I listened to a lot of music in 2020. I suppose being housebound can do that to a guy. Of course, I'm a music nut without a pandemic forcing me to isolate. This year, as we all know, was weird as Hell though and usually the highlight of my day was making a playlist and going for a 3-4 mile walk around the neighborhood.
In my life - through all the sadness and loss - music has sustained and saved and soothed me. It certainly still does. I was lucky to grow up in the 1960's and be literally raised on Rock and Roll. That experience, along with my parents influences and my enduring love for American roots music, still affects me. A day with out music is like - well, I wouldn't know - I never go a day without music.
In my youth I was an absurd music snob and dismissed anyone who didn't know and appreciate the music of Bob Dylan, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.
That has changed. Goodness, it has changed. I now enjoy LOTS of different kinds of music and that openness has enriched my life. Nevertheless, you will see my tastes are still limited - I don't listen to current pop very much. So, I'm going to tell you about my favorites this year and it is important to note that this is a narrow look at 2020. As much as I enjoy listening to new music - there are only 24 hours in a day and when I find something I love it gets played and replayed...(and replayed).
I was going to rank the music from last year and I've been agonizing over it, I started several blog posts - got frustrated - moved music rankings around - then my computer went on the fritz and I just decided, "FORGET RANKING!" So, here is an unranked and mostly chronological list of the music that moved me in the strange year of 2020. I'll make a few comments about these albums and you can determine if there might be something you'd enjoy putting on your playlist. That is, after all, the point of this blog post. I will mention if an album would be in my personal "Top 10" list.
I should also say that I do purchase nearly all this music - streaming services shortchange our artists and since they can't go on the road they need our money more than ever. Please consider doing the same. It's the right thing.
1. Technically this one was released in late 2019 but I listened to the latest Who album, WHO, quite a bit at the start of the year. It's a fine album - not great - and didn't grow on me. Still, it was nice to hear a new album from those old guys who once proclaimed that they hoped they'd die before they grew old - too late guys...
2. The Drive-by Truckers released TWO excellent albums - The Unraveling and The New OK. Timely, topical and with typical Hood/Cooley musical charm and sharp lyrics, I listened to them both - a lot. Which is best? Ah, depends on the day and my mood but The Unraveling hit hard all year long. The song 21st Century USA was my second most played this year - and it oozes Patterson Hood angst from his always observant perspective.
3. Just before the virus hit Nathaniel Rateliff released a new album And It's Still Alright - his last album was so big and this is a bit slower and was released when our minds were elsewhere but the title track was a year long favorite and perhaps a bit of an anthem for those of us who scraped by in 2020.
4. A band that I think deserves greater recognition (you'll hear that frequently through this post) is The James Hunter Six. They released another fun and old school cool album, Nick of Time, in March. I grooved to it as the lock downs descended on us and the vibes provided a good salve to the world's problems.
5. Dave Simonett also released a fine solo album that deserved more notice. Red Tail is a slower more relaxed Simonett from his work with Trampled By Turtles. It's a soothing journey and offers timely wisdom. It should have made more of a splash and I highly recommend it.
6. A top 10 album of the year, for me, rolled out at the end of March and it stayed in heavy regular rotation all year long. The fantastic Lilly Hiatt released, Walking Proof, and I immediately liked it - the songs were lively and fun and insightful. I didn't know it would grow and grow and grow on me all year. Turns out, I LOVE IT. Lilly's father John is a lifetime favorite and, well, talk about the apple and tree... what an album.
7. Also at the end of March the remarkable album, Saint Cloud, by Waxahatchee (Katie Crutchfield) was released and has found near universal acclaim. It was ranked number 2 by Rolling Stone and was mentioned on most of the Top Album lists at years end. It was my introduction to her music and it is a creative and rootsy album that I continue to listen to on an almost daily basis. Obviously recommended and a solid top 10 choice.
8. Several years ago I discovered a band - Clem Snide (Eef Barzelay) - that had a moving and lyrically intriguing aspect to their music that was unique. In Spring of 2020 Eef released a beautiful album, Forever Just Beyond. Mr. Barzelay isn't afraid to tackle the great philosophical questions sometimes tongue in cheek and sometimes with a dagger to the heart - and the song Roger Ebert has haunted me since the first time I heard it. This is comforting music about unsettling issues. Excellent.
9. Good old Pokey LaFarge released a very enjoyable (in a Bukowski kind of way - ha) album this year called, Rock Bottom Rhapsody. I like Pokey's old school approach and it always lends itself to his ironic and poetic lyrics. This is a fine album and did manage to make a few year end lists - which makes me happy. Pokey is cool. My favorite track is, "Lucky Sometimes" which was on my playlists all year long.
10. The Strokes put out an album this year that is very good and I'm a bit surprised to see that it hasn't garnered more attention. The New Abnormal is a bit uneven but has some downright catchy tunes and the title was certainly prescient. Recommended.
11. While I focus on many underrated bands in this post the next album was, by far, the most overrated of 2020 in my opinion. That's probably sacrilege to many but while I liked, Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple it wasn't ALL THAT. I know many of the hipsters reading this are aghast and well - sorry, not sorry. I get that it fits right into the zeitgeist and while that's always powerful it just didn't resonate with me as it obviously did with many others. It's on almost every Top 10 list (but wouldn't make mine).
12. Lucinda Williams had a fine album this year with, Good Souls Better Angels. It's about as topical and political as Lucinda gets and it didn't disappoint. Man Without A Soul is fine song about, well, you know who it's about.
13. An early album of the year candidate, Lamentations, by American Aquarium was released in the spring and hit me right in the heart. The sings are hard hitting and powerful and "Six Years Come September" may be the best alcoholic regret song I have ever heard - and reminds me far too much of some of my drinking days. BJ Barham is a heckuva guy - we communicate occasionally on social media - he gets it. This, for me, is a top 10 album.
14, I didn't realize for some reason that the LA based punk band X released an album in 2020 (some of the songs in 2019). It's called, ALPHABETLAND and, hey, it's still punk and it's good!
15. A little known fellow, Joe Nolan, released a very nice and folksy album, Drifters, in May. If you don't know the name it might be worth your while to find him and listen - he's a singer/songwriter guy with excellent lyrics. Letters to Juliet is a song that I've been spinning since May.
16. I listen to a lot of music but, man, do I miss a lot of great music too. This year I finally discovered Samantha Crain and it was long overdue. Her music often has a 60's sound with penetrating lyrics and I'm stoked to have found her. From Oklahoma, she is Choctaw and has won several Native American music awards. Her album, A Small Death, has been on my daily playlists all year and in exploring her entire catalog I've found songs I'll listen to the rest of my life.
17. The USA has 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. We are a society that loves locking people up. It's pathological. NPR says, "Each incarcerated person has a story. The new album from The Prison Music Project called Long Time Gone highlights a few of those stories. It features songs by nine incarcerated or formerly incarcerated writers and was put together by musician Zoe Boekbinder." Not a lot of songs on this album but it's important to hear them all - oh, and throw a few dollars to the Innocence Project if you can afford it.
18. The "ALBUM OF THE YEAR" no matter what anyone says, has to be, Rough and Rowdy Ways, by Bob Dylan. Bob stunned us with "Murder Most Foul" a song that managed to capture, with precision, the essence of America in the last 60 years in 17 minutes. We were blown away further when he released an entirely new album a few weeks later. It is, simply put, a masterpiece. How anyone could leave it off a Top 10 list is beyond me. The guy is 79 years old and still writing Nobel prize winning type lyrics. Remarkable.
19. Jason Isbell released another very good album and Reunions was met with listener and critical acclaim. The song, Dreamsicle, is magnificent. Another solid effort from Jason even if it is not up to Southeastern or Something More Than Free standards. It certainly should be considered as a Top 10 album - even not at his best Isbell towers above many other contemporary artists.
20. Neil Young dropped an album of some old songs and, like comfort food, Homegrown hit the spot. I listen to Neil and feel my entire body say....ah... and I breathe more easily.
21. The great Sarah Jarosz released an Album of the Year candidate with, World on the Ground. Sarah is a musical prodigy - plays several instruments - and watching her mature as a songwriter and artist is a joy. Each of the songs on this album has received over 30 plays this year and Johnny was my most played song in all of 2020. Fabulous, top 10 album.
22. Ultra cool Larkin Poe gave us some of their trademark Blues with Self-Made Man. Sisters Megan and Rebecca Lowell have some of the most raw, swampy, rootsy and traditional music being made these days. This is REAL American music and Larkin Poe are among the best practitioners today. Fine album.
23. Speaking of coolness and REAL American music it really doesn't get much more authentic than my pal, Ray Wylie Hubbard. I am occasionally asked if we are related and I always answer in that trite but apt way, "we are brothers from another mother". Ray even looks a little like me and he's a fellow friend of Bill W. He follows me on social media and when I was lamenting the troubles of 2020 sent me a private message of encouragement. What a guy. Let's talk about his music - Ray is a bit of a Texas legend for a number of reasons and oddly had never been featured on Austin City Limits until last year - an injustice that took too long to correct but, thankfully, they finally got it right. His show will air this year. Last year he released Co-Starring which is a fun and entertaining and endlessly listenable album. Ray teams up with many friends including Ringo Starr on this excellent effort. Listen to to the song Bad Trick - and, yep, Top 10 stuff in my humble opinion. And in 2021 let's remember Ray's words - "The days I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations...I have real good days".
24. I discovered another new artist this year who blew my mind. John Craigie is an LA boy and sounds to me a bit like a new Ramblin' Jack Elliott with a modern folk spin. Like Samantha Crain finding him this year was a major highlight. His album Asterisk the Universe has been on repeat for several of my walks. Check out Part Wolf and Nomads if you get a chance. Pretty sure you too will become a fan.
25. You know Chuck Prophet, right? I sure hope so because if there was ever a guy who deserved a larger audience it's him. Each of his albums the last few years have been excellent and he has a devoted following - and I am one of those devoted followers. This year the gift he gave us is called The Land That Time Forgot. The song Get Off the Stage about the imbecilic criminal in the White House was perhaps the most timely and apt song of the year. Chuck is a rocker for sure but it is his clever and at times satirical lyrics that always move me. He is the real deal. Check him out (and sign up for his newsletters - I promise you won't be disappointed).
26. Speaking of music that deserves a greater audience the always excellent Jayhawks released xoxo this year and it got lots of attention on the Americana stations but didn't make many Top 10 end of the year lists - too bad. It's a rock solid album. Dogtown days and Living in a Bubble are two of the best song so the year. You can't go wrong with the Jayhawks who are probably over the last few decades the most critically acclaimed band with the fewest sales. I'll never understand it.
27. Taylor Swift released two albums this year, Evermore and Folklore, and while her music doesn't always resonate - these are two excellent albums. I don't need to say much more, right? Taylor is doing just fine.
28. Lydia Loveless, one of my favorites, also released an album called Daughter in 2020. Unfortunately, the album lacks the vitality and energy of her previous albums. I am hoping she can turn things around. In the meantime, check out her album Somewhere Else from 2014.
29. The group Mipso also gave us a new album - Mipso - and it too lacks the vibrancy of previous albums. Still, this is another underrated group that merits more attention.
30. The Boss also released Letter to You and it's wonderful. I don't think it's quite as good as Western Stars (which I adored) but it's close. I always feel connected to Bruce's songs and this album does feel a bit like a letter to those of us who have loved the man since the mid 1970's. Hope you get a chance to hear it.
31. Gillian Welch's All the Good Times is a terrific LP (as she always gives us). This is a collection of 10 covers and she and David Rawlings are marvelous - they even cover Mr. Dylan.
So, that's enough. It gives you a taste of what I have been listening to and perhaps gives you something new to hear. I have to also mention an excellent EP called A Field Guide to Loneliness by Jamestown Revival. Love those guys. Another couple of must mentions are Stay by one of my favorite musicians in the planet Valerie June (an EP) and Hoosier National by rootsy Otis Gibbs.
Here then is an additional list of songs released in 2020 that you might check out too. In some instances I have listened to the album they come from and not listed them above or, in most instances, I still haven't given enough time to the entire album yet and had to leave it off the list. Or - it was only released as a single. Some really inspired stuff here.
1. Options Open - Kathleen Edwards
2. Headstart - Jade Bird
3. Crawl Into the Promised Land - Rosanne Cash
4. Leave Virginia Alone - Tom Petty
5. The Problem - Amanda Shires
6. Long Violent History - Tyler Childers
7. Over That Road I'm Bound to Go - Joachim Cooder
8. Love is the King - Jeff Tweedy
9. Are We Alright Again - Eels
10. Can Anyone Hear Me? - Dusty Wright
11. High Feeling - Cordovas
12. You'll Be Mine - Pyschedelic Furs
13. Ablaze - Alanis Morissette
14. Welcome to Hard Times - Charley Crockett
15. Letting Me Down - Margo Price
16. California - The Mammals
17. Days of Heaven - Jerry Joseph
18. Living in a Ghost Town - Rolling Stones
19. Punk Rock Girl - Sarah Siskind
20. Black Crow Moan - Eliza Neals
21. Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues - Steve Forbert
22. 24/5 - The Claudettes
23. Wreckless Abandon - The Dirty Knobs
24. It's Not Easy - Puss N Boots
25. Living for Yesterday - Jamie Webster
26. Better Luck - Heather Anne Lomax
27. Count on Me - The Lone Bellow
28. Feel the Way I Want - Caroline Rose
29. No Handle - The Panhandlers
30. Southern Rock Will Never Die - The Outlaws
31. When My Fever Breaks - John Moreland
32. Dawn - Fruition
33. The Well - Marcus King
34. Stay Down Man - Dan Reeder
35. Living Life - Kathy McCarty
Thanks for reading. My hope is that you find something here and that you will share some of your favorites from 2020 in the comments or in an email to me. I love finding new music and would love to hear your thoughts. May music continue to soothe and enlighten us in 2021 and beyond.
I have started multiple blog posts - mostly about the move that Lupe and I made at the end of January and the ensuing nightmares but, in light of the current worldwide crisis, all that seems like minor bullshit. Suffice it to say, don't believe everything your real estate agent tells you. The good news is that I am going to start creating a California native backyard since our property is so large. I also will keep my citrus and avocado trees which was the advice of the native landscape consultant. If we can get through this pandemic I am actually very excited about making our little parcel of land a wild haven - in the midst of suburbia. I also LOVE our new neighborhood. So, all's well that ends well and I look forward to entertaining family and friends and you soon!
I also want to complain here about canceling trips and the lack of baseball but then, come on, we are currently all healthy and that is what is important today.
My thinking on this blog post is that it will be a bit of a stream of consciousness while we are shut in and trying to avoid the horrors that we are seeing right now, for example, in Italy and even in New York City. There is a reason many of us geezers suffer from anxiety and are overly careful - we've seen what the world can do...even in the best times. So, on that negative note let me just say that I hope that everyone reading this can find some joy and hope in each day going forward and that we navigate this difficult time with grace and cool and good fortune. It would be grand if my few words and photos could provide some respite from the mess of the world right now. I believe writing these posts will do exactly that for me. The other night I had a Zoom meeting with my friends from Insight LA and it is crucial we continue to reach out and connect...here's my attempt to do just that...
There is so much fear and worry out there right now...try to remember to breathe.
I've been revisiting some of my old photos and trips and I thought I'd start by sharing a few of those. Perhaps, this will provide a tiny bit of succor from the self-quarantining ennui. I've been throwing them up again on Twitter and that's been fun, too. Thanks for letting me share. Through these words and photos I hope to send out a bit of love during this harrowing time. I'm not sure how else to go about it.
This first photo is from a trip I took to Pinnacles National Park back in 2015. I took this photo on the Bear Gulch trail and was practically alone for the entire hike. That has changed in the last few years as the National Park status has elevated awareness of the Park.
The next photo is of the Smith River in September 2016. I got up very early each day to take photos in this spot in Jedediah Smith State Park.
This next one was taken on an early morning drive along Highway 89 between Sedona and Flagstaff in Oak Creek Canyon. It remains one of my personal favorites over the last few years.
Here is a photo of nearby Santiago Canyon where I used to ride my Triumph Thunderbird regularly.
This next photo is framed and sits above our dining room table. It is of the train track, trestle, beach and pier at Gaviota, north of Santa Barbara. It is a place that I return year after year and have grown to love despite the sometimes gale force winds.
And here is another of my favorite California spots - it's a sunset view of Mugu Rock from Thornhill Broome Beach which is north of Malibu but feels million miles away from everywhere...
Now this is one of my favorite photos from my home away from home in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
The next photo is of a fiery sunset in Yosemite National Park in September of 2017. This was a meaningful trip as it was the last time I went with my long time pal, Jack, who passed away last year. How blessed I was to be able to spend that few days with him.
Here is another from that trip. It's from a misty and quiet morning along the magnificent Merced River.
One last one. This is an iPhone photo of Quitobaquito on the Mexican border in Arizona. It is currently being ravaged and perhaps entirely ruined by a needless wall. Enjoy this image...it's one of the most special places in all of the West.
I have a dream I'd like to tell you about as I end this blog post. It's a simple dream but it seems awfully challenging these days. My dream is this...that everyone who reads these posts regularly and is a friend who shares my love for the land will meet me one day on the road in one of these remarkable places. I'll make the fire for us to sit around and talk about how we all survived the terrible pandemic of 2020. And how, after surviving it, we feel a little more grateful for all that we have and have had. And how life seems a bit sweeter than before.
Much love to all. I'll be back in a few weeks with a few more words and photos.
“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.” ― Keith Richards
Music is in my bones. Throughout my life two things - always - have given me solace. First- my children. Second - music. Regardless of the sadness and tragedy and injustice of life I have always been saved by my kids and my songs. This year, of course, was no exception.
If you follow my blog you know I'm a Roots/Americana fan. Americana is hard to specifically define - Wikipedia describes it as, "Americana is an amalgam of American music formed by the confluence of the shared and varied traditions that make up the musical ethos of the United States, specifically those sounds that are merged from folk, country, blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel, and other external influences". Fair enough. I''ll just say this - the sound of Americana resonates deeply in me and is, "in my bones".
While the following list is the albums I purchased this year and reflect that Americana emphasis I am, in general, a fan of all music with the notable exception of popular "Country Music" and "Contemporary Pop" which I find abominable and superficial and useless (not that I have strong opinions or anything).
The following is a list of the albums I purchased this year listed by release date. Please note, because I am a supporter of musical artists I do not stream music but, in order to acknowledge the musicians with my wallet, I purchase each album. I do, admittedly, often use YouTube to preview music that I may want to purchase. Also, I am constantly updating my older music and that is not reflected here (my classic Blues catalog expanded exponentially this year!).
OK - enough introduction. Here's the NEW music that I considered for my Top 10 list:
I'll also list the music that I played most often in 2018 but here are my choices for the Best of 2018. Ranking is a pain and wrong for a lot of reasons - all of the albums above are good - the following simply resonated most deeply for me on a personal level.
Ok - now - here are the new songs I've listened to the most this year:
Ok! I've made my list. Agree? Disagree? Want to share some great music that I haven't listed (or maybe even heard)? Leave a comment. Better yet - make your own list!
For awhile now I've been contemplating writing a blog on music. I've started a few but they sit there as drafts since the topic, for me, is a bit overwhelming and I have so very much to say.
People who know me well know I am a music addict. In my lifetime, nothing has given me more comfort and solace in my most difficult moments. It is also something I've studied for a lifetime - it started as a youth in the 1960's when we we were inundated with such marvelous music and became cemented in my freshman year of college when I took a course entitled, "Popular Culture - Rock Music". The final exam had two hundred questions and I think it was the only final I ever received a 100% score on!
Since that time in my life all my interests, sans music, have waxed and waned. However, the one sure and solid and reliable source of diversion and comfort has been my tunes - LPs, 45's, 8 track tapes, cassettes, cds and now downloads - it's never mattered. I've always surrounded myself with music.
I am planning a trip next Autumn to Mississippi and Tennessee to visit the Blues Trail, Memphis, and Nashville and attend the annual Americana-fest. I can't remember being more excited about a trip. I'll be right there in the heart of it all.
Suffice it to say - I could go on for thousands of words about music but I'm going to limit the scope of this particular post by using the criteria suggested by Alex. Here goes:
“In no particular order – which 10 albums really made an impact and are still on your rotation, even if only now and then." It also says I should "post the cover and nominate another person to do the same" - uh, no to that part about nominating others. I'll tell you what mine are and if you're motivated to do the same exercise - then get on it!
An important proviso - these are not, necessarily, the albums that I think are the "best". For example, "Sergeant Pepper's" is certainly superior to "Magical Mystery Tour" - these are, instead, the albums that influenced me - my life and musical tastes, more than any others... Note also this is not a list of my favorite bands - otherwise, for example, the Rolling Stones would be in my top 5...
Also...while the instructions indicate there is "no particular order", these are fairly chronological.
Enough. Here goes...
Number one is an album that my parents purchased that I probably listened to more than any other as a child, "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison". It was released in 1968, I was eleven years old, and it's impact on me - musically, politically, sociologically was profound and remains so to this day. Johnny's identification with the downtrodden and lost and hopeless modeled for me exactly how a man should be. As I got older and was, at times, downtrodden, lost and hopeless myself, this album always brought and still brings comfort. Who other than Johnny could have sung with such anger, regret and sadness, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"?
When he sang, "I bet there's rich folks eating in their fancy dining car, they're probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars" I hated those rich and free people even though he knew "I had it coming, I know can't be free, but those people keep on movin' and that's what tortures me". And...what tortured me was the implication that they didn't know or care about the other sad and troubled riders, like Johnny's sad narrator, on their own train. Those people still don't.
The entire album merited nearly daily listening in my youth and it's still in my regular rotation after all these years.
It's just bad ass...
ROLL UP! ROLL UP! Number two was the very first album I bought with my own money. I was 10 years old and I saved my allowance each week. The guy at the record store wanted me, for some reason, to buy the new Rolling Stones album "Their Satanic Majesties Request" but I would have none if it. I had to have, just had to have, "Magical Mystery Tour". I wore out the grooves on it.
Of course , it's magnificent and I enjoyed that my mom hated, "I Am the Walrus" and it's lyric, "yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye", which was part of John's freaky imagery and while I didn't necessarily enjoy the picture of that image I liked that my mom thought it was so awful. Damn, I was a rebel.
My favorite song from this album was and remains, "Strawberry Fields". There have been songs, perhaps a dozen or so in my entire lifetime, that on first hearing take me away to a distant place - Strawberry Fields is one for me.
Let me take you down
Still works, doesn't it?
Number 3 is another I purchased, as an 8 track tape, on my own as an 8th grader at Ralph's Department Store in Blue Jay, CA. I played Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II, over and over and over and drove my father to exclaim one day, "Can't you find ANYTHING other than that to play"?!" I'm an American Roots music man these days and so was this one influential? Well...yeah...obviously and profoundly. This was a delicious double album. Talk about resonating in my heart, soul and ears.
Of course, over the years, I have met people who claim that they, "don't like Bob Dylan's voice". That's cool, but my hunch is that they have favorite artists that don't have beautiful voices and whose success as a singer is perhaps because Bob led the way on lyrics and vocal expression...but to each his own. In my younger days I tried to teach the world about Dylan and and I ended up doing the learning. I learned that some people just aren't gonna "get it" and that's ok.
I have many thoughts about old Bob which probably will merit a single blog post in the future - my final exam in the Rock History class I was boasting about earlier? Of the 200 questions - 190 were about Bob. It's no wonder I aced it and got along famously with the professor. At age 61 I realize there will not be another artist who will mean as much to me in my lifetime as Dylan. His winning of the Nobel Prize finally shut down some of the ignorance about his work but, if you don't like Bob, don't you realize what you're missing?
Ah here I go again...maybe, after all, I still haven't learned the lesson...
Number 4 "Harvest". Another artist, my entire life, who I've always managed to find at just the right moment is the great Neil Young. This album, from my high school days, if I had to guess, is probably the one I've played more than any other when I've been deeply sad (Simon and Garfunkel are good, too!). At my high school, when the weather was nice, the Drama Dept. would pipe music outside and I can remember warm, spring days listening to "Heart of Gold" and feeling that teenage youthful joy that we only experience when we're young. This is another album in which I could discuss each track and how much it has meant to me over the years. One song, "Out on the Weekend" might just be number one on the soundtrack of my life. Obviously, it's "still in my rotation". Neil has always seemed to understand the profound sadness and strangeness of life.
See the lonely boy,
Number 5 - The first concert I attended, in the Fall of 1974, was Elton John at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, CA. Elton had some songs that were big hits on the radio and while I loved, "Yellow Brick Road" (still do) it was "Madman Across the Water" that captured my passion. I didn't realize it at the time but the great Elton John lyricist, Bernie Taupin, was living just a few miles away in a nearby neighboring mountain town, Blue Jay, CA. "Tiny Dancer" has always been a favorite and I still use it as one of the quintessential road trip songs. The image of the "seamstress for the band" while they travel from town to town captures some essential travel vibe that still resonates.
Hold me closer tiny dancer
There are several excellent songs on this album although they may not be as well known as Elton's "hits". I hope you can imagine my horror and sadness when this artist started making songs Like "Philadelphia Freedom" and went so far away from his original brilliance. Oh Elton, where did you go?
Number 6 - "The Band". Most of these "influential" albums are obviously from my youth. This band and this album have been my "go to's" all my adult life. In my view, the Americana genre was really started and pioneered by The Band (ironically 4 of the 5 members were from Canada). Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm are two of my musical heroes. I was lucky enough to see The Band in 1975 at the Greek Theater for their last tour and just a few short months before the famous "Last Waltz" concert - of which I had tickets but to my everlasting chagrin couldn't go - (true story and it still pisses me off). My lifelong anthem, "The Weight" is not on this particular album - it was on "Big Pink" - every single song on this album is a treasure and has personal meaning for me. As I reach the twilight of my life - and as much as I love the Beatles and Stones and Clash - this group, it turns out, has been my lifelong favorite. Perhaps one day I will write an entire blog post discussing each of their songs and why they are so important in the canon of American music. It started in the fields and then the delta and through Charley Patton and Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams and there is a direct line right to "The Band". What music...
Number 7 - "London Calling". In college I considered myself kind of a cool kid and I knew music and was a bit jaded and then...punk music. I was admittedly infatuated with the genre and really liked the Sex Pistols album when it came out but I was blown away, wiped out, by The Clash. Not only was the music new and cool but Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had a nearly Lennon/McCartney harmony that was compelling and fascinating and provocative as Hell. As if they could be any more cool their politics were EXACTLY like mine and, oh say, Woody Guthrie's...People sometimes seemed surprised to find out that Woody was such an influence on Joe Strummer but, when you think about it, it's not much of a stretch. One of the most wonderful afternoons of my life was spent at the Santa Barbara County Bowl listening to the English Beat and then the remarkable Clash. If you haven't given this album a listen in awhile then do so again and hear the musical revelations - and revolution.
The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
You know, there's a reason the call him "The Boss". Number 8 could have just as easily been "Born to Run" or "The River" but, nah, I gotta go with the one that knocked me for a lifetime personal loop, "Darkness at the Edge of Town". In this album Bruce cemented his place as America's next great along the Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan line. Few albums in my life have been written that seemed to be expressing everything about my life - the feelings, the loss, my own personal faults, the injustice of the world, like "Darkness". It's as if Bruce channeled my mind and then expressed it musically. There is pain in this album - it's filled with pathos - but because, it's Springsteen, it has layers of hope and beauty...just enough to make it real and universal. Classics like, "Badlands", and “The Promised Land” are as good as contemporary music gets. "Factory" could have been written about my father, too. Each song has profound lyrical and musical depth. While I have given excerpts from previous songs from albums on the list this one is given in its entirety.
"Darkness On The Edge Of Town"
For many years I could be found there in the darkness too.
It took many years before another songwriter spoke to me like Bruce...and that's today's generation's Jason Isbell. I can't call him "influential" but he gets it...I could write an entire blog post on "Southeastern" but you should just listen to it instead.
I couldn't possibly write a post and not include my favorite album of the great Elvis Costello. I read a review of him - got his first album, "My Aim Is True" but it was his next one, "This Year's Model" that must be included on this list at Number 9. Elvis, to me, was such a rebel and a a "retro rebel" if that is a thing - His "Elvis" name and those Buddy Holly glasses and pigeon toed style of performing. He was the man! Young Elvis captured my angry young man years as well as anyone because he also was so damn pissed off...and cynical and condemning of modern society and it's emphasis on superficial values. This album is flawless and one of the most brilliant ever produced.
From, "This Year's Girl":
See her picture in a thousand places 'cause she's this year's girl
Number 10 - More Bob? Yep. Although I struggled with this last one. I feel like I'm leaving out about a million albums that I love and, well, I kinda am. I was just about to place "Document" by REM here but it wouldn't be a true indicator of "influential" to me and I simply couldn't do it. Then there was, "Who's Next" and, as much as love it, I just didn't love it in the same way as my favorite Dylan album (I think it's my favorite - I equivocate a bit - tough choices there). I do know that in high school all the cool kids were spinning "Blood On the Tracks" and I guess I was one of the cool kids. This is Dylan at his balladeer best and not even my dad complained when I played it - which was daily for about, oh, ten years! I actually sang, "Tangled Up in Blue" when I was the Drama teacher at Rim of the World High School at the "talent show". I'd like to emphasize that was my one and only public singing performance outside of drunk karaoke. There are reasons I'm just a listener...
A few years back I read that Bob simply said about the album that it was, "nothing but pain" and his son Jacob said it was the musical soundtrack to his parent's divorce. I can certainly see that kind of sadness but there is also great storytelling to be found here as well as sweetness and love - especially with, "Shelter From the Storm" and "Simple Twist of Fate". Of course, "If You See Her, say Hello" summed up my teenage romantic angst so aptly:
Sundown, yellow moon
So there you have it - I've taken several weeks to think about his and I'm not sure I've gotten it right and I suppose I'll second guess my choices but, today, it's the best I can do. If you have similar tastes that's marvelous - if you don't well, that's OK, although I'd encourage you to keep listening to new (and old!) music and go to concerts, maybe read a little music history and theory, and, whatever you do, don't say, "Music died in the '60's or '70's" or...whatever. First, it's not true and secondly you're shortchanging not only some great artists but yourself as well. In my experience people who say, "I know what I like" really are saying they "like what they know" and usually that isn't much. Nothing speaks to our inner self - our soul - like the charms of a good song. There's beauty and soul stirring melodies and words out there no matter your tastes...
If, like me, you're compelled to get more into the "American Sound" I'd encourage you to start your journey by reading, "Mystery Train" by Greil Marcus. It'll put you on the right road.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading about your most influential albums.
Now, go put on some tunes!
Notes From The Road- Ready To Go?
Hi friends. I'm getting ready to take off early, early tomorrow morning. "Pre-trip" is an odd emotional time. It's an exciting time usually tinged with some sadness about missing my wife and family. I also start to anticipate the first day's drive which means dealing with Southern California traffic until I get "out there". The older I get the more I abhor traffic and the lack of scenery in SoCal. As I leave I can't seem to put it behind me fast enough. In addition, my mind gets cramped with details. Did I pack everything? Food? Personal items? Do I have what I need? Am I ready?
Tomorrow I'll take the good old Interstate 15 through seedy, gaudy, tawdry, Las Vegas and then head toward Zion on my way to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. I'm interested in the state park and anxious to explore it. I hear it's a place a lot of the land maulers, aka Quad riders, visit. The noise, partying, and general attitude of those people aren't usually my cup of tea. We'll see. My hunch is that it will be more than fine.
It's a long drive (442 miles) but not as long as Tuesday when I drive to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (476 miles). When I arrive there and get a camping spot my trip will settle down into a more relaxed mode. I work at slowing down constantly the first few days of any trip. Once that calm kicks in the trips can start to become tranquil and magical. After rushing around for 35 years slowing down is a daily challenge. I'll explore the new National Park at the Gunnison River and then head for fishing and hiking grounds near Silver Jack Reservoir, the Rio Grande and, eventually, the Arkansas River.
I will try to write from the road but that may not be possible given the typical lack of cell reception in the more remote and mountainous areas. I purchased a small digital tape recorder to perhaps more easily take notes. I also got a monocular for the camera and it will be interesting to see how that works. The playlist is ready- lots of Bob Dylan, Calexico, Neil Young, Gourds, Jon Dee Graham, Beck, Drive-By Truckers and Alejandro Escovedo. I'll be reading "Go In Beauty" by William Eastlake and bring lots of Edward Abbey & Terry Tempest Williams to supplement. I'm also bringing the classic, "Land of Little Rain" by Mary Austin.
May you all slow down and enjoy the simple things while I'm "on the road".
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.