Top 5 CDs You Should Own, But Don’t

This list isn’t aimed at anybody in particular…but at least three of the selections were prominenly involved in a recent conversation I had with Adam Say in which we agreed, stupidly, that we need to go CD shopping with one another and call each other out on at least three occasions. If this isn’t the worst idea in the history of the world (apart from mine and Bri’s now-abortive trip to New York City to see U2) I don’t know what is: while Adam and I have both been blessed with many gifts, a great deal of common sense is not one of them…and daring each other to buy Alexisonfire or Tom Waits albums because the other said so is a recipe for disaster. Yet it’s going to happen, just as surely as Adam is going to turn up at formal events dressed as a member of KoRn. On to the list!

  • Tom Waits, Rain Dogs. The blog entry devoted to the merits of this album is forthcoming…promise! I’ve listened to Rain Dogs about once a day for the past week, and no matter how often I hear “Clap Hands” or “Hang Down Your Head” or “9th and Hennepin” (a song that nearly drove Heather Johnson to suicide this past summer) it still gives me a lump that wedges itself somewhere between my throat and my gut. Tom Waits writes mindfuck music–I can think of no better word to describe it; if ever I develop a serious heroin addiction and start hanging out with boxcar hobos in the back lot of a broke-down carnival, this is the music I would want to accompany my death from too many bitters and not enough tattooed blondes.
  • Pearl Jam, No Code. The Pearl Jam album that time forgot, but which might just be the band’s finest contribution to 90s music (and yes, that includes Ten, which might just be the decade’s most overrated album no matter how much ass it kicks). No Code was originally viewed as a departure; it should now be seen as a dramatic fork in the road, the album that signalled Pearl Jam leaving behind the sound with which people associate the band (think “Alive”, think “Daughter”, think “Better Man”) and exploring new and dramatic sonic vistas. Harvest-era Neil Young? Check (“Off He Goes”). Soaring, Middle Eastern inspired chanting? Check (“Who You Are”). Minute-long punk songs? Check (“Lukin”). Weird studio wankery? Check (“I’m Open”). Straightforward rock? Check yet again (“Hail, Hail”). This is one of the most diverse albums you’ll ever hear, and while it doesn’t have a single bona fide radio hit (“Hail, Hail” is probably the closest thing, and I defy anbody who reads this blog to hum me a line from that song) it does contain two of the most gorgeous tunes in the Pearl Jam catalogue: “Around the Bend” and “Present Tense”. Also–and this is purely personal–the opening track, “Sometimes”, is the first Pearl Jam song I ever heard live (and their cover of “Rockin’ in the Free World” is the most recent…and what that has to do with No Code I don’t pretend to know).
  • Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska. Bruce Springsteen recorded this album in his kitchen…I mean, how boss is that? According to legend he recorded a bunch of demos, brought them to the E Street Band–and then when he didn’t like what he heard, decided to release them as is. The result is an album so simple, so stark, so direct that its power is multiplied ten-fold. The songs on the album tell of desperate people the American Dream left in its wake, people going desperate lenghts and taking desperate measures to give themselves a pulse…and failing more often than not. Just a beautiful, gut-wrenching album–and “My Father’s House” is a candidate for the saddest song ever written.
  • The Who, Quadrophenia. Alright…now, the Who have released more than their fair share of great albums, but Quadrophenia, for all its plaudits, is still something of an underappreciated masterpeice (and, granted, seeing as it followed on the heels of Tommy, Live at Leeds and Who’s Next–maybe the greatest 1-2-3 punch a band has ever given us–that isn’t exactly surprising). Ask any Who fan, however, and they’ll invariably tell you that Quadrophenia is among their most cherished albums–and there’s a good reason for that. A collection of songs that tell the story of a boy named Jimmy and his four competing personalities–each one based on a member of the Who–this is rock n’ roll at its most pure, as a declarative statement of youthful anger, frustration, impotence, yearning and hope. Pete Townshend’s best songs are those that articulate an indefinable emptiness, yet that simultaneously speak to an optimism the writer cannot quite locate; perhaps the ultimate such song is “Love Reign O’er Me”, which brings Quadrophenia to its staggering conclusion–when Roger Daltry starts singing the song’s bridge and the other three band members fall into perfect sync, it is one of the most genuinely shocking moments in Who history. The first rock album I ever owned, and still a frequent denizen of my CD player.
  • The Chieftains with Van Morrison, Irish Heartbeat. This is yet another of those albums from my youth which, along with Graceland, Born in the U.S.A. and the Miami Vice soundtrack, provided musical accompaniment to endless car rides from Thunder Bay to Minneapolis, Oshkosh WI, Toronto…as long as my parents and me were in a car together, you could guarantee that these albums would all be present and accounted for. Irish Heartbeat is a gorgeous album, the kind you put on when you’re in a blissed out state of being and want to let the warm feelings rush over you. The version of “Carrickfergus” on here is one of my personal all-time musical highlights.

So there you have it. I tried filling this entry with more superlatives than any previous blog entry I’ve written–and to that end, I feel as though I’ve succeeded. Gotta run out to Staples…well, shower first, Staples second. Take it easy yo.

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2 thoughts on “Top 5 CDs You Should Own, But Don’t

  1. present tense is my favorite PJ song, and with good reason. I could probably hum you a few bars of “Hail, hail”, but I’ll hold it back – I’d hate to disappoint the hard work that you put into such a dedicated entry!

    I’m looking forward to the Rain Dogs salute
    me

  2. You’re the exception to that statement, Miss Johnson, although your admitted lack of knowledge where No Code is concerned is a definite strike against your otherwise unblemished musical c.v. Of course, the fact I’m even having this argument–whether or not my girlfriend can hum me a line from “Hail, Hail”–is making my very large head spin on its axis.

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