10 Favorite Albums

on June 6, 2013 in Journal, Music

I knew it wouldn’t take me long before I was again returning to the top ten brand of self analysis, and sure enough here I am. Even during the compiling of my favorite musical works which I posted earlier my mind was frequently making another list, that of my favorite albums. I’m not precisely sure why I make this distinction other than to say that having list that combined the two forms of music was far too difficult to rank without constantly contradicting myself. So, having no authority to answer to save the good Lord, who is probably annoyed at the vanity of these lists regardless of their content, I feel free to have two distinct lists and for no other reason than it pleases me that I should do so.
I think one of the themes that runs through the list, having had a much more difficult time narrowing it to ten than on my previous effort, is the strong lyrical content. I am very much in love with poetry and many of the albums here listed are very strong on that count. As before I have to stipulate to a couple of criteria I have set for myself before beginning my list. I have chosen these albums as whole works and many albums were left off of this list not so much for my lack of fondness for them, but rather because they did not have the top to bottom cohesiveness that these have. In other words if I had a list of favorite songs many would be from albums not here listed. Because of this stipulation I have excluded greatest hits and other compilation albums leading to the absence of works like Bon Jovi’s Cross Road and Kris Kristofferson’s 16 greatest hits. With the preface complete these are my ten favorite albums as I find them today.

10. My Private Nation by Train

My Private nation

“When it rains it pours and opens doors
And floods the floors we thought would always keep us safe and dry
And in the midst of sailing ships we sink our lips into the ones we love
That have to say goodbye”

It’s lines like this that elevate what would otherwise be just another pop rock band lost amidst the depressing chaos of modern music to wondrous heights. By far the most contemporary album on my list I have always felt that Train has been done a great disservice by the marketing of their work. I cannot deny the appeal of the witty banter of their playfully upbeat and catchy singles but I think it often distracts from the true quality of their work. For anyone who dismisses this band for their popularity and radio friendly image I’d say look past all the Hey Soul Sisters and the Drops of Jupiters and find the Mississippis and Lincoln Avenues that are hiding on these albums.

Favorite Songs: My Private Nation, Lincoln Avenue, Following Rita

9. Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

Astral Weeks

After the crafted lyricism of My Private Nation Astral Weeks can appear a bit chaotic but for all its apparent discord there is something very unifying about this impressionistic work. An album that I fear would have no chance of being published today there is a wonderful stream of conscience element to the lyrics that seem to defy interpretation. I always like to turn this album on and just let my mind wander wherever it wants. I really enjoy the jazz and folk elements particularly when the flute peeks in quietly. This album lets you dive in and find things you never thought you were looking for when you do.

Favorite songs: Astral Weeks, Cyprus Avenue, Slim Slow Slider

8. A Trick of the Tail by Genesis

A trick of the tail

“Forever caught in desert lands one has to learn
To disbelieve the sea”

I have my uncle Steve to thank for this entry. Tony Banks and the now Peter Gabriel-less Genesis really go above and beyond with this work both musically and lyrically. It’s a bitter sweet listen having to reach back in time to find this level of musicianship. I told myself I wasn’t going to let this list devolve into complaints about the parade of unfortunate currently spilling out of the radio so I’ll try to keep myself on course. Over all this is another entry in the Genesis catalogue that really enticed my ear to really listen to the album as a whole. I considered putting The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in this spot, and despite the fact that I really love that conceptual and expansive work the tangential and rambling narrative seems to sometimes distract itself, which I’m sure was the point. The deciding factor for me was the mastery that I believe allows A Trick of the Tail to have so much more to say than its distorted fairy tales would let on.

Favorite songs: Dance on a Volcano, Squonk, Mad Man Moon

7. In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra

In the wee small hours

“My cigarette burns me, I wake with a start;
My hand isn’t hurt, but there’s pain in my heart.
Awake or asleep, ev’ry mem’ry I’ll keep
Deep in a dream of you.”

For anyone who wants to defend the position that it’s the singer and not the song that matters this album is your battle standard. That’s not to say that these songs are not undeniably wonderful, but for someone such as myself to cherish so highly a work where the performer had little or nothing to do with the writing of the songs he performed indicates how strongly I believe Frank Sinatra’s heart wrenching performance was indeed the breath of life that gives this album its power. By power of course I mean the crushing weight that this album carries with it throughout. This album is a very personal one for me and can be a strangely comforting companion in sadness. I guess it would seem a bit strange to seek out this album when sad as you would think it would compound the issue to a crippling level, but I’ve always felt that simply diving into that feeling and exploring it helped far more than trying to cure it with the distractions of an upbeat or uplifting distraction.

Favorite songs: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Deep in a Dream, I’ll be Around

6. Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf

Bat out of hell

“The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling
Way down in the valley tonight
There’s a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye
And a blade shining oh so bright”

For all of the serious in the world sometimes you just need to be a teenager again even if only for a moment and I can’t think of anything in music that captures the epic, turbulent, self-destructive, reckless, irreverent, careless, and free spiritedness of that age than Meatloaf and Jim Steinman’s riotous anthems. Eight and nine minute titans sing out with their tongues set firmly in their cheek and with total disregard for the song structures of the music of the day, an inspiration I have proudly assimilated into my own work. Jim Steinman, whether or not you approve of his bombastic and over the top approach, paints with many a skillful musical touch that are the hallmarks of not just his work on the Bat Out of Hell trilogy but all of his work. All the fireworks and thunder of a classic rock album with one of the saddest and truest songs I know.

Favorite songs: Bat Out of Hell, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, Paradise by the Dashboard Light

5. The Stranger by Billy Joel

The Stranger

“Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and
Show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on”

Anyone who knows me knows that Billy Joel was going to be on this list somewhere the only question being where and which album and I want it known that the album choice was not as simple as it might appear. Ultimately I couldn’t deny the power of The Stranger, but Turnstiles and the much underappreciated(in my opinion) Streetlife Serenade made very strong showings as well. I cannot say how much I love the way Billy Joel plays the piano. He’s so creative and fluid that if it weren’t for the power of awe I’d be extremely jealous. I also appreciate how his writing seems to avoid, because of his willingness to allow a song to develop naturally, classification. Music has become all about “what does it sound like” and try to nail artists into a genre. When they don’t quite fit they say things like “he’s a rocker who sings ballads” or, “he’s a pop star with a bit of rock crossover” of course none of this covers his fifties rock work, doo-wop, blues, jazz, orchestral, and myriad of other pieces and works he’s done. I don’t know if it’s the case, but I’ve always thought he was more interested in writing the songs he wanted than how they were received or catalogued.

Favorite songs: The Stranger, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, She’s always a Woman

4. Nether Lands by Dan Fogelberg

Nether Lands

“Seldom seen
A scarecrow’s dream
I hang in the hopes of replacement
Castles tall
I built them all
But I dream that I’m trapped in
the basement.”

If I have any aspirations as a lyricist one of them will inevitably be to have half as much skill as a wordsmith as Dan Fogelberg. The poetry of his songs, this album in particular, is absolutely stunning. Perhaps the falsetto on the song Nether Lands doesn’t age as well as the rest of the album and maybe even dates the work in a small way, but this is less than a footnote on a work that can be looked at just as much as a collection of poetry as an album of music. I don’t mean to say that the music is in any way superficial it’s rather the opposite. The songs from a musical standpoint appear to work as a cohesive unit, I would have to do a much more detailed listening than I’ve done in some time to say with certainty how, but even the most passive of listens can’t but conjure a strange continuity to the tracks.

Favorite songs: Dancing Shoes, Loose Ends, Scarecrow’s Dream

3. Who’s Next by The Who

Who's Next

“Out here in the fields
I farm for my meals
I get my back into my living.
I don’t need to fight
To prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven.”

After much internal debate I went with this album instead of the iconic rock opera Tommy. What gave this album the edge is, while I initially stipulated that the albums were to be looked at as a whole, this one works just as well in its parts as it does as a whole whereas Tommy does not. This is the quintessential rock album as far as I’m concerned and for evidence you need look no further than its titanic opening track Baba O’Riley. I think this is also the strongest collaborative effort for the band as a whole. From Keith Moon mercilessly attacking the drums to John Entwistle getting a chance to stretch his song writing muscles to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend at the height of their respective skills there’s nothing about this album that I don’t like.

2. I Robot by The Alan Parsons Project

I Robot

“Sooner or later when your big chances come,
You’ll look for the catches but there’ll be none.
Remember before you grab the money and run
That someone is watching you…(he’s gonna get you)…”

My piano teacher Dave Clark introduced me to The Alan Parsons project way before I was old enough to understand what the heck was going on. I think he gave me more credit for maturity than I deserved. However, I held on to this album for a couple of years revisiting it every once and awhile trying to find out what he was raving about so often. Then suddenly one day it just clicked and music was never the same again. This album is every bit as much an experience as it is a collection of songs. I love Tales of Mystery and Imagination nearly as much but this one is in a whole other league in my book. This work lingers with me every time I listen to it and I am honestly chilled when I hear The Voice.

Favorite songs: Some Other Time, Don’t Let it Show, The Voice

1. Rain Dogs by Tom Waits

Rain Dogs

“Hey little bird,
fly away home
Your house is on fire,
children are alone”

I was so very tempted to put the entire trinity (Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank’s Wild Years) in this spot but just managed to restrain myself. While I feel that the three albums can and should be listened to in concert and so wonderfully compliment and complete one another I had to admit Rain Dogs is unique even amongst its brethren. I guess if I may be permitted a totally classless comparison, for which I hope to be forgiven by Tom Waits should he ever hear about this, it’s like the original Star Wars trilogy while all good Empire Strikes Back is in a class by itself. Tom Waits is perhaps not easily accessible to many, I could perhaps even go so far as to say most, but many of his works are filled with a musical genius that I fear has gone extinct in the world coupled with incomparable poetry this album and I Robot were the only elements of this list that ranked themselves without need for debate.

3 Responses to “Favorite Music Pieces”

  1. Sarah VB says:

    I think I remember watching something on VH-1 (Behind the Music, probably) that said that Bat Out of Hell was originally intended as a rock opera for an updated Peter Pan storyline. Sometimes I wonder how that would have played out onstage.

    • Bowdoin says:

      I vaguely remember seeing that as well. I don’t think there is enough narrative in the Bat out of Hell trilogy to actually stage anything directly from the songs, but if there is some grand epic plot line that ties them all together I’d be the first in line to see that fireworks display.

  2. Fan #24601 says:

    “Bowdoin has a gift for choosing and arranging his words in an iambic pentameter-y way so that there’s a mellifluous flow to the words” – Devon Jackson. He’s not wrong there! However I don’t agree with this bit: “What was less effective was the music, which is a bit flat.” I thought that the music was lovely, and really enjoyed the it. In fact, on more than one occasion I have wished to myself for there to be instrumental versions of the song. Being 100% honest, it’s partially because I love the music, and partially because I want to do karaoke with the songs… 😀

Leave a Reply