Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Desert Island Discs - Part I

What I looked for in desert island discs: albums that I never tire of listening to. I may have listened to the albums below 100s of times each and yet can still put them on and listen the whole way through. To that point, I only wanted discs that work all the way through as a whole. Greatest hits albums are often fantastic to listen to but, due to the wide span of time, theme and motivation behind the album, there is no conceptual connection between the songs on the album.

Pet Sounds - The Beach Boys: Brian Wilson said that he was driven to write and record the Pet Sounds album by his reaction to Rubber Soul by the Beatles. He specifically reacted to the way the songs all tied together as part of a larger concept - something that wasn't prevelant in rock records at the time. Wilson agonized over every note that went on the record and it shows. The record gives us two of the greatest pop rock songs ever recorded, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "God Only Knows", "Sloop John B" and a number of others that were never popular hits but are well-crafted, beautifully arranged and that adhere to the theme of the album - the passing innocence of youth and the difficulties of a very complex life.

Abbey Road - The Beatles: AR was the last album the Beatles recorded and it reflected from beginning to end the many styles of the Beatles over the course of their too short but amazing run. There's a bit of White Album mixed into a bit of the Sgt Pepper mixed in with Rubber Soul. The nearly gapless run of songs on the 2nd side of the LP that starts with "You Never Give Me Your Money" - the Abbey Road Suite - is really the finest section of the album and is what makes it so listenable 40 years later.

Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen: What can you say? The boss rips off Dylan, Orbison, Van Morrison, Phil Spector, Elvis, Sam & Dave, etc. etc. and still makes it sound like he invented rock and roll. So much so, that 30 years later he performs a half-time show at the Superbowl and reserves 50% of the set for songs from this album. It's not bogged down with the politics of his later stuff - there's no attempt to be a Woody Guthry knock-off swimming in cash. Rather, it's his youth on a disc, a continuation of the themes he laid down on "Asbury Park" and "The Wild, the Innocent..." we don't know if the characters and the places described ever existed or were like they are portrayed. It doesn't matter. They still come to life 35 years later.

Aja - Steely Dan: If you've ever seen the hour long "making of" special on this album you will immediately understand what perfectionists Becker and Fagen were. They essentially played "Fantasy Band" on all of their later albums, inviting all of the best session musicians in to the studio to take a crack at their vision and then picked the best parts and folded them into their final product. Some may think that recording quality leaves the Dan's albums as boring and antiseptic but I disagree. "Aja" has some of the finest recording mixes of jazz, rock and pop fusion ever to be put to tape - "Peg", "Black Cow", "Deacon Blues".

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