Monday, December 05, 2005

You Can't Take It With You or God's Plans For Your Record Collection

I'm a sucker for lists. Anytime I'm at a newsstand and some music magazine has the words "THE 100 GREATEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME" splashed across the cover, I pony up for it. If everyone in the world took the time to write down what their favorite albums were and why each one meant so much to them, I'd take the time to read it. Because let's face it, music is the glue that holds people together. The world would be a steaming pile of shit without it.

What makes music so fascinating is how subjective it is. I'm in Los Angeles as I write this and I know for a fact that somewhere in this city there's some dude sitting on his couch right now listening to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours and it's his favorite fucking album in the world. He swears by this album. He cries during "Landslide." Now I may think this dude is a complete musical jackass but it doesn't change the fact that Rumours has had an impact on his life. That same dude would probably read my list and come to the conclusion that I'm a musical jackass. Subjectivity. Every human being sees the world in a slightly different way. It's what makes us unique.

But there's one thing that spits in the face of musical preference, skin color, sexual orientation, social status, how much money is in your bank account, and what your favorite movie is.

We're all going to die. Every single person on this planet is going to end up six feet under or resting on the mantle of their kid's fireplaces in a fancy urn.

Okay, no new information there. But I do have some new information on the subject of death that might interest you.

Throughout history, mankind has occasionally received divine knowledge. This is how the Bible, the Qu ran, the Satanic Bible, Dianetics, and Anne Heche's memoir Call Me Crazy all came to be written.

And although I'm just a lowly music nut, God has seen fit to give me a little peek behind the curtain of the universe. He also, in His divine wisdom, felt that Cut The Chord, read by nearly three people a week, was the best soundboard to get this message to mankind.

So here it is, constant reader...

Drum roll, please.

When you die, God allows you to bring ten albums to heaven with you. That's it. And for those of you balking at only getting ten, you should consider yourselves lucky because folks who go to Hell are given a copy of Rumours right at the gate and are forced to listen to it on a loop for all eternity. So for all of you who killed a man in Reno just to watch him die, you and Stevie Nicks will have a lovely future together.

Being the questioning kind of guy that I am, always in need of answers and such, I actually did query God as to why he would allow us to bring only ten albums through those Pearly Gates of His. His reply, and I'm paraphrasing here, is that it forces one to decide which albums are truly important to them.

God also had a few simple guidelines He asked me to relay. These guidelines lead me to believe that God sometimes gets His geek on.

1) No Greatest Hits collections or box sets. Albums only.

2) Only one album per artist.

NOTE: I'm sorry, Patrick. You may not put all six Elliott Smith albums on your list. You'll have to choose like Sophie and leave the other five here on Earth.

With this divine knowledge handed to me on a silver platter, I decided it was my duty to sit down and ask myself a very tough question. If I was going to die right now, which ten albums would I take with me to the afterlife? And perhaps even more importantly, why these particular ten?

The albums you fall in love with are the ones that come into your life at exactly the right time. They seek you out. There’s a synchronicity to it.

I spent many hours pacing, smoking, and pulling my hair out as I got my afterlife in order. I challenge all three of our readers to do the same. You can post your lists in our COMMENTS section at the end of this piece. Please remember, just a list of album titles is boring. Here at CUT THE CHORD, we'd like to know WHY these particular albums hold a place in your heart big enough to fill eternity.

And please, dear reader...

Choose wisely.

'Nuff said.


NOTE: No ranking. These are simply alphabetized.

Ryan Adams - Cold Roses (2005, Lost Highway)

"When you moved
They cut down the maple tree
I carved your name into

I’m a sucker for double albums. While I admire the tight rock masterpieces delivered in roughly thirty minutes by bands like the Strokes and Hot Hot Heat, there’s something equally exciting about the prospect of exploring an album that wasn’t satisfied with its station in life and longed to be more than just a typical single disc release.

Double albums are like the kids back in kindergarten who refused to color inside the lines. A large majority of music journalists take the stance that a teacher or principal would take with the offending student. They automatically assume that since the album doesn't conform to the standards set by... Other artists? Record labels? Critics? ...that it's probably bloated, pretentious, filled with extraneous tracks, unnecessary, full of itself, etc. In truth, double albums just require a little more time to digest.
Some of the greatest albums ever recorded in the history of rock and roll have been doubles. Blonde on Blonde, The White Album, Exile on Main Street, London Calling, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Songs in the Key of Life, Bitches Brew, Zen Arcade, The Wall, Electric Ladyland, and Physical Graffiti are just a few that come to mind.
The general rule of thumb is to give an album time to become a classic. Time will tell if it's really as great as you think it is. Blah, blah, blah. Fuck that. That's pussy talk. And for the most part, rock critics are pussies. The last thing they want is to make a bad call and have other music snobs balk at their impassioned claims of an album's greatness. It's like high school. No one wants to be laughed at.

In life, we're at our most vulnerable when we confess our love for something to someone else. It's like being naked or telling someone you're in love with them. The fear factor is there and it's unavoidable. Well, it's too late at night for me to give a shit what other people think so I'm just going to come right out and say this.
Cold Roses is not only the best album Ryan Adams has ever made but it's also one of the best double albums ever recorded. That's right. Right up there with those other classics I listed above. From start to finish it is an absolute joy to listen to. It's sad, heartbroken, and alive emotionally in ways that much of today's music is afraid to be. Producer Tom Schick and the Cardinals have brought out the absolute best in Adams. He has never sounded more relaxed or at peace with who he is as an artist as he does here. All eighteen tracks are gorgeous and shimmering testaments to his talent as a songwriter.

Needless to say, I'm taking this sucker with me. And come on, it's almost like I'm pulling one over on the Almighty by bringing a double album in. Two for the price of one, biatch!

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (1965, Impulse!)

I want to be a force of real good. I want to discover a method so that if I want it to rain, it will start immediately to rain. If one of my friends is ill, I’d like to play a certain song and he’ll be cured. When he’d be broke, I’d bring out a different song, and immediately he’d get all the money he needed. But what these pieces are, and what is the road to attain the knowledge of them, that I don’t know. The true powers of music are still unknown. To be able to control them must be, I believe, the goal of every musician.”

-John Coltrane

When I was a kid, my parents forced me to go to church every Sunday. And although I no longer attend church and find die-hard Christians to be rather scary, I still find myself returning to the question of God on a daily basis.

A Love Supreme was, in John Coltrane's own words, his gift to God for freeing him from heroin addiction. It is a prayer, a deep rumination on man's relationship with the cosmos, and the single most important jazz recording of all time. Much has been written about this album. I won't regurgitate it here.

All I'll say is that I try to listen to this album every Sunday morning. It speaks more deeply to me than any preacher ever could.

Iron & Wine - The Creek Drank the Cradle (2002, Sub Pop)

"How I've missed you lately
And the way you would speak
And all that we wouldn't say

This is a tough one. It's become somewhat of a depressing listen for me. You see, I was doing a lot of thinking about a girl I haven't seen in nearly a decade the month this was released. I made a huge mistake by listening to it while thinking about her. The girl in question imprinted herself on this album. Her essence, what she meant to me, etc. Sam Beam's darkly beautiful home recordings about loss and regret became a soundtrack to my memories. Turning this album on forces me to confront the vast ocean between what is and what could have been.

The first line of "Faded From the Winter," "Daddy's ghost behind you," sends me back a few years to an impromptu long distance phone call late at night. We're playing catch up and she tells me that her father died suddenly not long after I saw her last. When we hung up, I cried for her. And I was angry at God because I had mentally drawn a magic circle around this girl and nothing bad was allowed to happen to her. I felt that the universe had betrayed her.

Later in the same song: "You're the prayer inside me." Whether Beam knew it or not, he defined in one line what that girl meant to me. And distance and time never changed that. Needless to say, I don't play the fucking thing all that often. But I'm taking it with me. Because faced with eternity, I'll need something to remember her by. The old letters and solitary photograph I keep in a box just aren't enough.

Love - Forever Changes (1967, Elektra)

"By the time that I'm through singing
The bells from the schools of walls will be ringing
More confusions, blood transfusions
The news today will be the movies for tomorrow
And the water's turned to blood
And if you don't think so
Go turn on your tub

A dark, psychedelic gem from the Summer of Love that manages to be as terrifying as it is beautiful. The band was coming apart at the seams when the album was recorded. Acid tabs had been replaced with heroin, lead singer Arthur Lee, never the shining example of sanity, was convinced he was going to die and intended the album to be his final will and testament. With the help of the gifted guitarist Bryan Maclean, Lee crafted a cryptic, apocalyptic, musical bomb and detonated it on Los Angeles. Listening now, one wonders if Lee hadn't perhaps seen the city's future. The hippy ideals of the 60s were about to be ground to dust beneath the heels of Charles Manson, Watergate, and Vietnam.

Lee's visionary masterpiece never fails to draw in its listeners because Lee is such a compelling narrator. Every song is a battle waged on the landscape of his soul. Love, tenderness, and empathy are locked in a harrowing struggle against paranoia and fear. That you can't quite decide which side won the war at the album's close just adds to its power.

Forever Changes is even more timely now than it was when it was released 38 years ago. It has never failed to capture my imagination.

Lee Morgan - Search for the New Land (1964, Blue Note)

Lee Morgan was only 33 when his common-law wife shot and killed him at a popular New York club called Slug's where he was performing. To this day, jazz aficionados debate the details of his death. Some say he was shot on stage in front of the entire audience, others claim the shooting took place outside of the club after the show. Particulars aside, one thing everyone agrees on is that we lost one of the greatest trumpet players who ever lived on February 19th, 1972.

Morgan, who saved jazz's most renowned label, Blue Note, from bankruptcy with his hit album The Sidewinder, recorded Search for the New Land on February 15th, 1964. He was joined by tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist Grant Green, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Billy Higgins. Shorter and Hancock, legendary group leaders in their own right, would go on to join Miles Davis's band later that year.

Morgan recorded The Sidewinder in December of '63, after spending nearly two years recovering from a serious heroin addiction in his hometown of Philadelphia. The Sidewinder was his comeback album and the catchy, hard bop title track was used in a high profile automobile ad campaign. The song caught on with the public and the album made its way to the upper tier of both the pop and R&B charts. When Morgan returned to the studio to record Search for the New Land, The Sidewinder was still several months away from becoming a phenomenon. There in Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey on that cold February day, Morgan, who was only 25 at the time, was not yet feeling the tremendous strain that musicians often face when recording a follow up to a hit album. He was simply there to play a handful of songs he had written, accompanied by his friends. After finishing the day's work, I doubt he had any idea that he had just completed the finest session of his career.

The Sidewinder haunted Morgan for many years. He would record album after album trying to duplicate its success. It was only in the final years of his life that he returned to the terrain he began to explore in Search for the New Land. The live dates he played at the Lighthouse in 1970 and his final studio sessions in 1971 are a glimpse at the adventurous path his career might have taken if he had visited the open spaces of that land he discovered back in 1964 more often.

As far as jazz goes, Search for the New Land was my first love. An eternity without its dark landscapes isn't an eternity I care to be a part of.

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998, Merge)

"And when we meet on a cloud
I'll be laughing out loud
I'll be laughing with everyone I see
Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all

Jeff Mangum is the J.D. Salinger of indie rock. He recorded one of the greatest albums of all time and vanished. Sort of. There's a pretty fascinating 6000 word article that I stumbled across on Atlanta's Creative Loafing web site called "Have You Seen Jeff Mangum?" that can be found here...

Although the author ceases to be a journalist towards the end of the piece, becoming a nuisance to both Mangum and his family, this is still a fairly comprehensive look at the album's history and Mangum's disappearance from the public eye.

Mangum's impassioned epic about Anne Frank, God, love, death, reincarnation, and semen stained mountaintops isn't something I feel all that comfortable talking about. I don't know that anyone should talk about it. Everyone should just listen to it, nod knowingly at others who have heard it, and fight the urge to cheapen it by picking it apart. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, like Stonehenge, the lost city of Atlantis, and the meaning of life, is a mystery and should remain that way.

If you listen closely to the final moments of "Oh Comely," you can hear a friend of Mangum's, clearly blown away by the performance, proclaim "Holy shit!" in the background. I think that guy summed it up best. Holy shit!

The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995, Virgin)

"The useless drags, the empty days
The lonely towers of long mistakes
To forgotten faces and fades loves
Sitting still was never enough

This was the soundtrack to my high school years. It's a time machine for me. And who better to score the soundtrack to the most depressing period of a teenager's life than a drama queen like Billy Corgan? Everything's here. All the highs, all the lows. "Tonight, Tonight" and "1979" made me feel like anything was possible. That I could go anywhere, do anything, and achieve whatever I set out to do. The utter desolation of "Stumbleine" brought me back to earth and reminded me that some things just weren't possible. "Zero" and "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" were my anger. "Galapogos" and "In the Arms of Sleep" represented every unrequited love I obsessed over. And as embarrassing as some of it sounds now, it fucking rocked. Kind of like your high school photo. You look at it and cringe but goddamn if that wasn't exactly who you were at that moment in time.

Elliott Smith - Either/Or (1997, Kill Rock Stars)

"Nobody broke your heart
You broke your own
'Cos you can't finish what you start

My favorite Elliott Smith song is "The Biggest Lie," off of his self-titled album from '95. That song encapsulates everything that I love about Smith's music. Unfortunately, I'm leaving that album and that song behind in favor of Either/Or, which is his best album. "Alameda," "Between the Bars," "Rose Parade," "Angeles," and "Say Yes," five of his strongest tracks, are included here, as well as seven other memorable tunes. Patrick, being the Smith obsessed fanatic that he is, will have a lot more to say on the subject if he ever gets around to doing his list. I don't want to steal any of his thunder so... Moving right along...

Bruce Springsteen - The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (1973, Columbia)

"Oh God save the human cannonball..."

The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is Bruce Springsteen's best album. It is a joyous, infectious, exhilarating circus of an album that brings a smile to my face every single time I listen to it. The Boss's poetic romanticism has never been more fully realized than it is here. A flawless piece of work. I never leave home without it. I'm sure as hell not leaving Earth without it.

So that's that. The list is done. If I made it tomorrow, it would probably be different. But if the Grim Reaper showed up right now, these would work for me.

Stick a fork in me.

Happy Holidays.


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