Members of the CN&R editorial staff on some albums they just couldn’t be without
In keeping with the “best of” theme in this issue, we asked various editors here to list their five favorite albums—their “desert island discs,” so to speak.
What you find is what you might expect when dealing with a popular art form that Nietzsche once characterized as a realm where “the passions enjoy themselves.” Most of us picked albums that had some personal significance or held some fond memory from the past. And then, of course, there were some that just blew us away.
As for myself, I’ve been writing CD reviews fairly regularly for the last four years, and because of that, and the fact that I’m the arts coordinator for the paper, I gave myself two extra picks. I just couldn’t do it in five; in fact I’m still reeling from the trauma.
Anyway, whatever, just roll the tape.
Tom Rush, Tom Rush
Call it the “Driving Wheel” album (after the first song): I pick this record mostly because of the memories it conjures and the fact I listened to it so much when I was a young teen that every word and musical nuance is forever stuck in my memory.
A few years ago I picked up the CD after not listening to the album for maybe 15 years. Still sounded great with songs by Jackson Browne ("Colors of the Sun” and “These Days") recorded by Rush before anybody knew who Browne was, Joni Mitchell or Jesse Colin Young. Not a weak spot on the album and, at 32 years old, it still sounds great.
The Kinks, Arthur or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire
This is the best concept album ever. Written for a television show that never aired, the album tells the story of a man—Arthur—as he endures life in post-war England. Includes the classic “Victoria,” the bittersweet “Nothing to Say,” which is about the estranged relationship between a son and father and in the end the promise of a new life in “Australia.” “We’ll surf like they do in the USA/We’ll fly off to Sydney for our holiday/on sunny Christmas Day.” And there is the criticism of the declining middle class, “Shangri La,” where “all the houses on the street have got a name/ ‘cause all the houses in the street they look the same.”
Allman Brothers Band, Eat a Peach
My favorite Allman Brothers Band album, released about three months after Duane Allman killed himself in a motorcycle wreck. Dickey Betts’ “Blue Sky” is such an upbeat, hopeful song, balanced by Gregg Allman’s “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” a painful reflection on his brother’s death. Betts’ slide guitar shines here, and “Mountain Jam” is a live, Grateful Dead-like jam recorded at the Fillmore East show and stems from Donovan’s “First There Is a Mountain.” And Gregg’s “Little Martha” is a wonderful acoustic guitar duet. Again it’s the memories of hanging out in the basement of my best friend’s parents’ house and acting as cool as our teenage jerkiness would allow.
Little Feat, Waiting for Columbus
I include this live album for two reasons: the live, funky, wild rendition of “Dixie Chicken,” and because it reminds me of one of the best concerts I ever saw: San Diego Coliseum, 1975, Little Feat led by Lowell George opens for Dave Mason and Fleetwood Mac. Trouble is Little Feat’s full band, horns and all, blows the audience away. So much so that people start drifting out of the arena during Mason’s set and the place is just about empty by the time Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks comes out whining about witches and gypsies, being alone in her room while swirling in long lacy dress. She was no Tennessee Lamb.
Van Morrison, Moondance/Tupelo Honey
Can’t leave Van the Man off a best-album list, so I include two. It’s not cheating, it’s a tie. “Caravan,” off Moondance, is one of the best songs ever penned. “And it Stoned Me” and “Into the Mystic” are right behind. “Wild Night” and just the beginning of “I Want to Woo You” qualify Tupelo Honey. There is no inappropriate time to slap on some Morrison.
Bob Marley, Legend
There are so many reasons why this album is my favorite of all time. Two of the foremost, though, are “No Woman, No Cry,” and “Redemption Song.” The latter is such an incredible statement of peaceful rebellion, of love and loss and a deep sense of the interconnectedness of things. And every time I listen to “No Woman, No Cry,” I like it more—especially the refrain “everything’s going to be all right” and the imperfections in Marley’s voice and the organ wheezing along with him and the final sentiment of bittersweet and … well, you get it. It’s just a great album.
R.E.M., Automatic for the People
I first heard this album during my senior year in high school, and it was the only CD that made it through my college years with me, as I sold off my CD collection several times back then to pay bills. This is one of those albums I can listen to again and again, over and over, and never get sick of—especially “Find a River,” which is the very best song of this incredible CD.
Concrete Blonde, Bloodletting
OK, OK, I admit I bought this album for the radio hit “Joey,” but even that great song has become one of my least favorites on the CD. It’s chock full of great songs—like “Caroline,” which is hands down the best song about a lost relationship I’ve ever heard; “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” and “The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden,” which seethe with something that makes me want to get up and sing. And “Tomorrow, Wendy,” with lyrics about the death of a friend that are so powerful I think they could burn a hole in the side of God. It’s amazing.
Paul Simon, Negotiations and Love Songs
It might be a little cheesy to put a compilation album on this list, but I don’t care. Every song on this wonderful album is perfect, and for some reason they sound even better while I’m driving long distance. Perfect for speeding down the road, singing songs like “Kodachrome” at the top of my lungs.
Fleetwood Mac, The Chain
Yes, this is another compilation album, but it’s a damn good one.
Beethoven · Nine Symphonies, Herbert von Karajan & the Berlin Philharmonic
Why Beethoven? Because Beethoven rocks! This is great emotional stuff. And you don’t need to be a classical droog to dig it.
Chuck Berry, The Great Twenty-Eight
The hippest of the hip big daddies of the ‘50s, Berry established the sound of rock ‘n’ roll. Influencing nearly all of the ‘60s’ big guns (Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones … hell, everyone!), intimating the nascence of hard rock, metal, punk, grunge and so on—none of these would have sprung up into glorious life without Chuck Berry. Hail, hail rock ‘n’ roll!
The Who, My Generation
The Kinks, The Village Green Preservation Society
Before it became a money-motivated, bloated mainstream rawk machine, The Who was on the cutting edge. And, like Chuck Berry before it, The Who suggested through its electrifying sound every loud riff band that followed.
And The Kinks’ album? Simply recorded, modestly produced, sparse of overdubs—Ray Davies captured the antithesis of the acid rock era with these witty, gentle little songs about old friends, photographs, steam-powered trains and the Almighty Himself. Nowhere else is Davies’ compassionate irony more subtle and enjoyable.
Kate Bush, The Kick Inside
With this debut disc, one of rock’s greatest composers here blasts away the boundaries and emerges as a truly original and creative talent. Her quavering five-octave range and her songs’ quirky subjects and arrangements paved the way for such dubious ‘90s “artists” as Tori Amos and Paula Cole. But here is the originator. Here is the best.
The Clash, London Calling
This, simply, is the brainiest punk record created by anyone, with subjects as diverse as the nuclear meltdown of London, the struggle between the fascists and the communists in ‘30s Spain, a terrific “sketch” of late actor Montgomery Clift, and the hollowness of power.
Thelonious Monk, Straight, No Chaser
One of the greatest jazz piano players of all-time releases a record that captures the majesty of his quartet. Reminds me of expensive liquor and Clint Eastwood.
Gorecki, Symphony No. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs)
The opening here contains one of the most moving orchestral (adagio) movements ever written; and while the entire piece has some dark subtext (the Holocaust), the music presents hope in the face of death, like a more subtle Mahler’s Ninth.
Neil Young, On the Beach
A vinyl classic from Young featuring darkly beautiful songs written after the untimely heroin overdose of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten. Reminds me of driving around the city aimlessly after getting my driver’s license.
The Pixies, Trompe Le Monde
One of the most influential of ‘80s college rock bands (birthing the ‘90s scene of Nirvana, et al.) scored with song after song of infectious pop-punk flavor. Also reminds me of partying inside the Hole in the Wall bar in Richmond, Va.
Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory
Essential hip-hop masterpiece that flows with help from legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter; this and Paul’s Boutique from the Beastie Boys remind me of dorm life during the first year of college.
Aretha Franklin, I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)
Seminal masterpiece from the original diva and undisputed Queen of Soul featuring hits like “Respect” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man"; reminds me of adolescent summer camp and first kisses at the University of Virginia.
Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street
The Byrds, Sweethearts of the Rodeo
Had to have one Stones album, and this may be my favorite. Songs like “Loving Cup,” “Sweet Virginia” and “Torn and Frayed” are just a few of the greats included here. And I had to mention Graham Parsons—one of the greatest songwriters ever in the psychedelic-country-rock vein.
Alison Krauss, Now That I’ve Found You
This is far and away the prettiest, most affecting CD I have had the pleasure to hear. Krauss’ voice is perfection, her fiddling awe-inspiring and her treatment of songs like “When You Say Nothing at All” is unparalleled. Even better, this is an album that doesn’t require a certain mood in the listener; it can sustain an upbeat mood or sooth a troubled spirit.
James Taylor, Greatest Hits
Taylor created a conundrum when he unleashed this year a second volume of his hits, including “Your Smiling Face” and “Secret O’ Life,” later entries into his body of work. But it is the first collection that remains the most truly Taylor. My favorite is “Walking Man"; I don’t know why. The guitar, the voice: What can I say? It’s Taylor at his soulful best, when girls wanted to bring him home and take care of him.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy
This slot was a competition among the best-of collections of Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Carole King, Simon and Garfunkel or Mary Chapin Carpenter, or Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home. But I’m going with Double Fantasy, which my mom and I spun over and over again when it first came out. (Think cleaning house to the tune of “Cleanup Time").
The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
Clearly the best Beach Boys album and likely one of the best albums ever made, Pet Sounds has so many layers of thought and talent to it that I’m still unraveling them. ("God Only Knows” only sounds simplistic, folks.) This is another of the albums I used to listen to when I was a little girl, and one of the first my husband and I discovered we both enjoy.
As Dion is my all-time favorite artist, I knew he had to be on here. I’m going with 1976’s Streetheart, which is not even regarded as one of his best works. But I literally wore out the cassette tape in high school and am awaiting shipment of the reissue of this album, which is part sexy, part sensual, part plaintive and all Dion. Almost all of his efforts are great, but there’s something about songs like "If I Can Just Get Through Tonight," sung the Dion way, that makes this album shoot to the top.