Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Six Favorite Music Albums

I still have this player. It still works. (And so does the zither.)
I wasn't exposed to very much music as a child, except for a toy record player, TV theme songs, and a Zippy Zither. My parents didn't listen to music on the radio. However, around the holidays, dad would pull out a large record player and we'd get to hear music. This included some of the early Beatles albums, a Perry Como Christmas album, and a Bing Crosby Christmas album. In third grade, a friend played Poison's first album for me in his house one time, and I can remember hearing the choruses of both Born To Run and Living On A Prayer a few years after. But other than the songs we sang in choir at school, that was it for me and music.

Hardworking upright British lads
Then in 1988, I first heard Def Leppard's Hysteria, thanks to Nick Osterholt bringing it along to summer camp; he played it on his portable stereo cassette player at several of the meals which our Boy Scout patrol ate that week. I was entranced, certain that I liked the album more than the rest of our patrol. I even recall requesting it at meals it was absent from (to no avail, for I was the youngest, and I was the new guy). I didn't own any music recordings at this time, other than some cassette tapes filled with stuff I'd recently recorded off of some pop radio stations. When I arrived home, I quickly asked my parents for the album. They said I'd have to wait for Christmas. Unfortunately, the albums they ended up giving me were not the right ones. On my next birthday, I made sure they got the right album, and afterwards, I listened to nothing else for nearly two years. Every night, the headphones were cranked as I lay in my bed for an hour before falling asleep. And even as an adult, I feel that Hysteria is a perfectly assembled sonic machine.

Lazy energetic American goofballs
At the end of 1990, I joined the "BMG Music Club" and quickly built up a large collection of cassette tapes through the mail. One morning in 1993, I was finishing up packing, preparing to leave for another summer camp in a few hours, when I decided to open up a BMG package that was sitting around. I pushed one of the tapes into my portable cassette player and listened to it turn, and I didn't take Van Halen's Van Halen out of that machine once during the whole week. Every chance I had, I listened to it. It was the coolest thing I'd ever heard. That week, we went to the mountains of Colorado, and I'll never forget the majestic views combined with that soundtrack. I'd climb up to some high ridge overlooking a distant stream, and just meditate on the Van Halen vibe. It was beautiful.

These 2 collages are inside of the vinyl record cover.
One year earlier, I was in relationship that only lasted 5 months. Much of the music we played for each other took on a deep significance that still reminds me of how I felt when we were in love. She played Michael Jackson's Thriller and Heart's Dreamboat Annie for me. I played Bonnie Raitt's The Bonnie Raitt Collection and Foreigner's Records for her. We both liked Hysteria. Now, I had heard Thriller before, but Dreamboat Annie was new to me. Four years later, I bought it on a whim at a used music store. And it quickly became my third favorite album. The band was very tight and the music was very lyrical. Recorded by two passionate couples - the two guitarists, and the singer and the producer - the album was a meditation on romantic longing through rose-colored glasses.

After this, he grew a beard and never shaved it off. Sigh.
During the first half of the 1990's, I had been digging the vibe and music of the Allman Brothers. Then, in college, I came across the cool packaging design of Ozzy Osbourne's award-winning live album. I bought it and was suddenly exposed to Zakk Wylde. He sounded awesome and looked awesome. I listened to it daily for more than a month. Imagine my surprise that Ozzy and the Allmans had a love-child, and that it was Zakk. For in 1997, I was shocked by the country-metal eloquence of his second solo release, Book Of Shadows. It became my new best friend - an acoustic album by an iconic heavyweight which embodied sorrow, strength, and mercy. With innovative song structures, sincere power, and graceful humility, I had found my fourth favorite album.

Basil knew why he would be remembered.
In 2000, I discovered something while watching a film and wearing headphones. There was this one section of Conan The Barbarian where he's running through a field during a montage, and there's this stuff going on in the soundtrack (by Basil Poledouris) that I thought sounded really fantastic. I purchased it and had my guitar teacher transcribe that track for me to play with my bass guitar. After a while, the album gripped me in a way I'd never experienced. I began to feel like having this music played at my wake. It felt political and educated, full of history and sacrifice, full of sorrow and longing, full of anger and forgiveness. It felt playful yet careful. It was me. I had never identified with a recording before. Musically, I could recognize genius and appreciate talent, but this soundtrack allowed me to understand that I was merely a fan of those other recordings. I was this one.

Nothing to do with outer space. But it sort of looks like it.
A few years later in Walmart, I saw a CD case with an intriguing front cover and back cover. I bought the album based on those images, and on how I had recently been listening to that band's first album, being quite enamored with the drumming in the last 50 seconds of the Faultline track. (The drumming in Spawn Again from their Neon Ballroom album is spectacular, too.) The album I had just purchased was Diorama by Silverchair. It's an album that's so honest and welcoming, if I'm in the right mood, it can bring me to tears as I sing or hum along. I just love the way Daniel Johns sings his heart out with every note. And the drumming is stellar; Ben Gilles ranks just below 2. Danny Carey (Tool) and 1. Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac) in my own Drumming Hall of Fame.

These days, I rarely listen to music anymore at all. Even in the car.
I have no need to. My six favorite music albums are all up there in my memory.
I can hear every nuance, every word, every instrument... if I only listen.