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10 Indispensable Albums

10 Indispensable Albums

So I accepted this challenge on Facebook where you post ten indispensable albums, one a day. Here are the albums I chose, along with the text I posted on FB (with some edits). I consolidated them into one list for the blog format, also figuring I should save the information somewhere that doesn’t belong to the android overlord of social media.

So without further ado, here are my top ten indispensable albums.

1) Jesus Christ Superstar

My first experiences with music were listening to my parents’ record collection. They had a lot of old albums that I remember, but the one that I remember most fondly is the 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. They had the double LP set, with Sides 1 and 4 on one record and sides 2 and 3 on the other, so you could play them on a turntable with a record changer. My sister and I knew all the lyrics and would sing along together. This was actually a concept album before it became a Broadway musical, and as a musical is still produced to this day. It’s a brilliant work that has stood the test of time.

2)We’re An American Band

My generation grew up on rock and roll, and was greatly influenced by the music made by the generation that came before us – the Baby Boomers. We call that music “classic rock” now, and there are a ton of possible choices that might go on a Gen-Xer’s list of indispensable albums. I chose this one: We’re an American Band by Grand Funk (Railroad). It was also in my parents’ collection; they had one of the original gold foil copies, and I listened to it from an early age. I think this album captures perfectly the energy, attitude, and ambition of the young Boomer generation. I still have it on CD and pop it into my car stereo when I need to get my blood flowing.

3)Space Ritual

Here’s where my list of indispensable albums starts to veer away from the ordinary. When I was in high school some friends introduced me to the progressive rock/space rock/acid rock/whatever you want to call them rock band Hawkwind. I was instantly hooked on them. It’s not that they are that impressive musically; I just loved their weird style, their use of electronics, and the psychedelic and science fiction themes in their songs. And I’m telling you, until you’ve listened to Hawkwind’s epic live double album Space Ritual with your headphones on in a dark room in an altered state of mind, you have not truly experienced the mystery and majesty of this Universe.

4)Angel’s Egg

After being introduced to Hawkwind, I started getting into more alternative rock music, especially what was coming out of Europe. There’s a lot of interesting stuff from this time period (late 60s through 70s), but as for indispensable, I would have to pick the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy by Gong. This is a three album series that tells a strange mythological tale involving, among other things, magic tea, extraterrestrials and mystical prostitutes. A wonderful expression of the spirit of its age, it is playful, humorous, and – to me at least – has a profound spiritual message. The second album, Angel’s Egg, is the centerpiece and my favorite of the three.

5)Liege & Lief

So what makes an album indispensable, I think, is that you’ve listened to it many times, never tire of it, and feel that the world would be a lesser place without it. With that in mind, I have to include Liege & Lief, by Fairport Convention. This folk rock album features adaptations of traditional Celtic music and the enchanting singing voice of Sandy Denny. It is an all-time favorite of mine.

6)Extraterrestrial Live

When I was in high school my friend Joe Webb introduced me to my next indispensable album, Extraterrestrial Live by Blue Öyster Cult. It’s the second live album I’ve put on this list. I guess there can be something in a particular concert performance that makes it memorable and unrepeatable and better than a studio album, and this is one example. And of course it has the sci-fi/fantasy appeal that is a staple of heavy metal music. This double LP set has so many great numbers – Black Blade, Godzilla, Don’t Fear the Reaper, Joan Crawford, and my all-time favorite, Veteran of the Psychic Wars.

7)The Dreaming

There is a lot of music from high school days on my list of indispensable albums. It just goes to show how the impressions made in your formative years are the ones that stay with you. And here’s an astounding album that has made a lasting impression on me: The Dreaming by the inimitable Kate Bush. It’s so uniquely creative, and every song is a gem.

8)Joe’s Garage

This next indispensable album might not appeal to all tastes. Frankly (heh), it’s obnoxious and crass and has lyrics that would get an artist ratioed and hashtagged into oblivion in today’s social climate. But it fit into its time, which was a much more free-wheeling age.

I’m talking about the brilliant satirical rock opera Joe’s Garage, by Frank Zappa. I want to listen to it many more times before I die, and when I do die, you can play this song – which features the greatest guitar solo in history – at my funeral.

9)Beaucoup Fish

Suddenly I’m jumping ahead two decades to 1999. What about all the wondrous varieties of rock music of the 80s and 90s? Well, I can appreciate it and admire it, but none of it made it to…indispensable. Maybe if this was a top 20 list.

Plus, at some point later in life, I started getting heavily into electronic music, so that genre gets the last two of the ten albums.

Now, for electronic music, I actually have an indispensable band, and that band would be Underworld. They are just freaking amazing in their mixing skills and their composition and tempo – and what’s even better is they’re still active and producing as much as ever. Just follow them on Spotify for endless fresh tracks. They’ve had a lot of great stuff since the early 90s, but if I had to live with just one of their albums, then that album would be Beacuoup Fish.

10)Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost

My number 10 indispensable album is a probably obscure psychedelic trance masterpiece by electronic musical project Shpongle. It’s title is Nothing Lasts… But Nothing Is Lost, which is taken from William Blake and speaks to the ineffable mysteries of time and consciousness. It’s a work of genius, a dream journey in an electronic and world music soundscape that is utterly entrancing and profound. That’s my opinion, anyway; I think it’s one of the best albums in its genre. It is best listened to in its entirety as one continuous piece, which you can only approximate on YouTube.

11)Illinoise

That’s right, my top ten list goes to eleven.

Most of the albums were from the way back, when I was first developing my attachment to music. But I really do appreciate the more recent waves of artists as well, so here is one more. My eleventh and final indispensable album of this list is Illinoise, by the quirky, creative indie musician Sufjan Stevens. He is a multi-talented virtuoso, and while his albums can be hit or miss as he genre-hops, this is one that I never tire of hearing.

Love at the Center

Love at the Center

I discovered the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore by listening to the music CD A Gift of Love II. This is the second of a pair of albums by New Age author Deepak Chopra which put to music love poetry read by an ensemble of notable guest speakers (the first album uses the poetry of Rumi and is just as good). Tagore is considered to be a national treasure by the people of India, and from the great wisdom of his very quotable sayings it is easy to see why.

When I contemplate his many teachings, I find that I truly believe what the master says about love – that it is the ultimate meaning of life. For when the unity of consciousness, which is the ground of all being, separates into the duality of subjective observer and experienced world, it creates a yearning for reunion. This desire propels the Universal Will as it seeks higher and higher forms of expression within consciousness. Thus, love is the very reason for existence.

When you love, you are extending your conception of what you are, what belongs to you, outward into the world. You are expanding your ego-identity. Love is seated in the 4th chakra – anahata – which manages emotions, the confluence of your mental and vital natures. In other words, the meaning of your life. Anahata is the central chakra, and so love is central to your being. It radiates out from you in every worshipful act.

Keep that in mind, and love.

Millennials Rock

Millennials Rock

One thing I love about Vampire Weekend is that the two leads who formed the band are Jewish (Ezra Koenig), and of Iranian descent (Rostam Batmanglij). It’s like they represent the great hope of America – that people of all origins, even countries which are geopolitical enemies, are recognized for their common humanity and given equal opportunity to pursue their happiness. And what more American way to pursue happiness than to form an indie rock band?

If you haven’t heard them, you should check them out. They’re one of the best of the rock bands that the Millennial generation has produced. And considering how many generations of rock and roll there have been, they have a lot to live up to – I mean, all the great classic rockers are from a few generations before. Now, Rostam has recently left Vampire Weekend – on friendly terms – which means he wasn’t there when we got to see them last week.

Yes. that’s right, I was really just posting this to humblebrag about attending a hip indie rock concert with my BFF and her son. It was at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, and the crowd was huge, and energetic, and twenty to thirty years younger than us. We paid $10 for cans of beer and stood up and danced and were up way past our bedtime.

The opening act was the very talented blues guitarist Kingfish. He played old school rock with virtuosity, like a reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix. I actually felt like I had been transported back in time to Woodstock. This guy is only 20 years old, so he is a prodigy.

When the main attraction came out, the crowd leaped to its feet. The band kept the energy going through a long set, which included old and new material, as well as a couple of covers.

I must have looked foolish – a fiftysomething man bouncing around like he thought it was 1989 and he was at a Grateful Dead concert – but I didn’t care. For the encore, the band took requests, and the crew threw a couple of big inflated balls into the audience for us to toss around. It was so much fun.

As for the music, well, the way we see it, the songs of Vampire Weekend are all Millennial anthems. They perfectly capture the zeitgeist of their generation – anxious, questioning, dissatisfied with adult life after being raised with high expectations.

The chorus from their latest hit says it all, I think. When I hear it, I hear the Millennial generation’s disappointment in the corruption of the institutions run by their elders. They long to make the world a better place. But for now, all they can do is sing.

And the stone walls of Harmony Hall bear witness
Anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight
Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified
I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die

Vampire Weekend, Harmony Hall
Today’s Shut-In Album: 50 Words For Snow

Today’s Shut-In Album: 50 Words For Snow

It’s a day to stay in, sheltered from the cold and feeling sickly. The perfect album for this quiet afternoon is 50 Words for Snow, from Kate Bush, released in 2011 and to date her latest studio album. Like her previous release, Aerial, the album reflects the maturation of the artist’s style, which has become more contemplative, and deeper in meaning, even as her voice has lowered with age. It’s slow and calm, heavy on the piano, with long-playing songs that take their time to develop, building to gentle crescendos and expressing subtle emotion. You almost need the muffled stillness of a snowy day to truly appreciate the music, and I always look forward to listening to it when such a day comes along.

Here is an excerpt, but do yourself a favor and listen to the whole album.

 

In The Zeitgeist With Lady Gaga

In The Zeitgeist With Lady Gaga

I think Lady Gaga is a very talented singer-songwriter, and perhaps underappreciated as a musical artist because there is so much focus on her popularity, branding, and extravagant performance art. I wanted to take a look at some of the songs off of her 2016 album “Joanne” and the ways in which they reflect the Millennial zeitgeist. Lady Gaga (real name Stefani Germanotta) is a Millennial herself, born in 1986 in Manhattan, New York.

The first song to consider is “Come to Mama,” which is like a loving call for a regeneracy mood and an end to the Culture Wars partisan divide. The lyrics refer to divisions of opinion, which could line up with the left v. right split in politics. The chorus evokes the image of a mother with arms outstretched, calling to a child who is crying after a playground quarrel.

So why do we gotta fight over ideas?
We’re talkin’ the same old shit after all of these years
Come to mama
Tell me who hurt ya
There’s gonna be no future
If we don’t figure this out
Oh, come tomorrow
Who are you gonna follow?
There’s gonna be no future
If we don’t figure this out

Mama acknowledges that the child has a grievance but insists that differences must be worked out, as we have been fighting for far too long. I can just picture Lady Gaga reaching out to hug and comfort all the Trump supporters who are upset over the way the world has turned out. Then next all the social justice warriors who can’t stand any opinion that a Trump supporter might have.

The next song to look at is “Angel Down.” This is a lament about the tragedy of gun violence and our society’s inability to cope with it. The setting chosen for the act of violence is the street by a church, and the lyrics speak to the lack of engagement in our society (we used to meet at the church) and the failure of social media to substitute for more traditional institutions in providing moral grounding. We are spectators to the disintegration of society, unable to respond effectively.

I confess I am lost
In the age of the social
On our knees, take a test
To be lovin’ and grateful

Shots were fired on the street
By the church where we used to meet
Angel down, angel down
But the people just stood around

It is like a protest song, but where a Boomer protest song would have castigated the existing leadership, this Millennial song cries out for leadership that is not there.

I’m a believer, it’s chaos
Where are our leaders?
Oh, oh, oh
I’d rather save an angel down

The last song to examine is “Grigio Girls,” which is on the deluxe edition of the album. A Millennial woman sings about a Gen-X friend and mentor who supported her through her quarter-life crisis. She looked up to her friend, admiring how she was able to thrive despite the chaos of the world, and learning from her the Xer art of being still in your personal space and just chilling out.

I was twenty-three
She was thirty-five
I was spiralling out
And she was so alive
A Texas girl real strong
Taught me this strong song

On this foundation she erects her support network, gathering with her peers to share alcohol (the social drug) and have a safe space to vent. In a world of overwrought emotion, you must find a way to keep cool.

So when I’m feeling small
I toss that cork and call
All the Pinot, Pinot Grigio girls
Pour your heart out
Watch your blues turn gold
All the Pinot, Pinot Grigio girls
Keep it real cold
‘Cause it’s a fired-up world

She celebrates the camaraderie of conventional young women gathering and having a conventionally good time.

So we’ll turn on a bachelorette
Dye Ashley’s hair red
And then we’ll have our sixth
Spice girl in this bitch

This song has a deeper personal meaning for the artist, whose middle name, by the way, is Joanne. She explains her intended meaning in this interview:

http://news.radio.com/2016/10/22/lady-gaga-sonia-grigio-girls/