Take the time to notice that I said my life. Lists like these are always subjective. I chose these albums because of the influence they have had on my life. They range from Jazz to Folk to Rock with a heavy focus on lyrics. I love great lyrics.
#10 O'KEEFE - Danny O'Keefe
Good Time Charlie Got the Blues is the first track on this forgotten masterpiece. There is also the very haunting The Road, a song later covered by Jackson Brown. This is one of the most consistent albums that I have ever heard. I first heard it on a drive up to Three Rivers with two friends. The freedom of those days, the pretty countryside, good friends, and O'Keefe. It made for a great moment in my life.
I love the simplistic delivery of the powerful I'm Sober Now,
"You took my little heart
And ran it round this town
Now you’re gonna find your circus
Needs a brand new clown"
But my favorite here, and one of my all time favorites, is the beautiful
Valentine Pieces. Some guys resorted to Barry White to put the ladies in the mood, this was my go-to song.
#9 WILL O'THE WISP - Leon Russell
I can't count the number of times I played Back to the Islands back in the day. It was one of those songs where I just let everything slide, leaned back, got high, sipped on a beer, and enjoyed the sun sinking in the west. Made it seem like I was on the island. This is roots-rocker Russell at his raspy voiced prime as he combined gospel, country and rock into a musical equivalent of a bowl of gumbo. Lady Blue was the hit of the album, but his voice on Down on Deep River still gives me chills.
#8 CARAVANSERAI - Santana
This album just came out of nowhere and happened to arrive on my turntable as I was beginning to do a little of the astro-exploring that was so popular back in the early seventies. It is my second favorite album to to provide a soundtrack for when I went off cosmos traveling. A friend and I would stack albums on player, lay back, and blast off into space. When the last song of the album ended, we would open up one eye and look each other across the expanse of time and space. It is a bit more jazzy than most of Santana's catalogue, and it might take two or three listenings to get used to, but it is well worth the effort. Just in Time to See the Sun and Every Step of the Way are my favorites.
# 7 LIGHTS OUT - Lindsay White
Hey, It's my list, and I'm allowed to be biased. The fact that Lindsay is my daughter does not detract from the fact that she is a very talented and underrated song writer. This album is as much about dealing with grief as anything else, and the fact that some of it is also about her relationship with her estranged mother, my ex-wife, who died from brain cancer shortly before Lindsay released the album, makes it far more powerful than most of the other albums I love. Hell, I lived this album. Lindsay writes about the loss of her grandfather in Rubber Band Gun
"what I’ll most miss is the forehead kisses
cause I grew up taller than my family tree
he left me a lesson that kindness is best you can
survive a hard life with no enemies"
Then there is a heart felt testimony to the often invisible but always powerful bonds of sisterhood in Surrogate, a song about her relationship with her protective, self-sacrificing older sister. I still can't listen to Deep Dark Down, a song about her mother's passing.
#6 RAINBOW BRIDGE - Jimi Hendrix
I don't give a rat's ass about other people's best guitarists list. If Jimi ain't at the top, they are bullshit, and this is my favorite Hendrix album. A compilation album released posthumously; it is also very hard to find. It is, my opinion, his magnum opus. Dolly Dagger, Pali Gap, Room Full of Mirrors, and I Hear My Train a Coming are all examples of pure Hendrix magic.
While Jimi is the acknowledged master of his instrument, the lyrics on songs like A Room Full of Mirrors,
"I used to live in a room full of mirrors
All I could see was me
Then I take my spirit and I smash my mirrors
And now the whole world is here for me to see,"
show that he was not to shabby wielding words either. This is album I would have to take if I had to go on a slow train to Mars or something.
#5 DARK SIDE OF THE MOON - Pink Floyd
I barely paid attention to this album when it first came out. It makes me sad that I have to admit it. I had so much more sensitivity for music back then, it was as much a part of my life as eating and breathing. The album has recently literally pole vaulted over many other worthy musical contenders to grab this elevated position.
I was looking for some traveling music to soundtrack my drive to Visalia, and I gave this a shot. I was trying to generate ideas to write about and ended up getting into a collision at a stop sign. I thought that any music that can create an accident out of nothing deserves some serious alone time. Just kidding. I really do think weird shit like that sometimes, but it was the sheer power of the music that captured my heart. Us and Them is mind blowing; the whole album is mind blowing, but Us and Them is a shotgun blast to the cerebral cortex. It is what we will hear in the air when Jesus returns. Okay, maybe a little Mozart and Beethoven, but definitely Us and Them.
#4 DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH - John Prine
Prine is the poor man's Bob Dylan. Nobody, and I mean nobody, takes a lump of clay and modes into a high art better than this man. He can craft a heart tugging song about something as inconsequential as a kiss between a pimple faced boy and a overweight girl and make you believe it is the underlying truth about human existence. There are too many such songs on this album to single out. They are like diamonds on a a piece of black cloth, like glittering stars against the dark night sky.
The song Souvenirs is a wonder, chock full of poetic imagery.
"Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That's why last night and this mornin'
Always look the same to me"
I could have just have easily have taken any set of lines from the song to make this point. This is Shakespeare recited with a twang. I once wrote a essay in college about the beauty of the metaphors in The Great Compromise, a song about the Vietnam experience masquerading as a small town romance.
John Prine has created a whole menagerie of characters, simple humans all, and tied them to our collective consciousness with the artistry of a basket weaver who goes fishing with Jesus. And he is still carving diamonds out of coal.
#3 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
There is a reason why the Fab Four are considered Rock Legends. And that is a judgment from back in the day when being a rock legend actually meant something back before the pablum sucking critics of modern media, the blisters on the feet of modern culture, labeled anything that captured the attention of our perpetual zombie youth as being legendary.
I have a test, take song or two from the artist in question and compare them to the lines from A Day in the Life.
"Woke up, fell out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my ways down stairs and drank a cup
And looking up I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in nothing flat
Made my way upstairs and had a smoke
And somebody spoke and I went into a dream"
Whereas, this song helps us to see the magic in the ordinary events of everyday life. The modern rock critics would have us all believe that shit that is actually very mundane is somehow magical, or better yet, tries to maintain that magic is actually mundane.
You want to judge legends, stack up their body of work against this, for this, my friends, is the stuff of legend.
#2 KIND OF BLUE - Miles Davis
I am no great fan of Jazz. It is a testament to the collective musical brilliance of Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Wynton Kelley, Jimmy Cobb, and Bill Evans that they could take someone like me, a great fan of lyrics set to music, and make me fall down on my knees before a album that doesn't have any words. This album is a first-aid kit. It is precisely the music that ought to played in the skies as we go about the tasks of living.
I went through a heavy period of mourning when my Ex died. I was inflicted with tinnitus at the same time and was living only inches away from complete madness. In my grief, I hated newspapers, I hated books, and I especially hated words in music. I have often thought of the tinnitus and lyrical distaste striking me at the same time had something to do with things I didn't want to hear about, words about the necessity of death and the value of suffering and grief.
In desperation, I pulled a dusty old CD from my memory bank and played it. And thank the Lord, it did the trick. I had never really gotten into this album before, but now I swear by its magical powers. I regard Miles Davis as a musician with the same high regard I reserve for Dylan and his words.
#1 BLOOD ON THE TRACKS - Bob Dylan
I had heard Dylan before and, like many others, was put off by the sand paper nasality of his voice. Then one day, I was standing in line at a local pharmacy and plucked it out of a bargain bin of records. A f'ing bargain bin, I tell you!
I have been struck by the wonder of it all, how it is possible that I could purchase this incredible testament to all the angelic qualities that humans possess for the price of a Big Mac meal. This gives me hope and also reminds me that beauty and truth are not always highly regarded by the people who sell us stuff.
The fact that I can go into a Barnes and Noble and purchase War and Piece and The Odyssey for ten bucks, then go up front and find a collection of lies and half truths written by half wits for $30 reminds me that we humans are not as divine as we like to tell ourselves we are.
Like Kind of Blue, this album needs to be listened to in its entirety. It is so full of beautiful lyrics it is difficult to praise one as being higher than the other. However, the powerful and personal If You See Her Say Hello, moves me to tears every time I hear it.
"If you get close to her
Kiss her once for me
I always have respected her
For doin' what she did and gettin' free
Oh, whatever makes her happy
I won't stand in the way
Though the bitter taste still lingers on
From the night I tried to make her stay"
Regret does not often come stated so beautifully. These words sucker punch me in the heart, they scrape my prefrontal cortex with a cheese grater, they block off my airways and make me gasp for air like a fish out of water. And why is that so pleasurable, you might ask, and I would have to answer, it's not, not so much. Great art is not a Happy Meal, and words like this, so pregnant with truth, open up holes in our souls exposing us not only to the deeply hidden essence of our being, but also to the vision of the skies above our heads. In my mind, it is Dylan who sits closest to the lips of God and passes down to us what he has been told.