business model was being usurped, and legal action was threatened. Record music executives and producers followed suit. Until it was revealed that Jobs had negotiated an output deal with many of the record labels that guaranteed them a big slice of the action. That guarantee was predicated on realizing big sales. Apple sold over one million individual songs the first week. The Beatles, who had a long-standing legal battle with Apple Computers over their very name (Apple Corps. Ltd.), refused to allow any of their music onto iTunes. When they buried the hatchet some years later, the band sold over two million individual songs in their first week.
To this day, individual cuts – with a few exceptions – is the way I decide on my music.
However, in transferring some new music to my iPhone recently, I discovered that, yes, there are indeed entire discs that grabbed my attention back then and even now – perhaps more so now.
You won’t find any Led Zeppelin or Allman Brothers or CS&N (with or without Y) or Elton John or any number of others who could easily be part of my personal ‘hit’ list. But these ten albums DID have a big impact on me, especially over time. And to me, they continue to be timeless.
So, all you’ll get from me is esoterica!
In no specific order of likability (only chronologically), I will begin at the beginning.
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1 of 10 – Santana – Abraxas – 1970
Santana blew the music world apart during their appearances at Woodstock and Altamont, with this seminal album still more than a year away. They were and are legendary performances. For an album that is fifty years old, Abraxas continues to amaze, especially if played particularly loud! And danced to. A lot. There must be dancing!
2 of 10 – Tapestry – Carole King – 1971
When this album was released it surprised just about everyone. Consumers didn’t really know who she was, and the music industry knew her only as a writer. As half of the powerhouse songwriting duo Goffin and King, she was responsible for many popular rock and pop hits during the 1950s and 1960s. Tapestry solidified her place as a talented solo singer and performer as well. A position she maintains to this day. This record was a birthday gift from a girlfriend. I’ve owned it on vinyl (twice), cassette, and CD.
3 of 10 – Machine Head – Deep Purple – 1972
I went to a very large high school in grade 9 – a couple of thousand kids in a multi-building, multi-block complex in the centre of town. As such, lunch hours were staggered so as to accommodate hundreds of students in our massive cafeteria. Central to that cafe was the jukebox. And central to that jukebox was ’Smoke On The Water’. No self-respecting kid who had a turntable (and who didn’t?!) had to have a copy of this album. Many’s the day when we trudged back to class with the strains of ‘Highway Star’ or ‘Space Truckin’ blasting in the background.
4 of 10 – New York Dolls – Self Titled 1st Album – 1973
The first time I heard ‘Personality Crisis’ I sank my teeth into any music coming out of New York City: The Dolls, The Ramones, The Stooges, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed… anything. I was lucky to have an independent record store in my home town that carried ‘esoteric vinyl’ – that’s what they called it. No Mantovani rubbing sleeves with Montrose in those stacks! In February 1982, I found myself in NYC on a mixed business/pleasure sojourn. I had one night all to myself, and I chose CBGB as my destination. Blondie was playing. By then they were almost the house band. No one knew it, but this would be one of the last public performances of the band before they split later in the year. What a trip! The stars were out that night. A mix of proto punk, punk, and post punk royalty: at least two Ramones, Tina Weymouth (with fleeting glimpses of David Byrne), Patti Smith, Fred Schneider (B-52s), and propped up in one corner, David Johansen. The Dolls were history, and his alter ego, Buster Poindexter, was still a handful of years away from achieving fame with ‘Hot! Hot! Hot!’. However, his songwriting and performing style kept him in the limelight, even opening as a solo act for The Who.
5 of 10 – 2112 – Rush – 1976
There aren’t many positive memories of growing up in Southwestern Ontario during the 1960s and early 1970s. Highway 401 leaving town in two directions might have been one of them. But fairly often another plus would raise its head. In grades 9 and 10 we had the pleasure of being the guinea pigs for an amazing rock and roll band named RUSH. The members were only a couple of years older than us, and they’d play any high school in the region that would have them – everyone did. High school dances with RUSH in attendance were always major parties. They were loud and tight, and drummer John Rutsey (pre-Neil Peart days) was a thrasher. Alex Lifeson’s guitar was amazing, and Geddy Lee’s high-pitched ‘Robert Plant-style’ vocals brought the house down. Everyone who heard and saw them up close knew they were set to explode. RUSH went from our high school gym to touring the U.S. as an opening act for some of the biggest rock names in history seemingly overnight. But when they toured much of Canada opening for KISS in their first Canadian visit they sometimes played two encores – unheard of! Their concept album, 2112, solidified their place in rock history and in the Hall of Fame.
6 of 10 – Year Of The Cat – Al Stewart – 1976
This may be the best produced album I’ve ever heard. It was blessed from the beginning by Stewart’s lilting lyrical style, expert musicianship, and overall sound. It was recorded in The Beatles old studio at Abbey Road, produced by Alan Parsons, and the album art was created by award-winning Hipgnosis (Wings, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, 10cc, Genesis, ELO, and many others). It’s been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Just play the record!
7 of 10 – The Kick Inside – Kate Bush – 1978
This was Kate’s debut album and it serves not only as a perfect introduction for all that came later, it contains many of her best songs. I first heard ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ on the radio on a Friday. The next morning I discovered that she was the musical guest that night on Saturday Night Live (then called only NBC’s Saturday Night). After that I was hooked and I have been ever since. Desert island, the music of only one musical artist allowed = Kate Bush. In Spring 1984, I went to the UK and plunked myself down in a small apartment in Camden Town in London. Upon dropping my bags I went out for a walk and popped into a pub at the end of my street called, The Spread Eagle (I shit you not!) After a couple of pints I wandered a bit passing by a music venue of some description. Kate Bush had performed there the night before. I may have cried myself to sleep.
8 of 10 – Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon – 1978
Anyone who associates Zevon with ONLY ‘Werewolves Of London’ is not only missing the point, but a plethora of other memorable, lyrically poignant songs. His songs were quirky, funny, heartfelt, painful, and indelible. I saw him in concert twice – once at the Troubadour in L.A. in the 70s, and again here in Vancouver in the 80s. Each of his records revealed a new twist in his outlook on life, never more prevalent than his last three albums, ‘Life’ll Kill Ya’, ‘My Ride’s Here’, and ‘The Wind’ all recorded when he knew he was dying. His final public appearance with David Letterman is absolutely heartbreaking. But his music still resonates. This is a great album.
9 of 10 – I’m The Man – Joe Jackson – 1979
Another one of those albums that just manages to strike a perfect note. So much talent in a classically trained musician who drifted into New Wave and then into jazz-influenced music. I saw Joe in April 1995 on a first date night with a woman who was ga-ga for him. It may have been the only thing we had in common in retrospect. He had brought his largely acoustic ’Night Music Tour’ to the Orpheum, and we had fantastic seats. He was late taking the stage and when he appeared to thunderous applause he did so with a scarf wrapped several times around his throat. He had contracted a throat infection a couple of days earlier while traveling from Calgary, his previous stop. He apologized to the sold out crowd and offered a choice – he could continue as far as he could with his voice in tatters, or reschedule for a later date. We unanimously chose the performance. A piano, a sax, and an upright bass, and one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.
10 of 10 – Vivaldi Cello Concertos Vol. 2 – Ofra Harnoy – 1989
Ofra Harnoy is not as well-known as she should be. An Israeli-Canadian her cello recitals are works of art, and her concerts are always sold out. She has been nominated for six Juno Awards, winning five. This album holds a special place in my heart as it was the soundtrack for a three-week romantic stay in Italy with a girlfriend. For a time we decamped at a renovated Tuscan farmhouse midway between Arezzo and the ancient fortified hill town of Cortona. Occasionally, we would venture out for coffee, dinner, shopping, or sightseeing, and this CD would be our guide. We laughingly decided one day that we would put the CD on shuffle, start the music as we hit the backroads, and stop… for the view as soon as the individual piece finished. There are 21 cuts on this album – some short, some long – so we were never sure where we would end up. Hell of a way to experience Tuscany! I highly recommend it.