More Dangerous Music

This is (mostly) Mead Hunter’s fault, but he responded to one of those questionnaires about the “15 albums that changed your life” and it’s like…oh man…I’m doomed to pick up such a thread. I’m just going to do 10 because otherwise I’d go nuts.

Here goes…keeping in mind this is my life and not meant as any kind of critical review. And not necessarily in order…just as they came to me.

1. The Rolling Stones: “Hot Rocks.” Naturally, me and the boys. “Exile on Main Street” is still my favorite Stones album, I love the “great four” that stretch from “Beggars Banquet” to “Exile” (and include the unforgettable “Let It Bleed” and the album that seemed to represent the darkest and strangest of my New York days, “Sticky Fingers”). But this one was my constant companion as a lonely, probably too bright kid burning up the backroads of Southern Oregon, and it led me to the blues and jazz, for which even “Emotional Rescue” and “Dirty Work” can be forgiven.

2. The Doors: “The Doors.” Psychedelics, revolution, Vietnam…did I mention psychedelics? It was all here in one shot, and it would have been epic if they’d never done another album. (Not the worst advice, though “Strange Days” was pretty good.) Sad to say, I’m still a sucker for “The End”…even writing about it makes me want to put it on…but “Break On Through,” “Soul Kitchen,” and “Journey to the End of the Night” (which led me into a lost period of reading Celine and Norman O. Brown, you bastards) are wonders.

3. Jefferson Airplane: “Surrealistic Pillow.” Have I mentioned drugs yet? There’s so much to love on this album, even when it’s stupid. Mostly, it was a fond look back on an era I was just old enough to taste the end of but too young to be completely drawn into. And one of my most cherished memories is riding on a warm summer’s night in 1967 in my cousin’s convertible in the hills above San Diego, the city below a sheet of diamonds on the velvet, bordered by dark ocean, with “Somebody to Love” bursting fresh from the AM radio.

4. Beethoven: “Ninth Symphony.” When my peers were listening to, uh, Foghat, I was down with the deaf German. Probably a more dangerous role model than the rock gods, but, my God, the “Ninth” is just the whole universe, isn’t it?

5. Miles Davis: “Bitches Brew.” Who could imagine? Who could still imagine? Davis opened the door to vistas you can explore for the rest of your life. “Kind of Blue” is still a masterpiece, but “Bitches Brew” is just the greatest, unholy mess imaginable. The only reason I don’t include a Hendrix album on this list is that Hendrix, though he doesn’t play a note on this album, is all over it.

6. The Clash: “London Calling.” At one point and time, this was the most important music being made. At least for a bunch of us. Though it seemed all elbows and knees, it was, at heart, as smart as it was powerful. Plus one the of greatest album covers ever (in the days when you could hang an album jacket on your wall for art).

7. R.E.M.: “Life’s Rich Pageant.” R.E.M. had already produced wonderful albums, but this one seemed to be some kind of jagged peak, a manifesto, energetic, mysterious, and hopeful at a time when all three were in short supply.

8. Tom Waits: “Rain Dogs.” Ramshackle, jangling, booziness in the back streets of New Orleans, New York, Singapore, wherever, in an eternal twilight of junk store craziness, come ons, hard luck stories, and broken hearts. An album you want to throw your arm around and clink bottles with. And mind movies to last a lifetime.

9. Bob Dylan: “Soundtrack from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” What? No “Blonde on Blonde?” “Blood on the Tracks?” Well, of course. It’s just this slight but moving collection of jams put a spell on me that ties, I think, to growing up in the West, in the country (and not some country-and-western bullshit country, but the real thing), and feeling the land as a part of your soul.

10. U2: “The Joshua Tree.” A personal selection, really. There’s greater music out there, but this came at a time when I was changing, when I was leaving New York and setting out for New Orleans, and soon would end up back in the Northwest, broke and starting over, and its echoing catalogue of empty spaces, nameless roads, and painful longing gave me a place to go to feel both promise and loss. Plus wonderful production values from Mr. Daniel Lanois, genius.

If I go into “honorable mentions” I’d be here for days, but just a couple need to be mentioned: Neil Young’s “Rust Never Sleeps”; Elvis Costello’s “My Aim is True” and “Armed Forces”; Dire Straits “Love Over Gold”; Nirvana’s “Nevermind”; Ry Cooder’s “Soundtrack for Paris, Texas”; Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy”; Ride’s “Nowhere”; Johnny Cash’s “Live from Folsom Prison”; B.B. King’s “Watermelon Blues”; John Lee Hooker & Miles Davis “Soundtrack from The Hot Spot”; Marianne Faithfull’s “Broken English”; Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Robert Cray “Showdown!”; and, of late, My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless.”

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