For those who are not long time readers, I have mentioned my retreat into music in prior blog entries. I grew up in Central Illinois with seasonal allergies that made breathing outside a problem several months of the years. Imagine being allergic to pollen and dust and growing up in a small town surrounded by cornfields and soybeans. Get the picture? I spent a great deal of time in doors when pollen was at its worst. Music and books were my retreat from the enemy environment during those periods. I first began to dig into my parents music collection and got hooked on The Eagles, The Grass Roots, Helen Reddy, and Gary Puckett (and the Union Gap), among others.
As music is still an important part of my life, I’ve decided to examine some of my favorite albums. Bear in mind while reading this list, I am not creating a “Best Albums of All Time” list. Those types of lists are just as subjective as my own list here and just as much bullshit. These are some of the several hundred albums that have spoken to me over the years and captured my imagination and emotions. While some of the artists listed below may have gone on to greater success, bigger hits and more radio play with other albums, this isn’t one of those types of lists. Further, there is no number 1 or number 10 with regard to how this list was constructed. Clear enough? Thanks.
Oleta Adams – Rhythm of Life: This debut release from Oleta Adams joined my music collection after I heard her cover of Brenda Russell's "Get Here." I played this cassette until I wore it out. While the hit "Get Here" is beautifully sung and orchestrated, songs like "Will We Ever Learn" and "Rhythm of Life" are far better offerings and the reason I keep coming back to this release. Fortunately, my iPod can handle the wear.
Stevie Nicks– The Wild Heart: In 1983, this album spoke to the poet in me and kept on talking. I spent hours listening to it on cassette and still play it on my iPod often. I even took the original cassette with me to the Gulf War in 1990/1991. Songs like "Nightbird", "Gate and Garden" and "Enchanted" define this work, in addition to hits like "Stand Back", "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" and "If Anyone Falls." As a result of this album, I became a lifelong Stevie Nicks fan which extended toward Buckingham Nicks, Fleetwood Mac and the entire catalog of band members reaching back to the Peter Green days. My sole tattoo was inspired by the song “Nightbird”, from this album.
Rhythm Corps – Common Ground: This is, as Alicia Silverstone's character "Cher" in the move Clueless opined, "complaint rock." While this album may not be everyone's cup of tea, I was hooked instantly when I saw the video for the title track. I played it ad nauseum for years and still dust if off now and then when I get the itch. 22 years later and I still wonder today, with so much anger and hate consuming our collective psyche, "can we meet on common ground, are our views so far apart, that there's no room to be found…"
Lone Justice – Shelter: Lone Justice caught my attention in a Record Bar in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I heard "Shelter" playing on the overhead and asked the cashier about it. I bought the cassette on the spot and was a fan immediately. Depending on the listener, Lone Justice has been described as a mix of country rock, cowpunk, and rockabilly. All I know is that this album grabbed hold of me in a way I did not expect. Since replacing the cassette version with a digital download, I've rediscovered what made this band so appealing back then.
Rush – A Farewell to Kings: I first came across this album at a garage sale. The cover depicted a marionette dressed as a king sitting on throne surrounded by rubble. The image was striking and it caught my attention. I gambled 50 cents or so on it and have been a lifelong Rush fan ever since. “Closer to the Heart” began what has become a permanent fixation with this group, leading me to purchase everything in their catalog – and then some. Over the years, I’ve become a big fan of progressive rock and you’ll find several bands in that subgenre in my collection.
Juluka – Stand Your Ground: I picked up this cassette at a pawn shop in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The rhythms, bilingual lyrics and instrumentation captured my interest and led me to further explore Savuka and then Johnny Clegg's solo work as well. Songs like "Bullets for Bafazane", "December African Rain", "Kilamanjaro" and my personal favorite "Look Into the Mirror" are frequent fliers on my iPod and during my commute…”Umhlaba waphenduka kulonyaka.”
Everything But The Girl – The Language of Life: I first heard "Imagining America" on BBC Radio while sitting in the dark of the desert in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. During a trip to Al Jubayl to pick up mail for our compaound, I was lucky enough to score a copy of the album at an AAFES tent. I was infatuated with Tracey Thorn's smooth and seductive vocals and Ben Watt's songwriting contributions. While the album is a little over polished in places, there isn't a bad track to be found. 20 years later and I still get a little intoxicated when Tracey's voice oozes, "On a clear day, you can see the sea from your place…"
U2 – Wide Awake In America: As my friend Kevin Norris once said, U2 is actually two bands – the one you hear on the studio album and the live experience. While I've been a U2 fan since I saw the video for "I Will Follow" on Friday Night Videos, this album sticks out for me as a personal favorite. The passion and energy of the lyrics for both "Bad" and "A Sort of Homecoming" come across even more amplified on these live versions. While it has been 25 years since this EP has been released, “I'm not sleeping, oh no, no, no…”
The Church – Gold Afternoon Fix: Many of you may not be very familiar with The Church with exception of their song “Under the Milky Way”. I bought a copy of “Starfish”, the album containing that song and became interested in this Australian band. However, I didn’t become a true fan until “Gold Afternoon Fix”. While some readers may be familiar with tracks like “Metropolis” and “You’re Still Beautiful”, the real gems on this release are songs like “Russian Autumn Heart”, “The City”, “Essence” and the awesomely titled “Terra Nova Cain”. This album led me to their prior and later releases. The band now occupies a significant amount of space on my iPod. While I was unable to catch them in concert for “Gold Afternoon Fix”, I was able to see them at a local club (The Birchmere) than they’d have played back in the day. I believe that stripped down and more intimate concert experience was undoubtedly superior to any stadium show they’d have done on prior tours.
Styx – Cornerstone: As with Rush and Stevie Nicks, I have spent countless hours playing Styx albums. While I have their entire catalog (and most solo/new band efforts), Cornerstone is the album that made me a lifelong Styx fan. I became interested in Cornerstone after listening to “Eddie” and “Borrowed Time” on a jukebox in a pool hall located in the small town where I was raised. Songs like “Lights” and “Borrowed Time” still bring me back to those days, in that small town, when my old tape recorder and plugin speaker was all I needed to get lost in the music.