Shipwrecked with a Stereo that Works
No compilations, no box sets, no cutting out irritating songs, no K-Tel nonstop dance parties. Just a musical statement as intended by the artist. I will accept full live albums, because I understand that there are people who fell in love with the band Kiss after hearing "Alive" when they were too young to know any better. Even people I know and respect liked Kiss. That's why you get your island and I get mine! Even if our islands were within earshot of each other I don't think I'd ask you to turn Kiss down at night. It would probably make me appreciate my own precious record collection even more! I might have to swim over and kick your ass if you played Kiss loud before say, 11:00 am but after that would be fine. I used to wake up to a neighbor who blasted eighties era Phil Collins at 7:00 in the morning. I've put in my time as an overly patient neighbor!
You may be shocked to see my own list. I only had to think about a couple of these, but I think I could do it if I ever were to be shipwrecked. The cheese tree is equally important, and since no one else would be around, the pungent and flatulent smell of extra sharp cheddar would offend only myself, and who cares what I think?
No particular order:
- The Beatles, "Abbey Road" - The Beatles are my favorite band. That was true when I was a kid, and it has been true since I rediscovered them in my late twenties. No other band has so many completely different sounding mega hits, and when you think about the fact that they only recorded for eight years, and were only under the influence of drugs for five of those years, that is an astonishing accomplishment. True, they really benefited from having four members who could sing lead so they were never tethered to one vocal style, but they were unafraid to try anything. If I am having a bad day I can start humming or whistling Beatles songs and it all goes away. This is their most conceptual of albums, and it has a very comforting, nostalgic hold on me. Paul McCartney was the memorable melody master, and as a result of that my strongest connections to music going back to when I was three years old are because of The Beatles. If I could only have one album on my island it would be this one, and if I could only have one song to listen to for the rest of my days it would be "Something".
- AC/DC, "Let There Be Rock" - No other band in the long history of recorded music ( look it up in my head and you'll see it's true ) embodies rock in its purest form like AC/DC. They are so pure that there is almost a hardcore vibe about them. Loud, obnoxious rock! While "Back in Black" will be remembered as their biggest album ( no less than number two in all time album sales worldwide! ) "Let There Be Rock" is the album that is their purest. It's still raw like their first albums, but less juvenile. "Highway to Hell" has my favorite AC/DC song, "Night Prowler" and if I were Richard Ramirez and serial murder was the path for me, I too would have chosen this song to be my inspiration. Fortunately for me and my family, plus the untold victims I would have preyed upon, I prefer the rough grit of "Let There Be Rock". This album takes me right back up to my room when I was a kid living at home. I feel like I need to take a shower after listening to Bon Scott. He actually sounds like syphilis. It's beautiful! Brian Johnson definitely rocked on "Back in Back" and that record is as classic as 'classic' gets, but "Let there Be Rock" is the album that personifies AC/DC, and they are the band that personifies all that rock ever meant to stand for.
- Godflesh, "Songs of Love and Hate" - Plenty of bands are heavy, but no one could combine heavy and ugly like Godflesh. They were able to create such a wonderfully bleak place with mammoth monuments of sublime, hideous beauty. Listen, and if you are wired for it you will see what I mean. Justin Broadrick's vision of the kinds of worlds a guitar can create was truly inspired and dammit, he did create a world of nightmares only a machine could conceive of! He is the equivalent of the anti-guitar god, and I love him for it. Thunderously oppressive bass lines and occasionally real drums that you can't tell apart from the programmed drums perfectly fill out the rest of his nightmarish Eden. I'm definitely taking this one with me any time I find myself out on the open seas... just in case. In fact, I'll remove the clean underwear from my suitcase if there isn't enough room. Sorry mom, I know you tried to raise me right.
- DJ Shadow, "Endtroducing" - Boy, when I first got this album it was all that I wanted to listen to for a really long time. It is very drum heavy, but in a laid back and repetitive jazzy, Motown hybrid way. It has a low-fi sound that I love without sounding like a garage recording. The album has an overall dreamy darkness, even with so much reliance on drums as its driving force. Occasional samples of people talking in a subtle, nonintrusive way keep the record from seeming tedious and actually add to the dreaminess in a way that I really like. Vocals are few and far between but are never the thing you are supposed to focus on. It is all beat and simple, but darkish guitar and electronic flourishes. There is a small amount of scratching that goes on, but it doesn't interfere with the vibe for me. This is an album perfect for daydreaming. I think that if I ever made it off of my island I could put "Endtroducing" on and recapture the wide open headspace of absolute isolation. I might even miss my island just a little bit.
- Slint, "Spiderland" - I hope that I never forget the weekend I was introduced to this album. Fly Machine were recording at a couple's home in the Richmond area who were kind enough to accept our company based on the word of two mutual friends. Those two friends were Pen and Tannon, the same two whose pipe dream of "Loincloth" ended up creating the most satisfying creative experience I have ever been a part of. As the eight of us bonded that weekend, "Spiderland" was the most prominent part of the backdrop. It is eerie, powerful, and as unbelievably dreamy as a band could be with the basic rock band set up. Most of the vocals are spoken instead of sung, and at times the music is so muted that you almost forget it's even there. Slint are credited with completely changing the college alternative rock scene. While I am blissfully oblivious to all that goes on in that world, I think I understand. This is a no frills, no pomp and splendor album that is 'garage' in almost every way but one. Most garage bands/recordings are snapshots of kids that just want to rock, but "Spiderland" is a fully realized vision of intensely moody soul bearing. It is almost anti-rock, and I love the truly unique vibe that it creates.
- Jethro Tull, "Thick as a Brick" - Music was always played at the house when I was a kid. My dad ( hey dad! ) was a big Jethro Tull fan. Years later the band became not just annoying, but unbearable. Contrived in every way. A lot of prog-rock bands focus too much on the "prog" after awhile, and not enough on the "rock". However, when Jethro Tull were younger, they absolutely rocked! You have to be able to take Ian Anderson's vocals, and as is the case for a great many compelling singers, that can be tough for some. If you can dig him and his trademark "rock flute" ( an oxymoron to Monica ) then you may love some point along their multi decade path. I don't usually grade on the curve by saying that a drummer was "great for his day", but Jethro Tull had straight up smokin' drummers! "Thick as a Brick" is one hell of a concept album... one song with a hundred different changes and feels. I have a theory that 1972-73 was the creative watermark for the classic rock movement as a whole, and this record is key in that assertion. A must listen for anyone who claims to like progressive music as it pushes even today's envelope.
- Rush, "Moving Pictures" - This is definitely Rush's most solid album, and the album that turned a lot of kids, not old enough to really have absorbed bands like Jethro Tull, Yes and Genesis during their more creative years, onto prog rock. They were meticulous without having the nearly intellectual musicianship of the other bands. Rush somehow cloaked their schooling in a veil of rock that made them more accessible to their fans. They weren't as whimsical or avant-garde as traditional prog, which made a long ride through their world easier to take than their predecessors. Side two ( that'll show my age! ) of "Moving Pictures" is them at their very best, in part because they had taken just enough of the shrillness out of their vocals and were better balanced. This is also a nostalgia trip for me, and when you are stuck on an island you would probably want to be able to immerse yourself in some comfortable fantasy at least as much as you would want to rock out. "Permanent Waves" is a very close second for me, but it has more cheese than "Moving Pictures". That combined with the pure artistry of side two means that this album gets my vote.
- The Cocteau Twins, "Blue Bell Knoll" - I heard The Cocteau Twins, one of the arguable kings ( queens? ) of dream pop, at precisely the right time in my life. Any other time and they probably would not have hit me the same way. Hearing their older material first probably helped too, because I don't think I would have been so receptive to "Blue Bell Knoll" without appreciating their evolution. As it turns out, The Cocteau Twins take me to a place no other band comes anywhere near. Elizabeth Fraser is one of my all time favorite singers. Her approach is very unique and may prove too much for many people, but she definitely dives into her style. With almost no discernible lyrics she is able to pull me in with her hypnotic tractor beam. She is a siren. I used to think that there was an overall darkness in their music, and at times there is, but as I came out of my own dark spell I began to hear a nearly tangible celebration of life going on in whatever she sang about. The guitarists do a great job of smearing light and dark together to create a hum of activity that serves as an ever moving background for her, and they write the kind of music I imagine must be piped into every gathering place in heaven. Undaunted and in complete control, Elizabeth Fraser can belt it out when she wants to, and I have always loved singers who are loud. She is enigmatic, and the music frames her vision beautifully. I must admit though, Monica does occasionally ask to see my "lady parts" whenever I talk about The Cocteau Twins. Consider yourself warned.
- Black Sabbath, "The Mob Rules" - If 1972-73 was a watermark year for classic rock and everything that a generation of drug experimentation and distorted guitar could dream up, 1980-81 was the year that heavy rock blew up everything that had become comfortable in popular music. Van Halen, Rush, AC/DC, and Ozzy Osbourne all recorded their best albums in that span. Van Halen and Rush actually offered up two albums apiece that year, but Black Sabbath put the flag on the top of the mountain with not one, but two classics. "Heaven and Hell" and "The Mob Rules" both fell from the sky to tell the world of music "Heaviness is mine, sayeth Black Sabbath!" This record is but one song away from being perfect, but even that one track isn't bad. It gives you time to recover from "Country Girl" and catch your breath before "Falling Off the Edge of the World". So often dramatic music has a pity-party, my-pain-is-so-intense self absorbed quality. The inventors of a genre were able to create a different kind of sonic drama with this album that is more the kind of thing astronomers grapple with. The formation of new stars, planets colliding, black holes... Sabbath drama is very much larger than life and "The Mob Rules" delivers like no other. "The Sign of the Southern Cross"... say no more.
- Bela Bartok, "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta" - The three things that I like most about underground metal; rich guitar harmonies dripping with melancholy, heavy, almost menacing riffs and the opportunity for painfully precise, super technical musicianship are all in abundance in this classical piece, composed over seventy five years ago. It has elements of King Diamond, Trouble and Watchtower/Spastic Ink all wrapped up in one 35 minute roller coaster ride. I've never heard a more complicated composition, but it is equally eerie and ominous. Hardcore fans of "The Shining" and "Alien" have heard it whether they know it or not. The super creepy music that plays in Kubrik's masterpiece as Jack Torrance finally snaps ( when he throws the ball against the wall in his giant study ) is as creepy as music gets, and the scene in "Alien" in which Dallas meets his maker as he tries to figure out just how close the monster is both use snipets of Bartok's celebrated work. It has so many dramatic peaks and horror movie style lulls that I am almost wiped out by the time it draws to a conclusion. Holst's "Mars, the Bringer of War" and Barber's "Adagio for Strings" are the only other traditional classical works I know of that come close to matching the drama of this piece. If you have an appreciation for classical music, give it a shot and think of it as a dark metal album. You may love it as much as I do.