Favorite Debut Albums in My Lifetime

Note: I had hoped to put YouTube videos on here for each song, but I got the WMG No-Embed Cockblock. I hate that. So instead, I created links to take you to YouTube’s page in a separate window.  How does that prevent piracy again?? Anyhoo…

I love debut albums because there is a certain “force to be reckoned with” feeling about them.  They feel young, fresh and relentless.  They are a snapshot of an artist’s potential before the world gets its grubby little hands on them and ruins them.  Certainly, some artists still put out great stuff after their debut, but for many, the first album is the best in the collection.  The five albums below are debuts that were released in my lifetime that I particularly love.  A strong argument can be made that each of the albums are the best in that artist’s catalog.

What are your favorite debut albums?  Post them in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!

The Cars: The Cars (1978)
I’ve always seen The Cars as a band who never quite fit the mold of new wave the way other bands did; they weren’t overly top 40 like Blondie (at least not until Shake it Up), and they weren’t overly esoteric like early Talking Heads or Devo.  Sure, their debut album has at least six out of 9 tracks still in regular radio rotation, but when those songs come on they sound like nothing else.  They are a little Roxy Music, a little Velvet Underground, a pinch of stadium anthem.

The Cars was recorded in a mere 12 days with the legendary Roy Thomas Baker at the helm as producer.  When listening to the demos and rejected tracks for the album, the listener realizes how perilously close this debut came to being “just another 70s rock album.” Instead, we get this great mixture of songs that created a classic.

I chose “Bye Bye Love” for the “representative” song off the album, because I see it as the quintessential Cars song.  Although it was never released as a single, it’s both poppy and rock, intelligent and poetic, combining the perfect mixture of guitar and synth.  “Bye Bye Love” gives the listener a sneak peak into the future greatness of their second album, Candy-O.

 

Van Halen: Van Halen (1978)
When I listen to this album, I wonder how people reacted to it when it came out.  It opens with “Running With the Devil,” which is mainstream enough, but then you have “Eruption.”  When people heard it the first time, did they feel like they were listening to a person who was about to become a legend? Was it the kind of thing where they’d play it for their friends and say, “you have got to listen to this!”  See, my music memories began when all of the Eddie wannabes started to come out of the woodwork.  Van Halen is my 2nd-favorite band (next to The Cars), yet I take Eddie’s style for granted, because his imitators almost drown him out.

After “Eruption,” they bring us “You Really Got Me.”  The party begins, and doesn’t let up until many albums later.  I love the “live” sound on this album, and it’s one of Michael Anthony’s better albums for the bass. As in, you can actually hear the bass on this one.  What I love about Van Halen and the Roth-era stuff, is they give you the loud, fun crowd-pleasers, but they always include something a little playful and Vaudevillian.  On their debut, they have the double-entendre “Ice Cream Man,” and the doo wop section of “I’m the One.”  I know a lot of people who hate Van Halen, and I get it – they are at their worst, a bunch of misogynist, slovenly, juvenile, drunken cavemen.  That’s normally something I’d get really mad about, but I’m too busy dancing and banging my head to care.  

Devo: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
1978 was a good year for music. I actually didn’t discover this album until recently – I came across “Uncontrollable Urge” and was surprised that this fun, mosh-worthy song came from the guys who did “Whip It.”   The entire album is high-energy, weird and kinda ballsy.  Let’s face it, who would take a rock classic like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and completely deconstruct it?

Are We Not Men is not some organic, natural act of God.  It is dissonant, detatched, quirky, high-tech punk that came to us via transmogrifier.

When selecting a song from YouTube to go with this link, it came down to “Satisfaction” or “Uncontrollable Urge.” If you have to choose one, go with “Satisfaction,” because if you haven’t heard it before, you should.  You’ll probably hate it, but I love it.  If you can listen to both, check out “Uncontrollable Urge” – I’m linking it to a great live performance of it.  I think he had to play the rest of the concert in his tight whities, judging by other clips I’ve watched…

Guns N Roses: Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Guns N Roses reminds me of Junior High – it seemed like one or two people knew of them around the start of 7th grade, and then overnight everyone had a GNR concert shirt.  Their success somehow ushered in the hair metal heyday, even though they weren’t a “hair” band themselves, and their music was miles above their contemporaries.

When I bought Appetite for Destruction and put it in my tape player, I felt like I was doing something bad.  The album was raw, angry and celebrated all the things Nancy Reagan told me to say no to.  My eyes widened listening to “It’s So Easy.”  When the album closed with “Rocket Queen,” I turned my radio down just below “1” so my parents wouldn’t hear the dirty, audio pornography I was listening to. Up to that point they were pretty cool with not intervening with my choice in music, but if any song could change that, it was “Rocket Queen.”

When selecting a song from this album, I chose “Welcome to the Jungle”.  It was their first single, although it didn’t really take off until after “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”  I feel it best represents the craziness that is Appetite.  Plus? We get to see Axl’s short-lived Aqua Net days in the video.

Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes (1992)
In my senior year of high school, I remember flipping through the channels and landing on VH1.  A red-headed female piano was singing an unusual song.  Her mannerisms were very feminine and very sexual.  I felt captivated – I remember thinking it was cool in a world of Billy Joel and Elton John, there was this woman kicking ass on the piano on my TV.  I’d never seen that before.  Yet, she was so…odd.

I didn’t think about Tori Amos much again until my Freshman year of college.  Little Earthquakes became the soundtrack to a year of my life, a life that became very difficult due to severe depression and a lack of self-esteem.  There were moments I hated myself, and Little Earthquakes was a dose of brutal honesty and compassion with every listen.  Songs like “Leather” and “Winter” spoke to a part of me I was afraid to acknowledge. Tori sang about the things ladies weren’t supposed to sing about, and in doing so, she made it all a little less shameful.

When I was selecting songs for this blog, I came across this performance of “Silent All These Years.”  I have listened to this song a hundred times easily, yet this time it made me tear up a little.

 

So, those are my five – what are your favorites?

A Bucket List for 2012

When I was 20 years old, I sat down and created a list called “The Things I Want to Do Before I Die.”  Many years later, someone called this sort of thing a “bucket list.”  It is a two-page list of everything I wanted to accomplish and experience, and every place I wanted to go.  When I created it, I asked myself, “when I’m 80 years old and I look back on my life, what would an interesting, accomplished life look like?”  It has simple things on it like, “visit Hawaii,” “pat a dolphin,” or “get something substantial published.”  It has more difficult things on it, like “meet Oprah Winfrey.”  It has a number of things I inexplicably wanted to do at the time, but no longer have any desire to do: “Shoot and kill a deer,” “Join the RNC.”  It excludes things that I was afraid to do but have done anyway, like go Skydiving.  Every so often I take it out and peruse it.  I never delete anything from this list because I think one of the lessons to be learned is that our goals and desires change over the years.  While certain hopes and dreams are solid as rock, others are fluid and constantly changing.  A happy life isn’t a rigid life, but a flexible one.

Regardless, I love checking things off of the list.  Sometimes the accomplishments were even more valuable than I imagined (visiting Italy), and other times they are less thrilling than I expected them to be.  “Have a credit on a CD.”  Done.  It was a minor credit. It wasn’t the accomplishment I thought it would be.   As a whole however, it has been a wonderful experience living with this list for so many years.

With this in mind, I’m going to take a different approach to 2012.  Like many, I typically create a list of resolutions every year that are nothing more than corrections on my shortcomings – I want to live healthier, floss more and be a kinder person.  These are simple resolutions and they will continue to be in my mind for 2012, but this year I’d like to create accomplishments.  The “Things to Do Before I Die” list is a macro list; I’m creating a micro list for 2012.  Below is my list, and a little background as to why each accomplishment is on the list:

Start an international cooking club

As you can probably tell, I really like food.  I also enjoy cooking, but I don’t give myself the time to really experiment with new recipes.  A couple of months ago, I asked on Facebook if any of my friends would like to start an international cooking club, where we would meet once a month and focus on a particular region for food.  I received a very positive response, which tells me I have potential members! The next step is to get the ball rolling and send the invitations out.  Plus, if I start a cooking club I’ll likely be able to knock “make a difficult dish” off my lifetime bucket list.

Do a DIY/repurposing project

This sounds like a really simple task, but I am awful at hobbies and projects.  I typically get all gung-ho at a concept, spend a shitload of money on supplies, and wind up sobbing with a clump of glue and wires and a crumpled up pamphlet of instructions beside me.  The project then sits in the Valley of Lost Hobbies (aka my home office) until I finally admit defeat and throw it away three years later.  I am going to read Lifehacker this year, find a project that looks like fun and is reasonably simple, and damn it, I’m going to do it.

Make 100 hats and/or blankets for the homeless

Believe it or not, southern Arizona can get really cold in the winter. This past year, one of the organizations in town offering services to the homeless requested warm clothing, hats and blankets to distribute through the winter.  I was able to give them 8 hats.  This past year, I spent a day volunteering for a soup kitchen, and when I drove up to the building a few hours before they opened, there were a lot of people lined up on the street looking for a warm meal; way more than 8 hats are needed to help a part of our community in Arizona.  I’d love to make even more hats than 100, I just don’t know if that’s possible.  We’ll see.

Do one thing I’ve been afraid or resistant to do

I’m much better about it at this point in my life, but I have issues with social anxiety and bringing attention to myself.  This blog is a little quiet piece of therapy, but I’d like to step out more.  I’m not sure what this thing will be – maybe I’ll finally have the guts to post one of my songs online.  Maybe I’ll gain the confidence to try playing craps (the crowd at the table and the rules of engagement with getting and cashing out chips is intimidating).  Maybe I’ll take up ballroom dancing.  Maybe I’ll do all three.  I’m not sure.

Learn all three movements to “Moonlight Sonata”

This is a big one.  The quick and simple story of Anne-Marie and piano playing: I am entirely self-taught, and growing up I was severely lacking in discipline.  I was a wiz at theory, but my performance ability was semi-pathetic.  I didn’t have the discipline to learn a full piece.  I didn’t bother to study proper fingering on the piano.  I was above average when learning by ear and used it as a crutch when attempting to sight-read on the piano.  When I got to college level, I was so far behind my peers in the area of performance it became a humiliating experience worthy of its own blog entry.  I developed stage fright as a weird offshoot of chronic depression and anxiety, yet I somehow managed to get through my juries.  I felt like a hack, and I felt like everyone knew it.  The thing I loved became a mutated monster that made me angry with myself, and I pushed it out of my life for years.

It’s made its way back in my life, and even though I am all too aware I once knew a lot more than I do now, I’m feeling an intrinsic satisfaction that I haven’t felt since I was little and secretive about my love of playing.  I want to learn a full piece, and I want to learn how to play it properly.  Why not “Moonlight Sonata?” It’s a beautiful piece and was my dad’s favorite.

Run a race and hike a mountain

When I was healthier, I enjoyed running and hiking.  It would be nice to get back to a point where I can do them again.  “Hiking a Mountain” is also on my lifetime bucket list.

Find a way to get my blog to average 100 visitors a day for a week

Time has been the greatest challenge I’ve had with this blog.  The most important thing is for me to do my best to be a good writer and storyteller with every entry.  I want to do more than that – I want you, the reader to enjoy what I write so much, you want to share it with people.  I want to write something that is such quality that I want you to look forward to reading every entry I put out.  Maybe it’s because I’m a performer at heart, but I enjoy the thought of creating something and having people enjoy it.  I’m going to gradually roll out changes to make this site better.  I want to entertain you every single week of 2012.

I guess that sounds a little like a resolution.

Is there anything you want to accomplish in 2012? Do you want to learn to play an instrument or learn to watercolor? Do you want to create an app for your iPhone? Do you want to take tap dancing lessons, or learn calculus? I want to hear about it!

The 10 Best Guitar Riffs OF ALL TIME

Every so often, a song will come up on my iPod, and I’ll think, “that’s got to be one of the top 3 best guitar riffs ever!”  After doing this 20 different times, I decided it would be fun to finally sit down, get all Kanye on you and list the best guitar riffs OF ALL TIME.  I took to Facebook to get some suggestions, and sure enough my friends came through with some really great ones! Thank you to Jacob, Matt, Jenique, Chrissy, Shemeka and Celeste for your input and suggestions – you opened my mind!

10. Crazy Train – Ozzy Osborne

I can’t decide if it’s the opening notes of the song, or the galloping rhythm in the verses that put this at number 10, edging out Pearl Jam’s “Alive.”  All I know is I crank up my stereo when I hear “ALL ABOOOARRRDDD HAHAHAHAHAHA,” ready for Randy Rhodes to do his thing.   And by “his thing,” I mean shredding the hell out of this song and making you forget about the legendary front man for a few minutes.

9. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love – Van Halen

Really, almost all of the songs off of Van Halen’s first album could go into a “best riffs” list; I chose this one because the riff is one of the most distinctive for their openings.   Their first album kicks off with a mad fury, and allows only a few moments to breathe.  “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is one of those moments – compared to “Atomic Punk,” “On Fire,” and “You Really Got Me,” it seems almost understated.  After all these years, I still love the song and Eddie’s legendary “brown sound.”

8. Pinball Wizard – The Who

Every time I hear the opening to Pinball Wizard, it makes me want to play guitar.  Now sure, I own a guitar and noodle on it often, but when I hear this song, I become fully aware that I don’t “play” the guitar.  This is one of the best rhythms ever, and it makes you totally okay that the song is about a deaf, dumb, blind kid who plays pinball by sense of smell.

7. Sweet Child O Mine – Guns N’ Roses

In the late 80s, so many guitarists were trying to emulate Eddie Van Halen.  The videos would show some frizzy-haired pretty guitarist finger-tapping, tremolo picking and whammy barring the hell out of their custom-painted BC Rich Warlock while looking amazed at their own virtuosity.   Enter Slash.  Faceless – a sea of unkempt black hair under a big hat; barely coherent, most certainly drunk and/or high, casually plugging in his Les Paul and ignoring all the rules of late 80s hard rock guitarists.  He didn’t play to show off his licks – he played the music he carefully crafted, giving every riff and every solo it’s own story with its own beginning, middle and end.  His riffs and solos sing rather than wail, and I can’t think of a better example of his style than “Sweet Child O Mine.”

6. Blister in the Sun – Violent Femmes

On some mornings, I wake up, and I can’t seem to get enough coffee in my bloodstream to make me want to go to work.  I’d rather stay at home and work on my blog, or watch YouTube videos for hours.  On those days, I get in my car, I plug in my iPod to the stereo, and I blast “Blister in the Sun.”  If you are driving past me, you will see me bang my head and thrash around happily as I’m driving on the freeway.  It looks kind of like a happy crazed Muppet dance.  The song fixes everything that is down inside of me and before you know it, I feel like I can body-slam any crap that comes my way.

Then? “Maneater” or one of the other 80s MOR songs I secretly love will come up next on my playlist, and I’ll quickly turn my stereo back down and slink deep into my car seat for the rest of the trip.  Pay no attention to that part if you see me.  No, I’m not belting out “Hard Habit to Break,” you’re imagining things.

5. Ventura Highway – America

The opening two-guitar riff in this song sets up the mood and the imagery before you even hear a lyric.  I picture an idealized, nostalgic California – a California that existed decades before I ever lived there, when there were a few less houses and a few more mom and pop shops.  I picture an ocean breeze creating waves over fields of golden-colored grass and a windy road allowing you to escape from LA to Ventura or even Santa Barbara.  As you leave LA proper, the scenery and sky open up, with those giant alligator-lizard clouds appearing as far as the eye can see.  It’s not quite what Southern California is these days, but you can listen to this song, close your eyes, and pretend for a few minutes that it still exists.

4. Layla – Darek and the Dominoes

The year is 2030.  There is an old man, sitting in a wheelchair at the old folks home, happy the grandkids decided to pay a visit.  They came by right at meal time, and he unenthusiastically pokes at his bland lunch as they fill him in on their busy lives.  The topic of nostalgia comes up, and one of the grandkids asks, “Grandpa, what was music like in the 90s?”  Grandpa sits back and smiles, recalling memories long forgotten.  “In the 90s, everyone had an unplugged album…sometimes, they would not ‘unplug’ themselves at all, and it would be kind of awesome.  Sometimes the artist would cover one of their own songs, and it would be…okay.  People would say they really liked the cover, but really, it wasn’t very good or even a likeable version of the song -  it was just different.  Radio stations would push the new version of the song on their listeners, and with each listening, you’d realize how lacking in energy the new unplugged version was.  With each play, interest turns to disinterest, disinterest turns to dislike, dislike turns to hatred, and before you know it, you’re begging your radio to STOP! STOP PLAYING THAT GODFORSAKEN SONG! But they don’t listen because someone somewhere loves the damn thing, and so the radio keeps playing it over and over AND OVER UNTIL EVERY LAST OUNCE OF LOVE YOU ONCE FELT FOR A CLASSIC IS SUCKED FROM YOUR SOUL AND YOU ARE REDUCED TO GOUGING YOUR EARS WITH A SPORK TO MAKE THE REPITITION STOP! MAKE IT STOP!” The nurses quickly pry the spork out of the old man’s cold, knotted grip, give him a blue pill, and wheel him away before he gets a chance to tell the kids that “Layla” was once an awesome song before MTV Unplugged ruined it.

3. Beat It – Michael Jackson

In the initial stages of creating this list, I wanted to create a solid list from a variety of eras.  I knew I was leaving some obvious choices off, so posted a request on Facebook.  My friend Jenique mentioned this song.  I love the choice – when you think of guitar riffs, you don’t think of Michael Jackson, yet the riff is unforgettable and catchy.  It’s exactly what you want from a great riff.  The more I thought about this inspired choice, the more I found it climbing up my list, and here it rests at number three.

2. Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones

Honestly?  I don’t really like this song.  I know, sacrilege.  I prefer the Devo version, in all of its weird, funky dissonant glory.  “Satisfaction” doesn’t even rank in my top five favorite Rolling Stones songs.  All the same, I can’t deny it is a legendary song with a guitar sound that practically defines a generation.

1. The Ocean – Led Zeppelin

What can I say about this song that isn’t completely obvious by just listening to it?  Led Zepplin were the gods of the Rock Groove.  Of course they are going to be number one on any list – they set the standard.  Earlier I said any song off of Van Halen’s first album would be worthy on a list like this; just about any Zeppelin song on any album is worthy of making the list.  I chose “The Ocean” because it has such a killer groove, made especially killer due to the alternating time (4/4 and 7/8 for you music nerds).  There’s not much else I can say – just take a listen and rock out to it!

Disagree? Want to add your own favorites? Comment below! I’d love to hear from you.

Gimme Some Lovin’!

When I first think of the British Invasion, I think of the bubblebum girly stuff that emerged in the early 60s: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Glad All Over,” “I’m Telling You Now,” etc., etc.  It’s not to say those aren’t good songs, but at the same time, there was so much more to the British Invasion as it evolved.  Because the internet doesn’t have enough “Top 5” lists, I compiled my 5 favorite songs from the British Invasion:

5. She’s Not There (1964)
I love The Zombies.  Their music was kind of dark, sexy and smooth.  My favorite from them is “Time of the Season,” but that doesn’t technically fall in the “British Invasion” era, which ended in 1967.  “She’s Not There” is a contemporary of the bubblegum songs mentioned above, yet it sounds a few years ahead of its time.  The Beatles were dreamy in 1964; The Zombies were brooding.  What girl isn’t attracted to the brooding guy?

For other great Zombies songs, check out their album “Odyssey and Oracle”- released in 1968, I feel it is the pinnacle of their creativity and musicianship, and holds up remarkably well over the years.

4. Paint it, Black (1966)
[Note from much later: Forgive the imagery here; at the time I had just watched a horrible Brian Wilson made-for-TV movie and much of it was pretty much as described below...]

When I hear “Paint it, Black” I picture the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Brian Wilson all hanging out, getting high, dropping acid, and exchanging crazy ideas for songs.  I imagine the conversation turning to how awesome it would be to combine a Phil Spector-style percussion with a sitar.  In a moment that is both serendipitous and reminiscent of Walk Hard/Dewy Cox, Mick starts rambling about dead girls and black doors, Keith mutters a bunch of f-bombs in that drunken British way that makes it sound like “ffffahk” or “fffaahking,” and Brian Jones is off in a corner simultaneously playing with George Harrison’s sitar and impregnating a young woman.  Somewhere in that 60s drugged-haze lovefest, this song is born and the rest is history.

I’m pretty sure that’s not quite how it happened, but I have no doubt they were high – who the hell writes a song for a sitar, anyway?  Regardless, it is a great song and contains some of my favorite Stones lyrics.  I’m more of fan of the late 70s-era Stones, but as far as their 60s stuff goes, this is as good as it gets.

3. I Can See for Miles (1967)
Like the Stones, I am more of a fan of The Who’s music in the 70s, but I still love their music in the 60s.  Even from early on, in songs like “Substitute” or “My Generation,” you could tell that The Who was offering something different.  They are an introduction to Pete Townsend’s gift for crafting memorable riffs and intelligent lyrics.

As the British Invasion neared its end, “I Can See for Miles” song came out, and let the world know that The Who had only just begun.  Their music was approaching another level – not far off on the horizon, “Tommy” would be born, and further down the road, “Baba O’Reilly” and “Who Are You?”  Even though I regard The Beatles as being the best British Invasion act, The Who are my favorite.  Their music and sound doesn’t age.

2.Gimme Some Lovin’
To my generation, Steve Winwood was this older dude who had hits like “Higher Love” and “Valerie,” and was the kind of artist that you could listen to with dad.  To the current generation, if they are reading this, they are probably thinking, “who the hell is Steve Winwood?” This, is Steve Winwood, my friends.  In the video above, he has a voice that doesn’t seem like it could possibly come from a lanky teenager.  After all these years, he still blows me away.

I rated this at number two because although The Spencer Davis Group was considered a British Invasion band, they seemed to “get” American rock and roll more than their contemporaries.  This song could have easily come out of early Motown and has a perfect balance of soul, energy and a solid British Invasion-defining backbeat.  Love it.

1.Eleanor Rigby
What, you think I could do a British Invasion list and not include The Beatles?  I wanted to place only one Beatles song on this list, and it was hard.  I took to Facebook to ask for suggestions, and everyone had great selections – “Paperback Writer,” “We Can Work it Out,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Day Tripper,” “A Day in the Life”… The Beatles are to 60s music what Wilt Chamberlain was to 60s basketball – they were such a cut above everyone else; you almost can’t put them in the same category.

I settled on “Eleanor Rigby,” because I think it really marks a departure for their music – while you have the trademark McCartney lyrical melody, you have beautiful orchestration backing him, yet it doesn’t distract from the vivid imagery of the lyrics.  I picture Father Mackenzie’s calloused hands wiping away the dirt every time I hear this song.

So what are your favorite British Invasion songs? Share with me below!

Dig If U Will

Lately I’ve been thinking about that rare moment of genius and beauty in a song.  There is something either delightful or tragically unexpected in its delivery, and it evokes an intense emotional response.  I’ve decided to compile a list of a 5 songs I believe achieve that level of genius and/or beauty in their own unique way.  I’m not going to be pretentious and analyze them.  Instead, I’ll just give you the songs and my random thoughts on them:

 “Hey Jude” by The Beatles

“Hey Jude” is my earliest memory of music.  I remember being three years old and sitting on the floor in my family’s house in Bristol, CT.  My dad asked if we wanted to hear my mom’s “song,” and he pulled out a record with a big green apple on the label.  The needle was placed on the record, and I was instantly mesmerized.  When the song climaxes with the “na na nas,” I remember hoping the song wouldn’t end any time soon.  I asked my dad if we could listen to it again.  McCartney’s melody is magical.

 “When Doves Cry” by Prince
[Note: Prince hates the internet, so it's difficult to find anything on You Tube of his that isn't promptly removed]

When I think of “When Doves Cry,” my mind immediately goes to the opening – the wild guitar virtuoso accompanied by smooth drum beats; 10 seconds in and the song is already dripping in sexuality.  In my mind, I can still see the video: the double doors open, and Prince is rocking the scarf in the bathtub.  See, all due respect to JT, Prince doesn’t even need to utter a lyric to bring the sexy.  When I talk about geniuses in music, I’m talking about people whose minds are operating in a place you or I cannot comprehend.  They can see and hear things in a way that I cannot.  Not only can they envision on a grander scale, they can actually execute the vision.  Where we dream of stylized images, they dream of the veins in each leaf on a tree.  Long story short?  I would love to vacation in Prince’s brain when he created the music for “Purple Rain.”

“The Flat Earth” by Thomas Dolby

While “When Doves Cry” has surprisingly little instrumentation, “The Flat Earth” is conversely rich in texture.  It’s loaded with samples, keyboards, and backing vocals.  Most songs are portraits; “The Flat Earth” is a landscape.  It is a Miyazaki landscape, animated and fluid, where every detail is carefully drawn regardless of whether or not the audience will even notice.  I chose this particular link because I think it’s really cool watching Dolby reconstruct the song live.  You don’t get to hear the harmonies of the original recording, but I still really like this version.

“Lover, You Should Have Come Over” by Jeff Buckley

When I close my eyes and listen to this song, I think of when I was 19 and lying on the cold tiled floor of my dorm room.  It was the moment after I cried as hard as I ever cried.  The choking and sobbing stopped, and I silently stared up at the fluorescent lights above me.  Depression tore me one way, anxiety tore me the other, and I was left with nothing to tie my tiny shred of hope to.  I didn’t listen to Jeff Buckley until long after that moment, but somehow, this song places its fingers over that memory and gently tugs it out from under the rafters.  Even though the song is about his lover, the loneliness in the song feels like something no one person could possibly cure.

“A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

It amazes me to think how many pop classics Sam Cooke wrote in such a short time – “You Send Me” was released in 1957, and he died in 1964 at the age of 33.  In only 7 years he had 29 top-40 hits.  The album “Ain’t That Good News” was the last album released in his lifetime, and contains some of my favorite songs of his – the title track (which has a great banjo part), “Meet Me at Mary’s Place,” “Good Times,” “Another Saturday Night,” and this song.

When I was in high school, my music teacher knew I was a fan of Sam Cooke, and let me borrow the CD “Sam Cooke: The Man and His Music.”  There were a number of songs I never heard before, including “A Change is Gonna Come,” which closed the album.  His first three notes gave me chills, and I immediately knew I was listening to something extraordinary.  So much of Sam Cooke’s music is pleasant and innocent.  On the “Ain’t That Good News” album, and on this song in particular, there is an incredible honesty and soulfulness in both his voice and his lyrics.

One more thing about this song – I feel it is one of those songs that 99.999% of the population should not even try to cover.  When I hear someone cover it, I typically get Bad Cover Rage.  At one point in college, I was in the middle of a pleasant make-out session with a boyfriend and the Roger Clinton version of this song came on the radio.  I tore away from my boyfriend mid-kiss, and exclaimed, “what the f— is this!?!”

“Who cares?”
“But…it’s just awful!  Who the hell does he think he is?”
“Let it go…”
“He has no right to sing this!”

Needless to say, Roger Clinton killed the mood, and to this day I have not forgiven En Vogue for their participation in that atrocity.

On Facebook, I asked people to name a few songs that blew their mind.  Here’s what they came up with:

“Linger” The Cranberries

“First of the Month” Bone Thugs N Harmony

“Wuthering Heights” Kate Bush

“Holiday in Cambodia” The Dead Kennedys

“Signs” Five Man Electrical Band

“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” Elton John

“Eternity Road” Moody Blues

“Silence & I” Alan Parsons

“Just What I Needed” The Cars

“Forever Lost” God is An Astronaut

What about you? What songs blew your mind?