Saturday, March 7, 2009
This week, in between bouts of dashing off angry letters to my political representatives about the theft of the Oregon Cultural Trust’s resources, I’ve been giving myself up to an orgy of self-love. First came the previous post, in which I cashed in on the MeMeMe meme; and now, challenged by yet another Facebook taunt, comes my response to a request for “15 records that changed your life.” Since I could never stop at 15, I’m just offering a handful, k?
Yeah. I know. But if you think I’m wearing out my welcome with this trope, consider yourself lucky I spared you my ongoing rant about the ruin of arts philanthropy here in the wild wild west.
All right. In order of my exposure to these albums:
Music To Have Fun By. I have not been able to find any trace of this wondrous album, which I checked out of the public library when I was about 10 years old because it sported a thrilling cover illustration of a woman seated atop a vinyl LP spinning off into space. She looked delighted, and so was I. This was all classic compositions possessed of a kind of delirious abandon: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Flight of the Bumblebee, Funeral March for a Marionette, The Age of Gold – you get the idea.
Love Is Blue, by Paul Mauriat and his orchestra. Ya – muzak, essentially. But for you kids who weren’t around in the 60s, muzak used to be a big band affair, very elaborate. You don’t know what vertigo is till you’ve heard “There’s a Kind of Hush” performed in cut time by an 40-piece band.
The Mamas & the Papas. So sweet. So California. So 1966. “You gotta go where you wanna go / Do what you wanna do / With whomever…..” That sounded pretty good to a callow high school freshman.
God Bless Tiny Tim. Released in 1968 and spurred to success by Tim’s greatest hit, "Tip-Toe Thru' The Tulips," this was widely supposed to be a novelty album. Yet it surprised people with its musical references to a more post-war sound – something The Beatles wouldn’t assay for another year.
Hair-- the original cast album. Talk about an education. Much to my parents’ disapproval, I studied this album carefully, mining every reference to sex, drugs and sedition. Conclusion: counterculture = fun!
Moody Blues – In Search of the Lost Chord (1968). The start of my “psycho-pukey” period, according to my scornful friends. This stuff has not aged well, and even in my youth it was wiped from my consciousness by the belated discovery of the bands mentioned below. But like all teenagers, I was terribly, terribly earnest about my quest for a spirituality that Catholicism could not begin to address.
Magical Mystery Tour. The Beatles were all about celebration, and perhaps never more so than with this wonderful feat of George Martin’s producing genius. He was immortalized on the inside cover, where the liner notes began, “Once upon a time there were four or five wizards….”
Aoxomoxoa, by the Grateful Dead. I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about. But man was it groovy.
Tommy. The Who. Surprise! You could do theater and be cool.
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, by The Incredible String Band. Still my favorite album of all time, recorded in 1968 but not discovered by me until 1972. Either this album gradually takes you over and seizes your imagination, or you find it completely unlistenable; more than one friend has asked me to take it off the record player. Forever. But 37 years after my first listen, it still speaks to me. The layered sound was very much a production of its day, but its multicultural approach to music was decades early; it used instruments from all over the world, including sitar, gimbri, shenai, oud, harpsichord, panpipes and kazoo. But the lyrics were like peat moss and dark woods and autumn mist – as clear an evocation of the so-called British Isles as you’ll ever hear.
Music for Airports. Brian Eno’s anti-commercial music, designed to counter "the products of the various purveyors of canned music.” Later efforts would be so minimal as to scarcely exist, but I still listen to this quietly moving album. Eventually it fulfilled its ostensible purpose through its installation at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia.
Horses. Patti Smith. My first inkling that The Bee Gees had not spoiled music for all time. Plus who knew punk (or anyway one of its first descendants) could be so sexy?
Elvis Costello – his very first album, My Aim Is True (1977). Proof positive that being pissed off was a viable career choice.
Are We Not Men? and Duty Now for the Future. As with Tiny Tim, Devo was widely assumed to be a hoax at first. I loved their reckless energy – “the important sounds of things falling apart,” as the Spud Boys put it.
Okay. To paraphrase Dieter: "I grow tedious." To wrap things up, some honorable mentions: Bow Wow Wow, Malcolm MacLaren Talking Heads, U2, Procol Harum, Jesus Christ Superstar, Petula Clark, Cream, John Dowland, Vivaldi, Beastie Boys.
Plus current obsessions: Blonde Redhead, Monteverdi, Editors, Animal Collective.